Word of the Week: Demagogue

Demagogue is a noun, but can also be used as a verb, demagogue. Defined as a leader who seeks support by appealing to popular passions, demagogue has been used since the 1650s. 

Borrowed from the ancient Greek word dēmagōgós, dēmagōgós can be broken down into dêmos (people) + -agōgos (leading, impelling). Additionally, this Greek word originally had no negative connotation when describing leaders, however; even in Ancient Greece this word developed a negative connotation and the definition evolved to encompass a leader who seeks support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by using rational argument.

Since Ancient Greece, demagogues have attempted to overthrow democracy by appealing to people’s fears through forceful action and accusing their opponents of disloyalty. In the 17th century, English philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote that controversial political speech and demagoguery are a part of society, but still wrote about the dangers of democracy and demagoguery within a society.

Although the word has fallen out of favor, recent books and articles referencing the word demagogue have been published when referring to current political leaders. 

Ancient & modern demagogues 
Cleon of Athens, Alcibiades, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Joseph McCarthy

Rable-rouser, agitator 

When she appealed to the desires of her followers, the demagogue found it easy to raise funds for her campaign.

Main sources
Signer, Michael (2009). “Cleon of Athens”. Demagogue: The Fight to Save Democracy from Its Worst Enemies
Kagan, Donald (1991). The Peace of Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition

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