The word “technocracy” has been around for a century, but as a term of political derision it has flourished since the global financial crisis of 2008, especially in the context of the European Union’s austerity-driven response to recession. Critics have alleged, in particular, that EU policy was overdetermined by unelected experts—especially those within the European Central Bank, whose positions insulated them from democratic accountability. The Occupy Wall Street movement of the early 2010s gave voice to similar outrage in the United States.
In hindsight, these debates now register as early flashpoints in a twenty-first-century political showdown over the relationship between experts and citizens—what political scientist Archon Fung has called the rise of “wide-aperture, low-deference democracy.” The signs of that showdown are everywhere. Since the COVID-19 pandemic plunged the world into a series of interlocking crises, public health agencies like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been accused of mismanagement, miscommunication, and even outright deception, while economic institutions like the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank have exercised wide discretionary power over the path of recovery. Whatever one makes of the details of these debates, it is undeniable that democratic citizens in many nations find themselves in a position of dependence and distrust, reliant on technocratic institutions but lacking in meaningful mechanisms of oversight and accountability. Technocracy cannot be dismissed as a mere specter of the paranoid populist imagination.
At the same time, the concept of technocracy itself remains poorly defined, and arguments against it lack a firm, widely shared normative foundation. Critics have many targets, and it is not always clear exactly on what grounds we are supposed to find those targets objectionable. One reason for this situation may be that technocracy has rarely been a central concern for democratic theory, despite the efforts of German philosopher Jürgen Habermas and a few of his fellow travelers. Even among those with democratic sympathies, technocracy may seem a less pressing target than oligarchy, authoritarianism, or “minoritarianism.”
In fact, plenty find the technocratic ideal desirable, or at least acceptable. Liberal and progressive intellectuals have often embraced technocratic and meritocratic institutions, especially in the face of “populist” insurgency. Why not leave decisions to those who are most competent to make them? Recent provocative arguments for political meritocracy and even epistocracy have put (lowercase) democrats on the defensive. Even some who demure from the exclusionary tone of these arguments look favorably on the depoliticization of policy decisions so that the cooler logic of utilitarianism may prevail.
But those who care about good policy, no less than those who care about deep democracy or public citizenship, should hesitate to take the technocrat’s bait. Even if technocracy is not the most dire or imminent threat to democracy, its intersections with elite domination and minoritarian rule merit serious scrutiny. Resolving these debates requires getting clear about precisely what technocracy means—and how, why, and under what conditions it poses a problem for democracy. A range of scholarly work over the last few years helps to clarify these stakes and offers valuable resources for imagining what a democratic opposition to technocracy should look like.
The Concept of Technocracy
What exactly are we talking about when we talk about technocracy? Though deployed as a term of criticism today, the idea traces its origins to a utopian proposal for government. During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Enlightenment thinkers such as Nicolas de Condorcet and utopian socialists such as St. Simon and Auguste Comte anticipated a predictive science of society that would allow for the perfection of government as a rational system of administration. The idea of surpassing politics with technical-scientific rationality such that the “the government of persons is replaced by the administration of things” is often associated with St. Simon, but the originator of the phrase, in fact, was German philosopher (and frequent coauthor of Karl Marx) Friedrich Engels, who believed that the communist state would be an overseer of production rather than a referee of political conflicts. It is in this context that Engels famously anticipates the “withering away” of the state form itself.
In the twentieth century, proposals for government by engineers were advanced by intellectuals such as Thorstein Veblen in the United States and Walter Rathenau in Germany, giving rise to a short-lived technocracy movement that proposed government by experts as a solution to the economic problems of the Depression Era. As a term, “technocracy” did not have much staying power, but the concept of government by experts proved influential. In the United States, in particular, technocracy was alternately bolstered and contested by Progressive Era intellectuals and policymakers. While the ends of Progressive reformers tended to be populist and egalitarian, they split on whether the means should be technocratic or democratic, as evidenced by the famous debate between journalist Walter Lippmann and philosopher John Dewey.
