Propaganda The Formation of Men's Attitudes (excerpts)
By Jacques Ellul (1965)
The Individual and the Masses
Any modern propaganda will, first of all, address itself at one and the same time to the individual and to the masses. It cannot separate the two elements. For propaganda to address itself to the individual, in his isolation, apart from the crowd, is impossible. The individual is of no interest to the propagandist; as an isolated unit he presents much too much resistance to external action. To be effective, propaganda cannot be concerned with detail, not only because to win men over one by one takes much too long, but also because to create certain convictions in an isolated individual is much too difficult. Propaganda ceases where simple dialogue begins. And that is why, in particular, experiments undertaken in the United States to gauge the effectiveness of certain propaganda methods or arguments on isolated individuals are not conclusive they do not reproduce the real propa- ganda situation. Conversely, propaganda does not aim simply at the mass, the crowd. A propaganda that functioned only where individuals are gathered together would be incomplete and insufficient. Also, any propaganda aimed only at groups as such -- as if a mass were a specific body having a soul and reactions and feelings entirely different from individuals' souls, reactions, and feelings -- would be an abstract propaganda that likewise would have no effectiveness. Modern propaganda reaches individuals enclosed in the mass and as participants in that mass, yet it also aims at a crowd, but only as a body composed of individuals.
What does this mean? First of all, that the individual never is considered as an individual, but always in terms of what he has in common with others, such as his motivations, his feelings, or his myths. He is reduced to an average; and, except for a small percentage, action based on averages will be effectual. Moreover, the individual is considered part of the mass and included in it (and so far as possible systematically integrated into it), because in that way his psychic defenses are weakened, his reactions are easier to provoke, and the propagandist profits from the process of diffusion of emotions through the mass, and, at the same time, from the pressures felt by an individual when in a group. Emotional- ism, impulsiveness, excess, etc. -- all these characteristics of the individual caught up in a mass are well known and very helpful to propaganda. Therefore, the individual must never be considered as being alone; the listener to a radio broadcast, though actually alone, is nevertheless put of a large group, and he is aware of it. Radio listeners have been found to exhibit a mass mentality. All are tied together and constitute a sort of society in which all individuals are accomplices and influence each other without knowing it. The same holds true for propaganda that is carried on by door-to-door visits (direct contacts, petitions for signatures); although apparently one deals here with a single individual, one deals in reality with a unit submerged into an invisible crowd composed of all those who have been interviewed, who are being interviewed, and who will be interviewed, because they hold similar ideas and live by the same myths, and especially because they are targets of the same organism. Being the target of a party or an administration is enough to immerse the individual in that sector of the population which the propagandist has in his sights; this simple fact makes the individual part of the mass. He is no longer Mr. X, but part of a current flowing in a particular direction. The current flows through the canvasser (who is not a person speaking in his own name with his own arguments, but one segment of an administration, an organization, a collective movement); when he enters a room to canvass a person, the mass, and moreover the organized, leveled mass, enters with him. No relationship exists here between man and man; the organization is what exerts its attraction on an individual already part of a mass because he is in the same sights as all the others being canvassed.
Conversely, when propaganda is addressed to a crowd, it must touch each individual in that crowd, in that whole group. To be effective, it must give the impression of being personal, for we must never forget that the mass is composed of individuals, and is in fact nothing but assembled individuals. Actually, just because men are in a group, and therefore weakened, receptive, and in a state of psychological regression, they pretend all the more to be "strong individuals." The mass man is clearly sub- human, but pretends to be superman. He is more suggestible, but insists he is more forceful; he is more unstable, but thinks he is firm in his convictions. If one openly treats the mass as a mass, the individuals who form it will feel themselves belittled and will refuse to participate. If one treats these individuals as children (and they are children because they are in a group), they will not accept their leader's projections or identify with him. They will withdraw and we will not be qble to get anything out of them. On the contrary, each one must feel individualized, each must have the impression that he is being looked at, that he is being addressed personally. Only then will he respond and cease to be anonymous (although in reality remaining anonymous).
Thus all modern propaganda profits from the structure of the mass, but exploits the individual's need for self-affirmation; and the two actions must be conducted jointly, simultaneously. Of course this operation is greatly facilitated by the existence of the modern mass media of communication, which have precisely this remarkable effect of reaching the whole crowd all at once, and yet reaching each one in that crowd. Readers of the evening paper, radio listeners, movie or TV viewers certainly constitute a mass that has an organic existence, although it is diffused and not assembled at one point. These individuals are moved by the same motives, receive the same impulses and impressions, find themselves focused on the same centers of interest, experience the same feelings, have generally the same order of reactions and ideas, participate in the same myths -- and all this at the same time what we have here is really a psychological, if not a biological mass. And the individuals in it are modified by this existence, even if they do not know it. Yet each one is alone -- the newspaper reader, the radio listener. He therefore feels himself individually concerned as a person, as a participant. The movie spectator also is alone; though elbow to elbow with his neighbors, he still is, because of the darkness and the hypnotic attraction of the screen, perfectly alone. This is the situation of the "lonely crowd," or of isolation in the mass, which is a natural product of present- day society and which is both used and deepened by the mass media. The most favorable moment to seize a man and influence him is when he is alone in the mass it is at this point that propaganda can be most effective.
We must emphasize this circle which we shall meet again and again the structure of present-day society places the individual where he is most easily reached by propaganda. The media of mass communication, which are part of the technical evolution of this society, deepen this situation while making it possible to reach the individual man, integrated in the mass; and what these media do is exactly what propaganda must do in order to attain its objectives. In reality propaganda cannot exist without using these mass media. If, by chance, propaganda is addressed to an organized group, it can have practically no effect on individuals before that group has been fragmented. Such fragmentation can be achieved through action, but it is equally possible to fragment a group by psychological means. The transformation of very small groups by purely psychological means is one of the most important techniques of propaganda. Only when very small groups are thus annihilated, when the individual finds no more defenses, no equilibrium, no resistance exercised by the group to which he belongs, does total action by propaganda become possible.
We now come to an absolutely decisive fact. Propaganda is very frequently described as a manipulation for the purpose of changing ideas or opinions, of making individuals "believe" some idea or fact, and finally of making them adhere to some doctrineall matters of mind. Or, to put it differently, propaganda is described as dealing with beliefs or ideas. If the individual is a Marxist, it tries to destroy his conviction and turn him into an anti-Marxist, and so on. It calls on all the psychological mechanisms, but appeals to reason as well. It tries to convince, to bring about a decision, to create a firm adherence to some truth. Then, obviously, if the conviction is sufficiently strong, after some soul searching, the individual is ready for action.
This line of reasoning is completely wrong. To view propaganda as still being what it was in 1850 is to cling to an obsolete concept of man and of the means to influence him; it is to condemn oneself to understand nothing about modern propaganda. The aim of modern propaganda is no longer to modify ideas, but to provoke action. It is no longer to change adherence to a doctrine, but to make the individual cling irrationally to a process of action. It is no longer to lead to a choice, but to loosen the reflexes. It is no longer to transform an opinion, but to arouse an active and mythical belief.
Let us note here in passing how badly equipped opinion surveys are to gauge propaganda. We will have to come back to this point in the study of propaganda effects. Simply to ask an individual if he believes this or that, or if he has this or that idea, gives absolutely no indication of what behavior he will adopt or what action he will take; only action is of concern to modern propaganda, for its aim is to precipitate an individual's action, with maximum effectiveness and economy. The propagandist therefore does not normally address himself to the individual's intelligence, for the process of intellectual persuasion is long and uncertain, and the road from such intellectual conviction to action even more so. The individual rarely acts purely on the basis of an idea. Moreover, to place propaganda efforts on the intellectual level would require that me propagandist engage in individual debate with each person-an unthinkable method. It is necessary to obtain at least a minimum of participation from everybody. It can be active or passive, but in any case it is not simply a matter of public opinion. To see propaganda only as something related to public opinion implies a great intellectual independence on the part of the propagandee, who is, after all, only a third party in any political action, and who is asked only one opinion. This obviously coincides with a conception of liberal democracy, which assumes that the most one can do with a citizen is to change his opinion in such fashion as to win his vote at election time. The concept of a close relationship between public opinion and propaganda rests on the presumption of an independent popular will. If this concept were right, the role of propaganda would be to modify that popular will which, of course, expresses itself in votes. But what this concept does not take into consideration is that the injection of propaganda into the mechanism of popular action actually suppresses liberal democracy, after which we are no longer dealing with votes or the people's sovereignty; propaganda therefore aims solely at participation. The participation may be active or passive active, if propaganda has been able to mobilize the individual for action; passive, if the individual does not act directly but psychologically supports that action.
But one may ask, does this not bring us right back to public opinion? Certainly not, for opinion leaves the individual a mere spectator who may eventually, but not necessarily, resort to action. Therefore, the idea of participation is much stronger. The supporter of a football team, though not physically in the game, makes his presence felt psychologically by rooting for the players, exciting them, and pushing them to outdo themselves. Similarly the faithful who attend Mass do not interfere physically, but their communicant participation is positive and changes the nature of the phenomenon. These two examples illustrate what we mean by passive participation obtained through propaganda.
Such an action cannot be obtained by the process of choice and deliberation. To be effective, propaganda must constantly short- circuit all thought and decision. It must operate on the individual at the level of the unconscious. He must not know that he is being shaped by outside forces (this is one of the conditions for the success of propaganda), but some central core in him must be reached in order to release the mechanism in the unconscious which will provide the appropriate -- and expected -- action.
We have just said that action exactly suited to its ends must be obtained. This leads us to state that if the classic but outmoded view of propaganda consists in defining it as an adherence of man to an orthodoxy, true modern propaganda seeks, on the contrary, to obtain an orthopraxy -- an action that in itself, and not because of the value judgments of the person who is acting, leads directly to a goal, which for the individual is not a conscious and intentional objective to be attained, but which is considered such by the propagandist. The propagandist knows what objective should be sought and what action should be accomplished, and he maneuvers the instrument that will secure precisely this action.
This is a particular example of a more general problem the separation of thought and action in our society. We are living in a time when systematically -- though without our wanting it so -- action and thought are being separated. In our society, he who thinks can no longer act for himself; he must act through the agency of others, and in many cases he cannot act at all. He who acts cannot first think out his action, either because of lack of time and the burden of his personal problems, or became society's plan demands that he translate others' thoughts into action. And we see the same division within the individual himself. For he can use his mind only outside the area of his job -- in order to find himself, to use his leisure to better himself, to discover what best suits him, and thus to individualize himself; whereas in the context of his work he yields to the common necessity, the common method, the need to incorporate his own work into the overall plan. Escape into dreams is suggested to him while he performs wholly mechanized actions.
