An academic analysis of the ways in which propaganda still functions and influences ideology in contemporary society.
The concept of propaganda seems to be an anachronism. Or, as Stanley (Philosophy/Yale Univ.; Know How, 2011, etc.) puts it, propaganda is typically reserved for historical thinking about totalitarian and fascist regimes—e.g., the Nazis or Stalinist Russia. However, this thinking is dangerous precisely because it removes propaganda from a contemporary context, thereby allowing it to infiltrate discourse unnoticed. Moreover, the concept of propaganda functioning within a democratic society is especially tricky since the very idea of democracy is at odds with an environment that could allow propaganda. Stanley astutely identifies the conundrum of democracy and propaganda: “Democracy is a system of self-rule that is supposed to maximize liberty. Freedom of speech, especially public political speech, cannot be restricted in a democracy. But the unrestricted use of propaganda is a serious threat to democracy.” The author’s analysis of propaganda within a democratic political system is scholarly but vital, as he dismantles this erroneous preconception step by step, from Plato to the present day. His dissections of language and social structures expose the underpinnings of how propaganda continues to dictate individual consciousness and social policy. For instance, the author painstakingly defines the terms of his analysis, creating distinctions among “supporting propaganda,” “undermining propaganda,” and “demagoguery,” to name a few. Ultimately, the damage of propaganda, as defined by Stanley, is that it creates public opinion that is “radically misaligned” with national policy, all for the political or financial gain of the minority exploiting the flawed ideology of democratic society, however sincerely or insincerely. Citing examples ranging from historical racism in America to Citizens United, Stanley’s critique of propaganda and ideology will only prove more influential as public and political opinion is further polarized.
Laymen beware, but curious and disciplined readers will find a useful examination of propaganda’s pervasiveness.