Democracy is inefficient, ungainly, unhandy and thoroughly wanting in dexterity or grace. Democratic government, however, is the only form consistent with justice; it is the only form of government which gives each person, under which he or she must suffer, a sense (maybe just a hope) that they count for something, that they are part of the system and that they have the means to effect a change. That it is dependent on popular support is both its virtue and its vice. Democracy reduces wisdom to impotence. It leaves us all subject to the whims of those who are foolish or deficient in understanding, or who are just plainly in want of good sense. In democracy, demagogism reigns supreme.
In ancient times, a demagogue was a leader of the people, a popular leader or orator who espoused the cause of the people against any other party in the state. These days it has a bad connotation: a demagogue is a leader of a popular faction, or of the mob, a political agitator who appeals to the passions and prejudices of the mob in order to obtain power or further his own interests; he is an unprincipled or factious popular orator. When one of these kinds of people stand on a box they usually have a ready audience.1 In these days of modern communication, boxes are not needed; nor is it necessary to gather the crowds together in one spot. When the politicians need to hoodwink the masses in order to achieve political power and keep it, they are openly confessed and unblushingly gloried in by their myrmidons, the press -- as much as the politicians, and maybe more so, we need all be concerned with the venom and virulence of the demagogue journalist.
And, so, "the buffoon is taken for a wit. To be thought wise, it is for the most part
only necessary to seem so; and the noisy demagogue is easily translated, by the popular
voice, into the orator and patriot."2 The difficulty, of course, is that demagogues, more often then not, achieve their heart's desire, power. With power -- as history plainly shows -- demagogues turn into tyrants and commit atrocities; and no one, it would seem, from the beginning or throughout could hear the plea of reason. For it is the people -- who, in the majority, act from passion and not from reason -- the people, who give support to the demagogic politicians who but proffer dreams in exchange for political support. This is but just one more, of so many reasons, to keep the role of government down to the bare minimum.
1 "Oft the cheated crowd adore The thriving knaves that keep them poor." -- Gay: Fables.
2 Hazlitt, from his essay, "On The Qualifications Necessary For Success."
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April, 2000 (2011)