Propaganda creates the same division. Of course it does not cancel out personality; it leaves man complete freedom of thought, except in his political or social action where we find him channeled and engaged in actions that do not necessarily conform to his private beliefs. He even can have political convictions, and still be led to act in a manner apparently contradictory to them. Thus the twists and turns of skillful propaganda do not present insurmount- able difficulties. The propagandist can mobilize man for action that is not in accord with his previous convictions. Modern psychologists are well aware that there is not necessarily any continuity between conviction and action -- and no intrinsic rationality in opinions or acts. Into these gaps in continuity propaganda inserts its lever. It does not seek to create wise or reasonable men, but proselytes and militants.
This brings us back to the question of organization. For the proselyte incited to action by propaganda cannot be left alone, cannot be entrusted to himself. If the action obtained by propaganda is to be appropriate, it cannot be individual; it must be collective. Propaganda has meaning only when it obtains convergence, coexistence of a multiplicity of individual action- reflexes whose coordination can be achieved only through the intermediary of an organization.
Moreover, the action-reflex obtained by propaganda is only a beginning, a point of departure; it will develop harmoniously only if there is an organization in which (and thanks to which) the proselyte becomes militant. Without organization, psycho- logical incitement leads to excesses and deviation of action in the very course of its development. Through organization, the proselyte receives an overwhelming impulse that makes him act with the whole of his being. He is actually transformed into a religious man in the psycho-sociological sense of the term; justice enters into the action he performs because of the organization of which he is a part. Thus his action is integrated into a group of conforming actions. Not only does such integration seem to be the principal aim of all propaganda today; it is also what makes the effect of propaganda endure.
For action makes propaganda's effect irreversible. He who acts in obedience to propaganda can never go back. He is now obliged to believe in that propaganda because of his past action. He is obliged to receive from it his justification and authority, without which his action will seem to him absurd or unjust, which would be intolerable. He is obliged to continue to advance in the direction indicated by propaganda, for action demands more action. He is what one calls committed -- which is certainly what the Communist party anticipates, for example, and what the Nazis accomplished. The man who has acted in accordance with the existing propaganda has taken his place in society. From then on he has enemies. Often he has broken with his milieu or his family; he may be compromised. He is forced to accept the new milieu and the new friends that propaganda makes for him. Often be has committed an act reprehensible by traditional moral standards and has disturbed a certain order; he needs a justification for this -- and he gets more deeply involved by repeating the act in order to prove that it was just. Thus he is caught up in a movement that develops until it totally occupies the breadth of his conscience. Propaganda now masters him completely -- and we must bear in mind that any propaganda that does not lead to this kind of participation is mere child's play.
But we may properly ask how propaganda can achieve such a result, a type of reflex action, by short-circuiting the intellectual process. The claim that such results are indeed obtained by propaganda beget skepticism from the average observer, strenuous denial from the psychologist, and the accusation that this is mere fantasy contradicted by experience. Later, we shall examine the validity of experiments made by psychologists in these fields, and their adequacy in regard to the subject. For the moment we shall confine ourselves to stating that observation of men who were subjected to a real propaganda, Nazi or Communist, confirms the accuracy of the schema we have just drawn.
We must, however, qualify our statement. We do not say that any man can be made to obey any incitement to action in any way whatever from one day to the next. We do not say that in each individual prior elementary mechanisms exist on which it is easy to play and which will unfailingly produce a certain effect. We do not hold with a mechanistic view of man. But we must divide propaganda into two phases. There is pre-propaganda (or sub- propaganda) and there is active propaganda. This follows from what we have said earlier about the continuous and permanent nature of propaganda. Obviously, what must be continuous is not the active, intense propaganda of crisis but the sub-propaganda that aims at mobilizing individuals, or, in the etymological sense, to make them mobile and mobilizable in order to thrust them into action at the appropriate moment. It is obvious that we cannot simply throw a man into action without any preparation, without having mobilized him psychologically and made him responsive, not to mention physically ready.
The essential objective of pre-propaganda is to prepare man for a particular action, to make him sensitive to some influence, to get him into condition for the time when he will effectively, and without delay or hesitation, participate in an action. Seen from this angle, pre-propaganda does not have a precise ideological objective; it has nothing to do with an opinion, an idea, a doctrine. It proceeds by psychological manipulations, by character modifications, by the creation of feelings or stereotypes useful when the time comes. It must be continuous, slow, imperceptible. Man must be penetrated in order to shape such tendencies. He must be made to live in a certain psychological climate.
The two great routes that this sub-propaganda takes are the conditioned reflex and the myth. Propaganda tries first of all to create conditioned reflexes in the individual by training him so that certain words, signs, or symbols, even certain persons or facts, provoke unfailing reactions. Despite many protests from psychologists, creating such conditioned reflexes, collectively as well as individually, is definitely possible. But of course in order for such a procedure to succeed, a certain amount of time must elapse, a period of training and repetition. One cannot hope to obtain automatic reactions after only a few weeks' repetition of the same formulas. A real psychic re-formation must be undertaken, so that after months of patient work a crowd will react automatically in the hoped-for direction to some image. But this preparatory work is not yet propaganda, for it is not yet immediately applicable to a concrete case. What is visible in propaganda, what is spectacular and seems to us often incompre- hensible or unbelievable, is possible only because of such slow and not very explicit preparation; without it nothing would be possible.
On the other hand, the propagandist tries to create myths by which man will live, which respond to his sense of the sacred. By "myth" we mean an all-encompassing, activating image a sort of vision of desirable objectives that have lost their material, practical character and have become strongly colored, overwhelming, all-encompassing, and which displace from the conscious all that is not related to it. Such an image pushes man to action precisely because it includes all that he feels is good, just, and true. Without giving a metaphysical analysis of the myth, we will mention the great myths that have been created by various propagandas the myth of race, of the protelariat, of the Fuhrer, of Communist society, of productivity. Eventually the myth takes possession of a man's mind so completely that his life is consecrated to it. But that effect can be created only by slow, patient work by all the methods of propaganda, not by any immediate propaganda operation. Only when conditioned reflexes have been created in a man and he lives in a collective myth can he be readily mobilized.
Although the two methods of myth and conditioned reflex can be used in combination, each has separate advantages. The United States prefers to utilize the myth; the Soviet Union has for a long time preferred the reflex. The important thing is that when the time is ripe, the individual can be thrown into action by active propaganda, by the utilization of the psychological levers that have been set up, and by the evocation of the myth. No connection necessarily exists between his action and me reflex or the content of the myth. The action is not necessarily psycho- logically conditioned by some aspect of the myth. For the most surprising thing is that the preparatory work leads only to man's readiness. Once he is ready, he can be mobilized effectively in very different directions -- but of course the myth and the reflex must be continually rejuvenated and revived or they will atrophy. That is why pre-propaganda must be constant, whereas active propaganda can be sporadic when the goal is a particular action or involvement.
Knowledge of the Psychological Terrain
The power of propaganda to incite action has often been challenged by the alleged fact that propaganda cannot really modify or create anything in man. We frequently find that psychological manipulations do not appreciably change an individual's firmly established opinion. A Communist or a Christian with strong beliefs is very little, if at all, shaken by adverse propaganda. Similarly, a prejudice or a stereotype is hardly ever changed by propaganda; for example it is almost impossible to break down racial prejudice by propaganda. What people think of Negroes, Jews, bourgeois, or colonialists will be only slight1y altered by propaganda attempts. Similarly, a reflex or myth cannot be created out of nothing, as if the individual were neutral and empty ground on which anything could be built. Furthermore, even when the reflex has been created, it cannot be utilized to make an individual act in just any direction; the individual cannot be manipulated as if he were an object, an automaton -- the automatic nature of created reflexes does not transform him into a robot.
We can conclude from a large body of experience that the propagandist cannot go contrary to what is in an individual; he cannot create just any new psychological mechanism or obtain just any decision or action. But psychologists who make these observations draw a very hasty conclusion from them that propaganda has very little effect, that it has so limited a field of action that it hardly seems useful. We shall show later why we consider this conclusion incorrect. But the observations thernselves give us some very good indications as to what is effective propaganda.
Th propagandist must first of all know as precisely as possible the terrain on which he is operating. He must know the sentiments and opinions, the current tendencies and the stereotypes among the public he is trying to reach. An obvious point of departure is the analysis of the characteristics of the group and its current myths, opinions, and sociological structure. One cannot make just any propaganda any place for anybody. Methods and arguments must be tailored to the type of man to be reached. Propaganda is definitely not an arsenal of ready-made, valid techniques and arguments, suitable for use anywhere. Obvious errors in this direction have been made in the recent course of propaganda history. The technique of propaganda consists in precisely calculating the desired action in terms of the individual who is to be made to act.
The second conclusion seems to us embodied in the following rule: never make a direct attack on an established, reasoned, durable opinion or an accepted cliché, a fixed pattern. The propagandist wears hirnself out to no avail in such a contest. A propagandist who tries to change mass opinion on a precise and well-established point is a bad propagandist. But that does not mean that he must then leave things as they are and conclude that nothing can be done. He need only understand two subtle aspects of this problem.
First of all, we recall that there is not necessarily any continuity between opinion or fixed patterns and action. There is neither consistency nor logic, and a man can perfect1y well hold on to his property, his business, and his factory, and still vote Communist -- or he can be enthusiastic about social justice and peace as described by the Communists, and still vote for a conservative party. Attacking an established opinion or stereotype head on would make the propagandee aware of basic inconsistencies and would produce unexpected results. The skillful propagandist will seek to obtain action without demanding consistency, without fighting prejudices and images, by taking his stance deliberately on inconsistencies.
Second, the propagandist can alter opinions by diverting them from their accepted course by changing them, or by placing them in an ambiguous context. Starting from apparently fixed and immovable positions, we can lead a man where he does not want to go, without his being aware of it, over paths that he will not notice. In this way propaganda against German rearmament, organized by the "partisans of peace" and ultimately favorable to the Soviet Union, utilized the anti-German sentiment of the French Right.
Thus, existing opinion is not to be contradicted, but utilized. Each individual harbors a large number of stereotypes and established tendencies; from this arsenal the propagandist must select those easiest to mobilize, those which will give the greatest strength to the action he wants to precipitate. Writers who insist that propaganda against established opinion is ineffective would be right if man were a simple being, having only one opinion with fixed limits. This is rarely the case among those who have not yet been propagandized, although it is frequently the case among individuals who have been subjected to propaganda for a long time. But the ordinary man in our democracies has a wide range of feelings and ideas. Propaganda need only determine which opinions must not be attacked head on, and be content to undermine them gradually and to weaken them by cloaking them in ambiguity.
The third important conclusion, drawn from experiments made chiefly in the United States, is that propaganda cannot create something out of nothing. It must attach itself to a feeling, an idea; must build on a foundation already present in the individual. The conditioned reflex can be established only on an innate reflex or conditioned reflex. The myth does not expand helter-skelter; it must respond to a group of spontaneous beliefs. Action cannot be obtained unless it responds to a group of already established tendencies or attitudes stemming from the schools, the environment, the regime, the churches, and so on. Propaganda is confined to utilizing existing material; it does not create it.
