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Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes Paperback – January 12, 1973
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The most terrible revelation he offers is when he points out that the most informed individuals (in the sense of consuming the most media) are the most propagandized (but unaware of being so). This is why this book doesn't get more play -- it would put the Massive Media and the "public relations" (aka, propaganda industry) out of business if people understood their real social role.
The book is bleak, and leaves you reeling. But it does provide intellectual ammunition -- namely, critical thinking -- as a hopeful vaccination from propaganda, except for Ellul's statement that people who think propaganda doesn't affect them tend to be propagandized....
I guess the safest thing you can do is assume you are a victim of propaganda, and then deal with it by sorting out what opinions are genuinely yours, and what are the result of "conventional wisdom" and "common sense". The alternative is to pretend you're somehow immune.
And this is as it should be. After all, the propagandist is operating in full force right now, as he was in the 1960's when the book was written, and he is not using controlled labs to do it. He is doing it on a mass scale in real society and achieving results. Therefore a serious attempt to understand propaganda "in its actual place" and "as it is used" is valuable and enlightening. Ellul is not interested in "building" a technique for propaganda from the ground up, or in "proving" that it is possible. This much has already been done as evidenced by plain facts!! He is acknowledging what has already been achieved and is looking at these systems from many angles to determine their nature and tease out an understanding so we can know more what we are facing.
You will find many less than intuitive but fascinating notions in the book.
For instance: Education increases the ingestion of propaganda. In fact it is a prerequisite. It is no wonder Saddam Hussein worked to increase literacy in Iraq -- all the better to try to propagandize the people with words and mold them into a cohesive whole. Another idea: Democracies like the U.S. are very vulnerable to propaganda. In fact, this form of government makes propaganda all the more necessary, since you must work on people's minds more than their bodies (it is not a dictatorship.) People in democracies should expect to be heavily and relentlessly propagandized.Read more ›
Orwell's electronic miracles monitored citizens directly or indirectly. Huxley's miracles were far more therapeutic or medical. But routine surveillance or treatment is inefficient and overwhelms any state that would depend on omniscience or envelopment. Ellul foresaw tools both electronic and human that would so condition subject-audiences that close monitoring and careful prescriptions would be unneeded.
Ellul also argued that this "Brave, New World" could not but subvert democracy and decency. Once the will of the citizen is not his or her own, then democracy in any meaningful sense is at least devalued and perhaps transformed into reassuring internment.
Perhaps Ellul's most important insight was that the educated believed themselves immune to propaganda when, due to their proclivity for reading and watching news and other governmental outflow, such "intellectuals" were actually far more vulnerable than masses who did not receive propaganda as often.
So turn off the set and log off the internet and settle in with a truly life-changing read.
The biggest drawback is that the book published today is the same as that published in 1965 (Ellul died in 1994 and no real updated edition was ever produced), and the cases analyzed may seem obsolete, in that he focuses primarily on National Socialist, Maoist, Soviet and US cold war propaganda. But the analysis of is still second to none. For those familiar with the study of propaganda, Ellul's work was by far the most comprehensive and penetrating study of propaganda to that point. It was a HUGE and monumental advance from the previous research into propaganda of Bernays, Lambert, or Fraser. This book ought to be required reading for anyone who wishes to consider themselves even remotely literate or intelligent. Although one may not agree with all his conclusions, it nonetheless provides a compelling argument and portrait of modern man and how frighteningly easy it is to systematically 'persuade' him. Any thinking person cannot but attempt to be cognizant of how we are influenced.
This book is relevant for several reasons. 1) The student of history will appreciate the Ellul's examples.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book changed the way I think about the world. After reading this book I look at media much more closely and constantly think about how what I am seeing influences my... Read morePublished 4 months ago by Grant
A French author largely unavailable to American audiences, his theory is complimented by the likes of Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky. Read morePublished 14 months ago by C. B. Terry
This book is a near classic. We live in a world dominated by misinformation, wrong information, half truths and opinions turn on it. All it takes is social media aptitude. Read morePublished 16 months ago by Gerald E. Connally