AskDefine | Define demagogue

Dictionary Definition

demagogue n : an orator who appeals to the passions and prejudices of his audience [syn: demagog, rabble-rouser]

User Contributed Dictionary



From δημαγωγός < δῆμος + ἀγωγός

Alternative spellings


  1. an orator or leader who gains favor by exciting the passions and prejudices of the audience.
  2. A leader of the people.

Related terms


an orator exciting the passions and prejudices of the audience
  • Czech: demagog
  • Dutch: demagoog
  • French: démagogue
  • German: Demagoge, Demagogin
  • Ido: demagogo
  • Italian: demagogo
  • Japanese: 扇動
  • Swedish: demagog


  1. to speak or act in the manner of a demagogue.

Usage notes

  • The use of demagogue as a verb is widely regarded as inappropriate in the linguistic community. The form is, however, in common usage.

Extensive Definition

Demagogy (also demagoguery) (Ancient Greek δημαγωγία, from dēmos "people" and agein "to lead") refers to a political strategy for obtaining and gaining political power by appealing to the popular prejudices, emotions, fears and expectations of the public — typically via impassioned rhetoric and propaganda, and often using nationalist or populist themes.

Uses and definitions

The early 20th century American social critic and humorist H. L. Mencken, known for his "definitions" of terms, defined a demagogue as "one who will preach doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots."
Though this definition emphasizes the use of lying and falsehoods, some point out that demagogy does not require such, but that skilled demagogues often need to use only special emphasis by which an uncritical listener will be led to draw the desired conclusion themselves, seeding a belief that is self-reinforced rather than one based on fact or truth.
Demagogues may make use of logical fallacies, though persuasion may require no use of logic. While it may not rely heavily upon outright lies, the use of half-truths, omissions, and distortions are what define demagogy — it is, in essence, giving bad-faith arguments for the purpose of political gain.
Another famous usage was by the aging Erich Ludendorff, who was for a time a strong supporter of the early rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. After learning of Hitler's appointment as Chancellor, he expressed his disappointment to German President Paul von Hindenburg
"By appointing Hitler Chancellor of the Reich, you have handed over our sacred German Fatherland to one of the greatest demagogues of all time. I prophesy to you this evil man will plunge our Reich into the abyss and will inflict immeasurable woe on our nation. Future generations will curse you in your grave for this action."
Hitler indeed would become regarded as perhaps the epitome of a demagogue, having successfully risen to power through appeals to the ethnic and nationalistic prejudices and vanities of the German people —exploiting a political base of embittered and misled war veterans and nationalists and directing blame at minority and other convenient scapegoats ("Dolchstosslegende"). Hitler then consolidated his power through means of fear and intimidation, and targeted killing of German political dissidents and intellectuals.


Not involving violations of logic

Apples and oranges — mixing of incomparable quantities. For example, "our government has increased social spending by 5 billion dollars, while the previous government increased it only by 0.4 percent." The latter sounds like less, but one cannot be sure without an absolute value.
Half-truth — making statements that are true only in a strict and relatively meaningless sense. For example, "the opposition have accused us of cutting foreign aid, but actually our government has increased foreign aid by 500 million dollars," not mentioning that (adjusted for inflation) the allocated funds have in fact gone down.
False authority — relying on the general authority of a person who is not proficient in the discussed topic. For example, "the professor read my book, and liked it very much," omitting the fact that it was a professor of chemistry who read a book on anthropology.

Involving violation of logic

False dilemma — assuming that there are only two possible opinions on a given topic. For example, "You're either with us or against us...," ignoring the possibility of a neutral position or divergence.
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. This method was incorporated by the Nazi regime to gain the general support of the public when it began to initiate its anti-Semitic policies.
Straw man — mischaracterizing the opposing position and then arguing against the mischaracterization.
Loaded question — posing a question with an implied position that the opponent does not have. "When did you stop taking bribes?"

Arguments unrelated to a discussion

Unrelated facts — bringing unrelated facts that sound in favor of the speaker's agenda. For example, marking a vegetable or cereal product as "cholesterol free". Since cholesterol is only found in animal products, such labeling does not actually distinguish this product from similar competitors.
Emotional appeal or personal attack — attempting to bring a discussion to an emotional level. For example, "Everyone is against me!", "Can't I be right just once?", "You're stupid!", "You are Racist!" or just the classic retort "Shut up!"


demagogue in Arabic: ديماغوجيا
demagogue in Catalan: Demagògia
demagogue in Czech: Demagogie
demagogue in Danish: Demagogi
demagogue in German: Demagogie
demagogue in Estonian: Demagoogia
demagogue in Spanish: Demagogia
demagogue in Esperanto: Demagogio
demagogue in French: Démagogie
demagogue in Galician: Demagoxia
demagogue in Italian: Demagogia
demagogue in Hebrew: דמגוגיה
demagogue in Croatian: Demagogija
demagogue in Lithuanian: Demagogija
demagogue in Hungarian: Demagógia
demagogue in Dutch: Demagogie
demagogue in Japanese: デマゴーグ
demagogue in Norwegian: Demagogi
demagogue in Polish: Demagogia
demagogue in Portuguese: Demagogia
demagogue in Russian: Демагогия
demagogue in Sicilian: Demaguggìa
demagogue in Slovak: Demagógia
demagogue in Slovenian: Demagog
demagogue in Serbian: Демагог
demagogue in Swedish: Demagogi
demagogue in Turkish: Demagoji
demagogue in Ukrainian: Демагогія

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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