Sunstein, Vermeule, and Technocratic Despotism

This week the Chronicle of Higher Education published an excellent article about Cass Sunstein, Adrian Vermeule, and “Technocratic Despotism.” It is written by political scientist Jason Blakely, whose own work is about the political reverberations of the social sciences.

Blakely’s article serves as a very good supplement to the recent essay on positive constitutionalism here at The Constitutionalist, and to the list of other relevant essays posted here. Whereas Barber, Macedo, and Fleming focus on the implications of Vermeule’s thought for legal and constitutional scholars, Blakely discusses Vermeule and Sunstein’s work (and their very odd colaboration) in the context of political science and political culture more broadly – and the retreat of the humanities in particular.

Here is how Blakely concludes:

Technocracy’s dominance in mainstream social theory is in fact partly an effect of the retreat of the humanities. As critics both inside and outside the university continue to ask humanists to justify the “value” of a liberal-arts education, funding streams are diverted to those whose approach to the knowledge of human behavior is more putatively practical and scientific.

Technocracy flourishes in traditionally humanistic departments like law because its advocates are able to borrow the prestige of the STEM disciplines to bolster their own authority. Claims to a science of human life have in this way helped generate well-funded and ultra-prestigious clusters of technocratic intellectual authorities atop which sit figures like Sunstein and Vermeule, called upon by American presidents. But technocrats, for all their (often spurious) methodological wizardry, cannot easily supplant the cultural and historical modes of explanation of humanists, nor humanists’ respect for the knowledge and agency of ordinary people. Far from being morally and rationally superior, technocracy may be a significant contributor to our inability to properly deliberate upon our political problems. And if so, then the one place where Sunstein and Vermeule have managed such persistent agreement is, in fact, an area of shared and devastating blindness.”

Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule’s Technocratic Despotism – By Jason Blakely

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