SIU Department Name | Page Title

siu logo siupress logo

SIU logo


Main Content Area

Rhetoric and Demagoguery

Rhetoric and Demagoguery

Add to Cart

Patricia Roberts-Miller


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
260 pages, 6 x 9


Additional Materials

  • Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

About the Book

One of Library Journal's Top 20 Best-Selling Language Titles of 2019

In a culture of profit-driven media, demagoguery is a savvy short-term rhetorical strategy. Once it becomes the norm, individuals are more likely to employ it and, in that way, increase its power by making it seem the only way of disagreeing with or about others. When that happens, arguments about policy are replaced by arguments about identity—and criticism is met with accusations that the critic has the wrong identity (weak, treacherous, membership in an out-group) or the wrong feelings (uncaring, heartless).
Patricia Roberts-Miller proposes a definition of demagoguery based on her study of groups and cultures that have talked themselves into disastrously bad decisions. She argues for seeing demagoguery as a way for people to participate in public discourse, and not necessarily as populist or heavily emotional. Demagoguery, she contends, depoliticizes political argument by making all issues into questions of identity. She broaches complicated questions about its effectiveness at persuasion, proposes a new set of criteria, and shows how demagoguery plays out in regard to individuals not conventionally seen as demagogues.
Roberts-Miller looks at the discursive similarities among the Holocaust in early twentieth-century Germany, the justification of slavery in the antebellum South, the internment of Japanese Americans in the United States during World War II, and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, among others. She examines demagoguery among powerful politicians and jurists (Earl Warren, chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court) as well as more conventional populists (Theodore Bilbo, two-time governor of Mississippi; E. S. Cox, cofounder of the Anglo-Saxon Clubs of America). She also looks at notorious demagogues (Athenian rhetor Cleon, Ann Coulter) and lesser-known public figures (William Hak-Shing Tam, Gene Simmons).


Patricia Roberts-Miller is a professor of rhetoric and writing and director of the writing center at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Fanatical Schemes: Proslavery Rhetoric and the Tragedy of Consensus; Deliberate Conflict: Argument, Political Theory, and Composition Classes; and Voices in the Wilderness: Public Discourse and the Paradox of Puritan Rhetoric.


"In this timely and important volume, Roberts-Miller provides an accessible yet nuanced framework grounded in rhetorical theory for analyzing the harms of demagoguery."—Choice

“Roberts-Miller’s fascinating case studies on train wrecks in public discourse should be required reading for anyone interested in issues related to public deliberation, the public sphere, and democracy.”—Jennifer Mercieca, author of Founding Fictions

“Too many people who write about politics end up talking over those who most need to understand it. Not so with Roberts-Miller. Demagoguery is immensely complex as a form of rhetoric, yet Roberts-Miller is a patient teacher. Reading her work is profitable for any citizen worried about the future of the republic.”—John Stoehr, contributing writer for Washington Monthly

“Roberts-Miller’s Rhetoric and Demagoguery shows that demagoguery succeeds because decisions hinge on group loyalty, not because demagogues have magical powers or because ordinary people are bad at judging arguments. Right now, this book is sobering and necessary.”—Susan Wells, author of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and the Work of Writing

“Roberts-Miller situates demagoguery as a matter of public deliberation and argumentative values, and therefore as a crucial rhetorical concern. Her deceptively simple argument is that demagoguery results from exchanging deliberative decision-making for identity-based decision-making in public policy matters. Roberts-Miller reminds us that we all have a stake in demagoguery as well as a role to play in stopping it.”—Ryan Skinnell, editor of Faking the News: What Rhetoric Can Teach Us about Donald J. Trump