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How Many Polemics Does it Take to Change a Demagogue?

Updated on March 31, 2012

According to Aristotle, the worst type of democracy is the one in which those who govern do not do so because they deserve to, but govern because they are able to pervert the rule of the majority by demagoguery. In a true democracy the rule of the majority has greater authority than the rule of law and since everyone's voice is equal, the will of the people prevails. Unfortunately, in real life, two kinds of manipulators can move this democratic ideal into a virtual dictatorship.

A Polemicist is a person drawn to controversy and disputes in support of one opinion, doctrine or system in opposition to another. An argument or rhetoric becomes polemic when frustration or a sense of righteousness promotes hostility and name calling. The word is derived from the Greek (polemikos,) meaning "warlike, hostile."

...unlike debate, which may seek common ground between two parties, a polemic is intended to establish the supremacy of a single point of view by refuting an opposing point of view. ~ Wikipedia

A Demagogue is a person who gains favor by pandering to or exciting the passions and prejudices of an audience.

A leader who uses demagoguery takes control of public opinion and uses it to become a kind of tyrant. The leader gets the support of most of the people by manipulating emotions or prejudices and begins to speak with their voice. Because the voice of the people rules, the demagogue is free to do what he wants.

Most of us think we are not a country ruled by a tyrant because we have elections and get to vote. The truth is, the majority of us sign over a proxy to those who are skilled in using the media and political stereotyping to control what we think. If we surrender our will to our elected officials, is there any real difference?

I know what you're thinking--you are thinking that even if a charismatic leader who is secretly a tyrant got into office, we have the other party to keep things straight. They could write or argue polemics to alter public opinion and thus change the demagogue in office couldn't they? I have to ask the Dr. Phil question--"How is that working for us?"

Abigail Breslin is Valentine in the upcoming Ender's Game movie in 2013.
Abigail Breslin is Valentine in the upcoming Ender's Game movie in 2013.

In the remarkable novel, Ender's Game, Andrew Wiggins is sent to Battle School to prepare for his role as the only one capable of saving the earth from alien invasion. While he is away, his older brother Peter pressures his sister Valentine to help him in his scheme to dominate the world. They write political commentary on the web under pseudonyms that disguise the fact that they are still children. Peter forces Valentine to take on the character of Demosthenes who calls for war with the country's coalition partners, especially Russia, while he assumes the character of Locke, a mild intellectual who writes polemics against Demosthenes advocating diplomacy — just the opposite of their actual personalities.

Demosthenes role as a demagogue succeeds wildly in stirring up fears and prejudices and is extremely popular with the masses. Valentine knows that Peter is trying to manipulate her for his own purposes, but she thinks she can manipulate him as well and at the same time persuade others to her point of view. Each of the two writers gradually gain a huge following. Playing off each other’s writings, the siblings work to manipulate world interests, helping to control world events and opinions.

Does any of this sound familiar? Does either party in government speak to the real problems facing "we the people" and work with the other party to solve them or do they spend most of their time finger pointing and making emotional arguments, short on facts and long on accusations to control their share of "democratic rule?"

To the right are many examples of demagogic or polemic political images illustrating the lack of attention to the nuts and bolts of our problems. Maybe it would help to list the stereotypes associated with our two main political parties. I will let you decide which is Republican and which is Democrat.

Bleeding Heart Liberal, Entitlement Party

Wants big "Nanny style" government

Blames the rich for all problems and wants to tax the rich to solve them

Victim and impaired work ethic

Entitlement philosophy--"The government should take care of me."

