When I was a first year graduate student at Yale, I once sat at a picnic table somewhere in New Haven, Connecticut, by myself, and worried about American democracy. I had just read the famous book by C. P. Snow, The Two Cultures. In it, he talks about the fact that, at the time, most elected British politicians were trained in the humanities, and yet most of the compelling issues of the day involved science. He wondered how people unprepared to understand the intricacies of science could possibly make the right decisions regarding research funding and policy, and the laws that ought to govern the development and use of technology.
As I sat at that small table outdoors, it suddenly struck me that a representative democracy like ours essentially depends on education. People can’t vote well for the right governmental representatives to decide issues of great complexity and import unless they understand those issues. At the time, in 1974, there were more and more reports of the decline of education in American. I remember the moment it occurred to me: Our national founders created a system that depends on an educated electorate. Without a broad and liberal education, we can never be well positioned to make wise decisions on fraught and complex matters, and we inevitably will be extremely vulnerable to shyster politicians who say what they need to say to get into a position where they can do what they secretly want to do.
We need to be extremely careful in this election cycle, because, as philosopher Bertrand Russell once said, in a democracy, we get the leaders we deserve. He added that the stupider the leaders are, the stupider yet the people were to elect them.
We need to take note.