Populism, Propaganda and Demagoguery

In modern times, the rise of the internet, social media and mass communication has provided fertile ground for the amplification of demagoguery. The craft of the demagogue and the use of populist appeals, however, has been around for thousands of years. In this seminar, we will focus on the history of demagoguery and propaganda and the tools and techniques that are used to deceive us. We will strive to improve our critical thinking when assessing information presented to us.


This interactive seminar will start in antiquity, where the first demagogues appeared in Athens. We will cover selected readings from Plato, discuss classical logical fallacies used in rhetoric, and consider how the use of statistics and probability can distort our interpretation of events. Drawing on the work of Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winning psychologist and economist, we will investigate the principles of marketing science and how it can be misused by those seeking to promote “hot news” or develop propaganda. Seminar participants will be asked to contribute examples of some of the topics covered appear in our day-to-day lives as we seek and consume information …. and how that information seeks and finds us.

Group Leader: JUAN RIVERA
Venue: The Cathedral Church of St. Paul
Meets on: Tuesdays 10 AM to noon
Starting: 4/2/2024
Sessions: 6
Class Size: 20
Teaching Style: Lecture and discussion
Weekly Preparation: 0.5 - 1 hour
Group Leader Biography:

Juan Rivera is the former U.S. Managing Partner of Simon, Kucher & Partners, Strategy and Marketing Consultants. During his tenure, Juan conducted hundreds of studies on consumer preferences around the world to commercialize innovations and tested how different messages resonated with different audiences. He later became intrigued by how some of the analytics and methodologies used in marketing science are also used in the creation and dissemination of political, social and economic messages and how history has shown they can be manipulated by demagogues and populists and turned into propaganda.