Propaganda & Mass Persuasion: Is propaganda a necessary evil?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Is propaganda a necessary evil?

"The modern propagandist, like the modern psychologist, recognizes that men are
often poor judges of their own interests, flitting from one alternative to the
next without solid reason or clinging timorously to the fragments of some rock
of ages."
(Lasswell, p.24)

The above is the most well known quote attributed to political scientist Harold D. Lasswell, written in 1934. Mr. Lasswell was no doubt both responding to the rise of Fascism and Nazism in Europe, as well as reflecting on the aftermath of the 'World War', which is now known as World War I. The quote is taken from his essay titled simply "Propaganda". Most of the article does a good job of remaining objective, explaining in great detail just what Mr. Lasswell believes propaganda to be, and it's relevance to the modern world (of the 1930's). The sentiment above, however, placed near the end of the essay, betrays his personal belief that propaganda is a necessary tool to be wielded by responsible governments in the interest of their own people. In other words, it is OK to lie to and manipulate the people you serve in order to accomplish needed objectives, because 'ordinary folks just don't know what's good for them'. This seems just a little Machiavellian to me, despite the fact I agree with the sentiment expressed. If he were alive today, I wonder if he would change his mind after witnessing the debacles in Vietnam and Iraq.

Mr. Lasswell


Blogger ArmyGirl85 said...

I would have to agree that history which seems to repeat itself has always and will always use Propaganda to lie to the public. If you really think about it "truth" is irrelevant when you are trying to get what you want. People want to hear and do what they want to do, not what is right to do. In war and anything that involved getting the country ready for war, propaganda was the easiest way to manipulate men and woman to do "the right thing".

1/31/2008 11:04 AM  
Blogger Paul C said...

There is a terrfic satiracal novel I read years ago titled "City of Truth", in which Americans sick of propaganda formed a community where lying of any kind was illegal. It was both hilarious and sobering, as it ably demonstarted that modern American American society is founded on, and runs on, lies and half truths.

1/31/2008 3:39 PM  
Blogger A. Mattson said...

A good post and quotation. Lasswell is writing in 1934. His attitude toward the public is shaped by the experience of WWI and the rise of communism and fascism in europe. His ideas about the psychological flaws of the common man really shape his discussion of propaganda.

2/06/2008 9:05 PM  

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