Political ignorance or political prejudice, which is it Mr Reno?
“Whoever can be trusted with small things can also be trusted with big things. Whoever is dishonest in little things will be dishonest in big things too.”
On his 2 June 2022 podcast, RR Reno spoke with Christopher Caldwell about Caldwell’s article from the June/July 2022 print edition of First Things, “Regime Change, American Style”, which was an extensive review of Garrett M. Graff’s recent book, Watergate: A New History. The review itself is worth a separate article since it provides a summary of Nixon’s life that seems to elide his criminality. In effect, Caldwell suggests that if Nixon had done anything criminal then it was no worse than what Lyndon Baines Johnson or John F Kennedy did before him and that the “Establishment” found a long-desired way to criminalize Nixon. It is as if one were to read a 5,000-word Vanity Fair review of Pol Pot’s life with two sentences at the end that mention the “killing fields” and ends by saying “At least he was not as bad as Stalin and Mao who really got away with it”.[i]However, Mr Caldwell’s review is less important than the problem of political ignorance that both men appear to display.
The issue is not that either man is ignorant of the facts, context, or the source material. In this sense, they do not display political ignorance as described by Ilya Somin in his rather confused article and book on political ignorance which reduces political knowledge to a form of trivial pursuit. He appears to argue that you will be considered politically knowledgeable if you know the three branches of government, how the budget is made, and as a bonus whether you can name the Secretary of Agriculture.[ii] What is never considered is that a person does not really need to know that information to participate politically in the American system. Such knowledge or trivia is a bonus in regard to what political knowledge is and how voting works. Somin appears to have a rather strange understanding of political knowledge in that it relates to facts about the political system instead of what is traditionally or commonly understood as political knowledge as good and bad decisions or activities about the best or preferred way for a community to live together.[iii] In this sense, the framers of the constitution were wise in that they understood they could not expect their citizens to be as virtuous as the framers since their virtue was not political virtue understood as political trivia but rather…