Should American voters have to pass a test?: Larry Wilson
Georgetown political scientist Jason Brennan conveniently released his new book “Against Democracy,” which argues that Americans would be better off if only smart, highly educated people were allowed to vote, just before the election.
That way, he didn’t have to deal with the interesting question of whether this elite class of voters would really have elected Donald Trump president the same way the rest of us in the vast lumpenproletariat did.
It’s fun — in that odd way that pondering radical ideas of any stripe can be during a peculiar and troubling time for our nation — to read this book just now; it’s akin to trying on for size the equally radical ideas of UC Davis professor Joshua Clover, who refuses to vote at all, as I did a few months ago.
But if Clover’s approach comes out of an anarcho-syndicalist left field, Brennan’s comes from the libertarian right — to the extent that such pigeon-holing among idiosyncratic thinkers is valuable. Clover is a bomb-thrower whose provocative Twitter feed is @BookofRiot, based on his book “Riot.Strike.Riot”; even though he didn’t vote, the result is good for his world view, as Trump’s years will clearly amplify the culture of uprisings.
I don’t know that Brennan’s suggestion of what he calls an epistocracy — one form of which would still allow every adult citizen a vote, but give those with better knowledge of politics more votes — is as far to the right as a monarchist’s view of the world. But I treasure, in a perverse way, a conversation I once had with a French nobleman, a count from an ancient Bourbon line. I naively asked him over lunch who he liked for president in an upcoming French election, the conservative or, ha ha, the socialist. “I am afraid you don’t understand,” smiled the count. “I would never vote for either. I am not in favor of the voting.”
Brennan is in favor of the voting, after a fashion. But maybe, as a young academic, he’s a bit close to schoolboy days when he apparently seriously suggests one measure of gaining access to the voting elite in America would be to make a score of 3 or more on the Advanced Placement tests in political science and economics. OK — how about only Eagle Scouts get to vote?
Still, while not a beach read, as beach reads don’t have vast pages of footnotes and long forays into arcane philosophical arguments, anyone interested in temporarily upsetting preconceptions about how and why we vote should read this. Plus, like conservative pundit P.J. O’Rourke, who used to say, “Don’t vote — it just encourages the bastards,” Brennan is a dirty-fingernails elitist. He likes fast cars and Fender Telecasters. He points out, wonderfully aptly, that we require naturalized Americans to pass a citizens exam on the basics of how our government works. The rest of us, born here? All we need to vote is an 18th birthday.
And some argue against get-out-the-vote drives by calling the logic into question. Do we really want people who don’t follow “the issues” to mark their ballots on complicated matters?
Brennan acknowledges that allowing suffrage only to college grads who can pass some test or other would create an electorate overwhelmingly white and rich. He suggests countering this by offering tax credits of say $1,000 to encourage poorer Americans to study up and pass some test.
I find this interesting, at the same time as I say the basic premise is wrong. You don’t have to be a professor of political science to know that we’re better off in a country where, for instance, pre-existing conditions can’t keep you from having health insurance. You vote for candidates who understand this.
I would be curious how last Tuesday’s presidential election would have gone if only the college-degreed had voted.
By Larry Wilson, The Daily Breeze