More than three quarters of a century ago, political scientists began reporting astonishing levels of political ignorance among the mass public. These endlessly replicated findings raised vexing questions that have long been neglected or hastily dismissed. The main question is: How can the public be expected to make intelligent political decisions if it knows little or nothing about the problems being discussed, the policies being advanced, and the effects the policies might have?
In his long-awaited book, “Democracy and Political Ignorance,” Ilya Somin grapples with some of these questions and offers small-government answers. His analysis of the intractability of public ignorance, and his proposed solutions, are bound to be controversial if they can be brought to the attention of liberal-democratic scholars. That is what we plan to do with a special issue of “Critical Review” devoted to Somin’s book. The resulting debate will launch a long-overdue evaluation of whether social democracy's wide ambitions can be squared with the narrow basis of knowledge with which democratic decision makers operate.