Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini: Totalitarianism in the Twentieth Century

By Bruce F. Pauley | Go to book overview
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5 / PROPAGANDA, CULTURE,
AND EDUCATION

THE LIMITATIONS OF PROPAGANDA

Propaganda, culture, and education may at first glance appear to be three unlikely subjects to combine in a single chapter. Propaganda, it is usually assumed, consists of nothing but lies and gross exaggerations, whereas culture and education are reflections of truth, beauty, and enlightenment. In fact, however, the totalitarian parties did not make a big distinction between the three topics. Culture and education were propaganda in more subtle forms. Like propaganda, culture had to be simple enough that everyone could understand it. And like propaganda, the purpose of culture and education was to buttress the state and popularize its policies.

Propaganda is not a modern concept. It has existed since ancient times. Archaeologists and historians believe that Assyrian reliefs, showing the severed heads of enemies, were a form of propaganda intended to terrorize potential enemies. Julius Caesar’s literary account of campaigns in Gaul was propaganda to build up his political base in Rome. The Roman Catholic Church was the first to use the term during the Counter­Reformation in 1622. The first secular use of the word came during the Revolution of 1830 in France. Modern democracies do not hesitate to use propaganda; public schools, newspapers, radio, and television all make it easier for them to get their message to the general public. Contrary to popular belief, propaganda does not necessarily consist of lies or even distortions. At its most effective it is selective truth, half­truths, truths out of context, or statements about the future that cannot be proved or disproved. Nothing is more harmful to a propagandist than to

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