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"A far more frightening work than any of the nightmare novels of George Orwell. With the logic which is the great instrument of French thought, [Ellul] explores and attempts to prove the thesis that propaganda, whether its ends are demonstrably good or bad, is not only destructive to democracy, it is perhaps the most serious threat to humanity operating in the modern world "A far more frightening work than any of the nightmare novels of George Orwell. With the logic which is the great instrument of French thought, [Ellul] explores and attempts to prove the thesis that propaganda, whether its ends are demonstrably good or bad, is not only destructive to democracy, it is perhaps the most serious threat to humanity operating in the modern world." --Los Angeles Times "The theme of Propaganda is quite simply...that when our new technology encompasses any culture or society, the result is propaganda... Ellul has made many splendid contributions in this book." --Book Week "An exhaustive catalog of horrors. It shows how modern, committed man, surrounded and seized by propaganda, more often than not surrenders himself to it only too willingly, especially in democracies--because he is educated for his rule as dupe. 'The most favorable moment to seize a man and influence him,' Ellul writes, 'is when he is alone in the mass; it is at this point that propaganda can be most effective. This is the situation of the 'lonely crowd,' or of isolation in the mass, which is a natural product of modern-day society, which is both used and deepened by the mass media.' " --Los Angeles Free Press


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"A far more frightening work than any of the nightmare novels of George Orwell. With the logic which is the great instrument of French thought, [Ellul] explores and attempts to prove the thesis that propaganda, whether its ends are demonstrably good or bad, is not only destructive to democracy, it is perhaps the most serious threat to humanity operating in the modern world "A far more frightening work than any of the nightmare novels of George Orwell. With the logic which is the great instrument of French thought, [Ellul] explores and attempts to prove the thesis that propaganda, whether its ends are demonstrably good or bad, is not only destructive to democracy, it is perhaps the most serious threat to humanity operating in the modern world." --Los Angeles Times "The theme of Propaganda is quite simply...that when our new technology encompasses any culture or society, the result is propaganda... Ellul has made many splendid contributions in this book." --Book Week "An exhaustive catalog of horrors. It shows how modern, committed man, surrounded and seized by propaganda, more often than not surrenders himself to it only too willingly, especially in democracies--because he is educated for his rule as dupe. 'The most favorable moment to seize a man and influence him,' Ellul writes, 'is when he is alone in the mass; it is at this point that propaganda can be most effective. This is the situation of the 'lonely crowd,' or of isolation in the mass, which is a natural product of modern-day society, which is both used and deepened by the mass media.' " --Los Angeles Free Press

