It’s fine to be ignorant, misinformed, or irrational about politics, so long
as you don’t impose your political preferences upon others using the
coercive power of government.
In short, citizens who are politically incompetent should not vote.
So writes Georgetown professor of ethics Professor Brennan in his 2012 book The Ethics of Voting.
Brennan would have political incompetent stay at home on Election Day, presumably enjoying whatever amuses them rather than exercise their franchise. Why? When political incompetents become politically active, Brennan writes, they “try to make the world better and vote with the best intentions.” However, political incompetents do not base their decisions upon sound evidence for what creates sound national policy or promotes the common good. Instead, political incompetents vote for what’s in their self-interest, thus sullying the democratic process with their uninformed, irrational, or immoral votes that lead to the formulation of terrible national policy.
It sounds all so very contradictory to what’s supposed to be taught in the nation’s civics classes. Yet, Brennan asks, is it not true that activists, pundits, celebrities, and the like “are blameworthy for voting, as they all too often lack sufficient evidence to justify the policies they advocate”? It is also not also true, Brennan asks, that when political incompetents do vote “they pollute democracy with their votes and make it more likely that we will have to suffer from bad governance”?
Brennen’s “Folk Theory of Voting Ethics” argues that voters “owe it to others and themselves to be adequately rational, unbiased, just, and informed about their political beliefs.” But, insofar as Brennen is concerned, because many of the people who do vote are well-intentioned but politically incompetent, they have an ethical obligation to the more politically competent voters not to vote.
Alluring as Brennen’s theory may sound to liberals and conservatives alike—because both would exclude the other from voting in that they view one another as politically incompetent—the trouble is that in the United States, every qualifying citizen—whether politically competent or not—has the absolute right to vote. Suggesting that the United States would be better off if the politically incompetent did not exercise their franchise—whether those include liberal or conservative activists, pundits, celebrities, and the like—is not just unorthodox but unconstitutional. It’s the reasoning of an ideologue not a democrat.
While the idea is appealing theoretically, disenfranchising the “folks”—as politically ignorant as they may be—places democracy in peril.
Let the discussion begin...