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Nor need we be surprised that men so often embrace almost any doctrines, if they are proclaimed with a voice of absolute assurance. In a universe that we do not understand, but with which we must in one way or another somehow manage to deal; and aware of the conflicting desires that clamorously beset us, between which we must choose, and which we must therefore manage to weigh, we turn in our bewilderment to those who tell us that they have found a path out of the thickets and possess the scales by which to appraise our needs. Over and over again such prophets succeed in converting us to unquestioning acceptance; there is scarcely a monstrous belief that has not had its day and its passionate adherents, so eager are we for safe footholds in our dubious course.

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
Speech (1955-01-29), “A Fanfare for Prometheus,” American Jewish Committee annual dinner, New York City
Added on 8-May-24 | Last updated 8-May-24
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The conservatives nearly always tolerate the demagogue while he is destroying liberals. The conservatives may even know that their turn will come next, but they usually take this calculated risk. “Let him knock their heads together,” they say, “we’ll take care of him in good time.” […] But it never works out the way the conservatives would like to have it, especially if the demagogue knows how to consolidate his position before he finally goes after his early “allies.”

Harry Golden
Harry Golden (1902-1981) Austrian-American writer and newspaper publisher [b. Herschel Goldhirsch]
“The Death of Senator McCarthy,” Carolina Israelite (5 May 1957)

Reprinted in Only in America (1958).
Added on 25-Aug-22 | Last updated 25-Aug-22
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O ay, you’re like the fisher-folk, the men who hunt for eels,
Who when the mere is still and clear catch nothing for their creels,
But when they rout the mud about and stir it up and down,
‘Tis then they do; and so do you when you perturb the town.

[ὅπερ γὰρ οἱ τὰς ἐγχέλεις θηρώμενοι πέπονθας.
ὅταν μὲν ἡ λίμνη καταστῇ, λαμβάνουσιν οὐδέν·
ἐὰν δ᾽ ἄνω τε καὶ κάτω τὸν βόρβορον κυκῶσιν,
αἱροῦσι· καὶ σὺ λαμβάνεις, ἢν τὴν πόλιν ταράττῃς.]

Aristophanes (c. 450-c. 388 BC) Athenian comedic playwright
The Knights [Ἱππεῖς], ll. 864-67 [Sausage Seller] (424 BC) [tr. Rogers (1924)]

Speaking of demagogues like Paphlagonian (Cleon).

Alt. trans.:
  • "You are like the fishers for eels; in still waters they catch nothing, but if they thoroughly stir up the slime, their fishing is good; in the same way it's only in troublous times that you line your pockets." [tr. O'Neill (1938)]
  • "For you are circumstanced like those who fish for eels. When the lake is still, they catch nothing; but if they stir the mud up and down, they take. And you catch, if you disturb the city." [tr. Hickie (1853)]
Added on 10-Jun-20 | Last updated 10-Jun-20
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Indeed, just as frightened horses raise their necks up high, in the same way all those devotees of empty glory raise themselves above everything else, above cities, laws, ancestral custom, and the affairs of individual citizens. As they move from demagoguery to dictatorship, they subdue some of their neighbors as they try to make themselves superior and upright — and then they plan to enslave however so many minds remain naturally free and unenslaved.

[τῷ γὰρ ὄντι καθάπερ οἱ γαῦροι τῶν ἵππων τὸν αὐχένα μετέωρον ἐξάραντες, ὅσοι θιασῶται τῆς κενῆς δόξης εἰσίν, ἐπάνω πάντων ἑαυτοὺς ἱδρύουσι, πόλεων, νόμων, ἐθῶν πατρίων, τῶν παρ᾿ ἑκάστοις πραγμάτων· εἶτα ἀπὸ δημαγωγίας ἐπὶ δημαρχίαν βαδίζοντες καὶ τὰ μὲν τῶν πλησίον καταβάλλοντες, τὰ δὲ οἰκεῖα διανιστάντες καὶ παγίως ὀρθοῦντες, ὅσα ἐλεύθερα καὶ ἀδούλωτα φύσει φρονήματα]

Philo of Alexandria (AD c. 20-50) Hellenistic Jewish philosopher [Philo Judaeus]
On Dreams, That They Are God-Sent [Quod a Deo Mittantur Somnia or De Somniis], Book 2, ch. 12 [2.78-79] [tr. @sentantiq]

Alt. trans.: "In real truth, as spirited horses lift their necks high, so all who are companions of vain opinion place themselves above all things, above all cities, and laws, and national customs, and above all the circumstances which affect each individual of them. Then proceeding onwards from being demagogues to being leaders of the people, and overthrowing the things which belong to their neighbours, and setting up and establishing on a solid footing what belongs to themselves, that is to say, all such dispositions as are free and by nature impatient of slavery, they attempt to reduce these also under their power." [Yonge (1855)]
Added on 8-Jun-20 | Last updated 8-Jun-20
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DEMOSTHENES: A demagogue must be neither an educated nor an honest man; he has to be an ignoramus and a rogue.

Aristophanes (c. 450-c. 388 BC) Athenian comedic playwright
The Knights, ll. 191-3 [tr. O’Neill (1938)]

Alt. trans. "For the character of popular leader no longer belongs to a man of education, nor yet to one good in his morals, but to the ignorant and abominable." [tr. Hickie (1853)]
Added on 3-Jun-20 | Last updated 3-Jun-20
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America’s two great specialties are demagogues and rock and roll, and we’ve all heard plenty of both in our time.


Stephen King (b. 1947) American author
Under the Dome, “Busted,” ch. 16 (2009)
Added on 2-Nov-16 | Last updated 4-Jul-23
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