We explain what demagoguery is, its objectives, and the strategies it uses. Also, what are its general characteristics and examples?
What is Demagogy?
By demagoguery we mean a strategy aimed at maintaining or seizing political power, resorting to rhetoric, disinformation, propaganda, or manipulation, to gain the emotional favor of the public. This is usually accomplished by appealing to popular prejudices, promises, emotions, fears, and hopes.
It is a frequent form of manipulation in populist political speeches and by leaders or regimes that lack legitimacy, popular support for their actions, and therefore appeal to an exacerbated emotionality and not to reasoning in their followers.
Those who put it into practice are called demagogues.
Origin of the term Demagoguery
The first use of the word demagoguery is attributed to Aristotle.
The word demagoguery comes from the ancient Greek demos (“people”) and ago (“direct”), from which it is inferred that its origin is linked to the manipulation or leadership of the political will of the masses.
Its first use is attributed to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who defined it as a “corrupt or degenerate form of democracy.””
Aristotle explained that by submitting politics to the whim of the majority, political demagogues emerge who, flattering the citizens, subject political designs to the emotionality of the majorities, in order to always have them in their favor and preserve political power. Thus, tyrannies often arise.
Objectives of demagoguery
The fundamental objective of demagoguery is the instrumentalization of the people, that is, its use as a tool to satisfy personal or sectoral ambitions.
Demagogues may aspire to remain in power, maintaining the status quo, or they may aspire to change it in their favor, or simply to be elected in an election.
Electoral campaigns, in fact, are often demagogic, when they promise unrealizable actions, mobilize a common feeling or propose irresponsible exercises of politics in order to favor their particular cause. For this, these campaigns use political marketing strategies and image consultants.
Forms of demagoguery
Demonizing the opponent is a form of demagoguery.
There are frequent strategies in the use of demagogy, such as:
- Fallacies. This is the name given to the arguments that present logical flaws in their reasoning, that draw conclusion from false premises, or that are intentionally wrong.
- Omissions Information is withheld in speech, since revealing it would change the meaning or implications of what was said, without falling directly into a lie or a falsehood.
- Alteration of meaning. Since words have different meanings and meanings, a politician can very well choose the terms of his speech to convey emotional content to his audience.
- Statistics out of context. Throwing facts and figures to support a position or theme, extracting them from a context in which they have nothing to do with or are not really linked to what has been said (biased use of figures).
- Language control. Through the suppression of words and the strategic control of the language used, it is possible to control the referred contents to omit some and reinforce others in the political debate.
- Demonizations. Satanizing an opponent, a social group, or an ideology too, by contrast, legitimize one’s positions and arguments.
- False dilemma. Also called “false dichotomy”, it consists of reducing a political dilemma to a Manichean position, to radicalize political thought.
Demagogy and democracy
Political marketing is used to convince the electorate.
Democracy, as a system of government, is often accused of being demagogic in its essence, since political candidates for public office, or their parties, must convince the electorate to vote for them, and this is achieved through various strategies political marketing that does not always have to do with the honest and frontal debate of ideas.
Role in polarization
Demagogy often plays a vital role in polarized political scenarios, since it draws the masses towards an apparently simple thought, which is convenient for one side or the other since it generates solidarity and automatic rejections: the division of the political spectrum and human in absolute dichotomous (opposite) values such as peace and war, justice and impunity, security and crime, etc., can only be achieved through manipulative discourse.
The opposite of demagoguery in that sense would be real politics or realpolitik: a pragmatic stance on political issues.
The demagogues would sabotage the political processes in their favor.
The term “demagogue” is also used in political speeches as a form of insult, of devaluation of opposing positions since the art of politics is supposed to be the frank and open debate of ideas and positions.
The demagogues, on the other hand, would prevent the masses from acquiring a political consciousness and thus sabotage the political processes in their favor, by only reminding citizens of their virtues, rights, and claims, conveniently forgetting their duties and mistakes.
It seeks to please the people through populist political actions.
This term can also be used to refer to populist political decisions and actions, designed to please the people and win their immediate favor, despite the fact that this may cost the favored themselves their more or less immediate future.
Uncontrollably increasing state employment, multiplying pensions without a financing plan behind it, in short, irresponsible actions towards the future of the country but immediately popular, are demagogic actions.
The only way to combat the demagoguery that seems to work historically is the education of the people in a critical, awake sense, that is not easy to fool by “siren songs””.
However, it should be said that even the populations of the so-called first world, with a much higher standard of living, have been victims of political demagogues on numerous occasions.
Post-truth is the manipulation of people through false events.
In the first decades of 2000, a term has already been coined to refer to a political and sociological phenomenon very close to demagoguery, which is post-truth or post-truth.
It is tendentious handling of news and information media communication (especially large media chains) to plant an emotional reaction in the population on an issue with false, misleading, or simple news suspicion of an event that might be happening ( even if he later denies it: the initial impression will have remained).
With strategies like this, interventionist military campaigns have been sustained, as is the case with the alleged weapons of mass destruction that the Saddam Hussein regime would have in Iraq.
Examples of demagoguery
A clear example of demagogy is constituted by the majority of the presidential electoral campaigns, in which the candidates affirm the wonderful achievements that they will bring to the population if they are elected and assure them that only they have the will to promote the necessary changes and to grant the corresponding benefits, turning the political choice into a matter of personality: of kindness, generosity or other attributes that have nothing to do with it.
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