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Demagoguery and Democracy

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  267 ratings  ·  53 reviews
A clear-eyed guide to demagoguery—and how we can defeat it
What is demagoguery? Some demagogues are easy to spot: They rise to power through pandering, charisma, and prejudice. But, as professor Patricia Roberts-Miller explains, a demagogue is anyone who reduces all questions to us vs. them.

Why is it dangerous? Demagoguery is democracy’s greatest threat. It erodes rationa
Kindle Edition, 144 pages
Published June 13th 2017 by The Experiment
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I'm not exaggerating when I say this is the most important book I've read this year. Perhaps you can think of someone who needs it.

The fact is we all need it. Roberts-Miller argues that when we think of demagoguery, we usually think of demagogues-- silver tongued seducers who memorize their audience into doing stupid things they would normally never do. These lying liars know what they’re saying is false, but they know it will manipulate the sheeple follow them. But that’s not the direction it g
This is quite possibly one of the best books I have read on any subject ever. To start with, the subject matter is of the greatest importance and urgency: how to talk and think about personal and political differences in ways that do more good than harm. To that aim, there is hardly a sentence in the book that isn't relevant and insightful. Further, Roberts-Miller's writing is extraordinarily clear and precise, avoiding unexplained and unnecessary jargon as well as oversimplification. Throughout ...more
Philip Shade
Jun 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
"Demagoguery is the reduction of politics to in-group versus out-group, with the assumption and claim that the in-group is always and forever and in every way better than the out-group."
— Patricia Roberts-Miller, Demagoguery and Democracy

TL;DR: HIGHLY recommended.
While Patricia Roberts-Miller discusses larger philosophical underpinnings of demagoguery (and fascism), 'Demagoguery and Democracy is more of a practical instruction manual than conceptual exercise.

In simple terms she defines demagogue
Sean Blevins
Currently reading a batch of books that might help explain and describe our current predicament.
This is one of the best of the bunch.

I've found it helpful in giving me some language to describe much of what passes for political discourse these days, but more importantly, it has helped me recognize some of the demagoguery to which I am susceptible.

If your goal is to avoid being swept along by narratives of "us" and "them," you may find this little book helpful. If your commitment is to democrati
John Plowright
Apr 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Trump presidency would seem to be the ideal time for pondering demagoguery and Patricia Roberts-Miller, as Professor at the Department of Rhetoric and Writing at the University of Texas, appears particularly well placed to shed light on that phenomenon.

Her ‘Demagoguery and Democracy’ is a relatively short book (of just over 130 pages with a fairly large typeface) and the central text would be shorter still if its definitions of various forms of fallacious argument had been relegated to a glo
Aug 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"The best way to open the Faraday cage of demagoguery isn't by aspiring to some emotion-free hyper-rationalism; it's by practicing compassion for those whom demagoguery says we should treat as Other. It's by imagining things from their perspective."

"In Phaedrus, Socrates says that writing is like throwing a seed over a wall."

"Demagoguery about them is undone by empathy.... Just bear witness to the glory of diversity and pluralism."

"One of the paradoxes about demagoguery is that it is simultaneou
Jun 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting little book on understanding what exactly demogoguery is and what to do about it. Very timely at the moment.

I won a copy of this book from the publisher as part of the Goodreads First Reads program.
Nov 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A short little book that contains a lot of important material. While at times a bit on the scholarly side, the author has written this in language that a non-academic who has never taken a rhetoric class or been on a debate team can follow. The author defines the academic terms she uses so when they come up again, a reader (like me on occasion!) can look back and refresh their recollection of a term's meaning, as being used by the author.

We are constantly exposed to rhetoric in politics these da
Book Riot Read Harder challenge task # 20: A book with a cover you hate.

What is demagoguery?

