Yes, dear reader, that is a deliberately outrageous title, although it invokes one of my favorite maxims, “Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking of them.”
The mass public does not study or analyze detailed data about secondary boycotts, provisions for stock ownership and control in a proposed space communications corporation, or missile installations in Cuba … It ignores these things until political actions and speeches make them symbolically threatening or reassuring and it then responds to the cues furnished by the actions and speeches, not to direct knowledge of the facts.
The issues listed are what you’d expect from a 1964 book; the sentiments, though, are typical for students of politics as well as advocates of more operations being tendered to the political sphere. A Ronald Reagan style, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” is too simplistic, and its effect on turning voters out is probably suboptimal. See page 163:
Even though they are not especially well informed, the “floating voters” do provide some mechanism of control. Unfortunately for those seeking political office, the stimulus to which the “nature of the times” voters respond is usually beyond their control. The information level of the “floating voters” is substantially less than those who are consistent partisans but is greater than the information level of those who are infrequent participants in the electoral process.
The greater the turnout, the more likely voting, particularly on a large bundle of policies, is likely to produce poor outcomes? Turnout is a desirable thing per se to the political class, and turnout along with a broader role for the institutions of government in our daily lives appears to be desired by Irony‘s authors. Turn to page vii.
To say that America is governed by a small, homogeneous elite may be interpreted either as praise or as criticism of this nation, depending on one’s personal values. That is, elitism [as an organizing paradigm for understanding political institutions — Ed.] may be thought of as either “good” or “bad,” depending on one’s preference for elite or mass governance.
Actually, the authors themselves disagree about whether the elitism they perceive in American politics is “good” or “bad.” One author values radical reform as a means of establishing a truly democratic political system in America — a system in which individuals participate in all decisions that shape their lives, a system in which individual dignity is preserved and in which equality is realized in the social, economic, and political life of the nation. He believes that, through radical resocialization and a restructuring of educational, economic, and governmental institutions, the anti-democratic sentiments of the masses can be changed. In contrast, the other author values an enlightened leadership system capable of acting decisively to preserve individual freedom, human dignity, and the values of life, liberty, and property. He believes that a well-ordered society governed by educated and resourceful elites is preferable to the instability of mass society.
In summary, The Irony of Democracy challenges the prevailing pluralistic ideology [briefly understood as lumps of countervailing power, to use a Coasian term — Ed.] and interprets American politics from the perspective of elite theory. The reader is free to decide for himself whether the political system described in these pages ought to be preserved, reformed, or restructured.
And that seventeen year old college freshman is humming, “I wish that I knew what I know now.” It’s likely that both authors would approve of Hillary Clinton’s notorious characterization of Trump voters. I wonder if the first author’s “restructuring” goes as far as participatory economics, and if that means those re-educated masses are now voting on allocating lumber among crates and pencils. That’s a non-trivial problem to be entrusted to “educated and resourceful elites” (you might contemplate a story in An Empire Loses Hope about what happened when Poland’s state planners neglected to write hair pins into the Five Year Plan) and it strikes me as a lot of work to add more resource allocation tasks to your alderman, or your Member of Congress (Lauren Boebert or Ilhan Omar for choice of most likely to botch the job) or creating new offices of Pencil Management that we would fill by vetting potential officers over many more things than labor relations or missiles in Cuba. Put simply, that’s a lot more things voters would have to think about before they voted, which is contrary to the favorite maxim.