Monday, March 7, 2016

What is a Philippic?

Athenian orator Demosthenes who wrote philippics against Philip II of Macedon

Former 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently came out of the woodwork to publicly condemn Donald Trump and derail his chances at becoming the 2016 party nominee. In his speech he said, "...[that] Donald Trump is indeed a phony.  I understand the anger Americans feel today. In the past, our presidents have channeled that anger and forged it into resolve, into endurance and high purpose, and into the will to defeat the enemies of freedom. Our anger was transformed into energy directed for good. Mr. Trump is directing our anger for less than noble purposes. He creates scapegoats of Muslims and Mexican immigrants. He calls for the use of torture. He calls for killing the innocent children and family members of terrorists. He cheers assaults on protesters. He applauds the prospect of twisting the Constitution to limit First Amendment freedom of the press. This is the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss. ...Here’s what I know. Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. ...He’s playing the members of the American public for suckers. He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat."

The speech that former governor Romney gave is a common political tactic called a philippic, a speech that is delivered with the intent in condemning a person who is perceived to be a threat to the survival of the State. It is designed to make the individual be seen as a threat to the people and meant to unite them against the person. Throughout history there have been many philippics delivered. The two most famous orators who delivered the most were Demosthenes of Athens and Marcus Tullius Cicero of Rome. Demosthenes delivered philippics against Philip II of Macedon and Cicero delivered philippics, a total of 14 against Marcus Antonius (Marc Anthony).

Demosthenes, who lived in Athens 384-322 B.C. wrote against the King of Macedon, calling him a threat to Athens, a "bad man" who, "[is]...drunk with the magnitude of his achievements and dreams of further triumphs..." He called on Athenians to stand united against this foe and said that with unifed effort he could be beaten.

Cicero, who was a Roman orator and statesman lived in Rome around 106-43 B.C. and served in the Senate during the waning days of the Roman Republic. Cicero wrote 14 philippics against Marcus Antonius, and warned that he must be stopped if the Republic is to survive.

In likewise fashion, Mitt Romney was following in the footsteps of those great orators who came out against threats to their societies. I will not commentate on whether Romney's speech matches in comparison to the great orators of the past. For that I leave it up to you to decide. I trust my readers are intelligent enough to make an honest assessment.

Yet, now we turn to whether Mitt Romney's speech condemning Trump will ultimately work. For that we too must look to the past. Did Demosthenes and Cicero's speeches do anything to change the course of their society? Athens was ultimately conquered by Philip II, and in 322 B.C. Demosthenes committed suicide by drinking poison after being captured while in exile from the Macedonians. A mild punishment for sure when we consider the fate of Cicero. In Rome, the republic eventually did fall, and for the Roman orator, he was not just beheaded, but also had the hands he used to write his speeches chopped off and displayed in the Forum as a warning to future philippic writers.

I don't anticipate anything of the sort happening to Mitt Romney, but insofar as the success his speech has will be entirely up to the American people. In hindsight, it appears the odds may be stacked against him.


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