Contemporary governance relies extensively and increasingly on academic expertise. This expertise dependency is intimately related to the technological and regulatory complexity and level of specialization of modern society.  Expertization is also spurred by elites’ social and political interests and the force of Enlightenment arguments for knowledge-based policy-making. Existing diagnoses of a rising epistocracy – a rule of experts – present it as either a tragedy for democracy or embrace it as a way of ensuring rational decisions and policies. A more balanced assessment should recognize that the normative legitimacy of any political rule – a rule in which the knowledgeable are given considerable scope and privileges included – depends on both procedures and outcomes. The chapter takes as its point of departure the phenomenon of seasteads, and the possibility of making expert arrangements in seasteads that are both democratically authorized and accountable, and likely to contribute to increased quality in decision- and policy-making. Among the wider universe of epistemic criteria, this discussion focuses on the prerequisites in seasteads for institutionalizing an investigatory ethos, cognitive pluralism, and epistemic modesty. The chapter concludes that seasteads offer quite some promise given a genuine interest in developing and experimenting with epistocratic, but legitimate, forms of governance. Yet, a set of demanding cognitive, motivational and institutional conditions must be in place, or seasteads’ expert arrangements stand the chance of scoring lower on both democratic and epistemic parameters than mainland arrangements.

The Author

Dr. Cathrine Holst is an Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology and Human Geography, and a Research Professor at the ARENA Centre for European Studies, both at the University of Oslo. She is currently coordinating two research projects on the organization and legitimacy of expert advice and knowledge-based policy-making, Why not epistocracy? Political legitimacy and ‘the fact of expertise’ (EPISTO) and Expertization of public inquiry commissions in a Europeanized administrative order (EUREX). She is a co-editor of the special issue “Epistemic democracy, deliberative quality and expertise” that will be published in the journal Social Epistemology in 2017.


Cathrine Holst (2017): Epistocracy on Seasteads?, in: Victor Tiberius (Ed.) (2017): Seasteads. Opportunities and Challenges for Small New Societies, Zurich (vdf), pp. 105-113.