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Demagogue – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams

September 9th, 2012 · No Comments · Campaigning, Political Communication, Politics

Those who apply the label of demagogue to Huey or to other politicians hardly ever trouble to invest the term with any precise definition. It was coined by the ancient Greeks, who were sorely afflicted by rabble rousing orators and who described them scornfully. The demagogue, said Euripides, was ‘base-born’, ‘a man of loose tongue, intemperate, trusting to tumult, leading the populace to mischief with empty words.’ For the Greeks, the term had actuality. In a small city-state like Athens a fiery speaker could easily whip a street-corner into a frenzy with his words, could with the crowd at his back perhaps force the portals of power. Obviously such a scene could not occur in a much larger context, especially ina country as extensive and varied as the United States. But although the original concept of the demagogue has little validity for the American scene, the term has survived and is one of the most frequently used words in the national political vocabulary. It is usually applied in a special and subjective context: a demagogue is someone who arouses the people against the established order, and in this sense it has been applied to many American leaders.

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