Thursday, July 22, 2004

Why This Election Matters: Demagoguery, Tyranny, and Integrity

"Whether it is a matter of art, music or politics, it is only the ‘best men’ who are capable of true judgement. The true judge must not allow himself to be influenced by the gallery nor intimidated by the clamour of the multitude. Nothing must compel him to hand down a verdict that belies his own convictions." Plato, The Laws 659a

Plato understood that some men are more fit to judge and to lead than are others. Some, in their integrity, their commitment to the virtues, and their philosophic nature (i.e., their access to the true form of the Good), will make more just judgments in the role of judge, and will better guide the polis in the role of politician. Although this may sound slightly elitist, America, in its shared democratic values, agrees with Plato -- we have selected the vehicle of elections as the best way to choose those who are more fit to govern and entrust them with positions of power. Elected officials are not just conduits for the views of the people -- they are also filters, chosen because of their integrity and conscientiousness to apply those qualities to their own judgments.

Edmund Burke, in his Speech to the Electors of Bristol discusses the nature of representation. The representative’s
unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you [constituents], to any man, or any man living...They are a trust from Providence. ... [G]overnment and legislation are matters of reason and judgment, and not of inclination; and what sort of reason is that, in which the determination precedes the discussion...?

Burke echoes Plato, that it is the natural conscience of a man that ought guide him in governance, for he has been selected by his fellow citizens because his conscience is particularly 'enlightened.' To ignore that God-given conscience for political considerations or in deference to a realization that others may not agree with you is a violation of the trust of the people governed and the trust of our Creator. When a political leader rejects his conscience and instead applies political judgments alone, he moves from true political leader to demagogue.

Plato's analysis of the natural decline of democracy into tyranny reflects the conversion of the politician into the demagogue. Plato feared not the demos itself, but the demagogue. It is the demagogue who, in a situation where the state faces unrest due to perceived unfairness and enmity between haves and have-nots, uses that unrest as a vehicle to emerge as a popular hero, promising redistribution of wealth or cancellation of debts to the poor. See The Republic at 564c-66d. The demagogue puts the political above conscience, rallies support by appealing to humanity's natural greed. The tyrant emerges as a champion of the people, much like Hitler, but is soon revealed to be something else entirely, something evil.

In a modern democracy, something Plato could not have envisioned but to which his principles are equally applicable (for as Madison asked in Federalist 51, "What is government but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?"), elections and representative government are a principle check designed to prevent Plato's feared decline to tyranny. The rise of demagoguery, however, distorts the policy behind holding election. Elections move from being a means of selecting the 'best' men of integrity and conscience to lead, and rather become a means of discovering which candidate's promises of entitlements, gifts, and redistribution are more substantial and appealing to the wants of the people. The more such demagoguery continues unquestioned, the more it is entrenched, and the less useful elections become. With demagogues in position of power, citizens' ideas about government become more and more distorted and the proper ideal of government is lost, destroying the power of representation to act as a bulwark against the decline of democracy into tyranny.

Thus, the current election is absolutely crucial. John Kerry and John Edwards' demagoguery is unabashed. While Edwards intentionally employs class warfare rhetoric to drive a wedge between rich and poor, appealing to human greed and superficial notions of fairness, John Kerry admits that he refuses to apply the convictions of his conscience as regards abortion to the law of abortion in deference to the beliefs of others (but truly in deference to political considerations). George Bush, on the other hand, is unapologetic about his beliefs and everyone knows precisely where he stands. His leadership, which always follows the dictates of his conscience, embodies integrity. In a time where an external evil attempts to overwhelm our culture and kill as many innocents associated with it as possible, we need true leadership and real integrity. That Kerry and Edwards resort to demagoguery in such a time, that they seem unable to explain a principled reason for the virtue of their plans for government other than hatred of the other electoral choice, demonstrates convincingly their lack of the integrity our times demand, that they care only for their own power. At this critical juncture, will America choose demagoguery or integrity? Will our system remain a bulwark against the rise of tyranny? Or will greed overpower reason? Only time will tell. I believe in America, and I believe we will make the right choice -- despite the appeal of the demagogue, Americans can sense virtue when it confronts them. In George W. Bush we have a powerful and unique example of true integrity. Thankful for strong leadership in difficult times, America will reelect the President.

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