Monday, April 11, 2011


A Dangerous and a Dreadful Weapon

Robert South (1634-1716), On the Fatal Imposture and Force of Words (sermon preached on May 9, 1686):
The generality of mankind is wholly and absolutely governed by words and names; without; nay, for the most part, even against the knowledge men have of things. The multitude, or common rout, like a drove of sheep, or an herd of oxen, may be managed by any noise, or cry, which their drivers shall accustom them to.

And, he who will set up for a skilful manager of the rabble, so long as they have but ears to hear, needs never inquire, whether they have any understanding whereby to judge; but with two or three popular, empty words, such as popery and superstition, right of the subject, liberty of conscience, Lord Jesus Christ well tuned and humoured; may whistle them backwards and forwards, upwards and downwards, till he is weary; and get up upon their backs when he is so.

As for the meaning of the word itself, that may shift for itself; and, as for the sense and reason of it, that has little or nothing to do here; only let it sound full and round, and chime right to the humour, which is at present agog, (just as a big, long, rattling name is said to command even adoration from a Spaniard,) and, no doubt, with this powerful, senseless engine the rabble-driver shall be able to carry all before him, or to draw all after him, as he pleases. For, a plausible, insignificant word, in the mouth of an expert demagogue, is a dangerous and a dreadful weapon.

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