This material falls into four categories. First there are the psychological "mechanisms" that permit the propagandist to know more or less precisely respond in a certain way to a certain stimulus. Here the psychologists are far from agreement; behaviorism, depth psychology, and the psychology of instincts postulate very different psychic mechanisms and see essentially different connections and motivations. Here the propagandist is at the mercy of these interpretations. Second, opinions, conventional patterns and stereotypes exist concretely in a particular milieu or individual. Third, ideologies exist which are more or less consciously shared, accepted, and disseminated, and which form only the intellectual, or rather para-intellectual, element that must be reckoned within propaganda.
Fourth and finally, the propagandist must concern himself above all with the needs of those whom he wishes to reach. All propaganda must respond to a need, whether it be a concrete need (bread, peace, security, work) or a psychological need. (We shall discuss this last point at length later on.) Propaganda cannot be gratuitous. The propagandist cannot simply decide to make propaganda in such and such a direction on this or that group. The group must need something, and the propaganda must respond to that need. (One weakness of tests made in the United States is that far too often the experimental propaganda used did not correspond to a single need of the persons tested.) A frequent error on the part of propagandists "pushing" something is the failure to take into account whether or not the propagandee needs it.
Of course, when we say that the propagandist has to use existing elements, we do not mean that he must use them in direct or unequivocal fashion. We have already indicated that he often must use them in indirect or equivocal fashion. When he does so, he can indeed create something new. The propagandist's need to base himself on what already exists does not prevent him from going further. If committed to a particular opinion, would he be obligated simply to repeat it indefinitely? Because he must pay lip service to a certain stereotype, is he limited to do nothing but reproduce that stereotype? Obviously not. What exists is only the raw material from which the propagandist can create something strictly new, which in all probability would not have sprung up spontaneously. Take, for example, unhappy workers, threatened by unemployment, exploited, poorly paid, and without hope of improving their situation. Karl Marx has clearly demonstrated that they might have a certain spontaneous reaction of revolt, and that some sporadic outbursts might occur, but that this will not develop into anything else and will lead nowhere. With propaganda, however, this same situation and the existing sentiments might be used to create a class-consciousness and a lasting and organized revolutionary trend.
Similarly, if we take a population, not necessarily of the same race or language or history, but inhabiting the same territory, oppressed by the same conqueror, feeling a common resentment or hatred toward the occupying force (a sentiment generally found at a purely individual level), and in the grip of the enemy administration, only a few individual acts of violence will occur spontaneously -- and more often nothing at all. But propaganda can "take it from there" and arouse a nationalism, the foundations of which are perfectly natural but which as an integrated force is entirely fabricated. This is true for Algerian, Yugoslavian, or African nationalism.
In this way propaganda can be creative. And it is in complete control of its creations; the passions or prejudices that it instills in a man serve to strengthen its hold on him and thus make him do what he would never have done otherwise. It is not true that propaganda is powerless simply because at the start it is limited to what already exists.
It can attack from the rear, wear down slowly, provide new centers of interest, which cause the neglect of previously acquired positions; it can divert a prejudice; or it can elicit an action contrary to an opinion held by the individual, without his being clearly aware of it.
Finally, it is obvious that propaganda must not concern itself with what is best in man -- the highest goals humanity sets for itself, its noblest and most precious feelings. Propaganda does not aim to elevate man, but to make him serve. It must therefore utilize the most common feelings, the most widespread ideas, the crudest patterns, and in so doing place itself on a very low level with regard to what it wants man to do and to what end. Hate, hunger, and pride make better levers of propaganda than do love or impartiality.
Fundamental Currents in Society
Propaganda must not only attach itself to what already exists in the individual, but also express the fundamental currents of the society it seeks to influence. Propaganda must be familiar with collective sociological presuppositions, spontaneous myths, and broad ideologies. By this we do not mean political currents or temporary opinions that will change in a few months, but the fundamental psycho-sociological bases on which a whole society rests, the presuppositions and myths not just of individuals or of particular groups but those shared by all individuals in a society, including men of opposite political inclinations and class loyalties.
A propaganda pitting itself against this fundamental and accepted structure would have no chance of success. Rather, all effective propaganda is based on these fundamental currents and expresses them. Only if it rests on the proper collective beliefs will it be understood and accepted. It is part of a complex of civilization, consisting of material elements, beliefs, ideas, and institutions, and it cannot be separated from them. No propaganda could succeed by going against these structural elements of society. But propaganda's main task clearly is the psychological reflection of these structures.
It seems to us that this reflection is found in two essential forms the collective sociological presuppositions and the social myths. By presuppositions we mean a collection of feelings, beliefs, and images by which one unconsciously judges events and things without questioning them, or even noticing them. This collection is shared by all who belong to the same society or group. It draws As strength from the fact that it rests on general tacit agreement. Whatever the differences of opinion are among people, one can discover beneath the differences the same beliefs -- in Americans and in Russians, in Communists and in Christians. These presuppositions are sociological in that they are provided for us by the surrounding milieu and carry us along in the sociological current. They are what keeps us in harmony with our environment.
It seems to us that there are four great collective sociological presuppositions in the modern world. By this we mean not only the Western world, but all the world that shares a modern technology and is structured into nations, including the Communist world, though not yet the African or Asian worlds. These common presuppositions of bourgeois and proletarian are that man's aim in life is happiness, that man is naturally good, that history develops in endless progress, and that everything is matter.
The other great psychological reflection of social reality is the myth. The myth expresses the deep inclinations of a society. Without it, the masses would not cling to a certain civilization or its process of development and crisis. It is a vigorous impulse, strongly colored, irrational, and charged with all of man's power to believe. It contains a religious element. In our society the two great fundamental myths on which all other myths rest are Science and History. And based on them are the collective myths that are man's principal orientations the myth of Work, the myth of Happiness (which is not the same thing as the presupposition of happiness), the myth of the Nation, the myth of Youth, the myth of the Hero.
Propaganda is forced to build on these presuppositions and to express these myths, for without them nobody would listen to it. And in so building it must always go in the same direction as society; it can only reinforce society. A propaganda that stresses virtue over happiness and presents man's future as one dominated by austerity and contemplation would have no audience at all. A propaganda that questions progress or work would arouse disdain and reach nobody; it would immediately be branded as an ideology of the intellectuals, since most people feel that the serious things are material things because they are related to labor, and so on.
It is remarkable how the various presuppositions and aspects of myths complement each other, support each other, mutually defend each other If the propagandist attacks the network at one point, all myths react to the attack. Propaganda must be based on current beliefs and symbols to reach man and win him over. On the other hand, propaganda must also follow the general direction of evolution, which includes the belief in progress. A normal, spontaneous evolution is more or less expected, even if man is completely unaware of it, and in order to succeed, propaganda must move in the direction of that evolution.
The progress of technology is continuous; propaganda must voice this reality, which is one of man's convictions. All propaganda must play on the fact that the nation will be industrialized, more will be produced, greater progress is imminent, and so on. No propaganda can succeed if it defends outdated production methods or obsolete social or administrative institutions. Though occasionally advertising may profitably evoke the good old days, political propaganda may not. Rather, it must evoke the future, the tomorrows that beckon, precisely because such visions impel the individual to act. Propaganda is carried along on this current and cannot oppose it; it must confirm it and reinforce it. Thus, propaganda will turn a normal feeling of patriotism into a raging nationalism. It not only reflects myths and presuppositions, it hardens them, sharpens them, invests them with the power of shock and action.
It is virtually impossible to reverse this trend. In a country in which administrative centralization does not yet exist, one can propagandize for centralization because modern man firmly believes in the strength of a centrally administered State. But where centralization does exist, no propaganda can be made against it. Federalist propaganda (true federalism, which is opposed to national centralism; not such supernationalism as the so-called Soviet or European federalism) can never succeed because it is a challenge to both the national myth and the myth of progress; every reduction, whether to a work unit or an administrative unit, is seen as regression.
Of course, when we analyze this necessary subordination of propaganda to presuppositions and myths, we do not mean that propaganda must express them clearly all the time; it need not speak constantly of progress and happiness (although these are always profitable themes), but in its general line and its infrastructure it must allow for the same presuppositions and follow the same myths as those prevalent in its audience. There is some tacit agreement for example, a speaker does not have to say that he believes "man is good" this is clear from his behavior, language, and attitudes, and each man unconsciously feels that the others share the same presuppositions and myths. It is the same with propaganda a person listens to a particular propaganda because it reflects his deepest unconscious convictions without expressing them directly. Similarly, because of the myth of progress, it is much easier to sell a man an electric razor than a straight edged one.
Finally, alongside the fundamental currents reflected in presuppositions and myths, we must consider two other elements. Obviously the material character of a society and its evolution, its fundamental sociological currents, are linked to its very structure. Propaganda must operate in line with those material currents and at the level of material progress. It must be associated with all economic, administrative, political, and educational development, otherwise it is nothing. It must also reflect local and national idiosyncrasies. Thus, in France, the general trend toward socialization can be neither overridden nor questioned. The political Left is respectable; the Right has to justify itself before the ideology of the Left (in which even Rightists participate). All propaganda in France must contain -- and evoke -- the principal elements of the ideology of the Left in order to be accepted.
But a conflict is possible between a local milieu and the national society. The tendencies of the group may be contrary to those of the broader society; in that case one cannot lay down general rules. Sometimes the tendencies of the local group win out because of the group's solidarity; sometimes the general society wins out because it represents the mass and, therefore, unanimity. In any case, propaganda must always choose the trend that normally will triumph because it agrees with the great myths of the time, common to all men. The Negro problem in the American South is typical of this sort of conflict. The local Southern milieu is hostile to Negroes and favorable to discrimination, whereas American society as a whole is hostile to racism. It is almost certain, therefore, despite the deep- rooted prejudices and the local solidarities, that racism will be overcome. The Southerners are on the defensive; they have no springboard for external propaganda -- for example, toward the European nations. Propaganda can go only in the direction of world opinion -- that of Asia, Africa, almost all of Europe. Above all, when it is anti-racist, it is helped along by the myth of progress.
It follows that propaganda cannot be applied everywhere alike, and that -- at least up to now -- propaganda in both Africa and Asia must be essentially different from propaganda in the rest of the world. We stress "at least up to now" because those countries are being progressively won over by Western myths and are developing national and technological forms of society. But for the moment these myths are not yet everyday reality, flesh and blood, spiritual bread, sacred inheritance, as they are with us. To sum up, propaganda must express the fundamental currents of society.
