The genius of oratory is that it uses mere words, to inspire. It uses words to bypass the intellectual and moral sensibilities of the audience, to tap directly into its emotions. It is an art because it recognises that where an audience’s ‘feelings’ go, their minds and bodies must surely follow. It is a daunting power; the ability to move people to action, often against their better judgement.
Pearse, Churchill, O’Connell, King, Parnell, Lincoln, rare men. For they had that power, to hold the small enraptured, and once in thrall, set them to the task of being giants.
I distrust these demagogues. Moulding the mob is not just the preserve of the great. From Caesar to Hitler, appealing to the petty prejudices of the populace, can see the small inspired to be monsters.
Throughout Ireland’s most recent economic and social malaise, I have been gratified by the failure of anyone to emerge, who might seek to galvanise the citizens. Rather we should muddle through and trust, to blind hope, that those we elevate, don’t reflect our foibles too closely.
Then a country, a continent away, implodes. A catastrophe measured in millions. A devastation depicted with drowned babies. Military might, discredited. Economic power, diminished. Moral courage, gone. Leadership, reflecting our foibles all too well.
How does one move a nation to shame, once shame has been too long forgotten? How does one preach responsibility, solidarity and charity, to those who wear the mask of victimhood with such surly enthusiasm?
Pictures of dead babies no longer work, even when the babies have pale skin. Remembering history does not work, as we have been taught only to blame. A call for humanity, presumes a humanity.
Who can move a nation that shrugs its shoulders at the sight of dead babies? Who now has the power to communicate with the better angels of our nature?