30 review for Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes

  1. 5 out of 5

    Trevor

    Probably best you make yourself comfortable – as this is going to take some time. A friend of Nell’s recommended this book when she shared my review of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, ironically enough, on Facebook. I’d never heard of Ellul before – at least, I don’t think I had. He is a French Christian sociologist, but his ideas are much more interesting than those three adjectives might imply. We tend to think of propaganda in much the same way that we think of advertising. We know it work Probably best you make yourself comfortable – as this is going to take some time. A friend of Nell’s recommended this book when she shared my review of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, ironically enough, on Facebook. I’d never heard of Ellul before – at least, I don’t think I had. He is a French Christian sociologist, but his ideas are much more interesting than those three adjectives might imply. We tend to think of propaganda in much the same way that we think of advertising. We know it works on some people (and perhaps even worry that it might be terribly impolite to call those people dumb) but we, ourselves, would never fall for that rubbish. So, while we quite understand that really, really bad things come from propaganda, that is mostly because is overflowing with dumb people. Propaganda is believed to be about telling lies to gullible people, and doing so with lots of conviction, generally also by appealing to their prejudices, so as to bring about some change in their beliefs. In large part this book is seeking to help us see that propaganda doesn’t work like this at all (or advertising for that matter). Propaganda is much more insidious than that. And this is where I’m going to have to highlight something that I had to disagree with the author about. He says a couple of times that democracies engage in propaganda in reaction to totalitarian propaganda. The line being that ‘if they are doing it, we need to do it too, however reluctantly’. That this is not the case ought to be clear to a contemporary reader of this book. Really, Soviet and Nazi propaganda are of little more than historical interest today – but to think that the end of these totalitarian societies has brought about the end of propaganda would be a very bold belief indeed. I think his central thesis in this book really goes a long way to undermine the view that ‘democracies’ are fundamentally repulsed by propaganda and that they only do it because they are made to by otherwise anti-democratic forces. In fact, the rest of his argument makes it clear that propaganda is a necessary condition of modern society, rather than an added extra forced upon the good guys by the bad guys. Propaganda is a problem for the modern world created by it being a modern world. It requires a certain level of the development of ‘civilisation’ to even be possible, and once it is possible, it basically becomes inevitable. For propaganda to become part of our world people need to live in large societies, probably even nation states composed of multiple cities, they need to be literate (most of the modes of distributing propaganda are only available if people can read) and they need to live in a mass society that is also confronted by other mass societies – even if mass propaganda tends to talk to individuals as individuals, if, individuals as representatives of groups. I want to go through these ideas in turn. So, why do they need to be in a large, mass society for propaganda to work? Well, if you are in a tribal society you have virtually direct access to all of the news that your tribe generates, and community input into the decisions and more or less direct contact with the leaders of your community. That pecking order doesn’t necessarily require a complicated system of voting – rather, authority and leadership develop through interactions within the tribe itself – they are lived, rather than needing to be indoctrinated via texts. This intimacy of interaction is denied to those living in a mass society. I kept thinking of that line, probably apocryphal, that someone was supposed to have said when the first telegram cable was laid between Europe and America: Oh, fabulous, now we won’t have to wait to learn how Princess Alexandra’s whooping cough is coming along. The point being that most ‘news’ today is about matters that really don’t matter to us. I’ve even started telling people that I’ve stopped believing that US actually exists – that it is either a fiction devised as a warning to the rest of us of the dangers of Presidential forms of democracy, or it is, what I actually believe, a kind of sit-com that got totally out of hand once the writers started taking LSD. It is truly remarkable how much attention we Australians pay to US and UK politics. And it isn’t at all clear to me why we might do that. As sad as it is that it seems impossible to change US gun laws, as long as US citizens are shooting their own kids, it isn’t clear why I should get so upset about it. Now, if I was in Iraq, or Iran, or Yemen, then clearly the US would seem much more real to me. But as it is, the US simulacrum is such that any time I spend thinking about Trump’s latest absurdity (has he gone back to having sex with Stormy Daniels yet? Have US Evangelicals started grabbing women by the genitals as a form of metaphorical support for their Commander in Chief?) is basically time wasted. But it is almost impossible to really think like that. We need to believe that this is all real and all consequential to our lives and that by following the latest twists and turns somehow makes us ‘informed’. All the same, many people I know have given up watching any news whatsoever. This is because it makes them feel completely helpless and therefore depressed and anxious. About that which you can do nothing, learning that fools and thieves are making matters worse is hardly the most direct pathway to mental health. The point being that in a mass society people are, by necessity, removed from what they take to be the key decision-making centres – and, although these may well be ultimately consequential to their lives, mostly they can go to work, buy stuff at the supermarket, and watch television for months on end without ‘needing’ to pay any attention at all to the machinations for ‘higher politics’. Something which often upsets people like me when I mention something to people about the latest insanity (Scott Morrison denying his government used $250 Million in grants for sporting facilities in marginal to buy the last election for example) only to be met with glazed-over eyes or bewildered silence. For this level of ignorance about what is going on to be the case a society must be large enough so that crowds are composed mostly of strangers. You can only really safely ignore the ramblings of the powerful when you feel yourself to be a safe-ish cog in an otherwise impersonal machine. But such a society also requires modes of communication that allow all members of that society to be reached if they need to be. This obviously means newspapers in the first instance, but also radio, films, television, magazines – and clearly now social media also has an essential role in this ‘mass media’. For someone to be able to interact with any of these modes they need a certain level of cultural education – and so a school system that indoctrinates (yeah, I know, a harsh word – but clearly certain forms of indoctrination are essential to the educative process) children by giving them the cultural tools they will need to properly navigate the society they have been born into. As he says at one point, for a society to become a mass society you need to be sure that the things that society mass-produces are going to be things that the masses are going to want to buy – here the distinctions between propaganda and advertising start to break down. And that is a large part of the point. Propaganda isn’t effective because it tells you a big lie often enough that you start believing it – it is effective when it makes a worldview seem pure common sense. Mass societies often find themselves in competition with other mass societies. This was truer, I feel, when the author was writing than it is now. We live largely in a mono-pole world – books like Capitalist Realism make this all too clear. But the need for an enemy is interesting here, since an enemy is often the quickest and easiest way to unite people within a group. And because people tend to segment themselves according to their life experiences, including the forms of culture they expose themselves to, the newspapers they read, television channels they watch, the social media sites they visit. This means both that propaganda needs to be appropriate to each of these segments, but also that it can be significantly different depending on membership of those segments too. Years ago I read a statistic I found utterly fascinating and then could never find it again. It was in some book I was reading about the mass media. It compared the growth of people employed as journalists with those employed as public relations professionals. The authors pointed out that both of these professions require very similar skills – in fact, since newspapers have stopped being able to afford to employ enough journalists to fill their newspapers, often copy is provided by public relations professionals. Those employed in public relations not only vastly outnumber those employed as journalists, but they are also much more highly paid. This tells us interesting things about our society in relation to propaganda – of all the things you can say about public relations professionals, and I’m certainly not saying that they are all evil, but what is clear is that they are not employed to ‘tell the truth’ but rather to ‘spin the truth’ so as to make their organisation look good. He says repeatedly throughout this that Soviet and Chinese propaganda, despite what we were generally told in the west, was mostly based on facts. The point being that facts themselves are meaningless outside of a context – and propaganda creates the context that gives meaning to the facts. This is such an important point. You see, how we generally assess the effectiveness of propaganda often confirms our belief that propaganda is mostly ineffective. And this is much the same with how we think about advertising. We think that because millions of dollars are spent during an election campaign and the opinion polls hardly shift at all throughout that campaign then that must mean that the propaganda must have been ineffective. But propaganda rarely needs to work on such short time frames. Propaganda is sociological – that is, it creates a world view over years that is constantly reinforced by virtually all channels of the mass media in a society until it becomes the water we all swim in. He mentions research that ‘proved’ how ineffective Nazi propaganda had been. They asked returning German soldiers questions on details on Nazi propaganda, and found many of them had no real idea what Nazi policies were on various topics. They also asked them what their opinions where on these topics, and often the returning soldiers held opinions that were virtually the opposite of the Nazi position. So far, so good. Clearly, decades of Nazi propaganda had been mostly ineffectual. Thank goodness for that, aye? And this is one of his major points. Don’t tell me about public opinion – tell me what people do. Did the soldiers’ lack of understanding of the intricacies of Nazi policies stop them killing Gypsies? Did it encourage them to surrender to the advancing Allied forces? The fact is that the Germans fought twice as fiercely when all hope was lost. This seems a much more interesting proof of the effectiveness of Nazi propaganda than a soldier’s understanding of some obscure point of public policy. Or to quote Ellul himself: “The most serious fault of all these investigations seems to be the following: they preserve the old notion that the effect of propaganda manifests itself in clear, conscious opinions and that the propagandee will respond in a specific way according to the propagandist’s slogans. But this is less and less true. One must understand that just as there is dissociation between private and public opinion, there is dissociation between opinion and action. Propaganda works in that direction. It is not because some individual holds clearly defined Nazi or Communist convictions that he will behave for the benefit of the Nazi or Communist regime. On the contrary. It is increasingly understood that those who have clear, conscious convictions are potential heretics who discuss action in the light of doctrine. Conversely, because a man cannot clearly express his war aims does not mean he will comport himself less well on the battlefield if he is properly indoctrinated with propaganda—or fail to exterminate Jews just because he is not an articulate racist, or fail to be a devoted militant because he cannot formulate the dogma of the class struggle. What matters to the propagandist is to have a good soldier…” This book is showing its age – this is inevitable – but see past the examples and look for the deeper sociological questions investigated here, and it really does still have lots to offer.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    This is the third book concerning technology and society that really changed the way I think about the world. As with The Technological Society and Mumford's Pentagon of Power, this book contains many ideas and concepts that turn our normal worldviews upside down. He states that Propaganda is necessary for modern societies to function and that they play an integral part in the power structures that run them. This is all the more true for our modern, so-called Democracies. He also states that the This is the third book concerning technology and society that really changed the way I think about the world. As with The Technological Society and Mumford's Pentagon of Power, this book contains many ideas and concepts that turn our normal worldviews upside down. He states that Propaganda is necessary for modern societies to function and that they play an integral part in the power structures that run them. This is all the more true for our modern, so-called Democracies. He also states that the more highly educated and up-to-date one is the more one is a victim of Propaganda. This runs contrary to what most people think, but if you read the book I think you will agree. The more exposure one has to mass media the more one will be propagandized. It is necessary to read his notion of what Propaganda is in order for this to make sense - it is not the simple thing most people think it is. It is part of current complex social relations involving media and the political, economic and technological forces which influence and control them. The end result is that we ourselves are influenced and controlled to a far greater extent than we realize. What we view as normal and right and even possible is contained within a construct that both uses and requires Propaganda to function. Like The Technological Society, it can be rather depressing, but then one must look for the holes in the net and seek out ways to counteract these influences.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

    This is, put quite simply, a MUST read. It was written shortly after WWII and focuses on the propaganda machine of Goebbels. It is shocking how much of what is described in this book is the norm in today's "quality" of discourse. Truly prophetic.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lynn Waddell

    This book is the most influential of my career in journalism, and one of the top 10 of my life. I read it almost 20 years ago, and I often reflect on it. It changed the way I analyze news media, politicians, and marketing. Although written in the 1960s, the components essential to propaganda that he outlines hold true. Given the weighty subject matter, it isn't a quick read, more one to pause and contemplate over coffee before moving to next chapter. Even still, Ellul's extreme passion for his t This book is the most influential of my career in journalism, and one of the top 10 of my life. I read it almost 20 years ago, and I often reflect on it. It changed the way I analyze news media, politicians, and marketing. Although written in the 1960s, the components essential to propaganda that he outlines hold true. Given the weighty subject matter, it isn't a quick read, more one to pause and contemplate over coffee before moving to next chapter. Even still, Ellul's extreme passion for his theories at times made me chuckle.

