Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Where to Begin? #3

"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power."
--Thomas Jefferson to W. Jarvis, 1820.
A collection of (9 pages of) quotes by Jefferson on "Educating the People" is provided at tcfir.org/whitepapers/Declaration%20of%20Principles%20for%20Netspace%20and%20Internet%20Research.pdf

 part of an organization/web site called "The Center for Internet Research" (TCFIR.ORG). 
Again and again, it seems that Jefferson's mind went back to the idea that the liberty, safety, and sanity of society could only safely be entrusted to "the people", -- not to some collection of "wise men" (or "job creators").

While many of even the founding fathers distrusted and feared democracy, Jefferson said, in effect, We have to put our trust in it, and make it work, that

"Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories. And to render even them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree."
--Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Va., 1782.
From hundreds of years ago to the present day, some people have feared that a world truly governed by "the people" in a majoritarian way, would mean a world in which some majority formed, of people who want to live off of others, and would in fact force some minority of capable and responsible people to provide for them, arbitrarily taking from that minority whatever they wanted or "needed".  This is precisely the theme of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.  This has lead many people, like Rand, to imagine (an mental act of desperation, it seems to me) that we can and must entrust our lives to a set of unambiguous rules, and keep human judgement out of it, and then and only then, because of some universal laws of nature supposedly proven by Adam Smith, or Hayek, or Von Mises, everyone who deserves a good life will have a good life.

This looks to me like a fantasy, no more realistic than the Marxist path to the "withering away of the state", to get to which we must set up a dictatorship ("of the proletariat" whatever that that might mean).

Hence I'm stuck with Jefferson's dream that our best hope, as difficult and improbable as it may seem, is a world in which people on the whole exercise fairly good judgement, using some process of evaluating reality that converges and improves with time.

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