|EARLY HISTORY OF PROPAGANDA. SPECTATOR DEMOCRACY.
ENGINEERING OPINION. PUBLIC RELATIONS.
|SUB-SUB TILE HERE
Early History of Propaganda. Spectator Democracy.
Engineering Opinion. Public Relations.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
March 17, 1991
Excerpted from the Alternative Press Review,
Fall 1993 Noam Chomsky
Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
March 17, 1991 Excerpted from the Alternative
Press Review, Fall 1993
... Let me begin by counter-posing two different
conceptions of democracy. One conception
of democracy has it that a democratic society
is one in which the public has the means
to participate in some meaningful way in
the management of their own affairs and the
means of information are open and free....
An alternative conception of democracy is
that the public must be barred from managing
of their own affairs and the means of information
must be kept narrowly and rigidly controlled.
That may sound like an odd conception of
democracy, but it's important to understand
that it is the prevailing conception....
Early History of Propaganda
...[The Wilson administration] established
a government propaganda commission, called
the Creel Commission, which succeeded, within
six months, in turning a pacifist population
into a hysterical, war-mongering population
which wanted to destroy everything German,
tear the Germans limb from limb, go to war
and save the world.
That was a major achievement, and it led
to a further achievement. Right at time and
after the war the same techniques were used
to whip up a hysterical Red Scare, as it
was called, which succeeded pretty much in
destroying unions and eliminating such dangerous
problems as freedom of the press and freedom
of political thought. There was very strong
support from the media, from the business
establishment, which in fact organized, pushed
much of this work, and it was in general
a great success.
Among those who participated actively and
enthusiastically were the progressive intellectuals,
people of the John Dewey circle, who took
great pride, as you can see from their own
writings at the time, in having shown that
what they called the "more intelligent
members of the community," namely themselves,
were able to drive a reluctant population
into a war by terrifying them and eliciting
jingoist fanaticism. The means that were
used were extensive. For example, there was
a good deal of fabrication of atrocities
by the Huns, Belgian babies with their arms
torn off, all sorts of awful things that
you still read in history books. They were
all invented by the British propaganda ministry,
whose own committment at the time, as they
put it in their secret deliberations, was
"to control the thought of the world."
But more crucially they wanted to control
the thought of the more intelligent members
of the community in the U. S., who would
then disseminate the propaganda that they
were concocting and convert the pacifist
country to wartime hysteria. That worked.
It worked very well. And it taught a lesson:
State propaganda, when supported by the educated
classes and when no deviation is permitted
from it, can have a big effect. It was a
lesson learned by Hitler and many others,
and it has been pursued to this day.
... Walter Lippman, who was the dean of American
journalists, a major foreign and domestic
policy critic and also a major theorist of
liberal democracy... argued that what he
called a "revolution in the art of democracy,"
could be used to "manufacture consent,"
that is, to bring about agreement on the
part of the public for things that they didn't
want by the new techniques of propaganda....
... He argued that in a properly-functioning
democracy there are classes of citizens.
There is first of all the class of citizens
who have to take some active role in running
general affairs. That's the specialized class.
They are the people who analyze, execute,
make decisions, and run things in the political,
economic, and ideological systems. That's
a small percentage of the population... Those
others, who are out of the small group, the
big majority of the population, they are
what Lippman called "the bewildered
herd." We have to protect ourselves
from the trampling and rage of the bewildered
... So we need something to tame the bewildered
herd, and that something is this new revolution
in the art of democracy: the "manufacture
of consent." The media, the schools,
and popular culture have to be divided. For
the political class and the decision makers
have to give them some tolerable sense of
reality, although they also have to instill
the proper beliefs. Just remember, there
is an unstated premise here. The unstated
premise -- and even the responsible men have
to disguise this from themselves -- has to
do with the question of how they get into
the position where they have the authority
to make decisions. The way they do that,
of course, is by serving people with real
power. The people with real power are the
ones who own the society, which is a pretty
narrow group. If the specialized class can
come along and say, I can serve your interests,
then they'll be part of the executive group.
