Demagogy – Concept, origin, history, disadvantages and examples

We explain what demagoguery is, the origin of the term, its history and negative traits. Also, examples of demagogy in politics.

Demagoguery seeks the favor of the people through emotions.

What is demagoguery?

In politics, demagogy is understood as the practice of winning the favor of the masses through flattery, concessions, manipulations, and emotional stratagems, in order to perpetuate themselves in political power or to have access to it.

In other words, demagogues are those who seek political favoritism through speeches and promises that have nothing to do with politics, but with the most basic emotions of the people.

Demagoguery, thus, can be translated into stirring fear and hatred towards a supposed common enemy, or in flattering and sweetening people, telling them what they want to hear, instead of inviting them to think for themselves and make decisions. It is a common practice in democracies and that since ancient times has been classified as a degeneration of the democratic spirit.

The origin of this word, in fact, dates back to Ancient Greece and the voices demos (“Town”) and Aug (“Herding” or “driving”), the latter in a pastoral sense of the term. Thus, since ancient democracy, demagoguery was already considered as something negative, since the politician “herded” society instead of abiding by its mandates.

In fact, Aristotle (384-322 BC) claimed that demagogues were “flatterers of the people” and that their triumph in society often led to the emergence of autocracies or personal tyrannies; although throughout history with the excuse of ending demagogy, numerous dictatorships have been established.

Another negative feature of demagoguery is that does not lead the masses to fight for their interestsRather, he uses them for the very personal benefit of the demagogue or the political class, which, according to certain authors, could distinguish demagoguery from populism. Both terms, however, are often used more or less synonymously.

Examples of demagogy

The following situations are examples of demagoguery:

  • A ruling politician who introduces false dilemmas through their speeches, to force the electorate to assume Manichean positions: “either you are with me or you are against me”, thus preventing critical judgment. The mere fact that questioning an argument turns one into an “enemy” is enough for few to dare to speak out against it.
  • A campaigning politician who through flattery and expressions of supposed admiration for his constituency, leads him to think of themselves as “the good guys” and the demagogue’s political rivals as “the bad guys,” in order to take advantage of hatred and division to win elections.
  • A ruler who blames all the problems that his own management on his opponents politicians and the continuous intervention of their enemies, to never take responsibility for anything and radicalize their followers by making them feel under attack, thus perpetuating themselves in power.