The ultimate direct democracy is a referendum, a peoples vote. In practice this is shown not to be a good way to make big decisions, and so referenda are typically advisory: they can signal a need for change, but do not necessarily show the best path and a major reason for this is information.
"An informed electorate is an essential prerequisite for democracy" was oft mentioned by (and quoted from) Thomas Jefferson and others in the early days of the US democratic system (1770's onwards). “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government”, he said. Among other things, this consideration led to the establishment of public libraries in the US for the electorate "to learn the lessons of history".
Two millennia earlier in Athens, around 400 BC, Plato despaired with democracy precisely because "ordinary people were too easily swayed by the emotional and deceptive rhetoric of ambitious politicians". Recognisable? Looking for a better system, in his work "Republic" he came up with a separation of "lovers of money", "lovers of honour" and "lovers of wisdom" so separating business, the military, and those capable of making the right choices. This last group consisted of scientists, scholars, high level experts and other sophisticates, the concept underlying his "philosopher-kings". Just to be sure, he also stated -much to the consternation of his contemporaries- that no member of the government should be allowed to own or accumulate property while in office. He did not want wisdom and government biased by self-interest either.
The best modern efforts to keep tyranny at bay include education (e.g. independent universities), free public access to information (e.g. libraries) and an independent press, and of course the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted to assist in its own way. Yet that is a far cry from what we now have in the UK:
Sources: http://www.politheo.com/thomasjefferson.html; https://scholarsandrogues.com/2010/06/13/jefferson-self-governance-and-the-field-of-knowledge/ ; http://faculty.frostburg.edu/phil/forum/PlatoRep.htm; John Simpson, "Unreliable Sources", p177
Erik is a physicist, ocean sailor, petroleum engineer, climate change student, and public speaker and writer.