Tomorrow I will meet my fall 2017 semester students for the first time. Though I am teaching three different courses, all three of my opening day lectures will focus on the same point. All of my students will read a concise description of the dangers of political amateurism written last month by political science professor and blogger Julia Azari.
Azari’s thesis is simple and her perspective widely shared by political scientists. Democracy is not easy and widespread public political ignorance and apathy has long created fertile ground for populist calls for the elevation of political outsiders to power. The problem is that political outsiders inevitably promote what Azari calls “the pernicious myth of populism that beneath elite squabbles there exists widespread unity of principles” among average Americans. Of course, there is no such consensus. Americans are committed to broadly defined ideals, like freedom, equality, and individual rights, but not agreed on precise definitions of these ideas or on how to realize them. For that, they need professional help.