1. A leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power.
2. (in ancient times) a leader of the people.
verb (used with object), demagogued, demagoguing.
3. To treat or manipulate (a political issue) in the manner of a demagogue; obscure or distort with emotionalism, prejudice, etc.
verb (used without object), demagogued, demagoguing.
4. To speak or act like a demagogue.
1640s, from Greek demagogos “popular leader,” also “leader of the mob,” from demos “people” (see demotic ) + agogos “leader,” from agein “to lead” (see act (n.)). Often a term of disparagement since the time of its first use, in Athens, 5c. B.C.E. Form perhaps influenced by French demagogue (mid-14c.).
Demosthenes: A demagogue must be neither an educated nor an honest man; he has to be an ignoramus and a rogue.
Demosthenes [to the Sausage-Seller]: Mix and knead together all the state business as you do for your sausages. To win the people, always cook them some savoury that pleases them. Besides, you possess all the attributes of a demagogue; a screeching, horrible voice, a perverse, crossgrained nature and the language of the market-place. In you all is united which is needful for governing. -The Knights, Aristophanes.
The peculiar office of a demagogue is to advance his own interests, by affecting a deep devotion to the interests of the people. Sometimes the object is to indulge malignancy, unprincipled and selfish men submitting but to two governing motives, that of doing good to themselves, and that of doing harm to others. … The motive of the demagogue may usually be detected in his conduct. The man who is constantly telling the people that they are unerring in judgment, and that they have all power, is a demagogue. – The American Democrat, James Fenimore Cooper.