The definition of the word, with roots in ancient Greece, is:
“ a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.”
Demagogues tend to play on our basic, primordial, primal fears or “gut” instincts. They appeal to the selfish animal or savagery in us. The most effective lure is the drum beat of war. For some reason the anticipation of war fosters impressions of strength and resolution while rational debate is portrayed as a sign of weakness. Demagogues are leaders who resort to “dog whistle” issues that appeal to our gut instincts and divide (wedge) the community against “the other” – people who are different. They appeal to our fear of enemies, outsiders, and we become xenophobic (fearful of foreigners).
John Howard exploited the asylum seeker issue brilliantly as a form of a bait-and-switch – he took a tough line on asylum seekers, while massively cranking up permanent and temporary immigration, as the economy demanded. He convinced One Nation voters he was one of them, while doing the very thing that they were most aggrieved about, in the interests of good economic policy. It was one of Howard’s political masterstrokes. Bernard Keane – Crikey March 24, 2011. (David Marr)
David Frum wrote back in 2019:
Demagogues don’t rise by talking about irrelevant issues. Demagogues rise by talking about issues that matter to people, and that more conventional leaders appear unwilling or unable to address: unemployment in the 1930s, crime in the 1960s, mass immigration now.
“All is not well for democracy” The danger of democracy has always been recognised by intelligent leaders. Democracy can easily be undermined, sabotaged and debauched by wily demagogues who appeal to base populist causes, rabble-rousers who stir up the passions or prejudices of the public, usually for their own interests.
History repeatedly, monotonously and wearily demonstrates how demagoguery can devalue the democratic process. From early Greek times through to Mussolini, Goebbels, John Howard – Donald Trump – seduction of simplistic appeals to self-interest becomes irresistible to the fickle unreflective masses.
They target elitism, are anti-pluralism, against the “other”; the disadvantaged; base their arguments not on empiricism, or evidence, rather on emotional or sentimental values.
Rabble-rouser is a compound term formed from rabble meaning “a disorderly crowd; mob” and rouse meaning “to stir or incite.” It entered English in the mid-1800s
Tricks of the Trade: #
- Chiefly British. trickery, hocus-pocus; fraud; humbug, sly, underhanded action.
A wealth of impure jiggery-pokery , much of it very funny, all of it unusable; a spate of “fixables”; a bunch of excellent poetry and a partridge in a pear tree. – Mary Ann Madden, “New York Magazine Competition,” New York, 1972
The term ‘dog whistle’ is a reference to high-pitched dog training whistles that can be heard by dogs, but not by most humans.
In politics, it is shorthand for a phrase that may sound harmless to some people, but communicates something more insidious to a group in the audience.
Red scare campaigns, exploiting the fear of demonised communism, were used from the 1930’s in most democracies to keep left leaning or progressive politicians out of power. Herbert Hoover branded any opposition “godlessly communistic”. Menzies shamelessly played the same card to destroy Herbert Evatt’s reputation from 1951. Joseph McCarthy’s Committee of UnAmerican Activities created the largest witch hunt of lefties in American history. Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible is a prime example.
“Dead cat” manoeuvre
“There is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table – and I don’t mean that people will be outraged, alarmed, disgusted. That is true, but irrelevant. The key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout, ‘Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!’ In other words, they will be talking about the dead cat – the thing you want them to talk about – and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.” Lynton Crosby and Boris Johnson
All religion is an attempt to quell the masses.
Many reputable credentialed scholars claim that Christianity lost its bearings by the fourth century. The apostasy was radical. Through systematic Machiavellian machinations, distortions, dishonesty, lies and suppression, Christianity denied its pagan antecedents.
There are many things that are true which it is not useful for the vulgar crowd to know; and certain things which though they are false, it is expedient for the people to believe otherwise. St Augustine, City of God
This sums up the ruses used to con the masses into accepting Christianity as a distinct and self-perpetuated belief system. Rather than esoteric knowledge, officials relied on exoteric stunts.
Gregory of Nazianzen (329 – 389) writing to Jerome:
“Nothing can impose better on people than verbiage; the less they understand, the more they admire…we don’t say what we think, but what circumstances and necessity forces us to”. Priests attribute to their opponent’s absurd opinions they never held – simply to disgrace them”. Higgins
Treating the laity with utter disdain, they dumbed down the message to appeal to the lowest common denominator. It is of little wonder that the Churches have lost members in the enlightened countries, while growing strongly in lowly educated ones.
The German scholar, John Laurence von Mosheim, writing about the Gospel of Hermas, (140 – 155 BCE)
“It was an established maxim it was pardonable in an advocate for religion to avail himself of fraud and deception if it might attain considerable good”. Who needs Machiavelli?
