Demagoguery and Democracy

When you think of the word “demagogue,” what comes to mind? Probably someone like Hitler or another bombastic leader, right? Patricia Roberts-Miller is a rhetoric scholar and has spent years tracing the term and its uses. She joins us this week to explain a new way of thinking about demagoguery and how that view relates to democracy. She also explains what she’s learned from what she describes as years of “crawling around the Internet with extremists.”

Patricia is a Professor of Rhetoric and Writing and Director of the University Writing Center at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of two new books on demagoguery. Demagoguery and Democracy (The Experiment, 2017) is a short book in the style of On Tyranny that covers the basics of her argument in about 100 small ages. Rhetoric and Demagoguery is a longer, more academic book for those looking for more on the rhetorical roots of demagoguery and its relationship to democratic deliberation.

Democracy Works is created by the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State and recorded at WPSU Penn State, central Pennsylvania’s NPR station.

Why Debating Sucks (According To A Competitive Debater)

Why “debate me” is such a cursed demand, in 30 minutes. Go to and get a free 31 days of thousands of exciting documentaries and access to the streaming service Nebula ( )!

Michael Isikoff and David Corn, “Russian Roulette”

Michael Isikoff and David Corn discuss their book, “Russian Roulette” at a Politics and Prose event at George Washington University on 3/27/18.

Star journalists Michael Isikoff and David Corn have made headlines with their reports on the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia—and made it into Rep. Nunes’ memo on surveillance to the House Intelligence Committee. In Russian Roulette, they present the incredible account of how Moscow hacked our democracy in a covert attempt to help Donald Trump win the presidency. As in their bestselling Hubris, which uncovered the truth of the Iraq War, Isikoff and Corn expose what amounts to a cyber Watergate.

but he is masterful and understanding
how media and celebrity works and how to
message you know and he knew he was
talking to people and it’s kind of
cynical I talked to people in his
campaign during the campaign he they
said we’re just reaching people through
headlines through headlines lock her up
build a wall make America great and I
they didn’t really care what came after
that’s that was a strategy for them
and so they were reaching people on what
they will tell you was an emotional way
forging a bond emotionally and it’s
really hard to tell someone when they
feel an emotional bond that you’re wrong
manipulate no one it’s not even if
plated you know that’s one of the
arguments they make well you know you’re
saying the American voters are so stupid
that they were you know they were
manipulated by whatever the Russians did
and and you know Trump
you know heightened
the sense of division that’s part of his

strategy and I it’s gonna you know and

Bismarck: A Life (New Books Network Inteview)


What is the role of personality in shaping history? Shortly before the beginning of the First World War, the German sociologist Max Weber puzzled over this question. He was sure that there was a kind of authority that drew strength from character itself. He called this authority “charismatic,” a type of legitimate political power that rested “on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him.” The charismatic leader is not like us. In fact, he is not like anyone. He is sui generis, a mysterious force of nature, a sort of political demiurge.

According to Jonathan Steinberg, Weber may well have had Otto von Bismarck in mind when he defined charismatic authority. In his wonderful Bismarck: A Life (Oxford UP, 2011), Steinberg argues that Bismarck’s successes (and some of his failures) can be largely attributed to the awesome force of his personality. Not “social structures.” Not “historical patterns.” Not “underlying forces.” But charisma pure and simple. Time and again Steinberg finds those around Bismarck attesting to the fact that he just wasn’t like everyone else. He was smarter, wittier, stronger, more willful, more cunning, more temperamental, and in most ways larger than life. And this was the nearly uniform (though not always positive) assessment of the some of the most impressive figures of his day. It’s a compelling case.

And it provokes a question about German political culture, for Bismarck was not the first or the last “genius” to rule some or all of the Reich. Fredrick the Great preceded him, and Hitler followed. What are we to make of that? I’ll leave it to you to decide.

Audio Player

Quotes to find:

  1. Bismark planned to engage in 2 wars with the goal of uniting the country.
  2. Bismark found antisemitism useful against his Liberal opponents.