politics

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Why Don’t We Just Let The Wise Rule?!

This article received an honourable mention in the undergraduate category of the 2022 National Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics

Written by Alexander Scoby, University of Cambridge

Throughout history, democracy has been accused of producing objectively sub-optimal outcomes because it gives voice to the ‘mob’. 1 Recently, Brexit and the election of Trump have been the favoured examples.2

The supposedly poor epistemic performance of democracy has served as a springboard for epistocracy, loosely defined as any political arrangement where the ‘wise’ (or competent) have disproportionate political authority relative to the rest of the population.3

I argue that against a background of structural inequality, an epistocracy is unlikely to epistemically outperform democracy. By doing so, I hope to undermine the appeal of epistocracy and ‘defend’ democracy from a competitor. Continue reading

Are Electoral Pacts Undemocratic?

By Ben Davies

In the early hours of Friday morning last week, the long-Conservative UK constituency of North Shropshire caused some political upset (and no little political joy) by electing a Liberal Democrat, Helen Morgan.

It is hard to exaggerate quite how significant a swing this was: the previous Conservative MP, Owen Paterson, whose resignation around accusations of corruption promoted the by-election, had a majority of nearly 23,000 when he was re-elected in 2019. Morgan beat the new Conservative candidate by nearly 6,000.

How was all this possible? One factor will likely have been Conservative voters staying at home, and a few switched to other right-wing parties. But at her acceptance speech, Morgan acknowledged that it was highly likely that voters who would have preferred a Labour MP (the party saw a collapse in its vote share) or a Green MP, lent her their support in order to have the best chance of avoiding a Conservative win. This will lead some to call again for a more formal electoral pact at the country’s next General Election, whereby Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens agree to stand down candidates in seats currently occupied by a Conservative, and where there is a reasonable chance of one of these three parties winning if their anti-Tory rivals stand aside.

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Following the Science Without Forgetting Values

Written by Stephen Rainey

It is presently feared that ‘lockdown’ may be beginning to fray at the edges, as people tire of their restrictions. From the start of the emergency, discussion focussed upon the ability of the public to stay the course where restrictions were at stake. This neatly ignores the public’s being ahead of the government in acknowledging the severity of the situation before the 23rd March announcement to restrict social freedoms. At any rate, concerns over policy effectiveness were addressed through faith in behavioural science (via ‘Behavioural Insights’, née ‘The Nudge Unit’), and communications devices such as the repeated phrase, ‘following the science’.

‘Following the science’ raises reasonable questions including, which science and why? In what sense ‘follow’? To what degree? The idea of creating arguments ‘from science’ for any given policy is presumed sufficient as a motivation, or a reason for citizens to submit themselves to policy demands. However, given the expert basis for these arguments, it is not a safe bet that any given citizen will share the assumptions or knowledge base of the experts, let alone adopt them as straightforward reasons to alter their behaviour. Few people like to be told what to do without at least understanding what is being asked of them and why, so this can be a problem.

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When the State Distrusts Individuals Based Purely on their Nationality

Written by Hazem Zohny.

The UK government finds my nationality sufficiently suspicious that it requires me to register with the police. Unlike any of the other foreign nationals working at my research centre, I alone have to present myself to the police to get ‘certified’ as part of my visa conditions.

This is because I’m from Egypt – one of the 40 or so listed countries (mostly poor and/or Muslim majority) for which this is a requirement. Basically, anyone who wants to live and work in the UK for more than 6 months and who is from the Middle East, Central Asia or a handful of South American countries has to do this.

There is no explicit rationale for it. The law itself says that it is a way of ensuring people like me comply with the terms of their visa, though zero justification is given for why people from these particular countries are singled out.

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Pub Bores and Politics

Written by Stephen Rainey

Pub bet: I bet you can’t button your coat up. You smell a rat, but go along with it, fastening you coat to see what’s up. I claim a victorious pint of plum porter because you close your coat starting with the top button and moving down. You didn’t button your coat up but down.

