“The Discourse of Dictators, Demagogues, and Extremists”
4028 Vilas Hall
This course will examine the speech of demagogues, dictators and extremists from medieval Europe to present-day political movements. For the past 500 years, religious demagogues, often inspired by messianic visions, have emerged at times of acute crisis to condemn the current order and, by their words, win a fervent following. Some of the more successful demagogues, such as Benito Mussolini and Ferdinand Marcos, combine rhetorical skill with mass followings to seize state power and forge authoritarian regimes that spiral slowly toward self-destruction. More recently, a surge in global populism is producing a new generation of leaders worldwide—including Recep Erdoğan, Vladimir Putin, Narendra Modi, and Rodrigo Duterte—who win power through often violent rhetoric that attacks imagined enemies and celebrates a purer people. By contrast, extremist leaders, such as Jim Jones and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of the Islamic State, spurn state power to cultivate a fanatic following, seeking either to smash the social order or retreat from it into dystopian communities. The course will use discussion, research, and presentations to explore these leaders and their rhetoric.