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Instytut Nauk Politycznych Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego
Publication date: 2020-01-28
Studia Politologiczne 2002;6
A promise is a declaration which arouses and/or strengthens expectations and hopes for a better future, a form of providing comfort and encouragement, which is usually accompanied by an expression of readiness to fulfil, by one’s action (provision of assistance, benefits or decision) someone else’s needs, even the declaration of one’s efforts. Sometimes the author of such an announcement expresses in this form an assurance that the efforts will be successful and guarantees it by staking his or her own renown, authority and honour. There is also such a thing as a parapromise: which arouses someone’s hopes that the longed for change of fate will take place, that a miracle will happen, and that it will happen through the will of the speaker, although he or she never actually says it directly, yet creates that impression and the illusion that these dreams can become reality. The specific character of a demagogic promise is that it is addressed to “the people”, but in such a way that it is “the people” themselves who arbitrarily determine who they recognise as “the people”, who is included and who excluded from that category. A demagogue is not the one who serves the people, but the one who, under the pretext of being in the service of the people, through deception uses them as tools and sets them against others, to defeat his or her rivals. A demagogic promise is enshrouded in an aura of magic. As a rule, it is characterised by euphoria and rashness, or cynicism – i.e. it is dishonest, calculated, depicting an instrumental approach towards those it is addressed to (their needs and expectations serve only as a pretext to achieve his or her own ends). Demagogy takes on different forms and levels of finesse. Primitive demagogy involves a literal promise – a form of pledge to provide. Conventional demagogy is expressed with a ritual promise (a declaration of efforts and remaining faithful to the cause). Opportunistic demagogy involves a hinting-evasive promise, allusive more often than not, based on vague and ambiguous messages. Refined demagogy is characterised by a hypothetical-conditional promise (a unique and impossible to meet combination of conditions as a sure alibi, a clever form of evading the consequences). Auction demagogy (e.g. electoral) involves a tender promise, the chief aim being to outbid the rivals, irrespective of whether the bid is realistic or not. Calculated demagogy uses a vindicatory promise – i.e. the escalation of claims against others, at someone else’s expense.