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Why not epistocracy? Political legitimacy and 'the fact of expertise' (EPISTO) (completed)

The EPISTO project examines and assesses the legitimacy of expert rule in modern democracies with a particular focus on the European Union and the European Commission’s expert groups.

Raphael: The School of Athens (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

About the project

The EU has recently taken unprecedented administrative and legal measures to address threats of terror, the euro crisis, and environmental challenges. Critics claim that the Union’s crises management contributes to pushing the EU further towards technocracy and expert-rule.

Is Europe abandoning democracy as we know it? And if so, is this a problem? Some would say no. To deal with the risks and hazards globalisation throws upon us, they would argue, the best available expertise must be mobilised and given the necessary power, even if we by doing so are challenging familiar ideas of democracy. If more power to the experts can help save the planet, the economy, health, security and other basic goods, we should not hesitate embracing it or worry so much about democratic standards. Why stick to ideas of 'rule of the people' that may turn out to be irrelevant and even dangerous in a world that is in urgent need of decisions based on our best knowledge? Why not opt for what political philosopher David Estlund refers to as 'epistocracy' – a 'rule of the knowers'?

EPISTO will elaborate on this and other arguments for expert-rule, test the soundness of their empirical assumptions, and develop a sophisticated and robust normative defense of democracy in Europe that specifies the legitimate role and scope of expert power.


The EPISTO project will:

  • elaborate on different dimensions of knowledge-based rule and develop an epistocracy-typology
  • discuss and identify the proper standards for assessing the normative legitimacy of expertise arrangement based on recent contributions and debates in political philosophy and democratic theory
  • map and analyse the European Commission’s expert group system, its composition and powers
  • study expertise behaviour, deliberation and rationality in the context of this system, and discuss and assess this system’s normative legitimacy in light of its empirical characteristics


Fredrik Engelstad, Johan Karlsson Schaffer, Hege Skjeie, University of Oslo
Ole Jacob Sending, Norwegian Institute for Foreign Affairs (NUPI)
Margareta Bertilsson and Christian Rostböll, University of Copenhagen
Rainer Forst, Frankfurt University
Cristina Lafont, Northwestern University
Hélène Landemore, University of Yale
Ulrike Liebert, University of Bremen
Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen, University of Aarhus
Helen Longino, Stanford University
Anders Molander, Oslo and Akershus University College
Kalypso Nicolaïdis, University of Oxford
Bo Rothstein, University of Gothenburg


The EPISTO project reached the final round of the European Research Council’s Starting Grant competition and was later financed by the Research Council of Norway. The project lasts from 2012–2017.

Published Nov. 7, 2012 2:08 PM - Last modified Oct. 25, 2018 11:02 AM


Cathrine Holst
Senior Researcher

ARENA Centre for European Studies
P.O. Box 1143 Blindern
N-0318 Oslo


Detailed list of participants