Like democracy, the idea of a demagogue has its roots in the ambiguous Greek word demos meaning ‘the people’, but in the sense of either ‘the population’ or ‘the mob’. Thus a demagogue was, even in classical times, the leader of the mob, but also the leader of a popular state in which sovereignty was vested in the whole adult male citizenry. In this defunct, neutral, sense all modern Western leaders are, to some degree, demagogues. But the modern significance of the idea of a demagogue lies in its pejorative sense, as the leader of a mob, with the implication that those who rouse the rabble always do so for ignoble purposes.
Subjects: Classical studies