In the light of Truths an Assessment regarding if Political Parties or Charismatic Leaders Really Control the Masses
Throughout the history, people are in need of being governed and conducted by charismatic leaders and political parties, which come to power through elections in democratic societies. However, there is an essential issue which is about whether political parties or charismatic leaders really control the masses. Before going into much detail, the questions that what are the general characteristics of voters and to what people are voting for serve as a guideline in order to comprehend the issue in a better way. In this sense, Joseph A. Schumpeter who is a famous economist and political scientist and influenced by the crowd psychologists like the French Gustave Le Bon asserts that the electorate is generally tend to be weak against strong emotional impulses, intellectually not have much information about the politics and susceptible to outside forces (Competitive Elitism, 12). Furthermore, he supports that while parties and machine politicians are not more than a reflection of masses who are incapable of action and regulating political competitions are pretty much similar with the functioning of trade associations, party management and party advertisement become evident with slogans and marching tunes which constitutes the essence of politics and due to carries the characteristics of being ‘political boss’ (Schumpeter 1942, 283). Also, charisma which is not just related with the personal qualities but, people’s perception of the responses to the political leader is another factor that shape the voting behavior of the voter. (Shamir 1994, 266.) So, while ‘partly’ agreeing with the perspective of Schumpeter that both political parties and charismatic leaders can somehow control the masses due to it is not comprehensive for all cases such as the most known one is the situation of Trump in the US, it is crucial to mark that the means of succeeding to control people. Accordingly, manufacturing consent by leaders and political parties, the use of various media organs, and dramatically increase of populism will be examined as the means of controlling the masses during the essay.
Firstly, charismatic leaders and political parties in order to control the masses manufacture consent which is a widely used phenomena developed in the freest countries such as in Britain and the United States by the public relations and advertising industry in order to create consumers. In this sense, primary aim is to manipulate consumers who cannot be controlled by force at all as too much freedom has been won after the Second World War. So, the other means of dominating people was required that controlling over people’s beliefs and attitudes (Chomsky 2018). According to famous political economist Thorstein Veblen, the best way of controlling the believes and attitudes of people is “fabricating consumers” which means that if one can fabricate wants, make obtaining things which are just about within people’s reach as the essence of life, people are easily going to trapped into becoming consumers (Tilman 2006, 98). Also, Walter Lippmann who is the major progressive intellectual of the 20th century and wrote many essays on democracy, asserts that “public must be put in their place” and thereafter the responsible men can make decisions without interference of “bewildered herd” (Lipmann 1922, Chapter 15). So, people will be spectators not participants in a well-functioning democracy. Similarly, as Noam Chomsky who is widely regarded as the most influential intellectual of contemporary times supports that within the Proportional representation system, an uninformed electorate which will make irrational choices, usually against their own interests is wanted to created (Chomsky 2018). For instance, former president of the US, Barack Obama who did not promise anything but mostly illusion won two top Cannes Titanium and Integrated Gold Lion advertising awards right after he elected for the best marketing campaign (Sweney 2009). When it is looked at to the rhetoric of the campaign, it can be seen that policy issues had coverage very few due to public opinion on policy is clearly disconnected.
Secondly, in order to control masses various media platforms are used as a perfect tool by the political parties and leaders. Also, even it can be said that politics which governs the world is directed by the media itself in order to better understand its role. Moreover, Paul Lazarsfeld and Robert Merton emphasize the “narcotizing dysfunction” of mass media in which audiences who are exposed of such massive amounts of coverage become politically apathetic, inert and fails to act into information (Lazarsfeld and Merton 1948, 239). In addition, while political actors make use of social media environments in line with their own political interests, people with voter status who are especially young and live a very intertwined life with new communication technologies are under the influence of much different expectations and motivations of these actors. For instance, current US president Donald Trump is known as the first Twitter-based president in the United States that uses internet which has become an interwoven into political campaigns and represented within the scope of “smart” politics as a political tool in an intense and unprecedented way. In this sense, with the effect of rapid globalization, 2016 campaign of Trump has paved the way for a more interconnected form of democracy with possible voters which means getting votes, supported through likes and retweets (Hollinger 2018). However, even if Trump won the elections through using the media as a successful tool for gaining partisans more than ever, it is not wrong to say that now the situation returns almost the upside-down. The tensions which started with putting a ‘verify information’ record by Twitter in a message of Trump who right after mentioned about banning of Twitter and issued a decree to control social media reached the top when 5 months remaining to the presidential elections. Finally, the White House cited the tweet of the Iranian leader and accused the social media giant of ‘allowing terrorism, dictators and foreign propagandists’ (Sputnik 2020). Following, it peaked when people’s revolt against the massacre of black citizen George Floyd by the white police.
