November 06, 2017

The Rise of the Rabble-Rousers

Heard interesting comments from Jonah Goldberg on Bill Kristol show.

Seems a half a century ago a guy named Will Herberg foresaw our present political condition.  Writing in "The New Leader" in 1954, he said the Founding Fathers were as afraid of despotism as they were of direct democracy because they were close students of history and understood that direct democracy leads to despotism.  He said the demagogues of ancient Greece and Roman manipulated the crowd and Caesar and Pericles used the Forum and the Arena to rabble-rouse and exert their will on the elites, and the Founding Fathers were terrified of that -- they wanted deliberative democracy that was largely closed off.

But it was democratic in these were the legitimate representatives of the people, but then behind closed doors they could slowly and methodically think things through.

Herberg said there has always been rabble-rousers in the past but there was no means of doing it well technologically until radio came along and FDR became first modern effective rabble-rouser.  FDR’s fireside chats were used to launch these incredible public pressure campaigns against Congress: write letters, make phone calls, send telegrams in order to force Congress to exert my will.

Then Sen. Joe McCarthy comes along and there’s rabble-rousing on the right on the radio.   McCarthy had no serious ideas to do anything, just has the right enemies and aroused passions.  (Sound familiar?) Herberg said television was making it worse and that the early investigative hearings were basically TV shows.  Mass entertainment technology, he claimed, is siphoning off the deliberative aspects of politics and making it into rabble-rousing and entertainment.

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