  5. 5 out of 5

    David

    Wow. My biggest take-away from this book is a question - what would Ellul say today? Because the way he talked about the power of propaganda, what it does to people and the threat it is to democracy and thought seems incredibly relevant to today. Ellul books are always a bit tough, but certainly worth it. He defies many definitions of propaganda, saying that propaganda actually uses facts, not lies as most think. Also, rather than uneducated people being susceptible to it, it is the most educate Wow. My biggest take-away from this book is a question - what would Ellul say today? Because the way he talked about the power of propaganda, what it does to people and the threat it is to democracy and thought seems incredibly relevant to today. Ellul books are always a bit tough, but certainly worth it. He defies many definitions of propaganda, saying that propaganda actually uses facts, not lies as most think. Also, rather than uneducated people being susceptible to it, it is the most educated who are. It is not that propaganda seeks to convince you to believe something knew, instead it focuses on action. And it also hardens your commitment to a group more than seeking to get you to believe something new. Finally, it is everywhere - from movies to TV to newspapers to, if Ellul was living today, social media. Propaganda is so powerful because it is nearly everywhere. It is scary because it influences all of us, those of us most certain we are not propagandized are perhaps just tricking ourselves. Two of my favorite quotes from the book are: "Those who read the press of their group and listen to the radio of their group are constantly reinforced in their allegiance. They learn more and more that their group is right, that its actions are justified; thus their beliefs are strengthened. At the same time, such propaganda contains elements of criticism and refutation of other groups, which will never be read or heard by a member of another group...This double foray on the part of propaganda, proving the excellence of one's own group and the evilness of the others, produces an increasingly stringent partitioning of our society...Thus we see before our eyes how a world of closed minds establishes itself, a world in which everybody talks to himself, everybody constantly views his own certainty about himself and the wrongs done him by the Others - a world in which nobody listens to anybody else, everybody talks and nobody listens" “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...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"

  6. 4 out of 5

    Vivian

    I had every intention of reviewing this, but time started to get away from me, I couldn't read it all before returning it, but I decided to skim the contents to see if I wanted to request it again at a later time. And what I found was something completely unexpected, a story within a book. Shared spaces allow for intersections, sometime across space and time. The book contained significant handwritten notes, marginalia, throughout the text and it told a story. Clearly a critique, but also a voic I had every intention of reviewing this, but time started to get away from me, I couldn't read it all before returning it, but I decided to skim the contents to see if I wanted to request it again at a later time. And what I found was something completely unexpected, a story within a book. Shared spaces allow for intersections, sometime across space and time. The book contained significant handwritten notes, marginalia, throughout the text and it told a story. Clearly a critique, but also a voice that would never know if it found an audience. This page was the one that propelled me to read all the notes. If you're interested, please see the following link for the complete story: A Story Within a Book

  7. 5 out of 5

    Michael Perkins

    as timely as ever..... "An exhaustive catalog of horrors. It shows how modern, committed man, surrounded and seized by propaganda, more often than not surrenders himself to it only too willingly, especially in democracies--because he is educated for his rule as dupe. 'The most favorable moment to seize a man and influence him,' Ellul writes, 'is when he is alone in the mass; it is at this point that propaganda can be most effective. This is the situation of the 'lonely crowd,' or of isolation in as timely as ever..... "An exhaustive catalog of horrors. It shows how modern, committed man, surrounded and seized by propaganda, more often than not surrenders himself to it only too willingly, especially in democracies--because he is educated for his rule as dupe. 'The most favorable moment to seize a man and influence him,' Ellul writes, 'is when he is alone in the mass; it is at this point that propaganda can be most effective. This is the situation of the 'lonely crowd,' or of isolation in the mass, which is a natural product of modern-day society, which is both used and deepened by the mass media.' " --Los Angeles Free Press from the book.... “Those who read the press of their group and listen to the radio of their group are constantly reinforced in their allegiance. They learn more and more that their group is right, that its actions are justified; thus their beliefs are strengthened. At the same time, such propaganda contains elements of criticism and refutation of other groups, which will never be read or heard by a member of another group...Thus we see before our eyes how a world of closed minds establishes itself, a world in which everybody talks to himself, everybody constantly views his own certainty about himself and the wrongs done him by the Others - a world in which nobody listens to anybody else.”

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jake M.

    This is among the few books to alter how I think of how the world presents itself. Ellul has a talent for presenting complex ideas in readable text. The book focuses on the conditions, uses, mediums, structures and belief systems needed for propaganda to flourish. In addition, he identifies a working definition of propaganda that is repeated throughout the text to remind the reader of its ever-present influence in our daily lives. This is as much a dissection of propaganda as it is a warning aga This is among the few books to alter how I think of how the world presents itself. Ellul has a talent for presenting complex ideas in readable text. The book focuses on the conditions, uses, mediums, structures and belief systems needed for propaganda to flourish. In addition, he identifies a working definition of propaganda that is repeated throughout the text to remind the reader of its ever-present influence in our daily lives. This is as much a dissection of propaganda as it is a warning against homogenized idealistic constructions such as "western democracy" and its supposed infallibility - well done on all fronts.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jed

    Parts of this book are amazing, even today. While portions of it are a little dated or too caught up in the Cold War or focused on the forces which brought about the second world war, the insights he draws from them are not. I've never read a description of just what propaganda is or why it is so dangerous and effective that was close to this good. Ellul's background in Theology shines through in a lot of places and he is also concerned with understanding how the modern state and the ideologies Parts of this book are amazing, even today. While portions of it are a little dated or too caught up in the Cold War or focused on the forces which brought about the second world war, the insights he draws from them are not. I've never read a description of just what propaganda is or why it is so dangerous and effective that was close to this good. Ellul's background in Theology shines through in a lot of places and he is also concerned with understanding how the modern state and the ideologies competing for control of it have evolved to play the role once played by Christianity.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ki Seung

    A dense (with some technical jargon) philosophical work on the nature of man in a technical society, whether it be democratic or fascist. To consider that propaganda (as described by Ellul) is not only necessary, but also a natural outcome in a large and diverse modern society, is a rather bitter concept to swallow, but for me, Ellul makes an excellent case as to its diverse means and forms.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    I'm actually reading this right now, so I'll update this as I am amazed and transformed by this highly underappreciated and brilliant Frenchman.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Todd

