You won’t find many monuments in Washington DC to Thomas F. Bayard, the 30th US Secretary of State (1885 – 1889). There’s no Bayard Circle, and no magnificent statue of him.
Why no major DC monument? Many of Bayard’s contemporaries disliked him for his outspoken pro-free trade views (not an easy stance to take in public, in the heyday of American protectionism) – and some also have suspected where his true loyalties lay during the US Civil War.
Even without a monument to his memory, Bayard has left a useful legacy to posterity in the form of the speeches he delivered over a long career as a public figure. One of those speeches, an 1877 address at Harvard, makes for interesting reading in light of the debate over whether the US ought to take sides in Libya’s civil war.
Bayard’s speech warns against the “power of the demagogue, that pest of popular government, who, seeking only his own advancement, adroitly presents topics to the public calculated only to arouse their passions and prejudices, to the neglect of matters really vital …”
Bayard’s definition of a demagogue made me think immediately of the French intellectual and man of letters who various MSM outlets have credited as the true father of the Western military campaign against Libya – Bernard-Henri Levy, a man who is hardly a household name in the US, but very well known in Europe.
Since the Libya crisis began, he has been busy writing passionate manifestos, open letters and columns, and making public statements, to arouse public passion and build up support for ever more Western military action on behalf of the rebels.
Here’s one Washington Examiner story from early March provides some details on Levy’s role in building support for air raids against Libya.
If you are opposed to Levy, you are “well-versed in Munich-speak,” (that is, you would have appeased Adolf Hitler, too) and one of the world’s “protocol maniacs” (not sure what that means, but it sounds bad, I guess).
You are either with Levy and the rebels – or you are on the side of Gadhafi, “a psychopathic dictator who has made the Apocalypse his latest religion.” (Even a critic of Levy has to admire the man's way with words.)
Thomas Bayard’s 1877 speech tells us not only how to recognize a demagogue like Levy, but it also tells us how to deal with his arguments.
Levy thinks attacking Gadhafi with Western military force will create a precedent that will discourage all other dictators, present and future, from oppressing their people -- if they know it will bring Western bombs and missiles down on their palaces and bunkers.
Bayard knew better. Levy’s road to a more just world order through frequent Western military intervention in the name of “humanitarianism” won’t end with the achievement of heaven on earth. As Bayard might say, such military actions “are almost certain to contain self-generated seeds for their own subsequent reversal” and therefore lead only to a “maze of strife…and exhausting warfare.”
Bayard’s contemporaries may not have thought much of him, but, as a wise man observed, even a broken clock is right twice a day.