In Lippmann’s “realist” view, ordinary citizens were helplessly, hopelessly constrained by the narrowness of their perspectives and interests and therefore incapable of self-government. But experts and elites, he maintained, could still deliver the goods that people want from their governments if empowered to direct policy on the basis of social scientific knowledge. Dewey, while accepting much of Lippmann’s account at the descriptive level, believed that more public discussion and decision-making—essentially more democracy—was the mechanism by which citizens could educate and organize themselves. Arguably it was Lippmann’s vision that prevailed in the early twentieth century, as top-down approaches to governance predominated in the New Deal era. In his book Democracy Against Domination (2016), legal scholar Sabeel K. Rahman explains that the New Deal pursued progressive ends through a managerialist paradigm of economic governance wherein technocratic expertise was deployed toward the end of economic optimization.
By the middle of the twentieth century, a dystopian counterpoint to progressive or socialist visions of technocracy emerged, emphasizing the dehumanizing character of a society based on technical control. The classic works in this genre—from Jacques Ellul’s The Technological Society (1964) to Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man (1964), Theodore Roszak’s The Making of a Counter Culture (1969), and Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano (1952)—tend to be tinged with existential despair about a revaluation of values and a civilizational malaise in which humanity is dominated by technology, technique, and technical rationality. In this line of argument, technocracy is “not simply a power structure” but “the expression of a grand cultural imperative,” as Roszak put it.
Such arguments may help us to understand what is at stake in the conflict between technocracy and democracy as abstract paradigms, but they are less helpful in identifying technocracy at the level of institutions. Closer to the mark is the concern among democratic theorists that a technological society, by virtue of its complexity, makes specialized knowledge a necessity in a way that justifies the exclusion of the average citizen and thus challenges the classical vision of citizenship based on practical judgment. Among the classic theories, these concerns are less like Ellul’s or Marcuse’s than that of French political scientist Jean Meynaud, who argues in Technocracy (1969) that the idea signifies “the rise to power of those who possess technical knowledge or ability, to the detriment of the traditional type of politician.” This brings us closer to the concept of technocracy as it has been discussed since the 1990s, which has to do with the role of an expert class whose neutral or instrumental policy designs supplant the political discussion of values among citizens. Sociologist Elizabeth Popp Berman, among other contemporary analysts, extends this concern by arguing that both Republican and Democratic policymakers have naturalized an approach to economic policy that takes for granted the importance of efficiency while marginalizing competing concerns such as fairness, justice, and equality.
While the “classical” or “utopian” concept of technocracy entailed the direct rule of experts, technocracy as it has actually existed is often “formally respectful of democratic values and institutions,” as Claudio Radaelli has observed. Much empirical work on technocracy has been guided by Miguel Centeno’s definition: “the administrative and political domination of society by a state elite and allied institutions that seek to impose a single, exclusive policy paradigm based on the application of instrumentally rational techniques.” Studies of technocracy in Latin America, for example, have described technocrats as an autonomous class capable of advancing their interests even against considerable opposition from democratically elected politicians. Technocracy in this sense is distributed throughout the executive branch of government as well as non-governmental institutions that assist technocrats in developing, advocating, and executing policies.
Others might prefer a narrower definition of technocracy that is easier to distinguish from democracy. Duncan McDonnell and Marco Valbruzzi, for instance, offer a typology in which “fully technocratic” or “technocrat-led” governments empower experts appointed from outside the party-political apparatus. Four of the European regimes they identify—in Hungary, the Czech Republic, Greece, and Italy—all saw technocrats appointed in response to the global financial crisis. Yet the EU and U.S. policy responses to the crisis have both been characterized as technocratic despite the fact that experts did not govern or “rule” directly in the vast majority of instances. (One notable U.S. exception occurred in Detroit.) Defining technocracy as a distinctive regime type does not do justice to the full scope of technocratic politics.
Closer to the mark is what Christopher Bickerton and Carlo Accetti have identified as the “call for the transfer of political power to actors and institutions drawing legitimacy from their technical competence and administrative expertise.” Equally important is where this political power is being transferred from: elected officials and the public that empowers them. The justification for technocracy is typically that experts will make better decisions than the public or its representatives—and that they will make the best decisions when they are several steps removed from the political pressures they generate. Ignacio Sanchez-Cuenca contends along these lines that “technocracy can be characterized as political decision making by nonelected officials who are appointed because of their technical expertise. . . . The core idea of technocracy is that political decision-making is ‘depoliticized’ for efficiency reasons and insulated from the democratic process.”