Likes to kill babies

Hates God/Evolution is god

Wants to write God out of our history and textbooks

Politically correct is more important than truth or facts

Controls the media

Government must raise taxes so it can spend more

All businesses are evil and are killing the planet

The second amendment needs to be repealed

Morals are relative and Christians are stupid

Overspend, accumulate deficits and let our children pay for it

Self-righteous Hate Party

Hates gays

Opposes any environmentalist activity

Fills talk radio with wackos

Obsessed with guns which promote crime and violence

Religious hypocrites and adulterers

War mongerers

Obsessed with defense spending

Favors the rich

Ignores the poor and immigrants

Does not tax enough

Does not spend enough

Mentally deficient "Creationists"

Hate women and their rights to their bodies

Slaves to big oil and other corporations

Overpollute, destroy climate and let our children pay for it

Speaking at the Human Rights Campaign meeting, President Obama defined the upcoming election as a “fundamental debate about who we are as a nation.”

We don’t believe in a small America, where we meet our fiscal responsibilities by abdicating every other responsibility we have, and where we just divvy up the government as tax breaks for those who need them the least, where we abandon the commitment we’ve made to seniors though Medicare and Social Security, and we say to somebody looking for work, or a student who needs a college loan, or a middle-class family with a child who’s disabled, that “You’re on your own.” That’s not who we are.

Mona Charen of the National Review responds:

Well, that’s not who anybody is. But what this cartoonish slur on Republicans and conservatives does reflect is what President Obama has become — a liberal demagogue...

The president is perfectly aware that reducing government spending is the principal way to escape national insolvency. But he will not say so because that would be courageous, statesmanlike, and honest. And that’s not, if you will, who he is.

Is anyone besides me sick of being spoken for by demagogues on both sides who want to use our collective rivalry as an excuse for avoiding rational and intelligent discussion? If the North and South would have sat down and talked unemotionally about the issues dividing them we would have avoiding killing over 625,000 of our brothers--more than WW1, WW2, the Korean War and the Vietnam War combined. Most of the so-called causes of that war were essentially related to slavery. If they had just concentrated on that moral and economic issue instead of polarization, emotional demagoguery and cultural slurs, we might have started to grow up a lot sooner as a country.

How to Take Back Your Democracy from Demagogic Tyrants

The first step to taking back your freedom and power is to reacquaint yourself with some basic principles.

1. Everyone is responsible for their own actions. Just because a lot of people are doing it doesn't make it right.

2. If you can't agree on one thing, move forward with that on which you can agree. Even if both parties only acted on legislation they both could support instead of wasting all their time attacking and defending, considerably more would get done.

3. There are only three indisputable rights--Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. All others seem to be excuses for taking money from one group to support another.

For example, to pay for our present excesses we let our "rights" ignore our children and grandchildren's, more pertinent right: No taxation without representation. We pass on trillions of debt to our descendants--they have no representation. They deserve a voice before being taxed in absentia.

4. Own your opinion. Base your words on what you need or want, not the supposed character or motivations of your opponent.

5. Debate, not assassinate. In a scene from the movie "The Iron Lady," Meryl Streep is Margaret Thatcher in Parliament exchanging barbs.

(Excerpt from 'The Iron Lady' plays)

(Scene: Floor of House of Commons, Thatcher is wearing a pale blue suit.)

SHADOW MINISTER (DAVID WESTHEAD): Methinks the right honourable lady does screech too much.


SHADOW MINISTER (DAVID WESTHEAD): And if she wants us to take her seriously she must learn to calm down.

MARGARET THATCHER (STREEP): (Rising to her feet) If the right honourable gentleman could perhaps attend more closely to what I am saying rather than how I am saying it he may receive a valuable education in spite of himself.

Even though she is engaging in the same kind of verbal attacks, her advice is sound. If we would concentrate on the issues rather than the personalities involved, we could learn something.

A politician divides mankind into two classes: Tools and enemies. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others. ~ Ayn Rand

6. Use only honest arguments. In his book, Demon Haunted World, Carl Sagan introduced tools for testing arguments and detecting fallacious or fraudulent arguments:

Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the facts.

Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.

Arguments from authority carry little weight (in science there are no "authorities").

Spin more than one hypothesis - don't simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.

Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it's yours

For an extensive list of dishonest debate tactics see And others at and

Where is Murray when we need him?


