Recently I’ve been chatting about school choice with my friends. It is always a very frustrating topic because we are constantly talking past each other. What I saw in it, however, was two different core believes that we were operating under:
- The belief in the sovereignty and intelligence of each individual citizen
- The belief in the deficiency of citizens, and thereby the need for ‘expertise’ to intervene
Which one is empirically true? I don’t think any of them are. And this is the reason why I am writing the essay, to think through the two axioms.
The belief in the sovereignty and intelligence of each individual citizen
This is first the core tenet behind Democracy: that each citizen cares enough and is intelligent enough to make a well-informed decision in every election. There is great problems with Democracy, of course, in that most people do not take time to make a decision on their own, but follows the opinion of whatever media they watch and whatever friends they make. At the end Democracy has only a semblance of democracy, when it is really more Oligarchy (of the influential who can move the votes).
It is also the tenet behind Locke’s defend of inalienable rights of Life, Liberty, and Property, and hence the basis for civil freedom: To let you do what the hell you want so long as you don’t harm anyone else. There are problems with this, again, and this is the critique from the second axiom: the belief in the deficiency of citizens, and thereby the need for ‘expertise to intervene. In sort: the quasi-Stalinist ‘the people does not know what they want’. For some, this may seem instinctively repulsive, but it is, perhaps, more factually correct than axiom 1. Most of us are stupid, most are flawed, most make uninformed choices that is detrimental to our own person (alcoholism, excessive gambling, eating processed food)—one can even argue whether anyone is acting freely when we are going in our day-to-day lives. This is the Marxist critique, that most of us falls under a dominant ideology, does not think on our own but represents our class interest. (One can expand it further, as some proponents of identity politics do, into all other aspects of yourself: race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, age, weight, etc. etc..) One should be careful in strawmannirg their argument even if one disagrees (as I do) with it, because it is an incredibly powerful critique. We do, most of the time, act according to some hidden interest or some unconscious drive, whilst thinking that we have chosen freely.
In this sense, the belief in the first principle is more like an irrational leap of faith in something that is unlikely to be true. And any person who has to defend the first view has to take into account the critique of the second. Belief without considering the other side is no belief at all, but blind faith.
I think one may merge the axioms together in such a way that strengths from both sides are taken into account: it may be true that citizens are deficient in their abilities, but in aggregate, it is better for them to make their own independent decisions than for the state, or anyone else, to intervene. The most that one can do is to inform and persuade—in fact, it is this that lies behind the functioning of the belief in the freedom of each individual citizen. This is thereby the duty of each and every one of us. Not to coerce others to do what we think is best for them.