    Despite its age, it remains a penetrating, insightful must read for how people's actions are influenced by deliberate and even incidental propaganda, and how this propaganda becomes (even without design) essential to adapting people's behavior to mechanized mass society. Typical of Ellul, his work is filled with sweeping statements not specifically supported by empirical evidence (though he cites legion other works for more technical analysis of specific subjects), but when one considers most of Despite its age, it remains a penetrating, insightful must read for how people's actions are influenced by deliberate and even incidental propaganda, and how this propaganda becomes (even without design) essential to adapting people's behavior to mechanized mass society. Typical of Ellul, his work is filled with sweeping statements not specifically supported by empirical evidence (though he cites legion other works for more technical analysis of specific subjects), but when one considers most of his propositions critically, one may be able to quibble around the edges, but finds the substance to be worth considering. Also, as normal, the work is not prescriptive and does not tell the reader "what is to be done" about the problem of propaganda and its negative impact on human dignity. Ellul defines propaganda as "a set of methods employed by an organized group that wants 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." (p 61) Along the lines of his The Technological Society, Ellul notes "Ineffective propaganda is no propaganda," and therefore effectiveness becomes the supreme criteria (p x) and "propaganda has decided to submit itself to science and make use of it" showing its evolution alongside technological society. (p 4) Ellul examines propaganda in the broad sense, not of lies, but facts presented to those living in a world of information, aiming at psychological action, psychological warfare, re-education/brainwashing, and public/human relations. (p xiii) Ellul's avoidance of empiricism stems, in part, from his own analysis of it: "Modern man worships 'facts'--that is, he accepts 'facts' as the ultimate reality. He is convinced that what is, is good...which he somehow connects with the idea of progress...Consequently it is assumed that anyone who states a fact (even without passing judgment on it) is, therefore, in favor of it." (p xv) He later explodes the use of statistics, especially in evaluating the effects of propaganda (p 275). Ellul states he is in favor of democracy and notes the danger propaganda poses to it (and propaganda's effectiveness within it, despite the illusions of some): "man is terribly malleable, uncertain of himself, ready to accept and to follow many suggestions, and is tossed about by all the winds of doctrine...I can only regret that propaganda renders the true exercise of [democracy] almost impossible." (p xvi) He notes propaganda's work within mass society: people share in newspapers, television, movies, etc., individually yet as part of a mass of people doing the same thing. If propagandists address people as a mass, the individuals reject it; "On the contrary, each one must feel individualized, each must have the impressions that he is being looked at, that he is being addressed personally." (p 8) He also focuses extensively on propaganda's reliance on creating and manipulating myths to influence people's actions on a basic level: "It furnishes him with a complete system for explaining the world, and provides immediate incentives to action...Through the myth it creates, propaganda imposes a complete range of intuitive knowledge, susceptible of only one interpretation, unique and one-sided, and precluding any divergence...by its very nature, it excludes contradiction and discussion." (p 11) Propaganda incorporates itself into education and the rewriting of history (p 14). Although Ellul defines propaganda in terms of actions (vice alleged beliefs or attitudes) from propagandees, he notes the importance of pre-propaganda to make people more open to the propaganda of action, things which depict the targeted messages in favorable light (p 15). Given propaganda's reliance on myth, which draws from existing ideas and attitudes of a group, Ellul notes the difficulty in targeting a group from outside (propaganda against an enemy population in wartime, for instance) and the superiority of working from the inside, as through locally-established chapters or parties, much the way the Soviet Union worked through indigenous Communist parties in democratic countries. Ellul notes action commits a person to a given propaganda, "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...Often he has broken with his milieu or family; he may be compromised." (p 29) Throughout the work, Ellul notes the harmful effect of propaganda per se on man, regardless of its specific goals or content. Perhaps he best explains this effect here: 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. (p 38) Ellul points out the superficiality of propaganda, its need to stay abreast of current terms, ideas, and fads to motivate people. In reciprocal manner, propaganda seeks to keep people moving with the current, so as to prevent reflection, "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; he is carried along the current...Such a man never stops to investigate any one point, any more than he will tie together a series of news events." (p 46) Propaganda relies on presenting facts that may be true but difficult to verify, or facts that lack context, i.e., an increase of 15 percent (compared to what? when?) (p 55). Busy people do not think too much and are the easier to manipulate, "those who think, establish the schedules, or set the norms, never act--and those who act must do so according to rules, patterns, and plans imposed on them from outside. Above all, they must not reflect on their actions. They cannot do so anyhow, because of the speed with which they work...According to propaganda, it is useless, even harmful for man to think; thinking prevents him from acting with the required righteousness and simplicity." (p 180) Ellul stresses the importance of education and culture for people to be susceptible to the more developed forms of propaganda; the poor and uneducated being susceptible mainly to only short-term agitation propaganda. But the educated people tell themselves, "'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." (p 52) So while Ellul ties modern propaganda into the industrial era, as part of technological mass society, I would go back at least as far as the Protestant Reformation. The idea that any one person can read for himself and decide (the Bible, in that instance) being preposterous--what one person could in one lifetime? First of all, what he reads has been collected, edited, decided upon, and translated by others, meaning the person's conclusion is all but foregone by those that assembled the "facts" upon which the person "decides for himself." The Reformation also came hand in hand with a gradual rise of a middle class in Europe, which was precisely the group of people that felt confident enough to read and decide and go on doing so today (in all topics), even when they hopelessly lack the skills or the time to penetrate beyond what has been carefully presented to them by others. Ellul observes "the propagandist must insist on the purity of his own intentions and, at the same time, hurl accusations at his enemy...he will accuse him of the very intention 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." (p 58) He notes the relative simplicity of using agitation propaganda (agitprop), especially that based on hatred, as "hatred once provoked continues to reproduce itself." (p 73) It is integration propaganda that is much harder to achieve and usually requires the elevation of a population's level of education and culture in order to be effective (p 106). "The vast majority of people, perhaps 90 percent, know how to read, but do not exercise their intelligence beyond this...As the people do not possess enough knowledge to reflect and discern, they believe--or disbelieve--in toto what they read. And as such people, moreover, will select the easiest, not the hardest, reading matter, they are precisely on the level at which the printed word can seize and convince them without opposition. They are perfectly adapted to propaganda." (p 109) Yet Ellul shows that an individual in mass society actually demands integration propaganda as a coping tool (along the lines of the "Everything is Awesome" scene in the Lego Movie). He explains, "the first move toward liberation of the individual is to break up the small groups that are an organic fact of the entire society...a mass society can only be based on individuals--that is, on men in their isolation, whose identities are determined by their relationships with one another." (p 90) He even notes those organs of traditional society try to hang on by use of modern propaganda and so negate themselves (p 98). "We are thus face to face with a dual need: the need on the part of regimes to make propaganda, and the need of the propagandee...Propaganda is needed in the exercise of power for the simple reason that the masses have come to participate in political affairs." (p 121) Ellul posits public opinion cannot drive government policy, so government propaganda must mold public opinion to policy: Does the State then obey and express and follow that opinion? Our unequivocal answer is that even in a democratic State it does not. Such obeisance by the State to public opinion is impossible--first, because of the very nature of public opinion, and second, because of the nature of modern political activities...no sooner would government begin to pursue certain aims favored in an opinion poll, than opinion would turn against it...Ergo: even in a democracy, a government that is honest, serious, benevolent, and respects the voter cannot follow public opinion. But it cannot escape it either...Only one solution is possible: as the government cannot follow opinion, opinion must follow the government. (p 124-126) In this process, Ellul lays out his criticism of Liberalism generally, "a great difference nevertheless exists between them [theory and practice of individualism]. In individualist theory the individual has eminent value, man himself is the master of life; in the individualist reality each human being is subject to innumerable forces and influences, and is not at all master of his own life." (p 91) Nor does Ellul accepts that a plurality of propagandas leave an individual to choose, rather likening it to a boxer hit by a left hook becoming groggier, not normal, when then hit by a right. (p 181) The assault of propaganda upon the dignity of man is such that in a democratic country "the citizen can repeat indefinitely 'the sacred formulas of democracy' while acting like a storm trooper," (p 256) a phenomenon we can see at work today in the vitriol and even violence of our debates. Ellul shows that in modern mass society, people rely on intermediaries for their information (hearkening back to the problem of the Reformation that I pointed out earlier), they can only express their opinion through channels (elections, parties, associations, media, etc.), and public opinion "is formed by a very large number of people who cannot possibly experience the same fact in the same fashion, who judge it by different standards, speak a different language, and share neither the same culture nor the same social position...This is possible only when all these people are not really apprised of the facts, but only of abstract symbols that give the facts a shape in which they can serve as a base for public opinion...Therefore, public opinion always rests on problems that do not correspond to reality." (p 101) Ellul observes the need for "concentration in a few hands of a large number of media" for propaganda to be effective, whether state or private monopoly (p 103), along the lines of C.S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength. One might question how the horizontal expansion of media via the internet might change this situation, but thanks to government censorship and control, whether the Great Firewall of China or submitting the internet to the control of the FCC via "net neutrality" (aka telephone regulations from 1934), this dilemma seems to have been eliminated already. The modern citizen is caught between his desire to participate and his practical inability to do so competently, and therefore demanding and accepting propaganda helps him bridge this gap, "the individual wants to participate in other ways than just elections...He wants to form an opinion on foreign policy. But in reality he can't...Public opinion surveys reveal that people have opinions even on the most complicated questions, except for a small minority...The majority prefers expressing stupidities to not expressing any opinion...The more complex, general, and accelerated political and economic phenomena become, the more do individuals feel concerned, the more do they want to get involved...the individual does not want information, but only value judgments and preconceived positions." (p 139-140) Further: nor can he accept the idea that the problems, which sprout all around him, cannot be solved, or that he himself has no value as an individual and is subject to the turn of events. The man who keeps himself informed needs a framework in which all this information can be put in order; he needs explanations and comprehensive answers to general problems; he needs coherence. And he needs an affirmation of his own worth. (p 146) Continuing his other work on mass society, Ellul depicts it so: "That loneliness inside the crowd is perhaps the most terrible ordeal of modern man; that loneliness in which he can share nothing, talk to nobody, and expect nothing from anybody...Propaganda is the true remedy for loneliness...propaganda is the signal to act, the bridge from the individual's mere interest in politics to his political action. It serves to overcome collective passivity." (p 148) Ellul not only examines propaganda's role and function in democracy, but examines its use and role in Nazi Germany and Communists states. His inquiry into Mao's use of it led to this explanation of the "democratic" method used by Communists: a man knows the absolute truth. He poses problems for which there are solutions. He encourages objections (in a limited circle). The discussion that follows does not have as its aim the common search for truth or a plan based on the opinions of all, which will take shape gradually. The aim of the discussion is to use the opposition and to drain the opponents of their energy and their convictions. Its aim is to "work over" every member of the group until, fully and of his own free will, he adheres to a proposition declared to be the absolute truth by the leader. (p 309) In this one is reminded of the conclusion to George Orwell's 1984. As for heroes, "The cult of the hero is the absolutely necessary complement of the massification of 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." (p 172) Propaganda is durable precisely owing to its irrational character: "The individual now has a set of prejudices and beliefs, as well as objective justifications...Every new idea will therefore be troublesome to his entire being...Propaganda has created in him a system of opinions and tendencies which may not be subjected to criticism...He feels personally attacked when these certainties are attacked...the man who has been successfully subjected to a vigorous propaganda will declare that all new ideas are propaganda." (p 166) Which is not to say that a person cannot be successively won over from one group to another via propaganda, Ellul lays out that process as well (p 190). Ellul is sharp about the qualifications of the propagandist himself, the need to stand aloof from belief, "He cannot even share that ideology for he must use it as an object and manipulate it without the respect that he would have for it if he believed in it." (p 197) Ellul shows that propaganda can be effective even when only a skeleton, hardening opinion on just a few key points, but over time, groups crystallize around these key points, opinions become more general and lose detail and nuance (p 204-205). He shows, along these lines, how the needs of propaganda tend to lead to binary arrangements in public opinion, like two-party systems, both because the massive resources required for successful propaganda eliminates a multitude of organizations, and opinions tend to become boiled down to yes-no, for-against, etc. (p 219). In short, an excellent (if sometimes challenging and dry) work, a guide not only to modern propaganda, but a penetrating insight into modern society more broadly. Read The Abolition of Manthen read this!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mark Gring

