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How Does Democracy Survive Demagoguery?


Moderated by Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times

Demagogues have been a problem for democracy since at least the 5th century B.C.—when the populist tanner Cleon persuaded his fellow Athenians to slaughter every man in the city of Mytilene as punishment for a failed revolt. Of Cleon, Aristotle wrote: “He was the first who shouted on the public platform, who used abusive language and who spoke with his cloak girt around him, while all the others used to speak in proper dress and manner.” What lessons can we draw for today’s democracies from ancient Greece’s democratic troubles? Are democracies inevitably undone by demagogues, as thinkers from Greek historian Polybius to James Madison have argued? Or can demagogues help renew democracies, by galvanizing the public against corruption and outdated laws and practices? Indiana University historian Eric Robinson, Texas A&M University communications professor and rhetorician Jennifer Mercieca, and University of Florida classicist Victoria Emma Pagán visit Zócalo to discuss how democracies produce—and survive—their demagogues.

Please note this program will be held outdoors.