Republicanism and Demagoguery (Tulis)

Republicanism, as a major political language, is an active framework within American political culture. The framework of republicanism persists to surround public policy formation and implementation, economic and political participation as non-domination or to eliminate arbitrary interference upon an individual by other individuals, society, and/or government. Republicanism promotes the nation’s civic virtue because it is implemented into law–but republicanism can only be robust when the culture is republican too. Republicanism is not limited to civil liberties or civil rights, but laws extend it into the economy too. Republicanism as a political language limits or eliminates domination and arbitrary interference–it admonishes inequality–and thus allows liberty and virtue to increase, exactly because it does not enable domination and incivisme to form and grow.

Republicanism required that “rhetoric to Congress would be public (available to all) but not thereby popular (fashioned for all)” (emphasis in original, Tulis, 1987, 46). According to Tulis, the founders created four devices to make certain that republicanism triumphed over demagoguery.

  1. Popular election as the basis of the Constitution would satisfy republican requirements; while the Electoral College would remove the President from demagoguery (34-35).
  2. The institutional mores would be grounded in the publicly elected House every two years so that the will of the people remained fresh, while the President was delineated a four year term in order to allow duration without public alarm.
  3. Power came from the people, but the Constitution insulated the representatives from the people.
  4. The separation of powers is responsible to the republic, not the people, and therefore, they should counteract each other when necessary, but should not resort to the people (34-39).

Demagoguery is used when there is a paucity of public will for an unwarranted act and fear is used for ends that would not otherwise be approved by rational means. According to Tulis (1987), demagoguery’s reflection is of pejorative nature, because demagoguery meant that political leaders would assume power through popularizing one particular faction’s sentiment through a surfeit of passionate appeals. Tulis’s Rhetorical Presidency is centered around the apparent change of presidential action through rhetoric. Before Woodrow Wilson, presidents were constrained rhetorically and limited in their exchange with the people.

With (and post) Woodrow Wilson, however, presidents appealed to the people as a way to infuse their ideas and platform into Congress. The executive was independent (128-129). Woodrow Wilson did so by rapidly elevating public opinion and “participatory” democracy (124). In this way, the rhetorical presidencies post Wilson created a profound relationship with president, public policy and the public. An analysis of demagoguery was left wanting, and this research provides explanations with respect to the president’s use of demagoguery as rhetoric.

Tulis explained that there are differences between demagoguery and a presidents playing to public opinion in order to influence the legislative agenda. Thus, demagoguery need not become an issue of concern for the republic with the rhetorical presidency. First, Tulis (1987) wrote that an “ethic” could be passed on to future presidents, which would inhibit demagoguery (131). Second, demagoguery would be bounded by the “public’s ability to judge character” (131). Lastly, presidents who play to public opinion and will need to stay within the “natural conservatism” of public opinion, and thereby, the republic is protected from demagoguery (132).

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Tulis. 1987. The Rhetorical Presidency.

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3 thoughts on “Republicanism and Demagoguery (Tulis)

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