Sunday, November 29, 2009

Noam Chomsky: Propaganda in a Democracy; The Threat of the Public Beast; Welfare State for the Rich; National Interest vs Special Interests

It’s not the case, as the naïve might think, that indoctrination is inconsistent with democracy. … The point is that in a military State or a feudal State or what we would nowadays call a totalitarian State, it doesn’t much matter what people think because you’ve got a bludgeon over their head and you can control what they do. But when the state loses the bludgeon, when you can’t control people by force and when the voice of the people can be heard, you have this problem. It may make people so curious and so arrogant that they don’t have the humility to submit to a civil rule and therefore you have to control what people think. And the standard way to do this is to resort to what in more honest days used to be called propaganda. Manufacture of consent. Creation of necessary illusions. Various ways of either marginalizing the general public or reducing them to apathy in some fashion.

(Speech at American University quoted in) Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media. ed. Mark Achbar. Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1994: 43.

In the presidential address to the American Political Science Association in 1934, William Shepard argued that government should be in the hands of "an aristocracy of intellect and power," while the "ignorant, the uninformed and the anti-social elements" must not be permitted to control elections, as he mistakenly believed they had done in the past. One of the founders of modern political science, Harold Lasswell, one of the founders of the field of communications, in fact, wrote in the Encyclopedia of Social Sciences in 1933 or 1934 that modern techniques of propaganda, which had been impressively refined by Wilsonian liberals, provided the way to keep the public in line. Lasswell described Wilson as "the great generalissimo on the propaganda front." Wilson's World War I achievements in propaganda impressed others, including Adolph Hitler. You can read about it in Mein Kampf. But crucially they impressed the American business community. That led to a huge expansion of the public relations industry which was dedicated to controlling the public mind, as advocates used to put it in more honest days, just as writing in the Encyclopedia of Social Sciences in 1934, Laswell described what he was talking about as propaganda. We don't use that term. We're more sophisticated. As a political scientist, Laswell advocated more sophisticated use of this new technique of control of the general public ... [to] enable the intelligent men of the community, the natural rulers, to overcome the threat of the great beast who may undermine order because of, in Laswell's terms, the ignorance and superstition of the masses. We should not submit to "democratic dogmatisms about men being the best judges of their own interests." The best judges are the elites, who must be ensured the means to impose their will for the common good.

---. "Democracy and Education." Mellon Lectures given at Loyola University, 1994.

So the Reaganite statist reactionaries thought that the public, the beast, shouldn't even have the spectator role. That explains their fascination with clandestine terror operations, which were not secret to anybody except the American public, certainly not to their victims. Clandestine terror operations were designed to leave the domestic population ignorant. They also advocated absolutely unprecedented measures of censorship and and agitprop and other measures to ensure that the powerful and interventionist state that they fostered would serve as a welfare state for the rich and not troubled by the rabble. The huge increase in business propaganda in recent years, the recent assault on the universities by right-wing foundations, and other tendencies of the current period are other manifestations of the same concerns. These concerns [of Reaganite statist reactionaries] were awakened by what liberal elites had called the "crisis of democracy," that developed in the 1960s, when previously marginalized and apathetic sectors of the population, like women and young people and old people and working people and so on, sought to enter the public arena, where they have no right to be, as all right-thinking aristocrats understand.

---. "Democracy and Education." Mellon Lectures given at Loyola University, 1994.

The term "national interest" is commonly used as if it's something good for us, and the people of the country are supposed to understand that. So if a political leader says that "I'm doing this in the national interest," you're supposed to feel good because that's for me. However, if you look closely, it turns out that the national interest is not defined as what's in the interests of small, dominant elites who happen to be able to command the resources that enable them to control the state--basically, corporate-based elites. That's what's called the "national interest." And, correspondingly, the term "special interests" is used in a very interesting related way to refer to the population. The population are called the "special interests" the corporation elite are called the "national interests"; so you're supposed to be in favour of the national interests and against the special interests.

---. Language and Politics. edited by C.P. Otero. Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1988: 662.

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