Propaganda in its explicit form must relate solely to what is timely. Man can be captured and mobilized only if there is consonance between his own deep social beliefs and those underlying the propaganda directed at him, and he will be aroused and moved to action only if the propaganda pushes him toward a timely action. These two elements are not contradictory but complementary, for the only interesting and enticing news is that which presents a timely, spectacular aspect of society's profound reality. A man will become excited over a new automobile because it is immediate evidence of his deep belief in progress and technology. Between news that can be utilized by propaganda and fundamental currents of society the same relationship exists as between waves and the sea. The waves exist only because the underlying mass supports them; without it there would be nothing. But man sees only the waves; they are what attracts, entices, and fascinates him. Through them he grasps the grandeur and majesty of the sea, though this grandeur exists only in the immense mass of water. Similarly, propaganda can have solid reality and power over man only because of its rapport with fundamental currents, but it has seductive excitement and a capacity to move him only by its ties to the most volatile immediacy. And the timely event that man considers worth retaining, preserving, and disseminating is always an event related to the expression of the myths and presuppositions of a given time and place.
Besides, the public is sensitive only to contemporary events. They alone concern and challenge it. Obviously, propaganda can succeed only when man feels challenged. It can have no influence when the individual is stabilized, relaxing in his slippers in the midst of total security. Neither past events nor great metaphysical problems challenge the average individual, the ordinary man of our times. He is not sensitive to what is tragic in life; he is not anguished by a question that God might put to him; he does not feel challenged except by current events, political or economic. Therefore, propaganda must start with current events; it would not reach anybody if it were to base itself on historical facts. We have seen Vichy propaganda fail when it tried to evoke the images of Napoleon and Joan of Arc in hopes of arousing the French to turn against England. Even facts so basic and deeply rooted in the French consciousness are not a good springboard for propaganda; they pass quickly into the realm of history, and consequently into neutrality and indifference A survey made in May 1959 showed that among French boys of fourteen and fifteen, 70 percent had no idea who Hitler and Mussolini were, 80 percent had forgotten the Russians in the list of victors of 1945, and not a single one recognized the words Danzig or Munich as having figured in relatively recent events.
We must also bear in mind that the individual is at the mercy of events. Hardly has an event taken place before it is outdated; even if its significance is still considerable, it is no longer of interest and if man experiences the feeling of having escaped it, he is no longer concerned. In addition, he obviously has a very limited capacity for attention and awareness; one event pushes the preceding one into oblivion. And as man's memory is short, the event that has been supplanted by another is forgotten; it no longer exists; nobody is interested in it any more. In November 1957, a Bordeaux association organized a lecture on the atomic bomb by a well-known specialist; the lecture would surely have been of great interest (and not for propaganda purposes). A wide distribution of leaflets had announced it to the student public, but not a single student came. Why? Because this happened at exactly the same time as Sputnik's success, and the public was concerned only with this single piece of news; its sole interest was in Sputnik, and the permanent problem was forgotten.
Actually, the public is prodigiously sensitive to current news. Its attention is focused immediately on any spectacular event that fits in with its myths. At the same time, the public will fix its interest and its passion on one point, to the exclusion of all the rest. Besides, people have already become accustomed to, and have accommodated themselves to "the rest" (yesterday's news or that of the day before yesterday). We are dealing here not just with forgetfulness, but also with plain loss of interest.
A good example is Khrushchev's ultimatum at the beginning of 1959, when he set a time limit of three months to solve the Berlin problem. Two weeks passed; no war broke out. Even though the same problem remained, public opinion grew accustomed to it and lost interest -- so much so, that on the expiration date of Khrushchev's ultimatum (27 May 1959), people were surprised when they were reminded of it. Khrushchev himself said nothing on May 27; not having obtained anything, he simply counted on the fact that everyone had "forgotten" his ultimatum -- which shows what a subtle propagandist he is. It is impossible to base a propaganda campaign on an event that no longer worries the public; it is forgotten and the public has grown accustomed to it. On November 30, 1957, the Communist states met and signed an agreement concerning several political problems and the problem of peace; its text was truly remarkable, one of the best that has been drawn up. But nobody discussed this important matter. The progressives were not troubled by it; the partisans of peace did not say one word -- though in itself, objectively, the text was excellent. But everything it contained was "old hat" to the public; and the public could not get interested all over again in an outdated theme when it was not uneasy over a specific threat of war.
It would appear that propaganda for peace can bear fruit only when there is fear of war. The particular skill of Communist propaganda in this area is that it creates a threat of war while conducting peace propaganda. The constant threat of war, arising from Stalin's posture, made the propaganda of the partisans for peace effective and led non-Communists to attach themselves to the fringe of the party via that propaganda. But in 1957, when the threat of war seemed much less real, because Khrushchev had succeeded Stalin, such propaganda had no hold at all on the public. The news about Hungary seemed far more important to the Western world than the general problem of world peace. These various elements explain why the well-written text on the problem of peace fell flat, though it would have aroused considerable attention at some other time. Once again we note that propaganda should be continuous, should never relax, and must vary its themes with the tide of events.
The terms, the words, the subjects that propaganda utilizes must have in themselves the power to break the barrier of the individual's indifference. They must penetrate like bullets; they must spontaneously evoke a set of images and have a certain grandeur of their own. To circulate outdated words or pick new ones that can penetrate only by force is unavailing, for timeliness furnishes the "operational words" with their explosive and affective power. Part of the power of propaganda is due to its use of the mass media, but this power will be dissipated if propaganda relies on operational words that have lost their force. In Western Europe, the word Bolshevik in 1925, the word Fascist in 1936, the word Collaborator in 1944, the word Peace in 1948, the word Integration in 1958, were all strong operational terms; they lost their shock value when their immediacy passed.
To the extent that propaganda is based on current news, it cannot permit time for thought or reflection. A man caught up in the news must remain on the surface of the event; be is carried along in the current, and can at no time take a respite to judge and appreciate; he can never stop to reflect. There is never any awareness -- of himself, of his condition, of his society -- for the man who lives by current events.
Such a man never stops to investigate any one point, any more than he will tie together a series of news events. We already have mentioned man's inability to consider several facts or events simultaneously and to make a synthesis of them in order to face or to oppose them. One thought drives away another; old facts are chased by new ones. Under these conditions there can be no thought. And, in fact, modern man does not think about current problems; he feels them. He reacts, but be does not understand them any more than he takes responsibility for them. He is even less capable of spotting any inconsistency between successive facts; man's capacity to forget is unlimited. This is one of the most important and useful points for the propagandist, who can always be sure that a particular propaganda theme, statement, or event will be forgotten within a few weeks. Moreover, there is a spontaneous defensive reaction in the individual against an excess of information and -- to the extent that he clings (unconsciously) to the unity of his own person -- against inconsistencies. The best defense here is to forget the preceding event. In so doing, man denies his own continuity; to the same extent that he lives on the surface of events and makes today's events his life by obliterating yesterday's news, he refuses to see the contradictions in his own life and condemns himself to a life of successive moments, discontinuous and fragmented.
This situation makes the "current-events man" a ready target for propaganda. Indeed, such a man is highly sensitive to the influence of present-day currents; lacking landmarks, he follows all currents. He is unstable because he runs after what happened today; he relates to the event, and therefore cannot resist any impulse coming from that event. Because he is immersed in current affairs, this man has a psychological weakness that puts him at the mercy of the propagandist. No confrontation ever occurs between the event and the truth; no relationship ever exists between the event and the person. Real information never concerns such a person. What could be more striking, more distressing, more decisive than the splitting of the atom, apart from the bomb itself? And yet this great development is kept in the background, behind the fleeting and spectacular result of some catastrophe or sports event because that is the superficial news the average man wants. Propaganda addresses itself to that man; like him, it can relate only to the most superficial aspect of a spectacular event, which alone can interest man and lead him to make a certain decision or adopt a certain attitude.
But here we must make an important qualification. The news event may be a real fact, existing objectively, or it may be only an item of information, the dissemination of a supposed fact. What makes it news is its dissemination, not its objective reality. The problem of Berlin is a constant one, and for that reason it does not interest the public; it is not news. But when Khrushchev decrees that the problem is dramatic, that it merits the risk of war, that it must be solved immediately, and when he demands that the West yield, then (though there is objectively nothing new in Berlin), the question becomes news -- only to disappear as soon as Khrushchev stops waving the threat. Remember that when this happened in 1961, it was for the fourth time.
The same thing occurred with Soviet agitation about supposed Turkish aggression plans in November 1957. An editorial in Le Monde on this subject contained a remark essentially as follows "If the events of recent days can teach us a lesson, it is that we must not attach too much importance to the anxieties created by the proclamations of the Soviets. The supposed bacteriological warfare, among other examples, has shown that they are capable of carrying on a full campaign of agitation, of accusing others of the worst intentions and crimes, and of decreeing one fine day that the danger has passed, only to revive it several days or months later.
We shall examine elsewhere the problem of "fact" in the context of propaganda. But here we must emphasize that the current news to which a man is sensitive, in which he places himself, need have no objective or effective origins; in one way this greatly facilitates the work of propaganda. For propaganda can suggest, in the context of news, a group of "facts" which becomes actuality for a man who feels personally concerned. Propaganda can then exploit his concern for its own purposes.
Propaganda and the Undecided
All of the foregoing can be clarified by a brief examination of a question familiar to political scientists, that of the Undecided -- those people whose opinions are vague, who form the great mass of citizens, and who constitute the [ ] for the propagandist. The Undecided are not the Indifferent -- those who say they are apolitical, or without opinion and who constitute no more than 10 percent of the population. The Undecided, far from being outside the group, are participants in the life of the group, but do not know what decision to make on problems that seem urgent to them. They are susceptible to the control of public opinion or attitudes, and the role of propaganda is to bring them under this control, transforming their potential into real effect. But that is possible only if an undecided man is "concerned" about the group he lives in. How is this revealed? What is the true situation of the Undecided?
One strong factor here is the individual's degree of integration in the collective life. Propaganda can play only on individuals more or less intensely involved in social currents. The isolated mountaineer or forester, having only occasional contact with society at the village market, is hardly sensitive to propaganda. For him it does not even exist. He will begin to notice it only when a strict regulation imposed on his activities changes his way of life, or when economic problems prevent him from selling his products in the usual way. This clash with society may open the doors to propaganda, but it will soon lose its effect again in the silence of the mountain or the forest.
Conversely, propaganda acts on the person embroiled in the conflicts of his time, who shares the "foci of interest" of his society. If I read a good newspaper advertisement for a particular automobile, I will not have the slightest interest in it if I am indifferent to automobiles. This advertisement can affect me only to the extent that I share, with my contemporaries, the mania for automobiles. A prior general interest must exist for propaganda to be effective. Propaganda is effective not when based on an individual prejudice, but when based on a collective center of interest, shared by the crowds.
That is why religious propaganda, for example, is not very successful; society as a whole is no longer interested in religious problems. At Byzantium, crowds fought in the streets over theological questions, so that in those days religious propaganda made sense. At present, only isolated individuals are interested in religion. It is part of their private opinions, and no real public opinion exists on this subject. On the other hand, propaganda related to technology is sure to arouse response, for everybody is as passionately interested in technology as in politics. Only within the limits of collective foci of interest can propaganda be effective.
