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A Clueless Electorate? Assessing the New Assault on the Reasonable Citizen
Unformatted Document Text:  Steven V. Mazie—MPSA 2008 A Clueless Electorate? The New Assault on the Reasonable Citizen Page 8 of 23 Clearly, we are a long way from the ordinary reasonable person of Anglo-American tort law. Rawls’s political conception of the person is hardly the common man of the Clapham omnibus or the man who pushes his mower, or the reasonable citizen who only exercises due care in avoiding risks. The rational desires of the extraordinary liberal citizen are absolutely constrained by, and subordinated to, his reasonability; he affirms objectivity and a strong principle of toleration; he loves being a good citizen; and he values fair social cooperation as an end in itself. If this is the model citizen who constructs and instantiates a just society, are we kidding ourselves? In a world rife with ignorance, selfishness, emotional indulgence and intolerance — not to mention violence — is the prospect of a functional liberal democracy a pipe dream? III—T HE I RRATIONAL V OTER ? The reader of three new books on this subject may be excused for answering this deeply cynical question with a tentative yes. The recent contributions of Bryan Caplan, Al Gore and Drew Westen — taken collectively — shake our confidence in the ability of democratic citizens to make rational decisions and call into question the logic of democracy itself. They may provide a dark perspective on how we have arrived at the low points that have marked American politics in recent years. Whatever one takes from these studies — I will have more hopeful things to say on this question in Part III — they should give any democrat, and any social contractarian, pause. It appears, as David Hume once argued, that rationality is easily and relentlessly overcome by contrary human impulses — if indeed it plays a role in guiding our actions at all. Beginning with Westen and Gore, we find two authors with very different normative perspectives but surprisingly similar empirical diagnoses of the human condition and its bearing on politics. The title of his polemic communicates Gore’s main

Authors: Mazie, Steven.
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Steven V. Mazie—MPSA 2008
A Clueless Electorate? The New Assault on the Reasonable Citizen
Page 8 of 23
Clearly, we are a long way from the ordinary reasonable person of Anglo-American
tort law. Rawls’s political conception of the person is hardly the common man of the
Clapham omnibus or the man who pushes his mower, or the reasonable citizen who only
exercises due care in avoiding risks. The rational desires of the extraordinary liberal
citizen are absolutely constrained by, and subordinated to, his reasonability; he affirms
objectivity and a strong principle of toleration; he loves being a good citizen; and he values
fair social cooperation as an end in itself. If this is the model citizen who constructs and
instantiates a just society, are we kidding ourselves? In a world rife with ignorance,
selfishness, emotional indulgence and intolerance — not to mention violence — is the
prospect of a functional liberal democracy a pipe dream?
III—T
HE
I
RRATIONAL
V
OTER
?
The reader of three new books on this subject may be excused for answering this deeply
cynical question with a tentative yes. The recent contributions of Bryan Caplan, Al Gore
and Drew Westen — taken collectively — shake our confidence in the ability of democratic
citizens to make rational decisions and call into question the logic of democracy itself.
They may provide a dark perspective on how we have arrived at the low points that have
marked American politics in recent years. Whatever one takes from these studies — I will
have more hopeful things to say on this question in Part III — they should give any
democrat, and any social contractarian, pause. It appears, as David Hume once argued,
that rationality is easily and relentlessly overcome by contrary human impulses — if
indeed it plays a role in guiding our actions at all.
Beginning with Westen and Gore, we find two authors with very different
normative perspectives but surprisingly similar empirical diagnoses of the human
condition and its bearing on politics. The title of his polemic communicates Gore’s main


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