Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in English (MA)

Degree Level





Adam R. Pope

Committee Member

Ryan M. Neville-Shepard

Second Committee Member

Patrick J. Slattery


Conversion, Demagoguery, Identification, Self-deception, Self-persuasion


The purpose of this investigation is to determine the role that self-deception plays in helping demagogues deceive or manipulate their audiences while remaining unaccountable. I will examine the ways in which self-deception aids demagogues and other unethical rhetoricians compellingly present their deceptive belief systems. This is done in a way that their beliefs are only unconsciously known to be false, inaccurate, or incomplete. As this knowledge is subconsciously stored and concealed from the demagogue’s conscience, I will argue that self-deception is the missing piece in the puzzle that is demagoguery.

Demagogic rhetoric has recently experienced a revival due to the need to understand the motivating conditions of demagoguery in modern society. But despite the contributions of the contemporary approach to demagoguery, there are some significant limitations to this approach, particularly in Patricia Roberts-Miller’s instantiation of it, who is a leading scholar in this movement. Without losing sight of the territory that has so far been gained, a theoretical expansion of the contemporary approach can offer relevant insights to the ongoing discussion. For instance, this expansion can help explain the elusiveness of demagoguery in terms of the dynamics of self-deception. I offer here a multidimensional approach to demagoguery that focuses on both psychological and pragmatic features in the rhetorical character and effects of demagogic appeal. To undertake this multidimensional approach, I explore the mindset of demagogues and other unethical rhetoricians interpreting it as a continuum of intentionality from (self-)persuasion to (self-)deception. With the aid of this framework on the rhetor’s intentionality, it will be possible to explain the nature of demagogic appeal. Moreover, self-deception can be used to explain why the behavior of demagogues is so easily excused by their audiences, helping them remain unaccountable—which is a key trait of demagoguery. A multidimensional analysis of Trump’s oratory will show the value of incorporating psycho-pragmatic considerations to account for his demagogic appeal as well as the effects it has on his audience.