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    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hi RA, so nice to see you, thank you for the kind words. I've been thinking lately that there must be something about politics that changes you. They say that power corrupts and I think what happens is the desire to control others makes you spin the facts to favor your keeping that power. I just hope one spin will unravel the other's spin and the truth will out.

      Thanks again for the fine comment. =; )

    • RunAbstract profile image


      9 years ago from USA

      Top notch Hub! You made some very valid points, and pointed out some dismal failures in how things "work" in our system.

      Yep... You nailed it!

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hi Chip, good to see you here. This country needs more people like you who see through the rhetoric and have the moral fiber to stand up to it. Now if either of the two main parties could find such a candidate....

      It saddens me a bit to see intelligent, honest, caring people like you forced to cast an ineffectual (by ineffectual I mean don't have anywhere near the numbers to win) "statement" vote for candidates chewed up and spit out by the establishment. Maybe it's time for an improved system of government. If Jefferson and Hamilton and Adams were here today I think they would make known many truths which they considered "self-evident" at the time, but they underestimated the future polemicists and demagogues' ability to rewrite those truths in such an absurd and despicable manner.

      Even the fundamental truths which were addressed have been bent and stretched out of shape so many times that the average voter is burnt out trying to find them among the choices.

      I'm not a fatalist here, but I am a realist. I have the same overwhelming confidence in ordinary people that our founding fathers had and that Jesus had when he entrusted the gospel into the hands of fishermen and government workers. If I may change a familiar quote--

      All it takes for a country to succeed is that good men do something.

      Thank you for the visit and for your friendship. =:)

    • WD Curry 111 profile image

      WD Curry 111 

      9 years ago from Space Coast

      I went back and read the comments. You attracted a dyed in the wool polemic. What good luck. You caught him on the first cast. He took the bait and ran under a log with it.

    • WD Curry 111 profile image

      WD Curry 111 

      9 years ago from Space Coast

      I am burned out on macro politics, but this held my interest. I think you nailed it . . . polemics and demagogues. In government and religion, they seem to have the most energy to invest in their agenda.

      I am an Independent. Although he has suspended his campaign, I will be voting for Buddy Roemer. I know all of the negative thinking, and "poo-pooing" done in the media. He has the right idea, and that is what I am voting for. No big contributions ($100 limit). No lobbiests. He beat the FDIC, Treasury and Deutsche Bank.

      Here in Florida, I liked Charley Crist. He, like Roemer, bailed on the Republicans. They have a powerful development, oil drilling, anti-conservation, pro foreign investment agenda here. I would venture to say that most are transplants from other states that we don't look up to. Crist put Florida first, but his party always undermined him. He made a strong bid as an independent, and may have won if he had changed affiliations sooner.

      Talking heads in the media successfully made him look flaky and incompetent to anyone who believed their slanted journalism. Crist was one of the best Governors that Florida ever had. He stood down the drillers, he pulled in the reigns on irresponsible development, he fought for education & educators (not considered a diabolical special interest group here), and conservation of natural resources. These issues are only popular with Floridians. It is a case in point for your essay.

      "Most of the so-called causes of that war were essentially related to slavery."

      Slavery is off the table, now, but the other causes still exist, some even more so. The south may not have to rise again . . . the North may fall.

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Ha ha, your last comment KC reminded me of a quote: "There's no end to what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit." The hilarious thing about the quote--and yes it is very true--is that so many different people take credit for the quote.

      Well I don't give a copper plated zinc penny for the credit if someone would take the idea and act on it. I'd just like to see us act like the people our dogs think we are and get something accomplished.

      Thank you for the gracious words, I greatly value your opinion. =:)

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 

      9 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Now this is what I call fair and balanced. Congratulations on the work you did here. You spent some serious time and effort on a hub worth the time it takes to read and absorb.

      And you nailed most of us.

      2. If you can't agree on one thing, move forward with that on which you can agree. Even if both parties only acted on legislation they both could support instead of wasting all their time attacking and defending, considerably more would get done. YES. Why can't we do that? There are so many areas we will never agree on, why spend our time spinning our wheels and getting nowhere? Because . . . if we get something done, someone else might get the credit!

