I found this piece by Vladislav Inozemtsev in the American Interest disturbingly interesting. I say "disturbing" because the argument is compelling, but it in no way leads me anywhere I want to go, or even really to think.
... Democratic government presumes to do more than it did at the time of its birth and maturation, so that citizens have far more to understand and judge about government than ever. The burden is often overwhelming even for the fairly well educated.
The implication is that even universal secondary education can no longer reliably produce a responsible citizen. Liberal democracy born in the Republic of Letters has to survive in the Empire of Television, where information flows in one direction and need not involve direct response. The civic dialogue that was once the very foundation of democratic decision-making has become a one-way process of convincing voters. The political dialogue of liberal democracies is not just degraded, as is widely acknowledged; it is qualitatively different.
Moreover, as the capacity of citizens to grasp policy issues has eroded from one side, the percentage of citizens expected to grasp them has risen from the other. In Western countries today there is far more inequality within electorates than ever, simply because, as was not the case during the 19th century, everyone above age 18 can vote. At the same time, the cult of money that is so widespread in contemporary consumer society tends to narrow the spectrum of voter interest even as the real spectrum of public policy challenges widens. This produces voters ready to support anyone who promises more prosperity, and voters who, when they get the chance (as in California’s referendum democracy) will vote for getting more while paying less. Impossible? Of course. And they do it anyway? Of course.
Democracy was the optimal form of government when voters were capable of making rational choices through an understanding of what was at stake, when they were ready to bear the responsibility for the consequences of their choices, and when the right to vote was understood to be a privilege, or the result of a struggle still remembered. Nowadays it is difficult to shake the impression that democratic societies are rapidly turning into ochlocracies, where the vast majority of citizens, seeing their rights as given and their responsibilities not at all, are easily addled by propaganda, distracted by spectacle and either unable or unwilling to invest the time and energy required to be a responsible democratic actor.
He argues for paring back the franchise. Those of us unwilling to arrive at that conclusion will have to find some flaw in his premises or his argument; I can't say I spot one immediately.
Have at it, Ricochet. If you can't, I suppose I'll still favor democracy--worst form of government except all the others that have been tried and all that--but I must say I'm growing increasingly depressed about it.