Rewriting Demagogic Discourses

Publication Date

January 2021

Document Type

Contribution to a Book

Publication Title

Teaching Demagoguery & Democracy


Michael Steudeman


Spotting demagoguery is often complicated because it operates through the same institutions and discursive structures as democracy. In “Rewriting Demagogic Discourses,” Ryan Skinnell explores productive means to help students move past attempts to ascribe “good” or “bad” intentions and consider the argumentative qualities that make demagoguery work. To this end, he devises a pedagogical intervention focused on complicating common misconceptions about the twentieth century’s arch-demagogue: Adolf Hitler. Skinnell’s assignment focuses on Hitler’s 1933 request to consolidate power after the burning of the Reichstag, a speech that—despite its nefarious and fascist implications—adopts a tone, structure, and set of claims that sound deceptively familiar when compared to other policy discourses. Through a series of scaffolded assignments, Skinnell asks students to rewrite demagogic claims as deliberative ones—and vice versa—to recognize “how quickly and easily identity and policy can be substituted for one another—and that what may seem like a small move from one to the other can be hugely consequential.” By thoughtfully and directly engaging demagogic texts, students can learn the ethical and material stakes of even subtle shifts in language.


rhetoric, demagoguery, Adolf Hitler, Patricia Roberts-Miller, deliberation