web analytics
April 19, 2015 / 30 Nisan, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


The People In American Politics


Beres-Louis-Rene

Now that the primary season is seriously upon us, at least one claim is common to all of the candidates. No matter the differences between them, all of the political aspirants exhibit a fundamental populism. “I want to be the people’s president” is their shared mantra. Indeed, for any of them to suggest otherwise would be far more than foolish; it would be downright blasphemous.

Populist appeals are hardly novel in America. On the contrary, they have become altogether obligatory for anyone seeking public office. Interestingly, however, this has not always been the case. Rather, the history of the United States reveals early and substantial contempt for “The People.”

While the men who drew up the Constitution in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787 created a document that was stirringly republican, they hardly believed in the promise of democracy. Rather, deeply impressed with the philosophy of Hobbes and the religion of Calvin, they had very far-reaching anti-popular sentiments.

For Edmund Randolph, the evils from which the new country suffered originated in the “turbulence and follies of democracy.” 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 charged that the “turbulent and changing” masses “seldom judge or determine right,” and recommended a permanent public authority to “check the imprudence of democracy.” Even George Washington, the presiding officer, urged the delegates not to produce a document merely to “please the people.”

Today, many years later, we try to forget that the Founding Fathers displayed a distrust of the common people and an abundant fear of democratic rule. With no more than a half-dozen exceptions, the men of the Philadelphia Convention were scions of wealth and privilege, disdaining the people as little more than a dirty mob. As for the inclination toward serious thought by the populace, it was something only to be discouraged. In the words of the young Governeur Morris: “The mob begin to think and reason, Poor reptiles . . . They bask in the sun, and ere noon they will bite, depend on it.”

Even Benjamin Franklin, whose faith in the people was substantially stronger than that of most of his colleagues, remarked that the public capacity for purposeful citizenship was doubtful. In a similar vein, President Washington, in his first annual message to the Congress, declared that the American people “must learn to distinguish between oppression and the necessary exercise of lawful authority… to discriminate the spirit of Liberty from that of licentiousness.”

Looking back, the Founding Fathers were largely correct in their expectations for popular government, but for all the wrong reasons. We the people have displayed an extraordinary capacity for compliance and for deference to lawful authority. At the same time, we have also revealed a persistent unwillingness to care for ourselves as persons, as individual members of the commonwealth. As a result, the mob does reign supreme in America – not the mob feared by Hamilton and Sherman and Morris – but a dangerous mob nonetheless.

Who are the members of this mob? Significantly, they are drawn from every corner of the nation, from every nook and cranny of our country. They are rich and poor, black and white, Easterner and Westerner, educated and uneducated, young and old, Jew and Christian and Muslim. It is, as so many of the Founding Fathers feared, a democratic mob, but its distinguishing criterion is not poverty or lack of schooling. It is the absence of individuality, participation, and meaningful thought.

Where is the individual citizen, the authentic “one,” who does not draw comfort from the warmth of mass society? He or she no longer exists as a person, but only as a member. For America, it does not matter if the multitude is vulgar or sublime, as long as one is able to belong. For the United States today, demos is not the path to virtue but the valley of mediocrity and, ultimately, despair.

We have come a long way from the ancient Greek belief that a person must be honored for individual worth and treated with respect only because one is oneself. In the words of the Athenian statesman Pericles: “Each single one of our citizens, in all the manifold aspects of life, is able to show himself the rightful lord and owner of his own person, and do this, moreover, with exceptional grace and exceptional versatility.”

In today’s America the one who acts as the rightful lord and owner of his own person is judged either a fool or a sociopath, blind to the incessant demands and material rewards of belonging. It is as members of mass society that we now choose to deform ourselves and to dissolve the republic.

Almost devoid of those rare, noble and quixotic souls who will not stoop to prevailing conformance and imitation, The People allegedly adored by presidential candidates have generally become shamelessly comfortable with “fitting in.” Before this condition can change, it will be necessary for us to emerge from the dreadfully low estate of public life and to display innate powers both cultivated and unspoiled – sound, free from mimicry; displaying that individualization without extravagance that is genuine and unpretentious. Either we shall begin such emergence soon, or “The People” so distrusted by the Founding Fathers of the United States will become the natural enemies of excellence. If we fail, the outcome of the next presidential election will be far less important than we think.

Copyright, The Jewish Press, 2004. All rights reserved.

LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is the author of many books on international affairs. He is Strategic and Military Affairs Analyst for The Jewish Press.

About the Author: Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is professor of political science and international law at Purdue University and the author of many books and articles dealing with international relations and strategic studies.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “The People In American Politics”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reviews details of a "bad deal" with Iran.
Netanyahu Warns of Increased Iran Aggression in Middle East
Latest Indepth Stories
Temple Israel Of Boston

“The resentment towards us (Jews/Israelis) was really intense. They clearly hate Zionism & Zionists”

US has no problem with Egypt's bombing hundreds of homes of Gaza civilians but can't stand to see Israel destroy a terrorist's home.

Egypt has been more effective against Gazan smuggling tunnels than Israel’s military operations

Mrs. Golda Katz a"h

She had many names and was many things to many people, but to me she was just Babineni.

ISIS terrorist carries the group's black flag.

Is ISIS in Gaza? “No, but there are ISIS loyalists here..we pray to God they unite under ISIS’ flag”

Rabbi Portal was that great “inspirer,” changing people for the better, enriching the lives of all

Iran knows Obama, Putin, and the Europeans don’t have a Red Line beyond which they will go to war

There is no way to explain the Holocaust. I know survivors who are not on speaking terms with G-d. I know many who are the opposite. I have no right to go there…

When a whole side of your family perishes, friends become the extended family you do not have.

“We stand with Israel because of its values and its greatness and because its such a wonderful ally”

Mr. Obama himself inelegantly cautioned members of the Senate to be careful not to “screw up” the negotiations by seeking to have input into the future of the sanctions regime that has been imposed on Iran.

For our community, Mrs. Clinton’s foreign policy record will doubtless attract the most attention. And it is a most interesting one.

Mitchell Bard is nothing if not prolific. He has written and edited 23 books, including “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Middle East” and “The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance That Undermines America’s Interests in the Middle East.” Bard, who has a Ph.D. in political science from UCLA, is also the executive director of both the […]

Understanding the process described in Dayenu reveals deep relevance for us today.

For Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, the tanks, planes, and uniforms of the IDF were implements of mitzvot

More Articles from Louis Rene Beres

A “Palestine” could become another Lebanon, with many different factions battling for control.

Louis Rene Beres

President Obama’s core argument on a Middle East peace process is still founded on incorrect assumptions.

Once upon a time in America, every adult could recite at least some Spenglerian theory of decline.

President Obama’s core argument is still founded on incorrect assumptions.

Specific strategic lessons from the Bar Kokhba rebellion.

Still facing an effectively unhindered nuclear threat from Iran, Israel will soon need to choose between two strategic options.

For states, as for individuals, fear and reality go together naturally.

So much of the struggle between Israel and the Arabs continues to concern space.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/louis-bene-beres/the-people-in-american-politics/2004/03/17/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: