“The secret presses of London worked without ceasing. Many papers daily came into circulation by means which the magistracy could not discover, or would not check. One of these has been preserved from oblivion by the skilful audacity with which it was written, and by the immense effect which it produced. It purported to be a supplemental declaration under the hand and seal of the Prince of Orange: but it was written in a style very different from that of his genuine manifesto. Vengeance alien from the usages of Christian and civilised nations was denounced against all Papists who should dare to espouse the royal cause. They should be treated, not as soldiers or gentlemen, but as freebooters. The ferocity and licentiousness of the invading army, which had hitherto been restrained with a strong hand, should be let loose on them. Good Protestants, and especially those who inhabited the capital, were adjured, as they valued all that was dear to them, and commanded, on peril of the Prince’s highest displeasure, to seize, disarm, and imprison their Roman Catholic neighbours. This document, it is said, was found by a Whig bookseller one morning under his shop door. He made haste to print it. Many copies were dispersed by the post, and passed rapidly from hand to hand. Discerning men had no difficulty in pronouncing it a forgery devised by some unquiet and unprincipled adventurer, such as, in troubled times, are always busy in the foulest and darkest offices of faction. But the multitude was completely duped. Indeed to such a height had national and religious feeling been excited against the Irish Papists that most of those who believed the spurious proclamation to be genuine were inclined to applaud it as a seasonable exhibition of vigour.”
The History of England, from the Accession of James II — Volume 2
by Thomas Babington Macaulay
Once again in my daily literary exploits – currently confined by design to Babington Macaulay’s “History of England” which I find inexpressibly uplifting and magnificently intelligent – is an encounter with events nearly four hundred years ago which echo the identical spurious enterprise today. I speak of the rabble rouser, he who “speaks with the intention of inflaming the emotions of a crowd of people, typically for political reasons“. In plain terms, a rabble rouser is a trouble maker though the description has been dignified by other seemingly less injurious characterizations such as agitator, instigator, agent provocateur, incendiary, firebrand, revolutionary, demagogue, puissant. In all however the denomination is that of a mischief-maker; and normally at any price.
In keeping with my affection for matters maritime I believe I am correct to extend the nature of rabble rouser to that of a freebooter, “a pirate or lawless adventurer”. More specifically the term denotes “pirate, marauder, raider, plunderer, bandit, robber; adventurer, swashbuckler; historical buccaneer, privateer, picaroon (rare from Spanish picarón), filibuster, sea thief, sea robber, water thief, sea wolf, water rat, marooner, corsair, rover, sea rover” all of which implies rogue or scoundrel. And just to conclude this etymology, “the word rabble-rouser has been in use since the mid-1800s as a derogatory word, derived from the Middle English rablen meaning mindless babble or a pack of wild animals“.
In an era when the appearance of the American public has descended to incalculable mistruths and astonishing misrepresentations – especially those from persons in high public office, from people who have the prerogatives of education and class distinction – it is hugely unsettling to witness what seems to be popular abuse of good faith and reason fomented by political leaders.
At the head of this group of bandits is no less than the former president of the United States of America, one Donald J. Trump whose name decent people are now undesirous to reiterate. Trump, patently knowledgeable of his deviant success, has succeeded to stir the hatred and prejudice which flows unhindered just below the surface of so many mercenary and narrow-minded types, including senior members of his own party and supporters who are likewise bribable. There is nothing short of venal to describe the corrupted behaviour of these people. And I hardly add that it is a very small compliment to the American image internationally.
I have trouble understanding how this callous and stupid pretence is tolerated by the nation which once championed freedom of thought and universal fairness. I would have expected the superfluity would at once be swallowed up by better counsel. But surprisingly it has not. Thinking Americans are instead now openly contemplating what they identify as the demise of democracy (and by extension the rise of autocracy). The repeated threats of religious and racist groups are continuing unheeded. Feminism is on the verge of taking a back-step with the predicted abolition of lawful entitlement to abortion. Voting rights and sexual “preferences” are up for grabs. All this in a totalitarian society is imaginable. The Chinese are leading the way in many respects. Russia is attempting to follow. And with them the United States of America has the appearance – and openly accepted threat – of doing so as well.
It is impossible to blame someone as ignorant and vulgar as Trump for these so-called political successes. The advantage is clearly in one direction, one that is comfortable for a dominant and privileged group which is perhaps on the verge of becoming a minority. It is not just the survival of democracy which is on the ballot – it is the evolution of an entirely new governing society, one which frankly I anticipate to be far more intellectual and moral, reflective of youth, women and people of colour.
Certainly there will always be argument in the political arena. But designing that parliament (just as the British did hundreds of years ago) is now within the scope of the ensuing generation. I am confident that propriety will prevail, not the mindless babble of a pack of wild animals.
James II and VII (14 October 1633 – 16 September 1701) was King of England and King of Ireland as James II, and King of Scotland as James VII from the death of his elder brother, Charles II, on 6 February 1685. He was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. He was the last Catholic monarch of England, Scotland, and Ireland. His reign is now remembered primarily for struggles over religious tolerance, however, it also involved struggles over the principles of absolutism and the divine right of kings. His deposition ended a century of political and civil strife by confirming the primacy of Parliament over the Crown.