      Up and I wish there was an AMAZING button.

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hey TT, good to see you and thank you. I didn't want to endorse any particular party, I just wanted to express my disgust at the talking heads that take us for complete idiots. I say we boycott them all and make our own wiki-type news that can be adjusted by anyone who knows more about the event or subject.

      Thank you for the fine comment and visit. Keep travelin! =:)

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hi Natasha, I wish we had a filter on all our media feeds like they do with spam for emails that blocks all spin, polemics or demagoguery and all we get is open and honest truth.

      We know it would be working if the reporter or politician opened with: "I haven't actually gotten to know the people I'm about to describe and they probably are a lot better than I'm going to make them sound, so if you want to know the real story, maybe you should turn this off and find out from someone who knows them."

      Yeah, that's gonna happen. I wish it would though, maybe we can mass produce whatever made Jim Carey tell the truth in "Liar, Liar"--can you imagine?

      Thank you so much for the visit Natasha, this hub was just for fun, please read one of my more thoughtful ones like "Why is the Answer to How..." or "Joy for You and Me" sometime to see what I'm mostly about.

      Again, thanks for the visit and kind words. =:)

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 

      9 years ago from California

      Polemics a magnificent word that aptly describes many who speak out in our country. We have examples daily on the radio and TV. Very nice hub.

    • Natashalh profile image


      9 years ago from Hawaii

      Your title really caught my eye! So, I guess I came for the title and stayed for the content. I like your even-handed approach to giving criticism to everyone, when it's due. Voted up and interesting.

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hi Rebekah, it's equally rewarding to have you comment on it. I agree with you about the media. If they did research as you and I do on their sound bites before they release them, we might be truly informed. What we get now is mostly spin or misinformation or the modern equivalent of yellow journalism. I heard about an online news/social network site that would build its news from contributions of its members--much like traffic gets current traffic input from commuters' cell phones. If we could take on the job of being informed ourselves, maybe we can focus on what's important and take back our country.

      One of my favorite scenes in a movie is the one in which "Dave" played by Kevin Kline gets his accountant buddy, Charles Grodin to figure out the federal budget--in fact I will add a video to the article. What we need is a little more common sense and less business as usual without all the handlers.

      So nice to see you, thank you for the thought-provoking comment. =:)

    • rebekahELLE profile image


      9 years ago from Tampa Bay

      Winsome, I'm catching up on hubs this weekend. This is so well written, and your logic and sensibility is evident. I think what bothers me the most about what is happening in our country is the ignorance that many have adopted as a way of thinking. Have we lost the ability to think and reason on our own? We now have news channels 24/7 which basically inform the masses on how they should think about everything. We have plenty of public outcry's that do end up bringing about change. I think we need a public outcry on the media and advertisers and how they manipulate viewers into thinking 'their' way. Sometimes we can be too informed, or misled and it brilliantly steals the masses freedom to choose. It's always a rewarding experience to read what you have to say!

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hey TK, I like the analogy of wolves sitting in the shadows waiting for the sheep to do their work for them. I agree that the place to start is a higher standard in how we treat each other. The problem is that for that to work, we need a higher standard in how we VIEW each other. Both sides view the other side as goats and themselves as sheep. While we argue semantics the wolves don't care--they eat goats as well as sheep.

      While I think the legendary John Lennon's beautiful song "Imagine" is naïve in suggesting there be NO countries or religions, I do think he was on to something about erasing stereotypes. If we could imagine the other side as being a human being first--a father, a mother, a son or daughter and a party affiliation second, maybe we could hear each other.

      Thank you for the solid comment. =:)

    • TKs view profile image

      TKs view 

      9 years ago from The Middle Path

      Well done, Winsome. I completely agree the special interest groups lurking in the shadows on either side of the political fence, are intent on creating just enough fear, envy and hatred to monopolize the reins of power and distract the masses so they don't realize those in the shadows of the left and right are one and the same entity. The question is, are they as good at controlling the masses as they think they are?

