Ah, Democracy!

7 March 2009 at 12:05 pm 1 comment

| Peter Klein |

I learned this week from Doug French that Dissident Books has published a new edition of H. L. Mencken’s classic and extremely politically incorrect Notes on Democracy. Who but Mencken could write that the common man “is not actually happy when free; he is uncomfortable, a bit alarmed, and intolerably lonely. He longs for the warm, reassuring smell of the herd, and is willing to take the herdsman with it.” As for democratically elected politicians, Mencken reminds us how quickly all those sappy paeans to the people’s will evaporate when a “crisis,” real or imagined, is on the horizon. “All the great tribunes of democracy, on such occasions, convert themselves, by a process as simple as taking a deep breath, into despots of an almost fabulous ferocity. Lincoln, Roosevelt and Wilson come instantly to mind.”

This was on my mind when I read (via Kathryn Muratore) about a new study appearing in Science finding that children looking at pictures of political candidates correctly pick the eventual winner 64% of the time. Apparently we are hard-wired to prefer pretty faces, even when supposedly choosing based on policy views, ideology, “the issues,” etc . So much for the rational voter.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Classical Liberalism, Institutions, Myths and Realities, Public Policy / Political Economy.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. david  |  7 March 2009 at 2:18 pm

    Ah, Mencken. “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

    At least he loved his mother.

    Andrew Gelman seems impressed with the thing about the pictures:

    http://www.stat.columbia.edu/~gelman/blog/

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