March 12, 2005

Motive instead of meaning: an often subtle mark of fascist propaganda

One difference between a book by any respectable political theorist and Hitler's Mein Kampf is that the scholar tries to form arguments that make sense, while Hitler tries to make the reader imagine he is reading arguments that make sense. One does not learn any rational arguments from reading Hitler’s book, because it is not intended to say anything that corresponds to reality or makes any rational sense. It is only intended to manipulate the reader’s emotions, so as to overpower the reader's reasoning faculty. What one does learn from reading such literature is the fascist method of distorting truth to fit a particular purpose. This in itself can be quite enlightening, because a conscious reading of such work can help the reader grow more aware of a fascist author's motives. It can also help the reader recognize similar tactics when they are employed outside a strictly "fascistic" context.

The influence of fascism has been so pervasive that it has become an unconscious part of our civilization. Official Nazism and fascism in Germany and Italy were destroyed. Their methodology of ruling over the minds of the population, though, were lessons that the Allied powers and their servile news media and pundits made their own. To find writing that is inspired by fascism, all you have to do is turn to nearly any mainstream news outlet.

An essential cornerstone of fascist propaganda is the fact that almost any word or concept has both a rational and an emotive significance. Thus “freedom,” for instance, is both the objective state of empowerment that allows a person or group to overcome bounds and obstacles, as well as the emotional state that accompanies the consciousness of not being bound. Fascist propaganda uses these two distinct concepts interchangeably, in order to generate confusion in the audience’s mind between one and the other. The end result, and the final purpose, is that the feeling supplants the concept, and the need for reality is disposed of.

A number of specific tactics are employed to manipulate the emotions and hence neutralize the intellect.

One fascist propaganda tactic is to use different words to describe the same phenomenon, depending on whose interests are being served. Another variant of this tactic is to call things by a name that suits the powers that be, rather than by a name that is an objective description of the objective reality. Thus the US invading army in Iraq are “liberators,” whereas the Syrian peacekeeping forces in Lebanon are “occupiers.”

Another fascist tactic is to make opponents appear to be saying something other than what the opponents are actually saying. This is accomplished through the ascription of negative emotive concepts to the words of the opponents. Hence any criticism of the policies of the State of Israel amounts to callous anti-semitism, and even to denial of the Holocaust.

Another tactic is to pretend to be humanitarian in order to appeal to the audience on an emotional level. Hence all brutality ever perpetrated by the US Government has always been, in fact, for the good of the victims. And it turns out that Bush, after all, was just using weapons of mass destruction as a pretext to liberate the Iraqi people.

Another tactic related to the one above is to pretend to be speaking from some moral high ground. The only purpose that the Bush clan, father and son, have ever had in Iraq has been to get their hands on its oil. Together, they are responsible for more than a million deaths in Iraq (including the half a million children who died as a result of sanctions). The actual nature of the Bush dynasty's project has nearly been buried along with the Iraqi dead. Now Bush Jr travels the world as its Saviour, a veritable Second Coming.


Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I particularly liked your description of the emotive qualities of language. I often think of the saying "when fascism comes to America, be certain it will be called patriotism".
Are you familiar with the theory of Spiral Dynamics? It goes a long way towards helping us understand the seeming insanity of the far right, and can help us refrain from demonizing them, while at the same time shedding light on the deep inadequacy of their "predictably out of touch" responses.

The probligo said...

Al, I will cross link this to my last exposition on the same topic.

The pity...the pity...

I have a new lead on the same topic that might hit the spheres in the next couple weeks...

jennifer said...

Great post! I think though that Hitler gave us more to learn from then bush& co in that he believed and was to a more extreme degree, following the very colonialist/imperialist brigade that the rest of Europe and America had pioneered. Reading his criticisms of America and its own racism is quite telling. He drew comparisons such as "The Russians are our blacks" for example. Most people won't read Mein Kampf because they think Hitler was a complete idiot but I think they should read him anyway. They should read him, they should read quotes from Goebbels and all the Nazis. They should also read about all the war profiteering AND how many "allied" nations were willing to take in the Jews who tried to flee. Mein Kampf is no less mindnumbingly insulting to one's intelligence than any Bush speech.

One other tactic fascists use is the idea that they're being victimized from within and out. The victim posture allows them to always seem to be acting in defense or for preventative measures when really, they aren't.
Another factor that coincides with this is creating and sustaining the atmosphere of perpetual fear and appeasing that fear with the idea that you need a 'strong leader' or 'strong government' willing to do the dirty work so you can feel safe.

