Demagogue: The Fight to Save Democracy from Its Worst Enemies [NOOK Book]


A demagogue is a tyrant who owes his initial rise to the democratic support of the masses. Huey Long, Hugo Chavez, and Moqtada al-Sadr are all clear examples of this dangerous byproduct of democracy. Demagogue takes a long view of the fight to defend democracy from within, from the brutal general Cleon in ancient Athens, the demagogues who plagued the bloody French Revolution, George W. Bush's naïve democratic experiment in Iraq, and beyond. This compelling narrative weaves stories about some of history's ...
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Demagogue: The Fight to Save Democracy from Its Worst Enemies

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A demagogue is a tyrant who owes his initial rise to the democratic support of the masses. Huey Long, Hugo Chavez, and Moqtada al-Sadr are all clear examples of this dangerous byproduct of democracy. Demagogue takes a long view of the fight to defend democracy from within, from the brutal general Cleon in ancient Athens, the demagogues who plagued the bloody French Revolution, George W. Bush's naïve democratic experiment in Iraq, and beyond. This compelling narrative weaves stories about some of history's most fascinating figures, including Adolf Hitler, Senator Joe McCarthy, and General Douglas Macarthur, and explains how humanity's urge for liberty can give rise to dark forces that threaten that very freedom. To find the solution to democracy's demagogue problem, the book delves into the stories of four great thinkers who all personally struggled with democracy--Plato, Alexis de Tocqueville, Leo Strauss, and Hannah Arendt.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Signer, senior policy adviser at the Center for American Progress, delivers hope, confidence and a vision for diplomacy amid a discussion of why the United States has eluded the grip of the demagogue via its collective "constitutional conscience." While the U.S. has created opportunities for demagogues abroad, it has consistently marginalized and suffocated demagogues at home, from Huey Long to George W. Bush, not by definition a demagogue, but whose attempts to trump the Constitution met with "vigilance against... [his] bullying." According to the author, these charismatic leaders typically emerge during times of national crises; their identification with the common people elicits deep emotional responses-yet societies can be immune if the rule of law supersedes the power of the individual charged with enforcing it. The book signals the need for a new direction in foreign policy, revealing how the U.S. frequently gives demagogues just "what they seek... an easily hated enemy for them to agitate the masses against." "The story of America's struggle with demagogues," Signer writes, "is the story of America herself." (Feb.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Policy advisor Signer provides an overview of the larger-than-life villains who undermine democracy, and the safeguards we rely on to defeat them. The author, who holds senior positions at two liberal think tanks, views the problem of demagoguery as both timeless and immediate. Among the "new cast of cagey, aggressive mass leaders" confronting the United States and attempting to install autocratic governments in their homelands at the beginning of the 21st century, he includes Hugo Chavez, "furiously charismatic" Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and Iraqi Shiite firebrand Moqtada al-Sadr. Signer finds their historical forerunner in Cleon of Athens, who argued in the fifth century BCE that "political decisions should be guided by a harsh calculation of self-interest, no matter the human cost or the sacrifice of our ideals." Fortunately, the author argues, Cleon's demagoguery "triggered a wave of self-criticism and self-restraint among Athenians that ultimately helped democracy survive; their example echoes today as a powerful but forgotten answer to democracy's demagogue problem." Even identifying a demagogue can be slippery, he acknowledges, offering a checklist of four points first promulgated in James Fenimore Cooper's 1838 essay, "On Demagogues." They present themselves as men of the common people, exploit that connection viscerally in a way that accentuates their widespread popularity, manipulate it for their own ends and are willing to violate established rules of conduct, even laws. Huey Long represents the quintessential American demagogue, in Signer's judgment. Contrastingly, George W. Bush cannot be considered a demagogue, because "he was not a man of the common people, and hedid not inspire overpowering emotional reactions among them." The author constructs a muscular narrative to support his definitions and address disturbing questions, though he spends too much time on side issues such as Hannah Arendt's decades-long attempt to grapple with her former teacher and lover Martin Heidegger's Nazi sympathies and what they revealed about the failings of his philosophy. Makes a forceful case for civic engagement and eternal vigilance. First printing of 30,000. Author events in New York and Washington, D.C.
From the Publisher
"Demagogue is a simply extraordinary book. A fascinating work of political theory, an eloquent response to the Bush administration's disastrous efforts at promoting democracy, a roadmap for progressives seeking to chart a new foreign policy direction and an intellectual lifeline for anyone who believes America should be on freedom's side, and knows, in their heart, that there must be a better way."—Peter Beinart, author of The Good Fight: Why Liberals—and Only Liberals—Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again and Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations

“The demagogue is the only enemy of democracy who pretends to be its friend. Michael Signer’s erudite and eloquent defense of constitutional democracy against its demagogic counterfeit should be required reading for the citizens of established and emerging democracies alike.” —Michael Lind, author of The American Way of Strategy: U.S. Foreign Policy and the American Way of Life

"Since our founding, Americans have seen our country's mission as bringing democracy to people around the world. The past few years have seen a lot of debate about how to spread democracy, but almost none about how to keep it alive in places where it is under attack. With a grounding in history and philosophy, Michael Signer offers an original foreign policy vision for the 21st century that puts democracy protection alongside democracy promotion. This is vital reading for anyone who cares about one of the great international challenges of the years ahead."— Andrei Cherny, Co-Editor Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, author The Next Deal and The Candy Bombers

"Michael Signer has written a strikingly original book. Demagogue tells the story of democracy by analyzing its antithesis – the often frighteningly charismatic leader who draws his strength from his purported connection to the demos itself. Amid the myriad studies of democracy and waves of democratization, of rising incomes, civil society, institutions and elections, Signer brings the human element back into the equation. The demagogue, he argues, is an eternal element in democracy's rise and fall, one that we ignore today, from Venezuela to Russia, at our peril."—Anne-Marie Slaughter, Dean, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University and author of The Idea That Is America

"With American democracy facing so many challenges at home and abroad, Demagogue could not have come at a more important moment. Michael Signer has given us a deeply thoughtful book, shedding new light on one of the most important ideas in American foreign policy and drawing vivid portraits of some of history’s most troubling and pivotal figures. Written with refreshing clarity and flair, this is a book to enjoy – and not soon forget." —Derek Chollet, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and coauthor of America Between the Wars

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780230618565
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 2/3/2009
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 272
  • File size: 356 KB

Meet the Author

Michael Signer is Senior Policy Advisor at the Center for American Progress and Senior National Security Policy Fellow at the think tank Third Way. He was Senator John Edwards' foreign policy advisor on his presidential campaign. His articles have appeared in The Washington Post, USA Today, and Democracy: A Journal of Ideas and he has been interviewed by The Washington Post, NPR, and MSNBC, among others. He lives in Arlington, Virginia.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Freedom at the Brink
The Founding Fathers' Nightmare
Defining the Demagogue
Democracy's Own Worst Enemy
Cleon of Athens
An Enemy of the People
The Student Rebels
A City Learns
George W. Bush: Demagogue?
Watering the Tree of Liberty
A Peculiar Institution
'King Mob'
The Reign of Terror
The Demagogue and the Devil
America's Achilles Heel
Americans Fight Back
A Red-Baiter and an American Caesar
Ignoring Iraqis
The Cycle Begins Again
A Philosopher-King?
The Neoconservative Père et Fils
Democratic Dominion
The End of Complicity
Seduction and Resolution
The Errors of the Past
Moving Forward
Theory and Practice
From Hubris to Strength

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