Putting all this together, technocracy might best be construed as ensembles of actors and institutions, typically but not always national or supra-national, that concentrate power among unelected experts and make binding decisions on the basis of expertise, as opposed to offering merely advisory input. Technocratic institutions of this kind are distributed throughout state bureaucracies, where they advance policy on economics, national security, military, immigration, education, environment, and much else besides. From this perspective, it is not important that we reach a conclusion about whether a given political system, writ large, is technocratic or democratic; most display aspects of both. Instead of seeking to identify a vanishing point or bright line at which a democracy “becomes” a technocracy, we should focus on identifying illegitimate or undesirable manifestations of technocracy—those that preempt, exclude, or otherwise diminish democratic decision-making capacities.
Examples abound of such technocratic domination. Many case studies on technocracy in the twentieth century have focused on development policy, including public health, infrastructure, and especially fiscal policy—areas where experts have not only the broad autonomy that characterizes technocracy, but also, when empowered by national or supra-national institutions, some ability to force the hands of elected politicians by offering or withholding funds or overriding local institutions. One of the key findings in this literature is that technocrats may present and perhaps understand their projects as apolitical but they nonetheless engage in political maneuvering to expand their influence and protect their autonomy. Indeed they often excel at this aspect of their work even as the substantive aims of their policies fail or backfire. James Ferguson, for example, demonstrates in a classic study that the World Bank’s development projects in Lesotho expanded the state bureaucracy without helping the poor, while Eve Buckley’s recent work on Brazilian development policy shows that technocrats neglected political questions of equity and distribution in order to maintain favor with governing elites. In both instances, the promise of “solving” poverty without political confrontation led to the entrenchment of political and economic inequalities.
While such cases present some of the most striking instances of technocratic domination (and frequently of technocratic failure), this problem is hardly confined to the developing world, of course. Economic policy in the United States and the EU is a case in point. In his recent book Unelected Power: The Quest for Legitimacy in Central Banking and the Regulatory State (2018), Paul Tucker calls central banks such as the European Central Bank and the U.S. Federal Reserve the “epitome of technocratic power.” And recent scholarship at the intersection of history and political economy has clarified the intellectual and institutional trajectory that led us here. In both its initial interwar formulation and its more recent neoliberal articulations, the doctrine of central bank independence has justified a politics of “technocratic exceptionalism,” as Jacqueline Best has put it, that suspends and contains ordinary democratic politics in order to impose “discipline” on the state and circumscribe the distributive claims of citizens.
Rahman has made similar arguments concerning U.S. economic policy. He has characterized the Obama administration’s response to the 2008 financial crisis, for example, as a product of “managerialist” philosophy that emphasizes the need for regulatory institutions that are “centralized, expert-led, and politically insulated, free to make policy on the basis of morally neutral scientific knowledge.” Elsewhere, he contends that the Dodd-Frank Bill—the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s reform efforts—exhibits a “technocratic impulse,” based on its architects’ view that good governance is best pursued by containing political pressures and securing expert autonomy. At exactly the juncture where more responsive and transparent economic policy was needed, Rahman argues, the executive and legislative branches both acted largely to insulate decision-making from public pressure.
More broadly still, both the United States and the EU delegate a profound level of decision-making power to administrative agencies that receive little meaningful oversight from either the public or elected officials—not only central banks but institutions like the CDC, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration. Scrutinizing the technocratic nature of these institutions may seem risky at a time when the U.S. right is mounting an all-out assault on the administrative state. But democratic criticisms of technocracy do not entail viewing all forms of bureaucracy as innately malign or illegitimate. Instead, they raise questions about the chains of accountability that bind its actions to the public—and what democratic commitments tell us about how these institutional forms may need to be reformed.
Two Objections to Technocracy
What makes these arrangements illegitimate? Democratic theory points to two lines of normative criticism, an argument from power and an argument from knowledge. Together they indicate that technocracy has severe shortcomings as both a political model and an epistemic one.
The Argument from Power
The argument from power is that technocracy creates a unique danger of domination via depoliticization. Perhaps the most influential theory of domination in recent years has derived from the work of Philip Pettit. For Pettit, who derives his political theory from republican theorists like Machiavelli, Montesquieu, de Tocqueville, and the Federalists, political institutions secure liberty when they limit the extent to which citizens are subjected to arbitrary interference. Working within this framework, contemporary political theorists have pursued a normative case against domination in the political realm, which occurs when a group over whom power is exercised is unable to contest or control that power. When technocracy removes decisions from public determination, and citizens have an interest in how those decisions are made, then depoliticization is a form of domination: it excludes stakeholders from the process and leaves them powerless to contest harmful decisions.
