Lisa Maria Herzog

How much, and
what, do you need
to know to be a good

Published in Issue #01 — Globalized Nature

When you choose between political parties as a voter, are you doing the same as when choosing between products in a supermarket? How does knowledge function in markets, how does it function in democratic political systems, and what is the interaction between these two realms? What’s the deeper story behind such seemingly disparate phenomena as the influence of corporate money on academic research, the use of indicators inspired by market-prices in hospitals and other public institutions, and the claims by populists that «people have had enough of experts»?

As an interdisciplinary scholar with a home in philosophy, these questions had kept me busy for years, while I was working on the manuscript that ended up being entitled «Citizen Knowledge. Market, Experts, and the Infrastructure of Democracy.» I developed a three-part model, in which three mechanisms of the production and «use of knowledge in society»—to quote a famous line from F.A. Hayek—are contrasted: the market mechanism, the production of knowledge in expert communities, and democratic deliberation among citizens. All three can have their place, all three need to be protected against corruption and corrosion if they are to function well, and the balance between them needs to be right—with democratic deliberation, on the basis of equality, being the most central one.

Citizen Knowledge. Market, Experts, and the Infrastructure of Democracy

Many democratic societies currently struggle with issues around knowledge: fake news, distrust of experts, a fear of technocratic tendencies. In Citizen Knowledge, Lisa Herzog discusses how knowledge, understood in a broad sense, should be dealt with in societies that combine a democratic political system with a capitalist economic system. How do citizens learn about politics? How do new scientific insights make their way into politics? What role can markets play in processing decentralized knowledge?

Herzog takes on the perspective of «democratic institutionalism», which focuses on the institutions that enable an inclusive and stable democratic life. She argues that the fraught relation between democracy and capitalism gets out of balance if too much knowledge is treated according to the logic of markets rather than democracy. Complex societies need different mechanisms for dealing with knowledge, among which markets, democratic deliberation, and expert communities are central. Herzog develops the vision of an egalitarian society that considers the use of knowledge in society not a matter of markets, but of shared democratic responsibility, supported by epistemic infrastructures.

Lisa Herzog: Citizen Knowledge.
Oxford University Press, October 2023

In recent decades, however, a powerful narrative about markets as magic knowledge machines has unsettled this balance and distorted the way in which their interplay functions. To redress this imbalance, markets need to be put back into their place, expert communities need to take on an active role as partners of the democratic public, and democracy needs to be strengthened, by enabling all citizens to participate in public discourse and decision-making. But the exchange of knowledge between citizens, which is inevitable in societies with highly divided labor, requires certain forms of trust, and these are unlikely to flourish in highly unequal societies. Ultimately, democratic societies need to rein in socio-economic inequality if they want to live up to the challenge to live with complex knowledge.

At the end of 2021, I was ready to go over the final revisions, in response to the comments I had received from reviewers. November to January in Hamburg, a fellowship in the darkest months of the year, with Corona still around the corner—it might sound as if there could be more attractive options. But for me, it was a fantastic time, thanks not least to the wonderful staff of the HIAS and the great intellectual community of my co-fellows. I vividly remember many of our discussions, for example one with a medical scholar about the extent to which human behavior is determined by hormones. I still haven’t figured out how to integrate this point into democratic theory—interdisciplinarity always remains an unfinished task!

Lisa Maria Herzog

Lisa Herzog is Professor of Political Philosophy at the Faculty of Philosophy and at the Center for Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at University of Groningen, Netherlands. Her HIAS Fellowship 2021/2022 was provided by the Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Hamburg.

In a book launch event at the HIAS on 12 October, 2023, Lisa Herzog engaged with comments and questions by colleagues from philosophy, political theory, and economics, and from the audience.

Image Information

Book cover «Citizen Knowledge. Market, Experts, and the Infrastructure of Democracy», 2023 Oxford University Press