According to the dictionary, a demagogue is a person, usually an orator or political leader, who gains power by arousing peoples’ emotions and prejudices, it comes from the Greek “demos”, people and “agogos”, leader.
They rely on emotions, that’s not so bad, on paper and from a distance, but the most important aspect is their use of prejudices. Prejudices cause people to make mistakes and get angry, the mistakes are used to modify their perceptions of things to the demagogue’s advantage and fuel anger to make people forego rational thought and deliberation, again to the demagogue’s advantage.
I touch on this in: International Conspiracies: A Demagogue’s Favorite Ploy about demagogues and their conspiracy theories.
Their end game usually doesn’t involve you directly, on paper this doesn’t sound terrible, but the devil is in the detail. If you’re along for their ride towards what they claim is a better future, everything is dandy, but what if you personally have to be sacrificed in order to achieve their goal?
In the eyes of most demagogues an individual is an expendable asset in their quest for a “better” future. Their vision is usually indistinct and involves little effort from those it’s supposed to benefit.
Unfortunately, accounts of early demagogues are hard to find. In the last hundred years they are far better known, usually because of the massive trouble they cause(d):
Stalin, his purges and gulags; Hitler (enough said); Mao and the Cultural Revolution; Joseph McCarthy and his anti-communist frenzy; Anita Bryant stirring up hatred for and persecution of homosexuals, also in the US.
Back to the present: Udo Voightis is rabble-rousing in Germany and Geert Wilders is encouraging racism and violence in the Netherlands.
One of the earliest and more obscure was Cleon, an egotistical, power-hungry 5th century BC Athenian orator. Notably he convinced parliament to pass a resolution to kill every man in the city and sell everyone else into slavery. He used their pride and prejudice against them.
Fortunately the executioner was away and the slave market was closed, so that they could rescind their decision.
Not everybody gets a second chance.