Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Impact of Political Rhetoric

Demagogues have long been condemned by the great and wise of society for their appeal to the passions and prejudices of the citizenry, when what is needed is reason and deliberation. This is true enough, but demagoguery is an inevitable result of placing ultimate political power in the hands of the masses. As a result, the role of argumentation, debate and discussion has taken a secondary place to rhetoric and appeals to interest groups. The selection process for politicians thus suffers from a strong bias towards the vapid rhetoritician and demagogue, and a comparatively minor impetus for strong thinkers and debaters- and so, when involved in roles such as Parliamentary debate which are more suitable for debate, these politicians nevertheless tend to rely on their highest talents. This is, of course, exacerbated by the televised nature of Legislative proceedings and the soundbite quality of our news cycle.

As political rhetoric has decended from argumentation to demagoguery, the type of person attracted to running for office has changed as well, reinforcing the bias towards the demogogic character, and further eroding the quality of policy debate both in the public forum as a whole and in the Legislature in particular.

How might this problem be lessened? Smaller ridings would allow for political campaigns to rely more on argument and less on media strategies as candidates get closer to the average voter. In the legislatures themselves, cameras ought to be removed to eliminate the temptation to pontificate to the voters rather than engage in debate and discussion.

Of course, the principal problem is that the nature of public knowledge and engagement in politics ineluctably leads to success for those who engage in appeals to self-interest and group identity- but this problem is impossible to remediate structurally without substantially narrowing the franchise. The place of an unelected upper house may be difficult to justify in terms of representation, but it certainly provides a means for a generous degree of disputation that democratically responsible chambers lack.


Blogger DimBulb said...

Here are two blogs you might be interested in:

Sacramentum Vitae

An Examined Life

August 04, 2007 10:02 PM  

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