    Jacques Ellul's book is what I consider the definitive work, thus far, on propaganda. I have not found another text that covers this topic so well as he. The work is comprehensive, thoughtful, subtle, and historical-philosophical. First, Ellul himself is an interesting enigma. He is born into a historic (reformed) Christian home but accepts a more neo-orthodox (Karl Barth, et al) perspective along with an extreme libertarian political perspective. He ends up with what he defines as "Christian An Jacques Ellul's book is what I consider the definitive work, thus far, on propaganda. I have not found another text that covers this topic so well as he. The work is comprehensive, thoughtful, subtle, and historical-philosophical. First, Ellul himself is an interesting enigma. He is born into a historic (reformed) Christian home but accepts a more neo-orthodox (Karl Barth, et al) perspective along with an extreme libertarian political perspective. He ends up with what he defines as "Christian Anarchy" but not the nineteenth century type of anarchy that most of us presume--he is very adamant that he does not accept that political perspective. As such, I would contend that he is both theologically neo-orthodox and politically libertarian (extreme) but with a nod toward a classical Marxist perspective on the problems faced by 20th century societies. All of these larger perspectives are brought to bear on how he understands and interprets propaganda. Ellul contends early in the text that there is no way to study propaganda in an academic, social science, experimental, or controlled way. There are too many sociological, philosophical, interpersonal and economic dimensions that come into play all at once to ever be able to replicate it in a controlled academic setting. Thus, he examines it from an historical and philosophical (with a sociological twist) perspective. Do not get this text if you want a simplistic (either too positive, like Edward Bernays, or too negative--a grand conspiracy) view of propaganda. You will not get that from this French sociologist-philosopher. Ellul's is a complex and subtle view of propaganda that operates both overtly and covertly on multiple levels. He defines propaganda (p.62) "Propaganda is a set of methods (technique) employed by an organized group that wants to bring about the active or passive participation in its actions (praxis) of a mass of individuals, psychologically unified through psychological manipulations and incorporated in an organization." This is the dark side of persuasion--in fact I would argue that is is NOT persuasion because it is overt and covert manipulation that attempts to remove agency from its audience. Ellul's understanding of propaganda cannot be understood apart from his idea of "technique." This idea is explained in his prior book that is mistranslated and mis-titled as "The Technological Society." Ellul argues that societies have given up religion as the way to organize and thus we give ourselves over to various techniques, various systems, that organize life for us. Since these systems are incomplete, we need to "lubricate them" via the controls from propaganda. In fact, he contends, 20th century society cannot operate and survive without some form of propaganda. Ellul argues that there are also 3 major, and very different, types of propaganda that come from the 3 major systems of his day: Soviet Union, China, and the United States. All three of these have very different types of propaganda but they all serve their various subsistent countries in the needed ways to maintain the "technique"--the particular way of seeing and acting in the world. I would love to see someone chart out the categories of propaganda (pp 61-87) that show how propaganda operates on various continuums (continui?) including: Political--Sociological (education); Agitation--Integration; Vertical--Horizontal; and Rational--Irrational. Ellul's view of propaganda is complex, fascinating, and ultimately chilling. According to Ellul, propaganda is the system we have brought on ourselves because we have rejected the simple understanding of the Christian gospel that brings both freedom and restraint to the individual. Instead, we prefer our slavery because we always hope we can be the ones to manipulate others (my words, not his). Ultimately, Ellul sees that propaganda has a life-changing, devastating effect on those who live under its system. Freedom from it is a faint hint, at best.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Supper

