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Propaganda: The Formation of Men's…

Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes (original 1962; edition 1973)

by Jacques Ellul, Konrad Kellen (Translator), Jean Lerner (Translator)

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536331,246 (4.31)6
From one of the greatest French philosophers of the 20th century, comes a seminal study and critique of propaganda. Taking not only a psychological approach, but a sociological approach as well, Ellul's book outlines the taxonomy for propaganda, and ultimately, it's destructive nature towards democracy. Drawing from his own experiences fighting for the French resistance against the Vichy regime, Ellul offers a unique insight into the propaganda machine.  "A far more frightening work than any of the nightmare novels of George Orwell. With the logic which is the great instrument of French thought, [Ellul] explores and attempts to prove the thesis that propaganda, whether its ends are demonstrably good or bad, is not only destructive to democracy, it is perhaps the most serious threat to humanity operating in the modern world."--Los Angeles  "The theme of Propaganda is quite simply . . . that when our new technology encompasses any culture or society, the result is propaganda . . . Ellul has made many splendid contributions in this book."--Book Week… (more)
Title:Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes
Authors:Jacques Ellul
Other authors:Konrad Kellen (Translator), Jean Lerner (Translator)
Info:Vintage (1973), Paperback, 352 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Ex Libris David G. Nye

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Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes by Jacques Ellul (1962)


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Showing 3 of 3
I couldn't put this book down and it is absolutely as pertinent today as it was when published in the midst of the cold war. The writing is a bit repetitive or clumsy at times, possibly due to the translation and Ellul is a notorious technophobe but the subject matter is so thoroughly discussed and is so thought provoking that it's a MUST READ. ( )
1 vote Chickenman | Sep 12, 2018 |
Although I take issue with some of the details, this book, written 40 years ago by a French legal scholar, resonates with me, and explains much of what I have observed. Concept of horizontal vs. vertical propaganda, or 'social' propaganda. ( )
  jaygheiser | Jul 23, 2008 |
Ellul, a French philosopher, sociologist, and theologian, disputes the notion that propaganda is “the work of a few evil men, seducers of the people, cheats and authoritarian rulers who want to dominate a population.” He says it is more like a medium that surrounds us, and may indeed be the inescapable product of a technological society. The author develops a sophisticated taxonomy for propaganda, including such paired opposites as political-sociological, vertical-horizontal, and rational-irrational. The most interesting to me was the agitation-integration pair. Agitation propaganda is what we usually think of as propaganda—it aims to influence people to act. Integration propaganda, on the other hand, is a more subtle form that aims to reinforce cultural norms (such as “our way of life”) and myths (such as “equal justice before the law”) and provide stability to society. Ellul says that educated, middle-class people are more susceptible to integration propaganda, which is often seen in such cultural fare as television shows, movies, and newscasts.

Ellul sees “information” as an essential element of propaganda, which must “have reference to political or economic reality” to be credible. In fact, no propaganda can work until the moment when a set of facts has become a problem in the eyes of those who constitute public opinion.”

Ellul sees propaganda as fundamentally undemocratic and based on need—need on the part of large institutions, which must channel and shape opinion toward what they can provide—and on behalf of the propagandee, who finds support and validation through propaganda. “…information actually generates the problems that propaganda exploits and for which it pretends to offer solutions,” he says. If the government can’t follow opinion, then opinion must follow the government.

Ellul points out that modern institutions invest billions of dollars and years of work in making sophisticated arrangements; public opinion simply cannot be allowed to interfere with these arrangements. Instead, opinion must be shaped. Concentrated ownership of mass media makes this possible by providing a relatively small range of opinion, with constant repetition and reinforcement of messages. Integration propaganda provides the context and backdrop, while agitation propaganda provides the motive force when needed.

Though this book was written over forty years ago, I found it to be prescient in many ways. Ellul died in 1994, just as the Internet was taking off as a popular vehicle. It would be interesting to know how he might see the Internet’s role in detracting from or reinforcing the effects of propaganda.
  NoirLibrarian | Feb 28, 2008 |
Showing 3 of 3
This book is unique because it talks about long term propaganda and most of the books today on this subject tend to speak on short term or obvious forms like advertising. Ellul says many things in his book, it is quite dense and full of information. This is not a book you want to just glance at or "read vertically", jumping from paragraph to paragraph because you will miss crucial concepts. It seems that many may have done that when they comment Ellul whether they praise or critique him.
Authors who have cited Ellul as their personal inspiration come up with the following arguments: Nazi and Communist propaganda are to be avoided at all costs in our wonderful democratic societies because we do not want our great democracies to transform themselves into authoritarian regimes that use violence to force compliance. This can be avoided through education. The higher level of education you receive, the easier you can avoid the pitfalls of propaganda. Our democratic institutions can only function properly when not using propaganda, and the mass media prevents propaganda from overwhelming us.

This is quite disturbing because every single argument they use completely contradicts what Ellul clearly states in his book. Ellul is not being obscure, he flatly states that "2+2 is equal 4 and here is why". The scholars who quote Ellul end up saying that "2+2 is equal to everything but 4, just look at the Nazis". In the end, students who read the latest books on propaganda and ignore the dense works of Ellul will end up thinking that they are knowledgeable about propaganda and become its worse victims.
An exhaustive catalog of horrors. It shows how modern, committed man, surrounded and seized by propaganda, more often than not surrenders himself to it only too willingly, especially in democracies--because he is educated for his rule as dupe. 'The most favorable moment to seize a man and influence him,' Ellul writes, 'is when he is alone in the mass; it is at this point that propaganda can be most effective. This is the situation of the 'lonely crowd,' or of isolation in the mass, which is a natural product of modern-day society, which is both used and deepened by the mass media.'
added by davidgn | editLos Angeles Free Press
"The theme of Propaganda is quite simply...that when our new technology encompasses any culture or society, the result is propaganda... Ellul has made many splendid contributions in this book."
added by davidgn | editBook Week
A far more frightening work than any of the nightmare novels of George Orwell. With the logic which is the great instrument of French thought, [Ellul] explores and attempts to prove the thesis that propaganda, whether its ends are demonstrably good or bad, is not only destructive to democracy, it is perhaps the most serious threat to humanity operating in the modern world.
added by davidgn | editLos Angeles Times

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