Blogs: Paul Pillar

How Foreigners Really Regard U.S. Power

A Worthwhile Project for Europe: Israeli-Palestinian Peace

Brexit and the Transnational Triumph of Ignorance

Paul Pillar

Venturing into this subject risks getting one branded as elitist. Much interpretation of the vote in Britain has been phrased in populism-vs.-elites terms. But at the level of the individual voter and his or her interests, this is a mistaken conception. The ignorance that causes many people to vote contrary to their interests is not all spontaneously generated. Much of it is nurtured by elites for their own purposes. The contest is more one of elites versus other elites. In Britain, Boris Johnson, by championing the Brexit cause, now is in good position to replace his fellow Etonian Cameron as prime minister. In the United States, politicians stoke economic discontent, security fears, and urges over social issues to win votes from the hoi polloi while enacting economic policies that are more in the interests of elites who finance their campaigns. And currently it is the maybe-billionaire Trump who is riding a similar formula to a presidential nomination.

There is no ready way to overcome self-damaging ignorance within the electorate. Many problems are involved besides the impossibility of making masses of ignorant people smart quickly. In the United States, the mess that constitutes campaign finance law in the post-Citizens United era is one of the bigger problems. Vigorous efforts to make politicians accountable to the truth certainly help but can only go so far. Trump, for example, has overloaded the circuits of fact-checkers by unashamedly telling one whopper after another. And the cultivation of damaging ignorance is not simply a matter of factual truth and individual falsehoods.

It is at least as much a matter of insufficient respect for knowledge and for expertise based on knowledge. Knowledge and expertise in this context are not to be confused with Straussian claims by an elite to having special insight into what is good for a nation or for mankind. Rather, it is knowledge comparable to what is contained in the strong judgment of economists about the consequences of Brexit, or what the overwhelming majority of climate scientists say about human-induced global warming—and to which the only dissenters are elites who have a narrow interest in arguing otherwise, or masses whose ignorance has been encouraged by those elites.

Image: Pigeons near a London Underground sign. Photo by _dChris, CC BY 2.0.

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Why Bibi and Vlad Get Along

Paul Pillar

Venturing into this subject risks getting one branded as elitist. Much interpretation of the vote in Britain has been phrased in populism-vs.-elites terms. But at the level of the individual voter and his or her interests, this is a mistaken conception. The ignorance that causes many people to vote contrary to their interests is not all spontaneously generated. Much of it is nurtured by elites for their own purposes. The contest is more one of elites versus other elites. In Britain, Boris Johnson, by championing the Brexit cause, now is in good position to replace his fellow Etonian Cameron as prime minister. In the United States, politicians stoke economic discontent, security fears, and urges over social issues to win votes from the hoi polloi while enacting economic policies that are more in the interests of elites who finance their campaigns. And currently it is the maybe-billionaire Trump who is riding a similar formula to a presidential nomination.

There is no ready way to overcome self-damaging ignorance within the electorate. Many problems are involved besides the impossibility of making masses of ignorant people smart quickly. In the United States, the mess that constitutes campaign finance law in the post-Citizens United era is one of the bigger problems. Vigorous efforts to make politicians accountable to the truth certainly help but can only go so far. Trump, for example, has overloaded the circuits of fact-checkers by unashamedly telling one whopper after another. And the cultivation of damaging ignorance is not simply a matter of factual truth and individual falsehoods.

It is at least as much a matter of insufficient respect for knowledge and for expertise based on knowledge. Knowledge and expertise in this context are not to be confused with Straussian claims by an elite to having special insight into what is good for a nation or for mankind. Rather, it is knowledge comparable to what is contained in the strong judgment of economists about the consequences of Brexit, or what the overwhelming majority of climate scientists say about human-induced global warming—and to which the only dissenters are elites who have a narrow interest in arguing otherwise, or masses whose ignorance has been encouraged by those elites.

Image: Pigeons near a London Underground sign. Photo by _dChris, CC BY 2.0.

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The Foreign Consequences of Trump's Racism

Paul Pillar

Venturing into this subject risks getting one branded as elitist. Much interpretation of the vote in Britain has been phrased in populism-vs.-elites terms. But at the level of the individual voter and his or her interests, this is a mistaken conception. The ignorance that causes many people to vote contrary to their interests is not all spontaneously generated. Much of it is nurtured by elites for their own purposes. The contest is more one of elites versus other elites. In Britain, Boris Johnson, by championing the Brexit cause, now is in good position to replace his fellow Etonian Cameron as prime minister. In the United States, politicians stoke economic discontent, security fears, and urges over social issues to win votes from the hoi polloi while enacting economic policies that are more in the interests of elites who finance their campaigns. And currently it is the maybe-billionaire Trump who is riding a similar formula to a presidential nomination.

There is no ready way to overcome self-damaging ignorance within the electorate. Many problems are involved besides the impossibility of making masses of ignorant people smart quickly. In the United States, the mess that constitutes campaign finance law in the post-Citizens United era is one of the bigger problems. Vigorous efforts to make politicians accountable to the truth certainly help but can only go so far. Trump, for example, has overloaded the circuits of fact-checkers by unashamedly telling one whopper after another. And the cultivation of damaging ignorance is not simply a matter of factual truth and individual falsehoods.

It is at least as much a matter of insufficient respect for knowledge and for expertise based on knowledge. Knowledge and expertise in this context are not to be confused with Straussian claims by an elite to having special insight into what is good for a nation or for mankind. Rather, it is knowledge comparable to what is contained in the strong judgment of economists about the consequences of Brexit, or what the overwhelming majority of climate scientists say about human-induced global warming—and to which the only dissenters are elites who have a narrow interest in arguing otherwise, or masses whose ignorance has been encouraged by those elites.

Image: Pigeons near a London Underground sign. Photo by _dChris, CC BY 2.0.

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