Monday, June 03, 2013

Democracy's Demagogues

A demagogue is a political leader who rises up in a democracy by appealing to the emotions, prejudices, and ignorance of the less-educated, poorer segment of a population. Performing as a popular rabble-rouser, he uses rhetorical skills to garner power and promote his political motives. A Demagogue usually opposes thoughtful deliberations, instead using any national crises to advocate for immediate action which advances his long-range goal of increased power to himself. Demogogues demonize political opponents by accusing them of weakness, iniquitous motives and disloyalty to the nation.

Demagogues have appeared in democracies since ancient Athens (i.e. Cleone, Alcibiades) to the present day. Adolf Hitler, the Uber-demagogue who afflicted the entire modern world, was democratically elected by his people. Democracies were instituted to ensure freedom for all and place government authority in the hands of the people. The demagogue exploits democracy's fundamental weakness: that ultimate power is held by the people, with nothing preventing the people from giving that power to a demagogue. The demagogue often displays hypnotic power to appeal to the lowest common denominator of a large segment of the people, the poor, the uneducated and the ill-informed. Charming the masses, demagogues exploit the freedom secured under democracy to gain a level of power for themselves that overrides the rule of law, and undermines democracy.

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