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A qualified representative democracy

“Is a strange woman lying in ponds distributing swords is a good basis for a system of government?”

A quote from the movie Monty Python; the search for the Holy Grail. Even though a joke of high comedy gold, I still found it a good topic to go back to. What constitutes a good basis for a system of Government? The counter argument in that particular sketch states it should be based on the mandate of the masses, or commonly known as democracy. But are all the other versions forms of repression as the land worker suggests?
Socrates, a philosopher in the first democratic polis, was surprisingly against democracy. He argues that if you want a prosperous state, wouldn’t you rather want rulers that have been educated in political affairs rather a demagogue who just promises better things than their rivals? I think this is a good argument, if I would need surgery I would prefer someone who has been through med school and years of residency rather than someone who will promise to fix me up but never held a scalpel. Why is it then that in this age we do not hold the same standards to our political representatives than we of any other service provider?
So, imagine then we are at a fork on the road, do we go on and just except anyone to be a political leader, or do we go down the path of qualified representation? the ancient Chinese dynasties, interestingly enough, already had a form of qualification tool to ensure that those in office were educated. This system originated during the Han dynasty 207 BC and is called the imperial examination. All prospective bureaucratic candidates took this exam up until its dissolvent in 1907.
Imagine if current demagogue or any leaders had taken the exam, would they have passed it? Would the preparation change their political leaning? Or would this examination be another barrier for the working class to gain access to government?
One of the major drawbacks during its usage was a lack of innovation. A test can hardly contain questions about future scenarios and policies, therefore it will automatically have a conservative leaning. Another issue is that a test like this without doubt will not do justice to some other important fields such as arts and science. Taking the test was also very expensive due to the education it required.
A qualified representative democracy. But qualified by who? Let’s say this test is indeed to be reintroduced, who will create this test? That alone will without doubt cause turmoil. If the current government is in charge, there will be undoubtedly will be nepotism. If the academics are in responsible a more social color the test will have. What if we create a ministry of examination? Now corruption is luckily not a really big issue in western Europe, but if a single group is responsible for creating the test, thus also influencing who passes, there will be disagreement in the best case.

Further reading:
Ko, K. (2017). A brief history of imperial examination and its influences. Society, 54(3), 272-278. doi:10.1007/s12115-017-0134-9

Published on Categories Democracy, Political philosophy

About Jack van den Berg

Jack Van den Berg has a Bachelor of Arts in European Studies from the Zuyd University of Applied Sciences in Maastricht. During his Bachelor he specialised in Communication in the Public domain and gained communications and organisational skills during a previous internship in Account Managing in New York. He has interests in political philosophy, technology, and communication design.