Sunday, February 13, 2011

What Is An Educated Citizen?

In my latest thoughts on Egypt, I mentioned that republics require educated citizens with the virtue to follow through with that education despite temptations to do otherwise. But what would an"educated citizen" look like? For starters, let's remove the ridiculous notion that completing high school or college qualifies. We seek education, not accreditation.

Perhaps we should ask first what the goal of an education would be. As John Adams wrote to his son, future President John Quincy Adams, "You will ever remember that all the end of study is to make you a good man and a useful citizen." As citizens in a democratic republic, each of us is a ruler of the nation as a whole, along with ruling the state, county, and other levels of our federalist system. Plato rightly calls governing the highest art upon which all others depend; consequently, to rule is a mighty responsibility. Citizens must be knowledgeable in all areas that they rule in lest they rule in ignorance.

What do rulers need to know? For starters, the law is the primary tool of rulers, so a functioning understanding of the law must be obtained. How are rules made, enforced, interpreted, by whom? What are the current laws, in particular those interpreting the Constitution? To understand that latter aspect, a solid understanding of the history of our legal and political philosophy must be had.

Rulers control the national treasury and have vast influence over the economy; naturally, rulers must have a firm grasp of economic theory and current fiscal practices. There are many competing theories here. To best perceive which are most attuned to reality, a strong foundation must be had in philosophy, in metaphysics, epistemology, and of course ethics and political theory.

Rulers also possess the power of the sword. In addition to understanding the ethics of such a power, there are practical considerations as well. The best teacher here is history, which is also important in all aspects of ruling. In human society, there is no laboratory to test our ideas first. The best we can do is study past action, notice the similarities and in particular the differences between the studied situation and the current one, and use that information to make decisions which will most likely lead to the achievement of our goals set out by our ethics.

No man who has ever lived understood all of these ideas and most citizens today barely have any inkling into many of these categories. An educated citizen is one who continually strives to understand these subjects. A day should not pass by when none of these areas are improved upon and an effort must be made to know all of those topics, both in bredth and in depth. To be an educated citizen is a life long pursuit. Merely following current events is not sufficient if those events are not properly understood.

An educated citizen will be frustrated from time to time as they discover the realm of things they do not know expands faster than the sphere of things they do know. The more they know, the more they will realize how small their understanding really is compared to the vast field of knowledge out there. A citizen who does not expand their field of vision will not only believe their small amount of wisdom is huge but will not even be aware of how much they are unfamiliar with. But there is a benefit to the frustration felt by the educated citizen. The educated citizens learn their own limitations. These citizens understand that the less you govern, the less likely it is they will err in deciding on matters not properly understood. An educated citizen will appreciate the concept of limited government more and more as they learn not just new ideas but also as they discover how little of those vast fields of knowledge they have truly explored.

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