Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Dewey on Democracy

Excerpted from a recent book discussion on Nadine Gordimer's The Pickup, a modernist novel that addresses immigration, globalization, and cross-border migration.

One thing I forgot to mention was my favorite sentiment from the philosopher John Dewey. Political economists and others often worry about democracy, Bryan Caplan just published a book on the subject. When the majority of Americans have a hard time identifying the Vice President, couldn't locate Sudan on a map, and have trouble adding two fractions, it is a parlous state of affairs to be depending on a democratic vote to make decisions on complex issues like immigration reform, science policy, or globalization. But Dewey countered that it is the responsibility of the experts--the economists, the political scientists, the physicists--to package their ideas in ways easy to understand, ways that will properly inform the electorate to make the hard decisions. He argued that poets and painters and musicians have been able to package very complicated ideas in a way that reaches a wide audience. So I thought Nadine Gordimer's book is an attempt at it. Apparently, she didn't succeed too well, but it is a noble goal. The fate of democracy may depend on it.
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