(written 7/30/03) I’m reading a book on the history of anarchism (Anarchism: a history of libertarian ideas and movements, by George Woodcock), because I’ve been interested in the political concept of anarchy for a while, but didn’t really know anything about the historical and theoretical tradition of it. Plus the book was only a couple dollars at the used book store. Anyway, the book references an interesting quote by Thomas Jefferson:
The influence over government must be shared among the people. If every individual which composes their mass participates in the ultimate authority, the government will be safe; because the corrupting of the whole mass will exceed any private resources of wealth.
It’s interesting because it’s no longer true. In his time, reaching the entire electorate was impossible, due to travel and communication constraints. But with the introduction of mass media, it’s trivial for someone to “corrupt the whole mass”, and within the private resources of many people. Well, okay, some people.
This is one of the things that disturbs me about direct democracy – it’s far too easy for the electorate to be swayed on many issues by propaganda. Heck, I freely admit that most of the time I don’t know what the “right” answer is on several of California’s ballot propositions. So I’m dependent on trying to pluck the truth out of the TV ads and other propaganda going back and forth. It’s a crazy system, and has led to the crushing deficit facing the state government, because the propositions have limited their discretionary spending to such an extent that they can’t even make sensible choices any more.
I guess I’m not sure what my point is. Except that that quote is interesting. It makes one wonder whether Thomas Jefferson would even recognize our government today as a “democracy”.