How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
A Brief History of Propaganda
The term 'propaganda' first appeared in 1622 when Pope Gregory XV established the Sacred Congregation for Propagating the Faith (Congregatio de Propaganda Fide). Propaganda was then as now about convincing large numbers of people about the veracity of a given set of ideas.
Of course, propaganda is as old as people, politics and religion. People with ideas will always want to persuade others about them and, if they have the power, they will pull every string they have to persuade everyone.
The notion of propaganda remained one of propagating beliefs and doctrines remained the primary definition until the first world war (1914-18).
Wars have always been a good reason to use propaganda, as governments seek to persuade populaces of the justness of their cause as well as hide the horrors and failures of the front line. Misinformation and disinformation are widely used to distract people from the truth and create new realities.
Entry into the first world war was apparently accompanied with many stories of atrocities that were false. Things have not changed and more recent wars have also had more than their fair share of propaganda and false excuses.
One of the basic successful home messages of the war was that everything Germans said was a lie and everything Americans said was the truth. This gave a platform for sustaining faith in ultimate victory and cast Germany as an evil to be destroyed.
In 1933, Hitler realized the potential of propaganda and appointed Joseph Goebbels as Minister for Propaganda. Goebbels was remarkably effective and much of the propaganda literature discusses in detail the methods they used.
In 1936 Boston merchant Edward Filene helped establish the short-lived Institute for Propaganda Analysis which sought to educate Americans to recognize propaganda techniques. Although it did not last long, they did produce a list of seven propaganda methods that have become something of a standard.
Propaganda and manipulation of reality continues to be used in large quantities in the modern world. Governments continue to tell their constituencies what they think they need to know. Advertisers use the whole gamut of propagandist techniques. And although some people can see the reality (and some theorize about improbable conspiracies), most people are taken in and see nothing of how they are manipulated.
Books such as Bernays' Propaganda in 1928 still treated it as a force for good and an effective method of mass social persuasion, even though the ethics of its use varied greatly. His book starts with a sentence that would cause much concern today, yet which then seemed practical and acceptable:
The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in a democratic society.
The dominant view of the populace then was of an uneducated, ill-informed mass whose views should be directed rather than allow them to think. Thinking on higher matters was really for managers and rulers who could decide what was best for lesser people.
The discipline of public relations (PR) started as a profession after the first world war as the commercial benefits of careful propaganda were realized.
Bernays, E. (1928). Propaganda
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