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Demagogy

From Academic Kids

Demagogy is the set of methods used by demagogues. It is a strategy of obtaining power by appealing to the gut feelings of the public, usually by powerful use of rhetoric and propaganda.

H. L. Mencken defined a demagogue as

"one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots."

The word is nowadays mostly used as a political insult: political opponents are described as demagogues, but people we approve of are "men of the people," or great speechmakers.

Although, according to Mencken's definition, Demagogy involves lying, some would say it doesn't, since it doesn't use false facts directly, but rather brings the uncritical listener to draw the desired conclusion himself. Demagogy often involves logical fallacies, but has many aspects that have nothing to do with logic.

Contents

Etymology

The word is derived from the Greek words demos (people) and agogos (leading).

Populism

In the twentieth century populism gained an ominous character when dictators such as Juan Peron and Adolf Hitler used demagogery and populist rhetoric to achieve their leadership positions.

Methods of demagogy

Numerical demagogy - mixing of incomparable quantities. For example, "our government has increased social spending by 5 billion dollars, while the previous government has increased it only by 0.4 percent." Obviously, the latter sounds like less, but one cannot be sure without an absolute value.

False authority - relying on the general authority of a person who is not proficient in the discussed topic. Example: "the professor read my book, and liked it very much". The fact that it was a professor of chemistry who read a book on anthropology is omitted.

For or against (False dilemma) - assuming that there are only two possible opinions on a given topic. Example: "Smith is not with us, therefore he is against us". The possibility of a neutral position or divergence is ignored.

Unrelated facts - bringing unrelated facts that sound in favor of the speaker's agenda. Example: "Our beverages do not contain sodium deoxycholate". This is probably true, but the mentioned chemical is a detergent, and should not be contained in any beverage whatsoever.

Emotional attack - an attempt to bring a discussion to an emotional level. For example, "Everyone is against me!", "Can't I be right just once?", "You are stupid!", "You are demagoguing!".

Demonization - identifying others as a mortal threat. Often this involves scapegoating--blaming others for one's own problems. This is often advanced by using vague terms to identify the opposition group and then stereotyping that group. This allows the demagogue to exaggerate this group's influence and ascribe any trait to them by identifying that trait in any individual in the group. This method can be aided by constructing a false dilemma that portrays opposition groups as having a value system that is the polar opposite of one's own, as opposed to simply having different priorities. For example, in the dispute over legal access to abortion, the participants may refer to each other as anti-life or anti-choice.

See Also

Sources

  • B. Katzenelenbaum, "Demagogiya - opyt klassifikacii", Nauka i zhizn 9 (1989) - in Russian. Online version (http://www.n-t.org/nj/nz/1989/0902.htm)

et:Demagoogia fr:Démagogie he:דמגוגיה nl:Demagogie pl:Demagogia

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