What does it mean to say knowledge is power? Francis Bacon is alleged to have said it first. In that version, the remark is supposed to have captured the signature aspiration of modernity - to deploy knowledge for the sake of the mastery on which human progress depends. The inquiry of experts would unlock the arcana of nature, and provide a mode of beneficial rule that could escape old criticisms of the power of ill-informed and thus to some extent illegitimate monarchs. "[T]he sovereignty of man lieth hid in knowledge," Bacon wrote, wherein many things are reserved, which kings with their treasure cannot buy, nor with their force command; their spials and intelligencers can give no news of them, their seamen and discoverers cannot sail where they grow: now we govern nature in opinions, but we are thrall unto her in necessity ... [but] we should command her by action. Expertise, that is, would offer liberation from the age-old yoke of nature by taking humanity beyond the realm of mere opinion. Kings had proved themselves powerless to lift this yoke, but experts would do so for the sake of man's advancement and "sovereignty." It was an optimistic, untroubled, and even visionary statement. In the several centuries since, expert governance - rule by elite knowledge claimed to be superior to mere opinion - has fallen under suspicion. But there is a serious debate about how to diagnose its possible failings.
Date of Authorship for this Version
Moyn, Samuel, "Knowledge and Politics in International Law" (2016). Faculty Scholarship Series. 5217.