Some critics have contended that technocracy becomes a democratic problem primarily when expert decisions have “distributional consequences.” But this view arguably relies on too limited a conception of what should be open to political contestation. Even the most capacious understanding of distributive justice could not encompass the wide range of concerns—from value conflicts to procedural concerns about representation and inclusion—that citizens could oppose to technocratic decisions in order to repoliticize them. Democratic empowerment in the interest of non-domination extends far beyond the power to achieve a certain distributive outcome. It also entails the power to shape the values and procedures by which such outcomes might be achieved.
Recognizing that technocracy disempowers citizens adds to our understanding of domination in modern democracies. Accounts of elite domination often focus on the power of economic elites, in particular. Technocracy is both as an independent source of domination and a key mechanism by which economic elite domination can be maintained and legitimized. Economic elites are better positioned to influence the decisions of technocrats by virtue of their superior organization and material advantage; wealthy citizens can channel considerable sums of money through think-tanks, political foundations, universities, and other organizations to shape expert policy consensus. And, as Rahman and Sanchez-Cuenca show, policies that benefit economic elites at the expense of ordinary citizens are often cloaked in the language of technocratic neutrality—as what simply must be done, rather than what a certain class or interest group insists on having done. Neither the production of expert knowledge nor its communication to the public is immune from distortion or capture.
If we take the portrait of technocratic domination sketched above seriously, these implications cannot be surprising. The innate tension between technocracy and democracy is, after all, a tension between institutional forms that empower experts and those that empower the public. Honest proponents of technocracy must concede that its institutional forms limit democratic agency. For those who stress the ignorance of the public, this is a virtue; for others it is a necessary tradeoff, outweighed by the promise of substantively sounder policymaking. The upshot is that the argument from power may attack technocracy at its weakest point, normatively speaking. To make a truly convincing critique of technocracy, we should consider what proponents characterize as its greatest strength.
The Argument from Knowledge
This leads to the second line of argument against technocracy, which has to do with its deficiencies as a knowledge-aggregating institution. Dewey’s vision of democracy, developed most fully in The Public and Its Problems (1927), has proven influential on this point. While Dewey shared the hope of many of his progressive contemporaries for a scientific approach to politics, he did not conceptualize it as an expert-driven enterprise. “The man who wears the shoe knows best that it pinches and where it pinches,” he famously remarked. The image encapsulates Dewey’s argument that expertise can never fully account for the experiential knowledge dispersed among the public. Making politics scientific would therefore require the active engagement of the public in identifying and resolving social problems.
There is a large and growing literature on the “epistemology of democracy” that extends these Deweyan concerns, pointing to distinct cognitive assets of open and participatory decision-making. One recurring concern is that possession of expert knowledge does not make technocrats immune to bias or groupthink, and indeed these dangers tend to be more pronounced among insular, homogeneous groups. Furthermore, given the complexity of social systems and the difficulty of applying extant bodies of knowledge to new situations, even credible experts struggle to craft effective policies and even to make accurate predictions. While critics of the rationality of democratic publics often take a perverse delight in skewering the competencies of ordinary citizens, they do a poor job of responding to many damning critiques of technocratic incompetence. As Zeljka Buturovic has argued, the failure of experts to make accurate predictions over even relatively simple matters “strongly suggests that technocracy is worse than putting dart-throwing chimps in charge of public policy.”
In fact, the incentive structure of technocratic concentrations of power may make them more prone to irrationality than more democratic arrangements. Commenting on the Eurozone crisis, for example, Matthias Matthijs and Mark Blyth argue that “because there are no direct democratic checks upon their policies, technocratic elites are incentivized to choose policies that insulate them from criticism (politically rational) while reproducing economic policies that are suboptimal (economically irrational).” Their analysis reveals a pattern of technocrats “doubling down” on bad policy, reaffirming the basis of their authority by sticking to “rules” derived from supranational institutions even as they failed to right the Eurozone’s economic ship. Insulation from democratic feedback allowed them to learn the wrong lessons as the crisis went on, while responsivity would have improved decision-making by forcing technocrats to contend with information that their procedures deemed irrelevant.
