Sunday, July 12, 2009

Beware the demagogue

No matter how independent we are, we all have people who we respect and look up to as leaders and role models.

How do you choose your leaders?

I have a couple rules of thumb that I use to filter out candidates.

Rule #1: If they seek power they are disqualified.

Rule #2: If they appeal to destructive emotions they are disqualified.

Power seekers

“When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”
~Jimi Hendrix

We all fall into the trap of choosing to use coercion against others from time to time. But when the fear subsides and our empathy for our victim returns, our shame reminds us that that such behavior is morally wrong. We may seek to deceive ourselves into believing otherwise but our conscience knows better.

Self-confident people do not desire power.

Only those who lack the emotional maturity to control their own fear seek to control their environment instead.

Power seekers seek power because they fear they will not be able to handle to consequences of not forcing others to behave as they wish.

They lack the courage to allow others to choose their own path.

They lack the requisite compassion to connect with others to understand the deeper reasons why they do what they do.

They lack self-confidence in their own ability to persuade others to voluntarily adopt their way of thinking.

They lack the patience to allow others to see the rightness of their position.

Perhaps worst of all, they lack the courage to question the correctness of their own beliefs.

Intuitively we all know that those who seek power are the last ones to whom it should be given.


“Whatever is begun in anger ends in shame.”
~Benjamin Franklin

We all fall into the trap of allowing ourselves to be overtaken by destructive emotions from time to time. However, we know in our hearts that this sort of behavior is nothing to be proud of.

Those who seek to motivate others by appealing to fear and anger are not worthy of respect.

Those who use fear to move others do so because this is how they motivate themselves. They lack the emotional maturity to control their fear so they choose to harness it instead.

Those who use anger to move others do so for the same reason. Uncontrolled fear invariably turns to anger and hatred.

Fear turns off empathy – the source of our conscience and sense of morality – and is thus the root of all evil.

It kills the ability to connect with other human beings and makes civilized discussion impossible.

It causes us to focus on the very worst qualities in others and to see them as a “threat”.

It leads to the division of society into camps of “us” and “them”.

When fear turns to anger, “us” and “them” go to war with each other.

Those who allow themselves to be lead by such people are choosing the path of barbarism.


Those who both crave power and seek to appeal to the destructive emotions of others are demagogues or demagogue wannabes.

Regardless of the underlying issues, choosing to follow a demagogue is a very bad idea.

They are the leaders of the barbarian tribes and they should be shunned by civilized human beings.

P.S. The author is aware of and amused by the irony of advising others to beware of those who advise others to beware. ;)

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