We are not dealing here with prejudices or stereotypes, which imply minds that are already made up; we are dealing with foci of interest, where minds are not necessarily made up as yet. For example, politics is presently a focus of interest; it was not so in the twelfth century. The prejudices of the Right or the Left come later; that is already more individual, whereas the focus of interest on politics as such is truly collective. (Not individual prejudices, but the collective shared foci of interest are the best fields of action for propaganda.) Prejudices and stereotypes can be the result of a person's background, stemming from his education, work, environment, and so on; but the foci of interest are truly produced by the whole of society. Why is modern man obsessed with technology? One can answer that question only by an analysis of present-day society as a whole. This goes for all the centers of interest of contemporary man. It should be noted, incidentally, that these centers of interest are becoming more alike in all parts of the world. Thus a focus of political interest is developing among the Asian peoples, the Moslems, and the Africans. This expansion of interest inevitably entails a simultaneous expansion of propaganda, which may not be identical in all countries, but which will be able to operate in the same basic patterns and be related to the same centers of interest everywhere.
We now take up another basic trait of the social psychology of propaganda: the more intense the life of a group to which an individual belongs, the more active and effective propaganda is. A group in which feelings of belonging are weak, in which common objectives are imprecise or the structure is in the process of changing, in which conflicts are rare, and which is not tied to a collective focus of interest, cannot make valid propaganda either to its members or to those outside. But where the vitality of a group finds expression in the forms mentioned, it not only can make effective propaganda but also can make its members increasingly sensitive to propaganda in general. The more active and alive a group, the more its members will listen to propaganda and believe it.
But this holds true only for propaganda by the group itself toward its members. If we go a bit further, we meet the connected but more general problem of the intensity of collective life. Vigorous groups can definitely have a collective life of little intensity; conversely, weak groups can have an intense collective life. Historically we can observe that an intense collective life develops even while a society is disintegrating -- as in the Roman Empire about the fourth century, in Germany at the time of the Weimar Republic, or in France today. Whether or not this collective life is wholesome matters little. What counts for propaganda is the intensity of that life, whatever its sources. In a trend toward social disintegration, this intensity predisposes individuals to accept propaganda without determining its meaning in advance. Such individuals are not prepared to accept this or that orientation, but they are more easily subjected to psychological pressure.
Furthermore, it matters little whether the intensity of such collective life is spontaneous or artificial. It can result from a striving, a restlessness, or a conviction deriving directly from social or political conditions, as in France in 1848, or in the medieval city-states, It can result from manipulation of the group, as in Fascist Italy or Nazi Germany. In all such cases the result is the same: the individual who is part of an intense collective life is prone to submit to the influence of propaganda. An anyone who succeeds in keeping aloof from the intense collective life is generally outside the influence of propaganda, because of his ability to escape that intensity.
Of course, the intensity is connected with the centers of interest; it is not an unformed or indeterminate current without direction. It is not just a haphazard explosion. Rather, it is a force for which the focus of interest is the compass needle. Social relations in the group are often very active because of its focus of interest -- for example, the interest in politics invigorated social relations in all Europe during the nineteenth century. In any case, intensity will be greatest around such an interest. For example, an important center of interest today is one's profession; an individual who cares little for the social life of his group, his family life, or books reacts vigorously on the subject of his profession. And his reaction is not individual; it is the result of his participation in the group.
Thus we can present the following three principles
(1) The propagandist must place his propaganda inside the limits of the foci of interest.
(2) The propagandist must understand that his propaganda has the greatest chance where the collective life of the individuals he seeks to influence is most intense.
(3) The propagandist must remember that collective life is most intense where it revolves arround a focus of interest.
On the basis of these principles the propagandist can reach the Undecided and act on the majority of 93 percent; and only in connection with this mass of Undecided can one truly speak of ambiguity, majority effect, tension, frustration, and so on.
Propaganda and Truth
We have not yet considered a problem, familiar but too often ignored -- the relationship between propaganda and truth or, rather, between propaganda and accuracy of facts. We shall speak henceforth of accuracy or reality, and not of "truth," which is an inappropriate term here.
The most generally held concept of propaganda is that it is a series of tall stories, a tissue of lies, and that lies are necessary for effective propaganda. Hitler himself apparently confirmed this point of view when he said that the bigger the lie, the more its chance of being believed. This concept leads to two attitudes among the public. The first is "Of course we shall not be victims of propaganda because we are capable of distinguishing truth from falsehood." Anyone holding that conviction is extremely susceptible to propaganda, because when propaganda does tell the "truth," he is then convinced that it is no longer propaganda; moreover, his self-confidence makes him all the more vulnerable to attacks of which he is unaware.
The second attitude is "We believe nothing that the enemy says because everything he says is necessarily untrue." But if the enemy can demonstrate that he has told the truth, a sudden turn in his favor will result. Much of the success of Communist propaganda in 1945-48 stemmed from the fact that as long as Communism was presented as the enemy, both in the Balkans and in the West, everything the Soviet Union said about its economic progress or its military strength was declared false. But after 1943, the visible military and economic strength of the Soviet Union led to a complete turnabout "What the Soviet Union said in 1937 was true; therefore it always speaks the truth."
The idea that propaganda consists of lies (which makes it harmless and even a little ridiculous in the eyes of the public) is still maintained by some specialists; for example, Frederick C. Irion gives it as the basic trait in his definition of propaganda. But it is certainly not so. For a long time propagandists have recognized that lying must be avoided. "In propaganda, truth pays off" -- this formula has been increasingly accepted. Lenin proclaimed it. And alongside Hitler's statement on lying one must place Goebbels' insistence that facts to be disseminated must be accurate. How can we explain this contradiction? It seems that in propaganda we must make a radical distinction between a fact on the one hand and intentions or interpretations on the other; in brief, between the material and moral elements. The truth that pays off is in the realm of facts. The necessary falsehoods, which also pay off, are in the realm of intentions and interpretations. This is a fundamental rule for propaganda analysis.
The Problem of Factuality.
It is well known that veracity and exactness are important elements in advertising. It is true that for a long time propaganda was made up of lies. In Falsehood in Wartime, Ponsonby said "When war is declared truth is the first victim. ... Falsehood is the most useful weapon in case of war." He revealed innumerable lies, deliberate or not, used during the war of 1914-18. Today, too, the propagandist may be a liar, he may invent stories about his adversaries, falsify statistics, create news, and so on. The public, however, is firmly convinced that such is always the case in propaganda; that propaganda is never true.
With regard to larger or more remote facts that cannot be the object of direct experience, one can say that accuracy is now generally respected in propaganda. One may concede, for example, that statistics given out by the Soviets or the Americans are accurate. There is little reason to falsify statistics. Similarly, there is no good reason to launch a propaganda campaign based on unbelievable or false facts. The best example of the latter was the Communist campaign on bacteriological warfare. Of course it was useful from certain points of view, and the true believers still believe what was said at the time. But among the Undecided it had a rather negative effect because of its extreme improbability and its contradictions. However, although many, especially in Western Europe, considered it a blunder, the campaign produced considerable credence in North Africa and India. Consequently, falsehood bearing on fact is neither entirely useless does not create problems. French propagandists also have discovered that truthfulness is effective, and that it is better to spread a piece of bad news oneself than to wait until it is revealed by others.
There remains the problem of Goebbels' reputation. He wore the title of Big Liar (bestowed by Anglo-Saxon propaganda) and yet he never stopped battling for propaganda to be as accurate as possible. He preferred being cynical and brutal to being caught in a lie. He used to say "Everybody must know what the situation is." He was always the first to announce disastrous events or difficult sitnations, without hiding anything. The result was a general belief, between 1939 and 1942, that German communiques not only were more concise, clearer, and less cluttered, but were more truthful than Allied communiques (American and neutral opinion) -- and, furthermore, that the Germans published all the news two or three days before the Allies. All this is so true that pinning the title of Big Liar on Goebbels must be considered quite a propaganda success. [ ] nor to be strictly avoided. Nevertheless, bear in mind that it is increasingly rare.
Three qualifications of this statement must be made. First of all, propaganda can effectively rest on a claim that some fact is untrue which may actually be true but is difficult to prove. Khrushchevv made a specialty of this kind of operation; he denounced lies on the part of his predecessors in order to give a ring of truth to his own pronouncements. Thus, when he called Malenkov an "inveterate liar" before the Central Committee of the Communist Party in December 1958 and declared that Malenkov's statistics were false, there was no reason to believe Khrushchev more than Malenkov. But the foray made sense. First of all, as Khrushchev was denouncing a lie, it seemed that he must therefore, be telling the truth. Secondly, by lowering the figures given by Malenkov, Khrushchev could show a much higher rise in production since 1952. If it is true that in 1958, 9.2 billion pounds of grain were produced, and if Malenkov's figure of 8 billion in 1952 was accurate, that meant a 15 percent increase in six years. If, however, the 1952 figure was Only 5.6 billion, as Khrushchev claimed, that meant an increase Of 75 percent -- a triumph. It seems more reasonable to consider Malenkov's figures accurate, rather than Khrushchev's -- until proved otherwise.
A second qualification obviously concerns the presentation of facts; when these are used by propaganda, one is asked to swallow the bald fact as accurate. Also, most of the time the fact is presented in such a fashion that the listener or reader cannot really understand it or draw any conclusions from it. For example, a figure may be given without reference to anything, without a correlation or a percentage or a ratio. One states that production has risen by 30 percent, without indicating the base year, or that the standard of living has risen by 15 percent, without indicating how it is calculated, or that such and such a movement has grown by so many people, without giving figures for previous years. The lack of coherence and cohesion of such data is entirely deliberate. Of course, starting with such data, it is not impossible to reconstruct the whole; with much patience, work, and research, one can bring order into such facts and relate them to each other. But that is a job for a specialist, and the results would not appear until long after the propaganda action had obtained its effect. Besides, they would be published as a technical study and be seen by only a handful of readers. Therefore, the publication of a true fact in its raw state is not dangerous.
When it would be dangerous to let a fact be known, the modern propagandist prefers to hide it, to say nothing rather than to lie. About one fifth of all press directives given by Goebbels between 1939 and 1944 were orders to keep silent on one subject or another. Soviet propaganda acts the same way. Well- known facts are simply made to disappear; occasionally they are discovered after much delay. The famous Khrushchevv report to the Twentieth Congress is an example the Communist press in France, Italy, and elsewhere simply did not speak of it for weeks. Similarly, the Egyptian people did not learn of the events in Hungary until May 1960; up to that time the Egyptian press had not said one word about them. Another example is Khrushchev's silence on the Chinese communes in his report to the Central Committee of the Communist Party in December 1958.
Silence is also one way to pervert known facts by modifying their context. There were admirable examples of this in the propaganda against Mendes-France. Propaganda said Mendes-France has abandoned Indochina, Mendes-France has abandoned Tunisia, Mendes-France has liquidated the French banks in India, and so on. Those were the plain facts. But there was complete silence on past policies in Indochina, past events in Morocco that had led to events in Tunisia, and agreements on Indian banks signed by the preceding government.
