This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

Volume 1 | Volume 2 | Volume 3| Volume 4 | Volume 5 | Volume 6

The twofold ignorance of the voter

“Many people in Europe believe without saying so, or say so without believing it, that one of the great advantages of universal suffrage is to summon men worthy of public trust to the direction of public affairs…For my part, I am bound to say, what I have seen in America does not give me any reason to think that this is the case…It is a permanent feature of the present day that the most outstanding men in the United States are rarely summoned to public office…The race of American statesmen has strangely shrunk in size over the last half-century…I willingly accept that the bulk of the population very sincerely supports the welfare of the country…But what they always lack, more or less, is the skill to judge the means to achieve this sincerely desired end…I hold it proved that those who consider universal suffrage as a guarantee of the excellence of the choice made are under a complete delusion.”

~ Alexis de Tocqueville[1]

The typical voter requires two complex and very different areas of competence in order to assert himself honestly and effectively:

First, he must know the man for whom he is voting. If I do not know anything about you as a person, your strengths, weaknesses, experience, opinions, etc., then I am not competent to decide whether or not you can effectively govern (or do any other job for that matter). While I may conceivably achieve appropriate knowledge of this type about people who live down the street from me, it is nothing short of ludicrous to imagine that I can achieve that level of knowledge in regard to a presidential candidate whom I’ve never met and cannot meet, and about whom my only sources of information are a pair of warring tribes who either paint the candidate as a devil or a saint. The problems here are fairly obvious, but remember this is only the first area of competence I must achieve.

Second, after I obtain knowledge of the candidate, I must possess knowledge of the job itself. If I do not know how the job works or what it is like, what strengths and aptitudes it requires, then I can’t select someone to do the job even if I know all the candidates personally.

Here again, I can conceivably fulfill this second requirement of competence if the candidate in question lives down the street and will decide whether or not the forest across town gets cleared for development. I know the man, I know the forest, and I know the town. I may not be an expert, but I am ‘involved’ enough to justify formulating an opinion with only this approximate knowledge. However, the knowledge required to truly know what it takes to be a good president is astonishingly complex: here one needs not only knowledge of history, geography, rhetoric, military science, international law, and foreign languages, but he also needs experience. If I have neither knowledge nor experience, then I’m like a baker trying to judge the technique of a brain surgeon: the baker might have an opinion on the surgeon’s technique, but his opinion is not valid and is but the expression of ignorance.

Because the attainment of the level of competence described above is obviously impossible for the average man who works and maybe even has a family, and because democracies like the United States are predicated on the notion that this same man can and should choose the president anyway, then democracy itself can be said to be predicated on the reinforcement of Augustinian ignorance. It not only suggests but demands that a man pick and choose between a thousand things he knows nothing about, and which he may have never even considered.

Needless to say, such an atmosphere is fertile ground for the enthronement of ignorance. Consider again our typical voting citizen:

  • He thinks he knows what’s going on with global warming, whether the science is valid or not.
  • He thinks he knows what sort of effect a tax adjustment would have on the national economy.
  • He thinks he knows how immunizations work.
  • He thinks he knows what “organic” means.
  • He thinks he knows what sort of foreign policy is needed in the Middle East.

This list could go on and on, from Benghazi to the Big Bang, but I’m sure the point is clear: The voter cannot possibly have formed valid opinions about these things. Considered individually, the number of people who fully understand any one of the above points is undeniably very, very small. Considered as a whole and all at once, no one could possibly have reached a level of understanding that could be termed “competent.”

[1] Democracy in America, I.2.5.

Share This