A democratic community enjoying political liberty is only possible when the attachment of the majority of the citizens to political liberty is stronger than their attachment to specific political doctrines. And this is to say that on many controversial issues a certain comparative apathy must prevail among a large part of the population. But apathy cannot appear a virtue to the man who has committed himself to an intellectually elaborated scheme or policy.
In a famous investigation of the politics of the small town of Elmira, New York, in the 1950s, the scholars concerned (Paul Lazarfeld, Bernard Berelson and William McPhee) were at first surprised by the results. The democratic processes had worked very satisfactorily in the town for a very long period. So, on theoretical principles, the researchers expected to find the citizenry well-informed about political issues, with firm and clear-cut opinions. They found, on the contrary, that the majority were fairly ill-informed and fairly apathetic. They concluded, after admirable heart-searching on their own part, that this was the condition for a working democracy. On the other hand, it may be urged that the instability of many of the Greek states was due to the devotion to politics of all concerned…
At any rate, all the major troubles the world has had in our era have been caused by people who have let politics become a mania.
— Robert Conquest, Reflections on a Ravaged Century
Social media is obviously overpopulated by people who have let politics become a mania. It would be easy to conclude, based on that sample, that we are heading for civil war. On the other hand, one could point to the current occupant of the White House as evidence of the demographic power of the ill-informed, or to the percentage of the electorate who don’t vote at all as evidence of a healthy apathy. Like an appointment in Samarra, attempting to flee the hell of ignorance may only bring us closer to the hell of zealotry.