Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Political Knowledge, in History

Only tyrants, and the friends of arbitrary power, have ever taken umbrage at a turn for political knowledge, and political discourse, among even the lowest of people.

Miscellaneous Observations Relating to Education
by Joseph Priestley, 1778.

You gotta love Google, which can hunt old books for key terms, saving guys like me hours of countless time in the stacks hunting for old quotes to use in a blog. It's a great line because it works even today, over 200 years later. On the one hand, scholars and pundits will plead the case of "the lowest of people" while on the other hand criticize them for a lack of adequate political knowledge. It's an interesting problem. People of less education, working to get through the day, have other things to do than keep up with public affairs. They have little motivation, little ability, and quite frankly little reason to bother.

Education is the single most powerful predictor of what people know, though some have argued it's a lousy surrogate for cognitive ability and motivation. The greater your education, the more likely you have a stake in what's happening, the means to keep up with the news, and the ability to do so. Education works, though imperfectly. That's why tyrants often look at the educated classes, or educators, with suspicion.

Fortunately, "tyrant" doesn't really apply to western democracies, despite what the crazy talk radio people might suggest. And while everyone positions themselves as looking out for the little guy, the "lowest of people," the way some information and news today is served up, heavily laden with partisanship, the "little guy" has a hard time actually voting in a way that helps him or her.

No comments: