Are You Smarter Than a Freshman?

"Are You Smarter Than a Freshman?", Defining Ideas, 30 August 2012.


Here are some thoughts and some readings for freshmen (or first-years) excited about our election and heading for college. They also apply to the rest of us long-time voters who might care to think about the meaning and the nature of elections. Do we know more than freshmen? “Live and learn” says we do; “it’s never too late to learn” says we don’t. It’s safer to think that we don’t, and that we would profit from taking another look at things we take for granted.

What I will do is identify and introduce half a dozen passages on elections in famous books on politics that every educated person, or serious citizen, would reasonably wish to be acquainted with.

Aristotle and Aristocracy

To start, we all take for granted that elections are the touchstone of democracy. If a country holds elections, it’s democratic; if not, it isn’t. That’s a rule of thumb, not a universal truth. For though democracies hold elections, not all elections are democratic in the sense that they maintain democracies. Some may be dangerous to democracy, when democracy turns on itself and elects an enemy who puts an end to democracy.

Hoover Institution