Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Citizen Bane: The Know-Nothings Always Win

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Citizen Bane: The Know-Nothings Always Win

Article excerpt

In the United States, democratic theory suffers from an ineluctable weakness: the voter. Most Americans can't name the three branches of their government. Just four percent of them can identify two candidates for their district's congressional seat. And about a third believe that Karl Marx's injunction "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need" appears in the Constitution.

As those unwitting Marxists might put it, what is to be done?

Don't expect miracles, Ilya Somin writes in Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government Is Smarter (Stanford Univ. Press). Education levels have risen, but political knowledge has remained about the same. Indeed, some evidence indicates that high school graduates of the 1940s knew as much about politics as college graduates of the 1990s.

Moreover, political ignorance has endured despite plummeting information costs. Cable TV brings Congress into the home, and anybody with a smartphone has more data at hand than the best-educated American of the 1940s. …

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