Sir Edward Gibbon in Decline and Fall of Rome is highly critical of early Christians frauds, deceptions, and forgeries. Eusebius, already described by Waite as “the most conspicuous liar”, is euphemistically called the “gravest” of historians, “indirectly confessing to glorifying anything, and suppressing all that could tend to disgrace Christianity”.
Gibbon found everything about Christian History until 250 ADS, totally untrustworthy and suspicious.
“The scanty and suspicious materials of ecclesiastical history seldom enable us to dispel the dark cloud that hangs over the first age of the church”.
As long as they contributed to the glory of the church, the legends and forgeries were lauded by the mob, welcomed by the hierarchy and supported by the dubious evidence of alleged ecclesiastical history.
Quoting the Twelfth Book of Anselm,
“How it may be lawful and fitting to use a falsehood as a medicine and for the benefit of those who want to be deceived”.
No wonder Jesus warned us of false prophets. Allegations of scriptures being “censured and corrected” under orders by Emperor Anastasius (Constantinople 506). Bishop Dionysius complained his writings:
“had been falsified by apostles of the devil…the Scriptures too were falsified”.
Anyone opposed was quickly labelled a heretic, pagan or nonconformist. Inconvenient manuscripts were burned. Inquisitions began early, perhaps the most salient in southern France. Indefensible vandalism by fanatical crusaders of all Hebrew scrolls.
Who knows the precise date that the first Christian killed another Christian because they had a different belief? Though there may have been previous instances, once Constantine converted, attributing his success over the Eastern Empire through a vision of Christ, he proclaims the Edict of Milan, 313, ending the persecution.
Later Christianity became the mandatory religion of the Roman Empire. Soon hair splitting on doctrinal matters emerged. Constantine foresaw the demise of Rome so began the shift of most of the Roman Empire’s power to the East, the metropolis Byzantium – which he renamed Constantinople. Because it was out of reach of the marauding barbarians and virtually impregnable, it became a strong and extremely rich outpost of Western Civilisation including Christianity for another 1000 years.
Constantine’s Council of Nicaea in 325 resolves the main doctrinal disputes by issuing the Nicene Creed declaring one statement of faith, that Christ was both man and divine; born of a woman but immaculately conceived. This temporarily put an end to internecine disputes but ushered in a long period of orthodoxy enforced by inquisitions for anyone with differing opinions deemed heretics subject to burning at the stake.
Early Christians began persecuting many innocent people who rejected their beliefs for sorcery; as wizards, warlocks or witches.
The first recorded victim was Hypatia, a Greek mathematician, astronomer, inventor, and philosopher in Egypt, then a part of the Eastern Roman Empire. She was the head of the Neoplatonic school at Alexandria, where she taught philosophy and astronomy. She was murdered by a Christian mob in 415 ADS because of sorcery and witchcraft.
The Christian message of hope, brotherly love, tolerance, monotheism and social harmony enhanced societies. Its social welfare and disaster relief gives hope to many. However, many principles became more “honoured in the breach than the observance”. Most religions profess belief in non-violence, yet the Church, first a victim became a perpetrator, converting the whole Roman Empire coercively into a Christian hegemony.
It is said that Charlemagne (Charles the Great) 686 - 741, vastly extended Christianity by warfare, pushing the Muslims out of Spain. He also changed Christianity from a faith of the crucified to one with the power to crucify.
French nobles assisted the Spanish in the Reconquista in a 400-year battle to consolidate the power of the Catholic Monarchs. This was done by brutal conquest. St James was canonised as “the “Moor Slayer” because he appeared in a vision to help destroy the Moors.
Mary Jo Anderson writes in the Catholic World Report, 2019:
“Charlemagne, the warrior emperor was to liberate the roadway that ran to St James’ tomb. In Galicia, James’ burial crypt had been rediscovered in 813 and a small chapel was built (by Bishop Teodomir) to protect it. Myth or miracle, a rout now known as the Battle of Clavijo was fought in the year 844 by desperate Christians with their backs against the mountains, led by Ramiro I of Asturias. Suddenly, there appeared a heavenly horseman, sword aloft, who slew every Muslim in his path: Santiago Matamoros. Inspired by their champion, the faithful began the reconquest of Spain.
The Comino trail, running from southern France to Galicia became a major pilgrimage to honour a “moor slayer”.
Girolamo Savonarola #
Girolamo Savonarola was a complex and conflicted fiery Florentine Friar who preached against Italian Renaissance art as a contributing factor to the spread of vice and spiritual decay – particularly overt same sex activity prevalent in Enrique’s court in Sergovia. His prophetic fire and brimstone preaching exhorted the masses to reject the secular materialism and corruption of Rodrigo Borgia’s Papacy. He was known for the destruction of secular art and culture, and his calls for Christian renewal. He denounced clerical corruption, despotic rule and the exploitation of the poor.
