How could it happen? How could we have elected a demagogue who threatens our welfare and that of the free world? A leader who sells our cabinet posts and intends to destroy our system of governance? The necessary precondition was an anti-intellectual culture. Outside certain pockets of academia and research (and with apologies to the many educated for whom this does not apply), large sections of our society have immunized themselves from inconvenient critical analysis.
For a democratic society to work, the “demos,” the people must themselves be competent to govern or, at the least, be competent to judge the governing of others. They must be literate, they must understand the basics of scientific method, and they must respect the search for truth.
The concept is not new. Sir Francis Bacon, a father of modern science, observed:
The benefits of our relatively free, industrialized society are the products of educated, motivated people who analysed and improved on the world as they found it. The Founding Fathers were heirs to a European enlightenment that valued rational thought. They saw the tyranny of a corrupt monarchy and they crafted a better system, one that allowed the input of a diversity of interests but with checks on the power of tyrants. The science of the industrial age brought us clever minds that struggled with nature’s laws, figured out how to generate power, and delved into the biologic laws underlying contagious disease. Their successes testify to the infinite resourcefulness of the human mind and to the power of accessing truth. I sit here typing on an amazing laptop. I can speak in real time in a video chat with my daughter in Turkey. These advances are the miracles of modern intellect.