What is Populum, argumentum ad?

The argumentum ad populum appeals to popular attitudes instead of presenting relevant material. In other words, it is based on prejudice. It exploits the known propensity of people to accept that which fits in comfortably with their preconceptions. The popular prejudices may or may not be justified, but the speaker who makes his case depend solely upon them is guilty of an ad populum fallacy.


In recommending Higginbottom, I’d point out that the smart money is on him.

(Few people think they belong with the stupid guys.)


The ad populum is often equated with mob appeal, with inflaming passions and prejudices more appropriate to mass hysteria than to rational discourse. Mob orators make a career of the ad populum, choosing words calculated to raise the emotional temperature.


Are we to see the streets of this ancient land of ours given over to strange faces?

(The prejudice is xenophobia and the implication is that the ‘strange faces’ do not fit in our streets, but no argument is advanced.)


Those who commit the fallacy take the easy way out. Instead of building up a case which carries conviction, they resort to playing on the emotions of the multitude. This is not sound logic, although it may be very successful. Conceivably Mark Anthony might have developed a case for punishing Brutus and the other assassins, and restoring Caesar’s system of government. What he did was more effective. By appealing to popular rejection of disloyalty and ingratitude, and to popular support for public benefactors, he turned a funeral crowd into a rampaging mob.


For several centuries the traditional villains of the ad populum appeal were landlords and corn merchants. Although they play a negligible role in society nowadays, so powerful was their hold on popular prejudice that I expect you could still raise a lusty cheer by castigating opponents as profiteering landlords and corn merchants. Their disappearance has left a gap in the ad populum only partly filled by the mysterious ‘speculators’. They are somewhat more nebulous because whereas letting property and dealing in corn were respectable occupations which could be identified, few people would write ‘speculator’ in the space for their occupation. Still, their elusiveness imparts a shadowy and sinister quality to enhance their evil.

I oppose enterprise zones because they will become sleazy red-light areas, characterized by sharp dealers and speculators.

(You have to be careful, though. Some audiences would like the sound of this.)


Your own ad populums will come naturally, since you are basically in support of the little man, the underdog, the local boy. The people against you are the big bosses, the money-men of the financial district and the bureaucrats on their index-linked pensions. ‘Rich bankers’ has lost its effect these days; most people equate it with their local bank manager who is not all that rich. Remember to use code-words where people feel the prejudice is not respectable. Racial minorities, for example, should be referred to as ‘newcomers’ or ‘strangers’, even when they have been here longer than you have.


If we allow the corner shop to close, it will mean hard-earned money going out of the community to rich businessmen in flash cars. The corner shop is part of our locality; it’s a friendly presence in the neighbourhood; it’s the focal point of the community we grew up in.

(People will do anything for it, except shop there.)