The extent to which democratic institutions and decision-making protocols facilitate the types of learning processes that technocratic structures constrain or circumvent is among their most distinctive practical advantages. Proponents of so-called “epistemic democracy” such as Hélène Landemore have articulated this advantage in a cognitivist vocabulary that emphasizes the virtues of open, inclusive decision-making—among them cognitive diversity, a plurality of viewpoints, and the capacity to aggregate socially dispersed information. While epistemic democrats have focused on the likelihood of arriving at “correct” decisions via democratic procedures—suggesting that democracies can outperform technocracies even by their own criteria of success—other visions of democratic intelligence contrast more dramatically with the technocratic frame, indicating distinctly democratic criteria for identifying and resolving social problems. As Elizabeth Anderson noted in her influential 2006 article “The Epistemology of Democracy,” what counts as a “problem” cannot be determined without reference to what citizens deem worthy of public concern, nor can a “solution” be assessed without reference to what citizens deem acceptable or unacceptable consequences.
On this account, ordinary citizens should themselves be considered bearers of a kind of expertise. Many studies affirm that citizens can effectively contribute to the identification and resolution of social problems. They can, for example, make reliable assessments of scientific testimony, contribute to technical analysis, and assess second-order norms of expert-citizen cooperation, though these competencies require both institutional and cultural support. Further, citizens who are not broadly “knowledgeable” in the sense that epistocrats have measured can nonetheless possess substantial knowledge about specific issues by which they are closely impacted. Studies on the thick knowledge Black Americans possess about policing and the incarceration system, for example, cut against the tendency—shared by technocracy, meritocracy, and epistocracy alike—to evaluate competence on the basis of credentialization or assessments of certain kinds of knowledge while neglecting the distinctive experiences, interests, and practical competencies citizens can contribute.
This work points away from a narrowly electoral conception of democracy—one where the primary mechanism for citizens to contribute knowledge is voting for parties or candidates as proxies for policy bundles. While public competition for power is essential to democratic accountability, elections of representatives are necessarily suboptimal mechanisms for aggregating and applying knowledge. They offer citizens highly constrained choices that correspond only loosely to particular policy agendas and outcomes. Turning our attention to other democratic fora offers a significantly less dire portrait of democratic capabilities and clarifies the institutional scaffolding necessary for effective democratic decision-making.
Building a Smart Democracy
These arguments provide a foil against which more democratic practices and institutions might be imagined—practices and institutions that empower citizens while facilitating the development, aggregation, and application of their knowledge. What would such a “smart democracy” look like?
Many analysts of expert-citizens relations have contemplated institutions that would allow for greater informational exchange and accountability between the technocratic and democratic spheres. This is promising and necessary work. But taking the critique of technocracy seriously also requires contending with proposals for the cultivation of democratic intelligence through more-or-less direct channels of participatory decision-making. Democracy becomes smarter when citizens are empowered to make their knowledge effective in practice through participatory governance that gives citizens decision-making power as opposed to mere consulting power.
Innovations such as participatory budgeting provide one practical example of how policymaking can expand the opportunity structure for participatory inputs. But other important institutions in the terrain of smart democracy are led and organized by citizens—perhaps most importantly, social movements. Habermas deemed social movements vital for linking moral-practical knowledge dispersed among citizens to political institutions. More recently, studies by Deva Woodly and Michelle Moody-Adams have looked to social movements like Black Lives Matter as models of “democratic intelligence” in action. Woodly’s analysis, for example, reveals the deficiencies of an overly rationalistic or cognitivist interpretation of intelligence, appealing to Dewey to extend the concept to customs, habits, and other socially embodied modes of knowledge. These arguments illustrate why the epistemic virtues of democracy cannot be separated from non-epistemic virtues that sustain Habermasian communicative relations. A smart democracy thus requires institutional development of social-emotional competencies such as narrative sensitivity and trust, which facilitate listening and exchange among citizens.
