Amongst the effects of sympathy, we can count the power that a large assembly has to affect our emotions, and that of a few men to inspire opinions. Here are, I believe, a few causes of these phenomena. First, the very presence of a multitude of men acts on us through impressions created by their faces, discourse, or the memory of their deeds. Their attention commands ours, and their eagerness, forewarning our sensibility of the emotions it is about to experience, sets them in motion. It is also perhaps the pleasure of hearing someone express what we did not dare, what we perhaps sought in vain, or only half-perceived.
It is again, the pleasure of acquiring here and now an idea or sentiment, a pleasure which when very intense, leads us, if we accept such idea or sentiment without thinking it through, to develop a sudden admiration for the person who inspired it. Doesn't he who gives you a new idea appear to you...vested with supernatural powers? ...
Having uncertain ideas or sentiments sometimes creates a need to see them shared by others before we give ourselves over to them. An idea may strike us as true, beautiful and moving; but we worry that we are adopting too quickly: to hear it applauded reassures us, makes up our minds and we confidently give ourselves over to our first impression. Other times, this same applause brings us some idea that had previously eluded us. Our own ideas in turn have the same effect and each is then able to enjoy the shared pleasures.
One man, by himself, fearing ridicule, danger or just because he is shy may not dare to let himself be gripped by a violent emotion: but he does dare, as soon as the emotion is shared.
Finally, as we sympathize with others' passions, the external signs of these passions move us and can by themselves cause us to experience them. So when we already experience these passions, witnessing them in others makes them grow stronger. And, as we too affect others, it must be the case that passions will keep on growing until they reach the highest degree according to the nature of each. This is what causes the crimes and virtues of popular movements to be so powerful.
One can also inspire belief and trust in one's person and ways of thinking by choosing certain opinions which are welcome more greedily because they answer to a secret desire to give oneself over to them....That we are vain about having an opinion that is out of the ordinary, seeing – even through someone else's eyes – what others did not, is a secret charm... We succeed in the same manner by rejuvenating old opinions. This wins us the support of all those who felt forced to abandon them and did not dare to defend them. These people find pleasure in minimizing the achievements of those who seek to destroy prejudices and put forward new truths, as such projects are always qualified as foolhardy by mediocre people who, for the sake of their self-esteem, seek to render them suspect, and who can never forgive them because such projects show a superiority they find humiliating.--Sophie De Grouchy (1797) Letters on Sympathy, from Letter 4, (provisional) translation by Sandrines Berges. [Translation appears with permission, but please don't quote it without checking further revisions to it.]
Jason Stanley (recall yesterday, and see here) and De Grouchy agree that demagoguery, when it can present itself as the sincere truth, it must be thought brave (or daring) in some sense. But as I noted yesterday that may be necessary to understand modern demagoguery, it's not sufficient. Sophie de Grouchy can help us here. For one, De Grouchy adds that the daringness is not just on the speaker's side, but also in the audience's shared willingness to embrace unconventional hard truths
This brings out the key to modern political speech: that it can be massive. We respond to the responses by folk we're surrounded by (literally or in online communities), and we have many forms of pleasant anticipation when we are part of a multitude. That is to say, it can be thrilling and enjoyable to be included in a mass political speech.
Moreover, part of the pleasure of a demagogue is the novelty of surprise, and this requires that there is always something newly shocking. (This can generate, as Jason Stanley observes in his post, an ongoing ratcheting up of new boundaries that get crossed ) This creates a kind of ongoing frisson.
Also, De Grouchy helps explain why demagogues, who tend to be true radicals, often present themselves as restorers of discarded truths; moral progress leaves people, who hold hold on to the ideas and norms they were raised in -- that is, their second nature --, permanently on the defensive. Being forced to abandon one's way of life, say, in the face of moral argument, can leave one permanently mistrustful of the force of argument/reason and is humiliating. The demagogue removes the shame and anger by restoring the once-discarded past to its illustrious worth nearly always in terms of pleasant myth.
Finally, De Grouchy helps us understand not just the pleasure, but also the subterranean anger that is often the natural accompaniment of the demagogues; she puts it in terms of the lack of forgiveness on the part of those that nurture a sense of grievance against those that have embraced progressive values. There are all kinds of excellent reasons to resist forgiving those that have hurt you, but one effect of the stance is that it prevents mutual engagement, even discussion with those that one (tacitly) takes to have hurt you. That is, if there is no forgiveness, there is no minimal community. A democratic culture can survive permanent disagreement; but it's doubtful it can survive permanent grievance.*
*To be clear it can survive mutual lack of interest.