Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Jacques Ellul on Propaganda

From Wikipedia entry

Jacques Ellul (January 6, 1912May 19, 1994) was a French philosopher, sociologist, theologian, and Christian anarchist. He wrote several books about the "technological society", and about Christianity and politics, such as Anarchy and Christianity (1991) - arguing that anarchism and Christianity are socially following the same goal.

One of the most thoughtful philosophers to approach technology from a deterministic, and some have even argued fatalistic, viewpoint; Ellul, Professor at the University of Bordeaux, authored some 40 books and hundreds of articles over his lifetime, the dominant theme of which has been the threat to human freedom and Christian faith created by modern technology. His constant concern has been the emergence of a "technological tyranny" over humanity. As a philosopher and theologian, he further explored the religiosity of the technological society...

...On media and propaganda

Ellul saw the power of the media as another example of technology exerting control over human destiny. As a mechanism of change, the media are almost invariably manipulated by special interests, whether of the market or the state. Using the term propaganda to address both political and commercial communication, Ellul wrote:

It is the emergence of mass media which makes possible the use of propaganda techniques on a societal scale. The orchestration of press, radio and television to create a continuous, lasting and total environment renders the influence of propaganda virtually unnoticed precisely because it creates a constant environment. Mass media provides the essential link between the individual and the demands of the technological society.

In all of this, Ellul continued to place his understanding of technology and its proper role in this present society in a context that recognizes a faith in the eternal. This allowed Ellul to propose a more explicit alternative to the technology of the technician than those provided by some of his contemporaries, such as Heidegger.

To throw this wager or secular faith into the boldest possible relief, Ellul places it in dialectical contrast with Biblical faith. As a dialectical contrast to La Technique, for instance, Ellul writes Sans feu ni lieu (published in 1975, although written much earlier). Whereas technology is the attempt of human beings to create their home in this world, the Bible denies that people, the children of a Creator God, can ever be truly at home here.

Ellul adhered to the maxim "Think globally, act locally" throughout his life. He often said that he was born in Bordeaux by chance, but that it was by choice that he spent almost all his academic career there. After a long illness, he died in his house in Pessac, just a mile or two from the University of Bordeaux campus, surrounded by those closest to him. Not long before his death, the treatment for this illness illustrated to him once again one of his favourite themes - the ambivalence of technological progress.

From Synopsis

'The theme of Propaganda is quite simply. . . that when our new technology encompasses any culture or society, the result is propaganda. . . . '
-Robert R. Kirsch, The Los Angeles Times

From Jacques Ellul

Ellul has angered many who glibly believe in inevitable human progress, and frustrated the same people when they have found him unanswerable. Propaganda, he insists, seduces people into consenting unthinkingly to the exaltation of efficiency; the mass media are the tools of propaganda -- and it all creates the illusion that people are free and creative when in fact they are mind-numbingly conformed and enslaved.

From Importance to propaganda studies

Jacques Ellul's view of propaganda and his approach to the study of propaganda are new. The principal difference between his thought edifice and most other literature on propaganda is that Ellul regards propaganda as a sociological phenomenon rather than as something made by certain people for certain purposes. Propaganda exists and thrives; it is the Siamese twin of our technological society. Only in the technological society can there be anything of the type and order of magniture of modern propaganda, which is with us forever; and only with the all-pervading effects that flow from propagada can technological society hold itself together.
Most people are easy prey for propaganda, Ellul says, because of their firm but entirely erroneous conviction that it is composed only of lies and "tall stories" and that, conversely, what is true cannot be propaganda. But modern propaganda has long disdained the ridiculous lies of past and outmoded forms of propaganda. it operates instead with many different kinds of truth -- half truth, limited truth, truth out of context. Even Goebbels always insisted that the Wehrmacht communiques be as accurate as possible.
A second basic misconception that makes people vulnerable to propaganda is the notion that it serves only to change opinions. That is one of its aims, but a limited, subordinate one. Much more importantly, it aims to intensify existing trends, to sharpen and focus them, and, above all, to lead men to action (or, when it is directed at immovable opponents, to non-action through terror or discouragement, to prevent them from interfering). Therefore Ellul distinguishes various forms of propaganda and calls his book Propagandes -- that plural is one of the keys to his concept. The most trenchant distinction made by Ellul is between agitation propaganda and integration propaganda. The former leads men from mere restatement to rebellion; the latter aims at making them adjust themselves to desired patterns. The two types rely on entirely different means. Both exist all over the world. Integration propaganda is needed especially for the technological society to flourish, and its technological means -- mass media among them -- in turn make such integration propaganda possible.
--Konrad Kellen, Introduction to Propaganda, 1965

3 comments:

non-metaphysical stephen said...

Thanks for sharing the summary of Ellul's thought. He's also someone the church needs to rediscover, for the way he critiques how far we've come from biblical Christianity, which he says proclaims radical freedom. Instead, we've replaced it with morality, ethics, and trust in political solutions....

Peacedream said...

It's good to know there are people out there who still think so.

anneito said...

so is technology the Siamese twin of a marketplace propaganda?

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