On Propaganda

From Karl Polanyi
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by K. Polanyi

I. Function of propaganda in respect to the body social.

II. How does it achieve its function.

III. How is propaganda worked.
The technique of propaganda.

IV. Counter-propaganda.

V. Is propaganda "untrue"
Scientific and Artistic Truth.

VI. The limitations of propaganda
(a) The ambivalence of psychological effects
(b) Predispositions
(c) Propaganda - consciousness (a limit)

VII. Politics, History, and Propaganda

I. Function of (morale) in respect to the body social

[2] If a group has decided on a cause of action it must build up its solidarity in order to be effective. Why?
Because all action involving (a) the submerging of the pro's and con's of the argument to the decision which preceded
(b) any action will affect different individuals and their groupings in different ways (scetionalism - regionality otherwise) and the actual degree is uncertain; (age groups, sex groups, income groups)
(c) Action involves risks, at least temporarily, of bad patches

(How does propaganda attain its purpose?)

II. How does it achieve its function

[3] Propaganda creates solidarity by reducing emotional forces from simple feelings to the highest forms of faith.

These (a) eliminate the con's
(b) The sectionalism (differences in sex, age, income)
(c) the bad patches
and thus
(a) unify
(b) protect the will
(c) create the precondition od discipline

Means: symbols and slogans, including idealization - these release emotions.

This is the effect of propaganda.

III. The technique of propaganda

[4] But how is the news, the material of knowledge, transformed into propaganda: news :




By simplification
emphasis (a) reiteration

(b) patterning

associations (a) idealization

(b) generalization

In this way the situation, the fact, the event, the interest is made to conform with the symbol, the slogan, the ideal, and thus fused into propaganda.

We stand for "law"
  "       "      "    power and glory
  "       "      "    change and progress
  "       "      "    stability and traditions, etc.

IV. Counter-propaganda

[5] The interest any group may have in preventing others from using propaganda is obvious. It prevents it (a) unifying itself
(b) being effective

How to do this?

He will use the same techniques of generalization and idealization, simplification, reiteration, patterning, concretization and debunking.

V. The truth value of propaganda

[6] (Must propaganda be true, or is it essentially lies?)

The parallel is to science and poetry. Relative value of these as truth. Truth in a most artificial sense. Propaganda may be an exact description of the emotional values; the associations, expressing unified interests. It is meaningless to emphasize the artistic and disturbing quality of it.

It is no use calling love an illusion, seeing that its effects are real. It is no use calling the flag an organic texture with conventional designs, because it has a valid meaning.

The distortion, the overemphasis, the simplification are present - as they are in art, in life, in love.


VI. The limitations of propaganda

[7] […]

VII. Politics, History, and Propaganda

[8] It is very doubtful whether groups are ever formed by propaganda, or rather only consolidated by it; whether they ever decide on policy on account of propaganda, or only listen to propaganda which favors the line of policy which they have chosen on other grounds.

Politics (narrow sense) based partly on use of propaganda.
History - never decided by propaganda.
Action - always implying the use of propaganda (and counter-propaganda)

That man is attracted by woman is not due to the existence of love poetry. How he gained her may be partly due to it, but if she does not like him, she won't listen. However, no person who is really in love will say that the term love means nothing at all.

Text Informations

Lecture: August 1940
KPA: 18/22