-about passion, emotionalism, populism, and pandering to crowds
-dismissing claims based on who was making them ("they" are untrustworthy, biased, and have bad motives)
-demogogic media presents consumers with dumbed-down versions of opposition arguments; creates alternative world
-policy issues are a contest between us and them
-focus on identity and loyalty to the in-group (us)
-scapegoats a particular group
Matthew Wilson
Jun 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
When it arrived I was surprised how tiny it was! It was informative read, help give history and context to issues and patterns in Democracies.
Tierney Hamilton
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
We are in the demogogic doldrums. It's increasingly difficult to distinguish "alternative facts" from unadulterated facts. Media literacy is crucial and Roberts-Miller suggests how to spot the demogogues spouting disinformation.
Aug 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quick, fun, bipartisan read that does a great job of explaining the scholarly discussion of demagoguery in a way that us average people can grasp it. It's enlightening and perfectly timed!
Oct 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I appreciated the honesty with which it was written - particularly the strategies for addressing demagogues (who are also your peers, neighbours, family and friends).

"Our differences make our decisions stronger. Democracy presumes that we can behave as one community, caring together for our common life, and disagreeing productively and honestly with one another. Demagoguery rejects that pragmatic acceptance and even valuing of disagreement in favor of a world of certainty, purity, and silencing
Nov 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is critically important for where we are right now. It's short and direct--Dr. Roberts-Miller doesn't waste any words in getting the point across vividly. Read it. Read it now.
Dec 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars. Roberts-Miller’s book is a timely examination of how democracies are fundamentally at odds with demagoguery, but how, at times, they become fertile grounds for demagogic rhetoric, and how we might refocus arguments to reject demagoguery. She doesn’t detail any one person or movement in current American politics, but instead tries to show how demagoguery operates on in-group/out-group dynamics and the ways in which “good” and “bad” become false dichotomies that often lead us away from ...more
Aug 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, politics
This book doesn't mention Trump, or indeed any politics newer than 2011. Instead it focuses on previous decisions the American people have made with demagoguery, ones we all agree were bad. This allows it to discuss demagogury without getting bogged down by current emotions and presents a much stronger argument.

And it's a powerful argument. She argues that the American people - you and I - are responsible for the rise of demagoguery, that when demagoguery becomes the primary method of discourse
Jaclyn Sutherland
This book is one that everyone should read. It’s short and doesn’t mince words on the things which are wrong in our current rhetorical situation (especially in regard to politics). Roberts-Miller does not take sides. She doesn’t say “X group is bad or wrong because they believe this but Y group is good or right because they believe this.” Instead she explains demagoguery in simple terms (the above X group/Y group interaction is a perfect example) and encourages the reader to work towards anti-de ...more
Stephen Selbst
Jun 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A lucid analysis of the techniques of demagoguery. As Roberts-Miller explains, all demagoguery relies on human tribalism, the instinct to separate the world into us and them. Once the world has been so bifurcated, demagoguery assumes that the in-group is under real (or perceived) threat from the out-group, and that the in-group is morally virtuous and the out-group is dangerous and/or evil. The demagogue then promises emotionally satisfying and simple solutions to complex political problems base ...more
Joe Stack
Demagoguery isn’t just what leaders may do. Anyone, probably many of us, if not all at one time or another, may have also used rhetoric of the demagogue because “demagoguery is a culture.” The author, in clear writing on this subject, explains the simplicity and the attraction of this cultural mindset, and its complications, especially with dealing with the rhetoric and arguments of demagoguery. I liked the author’s chapter on Earl Warren and the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. Thi ...more
Dave Wilson
Dec 31, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book after hearing the author speak at the Texas Book Festival. It provided a fascinating insight into dysfunction in democracy and offered suggestions in identifying and countering demagogic argument. The book was published in June 2017 so, given the timing of the publishing industry, I have to assume that the manuscript was complete well before the 2016 presidential election results were known. This is not, therefore, a work dedicated to discussion of the current US administra ...more
Oct 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This little handbook of "demagoguery" sort of reminds me and brings me nostalgia to the late and great Christopher Hitchens handbook, "Letters to a Young Contrarian". In fact, I must go back and read that Hitch gem. This is a good book summarizing demagoguery in its different manifestations; and the enlightened reader of history knows that we are facing an unprecedented time in the history of our nation with a demagogue as a so-called President. I also highly recommend "The Dangerous Case of Don ...more
Nov 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
The author begins by inviting you to consider that perhaps you might have been suckered into demagoguery or engaged in demagogic rhetoric at times. The point is, being smart isn’t exactly going to inoculate you, since demagoguery is pleasurable. The best part of the book is its gradual unfolding of what demagoguery is, its shape and contours, beyond the obvious, and how to identify and disengage with it. It makes the salient point that demagogues do not simply rise, they rise because there is al ...more
Mark Sy
It’s already a small book with only 129 pages however I think the author could have made it even shorter. Roberts-Miller repeated the basic concept of demagoguery a bit too many times. The chapter on different fallacies could have been in an appendix. Also the example of the Japanese internment camp while good, is a bit outdated. It would have been good to have a more recent example. This book reminds me of a chapter in a political science university textbook. That’s not a good nor bad thing. Th ...more
Jun 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thanks to Goodreads and Thomas Allen and Son for a free copy of this book.
Demagoguery and Democracy is written in an easy to read and understandable manner. Patricia Roberts-Miller explains what Demagoguery is and how it works with many clear and relevant examples to further enhance the reader's understanding. She also includes a section on what we can do to change the demagogic culture. A bibliography of Works Cited and Recommended is included at the end for more in depth study of the material
Aug 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
I probably need to read this twice because this is a book to be studied; not read. It is one of those books that I will carry with me when I leave Earth, with a handful of other misanthropists, to start a new human civilizations on one of the moons of Saturn...because as long as humans are social mammals (with a primal reptilian brain) demagoguery will forever dog us. True democracy rides with reason, and reason among humans creates an evolutionary unstable state*

