Concept Excavation Three: Flattery
Flattery was always negative in Plato’s times. Rhetoric is a branch of flattery according to Gorgias, and from there a definition of flattery can be constructed. Flattery is an art which falsely represents other arts that “always have the greatest good of the soul or the body in view.” Flattery’s misrepresentations don’t consider the greatest good; instead enticing the ignorant with pleasure so they view that art as most important. Plato calls flattery foul.
Stengel’s history of the term provides another Greek conception of flattery: Flattery is undemocratic. Greeks disapproved of hierarchies , and flattering someone was identifying something above average about that person. It was also self-abasement. Politicians who flattered the demos  for personal gain were called demagogues. Plato believed “political oratory… was to improve men, not gratify them,” and his primary complaint about democracy was the demos are too easily deceived. (Hence Plato placed demagogues just above tyrants in his hierarchy of souls.) The Greeks viewed flattery as democracy’s potential downfall because it could allow disingenuous demagogues to gain power.
Eventually flattery’s conception shifted. The Greeks didn’t concern themselves with flattering individuals because it was flattering the demos that could destroy democracy. “As Greek democracy came undone… flattery turned inward and became more private and personal… There was no demos to flatter.” Social hierarchies led people to flatter their superiors because now everyone wasn’t equal. One was expected to flatter the king not the person ruling as king, position over person. However, once Western society became more individualistic, one had to flatter the individual’s attributes, not the position, which brings us to today.
Flattery’s contemporary conception differs because now any praise is flattery. Stengel says we’re more relativistic than ancient Greeks, and we think flattery is “a manipulation of the truth.” Today, the speaker’s sincerity is scrutinized instead, and flattery is just a necessary tool for success. Flattery isn’t automatically a bad thing.
Stengel’s expert definition: “Flattery is strategic praise,” and uses language to accomplish and conceal goals simultaneously. The concepts’ tensions derive from its evolution. Since flattery became more individualistic we imagine “used car salesman” not someone flattering the masses. Regan and Clinton flattered
 Plato’s Gorgias p. 25
 Plato’s Gorgias p. 25
 Obviously only for citizens, not for slaves or women
 meaning “people” in the collective sense
 Stengel, Richard. (2000) You’re Too Kind: A Brief History of Flattery. (p. 94)
 Plato’s Phaedrus p. 31
 Stengel, p. 91