On Thursday, January 9, I will be doing a talk about my book Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government is Smarter at McGill University in Montreal. Th lecture is sponsored by McGill’s Research Group on Constitutional Studies, will run from about 4:30 to 6 PM (including time for questions), and will be held in Leacock 232. I may even do a small part of the talk in French!
It was naughty of Winston Churchill to say, if he really did, that “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” Nevertheless, many voters’ paucity of information about politics and government, although arguably rational, raises awkward questions about concepts central to democratic theory, including consent, representation, public opinion, electoral mandates and officials’ accountability.
In “Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government is Smarter” (Stanford University Press), Ilya Somin of George Mason University law school argues that an individual’s ignorance of public affairs is rational because the likelihood of his or her vote being decisive in an election is vanishingly small. The small incentives to become informed include reducing one’s susceptibility to deceptions, misinformation and propaganda. And if remaining ignorant is rational individual behavior, it has likely destructive collective outcomes.
I am, of course, very flattered that George Will decided to write a column about the book, especially since I have been reading his work since I was in high school.