    This book propagandized me to understand the importance and dire need of propaganda. That's how good it is. One important theme of this book: "propaganda" is not what you think it is. It is precisely the moment when you scoff at the notion of oppositional propaganda, that you lower your defenses for others, and that you are already under the influences of another set of propaganda. A very eye-opening read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ietrio

    As probably most products of the French educational system Ellul proves to be an intellectual fraud. Like Bergson who used to base his ramblings about life on popular drama characters he had seen in a play the night before, Ellul describes life on what he has seen on TV the night before. E. g. the last annex that describes as real an imaginary technique of "brainwashing." No wonder France is a top consumer of Homeopathy. Yet, somehow, his literary and rhetoric technique are good enough to convin As probably most products of the French educational system Ellul proves to be an intellectual fraud. Like Bergson who used to base his ramblings about life on popular drama characters he had seen in a play the night before, Ellul describes life on what he has seen on TV the night before. E. g. the last annex that describes as real an imaginary technique of "brainwashing." No wonder France is a top consumer of Homeopathy. Yet, somehow, his literary and rhetoric technique are good enough to convince other equally qualified people that his blend of TV and newspaper virtual reality are THE reality. Not surprising, given how many people debate the Government's best path to achieve protection from anything ranging from fleas to terrorist attacks.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Michael S

    Scary, scary, scary.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey Brannen

    **WARNING** This book will destroy your ability to rely on “trusted news sources”. Proceed with caution. ——- We imagine propaganda to be the tool of dictators and totalitarian states. Ellul argues that propaganda is a tool of population control which all governments are tempted to use. Regardless of political or ideological bent, each government finds itself having to deal with the problem of an absolute deluge of information. Controlling that information by spin is essential to remain in power. **WARNING** This book will destroy your ability to rely on “trusted news sources”. Proceed with caution. ——- We imagine propaganda to be the tool of dictators and totalitarian states. Ellul argues that propaganda is a tool of population control which all governments are tempted to use. Regardless of political or ideological bent, each government finds itself having to deal with the problem of an absolute deluge of information. Controlling that information by spin is essential to remain in power. But, if it were only governments who needed propaganda, that would be bad enough. However, the problem goes deeper—we want to be indoctrinated by propaganda and we will seek it out. This is the true value of the book: in today’s information age, we cannot handle the glut of data. Our world is confusing, chaotic, and complicated. But as a citizen, I’m required to be both informed and to make decisions (I.e. to vote). But I can’t handle the flow of data so I either actively seek out or passively receive a simplified and simplistic worldview that creates a comforting narrative which agrees with my preconceptions. In short, I want my vision of the good life and my place in it to be confirmed by what I read, listen to, and watch. So when media confirms my bias, I believe I’m encountering “information” but when I’m encountering media I disagree with, I label that “propaganda”. Here is the explanation of the explosion of accusations of fake news and disinformation. Propaganda in a democracy tends to polarization and a two party system because of the extreme cost of conducting a propaganda campaign, which must be relentless. Every effective propaganda campaign contains three elements: a victim, an enemy, and a scapegoat. It provides a solution to loneliness by making the isolated individual part of a mass movement. It eliminates the need to think. It drives the individual to action, eliminates conscious anxiety, and gives a sense of purpose and peace. I recommend this book with a caveat: you will no longer trust the news media or the government to tell you the unvarnished truth.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Eduardo Goye

