The right to be uninformed
February 21, 2008
In a speech at UCLA early this month, Michelle Obama suggested that “Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.”
This has gotten Hugh Hewitt and Jim Geraghty riled up. Writing at the National Review, Geraghty invokes the Constitution, and asks, “what if we kind of like our lives as usual? What about Americans’ freedom to be uninvolved and uninformed?”
I suppose the best response to this foolishness would be that of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in his Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge:
the most effectual means of preventing [tyranny] would be, to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts, which history exhibiteth, that, possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purposes
Legal philosopher Cass Sunstein has written extensively on the mistaken belief that freedom of speech implies the right to ignorance and insulation from information. Sunstein argues, in Republic.com 2.0, that in a well-functioning system of free expression,
people should be exposed to materials that they would not have chosen in advance. Unplanned, unanticipated encounters are central to democracy itself. …in a democracy deserving the name, lives should be structured so that people often come across views and topics that they have not specifically selected.
Sunstein points out that the Constitution does not allow for the freedom to be uninformed, but quite the opposite, by guaranteeing a public forum, the central purpose of which is to expose citizens, whether they like it or not, to “diverse speakers with diverse views and complaints.”
Geraghty performs an Orwellian spin job when he construes ignorance as “freedom” and characterizes Obama’s call for a better-informed and more engaged public an “authoritarian” stance. Jefferson understood that it was quite the opposite: civic disengagement and ignorance, not participation and information, are what lead to tyranny.
We would do well to remember Big Brother’s Party slogan:
- WAR IS PEACE
- FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
- IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH