In Search of Democratic Equality

…citizens of the Western democracies, and Americans in particular, no longer understand the concept of democracy itself. This, perhaps more than anything, has corroded the relationship between experts and citizens. The relationship between experts and citizens is not “democratic.” All people are not, and can never be, equally talented or intelligent. Democratic societies, however, are always tempted to this resentful insistence on equality, which becomes oppressive ignorance if given its head.

And this, sadly, is the state of modern America. Citizens no longer understand democracy to mean a condition of political equality, in which one person gets one vote, and every individual is no more and no less equal in the eyes of the law. Rather, Americans now think of democracy as a state of actual equality, in which every opinion is as good as any other on almost any subject under the sun. Feelings are more important than facts: if people think vaccines are harmful, or if they believe that half of the US budget is going to foreign aid, then it is “undemocratic” and “elitist” to contract them.

Tom Nichols, The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2017), pp. 231-232. eISBN: 9780190469436.

Editor’s Note: Such an observation would apply equally to the contemporary Australian context where ‘experts’ are seen as members of the elite who look down on the ‘common man’.

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