Why is literacy important to cultures in terms of political power?

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Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Legitimate political power (as opposed to dictatorship) is strongly reliant upon getting a message out to a populace.  In a culture that is not literate, political ideas can be spread only via word of mouth or via a medium that does not require literacy, for example, with speeches or on radio or television.  In spite of the ubiquity of mass media that does not require literacy, the power of the printed word, in hard print or on the Internet, is stronger, I believe, because it has a greater circulation, because it lasts, and because ideas can be developed at greater length and reviewed more thoroughly and thoughtfully.  Sometimes I fear we are moving away from the power of the printed word, what with campaign by sound bite in the United States, for example, but because the literacy rate in the United States is still fairly high, I do not think that the printed word has lost its power to persuade.  As a side note, I think that successful democracy requires literacy, and that many countries that are now attempting to move toward democracy cannot be successful unless there is a movement to a greater literacy in society in general.  Such "experiments" tend to otherwise devolve into dictatorship.