You've got to keep that quiet. That means
they have to have instilled in them the beliefs
and doctrines that will serve the interests
of private power. Unless they can master
that skill, they're not part of the specialized
class. They have to be deeply indoctrinated
in the values and interests of private power
and the state-corporate nexus that represents
it. If they can get through that, then they
can be part of the specialized class. The
rest of the bewildered herd just have to
be basically distracted. Turn their attention
to something else....
... In what is nowadays called a totalitarian
state, then a military state, it's easy.
You just hold a bludgeon over their heads,
and if they get out of line you smash them
over the head. But as society has become
more free and democratic, you lose that capacity.
Therefore you have to turn to the techniques
of propaganda. The logic is clear. Propaganda
is to democracy what the bludgeon is to a
The U. S. pioneered the public relations
industry. Its committment was to "control
the public mind," as its leaders put
it. They learned a lot from the successes
of the Creel Commission and the success in
creating the Red Scare and its aftermath.
The public relations industry underwent a
huge expansion at that time. It succeeded
for some time in creating almost total subordination
of the public to business rule through the
Public relations is a huge industry. They're
spending by now something on the order of
a billion dollars a year. All along its committment
was to controlling the public mind....
... The corporate executive and the guy who
cleans the floor all have the same interests.
We can all work together and work for Americanism
in harmony, liking each other. That was essentially
the message. A huge amount of effort was
put into presenting it. This is, after all,
the business community, so they control the
media and have massive resources... Mobilizing
community opinion in favor of vapid, empty
concepts like Americanism. Who can be against
that? Or, to bring it up to date, "Support
our troops." Who can be against that?
Or yellow ribbons. Who can be against that?...
The point of public relations slogans like
"Support our troops" is that they
don't mean anything. They mean as much as
whether you support the people in Iowa. Of
course, there was an issue. The issue was,
Do you support our policy? But you don't
want people to think about the issue. That's
the whole point of good propaganda. You want
to create a slogan that nobody's going to
be against, and everybody's going to be for,
because nobody knows what it means, because
it doesn't mean anything, but its crucial
value is that it diverts your attention....
That's all very effective. It runs right
up to today. And of course it is carefully
thought out. The people in the public relations
industry aren't there for the fun of it.
They're doing work. They're trying to instill
the right values. In fact, they have a conception
of what democracy ought to be: It ought to
be a system in which the specialized class
is trained to work in the service of the
masters, the people who own the society.
The rest of the population ought to be deprived
of any form of organization, because organization
just causes trouble. They ought to be sitting
alone in front of the TV and having drilled
into their heads the message, which says,
the only value in life is to have more commodities
or live like that rich middle class family
you're watching and to have nice values like
harmony and Americanism. That's all there
is in life. You may think in your own head
that there's got to be something more in
life than this, but since you're watching
the tube alone you assume, I must be crazy,
because that's all that's going on over there....
So that's the ideal. Great efforts are made
in trying to achieve that ideal. Obviously,
there is a certain conception behind it.
The conception of democracy is the one that
I mentioned. The bewildered herd is a problem.
We've got to prevent their rage and trampling.
We've got to distract them. They should be
watching the Superbowl or sitcoms or violent
movies. Every once in a while you call on
them to chant meaningless slogans like "Support
our troops." You've got to keep them
pretty scared, because unless they're properly
scared and frightened of all kinds of devils
that are going to destroy them from outside
or inside or somewhere, they may start to
think, which is very dangerous, because they're
not competent to think. Therefore it's important
to distract them and marginalize them.
It is also necessary to whip up the population
in support of foreign adventures. Usually
the population is pacifist, just like they
were during the First World War. The public
sees no reason to get involved in foreign
adventures, killing, and torture. So you
have to whip them up. And to whip them up
you have to frighten them....
To a certain extent then, that ideal was
achieved, but never completely. There are
institutions which it has as yet been impossible
to destroy. The churches, for example, still
exist. A large part of the dissident activity
in the U. S. comes out of the churches, for
the simple reason that they're there. So
when you go to a European country and give
a political talk, it may very likely be in
the union hall. Here that won't happen, because
unions first of all barely exist, and if
they do exist they're not political organizations.
But the churches do exist, and therefore
you often give a talk in a church. Central
American solidarity work mostly grew out
of the churches, mainly because they exist.
The bewildered herd never gets properly tamed,
so this is a constant battle.