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Opinion The Masses Were Never Intended to Rule

23:31  20 march  2018
23:31  20 march  2018 Source:   usnews.com

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What is ultimately most revealing about this crassly manipulative tactic, however, is less its banal plea for public approval than its harsh contrast with This original historic meaning was purely negative, used as a pejorative, a judgment of contempt, a neatly comprehensive insult designed to support

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CLEVELAND, OHIO - JULY 19: A woman wearing an american flag hat stops to take a photo of demonstrators as she makes her way into the Quicken Loans Arena for the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio on Tuesday July 19, 2016.(Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images): Crowds gather for the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.© (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty Images) Crowds gather for the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.

Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

Virtually all of our national politicians, whether Democrat or Republican, are fond of "The American People." Indeed, as the ultimate fallback stance for any candidate or incumbent who lacks any logical reason to advance a chosen policy, no other phrase can seem so ardently useful. What is ultimately most revealing about this crassly manipulative tactic, however, is less its banal plea for public approval than its harsh contrast with "original meaning."

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This original historic meaning was purely negative, used as a pejorative, a judgment of contempt, a neatly comprehensive insult designed to support still-presumed class differences in the new American Republic.

It follows that any present appeal to a more cheerfully mythical "American People" reflects a merely invented or contrived history of the early United States. While this uplifting narrative may offer politicians a seemingly expedient strategy for success with the voters, it is also patently false. Upon even the most cursory sort of examination, our foundational political background reveals a clear disdain for any more "advanced" American notions of popular rule.

To be sure, the white propertied men who drew up the Constitution in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787 created a document that was stirringly republican. Nonetheless, just as assuredly, they did not really believe in a democracy, not even for a moment. Rather, imbued with the darkly cynical philosophy of Englishman Thomas Hobbes, and with the correspondingly severe Protestantism of the Genevan (Swiss) John Calvin, they declared openly strong sentiments against any American semblance of "mass."

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On these matters, the written record is unambiguous. For Edmund Randolph, the evils from which the new country was suffering originated in the "turbulence and follies of democracy." Quite regularly, Elbridge Gerry spoke of democracy as "the worst of all political evils," and Roger Sherman hoped that "the people...have as little to do as may be about the government." Hamilton, the subject of today's most popular musical on Broadway, charged that the "turbulent and changing" masses "seldom judge or determine right," and very fervently sought a suitably "permanent" authority to "check the imprudence of democracy."

For Hamilton, such imprudence was inherent and irremediable.

For him, the American People represented a "great beast."

In a similar vein, George Washington soberly urged the convention delegates not to produce a document solely "to please the people."

Today, in a nation ridden with numbing clichés and empty witticisms, we Americans casually neglect that this country's literal creators had displayed a deeply visceral distrust of all democratic governance. Unsurprisingly, with no more than a half-dozen exceptions, the men of the Philadelphia Convention were scions of conspicuous wealth and privilege. For them, quite naturally, any expectations of serious thought by the general population would have seemed downright unfathomable, even "revolutionary."

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Said the young Governeur Morris, in a candid quote that speaks volumes about the true origins of our vaunted American democracy: "The mob begin to think and reason, poor reptiles . . . They bask in the sun, and ere noon they will bite, depend on it."

"Poor reptiles." What a hideous yet straightforward metaphor. But weren't there some prominent participant exceptions? What about Benjamin Franklin, a presumptive "man of the people" if ever there was one?

Well, that's the more charitable description of Franklin we had once dutifully memorized back in the fifth grade.

In reality, however, Franklin had remarked, on several well-documented occasions, that any conceivable public capacity for purposeful citizenship would have to remain both hidden and improbable. Furthermore, President George Washington (remember him?), in his first annual message to the Congress, revealed similarly compelling apprehensions about any genuine public participation in government. The American people, he sternly warned "…must learn to distinguish between oppression, and the necessary exercise of lawful authority . . ."

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Much as we don't care to admit it today, the founding fathers were largely correct in their expressed reservations, but probably for all the wrong reasons. Contrary to much earlier founders' expectations, We the people (at least if we now disregard ordinary crime statistics) have displayed a more-or-less consistent capacity for deference to "lawful authority." Still, we have also demonstrated a persistent unwillingness to care for ourselves as authentic individuals, that is, as singular persons of any serious analytic or intellectual predilections, that is, as meaningfully recognizable "good citizens."

