Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The properties of propaganda part 1

Propaganda is the main tool of legitimacy that the state has in its possession. As discussed before, the state is nothing without legitimacy, and legitimacy can only be obtained by getting people to believe in the state narrative. And given that the state is not legitimate, any propaganda must fundamentally be a lie. Propaganda is inherently immoral.

But what is propaganda ? From a sociological standpoint, Jacques Ellul defines it as such :

Propaganda is a set of methods employed by an organized group that wants to bring about the (...) participation in its actions of a mass of individuals, psychologically unified through psychological manipulation and incorporated in an organization.
Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes, p61

Randall Bytwerk, professor and author of "Bending Spines: The Propagandas of Nazi Germany and the German Democratic Republic", defines propaganda politically as :

(...) the systematic attempt to persuade a public to accept the views of its leaders.

These definitions are crucial to understand the nature of propaganda. They indicate that, despite the common conception, propaganda is not just a message but a coherent structure of psychological entrapment (the Nazis, who were pioneers in employing large-scale propaganda, were well-aware of the need for systematizing). They also tell us that propaganda has the aim of manipulating people's value systems into serving the initiators of propaganda. Let's look at these two points in turn.

The democratic state is unusually well positioned to establish a powerful propaganda machine. Its democratic status confers it an initial credibility that simply does not exist with a monarchic state. Thus the task is quite simpler, since all politicians need is to convince voters that some measure or program represents "the will of the people" and that they serve "the people". This inevitably means that individual values must be attacked as going against the "common good". So propaganda must imply collectivism.

In the fully developed parasitic democracies of the developed world, the propaganda machine encompasses large swaths of society : the educational system, the academia and the arts, the media, fulfilling "public goods", and fascist control through subsidies and the threat of force. By coordinating its activities, government is able to indoctrinate the population on a certain issue, then implement measures that were anticipated by the propaganda, and repeat this over and over, building on previous propaganda successes.

These last two elements are perhaps the most interesting and least obvious. By establishing itself as a monopoly on the "provision" of certain goods (although we know very well that government in itself produces nothing, and must still be a parasite on private expertise in order to "provide" anything), the state establishes itself in the mass mentality as the only possible provider of that good. No one today can imagine private roads (even though a few exist), private police, private courts, or private defense, even though all of these things have flourished at different times and places, and are already the result of private expertise to begin with.

Fascist control is another powerful propaganda tool, although it does not involve any message per se. Fascist control over property consists of permitting private ownership, but controlling every aspect of it. For example, you may own a house, but government dictates what you will do with it, mainly through zoning laws and construction laws. You own your body, but the government reserves itself the right to tell you what to do about a foetus inside it, what substances you can put in it, what foods it will artificially inflate in price, what you can do with your own organs, or even what you can do with your genes or your cells. So it is a very myopic view of property which changes the conditions of society in favour of the state.

Continue to part 2.

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