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.
So what can be done?
A better ameliorative measure would be to reduce the risks of ignorance by reducing government’s consequences — its complexity, centralization and intrusiveness. In the 19th century, voters’ information burdens were much lighter because important federal issues — the expansion of slavery, the disposition of public lands, tariffs, banking, infrastructure spending — were much fewer.
Unfortunately, the system was too clever by half. While it was wise to assume that minimizing the effects of the voters’ collective ignorance could be accomplished by limiting the size and scope of the federal government, it was foolish to assume that this system could be maintained by the ignorant. If you don’t care about government policy, how are you going to prevent government corruption? Since corruption generally starts small and builds up over time, if you don’t pay attention at the start and nip it in the bud.
Ultimately, no political system can last forever because man is corrupt, and no system can completely guard against human corruption. The best way to prevent corruption is not by cleverly devising a political system, but by having loving fathers and mothers raising their children to be honest and good, and passing on these values to each successive generation. No political system can withstand a corrupt culture, and no political system can cure a corrupt culture. Corruption starts and stops and at home.