168. Beware of intellectuals…they need propaganda!

Jacques Ellul, in his book Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes (Vintage, 1965), defines propaganda as follows: “Propaganda is a set of methods employed by an organized group that wants to bring about the active or passive participation in its actions of a mass of individuals, psychologically unified through psychological manipulations and incorporated in an organization” (61). He then goes on at one point to argue that intellectuals, more than any other group, need propaganda. This claim is as fascinating as it is disturbing and, given my experiences as an intellectual and professional philosopher, I can attest to its plausibility. Konrad Kellen provides a helpful summary of Ellul’s position with reference to education in the preface of the book:

“In fact, education is largely identical with what Ellul calls “pre-propaganda” – the conditioning of minds with vast amounts of incoherent information, already dispensed for ulterior purposes and posing as “facts” and as “education.” Ellul follows through by designating intellectuals as virtually the most vulnerable of all to modern propaganda, for three reasons: (1) they absorb the largest amount of secondhand, unverifiable information; (2) they feel a compelling need to have an opinion on every important question of our time, and thus easily succumb to opinions offered to them by propaganda on all such indigestible pieces of information; (3) they consider themselves capable of “judging for themselves.” They literally need propaganda” (vi).

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