Jonathan Benson

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I joined the University of Manchester as a Hallsworth Research Fellow in February 2022 and am based in the Department of Politics. I received my PhD from Manchester and have previously been a Lecturer in Political Economy at King’s College London and Assistant Professor in Political Philosophy at Utrecht University’s Ethics Institute.

My research is situated within political theory but has a strong connection to political economy and the interdisciplinary tradition of politics, philosophy, and economics. I am particularly interested in contemporary challenges to democracy, both theoretical and practical. This includes issues such as increases in anti-democratic thought and sentiment, the relationship to the market economy, and trends of political polarisation and misinformation.

I am currently completing a book entitled Intelligent Democracy: a reply to the new democratic scepticism which is under contract with Oxford University Press. This project engages with contemporary critics of democracy who claim that democratic governments will inevitably make poor political decisions, due to issues of voter ignorance or the irrationalities of public debate. Such critics instead defend alternative forms of governance which restrict voting rights to the more knowledgeable, select political leaders based on experience and examination, or invest greater power in markets, private companies, and NGOs. My book replies to such critics by defending a model of democratic politics I call Intelligent Democracy. According to this model, democracy should be seen as a system of institutions which work together to make effective use of social knowledge, engage in experimentation, and motivate decisions towards the public good. While the critics and many democrats think of democracy as a single institution, I argue that it is a network involving many divisions of labour and forms of specialisation. This allows me to argue that democracy is valuable, not only because it gives us all an equal say, but because it is the form of government most likely to make good political decisions and solve social problems.

In my most recent work I turn to a range of more practical threats facing contemporary democracies and look to develop a democratic theory of political polarisation. While polarisation has become a central problem confronting many modern democracies, and has produced a large social science literature, it has received relatively less attention from normative political theorists. My project therefore looks to connect empirical findings to democratic principles and asks three connected questions: (1) how is political polarisation best conceptualised for normative analysis, (2) what are the main threats polarisation presents to core democratic values, and (3) what are the most desirable reforms for dealing with these threats? I am particularly interested in answering these questions with respect to the broader political dynamics in which polarisation occurs. While existing accounts within political theory have focused on psychological drivers of polarisation, such as group polarisation effects and cultural cognition theory, a focus on citizen psychology overlooks how polarisation is often an elite driven process. I therefore argue that political polarisation should be seen, in part, as a discursive process where political actors use divisive speech and rhetoric as a political strategy. The project then looks to analyse these polarising forms of discourse and their implications for democratic values. 

Research Focus

Democratic Theory: Deliberative and participatory democracy, democratic systems, epistemic justifications of democracy, democracy’s critics, the crisis of democracy.  

Political Economy: Democracy’s relationship to the market, the limits of markets, polycentricity, exit and voice, environmental political economy.  

Political Communication & Knowledge: Voter ignorance, misinformation and fake news, political polarisation, and the role of information in political and economic institutions.


I have significant teaching experience in both political theory and interdisciplinary courses in political economy and PPE (politics, philosophy and economics).

University of Manchester

Theoretical Approaches to Political Economy (MA): Major approaches to positive and normative political economy. 

Challenges to Democratic Politics (2nd Year UG): Applied political theory (civil disobedience, poverty, health inequality etc.) 

Introduction to Political Theory (1st Year UG): Central concepts in political theory (political obligation, democracy etc.)

Utrecht University         

Knowledge, Ignorance and Democracy (MA): Normative and empirical debates over political knowledge and misinformation

Ethics and Public Policy (1st Year UG - PPE): Ethical theory and its application to public policy

Economic Ethics (MA): Ethical and political theory and its application to economics and the economy

PPE Capstone (2nd Year UG – PPE): Seminars on interdisciplinary research skills/methods and supervision of extended research projects

PPE Thesis (3rd Year UG - PPE): Seminars on interdisciplinary research skills/methods and supervision of extended research projects

King’s College London  

Ethics, Economics & Environmental Protection (2nd Year UG): Philosophical, political & economic approaches to environmental problems

Key Concepts in Contemporary Political Economy (MA): Normative approaches in economics and political economy

Introduction to Political Theory (1st Year UG): Central concepts in political theory (justice, democracy, rights etc.)

Contemporary Issues in Political Theory (2nd Year UG): Applied political theory (migration, free-speech, abortion, globalisation etc.)

Dissertation Supervision (3rd Year UG & MA): Supervision of extended research projects in politics, political economy, and PPE.

Areas of expertise

  • JC Political theory


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