In late Latin, propaganda meant "things to be propagated." In 1622 ... Pope Gregory XV founded the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide ("Congregation for Propagating the Faith"), a committee of Cardinals with the duty of overseeing the propagation of Christianity by missionaries sent to non-Catholic countries.
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Propaganda has been a human activity as far back as reliable recorded evidence exists. The writings of Romans like Livy are considered masterpieces of pro-Roman statist propaganda.
Late in the next century, the special history of the American colonies saw the publication during the Revolutionary War of Tom Paine's pamphlet Common Sense, which contained "talking points" against British rule and which was a major source for the brilliant propaganda piece, the Declaration of Independence. Soon after, in Europe, dissatisfied European peasants cast from feudalistic estates into cities in the wake of mercantile capitalism formed an unprecedented pool for revolutionary movements of their own.
By mid-19th century, Karl Marx had formulated a philosophy favoring these urban proletariats, or wage workers in the industrial cities, and disseminated his ideas in numerous writings and through political activism. Late in that century, academic social scientists recognized the growing power of the masses in more urban and democratic societies and began writing books codifying propaganda techniques.
These books attracted the attention of early twentieth century thinkers including psychologist Edward Bernays and journalist Walter Lippman, who were "hired by then United States President, Woodrow Wilson, to ... sway popular opinion in favor of entering [World War I], on the side of Britain."
The war propaganda campaign of Lippman and Bernays produced within six months such an intense anti-German hysteria as to permanently impress American business (and Adolf Hitler, among others) with the potential of large-scale propaganda to control public opinion.
Hitler also expressed a begrudging admiration for the propaganda efforts of the Communist Party in an unstable WW I Europe in achieving the 1917 Russian Revolution and summed up his thoughts on propaganda in Mein Kampf:
All propaganda must be popular and its intellectual level must be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those it is addressed to. Consequently, the greater the mass it is intended to reach, the lower its purely intellectual level will have to be.
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The receptivity of the great masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan.
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What our authorities least of all understood was the very first axiom of all propagandist activity: to wit, the basically subjective and one-sided attitude it must take toward every question it deals with.
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The broad mass of a nation does not consist of diplomats, or even professors of political law, or even individuals capable of forming a rational opinion; it consists of plain mortals, wavering and inclined to doubt and uncertainty. As soon as our own propaganda admits so much as a glimmer of right on the other side, the foundation for doubt in our own right has been laid. The masses are then in no position to distinguish where foreign injustice ends and our own begins. In such a case they become uncertain and suspicious, especially if the enemy refrains from going in for the same nonsense, but unloads every bit of blame on his adversary.
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The people in their overwhelming majority are so feminine by nature and attitude that sober reasoning determines their thoughts and actions far less than emotion and feeling. And this sentiment is not complicated, but very simple and all of a piece. It does not have multiple shadings; it has a positive and a negative; love or hate, right or wrong, truth or lie never half this way and half that way, never partially, or that kind of thing.
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But the most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly and with unflagging attention. It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.
Joseph Goebbels, although Hitler's Propaganda Minister, was untalented compared to his master but did become known for the "Goebbels technique, also known as argumentum ad nauseam, ... the name given to a policy of repeating a lie until it is taken to be the truth (see Big Lie).":
One should not as a rule reveal one's secrets, since one does not know if and when one may need them again. The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.
Even this statement is an attempted attribution to the English of an idea originally expressed by Hitler in Mein Kampf:
[I]n the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.
But whereas Hitler was a true master of propaganda, and his minister a far less talented functionary, today the situation is reversed: our propaganda minister is the master, and our leader his functionary. Karl Rove is so confident of his strategy that he now announces it to the public! In January of this year,
Rove noted that we face "a ruthless enemy" and "need a commander in chief and a Congress who understand the nature of the threat and the gravity of the moment America finds itself in."
"[T]he people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."
Karl RoveHermann Goering (oops!)