PROPAGANDA by Jacques Ellul


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Jacques Ellul's The Technological Society, which we enthusiastically greeted a few seasons back, received a rather mixed critical reception, ranging from huzzahs (""a classic"" and so forth) to George Lichtheim's dismissive ""a tissue of twaddle."" Propaganda is a much less ambitious work, but equally as complex in its reasoning and controversial in thesis. Once again Ellul is concerned with the disastrous autonomy of technological instruments and structures and the resultant totalitarian similarities between East and West. Propaganda as a phenomenon is for Ellul essentially the same whether in the USSR, the USA or China. These are the Big Three propaganda blocs, and all other nations follow or vary in accordance wroth them. At any level, propaganda is a ""menace which threatens the total personality,"" and can be so under democratic or dictatorial governments: Mao's formula ""each must be a Propagandist for all"" is not too different from our own ""organization man"" manipulations. ""If I am in favor of democracy,"" says Ellul, ""I Can only regret that propaganda renders the true exercise of it almost impossible."" Ellul is insistent on this point, but marshals enough evidence or ""observation"" in its favor to dismay the reader. The work makes important distinctions between types, conditions and effects of propaganda, going into extreme detail re ideological indoctrination or mass media ""communication,"" along with political, social and psychic considerations, and emphasizes over and over the underling ""need for propaganda on the individual's part."" It is here that the ""normalcy"" takes shape: the statistical/sociological brand of the West or the ""brainwashing"" type of the East produces identical results a normalcy which breeds ""propaganda that can reduce the individual to the pattern most. useful to society."" Ellul' s work is brilliant, thoroughgoing, frightening.

Pub Date: Oct. 25th, 1965
Publisher: Knopf