Of Demagogues and Ideologues

Photo by Natalya Letunova on Unsplash

The demagogue has ever been the bane of democracies.  By definition, democracies rest upon the choices of the people.  When wisdom guides, democracies prosper.  As history shows, wisdom does not always prevail, and it never does when demagogues do.  Since the demagogue seeks his own power by taking power from others, once the people give him their voice they will be hard-pressed to get their power back; the democracy deteriorates into dictatorship, invoked in the name but never the reality of the rights of the people.

So I wrote some time ago.  Experience since then has reinforced the points I raised.  I wish that it had not, as such experience is painful.

On the early side of Summer an insightful essay in the June 2021 edition of The New Criterion illuminated the companion to the demagogue, the ideologue (see, David Guaspari, “Ideologists amok”).  Sometimes they can be the same person, as ideologues frequently employ demagoguery.

Reflecting on demagogues and ideologues, I more recently imagined a conversation with someone who displays characteristics of such a one.  As with a similar conversation of which I wrote in the past, I refer to my interlocutor as Burning Cynders, to preserve the fanciful nature.  I will leave it to you to imagine whether this reminds you of anyone.  It went something like this.

WAA:  I understand that you consider the United States to be a horribly oppressive place.

Cynders:  Horribly oppressive, and practically everyone is a victim.

WAA:  How can everyone be a victim?  If there are victims, there must be oppressors.

Cynders:  There are, but they are victims, too.  The oppression is systemic, that we all inherited.  Even the victims help maintain it.  I pause to allow you to grasp the vastness of the subject.

WAA:  Thank you.  Does that mean that you help to perpetuate the system, too?

Cynders:  I did, until I figured it out.  Now that I understand, I am trying to liberate people from it. 

WAA:  Are the millions of people immigrating to the United States coming here to be liberated from this oppression?

Cynders:  They are coming here because they know that I and those who are with me are working to throw off the oppression.

WAA:  Like why the Founders first came here.  I thought that people want to come to America for a freer, more prosperous life.  Which problems did they miss?

Cynders:  You don’t understand; your thought is distorted by the system.  No single problem can be solved without solving all problems.  You are part of the problem.

WAA:  That might be debatable.  How about we discuss what this land offers that attracts so many people.

Cynders:  The debate is over.  I’m here to teach you.  I know why they are coming.  They sense that I am working to throw off the oppression, to change the system, to change America.  Traumatized by their journey, the trauma raises their consciousness to the need for transformation.

WAA:  What key reforms do you have in mind?

Cynders:  I’m not interested in reform.  You cannot reform this system.  It is fundamentally corrupt and oppressive.  It must be torn down and built anew.  There will be a new system, without oppressors or oppressed.

WAA:  It seems to me there was a lot of tearing down in the twentieth century by the Lenins, Stalins, Hitlers, the Mussolinis, the Maos, Pol Pots, and many others.  History shows us the ruins, but I don’t see the end of oppression in the experiments in bread-rationing socialism.

Cynders:  There were bold efforts, but they didn’t try hard enough or long enough.  As I said, oppression is in the whole system.  It’s in our culture, our religion, our laws, our families, our healthcare, our schools, in the language we use. 

WAA:  What will this new world look like? 

Cynders:  No one knows.  No one can tell you.  It may take generations to break down and build right.  This generation may not see the fruits of its work; still, it will bless future generations.  But can there be any sacrifice too great for a world without any oppression, with no victims, no oppressors?

WAA:  Sounds like you are out to alter the very nature of humanity.

Cynders:  You are not as hopeless as I feared.  Maybe you can be educated yet.

I pause the conversation there.  Time to play with my grandsons.

About Wayne Abernathy
I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I am the husband of one wife, the father of 5 children, and grandfather of 16 (and counting). In my career I have served on the staff of the U.S. Senate for some 20 years, including as staff director of the Senate Banking Committee. For just over 2 years I was the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Institutions. Just recently, I retired from the American Bankers Association, where for 15 years I was an Executive Vice President, for financial institutions policy and regulatory affairs. I am most comfortable at home, where I like to read and write, and at the Temple, where I rejoice in helping to unite families.

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