What kills me is that so many people think that bombing other countries will make us safe. I can't for the life of me fathom how that math works out because it would seem that those who are willing to resort to "terror" be it suicide bombing or whatever, are not going to be deterred by the loss of life. If anything, their "cause" will become stronger and more supported because of it.
There's a scene in the film "Hearts and Minds" which is truly telling. A Vietnamese man tells a reporter to go and throw his daughter's shirt in Nixon's face because his bombs killed her.
He said, "What did she ever do to Nixon to make him bomb her? She was just a sweet little girl."
You are absolutely right that the US government is responsible for an insane body count, countless children. What parent would want to correlate their safety or their children's safety with that of the bodies of other children? This "better them than me" attitude that makes people such easy sheep is really what allows fascism to flourish and fascists to call it democracy and call it humanitarian. Bombs cannot possibly be humanitarian when all they do is destroy. Yes people will argue that bombings have helped stop genocide. What those same people forget is the causes of that genocide, the arms trade that allows it to continue and the global apathy that seems most consistent in the ability to cower than to act, and to go along than to ask questions. When we lose our ability to question we have no space for dissent. Without dissent the global power pimps can and will do whatever they wish with their little human assembly line from bombing children into democracy to convincing us that we need MORE damn nuclear weapons and less freedom and less social programs because those are just too costly and they keep the poor willing to remain destitute while the rich have to work so hard for meager tax cuts.

I'm not as cynical as the above rant probably sounds. I just finished reading a piece on how the army is now admitting to beating prisoners to death and if I think about how stupid that is and how criminal on ALL accounts, it makes me angry and sad. I suppose it is even more sad to think about how "progressives" are debating amongst themselves (almost betting really) on which country is next on our freedom and democracy list: Syria? Iran? Russia? North Korea?

Have you read the book "Anatomy of Fascism?" If not, I think you'd find it fascinating. peace!

jennifer said...

I forgot to add one thing in that long rant. I wanted to ask you, do you think that for these leaders the motive is the meaning and all the meaning they think they need?
I mean, I wonder if they
a. think the public is really too stupid to care or think critically about the lies they're being told
b. think that they need to lie and lie well to keep the public from asking questions and to silence/ignore/demonize those who will
c. a bit of both?

What do you think?

Al S. E. said...

To Anon: Thanks for your comment. As you point out, the objective sense of the word “fascism” is what most closely corresponds to the emotive word “patriotism” that has for decades been sine qua non of being an American. And this is exactly the greatest puzzle about the "American mentality" to non-Americans. It is beyond belief that millions of otherwise intelligent people can say “Our President, right or wrong.” I am sure there is not a single solitary Canadian who would ever even think of saying “Our Prime Minister, right or wrong.” In fact, the opposite tends to be the case, in that Canadians, as well as any other nation I know of, are automatically critical of their existing political leadership. I have not heard of the theory of Spiral Dynamics that you refer to, and it sounds interesting. I tend to pity the far right much more than I tend to demonize them, as they are no more than the biggest victims of the current ruling class and social system.

Al S. E. said...

To Jen: Thanks for your comments. I agree with everything you say, of course. So, as an additional point, I’ll just refer to the old distinction between esoteric and exoteric doctrine. It may be an elitist distinction, but it is necessary, because it is an inescapable fact that the language that the "vanguard," for lack of a better word, use for speaking amongst themselves cannot be the same language they use for speaking to the general population. In other words, it is an inescapable fact that the two groups are at different levels of political development. I admit that the fact of communicating through a public forum, such as a blog, creates difficulties in the choice of language, as the audience consists of both groups. I think the ideal choice, in this case, would be a kind of combined language, which speaks to the exoteric group, and at the same time attempts to raise them to the level of the esoteric group. For instance, when I refer to the “over a million” Iraqi victims of the Bush Dynasty, I am addressing the exoteric group, in that I am trying to help them escape the myth of American humanitarianism. The esoteric group does not need this information, as it already knows that capital never does anything for humanitarian motives. The esoteric group is also aware that Hitler and Bush are both parts of the development of capitalism, or, if you prefer, colonialism/imperialism. In the case of any country other than the United States, one can hope that this consciousness will eventually trickle down to the exoteric group (if I may be forgiven the use of the term “trickle down” in this context). The myth of American exceptionalism, however, appears to be an insurmountable barrier to the development of such popular consciousness in the United States. Americans will never read Mein Kampf, in the same way that they will never read any work of the “extreme left,” because they have been brainwashed to believe that, “as Americans,” such literature has nothing to do with them. Discovery of the nature and the cure of this pathology should, I think, be near the top of the list of priorities of progressive Americans. As to your question, I suppose my answer would be: “c. a bit of both.” As you probably noticed, in my post I pointed to the pervasive influence of fascism in all capitalist countries, and not just the US. And fascism is, as you pointed out, just a phase in the development of capital. The commodification of everyday life takes care of making people stupid and apathetic, and goes hand in hand with the ideological brainwashing through the mass media that provides the lies that need to be told, and simultaneously suppresses dissent.

Justin said...

Good stuff.

May I post a link to your blog on my site?

I always like well written political diatribes.

Usually, I don't get very political with my writing, but you do it very well and it should be read.

