Silly Rhetoric

I wanted to share something that amused me. It is a quote from Benjamin Disraeli. He was an Earl and a conservative politician, having held a number of government positions in the late 1800s, including prime minister of England. He said:

“If you establish a democracy, you must in due time reap the fruits of a democracy. You will in due season have great impatience of public burdens, combined in due season with great increase of public expenditure. You will in due season have wars entered into from passion and not from reason; and you will in due season submit to peace ignominiously sought and ignominiously obtained, which will diminish your authority and perhaps endanger your independence. You will in due season find your property is less valuable, and your freedom less complete.”

That is plain idiotic. It’s true. Then again, the opposite is also true. If you don’t establish democracy, all of the same things happen. That is because it has nothing to do with democracy.

We know this because before democracy there were endless examples of societies that at one time or another experienced impatience of public burdens, increase of public expenditures, wars of passion, et cetera. All societies at some point lose their authority and decline. That is pretty much the history of human civilization, from the earliest city-states to the modern nation-states.

I can’t believe that a learned aristocrat like Disraeli didn’t know such basic history. He could have looked at any society to find evidence of these pre-democratic problems. A casual perusal of English history could have enlightened him.  So, why was he feigning ignorance? Did he think he was going to deceive others by stating a bald-faced lie? Maybe so. He was a politician, after all.

More than a century later, this kind of silly rhetoric is repeated not just by conservative politicians but also pundits, talk show hosts, talking heads, public intellectuals, and think tank hacks. There is a whole industry promoting these ideas, such that they’ve solidified into talking points. And these talking points, as designed, are regurgitated by Republican partisans, Fox News viewers, and others in the general public, even some ‘liberals’.

This blaming of democracy often is combined with declarations that the United States is a republic, not a democracy. But this inconsistency then makes it hard, from a rational perspective, to blame the country’s problems on democracy. Not that rational consistency ever mattered much in political rhetoric.

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