The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Voters are dumb - now, will the pols admit it? (Ha!)

I don't know Neal Starkman from a hole in the ground. But his Seattle Post-Intelligencer piece (January 5) raises an oft-neglected electoral factor: the voting population, on the average, are not that bright.

Starkman, of course, is making a narrow, chiselling, partisan point for the Party of Treason:
We are on the way to becoming a nation of imbeciles. I'm certain that a plethora of "George W. Bush" jokes is already being circulated in every capital of the world.

It's a gag, and let's not be po-faced about it.

But the point is also not without an element of truth: how can a bunch of guys who, individually, are plainly not qualified to run a whelk-stall be qualified to choose the leader of the Free World? How can individual ignorance add up to collective wisdom?

What is so great about voting anyway? They voted Hitler to power (up to a point); they regularly vote for the Dear Leader, and the Comandante, and all sorts of scum. The success of democracy is dependent on weeding out the evil and the mad before they have a chance to get before the electorate!

(The career of Charles de Gaulle - as a man with the potential for dictatorship who sought greater historical glory in exercising self-restraint - is instructive.)

The assumption that individual ignorance may lead to collective wisdom is, of course, at its very worst in the institution of the jury system (where the bell curve effect that often serves to blunt the lunacy of an electorate can scarcely operate on a sample of only twelve).

The record of democracy is a pretty patchy one: in the US, there's been only the one civil war (a mere 600,000 dead): in Europe, of the Powers, only the UK and France had more than a veneer of democracy before 1918, and both embraced World War 1 with some vigour (not to mention the lynching-parties around Versailles). And any cheapjack dictator can get the cover of crosses on ballots.

And, in France, the last military coup was in 1958!

Nowadays, in the West, the mob is a Satisfied Power: the average Joe has far too much to risk on the sort of military adventures that his grandfathers and great-grandfathers were drawn into. Even the neocon ideologues in and around the US Administration know that there are limits.

Does that mean that today's people are less stupid than the European mobs who welcomed war in 1914? I doubt it: just luckier.

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