“When a candidate for public office faces the voters he does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is the fact that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental—men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand. So confronted, the candidate must either bark with the pack or be lost…All the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre—the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum. The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
~ H.L. Mencken
No one contests the fact that knowledge ought to play a decisive role in determining political decisions. Differences of opinion only arise regarding the best way to put knowledge in the political driver’s seat.
Most of our contemporaries, being naturally suspicious of far-removed bureaucracies, believe the best way to achieve this is to place decision-making powers directly in the hands of the people, giving their collective will expression to the fullest degree possible: aka, democracy. This seems reasonable—at least as a “lesser evil”—if we imagine that the only alternative is to hand over totalitarian powers to the state or to some dictator.
But what if this choice—between the common man or the totalitarian state—is in fact a false dichotomy? After all, we’ve just admitted that neither of them is an ideal, for the neither the bureaucrat nor the man on the street is the best candidate to direct complex political and economic affairs. Nonetheless, the contemporary democratic citizen automatically accepts the dichotomy and inevitably chooses the will of the voter as the best source of political direction.
Our purpose here, then, is to show that this has been more or less disastrous, and for two reasons. First, because the attempt to place government controls in the hands of amateurs (by way of democracy) has not, in fact, driven the bureaucrat into extinction or slowed the centralization of powers in the national bureaucracy, but has instead made both problems worse. Second, democratism is mistaken because, for reasons the early proponents of democracy were not able to foresee, the mere extension of suffrage to the common people does not, in itself, either liberate or empower them.
The reason for this can be found in the ancient saying that the truth will set you free—the obvious implication being that, if one is not in possession of the truth, then no matter what other conditions are present—the right to vote or the absence of external political interference—freedom is not possible because without truth, the slavery of ignorance must become the norm. What we plan to discuss below are the various ways in which ignorance has in fact ensued and is today the driving force of modern politics.
We will make heavy use of Alexis de Tocqueville in this discussion, for the simple reason that Tocqueville’s meticulous style and insightful observations regarding the American mind are unsurpassed even to this day, and he is a familiar name, as opposed to some fringe theorist no one has ever heard of. It seems to us, in fact, that if the American voter wishes to develop a lucid view of his situation on the way to forming a coherent political philosophy, then Democracy in America would be an indispensable starting-point.