His attacks on the openly dissolute Papacy of Alexander VI found many adherents throughout Europe, including Queen Isabella from 1492. The Pope tried to appease him by offering to make him a Cardinal, which he rejected.
With the death of Lorenzo de’ Medici in 1496, Florence was hit by drought and starvation, which Savonarola attributed to the sybaritic ways of the Church. He instituted the Bonfires of the Vanities, where all were bringing and burn all objects that represented human vices and luxuries – rich clothing, mirrors, playing cards, paintings and books – representing the sensuality of the Italian Renaissance.
Pope Alexander initially ignored him, then ex-communicated him but finally called on the Church: “this little worm had to be put to death”. He was charged with the serious crime of Heresy.
Despite Savonarola’s appeals to various crowns of Europe to convene a council to overthrow an openly corrupt Papacy, it was Savonarola who faced an Inquisition, He was tortured, confessed that ”his sermons were acts of pride for personal glory” and having given the Church what it needed, was hanged and his body burned. Even his supporters abandoned him as Florentines threw gun powder on the fire to make the blaze hotter. Dissenters seldom prosper.
Galileo Galilei #
“Eppur si muove!” (“And yet it moves.”)
Every once in a century, there comes along a human being who brings about a revolution with just three words.
Italian physicist and mathematician Galileo Galilei held a different view about the movement of the sun and the celestial bodies with respect to the earth. But the church held the belief that the Sun and other planetary bodies revolve around the Earth; a belief that made God-fearing Christians adhere to the words of the Bible as interpreted by the clergymen.
In the era of Inquisition, and a suspicious wariness of Pagan beliefs, Galileo’s views were considered heresy and he was tried for spreading heretic views.
The punishment for heresy was torture and death. Galileo risked his life to educate the church how wrong they were. But the chauvinist views of the church were to remain, and Galileo’s head was to go. A 68 year old Galileo could hardly afford to lose his head before the Inquisition for a mere fact. He therefore made a public confession that he was wrong:
“I held and believed that the sun is the centre of the universe and is immovable, and that the earth is not the centre and is movable; willing, therefore, to remove from the minds of your Eminences, and of every Catholic Christian, this vehement suspicion rightfully entertained toward me, with a sincere heart and unfeigned faith, I abjure, curse, and detest the said errors and heresies, and generally every other error and sect contrary to Holy Church; and I swear that I will never more in future say or assert anything verbally, or in writing, which may give rise to a similar suspicion of me; but if I shall know any heretic, or anyone suspected of heresy, that I will denounce him to this Holy Office, or to the Inquisitor or Ordinary of the place where I may be; I swear, moreover, and promise, that I will fulfil and observe fully, all the penances which have been or shall be laid on me by this Holy Office.” Galileo Galilei, Abjuration, 22 Jun 1633
The above quote, “Eppur si muove!” was found in a Spanish painting. Whether Galileo actually said these words is unknown, but it is believed that Galileo muttered these words under his breath, after he was forced to recant his views.
The forced recantation that Galileo had to endure is one of the most significant events in the history of the world. It shows how free spirit and scientific thinking was always stifled by conservative views of a powerful few. Humankind will remain indebted to this fearless scientist, Galileo, who we regale the “father of modern astronomy,” the “father of modern physics”, and “the father of modern science.”
During the 1990’s, The Roman Catholic Church finally conceded that Galileo could have been right - 320 years later.
The Demagogue’s Ruse #
(How mass persuasion techniques manufacture consent)
Patriotism may indeed be, as Dr. Johnson said, “the last refuge of a scoundrel,” but it’s also the tyrant’s first resort. People afraid of outsiders are easily manipulated.
The warrior caste, supposedly society’s protectors, often become protection racketeers. In times of war or crisis, power is easily stolen from the many by the few on a promise of security. The more elusive or imaginary the foe, the better for manufacturing consent.
The Inquisition did a roaring trade against the Devil and the twentieth century’s struggle between capitalism and communism had all the hallmarks of the old religious wars. Was defending either system really worth the risk of blowing up the world?
Now we are losing hard-won freedoms on the pretext of a worldwide “war on terror,” as if terrorism were something new. (Those who think it is should read The Secret Agent, a novel in which anarchist suicide bombers prowl London wearing explosives; it was written by Joseph Conrad a hundred years ago.)
The Muslim fanatic is proving a worthy replacement for the heretic, the anarchist, and especially the Red Menace so helpful to military budgets throughout the Cold War.
From Ronald Wright’s A Short History of Progress 2004 Massey Lecture Series (Canada)