Demagogy refers to popular upheaval, popular seduction and political agitation. Consequently, a demagogue stirs up the emotions of his listeners, using stereotypes and prejudices in order ultimately to gain power. Demagogic, therefore, are unsophisticated, disparaging, and public utterances, which are made for the purpose of provoking hatred of persons or groups. Demagogy is polemic, manipulative, and highly destructive.
The term is composed of the Greek noun δῆμος (dēmos) for the people as well as the verb ἄγειν (agein), which can be translated with lead. Consequently, demagogy means the popular leadership, which later became popular seduction. Accordingly, the term was subject to a change in meaning. In ancient times, the word was still positively connoted, but was strongly negatively at the latest in the 20th century.
For example, Pericles, one of the leading statesmen of Athens and the Greek antiquity of the fifth century BC, The concept was largely positive, while Thucydides, an ancient historian, used the concept of the Athenian politician Kleon at the same time. Nevertheless, until the eighteenth century, the term was more likely to be a very influential speaker who could inspire the people with rhetorical skill and eloquence, or a brilliant argument (cf. argument types).
At the beginning of the 19th century, more precisely 1819, the Prussian censorship was issued in the Kingdom of Prussia. This removed the censorship of university professors. Only a short time later, in 1820, authorities, consistories, schools, and universities were to be cleansed of dangerous errors, seducers, and seduces. This demagogue persecution, which served the suppression of freedom efforts in the German Bund, connotated the concept increasingly negatively.
This can be traced verbatim in the Karlsruhe resolutions of 1819. These Karlsbader resolutions refer to a meeting of influential states of the German Confederation. Out of fear, the people could revolt, decisive points were decided with regard to the freedom of the word. In short: public freedom of expression was forbidden and the press was censored, and the bearers of liberal and national ideas were also persecuted as demagogues.
The above caricature shows the fictitious combination of scholars in the Denker-Club and was developed in 1819 in response to the Karlsbader resolutions. It illustrates the suppression of freedom of expression, symbolized by the gags, of scholars, and shows that free opinion was placed under censorship. The caricature is to be understood as an appeal to the people and is intended to convey that something has to be done before the state gains the upper hand over the thinking of the individual.
Demagogy in the 20th century
In the twentieth century the concept of demagogy was completely neglected. Since then, he has described the manipulative influence of the people in order to realize their own demands for power. At this time, demagogy was a possible tool to manipulate the masses, but also the most widespread, supported by the rapid development of the media.
The term is therefore used mainly for the seducers of the people, whose goal is to manipulate the people. The speeches of National Socialism, such as Adolf Hitler or Joseph Goebbels, are usually demagogic. Both are typical representatives of the language of national socialism, which used numerous neologisms (word creations) for the purpose of manipulative demagogy and political agitation.
Even the ideologues of National Socialism and Fascism described their rhetorical methods as political propaganda, while the protagonists of communist or socialist ideologies were called agitators (agitation means the aggressive influence of other persons in a political sense). On the other hand, both camps were designated as demagogues.
In this context, it becomes clear that the term “demagogy” has been used in recent decades mainly to manipulate and seduce a mass, rather than to call it an eloquent, rousing speaker. The word is therefore negatively connotated. The journalist Martin Morlock, according to today’s understanding, defined demagogy in the work High School of Seduction. A handbook of demagogy, published in Econ Verlag in 1977, reads as follows:
Demagogy, who, on a favorable occasion, publicly promotes a political goal by flattering the masses, appealing to their feelings, instincts and prejudices, making themselves guilty of hating and lying, showing exaggerated or grossly simplistic the thing which he , for the cause of all good-natured people, and the manner in which he proposes or enforces them as the only possible.
Short overview: The most important thing about demagogy at a glance
Demagogy refers to the popular upheaval, popular seduction or political agitation. Demagogues often use emotional means to manipulate the addressees, with the focus on their own interests in power. Demagogic expressions are usually intended to fuel the hatred of a person or group.
However, the term was subject to a change in meaning. In antiquity, the term “demagogue” could be regarded as a tribute to the orator. The term originally meant that a speaker understood how to carry the people along and characterized by a solid and eloquent style.
In the past decades, however, the word has been negatively attested. This can be explained mainly by the political rhetoric of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, whereby opponent spokesmen were often denigrated as demagogues.
Note: Frequent stylistic devices, which can be found in demagogic speeches, are hyperbole, neologism, euphemism, dysphema, sarcasm, polemic, but also climax and anticlimax, whereby often an appellative character underlines what has been said.