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On Populists and Demagogues

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 August 2019

Haig Patapan*
Centre for Governance and Public Policy, Griffith Business School and School of Government and International Relations, Nathan campus, Griffith University, 170 Kessels Road, QLD 4111, Australia
*Corresponding author. E-mail:


The article seeks to understand what is specifically modern about populists, why we have difficulty in agreeing on who and what they are, and—importantly—how we can address the formidable challenge they present to contemporary democratic politics. It does so by detailing the classical conception of the demagogue and by showing how modernity, in its liberal and counter-liberal aspects, sought to solve conclusively the problem of the demagogue. It argues that modern populists face significant obstacles to their ambitions in the form of modern constitutionalism, yet are also armed with new weapons, including new concepts or “ideologies” for manipulation (such as “the people,” nation, race and class) and new rhetorical techniques (such as propaganda that exploits modern technology and mass media).


L'article cherche à comprendre ce qui est spécifiquement moderne chez les populistes, pourquoi nous avons du mal à nous accorder sur qui et ce qu'ils sont, et surtout comment nous pouvons relever le formidable défi qu'ils représentent pour la politique démocratique contemporaine. Il le fait en détaillant la conception classique du démagogue et comment la modernité dans ses aspects libéraux et antilibéraux a cherché à résoudre de manière concluante le problème du démagogue. Il soutient que les populistes modernes font face à des obstacles importants à leurs ambitions sous la forme d'un constitutionnalisme moderne, mais qu'ils disposent également de nouvelles armes, y compris de nouveaux concepts ou « idéologies » de manipulation (invoquant "le peuple", la nation, la race, la classe sociale) et de nouveaux artifices rhétoriques comme la propagande qui exploite la technologie moderne et les médias de masse.

Research Article/Étude originale
Copyright © Canadian Political Science Association (l'Association canadienne de science politique) and/et la Société québécoise de science politique 2019 

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