*Read "The Selfish Gene" by Rich
Mar 26, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm really torn on this one. While the content is absolutely essential (ESPECIALLY given the current political climate in the United States), books about political rhetoric really just aren't my cup of tea (if you couldn't tell, I had to read this for class). That being said, it's hard to stay mad at a book that's so tiny and cute. I appreciate how Roberts-Miller didn't mess around with the jargon so typical of academic writings; she kept it short, sweet, and to the point. Although I found it a ...more
Dec 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very good read - short, but impactful. I just had CNN on this morning where the Democrats announced that they were proceeding with impeachment. There was also an anoncement that the USMCA could be approved today. On numerous occasions this morning different talking heads asked Democrats how they could allow the USMCA to go through on the same day. It would make the Republicans look good. If this does not tell you what a mess this country is in - nothing will. This book helped me put wo ...more

Indispensable read. Everyone should read this, but especially everyone in the United States. It's a quick read, and it really opens your eyes not only to how demagogues operate in this country (she makes incisive non-partisan references to all kinds of empty deliberation in this book), but also about your own argumentation habits and your own media consumption.

Knocked a star off because, in a valient effort to not name any names in our current political millieu, some of the hypotheticals get
Demagoguery and Democracy is part brief overview of what demagoguery is and part advice for how to resist a culture of demagoguery. I found it to be admirably nonpartisan; the emphasis of the book was always clearly on recognizing demagoguery (even and especially where it may be hard to spot), as well as how and why it demagoguery as a dominant mode of speech os dangerous to deliberative, democratic discourse on a whole. It was an excellent and balanced book, especially for how short it was.
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“We are all wrong at some times and to some degree. A person who claims never to have been wrong is simply a person with a very convenient memory.” 2 likes
“The underlying narrative is that our political culture has been damaged because a demagogue has arisen and is leading people astray. If we accept this narrative (one that doesn't actually hold up to scrutiny), then we try to solve the problem of demagoguery in ways that worsen it: We call for purifying our public sphere of THEIR demagogues, often in very demagogic ways. That narrative misleads us because it reverses cause and effect. We don't have demagoguery in our culture because a demagogue has come to power; when demagoguery becomes the normal way of participating in public discourse, then it's just a question of time until a demagogue arises.” 2 likes
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