A pub bet works, to the extent that it does, by subverting a conventional meaning of some phrase or word. We know buttoning up has nothing to do with direction, but there is a direction word in the phrasal verb. Cheeky subversion leads to endless mirth. 

There’s clearly no ethical problem in the minor subversion and misleading that characterises a pub bet. For bigger, or for real bets, we’d be concerned if subversion like this went on. The genie that granted wishes on a tight, close, literal meaning of words used, rather than on the basis of what the wisher probably wanted, would be a scary being. 

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What the People Really Want: Narrow Mandates in Politics

Written by Ben Davies

Last week’s by-election in the Welsh constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire saw a reduction of Boris Johnson’s government majority to just one, as Liberal Democrat Jane Dodds won the seat. The result was an interesting one: more voters went for No Deal-friendly parties (mainly Johnson’s Conservatives and the Brexit Party) than for the out-and-out Remainer Lib Dems. Dodds won not because a majority of voters supported her, but arguably because the pro-Brexit vote was split, and the Lib Dem vote was boosted by Plaid Cymru and the Greens declining to field candidates (it can’t have helped that the Conservatives also simply reselected their candidate whose unseating for expenses fraud triggered the election).

The result generated two sets of comments by Conservative Chair James Cleverly. Cleverly’s first claim was that the Liberal Democrats had engineered a “back room deal” with other Remain-friendly parties – Plaid and the Greens – in a way that was, he implied, undemocratic. Continue reading

Gene-Editing Mosquitoes at The European Youth Event 2018

By Jonathan Pugh

 

The below is a slightly extended version of my two 5min presentations at the European Youth Event 2018, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. I was asked to present on the following questions:

 

  1. What are the ethical issues surrounding gene-editing, particularly with respect to eradicating mosquitoes?

 

  1. Should the EU legislate on gene-editing mosquitoes?

 

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Targeted Killing and Black Boxes

Written By Mitt Regan and Michael Robillard

            Various aspects of the US targeted killing program have attracted considerable attention and some criticism in philosophy and international law. One important aspect of the program that deserves more attention is how targeted killing reflects how the growing number of conflicts involving non-state actors are eroding conventions regarding the use of violence.  Those conventions are based on the paradigm of conflict between states waged by uniformed armed forces on segregated battlefields.  In such conflicts, an individual’s status as a member of the armed forces makes him/her liable to lethal force without examining his/her specific conduct.  Non-state actors, however, do not wear uniforms and seek to be indistinguishable from civilians.  What, then, should be the basis for their liability? Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: The Ethical Dilemma of Youth Politics, written by Andreas Masvie

 This essay was the runner up in the undergraduate category of the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics 2017

Written by University of Oxford Student, Andreas Masvie

 

The West in general, and perhaps Europe in particular, tend to celebrate youth politics as a vital force of democracy. This is reflected in the current literature on youth politics, which appears to be almost exclusively descriptive (e.g. ‘What is the level of youth politics in country X?’) or positively normative (e.g. ‘How can country X heighten engagement in youth politics?’). Various youth councils and parliaments are encouraged and empowered by government as well as civil society, both at local and national level. This is also the case internationally. The UN, for instance, demands that youth politics be stimulated: “[Such] engagement and participation is central to achieving sustainable human development.”[1] I will approach the rationale of this collective celebration as a syllogism, defining ‘youth politics’ as organized political engagement of people aged 13–25:

P1        Youth politics increases the level of political engagement;

P2        Political engagement promotes democratic vitality and sustainability; thus

C1        Youth politics promotes democratic vitality and sustainability.

In this paper I am interested in challenging P2. Does the increased political engagement due to youth politics promote democratic vitality and sustainability? For the sake of argument, I will posit the trueness of P1. When it comes to P2: it would be difficult to argue that all forms of political engagement promote democratic vitality and sustainability (e.g. authoritarian neo-Nazism or revolutionary Communism). Hence, I shall take it for granted that P2 is constrained to activities and policies compatible with democracy. Continue reading

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