The topic I'm circling around is Melville's anti-democratic... something. Mind, maybe.
It's always difficult to think beyond the present circumstance; we think in particulars even when we are asked to think in generalities. The particular instance most representative right now is Obama's effort to pass healthcare reform including a public option and/or a mandate against public approval. Obviously, if you happen to be in the minority and support Obama's efforts, you'll want him to be anti-democratic in this case. And just as likely, if you oppose Obama's efforts on this specific bill, you'll want him to be a populist in this case.
But what about that question if we take it out of a particular context? Do we want our presidents, our leaders, bosses, etc., to be thoroughgoing (little-d) democrats generally? Or do we want them to sometimes be anti-democratic? And of course that's maybe, to coin a term, a malphemism. A more appropriate word for anti-democratic might be "principled."
The labels we use will obviously be contingent on our opinion regarding a specific case: few would call George W. Bush "principled" for continuing the wars abroad even after support for the wars dwindled... most would call him an anti-democratic tyrant.
But with regard to Melville in particular, I see a lot of this in his work. Starting with the fact that he had a very strained relationship with the reading public ("What I feel most moved to write, that is banned, - it will not pay. Yet, altogether, write the other way I cannot. So the product is a final hash, and all my books are botches."). There is an undercurrent in all of Melville's work that suggests an anti-democratic spirit--hints that there are those who "get it" and those who don't, or can't.
So this is in the "guiding question" phase, but it seems interesting to me as a project. Maybe it comes from a lingering Calvinism, which saw individuals chosen by G-d rather than choosing G-d themselves. Or maybe Melville foresaw the need for anti-democratic leadership to prevent the dissolution of the Union (Lincoln ignored democratic rule in the South for the sake of principles). And that's where I'm going with all of this: can the anti-democrat ever be the good guy? If MLK, Jr. had waited for democracy to catch up with his principles, we might all still be waiting.
Hm. Just thinkin' aloud. To borrow from Ahab, "Truth hath no confines. Take off thine eye! more intolerable than fiends' glarings is a doltish stare!"