Ethika Politika on Cults of Personality in Contemporary Politics

Daniel Schwindt writes:

You write a great deal about the factors (such as the “cult of personality”) that lead to men like Obama getting office (or Bush, really). I wanted to share this article I wrote for Ethika Politika which offers some thoughts on why we have this problem, contrasting the excellent Hilaire Belloc with J.F.K. Please take a peak if you have the time.

I often think of Chesterton’s remarks on how tyranny is not a primitive form of government, but what result from a “tired democracy“.

I have already alluded to Mr. H. G. Wells and the Old Man, with whom he appears to be on such intimate terms. If we considered the cold facts of prehistoric evidence for this portrait of the prehistoric chief of the tribe, we could only excuse it by saying that its brilliant and versatile author simply forgot for a moment that he was supposed to be writing a history, and dreamed he was writing one of his own very wonderful and imaginative romances. At least I cannot imagine how he can possibly know that the prehistoric ruler was called the Old Man or that court etiquette requires it to be spelt with capital letters. He says of the same potentate, ‘No one was allowed to touch his spear or to sit in his seat! I have difficulty in believing that anybody has dug up a prehistoric spear with a prehistoric label, ‘Visitors are Requested not to Touch,’ or a complete throne with the inscription, ‘Reserved for the Old Man.’ But it may be presumed that the writer, who can hardly be supposed to be merely making up things out of his own head, was merely taking for granted this very dubious parallel between the prehistoric and the civilized man. It may be that in certain savage tribes the chief is called the Old Man and nobody is allowed to touch his spear or sit on his seat. It may be that in those cases be is surrounded with superstitious and traditional terrors; and it may be that in those cases, for all I know, he is despotic and tyrannical. But there is not a grain of evidence that primitive government was despotic and tyrannical. It may have been, of course, for it may have been anything or even nothing; it may not have existed at all. But the despotism in certain dingy and decayed tribes in the twentieth century does not prove that the first men were ruled despotically. It does not even suggest it; it does not even begin to hint at it. If there is one fact we really can prove, from the history that we really do know, it is that despotism can be a development, often a late development and very often indeed the end of societies that have been highly democratic. A despotism may almost be defined as a tired democracy. As fatigue falls on a community, the citizens are less inclined for that eternal vigilance which has truly been called the price of liberty; and they prefer to arm only one single sentinel to watch the city while they sleep.

Here are a number of such tired citizens of democracy right here:

The central question for such people (whether their sentinel is Obama or Bush/Cheney) is not “What is good? What is right? What is prudent? What is possible? What is the ordering a sound civil society under the rule of law?” but rather “Is it my tribe and my folk hero who is wielding power or Their tribe and folk hero?” Such a people forges their own chains.

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  • Rebecca Fuentes

    I could believe that many people would not recognize what “Orwellian” meant, and would be too proud to ask, but I was floored that he could say, “We’re modeling it after Nazi Germany” and people still didn’t bat an eye. (I’m sure someone did, and they didn’t make the reel, but the fact that anyone of voting age wouldn’t bat an eye at that . . . yikes!)