Representative Democracy - Other Possible Consequences of Intelligence

The Intelligence Paradox: Why the Intelligent Choice Isn't Always the Smart One - Satoshi Kanazawa 2012

Representative Democracy
Other Possible Consequences of Intelligence

When Congressman Jack Murtha (D-PA) unexpectedly died in office in February 2010, one of the names brought up and briefly considered as a possible successor was his wife Joyce. This is very common. When Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) died in 2009, his wife Vicki was seriously considered as a possible interim successor. And when Congressman Sonny Bono (R-CA) died in office in 1998, his widow Mary did succeed him in office. She still represents her late husband's old district to this day, though now married to another Congressman from Florida (Connie Mack IV). All of this happened despite the fact that none of the widows had any political experience at the time of their husbands’ deaths.

Sometimes political power is passed on to other family members. When my former Congressman Bud Shuster (R-PA) resigned in 2001 after a lengthy ethics investigation and a mild Congressional sanction,4 he was succeeded in office by his son Bill, who still represents the 9th District of Pennsylvania to this day. His father's ethics problems apparently have not hampered his own success in politics.

And it turns out that the transmission of a Congressional seat from father to son has a long history in the United States. A Time magazine article from 1929 entitled “The Congress: Fathers & Sons,” begins with the following (somewhat disturbing) paragraph.

Primogeniture and hereditary public office have no place in U.S. tradition. This fact, however, did not last week deter the voters of the 7th Minnesota District from electing by a two-to-one majority Paul John Kvale (pronounced “Ka-volley”) of Benson to the Congressional seat for six years occupied by his father, the Rev. Ole John Kvale, whose charred body was last month found in his burned summer cottage.5

Sometimes the son does not wait for the father to pass the torch to him. According to the Senate's own records, there has only been one father and son pair in history who served in the Senate simultaneously (Henry Dodge of Wisconsin from 1848 to 1857 and his son, Augustus Dodge of Iowa from 1855 to 1858).6 Interestingly, there have been no father and son who served in the House of Representatives simultaneously, but there has been a mother and son pair (Frances Bolton and her son, Oliver Bolton, both of Ohio) who served simultaneously (1953—1957 and 1963—1965).7

And it is not limited to the U.S. Congress. We have elected family members as Presidents of the United States (the Adamses, the Harrisons, the Roosevelts, the Bushes, and almost the Kennedys and the Clintons). In Argentina, the popular President Néstor Kirchner chose not to seek (nearly certain) re-election for a second consecutive term and stepped aside in 2007, so that his wife Cristina could run and win the Presidency. And she did. Argentineans voted overwhelmingly for her and she won by a wide margin.

The United States is one of the oldest and most well established representative democracies in the world. It is also probably the only major world power which has never had any history of hereditary monarchy. In fact, the nation was founded with the very goal of rejecting the rule of hereditary monarchy. Why then, now that we have firmly established a secure form of representative democracy in the last two centuries, do we act as if we want hereditary monarchy, by electing wives, sons, and other family members of politicians to succeed?

Now, I'm sure that, just like any other profession or career, being a good politician requires certain skills and personality traits, and these skills and personality traits may very well be heritable. (Remember, Turkheimer's first law of behavior genetics?8 All human traits are heritable. And the 50—0—50 rule, which I discuss in Chapter 3, suggests that many of these important traits may be 50% heritable.) So it makes sense that sons and other genetic relatives (but not wives) of former politicians want to pursue political careers and turn out to be good politicians themselves. Wives of politicians may also turn out to be good politicians themselves if there is assortative mating—where like marries like—on the important personality traits for politicians.

But that's not what I'm talking about. My question is, why do the people want the wives, sons, and other relatives of former politicians to succeed in office and vote for them, as if we have hereditary monarchy and politics ought to be family business?

Family business is ubiquitous. Everywhere in the world, sons and daughters inherit and continue their parents’ occupations and professions. But politics in representative democracy is different because the continuation of family business requires popular support and consent. The son of the hardware store owner or the plastic surgeon does not require anyone's consent and support to continue his family business. The son of the Congressman does.

There exist family political dynasties in other democracies as well. For example, from 2005 to 2007, Lech Kaczynski was President of Poland while his twin brother Jaroslaw was Prime Minister.9 If it turns out that people everywhere tend to want family members to succeed in political office, then such desire may very well be part of universal human nature. Does that mean that humans everywhere naturally want hereditary monarchy (but with popular support)? Is there something in our human nature that would want our political leaders to be succeeded by their wives, sons, and other family members?

People sometimes complain that the wives and the sons who inherit their political offices from their family members are not qualified to be elected. Such complaints were particularly strong for George W. Bush and Mary Bono. But this is precisely the point.

When a king dies, nobody asks the question “But is the crown prince ready and qualified to succeed to the throne?” Instead he automatically, unquestioningly, and immediately succeeds to his father's throne and becomes the next king, regardless of whether he is qualified or ready. Nobody complains that the legitimate son of a king is not qualified to succeed to the throne, because his bloodline is his qualification. That's how hereditary monarchy works.

My point is that we are acting like we are electing hereditary monarchs. Despite all the complaints about their utter lack of qualification, George W. Bush was reelected for the second term (a feat his father did not achieve), and Mary Bono continues to be reelected today. The fact that they and others may not be qualified for their office therefore supports my speculation.

If the desire for hereditary monarchy—political succession within the family—is part of human nature and universal among all humans, then it means that such a desire is evolutionarily familiar, and the desire for representative democracy—or any other form of government—is evolutionarily novel.

Our ancestors during most of human evolutionary history were undoubtedly more egalitarian and democratic than we were in the recent historical past, during the late agrarian and early industrial periods.10 However, all the accoutrements of modern representative democracy—such as the secret ballot, one person-one vote, universal suffrage, and proportional representation—are all evolutionarily novel. The Intelligence Paradox would therefore suggest that more intelligent individuals and populations have greater desire and capacity for representative democracy than less intelligent individuals and populations.

Indeed this appears to be the case. In his comprehensive study of 170 nations in the world, the Finnish political scientist Tatu Vanhanen showed that the average intelligence in society increases its degrees of democracy.11 The more intelligent the population on average, the more democratic their government. Vanhanen's finding suggests that representative democracy may indeed be evolutionarily novel and unnatural for humans. It does not necessarily mean that humans naturally prefer authoritarian government, the only major alternative form of government in the world today to representative democracy. After all, authoritarian government is also evolutionarily novel. My suggestion is merely that it may be natural for the human mind to expect their new political leader to be a blood relative of the old political leader, and that pure representative democracy, where political successors are not related to their predecessors, may therefore be unnatural.

However, recall from Chapter 1 the dangers of naturalistic fallacy. Natural does not mean good or desirable, and unnatural does not mean bad or undesirable. It simply means that humans did not evolve to practice representative democracy.


1. Smith (1999)

2. Pendergrast (1999)

3. Gale et al. (2007)


5.,9171,752267,00.html. Yes, a Time article published in 1929 is available online! I have no idea why



8. Turkheimer (2000)

9. Nizynska (2010);,9171,1655447,00.htm

10. Boehm (1999); Lenski (1966)

11. Vanhanen (2003)