Jeffrey Friedman is a senior fellow of the Institute for the Advancement of the Social Sciences, Boston University.
If you’re interested in debating forms of government, he wrote an interesting article on the connundrum of elected structures:
ABSTRACT : “The Nature of Belief Systems” sets forth a Hobson’s choice between rule by the politically ignorant masses and rule by the ideologically constrained—which is to say, the doctrinaire—elites. On the one hand, lacking comprehensive cognitive structures, such as ideological “belief systems,” with which to understand politics, most people learn distressingly little about it. On the other hand, a spiral of conviction seems to make it difﬁcult for the highly informed few to see any aspects of politics but those that conﬁrm the cognitive structures that organize their political perceptions.This is a troubling situation for any consequentialist democratic political theory, according to which what is crucial is the electorate’s (and subsidiary decision makers’) ability to make informed policy judgments, not their possession of willful but uninformed political “attitudes.” Any political theorist who does not take democracy to be an end in itself (regardless of its consequences) should be concerned about Converse’s ﬁndings.
In a review titled, “Is Voter Ignorance killing Democracy?” Salon makes further comments on the ideas Friedman has illustrated. They’re off the mark, as usual.
Nevertheless, it’s an age old issue; by necessity, we need to have governments, or in the case of companies, we need managers, but we wish the ‘managers’ wouldn’t be so dumb. But especially in issues of government, it is the nature of the discussions both by the politicians and the media, that are inappropriate, not the inteligence of the voters. The public has never been wiser.
To illustrate, I do not need to understand computer systems to sit on the Board of Directors of a company. Neither do I need to have a vast understanding of law, or financial instruments, or the latest in human resource theory. But I do want to be afforded a good honest, and open debate of goals and direction, and be reasonably assured of where it is you and your party are meaning to go if we grant you public office. For my purpose, and leaning towards a decidely libertarian, free market approach, I would humbly suggest you compare yourselves to the Constitution, and take a more active interest as politicians to amend it (rather than reading weird interpretations into it that are clearly not there) so that we can all have clearer understandings of where we’re going and better live the product of goal and strategy papers in our lives.
So I don’t think we need smarter voters. I think we need smarter politicians with vision. And smarter journalists. Both have continued to sink to new lows over the last 200 years, and have immeasurably fouled the discussion in the process. As a result we voters are frustrated beyond measure, and dearly wish to throw the whole lot of them out.