    Despite having a few moments of clarity and interesting analysis, this book can only be a real red-pill text if you are utterly convinced that what you see on the media is the absolute truth. If you have any kind of ability to question your environment, most of Ellul's claims will seem obvious. The repetitive style in which is written forces you to read the same ideas over and over, dragging through a text that could have been several hundred pages shorter. The author's anti-communist sentiment i Despite having a few moments of clarity and interesting analysis, this book can only be a real red-pill text if you are utterly convinced that what you see on the media is the absolute truth. If you have any kind of ability to question your environment, most of Ellul's claims will seem obvious. The repetitive style in which is written forces you to read the same ideas over and over, dragging through a text that could have been several hundred pages shorter. The author's anti-communist sentiment is so strong that inevitably permeates into terrible philosophical inaccuracies and the author's impossibility to analyse Marxism without the USSR dictatorship and its propaganda. Anybody who is a bit versed on the topic will experience many facepalm moments. Ellul was a self-proclaimed "Christian anarchist" which could nowadays be translated as a conservative liberal: The main discourse of the book is a praise of the individual (being an individual is "the only way" to stand against propaganda, for him.) Thus supporting one part of a dichotomy: individual vs collective. By praising the individual, Ellul is ditching the most important aspect of the anarchist tradition: Mutual aid. Ellul's ideas go against anarchism itself, and emerge in close proximity with neoliberal propaganda, where individual reigns supreme. Ellul is so blinded by his own ideology, that the 'solution' he poses to the problem of propaganda is, actually, just another result of the propaganda machinery he imagines himself being immune to. Ellul blindly accepts the capitalist mode of appropriation and State violence, instead of questioning and dismantling the propaganda that conditioned him to support and believe in such a model in the first place.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    “Propaganda,” in Ellul’s usage, is neither intrinsically “good” or “evil.” In its most benign form, it includes those unwritten societal codes of behavior which we learn to follow at an early age and, without which, civil society would be rather chaotic. In our growth from infancy to adulthood, we unconsciously build on the mental scaffolding provided by our parents and religious faith, continually modifying it as new experiences unfold. The very solidity of our belief system is reinforced by ho “Propaganda,” in Ellul’s usage, is neither intrinsically “good” or “evil.” In its most benign form, it includes those unwritten societal codes of behavior which we learn to follow at an early age and, without which, civil society would be rather chaotic. In our growth from infancy to adulthood, we unconsciously build on the mental scaffolding provided by our parents and religious faith, continually modifying it as new experiences unfold. The very solidity of our belief system is reinforced by how our knowledge allows us to successfully navigate through daily life. Little wonder that we come to believe that what we know is also the truth. Although written a half-century ago, this seminal work reveals not only how vulnerable we are to propaganda, but also how much we desire it as a means of understanding – and orienting ourselves successfully within – the world. Our brains are wired to “make sense” of the world and will find one way or another to build – and cling to – a belief structure that “works.” We yearn to know the why of things as well as the how and what. Therefore, to be successful, propaganda must provide a useful, and psychologically satisfying, way to understand and function within the world. Things begin to get a little slippery, however, when what we think we “know” includes matters such as the workings of our economy, the validity of other cultures’ values, or even the nature of what we call “reality” itself. Here we are relying much less on our own personal experience and more on what we have learned from the testimony – or propaganda – of others. While we ought to be more skeptical about the truth of such “knowledge,” we are inclined not to be, at least as long as the explanations of these larger issues fits within our belief system of how “the world works.” In fact, we are inclined to cling to these beliefs with an almost religious fervor, refusing to admit information or arguments that might challenge what we believe. While we may not consciously be aware of it, we sense that any perceived – or admitted – weakness in our belief system could well set in motion several toppling dominoes. While certain individuals – those attracted to various kinds of hierarchies, for example, or who place great faith in authority figures – might be thought to be more likely to behave this way, this tendency exists in each one of us. So far, so good. To this point, we have been discussing relatively benign forms of “propaganda,” but there are much more insidious forms that have typically been known as propaganda as the 20th century sadly witnessed repeatedly. Without understanding the way in which such propaganda conveys an all-encompassing world view, and how powerfully compelling it is to the psyche, it is impossible to understand how so many German and Soviet citizens could come to thoroughly embrace Nazism or Stalinism. When the shared myths of “all of us” are eroded by the declining fortunes and expectations of the many, people seek out those groups to which they really feel that they belong, a search that is highly emotional and personal. No wonder they find validation and comfort by joining with others in following leaders who assure them that they are not only important, but that they are the good, wise, and just ones. Moreover, they are suffering loss because of what others are doing – coastal elites, swarming immigrants, alien faiths. Had I read Ellul’s book 30 years ago – closer to the time it first appeared in print – I would have applied its lessons to the recorded, but not personally experienced, periods of Nazism and Stalinism. Now, however, I understand it as a lived experience: Trump, Brexit, and rising populist nationalism throughout Europe. When the shared myths of “all of us” are eroded by the declining fortunes and expectations of the many, people seek out those groups to which they really feel that they belong, a search that is highly emotional and personal. No wonder they find validation and comfort by joining with others in following leaders who assure them that they are not only important, but that they are the good, wise, and just ones. Moreover, they are suffering loss because of what others are doing – coastal elites, swarming immigrants, alien faiths. This is important, for it allows me to apply experience to Ellul’s interpretation, allowing me insights I could not really gain from attempting to understand how Germans of the early 20th century could have been so thoroughly co-opted by Hitler. The way in which Trump’s “base” bars any evidence of the president’s meanness and corruption from weakening their support of “their leader” is this country’s version of Germany’s fascist moment. No, we are not yet fascist, but the rising tide of white supremacy coupled with the populist nationalism proclaimed by Trump leans that way more heavily than most would like to believe. Ellul mentions, but it is other, more recent books that have allowed me to understand better, the very important point of how people become vulnerable to such tightly held propaganda, and it bears a very important lesson for our own time. When most citizens enjoy prosperity and have confidence in the security of their children’s future, divisive propaganda struggles to put down roots. But, when great inequities of wealth and power exist between the wealthy few and the struggling, threatened many, broader understandings of who “we” are disintegrate, setting the stage for demagogues who argue that they are for “us” as opposed to “them” – one or more “others.” The period from 1945 through the early 1970s – the formative period for my generation – was, as we now understand, unique for its widespread prosperity, rising middle class, and unparalleled optimism for the future. Throughout the West, including the United States, memories of the conditions that led to the horrors of the Second World War were fresh, and not just some stale memories imprinted on the pages of historical textbooks. They remembered how the desperate days of the Great Depression, accompanied by wide disparities in wealth and power, helped fuel the despair and thirst for change that opened the door to people like Franco, Mussolini, and Hitler and, therefore, took post-war policy positions that encouraged high employment, good working conditions and benefits, and pension and health care that helped erase the worry of unseen events and old age. Beginning in the 1970s, however – and both Reagan and Thatcher stand as key figures in the forefront of this change – governments began to assume their more traditional stance of favoring the interests of the wealthy and big business. The cumulative damage should now be apparent to everyone although, thanks to the hot button issue baiting tactics of the right, its causes have been blurred by aggravating grievances against unions, the poor, immigrants, and public workers. If we hope to end the present era of division, bitterness, and rage, then we must destroy the fuel upon which it depends. We must return to the policies of the post-war period that were so demonstrably successful and against which vile propaganda stands little chance.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Dan Douglas

    This one will get you thinking. Propaganda, Ellul insists, is not simply wartime films put out by authoritarian regimes, spinning away in 1950s movie houses. Nor is it normally put together via conspiracy, as we tend to imagine, although sometimes that does happen. No, Ellul points out that most propaganda is the benign, sometimes even well-intentioned, shaping of public opinion as a necessary sociological consequence of mass, technological, democratic societies. Whoever resides at the top of cul This one will get you thinking. Propaganda, Ellul insists, is not simply wartime films put out by authoritarian regimes, spinning away in 1950s movie houses. Nor is it normally put together via conspiracy, as we tend to imagine, although sometimes that does happen. No, Ellul points out that most propaganda is the benign, sometimes even well-intentioned, shaping of public opinion as a necessary sociological consequence of mass, technological, democratic societies. Whoever resides at the top of cultural life at any given time has no choice but to use propaganda because 1) people--especially intellectuals, who "absorb large amounts of second hand and unverifiable information, feel a compelling need to have opinions on important issues, and judge themselves as free-thinkers"--actually crave propaganda. 2) Democracies too depend on public opinion to operate, which incentivizes a long term and "proactive" approach in shaping said opinion, and an interesting symbiosis emerges. Propaganda cannot be just any old piece of fictionalized "information." It must stem from previous public sentiment and build off of it, like a coral reef, it can grow spontaneously in surprising directions but must rely on its "base" as a platform from which it gains fundamental direction. Otherwise the public will not absorb the new information. Another important point is that propaganda can no longer afford to be "false" in the obvious sense. If a state or media puts out something 100% made up, counter-propaganda will capitalize on the falsity. Instead, propagandists use editorial shading with real facts, but in whatever dubious contextual framework which suits their purpose on a particular day. This makes modern day fact checking an exercise in "context checking" or editorial mishandling of set-piece information, rather than the atomized facts in themselves. I would recommend this book to anyone, literally ANYONE, who feels this burden from time to time. And who values integrity above all else and wants a guidebook for how to spot those who don't.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Steve Penner