More broadly, institutions ought to be designed in a way that enables power-sharing among citizens and that redistributes power to groups that are typically marginalized in the political process. Often the very citizens who are “epistemically advantaged” by virtue of their firsthand experiences with government are subjugated by racial and class dynamics that diminish their opportunities to influence decision-making. Smart democracy emphasizes that sharing knowledge and sharing power are intricately related. We should not expect that a smart democracy would dissolve all political conflict or disagreement into cooperative enterprises, of course. The expansion of participatory decision-making arenas is about expanding opportunities for politicization and contestation as much as it is about aggregating information or solving problems. But then, even conflictual processes—protests, for example—have epistemic benefits for participants and observers. Most importantly, they may publicize injustices, exclusions, and other problems which the majority of citizens, in addition to technocrats, often choose to neglect.
It is easiest to imagine smart democracy taking place at these lower- and meso- level spaces. But not all social problems are equally amenable to resolution through local or direct democracy, of course. Could citizen participatory move up to the higher levels of policymaking which are, at present, most technocratic—the administrative state, the Central Banks, and other such strongholds of expertise? To scaffold these principles all the way up the level of something like the European Central Bank or other powerful supra-national institutions is, to be sure, a daunting task for democratic institutional design. It may well be that some such institutions should be abolished rather than reformed.
Under a more reformist horizon, a first move toward smart democracy would be to make these institutions “fully public,” as Jordan Haedtler, Andrew Levin, and Velerie Wilson have advocated with respect to the Federal Reserve. In the case of the Federal Reserve Banks, this would require making them public corporations, revising their selection processes to be open and transparent, and forcing them into compliance with Freedom of Information Act requests. Further, when it isn’t possible or desirable to delegate decisions downward, a smart democracy would instead delegate participation upward by incorporating the participation of representative citizens—who might be self-selected or recruited in the style of a jury—into decision-making processes.
These sorts of reforms would not necessarily seek to empower all citizens to participate in decision-making at all times, though this can be a virtue in that it places more reasonable demands in terms of citizens’ attention and availability. As Landemore explains in her recent book Open Democracy (2020), an “open” democracy should seek to create mechanisms for participation for those who choose to use them, and her work suggests that such institutions can be representative even when they draw in a limited sample of citizens. Moreover, as Beth Noveck and others have argued, emerging digital technologies offer some promise for bringing citizen perspectives into decision-making processes regularly and at all stages, without always requiring physical or temporal coordination among parties. Of course, there are dangers here. “Opt-in” participatory fora—even elections and especially local elections—tend to advantage citizens who have the most leisure time, which makes their composition whiter, more male, and more affluent than the general population. Landemore is thus right to insist that criteria of inclusiveness will need to be dynamic—for example, amplifying the influence of citizens from communities that are directly affected by a given policy or who are underrepresented in the general electorate—and that the reform of democratic institutions cannot succeed without a corresponding movement toward “substantive equality,” including economic equality.
These reforms share not just a goal of enhancing democratic participation but a method and ethos of expanding “public power.” If technocracy denotes an elite-dominated circuity of power and knowledge, the solution is to set a countervailing democratic circuitry into motion, empowering citizens not only to speak up but to be heard and to make choices.
Democratic citizens today face problems of staggering scope and complexity. Crises on the scale of the global financial crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and climate change are daunting to consider in their moral, political, and technical dimensions. In the face of such challenges the appeal of technocratic governance is understandable—at least in the sense that it is impossible to imagine effective responses that do not enlist the knowledge of experts. But one of the central points of the critique of technocracy is that institutions that insulate experts from democratic accountability or remove policy decisions from public contestation are unlikely to succeed.
Growing dissatisfaction with democracy is another source of the technocratic temptation. To the extent that conventional party politics and the mechanisms of representative democracy fail to respond to political and economic crises, vacillations between technocratic managerialism and populist insurgency seem likely to continue. In this climate, it is imperative that democrats seek to rework institutions in a way that meets the populist demand for responsiveness while more efficiently integrating democratic and expert knowledge to avoid both the actuality and the appearance of elite domination.
This is not to say that erecting the infrastructure of smart democracy will be enough to address every form of injustice, exclusion, or hierarchy. But it would give citizens committed to those goals more power to pursue those ends and expand the scope of politicization where it has been narrowed by technocratic decision-making. In this sense, smart democracy does not close the door on more radical political projects. In developing a machinery of public power that may be seized upon by reformers and radicals alike, it can perhaps be of use in prying some doors open.