It is now time for genuine candor, especially in the rabidly anti-historic and anti-intellectual Trump era. Today, incontestably, an undeserving "mob" does defile any alleged American "greatness." It is, to be sure, not the same mob once feared by Hamilton, Sherman and Morris, but it remains a dangerous mob nonetheless.

The single greatest danger, of course, is existential. It concerns the behavior of a demonstrably unfit American president who routinely favors certain strategic reassurances from Moscow and Pyongyang over the independent assessments of his own professional intelligence community.

But who are members of the American mob? They are rich and poor, black and white, easterner and westerner, southerner and mid-westerner, educated and uneducated, young and old, male and female, Jew and Christian and Muslim and Hindu and Buddhist and atheist. It is, in some respects, precisely as the founding fathers had earlier feared, a democratic mob. Yet, this contemporary mob's most distinguishing and debilitating features are not poverty, or a lack of formal schooling ("I love the poorly educated," intoned Donald Trump), or even any characteristically violent or voyeuristic sentiments.

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These most flagrantly noteworthy features concern the absence of any minimally decent regard for genuine learning or serious thought.

More than anything else, as should be apparent from vast addictions to social media, America is now all about "fitting in," about resisting personal estrangement at absolutely all costs. Among our now generally anxious citizens (the pertinent popular term these days is angst), demos is no longer a preferred path to civic virtue, but rather a suffocating valley of imitation, mediocrity, cheap amusements, and inevitable despair. Whatever our major historic misunderstandings of the founding fathers, we Americans have somehow managed to descend a distressingly long way from the ancient Greek belief that each person should be honored on account of his or her own individual worth.

And the declensions still mount.

In Trump's America, especially, the overriding goal for millions has become painfully obvious and potentially obligatory. This goal is a government-sanctioned allowance, or at least a comforting presidential dispensation, to chant pure nonsense, endlessly, ritualistically, in fearfully hideous chorus. Together with such utterly primal chanting (one should think here of the marooned English schoolboys in William Golding's Lord of the Flies), all that can ever really matter is to belong. Truth, on the other hand, must become increasingly irrelevant, even when it is presented to an already- "marooned" citizenry with verifiable scientific support.

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"Intellect rots the brain," said Third Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. While less overt in these United States, distressingly similar views now underpin the American presidency. If one should have any serious doubts about such a far-reaching indictment, just watch the emotional outpourings at any single presidential "rally." Fundamentally, the Trump audience's willingness to prefer wizardry over analysis is not without chaotic precedent in western democracies.

At its heart, the underlying American malady is not difficult to diagnose. The "American People" so cravenly praised by obtuse politicians has little recognizable genuineness to commend itself. In many obvious respects, in fact, it fulfills early Roman appraisals of the so-called plebs; that is, of an intellectually unambitious mob, one wishing to learn only what is "practical," a commoditized mass roughly equivalent to the ancient Greek hoi polloi, a usefully malleable "herd" (think both Nietzsche and Freud, who preferred "herd" to "mass") that viscerally celebrates the demeaning sovereignty of unqualified persons.

A stark summation of these appraisals was already familiar to America's founding fathers, primarily by way of the Roman historian Livy: "Nothing is so valueless," he said long ago, "as the minds of the multitude." Now, recalling his words, America's core enemy is an insistent intellectual docility, a cheerlessly uninquiring national spirit that not only knows nothing of truth, but also wants to know nothing of truth. Once again, if there should ever be any doubts about this far-reaching indictment, one need only look at the present occupant of the White House, a president with a "button that works."

In his Notes on Virginia, Thomas Jefferson once proposed an improved plan of elementary schooling in which "twenty of the best geniuses will be raked from the rubbish annually." Today, of course, it is simply inconceivable, and for abundantly good reason, that any president or presidential aspirant could ever refer to his fellow Americans as "rubbish." Yet, this rude analogy had expressed the unvarnished sentiment of America's most famous early "populist," and later, its third chief executive.

Going forward, the "American People" have only one overriding obligation; that is, to disprove both Alexander Hamilton and Donald Trump by somehow embracing a new national political ethos, one inspired not by a perpetual fear of severance from the warmly-submissive American mass, but by a much more intentional cultivation of personal intellect and public responsibility. Plainly, this indispensable embrace will take time – arguably, perhaps, even more time than is still available – but there is quite literally no alternative. For The American People, this eleventh-hour embrace may represent our literally last chance for both personal and collective survival.

Copyright 2017 U.S. News & World Report

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