This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

The rise of the politician

“The world is weary of statesmen whom democracy has degraded into politicians.”

~ Benjamin Disraeli

“Democracy obviously has need of politicians, has need of nothing else but politicians, and has need indeed that there shall be in politics nothing else but politicians.”

~ Emile Faguet

 “And this hypocrisy found I worst amongst them, that even those who command feign the virtues of those who serve…‘I serve, thou servest, we serve’—so chanteth here even the hypocrisy of the rulers—and alas! if the first lord be only the first servant!”

~ Friedrich Nietzsche[1]

What disgusted Nietzsche so much about the operations of democracy was the effect that it had on men whose role was traditionally one of a superior character. The leader of a people had always been selected because he was presumably of man of exceptional wisdom, virtue, ability, or birth. In short, he received his exceptional position on the basis of his exceptional character. Whatever the area of exceptionality, it was assumed that he was in some way truly better than those he was to lead. If he were not better, then it would have made no sense to appoint him.

With the adoption of democratic modes of thought, with the emphasis on ‘representation’ as the utmost, if not the only, qualification for an office, all of the highest attributes of a man, and therefore all of the highest types of men, are automatically excluded from consideration. Only the man who could present himself as most ‘representative’ of his constituency was considered a valid choice. And so, while it would have been neither expected nor proper for the most important leader of a society to feign a likeness to those he was to lead, it now became the single factor determining whether or not a man would hold an office.

Because great leaders are differentiated—that is to say, they are inherently unlike the common man, in that they surpass him in wisdom and virtue and boldness—democratic societies immediately run up against a conundrum: either they demand that these differentiated men pretend they are not what they are, that is to say, they demand hypocrisy; or else they drive these men out of their midst and choose ‘leaders’ who are not leaders but are simple experts in mediocrity.

This leads us to a second point. It is possible, and in fact very useful, to draw a distinction between the art of politics and the art of statesmanship: the former can then be said to pertain to those activities by which a candidate seeks and maintains his office, which in democratic regimes involves campaigns, speeches, promises, and expensive PR experts; the latter pertains instead to the actual activities proper to a head of state in his strictly administrative role. These two activities, it has been observed, are mutually exclusive. So long as a man is concerned with ‘politicking’ or, as we say, ‘campaigning’, he cannot begin to concern himself with actual statesmanship; and, likewise, insofar as he is acting in his proper role as statesman, he cannot allow himself to be influenced by the fluctuations of public opinion.

If we separate these two roles or spheres of activity, we can see immediately that in democracies or ‘representative republics’ where the officials are perpetually insecure and dependent on the voters, they are never able to step into the role of statesmen. No doubt they make administrative decisions—and important ones at that—but they do so as politicians, which is to say they do so under improper conditions and therefore badly. Thus, we can say that Nietzsche’s complaint was that he saw the active exclusion of statesmen in favor of politicians whose activity consisted primarily in pretending that they were even less than that.

[1] Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathusra, “The Bedwarfing Virtue”.

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