Ignorance and Democracy

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Two posts at Left2Right have been considering the fact that most voters don't have a clue what they're voting about. The amount of ignorance about basic matters really is staggering. Don Herzog points out the data and seeks to figure out how to remedy the situation through better media reporting, which I don't think would have a huge effect but might help. In the comments, some people suggested that we just prevent ignorant people from voting. David Estlund then compares the situation with the ignorance of most parents about effective child-rearing. He thinks it's obvious that we shouldn't prevent them from parenting, so we shouldn't prevent people from voting if they don't know that Bush never had any intention of instituting a draft or that Saddam Hussein didn't have any direct connection with the terrorist attacks on 9-11.

Maybe I just share too many assumptions with Plato's Republic. Maybe I just have a minimal view of what rights we might have. Conservatives and libertarians frequently talk about parents' rights. What gives parents the right to raise children they way they want? I'm just not sure I have such a moral right to choose how I want to raise my children. At the same time, I don't think the government has the right to tell me how to do it or to force me to do it the way they might deem best, but that doesn't mean I have any moral right to choose how to raise my children. I have no right to be doing what I'm doing if it involves raising my children immorally. That just doesn't seem to me to be the right way to think about this. Anyway, it's a fascinating discussion, one in which people's views probably won't line up along left-right lines.

Update: Pseudo-Polymath responds to a view that I don't ever remember endorsing, so let me try to clarify my point. I think parents have a responsibility to raise their children well. Therefore, they don't have the right to do whatever they feel like doing with their children. That doesn't mean the government has a right to interfere, but when we're talking about rights we don't have to be talking about legal rights. I don't think I have a moral right to raise my children in a bad way, so moral rights to raise children can't be the ground of the claim that the government shouldn't interfere with childraising. We need to ground that in some other way.

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