Al S. E. said...

To Justin: Thanks for you comment, and I know you have a constructive sense of the word "diatribe" in mind. Please feel free to post a link to this blog on yours.

The probligo said...

- looking at the "development of propaganda..."

Who needs the comparisons to Hitler?

If you read the words, the truth is all there...

It is not what they SAY, it is what is NOT said...

Take a look down to my last example - "War on Terror".

Immoral Majority said...

I recently posted some thoughts on a very similar issue. I do not believe that propaganda in itself is always a bad thing, and it is somewhat of a moral dilema as to when the use of it is acceptable. It is sometimes impossible to get anyone to pay any attention to progressive causes unless they can somehow be boiled down to a form which the press would consider newsworthy, usually a memorable slogan which is so oversimplified that it barely contains any meaning at all. George Bush's frequent references to "freedom" are not much different than my fellow anti-war protestor's "No Blood For Oil" signs. While many of the "No Blood For Oil" people are very uninformed, they may still help the cause by bringing the central issue to the table. While their expressions are simple, if they can get people talking about the issue, they have accomplished a major goal. Perhaps the line between good and bad propaganda could therefore be described as the line between speech which encourages further debate, and that which seeks to stifle it.

The probligo said...

Hmmm, perhaps the idea is at last starting to germinate...

Interesting article from brief scan of page 1.

It is like I said...
"Now if I throw in here a series of terms used widely in the media, since about the past 30 years, it should show the links in the chain I am following...


"public relations"



"damage control"

All of these terms have meanings and context outside of the modern "Minitrue"s in everyday language, but they also have very specific meaning and context within the political arena. It is the Minitrue and the political context of these terms (as a collective, not individually) that make the Newspeak of today. You don't think we have Minitrues in place right now? What possible purpose do you imagine the plethora of advisers, analysts, speech writers, press agents, personal assistants and secretaries are for in the administration of pretty well every Head of State? Do you really believe that the conglomerate of staff is there to ensure that you the elector are fully aware of the TRUTH?"

Al S. E. said...

To IM: Thanks for your comment. Although it may appear otherwise, my post was not meant as a critique of propaganda. Propaganda has always been a legitimate and necessary component of progressive politics. I think your criteria for “good” and “bad” propaganda parallel my own. Propaganda that “encourages further debate” concentrates on meaning, whereas propaganda that “seeks to stifle debate” concentrates on motives.

Al S. E. said...

To Probligo: I read your post as well as the newspaper article you referred to. Day-to-day politics as such is of little interest to me, except indirectly, that is, as a consciousness-raising tool. Concern with politics as such is always from a purely reformist stance, and I don't believe it is possible to implement reforms to the existing social system that would affect its fundamental nature. Hence, whether politicians are "honest" or not, or whether they employ "ethical" means or not, are immaterial to me. Why? Because the very nature of the social system is a mockery of concepts like "honesty" and "ethics." Let me put it another way. Any effort to reform the existing system presupposes that there is something fundamentally sound about it, which is the very notion that I reject. Efforts to "fix" the system make people forget that it is not fixable. As to writers like George Orwell, they have been claimed by neo-conservatives as their own, and the idea is not as farfetched as it may at first seem. Truth is dialectical, whereas reality is not dialectical. Reformists like George Orwell would like us to believe that truth is fixed, and reality is dialectical. It is not a far distance to travel from that position to post-modernist jettisoning of both reality and truth.

erinberry said...

Reminds me of that quote by Goering:

"Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the 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 greater danger."

The Last Man said...

Clearly aspects of fascism are present in the current administration. The patriotic my country is automatically good and beyond question is a form of worship.

Anyone who dismisses Hitler as simply evil or insane (which he was both)misses the lessons. And I am terrified what the next lesson will be if we don't "get it." While symbolic of Evil as a totem, there are many who are just as bad in distant and recent history. Still Hitler and company are well documented. He even wrote a book. We must look at how he succeeded. And he didn't even have the greatest brainwashing tool since religion was invented-TV.

Al S. E. said...

And your Goering quote, Erinberry, reminded me of a letter in the current issue of Guardian Weekly by an L Loshak. The writer says "I have to disagree with the identification of Condoleezza Rice with Joseph Goebbels... Ms Rice surely takes the role of Von Ribbentrop, sent abroad to lie for his country. The Goebbels character is of course Dick Cheney, the inventor and tireless promoter of big lies. Other roles naturally include that of Donald Rumsfeld as Himmler, head of torture, and Tony Blair, who slips neatly into the role of Mussolini."

Justin said...

To Al S.E.~
I did use "diatribe" as positively and constructively as possible...thanks for understanding. Perhaps, "fireball" would've been better suited.

Hitler was a sick bastard, but the guy knew how to mobilize people in harmony with his beliefs (however wrong they were). What really scares the shit out of me is the president seems to have the same characteristc.