Relevance of education and intelligence for the political development of nations Democracy, rule of law and political liberty



Two relevant effects of education and cognitive

ability on politics could be distinguished: a cognitive

effect (competence to make rational choices, better

information processing etc.) and an ethical effect

(support of democratic values, freedom, human rights

etc.), which itself depends on cognitive ability (cogni-

tive development being a prerequisite for moral

development) and probably the other way round (a

willingness to think and learn furthers cognitive


A similar position is held by the OECD (2000),

which postulates an influence of education on the qu-

ality of voting decisions and intensity of political

participation: “People with more schooling are likely

to make more informed choices when voting and to

participate more actively in their communities.” (p. 81)

Simpson (1997) stressed not only the relevance of

education, but pointed to cognitive abilities as the cen-

tral mechanism (“information-processing-capacity” or

“cognitive capacity”; p. 157): “Democracy depends on a

public who can process complex information and

actively participate in politics” (similarly, see Friedman,




At the individual level, Milligan, Moretti and

Oreopoulos (2004) support the education-and-ability-

further-political-participation-thesis: The findings show

that education supports democracy both by increasing

the quantity of citizens’ involvement in the electoral

process (increased probability of voting) as well as the

quality of that involvement (increased information on

politics). In the US, education increases registration and

by this voting. In the US and in the UK educated people

follow more politics on TV and in newspapers, attend

political meetings, discuss political matters and try to

persuade others, in the US, they even trust more the

federal government and people in general and do not

believe that “federal officials are crooked”. Similar

results for the US but with different data sets are found

by Dee (2004).Educatedpeoplehaveahigher

probability of voting, of reading newspapers and

support free speech (e.g. for communists, anti-religio-

nists, homosexuals, militarists, and racists).


Interesting correlation altho not surprising at all with free speech and intelligence.



Intelligence is important for politics not only at the

individual level, but also at the macro-social level:

intelligence is required for institutionalized political

decision-making, effective administration, the legal

system, bureaucracy, and economic institutions (“gov-

ernment effectiveness”; Kaufmann, 2003). The func-

tioning of public institutions per se is a condition for the

rule of law. These all are rational institutions that

depend on an intelligent culture. And political leader-

ship is a cognitively highly demanding task (Suedfeld,

Guttieri, & Tetlock, 2003, p. 255). It is therefore not

surprising that McDaniel (2006) found a positive cor-

relation of r=.34 between cognitive ability and “govern-

ment effectiveness” at the state level in the USA.


Last but not least, the intelligence of people and voters

on the one hand and the intelligence of leaders and their

political success and moral standards in government on

the other hand are correlated (Simonton, 1985, 2006a,b).

People prefer to elect persons as leaders who are about 20

IQ points more intelligent than themselves, but not more

(Gibb, 1969), and the intelligence of leaders is correlated

with their political success and moral standards. Gener-

ally, people prefer persons as leaders who are similar to

them (Rushton, 2005).



The rule of law produces a predictable social world in

which problems can be solved and aims be reached by

effort, by the use of intelligence and good formal

qualifications, rather than by coercion, personal con-

nections and bribery. By favoring meritocracy through-

out society, and this includes the educational system, the

rule of law tends to support the development of

cognitive abilities. Under such circumstances learning

is a good investment of time and effort. This is

demonstrated by two negative examples: in Georgia

(Caucasus) students could get in the 1990s a place at

university by bribery (Flitner, 2006); and in Brazil about

50% of all university theses are said to be plagiarized,

either by individual students or with the help of

specialized companies that sell the theses to students

(Hart, 2006). Such means to success undermine the

normative basis of education and cognitive ability and

they further other efforts than learning and thinking.


Wtf Brazil?!



Democracy in this view and as confirmed by the

empirical results is a phenomenon attributable to factors

given within a country and depending on its citizens. If

these internal conditions are not given, it would be

impossible or at least very difficult to import democracy

from the outside with the help of armed forces (see

experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq and the history of

Liberia, which was planned as an institutional copy of

the USA). Social and political institutions are not

irrelevant, but they depend in their development in the

past and in their functionality in the present on the

characteristics of the people. Democracy is more a way

of living and thinking (see Dewey, 1997/1916) than a

specific attribute of institutions. If institutions in an

independent country are missing or faulty, people and

their leaders, using their education and abilities, will and

can develop them. One important test case of the

education-intelligence-furthers-democracy-thesis will

be the political development of China during the 21st

century. If the positive influence of high cognitive

ability on democratization is a general phenomenon,

China will become democratic.


Let’s see about that prediction. Perhaps China is too big to get easy reforms, similarly to the US.