Vox populi

WINNERS in every election, at least in supposed democratic societies, often quote this ancient Latin phrase, “Vox populi, vox Dei” (the voice of the people (is) the voice of God) and in effect, painted their regimes as a mandate from heaven.

For centuries the opposite idea of the “divine rights of kings” ruled Europe and even the Philippines. The French Revolution and the rise of the Age of Enlightenment revived the “vox populi” fallacy to justify the people’s revolts and mass movements as directed from heaven. Thus democracy or rule of the people flourished.

Of course, with modernism and secularism in control of many people’s mind, the reference to this heavenly mandate is merely that “the people have spoken,” ergo the results of the elections are right because the people, at least the majority that voted, cannot be wrong.

Thus winners in elections and in wars, prate on this falsehood and make people believe that their appropriation and use of power in elections and resort to physical violence in war is God’s mandate.

This thinking has been implanted in the minds of people through the centuries and hardly challenged so that the unquestioning minds accept this fallacy as truth. In fact, this assumption is not only wrong but the reality, which is the opposite, has been kept hidden.

The phrase “vox populi” is believed to have originated from the Roman Republic. Indeed, it had reference there but the idea of Cicero is that the government should “seek” the opinion of the people. The government however must be cautious where that opinion came from.

The earliest known reference to this quote is from a Saxon scholar and teacher, Alcuin of York (735-804), who was the Master of the Palace School at Aachen. It is said that he wrote Emperor Charlemagne around 800 and cautioned the Emperor, “And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always close to insanity.” Clearly, Alcuin disapproved of this idea about what the “voice” of the people truly is.

What came out and propagated is the opposite but portions of Alcuin’s advice served the purpose of demagogues.

Throughout the centuries, charismatic leaders have taken the world stage and invoked this “divine destiny” idea and used the mass of people to gain power. Their rise and their exercise of power proved Alcuin right.

  1. S. Robinson, D. D., writing for The Biblical Illustrator, (Biblesoft, Inc, 2017) studied the impact of the Latin phrase in the electoral process and concluded: We become more and more sure as we read on that majorities are not to be trusted among even the wisest of men. Majorities can be gotten on almost every occasion for the right or for the wrong indiscriminately, according to the popular epidemic of enthusiasm at the time.

Robinson’s words should soothe the pains of the losers in last Monday’s election. Of course the winners will celebrate but as I wrote yesterday the massive vote buying stains that victory. Even in sports or ordinary transactions, we condemn those who cheated. Indeed, vote buying is a form of bribery and the use of funds raised from corruption makes the money dirty shelled out to dirty hands.

There are candidates who won fair and square but as print and social media reported throughout the conduct of this election, the widespread buying of votes flushes dirty water on winners who engaged in massive bribery. It is difficult to prove vote buying because like in bribery, we need the two to tell the truth and they won’t because both are guilty. There can be no vote buyer if there are no vote sellers and both are legion.

While many sold their votes, there were also many who resisted selling their conscience. As Robinson, quoted above continued, “What is wanted in our day is the virtue of an individual courage and of a personal conviction. We need voters with a conscience that impels them to stand by the right measures and support the righteous men for administering them.”

It is said that poverty impels the vote sellers and so can be forgiven for making something out of the election but the buyers, the candidates, cannot be excused because they know what they are doing is wrong. Indeed power intoxicates.