The thin ideology of expertocracy. Theoretical conceptualisation and empirical illustration
Due to the covid-19 pandemic and looming climate change, debates on the role of expertise and scientific knowledge in democratic politics have gained more prominence. In this context, most attention has been paid to the threat of technocracy. As a result, we still lack a proper conceptualization of other forms of science-based policy-making, expertocracy in particular. The presentation offers such a conceptualization.
The first section ideal-typically distinguishes expertocracy from technocracy and scientific policy advice. Expertocracy is less demanding than technocracy but goes beyond scientific policy advice. Technocracy promises the abolition of politics or its transformation into pure forms of administration and social technology, whereas scientific policy advice has only a servicing function. It is the "institutionalised delivery of scientific information to political actors" (Thunert 2001: 224, cited in Weingart & Lentsch 2008: 43, own translation). Expertocracy, occupying a middle position, aims at the scientific rationalisation of politics. Democratically elected representatives shall lose their agenda-setting and leading function and exercise only an instrumental and legitimising function by implementing scientifically based policy programmes and legitimising them to the citizenry.
The second section elaborates more deeply on how to analyse expertocracy in political life. It conceptualises expertocracy as a thin ideology. Like the thin ideology of populism (Mudde 2004), expertocracy is dualistic or Manichean. It constructs the political space as being divided between two groups, the cognitively competent and the cognitively incompetent. Good policy appears as science-based policy, which is to be determined primarily by scientific procedures and professional expertise, or at least to be complemented by them. Expertocratic ideology describes the “vox scientifica” (Zulianello & Ceccobelli 2020) in a simplified and monistic way, analogous to the vox populi in populism. It suggests that "science" offers unambiguous and simple facts, explanations, forecasts, and solutions that can be translated into good policies without taking the conflictual path of imponderable and “irrational” politics. Related to this representation of scientific knowledge is the moralism of expertocratic ideology, which discredits as unreasonable, irresponsible, and immoral all those who supposedly do not give sufficient voice or validity to the vox scientifica. Like populism, expertocracy must be enriched with political content and programmes, or it must be combined with "thick" ideologies such as neoliberalism, conservatism, socialism, etc., to become politically viable. Conceptualising expertocracy as a thin ideology thus also takes into account the fact that historically both the left and the right have pursued expertocratic political approaches (Dargent 2015; Etzemüller 2010; Huneeus 2000).
The presentation concludes with an empirical illustration of the usefulness of this approach. It analyses selected speeches and writings of Luisa Neubauer, a leading figure of the German branch of Fridays for Future. The main focus is on her book “Vom Ende der Klimakrise. Eine Geschichte unserer Zukunft” (together with Alexander Repenning) in which she outlines her political thought more broadly.