With Jim May's permission I repost below a post he made to the private HBL. (I have reformatted it for this blog, with minor stylistic changes such as putting book titles in italics, but the content is unchanged.) The post makes an interesting point about demagoguery I had not seen before. Usually we think of demagogues manipulating the emotions of large crowds -- but who is controlling whom?
UPDATE: Welcome Two-Four readers!
Obama, the Empty Vessel
Robert Tracinski wrote:
If you were fooled by Obama's secularist rhetoric, don't feel too bad. He described the essence of his political modus operandi in his campaign book The Audacity of Hope: "I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views."
I just finished reinstalling my jaw after reading that. This is why: Consider the following quote, where I substituted "THE DEMAGOGUE" for its actual subject. I predict most, if not all list members, will recognize who is being discussed before I reveal it at the end of the quote.
No, evidently propaganda is not just the trick of "always saying the same thing" -- that would be too simple. . . Actually, propaganda changes and irradiates like swamp water in changing weather. The facts must constantly be interpreted, invented, falsified anew; overnight, friend must become foe; good, evil -- and always the force of faith must gleam through the veil of shifting truths. Without this power of faith, the propagandist cannot make people believe even the simplest truths, much less a tissue of contradictions and lies! . . .
The truth is irremediably buried beneath these deceptions and contradictions. How, then, can the speaker expect to put through a single incisive, suitable lie, when from speech to speech, from sentence to sentence, he changes even the lies? Whom does he expect to persuade that he himself believes a single one of those mutually contradictory lies? And to what purpose does he try to spread an opinion among the people, when on the very next day he is going to sacrifice that opinion?
Such questions are asked by those who do not understand propaganda, who understand propaganda as the art of instilling an opinion in the masses. Actually, it is the art of receiving an opinion from the masses....
THE DEMAGOGUE did not hammer the same simple statement into the minds of millions; on the contrary, he played with the masses and titillated them with the most contradictory assertions. It is this art of contradiction which makes him the greatest and most successful propagandist of his time. He does not dominate the minds of millions, his mind belongs to them. Like a piece of wood floating on the waves, he follows the shifting currents of public opinion. This is his true strength.
The true aim of political propaganda is not to influence, but to study the masses. The speaker is in constant communication with the masses; he hears an echo, and senses the inner vibration. In forever setting new and contradictory assertions before his audience, THE DEMAGOGUE is tapping the outwardly shapeless substance of public opinion with instruments of varying metals and varying weights. When a resonance issues from the depths of the substance, the masses have given him the pitch; he knows in what terms he must finally address them.
Rather than as a means of directing the mass mind, propaganda is a technique for riding with the masses. It is not a machine to make wind, but a sail to catch the wind.
I have, until now, held that the Obama phenomenon has been about his followers signalling their readiness for a Maximum Leader, more so than about Obama himself. I did not know that he actually describes himself in terms that the quoted author, Konrad Heiden, uses to describe THE DEMAGOGUE, who is Adolf Hitler.
I am still shaking my head that Obama openly confesses to being the same sort of selfless banality as Hitler was. I do not necessarily believe that Obama will be the next Fuehrer; the antidote, as weak as it is, remains active in the culture, unlike Weimar. But it is nonetheless disturbing to see this particular pattern show up so clearly, so soon, at the level of a presidential election.
Quote source: pp137-140, Der Fuehrer by Konrad Heiden, 1944, 1st edition, Houghton-Mifflin, translated by Ralph Mannheim.