Demagogues and Doctrinaires

The 44th post on the Journal of American Greatness originally published in March, 2016.


This Journal has praised the Weekly Standard more than once before, and we are glad to do it again, at least with respect to the publication of this excellent article by Fred Bauer, “To Fight Demagoguery, We Must Critique Doctrinaire Impulses.”

Drawing on James Fenimore Cooper, Bauer intelligently locates the roots of–or at least partial responsibility for–demagoguery in the rigid, snobbish, and Dionysiokolake adherence to antiquated doctrine among the so-called intelligentsia.  He writes:

If a nation’s governing elites prefer their private idols to the public’s challenges, the public will more be inclined to support anyone who at least pretends to listen to them. Looking out of their manicured citadels at a mob led by a hair-on-fire tribune, princely doctrinaires might be inclined to become even more dismissive of public demands. A vicious cycle commences, as demagogues grow even more outrageous and doctrinaires tut even more self-righteously.

Tellingly, responsibility begins with response; a key duty of authority is to be responsive to events. The doctrinaire falls short of this important obligation. He confuses enduring principles with policies that are the applications of these principles. He makes a dogma out of old facts and uses slogans as intellectual swaddling clothes. If the demagogue appeals to the resentments of the masses, the doctrinaire appeals to the narcissism of the powerful, assuring them that what truly afflicts a troubled nation is an ungrateful public….

The conventional wisdom around Trump’s campaign has lurched from one soon-disproved truism to another: he would never run, he would fizzle out, he would win no more states than Pat Buchanan, winnowing the field would destroy him, attack ads would crush him, and, if rival candidates would just muster the courage, they could cut him down to size with personal insults….

Meanwhile, Republicans have struggled to advance policies that will reach out to, and address the concerns of, anxious Americans. Disco died over thirty years ago, but some Republicans remain wedded to policies formulated when Donna Summer ruled the pop charts. Some on the right have been tempted to retreat to the comfortable orthodoxies of trade deals, entitlement reform, and capital-gains tax-cuts, but it is far from clear that a majority coalition can be built on that policy trinity alone….

Read the whole thing.  We wish we would have written it, and, to be fair, in some forms we did, but neither as eloquently nor as charitably.

And credit to the Weekly Standard for publishing it.  Perhaps it is not too late yet for a conservative awakening, though much more evidence is required, and much more work to be done, before we cheer too loudly.

— Plautus

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