      Once a tide begins to sweep across the land, the seeds of dissent can bring us to the threshold of another civil war. One where the sheep turn on one another,while the wolf sits back, no longer having to work for his dinner and dreams about what his dessert will be.

      In the end, the sheep that remain are so few in number they have surrendered the right of majority and when asked, will likely not be able to tell you what the war was about.

      It seems to me, we are primed for an awakening that not only honers the the decree of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, but can be focused even to the most simple of all the rules. The one called Golden. In such a world, the only government will be of the highest caliber, for it will be Self-Government. You can't get anything closer than, "Of the People, By the People and For the People," than that.

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hi Max, love the palindrome. I agree that politicians only have the power if we allow it--sort of like Eleanor Roosevelt's "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

      As to the spending, I'm glad you brought that up because I was afraid someone might think that I thought the National Review article ended with reason instead of rhetoric. It doesn't. That was my point. Instead of making her opinion known and citing reputable studies about spending and leaving it alone, she ended up with the same kind of character assassination that she was criticizing Obama for doing.

      I hope this helps. As to "my case," about spending, I could tell you my layman's opinion that we are spending more than we can justify even if the economy rebounds sometime soon, but that is not my purpose here. Please read it again and know that what VR said in response is correct. I purposely did not argue any particular issue facing us nor did I take any political "side." You might deduce from my other articles where my inclination lies, but, like you, I am not "inclined" to let anyone decide for me what to do next. I am first and foremost an American, proud of our heritage and determined to bring power back to the people where it belongs.

      I just happen to believe that the first step is to recognize flim flam when you see it.

      As to our demagogues of today, I am guilty of violating Robert's Rules of Order #43:“It is not allowable to arraign the motives of a member, but the nature or consequences of a measure may be condemned in strong terms. It is not the man, but the measure, that is the subject of debate.”

      I have accused these demagogues of wanting to control us. They in fact may have other reasons for doing so and frankly I don't care--I am out to hold them to a standard of honest debate without all the name calling, spin, emotional intimidation, unjustified political correctness, misdirection and sloganeering that has divided us all.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. =:)

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Hi Dave, thank you for the affirmation and the follow. Joni Mitchell in the song "Woodstock" said "We've got to get ourselves back to the garden." I would settle for getting us back to the time when the constitution didn't have a million things tacked onto it so that we don't even know what "is" is. =:)

    • Winsome profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      VR, what an exceptionally nice thing to say. I am happy first of all, that somebody out there understands what a polemic and a demagogue can do and secondly that you appreciate the extent to which our "government of, by and for the people" has strayed. We are capable of so much, but we settle for so little sometimes. Maybe if we see what the magicians do with their sleight of hand maneuvers, we can call them on it.

      Thank you again for the positive comment. =:)

    • veritorogue profile image


      9 years ago from Arizona epitomize exactly what Winsome is talking about. This hub does not address government spending nor say that demogogues are smarter than everybody else but instead have a charisma that allows them to manipulate intellectual weakling. Particularly intellectual weaklings who think they are smart and informed but are not. Thanks.

    • maxoxam41 profile image


      9 years ago from USA

      What does it mean that demagogues are smarter than the people? Nobody can control the way anyone thinks! Do they control you? The people give them this power. I don't! Everybody has access to information, today more than ever!

      To say that the government spending is the cause of the chaos is pure rhetoric if not explained. Please let us know how you think! Dissect the spending and make your case!

    • Davesworld profile image


      9 years ago from Cottage Grove, MN 55016

      Excellent summary and well done.

    • veritorogue profile image


      9 years ago from Arizona

      This is the best hub I have read...period. You have brilliantly stated how demogogues subvert democracy by deluding their audience. The digital revolution has magnified the ability of the polemics to reach their target audiences and pander to them until their faith grows to religious levels that they are right and their ideological opponents are evil. False premises are also key factors preventing us from solving problems. I look forward to reading your other works.


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