Finally, there is the use of accurate facts by propaganda. Based on them, the mechanism of suggestion can work best. Americans call this technique innuendo. Facts are treated in such a fashion that they draw their listener into an irresistible sociological current. The public is left to draw obvious conclusions from a cleverly presented truth, and the great majority comes to the same conclusions. To obtain this result, propaganda must be based on some truth that can be said in few words and is able to linger in the collective consciousness. In such cases the enemy cannot go against the tide, which he might do if the basis of the propaganda were a lie or the sort of truth requiring a proof to make it stick. On the contrary, the enemy now must provide proof, but it no longer changes the conclusions that the propagandee already has drawn from the suggestions.
Intentions and Interpretations.
This is the real realm of the lie; but it is exactly here that it cannot be detected. If one falsifies a fact, one may be confronted with unquestionable proof to the contrary. (To deny that torture was used in Algeria became increasingly difficult.) But no proof can be furnished where motivations or intentions are concerned or interpretation of a fact is involved. A fact has different significance, depending on whether it is a bourgeois economist or a Soviet economist, a liberal historian, a Christian historian, or a Marxist historian. The difference is even greater when a phenomenon created deliberately by propaganda is involved. How can one suspect a man who talks peace of having the opposite intent -- without incurring the wrath of public opinion? And if the same man starts a war, he can always say that the others forced it on him, that events proved stronger than his intentions. We forget that between 1936 and 1939 Hitler made many speeches about his desire for peace, for the peaceful settlement of all problems, for conferences. He never expressed an explicit desire for war. Naturally, he was arming because of "encirclement."
And, in fact, he did manage to get a declaration of war from France and England; so he was not the one who started the war.
Propaganda by its very nature is an enterprise for perverting the significance of events and of insinuating false intentions. There are two salient aspects of this fact. First of all, the propagandist must insist on the purity of his own intentions and, at the same time, hurl accusations at his enemy. But the accusation is never made haphazardly or groundlessly. The propagandist will not accuse the enemy of just any misdeed; he will accuse him of the very intention that he himself has and of trying to commit the very crime that he himself is about to commit. He who wants to provoke a war not only proclaims his own peaceful intentions but also accuses the other party of provocation. He who uses concentration camps accuses his neighbor of doing so. He who intends to establish a dictatorship always insists that his adversaries are bent on dictatorship. The accusation aimed at the other's intention clearly reveals the intention of the accuser. But the public cannot see this because the revelation is interwoven with facts.
The mechanism used here is to slip from the facts, which would demand factual judgment, to moral terrain and to ethical judgment. At the time of Suez the confusion of the two levels in Egyptian and progressivist propaganda was particularly successful -- Nasser's intentions were hidden behind the fully revealed intentions of the French and English governments. Such an example, among many others, permits the conclusion that even intelligent people can be made to swallow professed intentions by well-executed propaganda. The breadth of the Suez propaganda operation can be compared only with that which succeeded at the time of Munich, when there was the same inversion of the interpretation of facts. We also find exactly the same process in the propaganda of the F.L.N. in France and in that of Fidel Castro.
The second element of falsehood is that the propagandist naturally cannot reveal the true intentions of the principal for whom he acts -- government, party chief, general, company director. Propaganda never can reveal its true projects and plans or divulge government secrets. That would be to submit the projects to public discussion, to the scrutiny of public opinion, and thus to prevent their success. More serious, it would make the projects vulnerable to enemy action by forewarning him so that he could take all the proper precautions to make them fail. Propaganda must serve instead as a veil for such projects, masking true intentions. It must be in effect a smokescreen. Maneuvers take place behind protective screens of words on which public attention is fixed. Propaganda is necessarily a declaration one's intentions. It is a declaration of purity that will never be realized, a declaration of peace, of truth, of social justice. Of course, one must not be too precise at the top level, or promise short-term reforms, for it would be risky to invite a comparison between what was promised and what was done. Such comparison would be possible if propaganda operated in the realm of future fact. Therefore, it should be confined to intentions, to the moral realm, to values, to generalities. And if some angry man were to point out the contradictions, in the end his argument would carry no weight with the public.
Propaganda is necessarily false when it speaks of values, of truth, of good, of justice, of happiness -- and when it interprets and colors facts and imputes meaning to them. It is true when it serves up the plain fact, but does so only for the sake of establishing a pretense, and only as an example of the interpretation that it supports with that fact. When Khrushchev made his great claims in 1957, proving that the Soviet Union was catching up with the United States in the production of consumer goods, he cited several figures to prove that the growth of agricultural production over ten years showed such a trend. On the basis of these figures he concluded that in 1958 the Soviets would have as much butter as the United States (which even in 1959 was still not true); and that in 1960 they would have as much meat (in 1959 they were very far from it). And he provoked his audience to laughter by ridiculing his economists, who estimated that such levels would not be reached until 1975. At that moment he drew a veil over reality in the very act of interpreting it.
Lies about intentions and interpretations permit the integration of the diverse methods of propaganda. In fact Hitler's propaganda was able to make the lie a precise and systematic instrument, designed to transform certain values, to modify certain current concepts, to provoke psychological twists in the individual. The lie was the essential instrument for that, but this was not just a falsification of some figure or fact. As Hermann Rauschning shows, it was falsehood in depth. Stalinist propaganda was the same. On the other hand, American and Leninist propaganda seek the truth, but they resemble the preceding types of propaganda in that they provoke a general system of false claims. When the United States poses as the defender of liberty -- of all, everywhere and always -- it uses a system of false representation. When the Soviet Union poses as the defender of true democracy, it is also employing a system of false representation. But the lies are not always deliberately set up; they may be an expression of a belief, of good faith -- which leads to a lie regarding intentions because the belief is only a rationalization, a veil drawn deliberately over a reality one wishes not to see. Thus it is possible that when the United States makes its propaganda for freedom, it really thinks it is defending freedom; and that the Soviet Union, when presenting itself as the champion of democracy, really imagines itself to be a champion of democracy. But these beliefs lead definitely to false claims, due in part to propaganda itself. Certainly a part of the success of Communist propaganda against capitalism comes from the effective denunciation of capitalism's claims; the false "truth" of Communist propaganda consists in exposing the contradiction between the values stressed by the bourgeois society (the virtue of work, the family, liberty, political democracy) and the reality of that society (poverty, unemployment, and so on). These values are false because they are only claims of self-justification. But the Communist system expresses false claims of the same kind.
Propaganda feeds, develops, and spreads the system of false claims -- lies aimed at the complete transformation of minds, judgments, values, and actions (and constituting a frame of reference for systematic falsification). When the eyeglasses are out of focus, everything one sees through them is distorted. This was not always so in the past. The difference today lies in the voluntary and deliberate character of inaccurate representation circulated by propaganda. While we credit the United States and the Soviet Union with some good faith in their beliefs, as soon as a system of propaganda is organized around false claims, all good faith disappears, the entire operation becomes self-conscious, and the falsified values are recognized for what they are. The lie reveals itself to the liar. One cannot make propaganda in pretended good faith. Propaganda reveals our hoaxes even as it encloses and hardens us into this system of hoaxes from which we can no longer escape.
Having analyzed these traits, we can now advance a definition of propaganda -- not an exhaustive definition, unique and exclusive of all others, but at least a partial one Propaganda is a set of methods employed by an organized group to bring about the active or passive participation in its actions of a mass of individuals, psychologically unified through psychological manipulations and incorporated in an organization.
Under the influence of propaganda certain latent drives that are vague, unclear, and often without any particular objective suddenly become powerful, direct, and precise. Propaganda furnishes objectives, organizes the traits of an individual's personality into a system, and freezes them into a mold. For example, prejudices that exist about any event become greatly reinforced and hardened by propaganda; the individual is told that he is right in harboring them; he discovers reasons and justifications for a prejudice when it is clearly shared by many and proclaimed openly. Moreover, the stronger the conflicts in a society, the stronger the prejudices, and propaganda that intensifies conflicts simultaneously intensifies prejudices in this very fashion.
Once propaganda begins to utilize and direct an individual's hatreds, he no longer has any chance to retreat, to reduce his animosities, or to seek reconciliations with his opponents. Moreover, he now has a supply of ready-made judgments where he had only some vague notions before the propaganda set in; and those judgments permit him to face any situation. He will never again have reason to change judgments that he will thereafter consider the one and only truth.
In this fashion, propaganda standardizes current ideas, hardens prevailing stereotypes, and furnishes thought patterns in all areas. Thus it codifies social, political, and moral standards. Of course, man needs to establish such standards and categories. The difference is that propaganda gives an overwhelming force to the process man can no longer modify his judgments and thought patterns. This force springs, on the one band, from the character of the media employed, which give the appearance of objectivity to subjective impulses, and, on the other, from everybody's adherence to the same standards and prejudices.
At the same time, these collective beliefs, which the individual assumes to be his own, these scales of values and stereotypes, which play only a small part in the psychological life of a person unaffected by propaganda, become big and important; by the process of crystallization, these images begin to occupy a person's entire consciousness, and to push out other feelings and judgments. All truly personal activity on the part of the individual is diminished, and man finally is filled with nothing but these prejudices and beliefs around which all else revolves. In his personal life, man will eventually judge everything by such crystallized standards. To return to Stoetzel, public opinion within an individual grows as it becomes crystallized through the effects of propaganda while his private opinion decreases.
Another aspect of crystallization pertains to self-justification for which man has great need, as we have seen in the preceding chapter. To the extent that man needs justifications, propaganda provides them. But whereas his ordinary justifications are fragile and may always be open to doubts, those furnished by propaganda are irrefutable and solid. The individual believes them and considers them to be eternal truths. He can throw off all sense of guilt; he [loses] all feeling for the harm he might do, all sense of responsibility other than the responsibility propaganda instills in him. Thus he becomes perfectly adapted to objective situations and nothing can create a split within him.
Through such a process of intense rationalization, propaganda builds monolithic individuals. It eliminates inner conflicts, tensions, self-criticism, self-doubt. And in this fashion it also builds a one-dimensional being without depth or range of possibilities. Such an individual will have rationalizations not only for past actions, but for the future as well. He marches forward with full assurance of his righteousness. He is formidable in his equilibrium, all the more so because it is very difficult to break his harness of justifications. Experiments made with Nazi prisoners proved this point.
Tensions are always a threat to the individual, who tries everything to escape them because of his instinct of self- preservation. Ordinarily the individual will try to reduce his own tensions in his own way, but in our present society many of these tensions are produced by the general situation, and such tensions are less easily reduced. One might almost say that for collective problems only collective remedies suffice. Here propaganda renders spectacular service by making man live in a familiar climate of opinion and by manipulating his symbols, it reduces tensions. Propaganda eliminates one of the causes of tension by driving man straight into such a climate of opinion. This greatly simplifies his life and gives him stability, much security, and a certain satisfaction.
