In the end, that’s what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope?
— Former United States President Barack Obama
The Latin phrase ‘vox populi’— which literally means “voice of the people”— when combined with the other Latin phrase ‘vox dei’—“voice of God”—could be a fallacy as some scholars claim that “the opinion of the majority of the people” does not necessarily reflect that of God’s.
But the voice of the people or public opinion, so derided in ancient Rome, turned out to be something treasured and pursued by many nations, especially after the French Revolution of 1789 when historians considered the event as the dawn of democracy in Europe which rode on the principle that government derives its power and authority from the sovereignty of the people.
Yet it was the Italian political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli, in his work Discourses on the First Decade of Tito Livio, who argued in favor of vox populi and not vox Dei.
Machiavelli wrote: “But as for prudence and stability, I say how a people is more prudent, more stable, and of better judgment than a prince. And not without reason, the voice of a people resembles that of God . . .”
However, being Machiavellian today suggests that the values laid down by the Italian philosopher, specifically characterized by duplicity, cunning, manipulation, or bad faith, like how the word ‘mesmerize’ was named for the late 1700s German physician Franz Anton Mesmer, ‘boycott’ for English land agent Charles Cunningham Boycott.
In logic, argumentative fallacies include, among others, the so-called Bandwagon Fallacy, which refers to an appeal to the masses or democracy, appeal to the majority, argument by consensus, and thus vox populi. This fallacy is perpetuated when a person attempts to persuade others into believing that a widely popular choice or public opinion is the correct one.
Therefore, vox populi non est vox Dei, the voice of the people is not the voice of God, wrote Saxon scholar Alcuin of York. He told the Frankish emperor Carolus Magnus, o Charlemagne: “The people are to be led, not followed. Nor are those to be listened to who are accustomed to say, vox populi vox Dei, since the riotousness of the crowd is always close to insanity.”
And from the broader Christian perspective, the voice or the will of the majority is not always the voice or the will of God.
In Genesis 1:27, the Good Book tells us “in the image of God, He created them; male and female He created them,” therefore—from the Christian perspective—being “male or female” is a divine design, and secondly, sexual complementarity naturally leads to fruitfulness or procreation and therefore—again from the Christian perspective—same-sex marriage contradicts the basic truth of sexual complementarity.
Now, same-sex marriage came to many countries, such as Australia, through a referendum or a vote of what the majority desired. Abortion is evil and abominable, yet more than 80 percent of Americans say abortion should be legal and unrestricted. In both moral issues, the will of the majority is not the will of God because God cannot contradict himself.
Even if more and more contemporary Asians “strongly agree” with legalizing abortion, that profound shift in our attitudes cannot change the evil of abortion. Evil cannot become good just because it’s accepted by the majority.
According to a Social Weather Station (SWS) report, more and more Filipinos are now agreeing with legalizing divorce, as if saying: “Be open-minded! Let those trapped in dead marriages be free.”
However, even when the Catholic Church is “now perceived to be increasingly out of touch with the concerns and challenges of the contemporary populace,” she still insists that divorce remains the same, that it is evil and immoral as ever. Why? Because our dear Lord values lifelong marriage and family: “Therefore, what God has joined together let no one separate” (Mark 10:9).
Moreover, for more than 2,000 years, the Sacred Tradition and Sacred Magisterium have steadily defended the indissolubility of marriage as taught to us by Jesus. This doctrine will never change. Even when the Philippine Congress argues that Israel, the country of Jesus by birth, has a divorce law, and even when the Philippines is the last bastion of absolute marriage and the Vatican is the only other state with no divorce law, the moral truth remains—that is, divorce is against God’s will.
Also in elections, vox populi non est vox Dei, how would history judge the people’s choice of leaders with obviously unsavory characteristics and are steeped in graft and corruption? Remember, corruption also kills and trolls kill with fake news. Likewise, poverty and hunger kills. And so we ask, when will the killings stop? The poor pay for the corruption of the powerful and our nation is sinking in debt.
In his commentary titled ‘Vox Populi, Vox Dei. And Voice of the Supreme Court?’, Sri Lankan journalist N. Lohathayalan disputes that the voice of the people is the voice of God: “A democratic electoral verdict is sacrosanct, the people’s voice must be respected and we do not question it, he writes, but it ‘is far from the voice of God’.”
So in conclusion, we also can consider that ‘vox populi non est vox Dei’ doesn’t mean that the people’s choice is bad or the desire of the majority is evil. It only means that, in a democracy, the voice of the people doesn’t necessarily come from God.
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