    Each book by Jacques Ellul is fascinating in its own way. This book was written in the early 1960's so reflects the era and its concern with propaganda. The recent past of Nazi propaganda, the ongoing use of it in the communist bloc, the beginnings of television as a medium for propaganda and the general technologization of society all become part of his analysis on the uses and misuses of propaganda. As others have pointed out, Ellul was the first to point out that the goal of propaganda was no Each book by Jacques Ellul is fascinating in its own way. This book was written in the early 1960's so reflects the era and its concern with propaganda. The recent past of Nazi propaganda, the ongoing use of it in the communist bloc, the beginnings of television as a medium for propaganda and the general technologization of society all become part of his analysis on the uses and misuses of propaganda. As others have pointed out, Ellul was the first to point out that the goal of propaganda was not to change men's minds but to prompt them to specific action, an easily overlooked aspect. He demonstrates that there are many kinds of propaganda with different audiences and used to different ends. The book was dense in the best sense of the word. Not that the vocabulary or writing style were difficult, but the density is in the ideas that he develops. It would be easy to pick just about any page and find hours worth of conversation resulting from it. An attention-demanding read but well worth it.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Nigel Senton

    https://sentonator.blogspot.com/2020/... Reading this cause, I notice a conservative read a centralized book. Just as it happens, I'll have to go over it again. Female to.male.bot.abuse to hard gander for lame review on my reading mid-winter lost the book. Quite frustrating that mid winter, this book could be anywhere in my paper book dog eared book pile that I can't do find the note. Read again when one sees it. Back of book says stuff If you have heard of the indoctrination of hate of 1984 Look a https://sentonator.blogspot.com/2020/... Reading this cause, I notice a conservative read a centralized book. Just as it happens, I'll have to go over it again. Female to.male.bot.abuse to hard gander for lame review on my reading mid-winter lost the book. Quite frustrating that mid winter, this book could be anywhere in my paper book dog eared book pile that I can't do find the note. Read again when one sees it. Back of book says stuff If you have heard of the indoctrination of hate of 1984 Look at this book, Better than 1984 for a dystopia. More relevant for reality or how 1984 is object for reality. I debate about enunciated discussion for a linguistic debate on culture today one could dare to read to get through.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Night Train Express

    This book opened my eyes, I gained a whole new perspective to how the world really works. I learned a lot about our views and mindsets are formed. This book made me question a lot of things and it made me wonder whether our thoughts truly belong to us or not? It reminded me of something very important, something I realized our society has neglected for quite a while now, to think critically, to think for one's self. If you seek to wake up and see the world clearly. Read this book. I strongly rec This book opened my eyes, I gained a whole new perspective to how the world really works. I learned a lot about our views and mindsets are formed. This book made me question a lot of things and it made me wonder whether our thoughts truly belong to us or not? It reminded me of something very important, something I realized our society has neglected for quite a while now, to think critically, to think for one's self. If you seek to wake up and see the world clearly. Read this book. I strongly recommend it to those readers who aren't afraid of the truth.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    Written in the 1950s and generally holds up really well. The only changes that affect how the ideas described in it apply are ones that Ellul wouldn't necessarily have foreseen: the 24-hour news cycle, and the internet. With those two developments, the ability to bombard people with propaganda (having it stick more effectively) and target them more accurately has become less of an issue than it was when the book was written. Overall, very chilling and a little depressing, but should be required Written in the 1950s and generally holds up really well. The only changes that affect how the ideas described in it apply are ones that Ellul wouldn't necessarily have foreseen: the 24-hour news cycle, and the internet. With those two developments, the ability to bombard people with propaganda (having it stick more effectively) and target them more accurately has become less of an issue than it was when the book was written. Overall, very chilling and a little depressing, but should be required reading for everyone.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Shelley

    Excellent and clearly written. The translation is quite good. I learned more from this than I expected. The impact of propaganda goes much further than most people realize. That's a deliberate intention. Very relevant to today's issues despite being published in 1965. I felt like I was reading a description of how FOX News operates and how social media influences people. This book took me a long time to read because I kept needing to put it down and think about it for awhile before being able to Excellent and clearly written. The translation is quite good. I learned more from this than I expected. The impact of propaganda goes much further than most people realize. That's a deliberate intention. Very relevant to today's issues despite being published in 1965. I felt like I was reading a description of how FOX News operates and how social media influences people. This book took me a long time to read because I kept needing to put it down and think about it for awhile before being able to absorb more material.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Russell

    As in The Technological Society, Ellul examines, not the practice of propaganda, but the the underlying assumptions and ideology that gives rise to it--a much broader category of communication than commonly assigned to the term.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Adam Ross

    An interesting book on the way in which comprehensive propaganda is employed in the modern world (a bit dated now, but still good and helpful, covering ground others have ignored). Ellul is a Christian as well, so his approach is more interesting than just an academic approach to the subject.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Joyce

    I think I was halfway in reading this book before I got it, (a good thing I did too because it was required for school) and when I did, there is nothing like that feeling. It will challenge you and stretch your mind and thinking.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Walter

    Essential reading if you live in a mass society.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kenny

    Written in 1965, there were major parts of this book that are amazingly prescient of today's media and cultural climate. Ellul is difficult, and I found myself slogging through parts of it only to come upon a profound and penetrating paragraph or section. Parts are dated, of course, but some examples from the past are still helpful in understanding today's situation. Here is a piece from his prediction about TV: "It seems that TV is destined to become a principal arm [for propaganda], for it can Written in 1965, there were major parts of this book that are amazingly prescient of today's media and cultural climate. Ellul is difficult, and I found myself slogging through parts of it only to come upon a profound and penetrating paragraph or section. Parts are dated, of course, but some examples from the past are still helpful in understanding today's situation. Here is a piece from his prediction about TV: "It seems that TV is destined to become a principal arm [for propaganda], for it can totally mobilize the individual without demanding the slightest effort from him....But in order to use this remarkable arm, one must have something to show. The government official giving a speech is not a spectacle. Democracies have nothing to show that can compare with what is available to a dictatorship. If they do not want to be left behind in this domain, which would be extremely dangerous, they must find propaganda spectacles to televise…The exigencies of TV will lead democracy to engage in such hardly democratic demonstrations." One wonders if even Ellul would be surprised at how far we have gone in this direction!

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