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posted: 9/22/2013 5:00 AM

Are there candidates who don't merely flatter?

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As we again search for political candidates, we wonder where suitable people may be hiding. Are there any about? Maybe, but attaining office is never as simple as either voting in the best candidate or the least undesirable one. We see the usual political panoply before us once more.

Aristotle described, analyzed and offered solutions in his book "Politics," once a standard reference for students. Therein he enumerated the political denizens in each type of society, with their various peculiarities.

But there are more recent critiques with a less philosophical spin, and a vocabulary that incites reactions in voters. One is that of Gustave Le Bon, a celebrated French academician who wrote on the behavior of groups. One group was the electoral mass. He described electoral masses as "possessing slight aptitude for reasoning, an absence of critical spirit, irritability, credulity and simplicity." This made them prey for the purveyors of affirmation, repetition, prestige and contagion, which is, to say, campaign strategists.

Candidates for office should, according to Le Bon, preferably, possess prestige. But prestige, if not present, can often be substituted by wealth. Talent, and even genius, are not necessary. This follows from the observation that most electors are seldom chosen from rank and file voters. But prestige alone is not sufficient for success. The elector must continue campaigning to flatter greed and vanity. Written platforms cannot be very specific, thereby allowing opponents points of attack, but there is always room for more exaggeration, since platforms are seldom binding.

After the next elections are over, will Aristotle and Le Bon remain as political weather vanes? Probably, but there is always the hope that somewhere, someone will appear who will realize that politics is a human device, and not a direct means to order our activities. We have to do that ourselves.

Joseph Haggin

Arlington Heights

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