Intellectuals in Politics: Too Far In? Too Far Out?

Intellectuals in Politics: Too Far In? Too Far Out?

he Founding Fathers were dubious about democracy. They thought that most of their fellow citizens knew too little to have a voice in political decisions. Writing a Constitu- tion for a country in which few men, and fewer women, were educated well enough to under- stand the words in which that Constitution was written, the Founders did their best to ensure that the new republic would not degenerate into a participatory democracy—into what they called “mob rule.”

In the course of two hundred years, things changed. As the suffrage was extended, literacy spread; iconoclastic newspapers flourished; state universities and community colleges took in more and more students. At each stage of this process, the educated, the people who read and wrote books, assured each other that mob rule could still be avoided as long as we continued to “educate our masters” —made sure that the ordinary voter had enough education to understand what the government was up to.

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