Demagoguery: An Attempt at Classification

B. Katzenelenbaum, D.Sc.

Over many centuries of the existence of this term, its content has undergone multiple changes. For example, in the Soviet Encyclopedic Dictionary, 1985 edition, in the term's definition one meets the words "deception", "feeble-minded crowds" and so on. We will understand by demagoguery a combination of techniques that help create impressions of correctness, without being correct. With that understanding, demagoguery is between the logic and lies. It differs from logic in that it is used to defend wrong judgments, from lies in that the demagogue does not make a wrong judgement, but only leads to it letting the listener to deceive himself.

Of course, the above definition is not the only possible understanding of demagoguery, but it is the one, which is probably the most interesting to the readers of "Science and Life". This definition implies a classification of demagoguery techniques according to their proximity to the logic and the gradual transition to lies. Note, incidentally, that lie not only deserves condemnation, but also an analysis or at least a classification.

Below are four basic types of demagoguery. Each of them includes further classification. Most of the examples that are provided for the sake of illustration, are drawn from common usage.

1. Demagogues without violation of logic

  1. Fact omission of which the listener does not suspect but which affects a seemingly obvious conclusion. Example: "N. has discovered three comets. Is he a major scholar? My mother-in-law has discovered five comets ". Skipped: "My mother-in-law - a scientist of world renown".

  2. Conspicuous fact omission which invites a listener to fill in "obvious" details leading to a wrong conclusion. Example: an error committed by the assistant professor N. during a lecture is being discussed at a department meeting. It turns out that there was no error. The participants vote for a resolution to increase the quality of teaching. The report of the meeting contains only the first and third phrases.

  3. Fact omission that changes the conclusion and of which the listener may only perceive provided he does not trust the presenter. Example: "I also proved the theorem that was proved the N." Skipped: "I have proved it later".

  4. Creating a distrust among the listeners towards a fact by verbal swindle. Here is an example of such an intensification of mistrust: "Event A took place", "I have been told that event A took place", "They tried to convince me that event A took place", "Importunately, they tried to inculcate upon me that event A had allegedly taken place. However, it was known that I cannot verify this claim."

2. Demagoguery with imperceptible violation of logic

  1. Use of a logic error known yet to the ancient philosophers when the temporary connection between two events is interpreted as causal ("after that, hence because of it"). Example: "After my speech the voting confirmed my correctness," - but the speaker did not mention that in his speech, he only supported the conventional wisdom.

  2. A implies either B or C, but the option C is not mentioned. Example: "If you do not agree with me, it means that you agree with N." - in fact one may have a third opinion.

  3. Assuming that if A implies B, then B implies A. Example: "All loafers are masters of demagoguery. N. has mastered demagoguery, therefore, he is a loafer".

3. Demagoguery without regard to logic

  1. Using verbal "one-time-action" blocks ("you understand that ...", "you are an intelligent person and may not misunderstand that ...", "you do not think that you may not err", "this is - not science!" and many others).

  2. Answer not the posed question, but on a close one. Example: "Can you believe the claim of the presenter that he had proven fallacy of this theorem?" "I know him as a good, socially active family man".

  3. Reference to a non-expert authority. Example: "My theorem has very pleased the popular actor N., and here a young researcher proves that it is wrong!".

  4. Mixing in one sentence correct and incorrect statements. Example: "You have not talked at the seminar and have not refuted the presenter, all because you are afraid of him!". However, an error in the report was pointed out by the very first speaker.

  5. Inclusion of a wrong statement in the formulation of the problem. Example: asking a person who was absent at a seminar, "Why were you silent at the seminar, while being criticized?"

  6. Recognition of small and minor mistakes. (In response to a remark that the theorem is wrong: "Indeed, proving the theorem, I made a grammatical error.")

4. Beyond actual demagoguery (the transitional area between demagoguery and lies)

  1. Power demagoguery (by Krylov: "You are guilty already because I am hungry.")

  2. Blackmail, sometimes not even directed against the opponent. Example: "You are right, proving that H. is not to blame for what I accuse him of. But if you insist on that, I shall bring against him other, more serious charges. You will prove yourself in the right, but will destroy him".

  3. Disruption of the debate, transforming it into a scandal (hysterics, complaints of the "I am being pursued" type, "I am being insulted", insulting an opponent, accusing him of demagoguery).


  1. B. Katzenelenbaum, "Demagoguery: Attempt at Classification", Nauka i zhizn 9 (1989), in Russian

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