Kant defines enlightenment as “man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity”. (Page 522) This means using your own reason to make decisions and not being influenced by others. People should practice autonomy, not paternalism. To go about this, citizens should do research and make judgments for themselves. People are allowed to discuss others’ opinions and think about them, but should ultimately use their own convictions to make every decision. This idea of enlightenment is often encouraged in the American government, yet many do not practice their rights. It is becoming increasingly important for people to use reason when making decisions, yet some groups of citizens are denied the resources to achieve this. Whether by their own actions or those forced upon them, most Americans are far from enlightened.
American Presidential candidates begin campaigning months and months before the actual election. This is the perfect opportunity for citizens to act in an enlightened manner. Candidates present all of their positions on major topics and give their negative feedback on the others in the running. All of this information is easily found on the internet and television; it is essentially handed out on a silver platter. The state is providing the populace with a way to be autonomous without the state being paternalistic itself. With all of these resources available, people still don’t use reason when stepping into the voting booth. Numerous young voters mark the ballot with the candidate who best reflects what their parents hold as valuable or what they learned in church. People who make decisions in this manner are essentially asking others to act paternalistically. Kant would be rolling in his grave if he heard of this happening. Another hindrance to the populace becoming enlightened is the system of an Electoral College. Many people do not find the significance of voting since their vote cannot directly elect the President and therefore, do not take the time to educate themselves about candidates and current issues.
There are many resources in society that make it easy to be enlightened on certain issues, yet there are groups of people who are left out. In the United States, Amendments to the Constitution eliminate the possibility of marginalization in voting. However, impoverished children are not always given the same education as middle and above classes. They often cannot buy books and other school materials and states frequently do not provide enough funding for adequate resources. Outside of the United States, many people in third world countries are denied the right to participate in the education system at all because of their poverty or even because of their sex. All of these factors contribute to a less enlightened society.
The way the internet has taken over the world allows for people to obtain information at a much faster rate than ever before. Yet, citizens still chose to allow others to make decisions for them. On the other hand, many marginalized groups, such as the impoverished are denied the resources to enlighten themselves. In one way, the government encourages citizens to form opinions and do research, and in another, it denies certain citizens from being educated. At this point, America is nowhere near the smallest bit of enlightenment.
Modern Political Thought. Edited with Introductions by David Wooton. Kant page 522.