De Jouvenel Quote on Sheep and Wolves Essay

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“A society of sheep must in time beget a government of wolves.” The meaning of Bertrand de Jouvenel’s statement has changed little since the French philosopher first wrote those words a hundred years ago. In fact, these words speak a timeless truth about human social behavior and political culture.

Especially in a democracy, when the people are entrusted with the power to create whatever government they desire or whatever government they believe will bring about desired outcomes, being sheepish is a dangerous proposition indeed. When people become mindless followers, succumbing to the mentality of a herd, they surrender their humanity and fail to accept the responsibility of good citizenship. Being a citizen in a democracy is a responsibility, as each person’s actions will have consequences that impact everyone else. Sheepish voters use their emotions, their gut reactions, to make political choices. They cease to think critically about political issues. Sheep also become ignorant of the world around them and the dangers posed by the wolves in their midst. As a result, a society of sheep will in time enable the rise to power of wolves: those who prey upon the weak and ignorant.

Bertrand de Jouvenel also suggests that sheep react, wolves act. In the United States and in Western Europe, an overabundance of political rhetoric online and in the media fuels sheep like reactions.
Instead of intelligently thinking through collective survival strategies, the sheep respond to fight or flight cues. Wolves are higher on the food chain, and possess far greater power and influence than the sheep. With his statement, Bertrand de Jouvenel urges the population to be collectively more like wolves and less like sheep. The philosopher is not suggesting that people be aggressive or exploitative, but simply that they take responsibility for the government they create as active participants in a democratic society. Considering contemporary society and culture in the United States and in Western Europe, de Jouvenel’s words show how citizens willingly follow the herd rather than thinking for themselves and making a point to create a better society.

A society of sheep possesses a herd mentality. Sheep cease to be individuals, and become a collective mass of followers. Wolves can take advantage of the herd of sheep easily because their movements are relatively predictable. It is also easy to train and brainwash sheep. Politicians brainwash sheep….....

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Cummings, M. & Cummings, E. (2015). The surprising history of American Sniper’s “Wolves, Sheep, and Sheepdogs” speech. Slate. Retrieved online:

De Jouvenel, B. (n.d.). Quote accessed:

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