At the same time, this crystallization closes his mind to all new ideas. The individual now has a set of prejudices and beliefs, as well as objective justifications. His entire personality now revolves around those elements. Every new idea will therefore be troublesome to his entire being. He will defend himself against it because it threatens to destroy his certainties. He thus actually comes to hate everything opposed to what propaganda has made him acquire. Propaganda has created in him a system of opinions and tendencies which may not be subjected to criticism. That system leaves no room for ambiguity or mitigation of feelings; the individual has received irrational certainties from propaganda, and precisely because they are irrational, they seem to him part of his personality. He feels personally attacked when these certainties are attacked. There is a feeling here akin to that of something sacred. And a genuine taboo prevents the individual from entertaining any new ideas that might create ambiguity within him.
Incidentally, this refusal to listen to new ideas usually takes on an ironic aspect the man who has been successfully subjected to a vigorous propaganda will declare that all new ideas are propaganda. To the degree that all his stereotypes, prejudices, and justifications are the fruit of propaganda, man will be ready to consider all other ideas as being propaganda and to assert his distrust in propaganda. One can almost postulate that those who call every idea they do not share "propaganda" are themselves almost completely products of propaganda. Their refusal to examine and question ideas other than their own is characteristic of their condition.
One might go further and say that propaganda tends to give a person a religious personality his psychological life is organized around an irrational, external, and collective tenet that provides a scale of values, rules of behavior, and a principle of social integration. In a society in the process of secularization, propaganda responds to the religious need, but lends much more vigor and intransigence to the resulting religious personality, in the pejorative sense of that term (as liberals employed it in the nineteenth century) a limited and rigid personality that mechanically applies divine commandments, is incapable of engaging in human dialogue, and will never question values that it has placed above the individual. All this is produced by propaganda, which pretends to have lost none of its humanity, to act for the good of mankind, and to represent the highest type of human being. In this respect, strict orthodoxies always have been the same.
We may now ask If propaganda modifies psychological life in this fashion, will it not eventually lead to neurosis? Karen Horney deserves the credit for having shown that the neurotic personality is tied to a social structure and a culture (in the American sense of that term), and that certain neuroses share certain essential characteristics springing directly from the problems found in our society. In the face of problems produced by society, propaganda seems a means of remedying personal deficiencies; at the same time it plunges the individual into a neurotic state. This is apparent from the rigid responses of the propagandee, his unimaginative and stereotyped attitude, his sterility with regard to the socio-political process, his inability to adjust to situations other than those created by propaganda, his need for strict opposites -- black and white, good and bad -- his involvement in unreal conflicts created and blown up by propaganda. To mistake an artificial conflict for a real one is a characteristic of neurosis. So is the tendency of me propagandee to give everything his own narrow interpretation, to deprive facts of their real meaning in order to integrate them into his system and give them an emotional coloration, which the non-neurotic would not attribute to them.
Similarly, the neurotic anxiously seeks the esteem and affection of the largest number of people, just as the propagandee can live only in accord with his comrades, sharing the same reflexes and judgments with those of his group (subjected to the identical propaganda). He does not deviate by one iota, for to remove himself from the affection of the milieu means profound suffering; and that affection is tied to a particular external behavior and an identical response to propaganda. Naturally, what corresponds to this is the neurotic's hostility toward those who refuse his friendship and those who remain outside his group; the same holds true for the propagandee.
In the neurotic, the extraordinary need for self-justification (which resides in everyone and leads him to insincerity) expresses itself in the projection of hostile motives to the outside world; he feels that destructive impulses do not emanate from him, but from someone or something outside. He does not want to fool or exploit others -- others want to do that to him; and this mechanism is reproduced by propaganda with great precision. He who wants to make war projects this intention onto his enemy; then the projected intention spreads to the propagandee who is then being mobilized and prepared for war, whose hostilities are aroused at the same time as he is made to project his own aggression onto the enemy. As with the neurotic, the "victim-enemy-scapegoat" cycle assumes enormous proportions in the mind of the propagandee, even if we admit that in addition to this process some legitimate reasons always exist for such reactions.
To sum up When reading Karen Horney's description of the neurotic cycle stemming from the neurotic's environment, one might almost be reading about the cycle typical for the propagandee
Anxiety, hostility, reduction of self-respect ... striving for power ... reinforcement of hostility and anxiety ... a tendency to withdraw in the face of competition, accompanied by tendencies to self-depreciation ... failures and disproportion between capabilities and accomplishments ... reinforcement of feelings of superiority ... reinforcement of grandiose ideas ... increase of sensitivity with an inclination to withdraw ... increase of hostility and anxiety ...
These responses of the neurotic are identical with those of the propagandee, even if we take into account that propaganda ultimately eliminates conscious anxiety and tranquilizes the propagandee.
Alienation through Propaganda
To be alienated means to be someone other (alienus) than oneself; it also can mean to belong to someone else. In a more profound sense, it means to be deprived of one's self, to be subjected to, or even identified with, someone else. That is definitely the effect of propaganda. Propaganda strips the individual, robs him of part of himself, and makes him live an alien and artificial life, to such an extent that he becomes another person and obeys impulses foreign to him. He obeys someone else.
Once again, to produce this effect, propaganda restricts itself to utilizing, increasing, and reinforcing the individual's inclination to lose himself in something bigger than be is, to dissipate his individuality, to free his ego of all doubt, conflict, and suffering -- through fusion with others; to devote himself to a great leader and a great cause. In large groups, man feels united with others, and he therefore tries to free himself of himself by blending with a large group. Indeed, propaganda offers him that possibility in an exceptionally easy and satisfying fashion. But it pushes the individual into the mass until he disappears entirely.
To begin with, what is it that propaganda makes disappear? Everything in the nature of critical and personal judgment. Obviously, propaganda limits the application of thought. It limits the propagandee's field of thought to the extent that it provides him with ready-made (and, moreover, unreal) thoughts and stereotypes. It orients him toward very limited ends and prevents him from using his mind or experimenting on his own. It determines the core from which all his thoughts must derive and draws from the beginning a sort of guideline that permits neither criticism nor imagination. More precisely, his imagination will lead only to small digressions from the fixed line and to only slightly deviant, preliminary responses within the framework. In this fashion we see the progressives make some "variations" around the basic propaganda tenets of the Communist par, But the field of such variations is strictly limited.
The acceptance of this line, of such ends and limitations, presupposes the suppression of all critical judgment, which in turn is a result of the crystallization of thoughts and attitudes and the creation of taboos. As Jules Monnerot has accurately said All individual passion leads to the suppression of all critical judgment with regard to the object of that passion. Beyond that, in the collective passion created by propaganda, critical judgment disappears altogether, for in no way can there ever be collective critical judgment. Man becomes incapable of "separation," of discernment (the word critical is derived from the Greek krino, separate). The individual can no longer judge for himself because he inescapably relates his thoughts to the entire complex of values and prejudices established by propaganda. With regard to political situations, he is given ready-made value judgments invested with the power of truth by the number of supporters and the word of experts. The individual has no chance to exercise his judgment either on principal questions or on their implication; this leads to the atrophy of a faculty not comfortably exercised under any conditions.
What the individual loses is never easy to revive. Once personal judgment and critical faculties have disappeared or have been atrophied, they will not simply reappear when propaganda has been suppressed. In fact, we are dealing here with one of propaganda's most durable effects years of intellectual and spiritual education would be needed to restore such faculties. The propagandee, if deprived of one propaganda, will immediately adopt another; this will spare him the agony of finding himself vis-a-vis some event without a ready-made opinion, and obliged to judge it for himself. At the same time, propaganda presents facts, judgments, and values in such confusion and with so many methods that it is literally impossible for the average man to proceed with discernment. He has neither the intellectual capacity nor the sources of information. He is therefore forced either to accept, or reject, everything in toto.
We thus reach the same point via different routes on the one hand, propaganda destroys the critical faculty; on the other, it presents objectives on which that faculty could not be exercised, and thus renders it useless.
All this obviously leads to the elimination of personal judgment, which takes place as soon as the individual accepts public opinion as his own. When he expresses public opinion in his words and gestures, he no longer expresses himself, but his society, his group. To be sure, the individual always will express the group, more or less. But in this case he will express it totally and in response to a systematic operation.
Moreover, this impersonal public opinion, when produced by propaganda, is artificial. It corresponds to nothing authentic; yet it is precisely this artificial opinion that the individual absorbs. He is filled with it; be no longer expresses his ideas, but those of his group, and with great fervor at that -- it is a propaganda prerequisite that he should assert them with firmness and conviction. He absorbs the collective judgments, the creatures of propaganda; he absorbs them like the nourishment which they have, in fact, become. He expounds them as his own. He takes a vigorous stand, begins to oppose others. He asserts himself at the very moment that he denies his own self without realizing it. When he recites his propaganda lesson and says that he is thinking for himself, when his eyes see nothing and his mouth only produces sounds previously stenciled into his brain, when he says that he is indeed expressing his judgment -- then he really demonstrates that he no longer thinks at all, ever, and that he does not exist as a person. When the propagandee tries to assert himself as a living reality, he demonstrates his total alienation most clearly; for he shows mat he can no longer even distinguish between himself and society. He is then perfectly integrated, he is the social group, there is nothing in him not of the group, there is no opinion in him that is not the group's opinion. He is nothing except what propaganda has taught him. He is merely a channel that ingests the truths of propaganda and dispenses them with the conviction that is the result of his absence as a person. He cannot take a single step back to look at events -- under such conditions; there can be no distance of any kind between him and propaganda.
This mechanism of alienation generally corresponds either to projection into, and identification with, a hero and leader, or to a fusion with the mass. These two mechanisms are not mutually exclusive When a Hitler Youth projected himself into his Fuhrer, he entered by that very act into the mass integrated by propaganda. When the young Komsomol surrendered himself to the cult of Stalin's personality, he became, at that very moment, altogether part of the mass. It is important to note that when the propagandee believes to be expressing the highest ideal of personality, he is at the lowest point of alienation. Did we not bear often enough Fascism's claim that it restored personality to its place of honor? But through one channel or another, the same alienation is produced by any propaganda, for the creation of a hero is just as much the result of propaganda as is the integration of an individual in an activated mass. When propaganda makes the individual participate in a collective movement, it not only makes him share in an artificial activity, but also evokes in him a psychology of participation, a "crowd psychology." This psychic modification, which automatically takes place in the presence of other participants, is systematically produced by propaganda. It is the creation of mass psychology, with man's individual psychology integrated into the crowd.
