Hi! Welcome to “Dusty Phrases.” You will find below an ancient phrase in one language or another, along with its English translation. You may also find the power to inspire your friends or provoke dread among your enemies.
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Vox pouli, vox Dei
‘The voice of the people [is] the voice of God
This phrase is a Latin proverb made popular recently by Elon Musk. From Wiki:
The Latin phrase Vox populi, vox Dei (/ˌvɒks ˈpɒpjuːli ˌvɒks ˈdeɪi/), ‘The voice of the people [is] the voice of God’, is an old proverb.
An early reference to the expression is in a letter from Alcuin to Charlemagne in 798. The full quotation from Alcuin reads:
|Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, Vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit.||And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness.|
Writing in the early 12th century, William of Malmesbury refers to the saying as a “proverb”.
Of those who promoted the phrase and the idea, Archbishop of Canterbury Walter Reynolds brought charges against King Edward II in 1327 in a sermon “Vox populi, vox Dei.”
The typical use of the proverb is to proclaim that the will of the people reflects the will of God, and thus, a government, without the consent of the people, also lacks the consent of God. The phrase has been used in a political context throughout its existence. Perhaps the most well-known use was done by the Whigs in the 18th century.
Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a Whig tract of 1709, titled after a Latin phrase meaning “the voice of the people is the voice of God”. It was expanded in 1710 and later reprintings as The Judgment of whole Kingdoms and Nations: Concerning the Rights, Power, and Prerogative of Kings, and the Rights, Privileges, and Properties of the People. The author is unknown but was probably either Robert Ferguson or Thomas Harrison. There is no evidence for persistent attribution to Daniel Defoe or John Somers as authors.
The most cited section of the revised (1710) version of the pamphlet read:
“There being no natural or divine Law for any Form of Government, or that one Person rather than another should have the sovereign Administration of Affairs, or have Power over many thousand different Families, who are by Nature all equal, being of the same Rank, promiscuously born to the same Advantages of Nature, and to the Use of the same common Faculties; therefore Mankind is at Liberty to choose what Form of Government they like best.”
The 1709 tract’s use of the Latin phrase was consistent with earlier usage of vox populi, vox Dei in English political history since at least as early as 1327 when the Archbishop of Canterbury Walter Reynolds brought charges against King Edward II in a sermon “Vox populi, vox Dei”. From Reynolds onwards English political use of the phrase was favorable, not referencing an alternative context of the usage by Alcuin (739) who in a letter advised the emperor Charlemagne to resist such a dangerous democratic idea on the grounds that “the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness”.
Vox Populi, Vox Dei : being true Maxims of Government was the next year, 1710, republished under the title of The Judgment of whole Kingdoms and Nations, with considerable alterations.
2 thoughts on “Dusty Phrases”
How beautiful this phrase!
I’m glad you liked it!
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