Characteristics of DEMOGOGUERY

Greek dēmagōgos, from dēmos people + agōgos leading: a “leader” appealing to the common people in ancient times; in modern, a leader who makes use their charisma and public speaking                                                                                                                                                                                                            to exploit popular prejudices, fears and false claims and promises in order to gain POWER.

Demagoguery the DISEASE exhibits these symptoms:

POLARIZATION  is to divide a diverse range of things into two poles. A demagogue breaks everything into two camps: the one s/he represents GOOD (the in-group) and EVIL (the out-group). Polarization enables the demagogue to DIVIDE and CONQUER. There are only two options, only two policies, only two groups.  These terms greatly simplify complicated issues and justifies ANGER against large groups of people.  It intentionally shuts down deliberation, as really good decision-making necessitates considering all the options.  Polarization is also called “black or white thinking” – one ignores any “shades of grey”.

This creates a “FALSE DILEMMA”.  If you are not on their side – with all your heart and soul, in all ways and without hesitation – then you are against them. (“US” and “THEM”)

DEMON-IZATION: a person or group attacked for delivering criticism.  The demagogue gets “personal” (ad hominem) to promote and justify HATRED of the “out-group.” Destroy your opponent by character assassination.  Feelings of anger and fear manipulate the populace so that “facts” become irrelevant.  Demagogues use polarizing “tribal” identity – some group is “in” – people like them – and some other groups as “out”.  Because members of the in-group are essentially good, the “ENEMY” and therefore EVIL.Demonization is a form of “scare tactics” and “de-humanization”.

SCAPEGOATING  is one person or group on whom one dumps all responsibility for a situation. (the “blame game’) Scapegoating is polarizing, creating “us” and “them”.The scapegoat bears all the blame, while the scapegoaters feel a sense of righteousness and increased unity. Scapegoating is “stereotyping” and “oversimplification” – all share the same negative trait.                                                                                                                                                                          It is “denial”- other major culprits are without responsibility.

STRAW MAN – The demagogue <strong>misrepresents</strong> the opposition to make it look really stupid, so it’s easy to knock down, rather like jousting with a straw man rather than a real opponent.

SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS – SINCERITY:  If a demogague is “morally pure” or has the “right” motivations, then their actions cannot be questioned. “Feelings”, not “facts” dominate politics. Demagogues are willing to lie, and are often caught in telling lies. The “truth” is they lie “TO” ALL of us, by lying “FOR” SOME of us. Followers rationalize or excuse the demagogue’s inaccuracy or misrepresentations by claiming that it’s fine because s/he is sincere and mean well. The “cause” supercedes the “truth”. The ends (victory) justifies the means. (manipulation and/or lying) Hitler stated, “It is not truth that matters, but victory”.

“SLIPPER-INESS”: It’s very common for demagogues to make the exact nature of the “issues” to be vague. Demagogues rely heavily on certain terms that are generally accepted but not very clearly defined. These terms can seem clear to an audience as long as the audience doesn’t stop to think exactly what the rhetoric means.

SIMPLE SOLUTIONS: A demagogue never claims that the situation is complicated to explain, nor that the solution is difficult to grasp. Demagogues use over-simplification – the perception that political problems and solutions are easy to understand. The “solution” is simple and straightforward. Gustave Le Bon’s book The Crowd (the main influence on Hitler’s rhetoric) insists that the masses can only grasp simple ideas: “crowds can only be influenced on condition they assume a very absolute, uncompromising, and simple shape”

RED HERRING: A red herring is an issue that is actually OFF the POINT, but INFLAMMATORY in some way, to DISTRACT people from the REAL issues. This fallacy happens all the time in INTERPERSONAL CONFLICT, or in questions of guilt and responsibility.  (this is often done in court cases by what is called “putting the victim on trial“).

DOUBLE-SPEAK  Demagogues CONFUSE by using contradictory language. The Japanese Declaration of War for WWII described the act of bombing Pearl Harbor as “peace”.                                                                                                                                       Exterminating populations is often called “pacifying” peoples.



A basic principle of democracy is that the general public can make appropriate decisions on matters of common interest.  This ability is dependent upon the public’s access to information.   The more DISTORTED commonality, interests and information become, the less likely the public will make appropriate decisions. Distorted information is generally called “propaganda,” and, while harmful to public discourse, it isn’t fatal.

If debate is free and open, propaganda can be countered.  If you tell a lie, I can point out that it was a lie, as long as I have the ability to think and speak. If my ability to criticize you is restricted or “censored”, then your lies will stand.

The easiest way to restrict the ability of people to question a demagogue is to make it dangerous to do so. Intimidation can take many forms. People can be thrown in jail, fined, or sued for saying certain things. A demagogue’s followers (the “mob”) might try to punish or harm anyone who disagrees.

The ability to criticize is overwhelmed by “conformity” under the mask of “correctness”.  Erich Fromm calls this, “an ESCAPE from freedom.” It significantly undermines the quality of public argument, making it actively dangerous to criticize dominant views, cultures and political groups. It makes public debate a kind of coercion. Democracy deterioriates into “mob rule”.

Historically, demagoguery is a precursor to (comes before) the ending of democracy.  When demagogues succeed, their first move is almost always to restrict the power of democratic government in favor of some kind of tyrannical, dictatorial and/or totalitarian system.

Dictators USE demagoguery and “democracy” to END democracy.