Thirdly, populism which is defined as ‘a range of political stances that emphasize the idea of “the people” and usually bring together this group against “the elite” is dramatically increasing among political parties and leaders serves as another important way of controlling masses. According to Jan-Werner Müller, populism is not a doctrine but a set of claims and it is necessary to deal with the qualities, not the definitions of it (Şar 2019). Furthermore, the populist leader is identified as “the quintessential form of populist mobilization” (Kaltwasser and Press. 2017) and based on charisma and used rhetoric very well in order to make a perceived personal connection with people. Also, what is essential here that populist leaders are presented themselves as the ‘voice of the people’. When the rhetoric of famous leaders is examined, use of populism in their rhetoric can be clearly seen that such as Trump’s famous statement which is ‘Let’s make America great again!’, statement of Hugo Chávez who was a Venezuelan politician and president of Venezuela from 1999 until his death in 2013: “I demand absolute loyalty to me. I am not an individual, I am the people” (Torre 2017, 199).
Also, Populist leaders generally adopt and talk on gender stereotypes such as Sarah Palin who is an American politician, the governor of Alaska and was a candidate of the Republican Party in the 2008 United States presidential election portrayed a maternal image as a “mama grizzly” (Mudde and Kaltwasser 2017, 70) and on the other hand, Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi use his sexual virility as a source of pride (Mudde and Kaltwasser 2017, 64).
Populism has been used by many political parties as well. From a historical point of view, it should be noted that the rising right-wing in Europe in the 1970s and 80s diverged from the extreme right in 2000s at some point. The new far right, which has a wider community as its target audience, takes its place in the European political scene in a different dimension when it meets new concepts of populism. For example, The National Front (NF) in France, moved away from the anti-Semitist rhetoric of the previous era in 2011 under the leadership of Marine Le Pen, but this time it based its new opposition model on Islam (Mudde and Kaltwasser 2017, 78). Similarly, the FPÖ Party in Austria took a picture that changed its tone from its previous image and preferred anti-migration instead of anti-EU. In this sense, it is known that the methods used by radical right and radical left with populism differ and radical right bring the discourses such as nationalism and anti-immigration to the surface via populism. In addition, it should be noted that the far-right in Europe is based on racism and xenophobia and that the populist right is paired with strong leadership emphasis. In this context, it is observed that the discourses of the far-right parties coincide with different socio-economic target groups in the European electorate. Therefore, it can be claimed that the common promise is economic improvement and limitation of migration. Nevertheless, The FPÖ Party emphasized that immigrants and previous administrations were the chief responsible for the problems with the motto “Austria First”. Likewise, Jobbik in Hungary increased its voting rate to 20 percent with anti-immigration and protectionist economic policies (Karabel 2018). Also, looking at the last elections in Italy, the Five Star Movement which appears with anti-order discourse showed a remarkable success. Therefore, it can be said that the transforming political climate of Europe especially provides a suitable basis for the popularization of anti-order parties and discourses. What cannot be disregarded as all these rhetoric and populist discourses of both political parties and charismatic leaders- even if they had a tremendous effect on manipulating masses towards the direction that they want them to see and go, do not have a perpetual and permanent impact on people, therefore rhetoric and populist discourses need to be regenerated and tend to be instable during the time of national and international crisis as it is evident dealing with Covid-19 Pandemic, the United States has been showed a very bad and insufficient performance and populist discourses of Trump did not work well in this regard.
In conclusion, political parties and charismatic leaders ‘partly’ succeed to control and direct the masses via using various media organs, manufacturing consent and dramatically increasing the populism. Here, the word ‘partly’ carries a significant understanding that controlling of people cannot be guaranteed by any of these means but can be obtained for a limited time. While media is used to shape and change the thoughts, beliefs and even attitudes of people, at the end of the day, it cannot affect completely the actions of them. Similarly, even though charismatic leaders and political parties work for manufacturing consent through advertising industry and manipulate the public with rhetoric and populist discourses, so to say, there comes a time which they are hoist with their own petard as it can be clearly seen with the example of the current US president Donald Trump. In this perspective, a famous saying fit well with what is tried to be pointed out throughout the essay that “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth!”
Müleyke Nurefşan İkbal Yılmaz
İstanbul 29 Mayıs University
Department of Political Science and International Relations
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