Frank Palmeri

Swallowing poisonous toads: What essayist William Hazlitt's critique of autocratic sycophants says about Donald Trump's defenders

Exactly two hundred years ago, following two decades of war between Napoleonic France and Britain, and the restoration of the crowned kings of Europe, William Hazlitt wrote an insightful and plain-spoken essay, “The Times: On the Connexion between Toad-Eaters and Tyrants.” There he argued that English conservatives’ fierce defense of the absolute right of kings was founded on a base submissiveness toward power and hope for rewards. He gave sycophantic defenders of autocratic rule the traditional name for the charlatan’s assistant who swallowed live, supposedly poisonous toads in order to demonstrate the effectiveness of the con-man’s cure-all.

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Forget Mussolini: Trump's Most Apt Historical Parallel Is This English Monarch Who Secretly Colluded with a Foreign Enemy

In seeking to understand Trump's rise to power, historians have investigated parallels with those of Hitler and Mussolini. However, striking similarities—from almost 350 years ago—with another ruler who secretly colluded with a foreign enemy have not yet been noted. 

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