“But it all hinges on the power of populism more generally. If it is the determining factor in a society, even a period of rationality will soon give way to another crisis and the same cycle will repeat itself.  If populism is the ascendant or dominant force in society, institutions can be perpetually caught in this cycle, never breaking it.  That, perhaps, is the ultimate effect of demagogic power: it creates the circumstances for its own reproduction, an endless loop between crisis and saviour, that both rejects and evokes rationality, generates promises and lies, charms and horrifies and always revolves around a personality at the expense of the institution”.

Ten stages on the path to demagogic power: Gareth van Onselen in BDlive today published by Business Day.


“SOUTH African politics has produced a very particular type of tyrant and, as the country’s condition worsens, they are becoming more prevalent.  They are not full-blown dictators with unfettered power who rule unchecked.  In SA, their authority is diluted or constrained to a particular institution; within these parameters they all exhibit their authoritarian streak, disdain for best democratic practice or the rule of law, and a powerful demagogic impulse towards populism.  Ultimately, they have wrought much damage and destruction.  President Jacob Zuma has set the standard, his own demagoguery legitimating so much below him”.

. . . . .

Ten stages on the path to demagogic power:

  • There is a crisis
  • A binary climate is manufactured
  • Popular promises are made
  • Rationality is ridiculed or ignored
  • Personality comes to the fore
  • Power is secured
  • Power is augmented
  • Promises supplemented by authoritarianism
  • Damage is wrought
  • A crisis

“It is now widely accepted that a crisis exists.  The evidence of decay and destruction is overwhelming.  The demagogue is fundamentally compromised but, simultaneously, untouchable.  The institution’s own procedures, checks and balances and mechanisms designed to ensure integrity and consequence are entirely denuded or undermined and some external power, usually the courts, is the only path to ridding the institution of the disease that infects it.

Desperately, people turn to any independent authority for relief, ironically evoking rationality as the one course to be followed.  Everything about rationality that was mocked and ignored in electing the demagogue is now used to counter his or her action.  Huge emphasis is placed on evidence and reason.  But their role has been so reduced that their effect is at best muted, and at worst entirely inconsequential”.