In this process of alienation, the individual loses control and submits to external impulses; his personal inclinations and tastes give way to participation in the collective. But that collective will always be best idealized, patterned, and represented by the hero. The cult of the hero is the absolutely necessary complement of the massification of society. We see the automatic creation of this cult in connection with champion athletes, movie stars, and even such abstractions as Davy Crockett in the United States and Canada in 1955. This exaltation of the hero proves that one lives in a mass society. The individual who is prevented by circumstances from becoming a real person, who can no longer express himself through personal thought or action, who finds his aspirations frustrated, projects onto the hero all he would wish to be. He lives vicariously and experiences the athletic or amorous or military exploits of the god with whom be lives in spiritual symbiosis. The well-known mechanism of identifying with movie stars is almost impossible to avoid for the member of modern society who comes to admire himself in the person of the hero. There he reveals the powers of which he unconsciously dreams, projects his desires, identifies himself with this success and that adventure. The hero becomes model and father, power and mythical realization of all that the individual cannot be.
Propaganda uses all these mechanisms, but actually does even more to reinforce, stabilize, and spread them. The propagandee is alienated and transposed into the person promoted by propaganda (publicity campaigns for movie stars and propaganda campaigns are almost identical). For this, incidentally, no totalitarian organization is needed -- such alienation does not take place merely in the event of a Hitler or a Stalin, but also in that of a Khrushchev, a Clemenceau, a Coolidge, or a Churchill (the myth surrounding Coolidge is very remarkable in this respect).
The propagandee finds himself in a psychological situation composed of the following elements he lives vicariously, through an intermediary. He feels, thinks, and acts through the hero. He is under the guardianship and protection of his living god; he accepts being a child; he ceases to defend his own interests, for be knows his hero loves him and everything his hero decides is for the propagandee's own good; he thus compensates for the rigor of the sacrifices imposed on him. For this reason every regime that demands a certain amount of heroism must develop this propaganda of projection onto the hero (leader).
In this connection one can really speak of alienation, and of regression to an infantile state caused by propaganda. Young is of the opinion that the propagandee no longer develops intellectually, but becomes arrested in an infantile neurotic pattern; regression sets in when the individual is submerged in mass psychology. This is confirmed by Stoetzel, who says that propaganda destroys all individuality, is capable of creating only a collective personality, and that it is an obstacle to the free development of the personality.
Such extensive alienation is by no means exceptional. The reader may think we have described an extreme, almost pathological case. Unfortunately, he is a common type, even in his acute state. Everywhere we find men who pronounce as highly personal truths what they have read in the papers only an hour before, and whose beliefs are merely the result of a powerful propaganda. Everywhere we find people who have blind confidence in a political party, a general, a movie star, a country, or a cause, and who will not tolerate the slightest challenge to that god. Everywhere we meet people who, because they are filled with the consciousness of Higher Interests they must serve unto death, are no longer capable of making the simplest moral or intellectual distinctions or of engaging in the most elementary reasoning. Yet all this is acquired without effort, experience, reflection, or criticism -- by the destructive shock effect of well-made propaganda. We meet this alienated man at every turn, and are possibly already one ourselves.
Aside from the alienation that takes place when the rational individual retreats into the irrational collective, there are other forms of alienation -- for example, through the artificial satisfaction of real needs, or the real satisfaction of artificial needs (publicity and advertising).
The first case is the one we have already discussed, in which propaganda develops from the contemporary sociological situation in order to give man artificial satisfaction for real needs. Because man is restless and frustrated, because he understands nothing of the world in which he lives and acts, because he still is asked to make very great sacrifices and efforts -- because of all that, propaganda develops. It satisfies man, but with false and illusory satisfactions. It gives him explanations of the world in which he lives, but explanations that are mendacious and irrational. It reassures or excites him, but always at the wrong moment. It makes him tremble with fear of some biological warfare that never did exist, and makes him believe in the peaceful intentions of countries that have no desire for peace. It gives him reasons for the sacrifices demanded of him, but not the real reasons. Thus, in 1914, it called on him to lay down his life for his country, but remained silent on the war's economic causes, for which he certainly would not have fought.
Propaganda satisfies man's need for release and certainty, it eases his tensions and compensates for his frustrations, but with purely artificial means. If, for example, the worker has reasons -- given his actual economic situation -- to feel frustrated, alienated, or exploited, propaganda, which can really "solve" the worker's problems, as it has already done in the U.S.S.R., alienates him even more by making him oblivious of his frustration and alienation, and by calming and satisfying him. When man is subjected to the abnormal conditions of a big city or a battlefield and has good reason to feel tense, fearful, and out of step, propaganda that adjusts him to such conditions and resolves his conflicts artificially, without changing his situation in the least, is particularly pernicious. Of course, it seems like a cure. But it is like the cure that would heal the liver of an alcoholic in such a way that he could continue to get drunk without feeling pain in his liver. Propaganda's artificial and unreal answers for modern man's psychological suffering are precisely of that kind they allow him to continue living abnormally under the conditions in which society places him. Propaganda suppresses the warning signals that his anxieties, maladjustments, rebellions, and demands once supplied.
All this is also at work when propaganda liberates our deepest impulses and tendencies, such as our erotic drives, guilt feelings, and desire for power. But such liberation does not provide true and genuine satisfaction for such drives, any more than it justifies our demands and aggressions by permitting us to feel righteous in spite of them. Man can no more pick the object of his aggression than he can give free reign to his erotic drive. The satisfactions and liberations offered by propaganda are ersatz. Their aim is to provide a certain decompression or to use the shock effect of these tremendous forces somewhere else, to use them in support of actions that would otherwise lack impetus. This shows bow the propaganda process deprives the individual of his true personality.
Modern man deeply craves friendship, confidence, close personal relationships. But be is plunged into a world of competition, hostility, and anonymity. He needs to meet someone whom he can trust completely, for whom he can feel pure friendship, and to whom he can mean something in return. That is hard to find in his daily life, but apparently confidence in a leader, a hero, a movie star, or a TV personality is much more satisfying. TV, for example, creates feelings of friendship, a new intimacy, and thus fully satisfies those needs. But such satisfactions are purely illusory and fallacious because there is no true friendship of any kind between the TV personality and the viewer who feels that personality to be his friend. Here is a typical mendacious satisfaction of a genuine need. And what TV spontaneously produces is systematically exploited by propaganda the "Little Father" is always present.
Another example In 1958 Khrushchev promised the transition to integrated Communism in the U.S.S.R.; later he declared that it would be realized very soon. Based on this theme was an entire irrational propaganda campaign whose principal argument was that Communism would soon be fully attained because by 1975 the U.S.S.R. would have reached the production level of the United States -- which would mean that the United States would then be ready to achieve Communism. Incidentally, the year given by Khrushchev in 1958 for thme occurrence of this phenomenon was 1975, but in April 1960, he year he gave was 1980. This campaign was designed to satisfy the needs of the Soviet masses, to regain their confidence and appease their demands. What we see here is a purely theoretical answer, but it satisfies because it is believed by the masses and thus made true and real by the mechanism of propaganda.
Let us now look at the other side of the coin. Propaganda creates artificial needs. just as propaganda creates political problems that would never arise by themselves, but for which public opinion will then demand a solution, it arouses in us an increase of certain desires, prejudices, and needs which were by no means imperative to begin with. They become so only as a result of propaganda, which here plays the same role as advertising. Besides, propaganda is helped by advertising, which gives certain twists and orientations to individual drives, while propaganda extends the effects of advertising by promising psychological relief of tensions in general. Under the impact of propaganda, certain prejudices (racial or economic), certain needs (for equality or success), become all- devouring, destructive passions, occupying me entire range of a person's consciousness, superseding all other aspects of life, and demanding answers.
As a result of propaganda, these superficial tendencies end up by becoming identified with our deepest needs and become confused with what is most personal and profound within us. Precisely in this fashion me genuine need for freedom has been diluted and adulterated into an abominable mixture of liberalism under the impact of various forms of propaganda of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In this psychic confusion, created by propaganda, propaganda alone then imposes order. Just as it is a fact that mass communication media create new needs (for example, the existence of TV creates the need to buy a set and turn it on), it is even more the case when these means are used by propaganda.
And just as propaganda acts to create new needs, it also creates the demand for their solutions. We have shown how propaganda can relieve and resolve tensions. These tensions are purposely provoked by the propagandist, who holds out their remedy at the same time. He is master of both excitation and satisfaction. One may even say that if he has provoked a particular tension, it was in order to lead me individual to accept a particular remedy, to demand some suitable action (suitable from the propagandist's viewpoint), and to submit to a system that will alleviate that tension. He thus places the individual in a universe of artificially created political needs, needs that are artificial even if their roots were once completely genuine.
For example, by creating class-consciousness in the proletariat, propaganda adds a corresponding tension to the worker's misery. Similarly, by creating an equality complex, it adds another tension to all the natural demands of the "have-nots." But propaganda simultaneously offers the means to reduce these tensions. It opens a door to the individual, and we have seen that that is one of the most effective propaganda devices. The only trouble is that all it really offers is a profound alienation when an individual reacts to these artificially provoked tensions, when he responds to these artificially created stimuli, or when he submits to the manipulations that make him repress certain personal impulses to make room for abstract drives and reduction of these tensions, he is no more himself than he is when he reacts biologically to a tranquilizer. This will appear to be a true remedy, which in fact it is -- but for a sickness deliberately provoked to fit the remedy.
As we have frequently noted, these artificial needs assume considerable importance because of their universal nature and the means (the mass media) by which they are propagated. They become more demanding and imperative for the individual than his own private needs and lead him to sacrifice his private satisfactions. In politics as in economics, the development of artificial needs progressively eliminates personal needs and inclinations. Thus, what takes place is truly an expulsion of the individual outside of himself, designed to deliver him to the abstract forces of technically oriented mechanisms.
On this level, too, the more the individual is convinced that he thinks, feels, and acts on his own, the greater the alienation will be. The psychologist Biddle has demonstrated in detail that an individual subjected to propaganda behaves as though his reactions depended on his own decisions. He obeys, he trembles with fear and expands or contracts on command, but nothing in this obedience is passive or automatic; even when yielding to suggestion, he decides "for himself" and thinks himself free -- in fact the more he is subjected to propaganda, the freer he thinks he is. He is energetic and chooses his own action. In fact, propaganda, to reduce the tension it has created in the first place, offers him one, two, even three possible courses of action, and the propagandee considers himself a well-organized, fully aware individual when be chooses one of them. Of course, this takes little effort on his part. The propagandee does not need much energy to make his decision, for that decision corresponds with his group, with suggestion, and with the sociological forces. Under the influence of propaganda he always takesthe easy way, the path of least resistance, even if it costs him his life. But even while coasting downhill, he claims he is climbing uphill and performing a personal, heroic act. For propaganda has aroused his energy, personality, and sense of responsibility -- or rather their verbal images, because the forces themselves were long ago destroyed by propaganda.
Excerpts from Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes, by Jacques Ellul, Alfred A. Knopf, (1965) pp. 6-9, 25-61, 163-178. Translated from the French by Konrad Kellen and Jean Lerner. Footnotes omitted.