“Vox Populi, Vox Dei” is Latin for “the voice of the people is the voice of God.”

I was surprised to see this phrase--the title of this column--used four days ago by Elon Musk, the new owner of Twitter.

Having decided to reinstate former U.S. President Donald Trump’s account, Musk tweeted: “The people have spoken. Trump will be reinstated. Vox Populi, Vox Dei.”

Apparently, Musk intended to justify the decision as it was based on the voice of the people indicated in a Twitter opinion poll. In the poll, 51.8 percent of the respondents supported reinstating Trump’s account.

But as an author of this column, I felt a bit disturbed. Am I to accept that the voice of the people is decided by majority vote?

Researching the origins of this phrase, I came across various theories. The sources cited included the Bible, a Greek epic poem, and a tract authored by a theological scholar in Britain.

“The phrase is believed to have changed in wording and meaning over time,” said Michio Fujitani, a Latin literature expert and professor at Keio University.

“Today,” he went on, “it is an admonishment against belittling the masses. And it does not mean that the voice of the people represents the majority.”

Then, what is the meaning of “Tensei Jingo,” the Japanese title The Asahi Shimbun has been using for this column since the Meiji Era (1968-1912)?

I sometimes come across irate posts on social media that go to the effect, “Do (the column’s authors) think they are God or something?”

I am saddened by such an accusation because that couldn’t be further from the truth.

But I decided to take this opportunity to learn the history of this column. I searched the archives and came across a feature story published in 1979.

According to the article, the title of “Tensei Jingo” was chosen by Tenshu Nishimura (1965-1924), a scholar of the Chinese classics who was a chief editor of The Asahi Shimbun at the time.

Hideo Aragaki (1903-1989), who authored this column after World War II, tried in vain to find the source of the phrase. But one of Aragaki’s colleagues, who was a foreign correspondent, told him of the Latin origin of the English version of the column’s title.

When Aragaki understood what it implied--that “the voice of the masses, the people, or public opinion, is the voice of God”--his mind was said to have been finally put at rest, and he accepted Vox Populi, Vox Dei as the title of the English version of his column.

The voice of the people is weighty, but its weight is not determined by the number of people involved. I remind myself anew that it is the voice of the minority that I must heed especially closely.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 23

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.

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VOX POPULI: A Twitter poll prompts revisit to source of this column’s title

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23.11.2022

“Vox Populi, Vox Dei” is Latin for “the voice of the people is the voice of God.”

I was surprised to see this phrase--the title of this column--used four days ago by Elon Musk, the new owner of Twitter.

Having decided to reinstate former U.S. President Donald Trump’s account, Musk tweeted: “The people have spoken. Trump will be reinstated. Vox Populi, Vox Dei.”

Apparently, Musk intended to justify the decision as it was based on the voice of the people indicated in a Twitter opinion poll. In the poll, 51.8 percent of the respondents supported reinstating Trump’s account.

But as an author of this column, I felt a bit disturbed. Am I to accept that the voice of the people is decided by majority vote?

Researching the........

© The Asahi Shimbun


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