The Nervous Liberals: Propaganda Anxieties from World War I to the Cold War

By Brett Gary | Go to book overview
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The far-reaching attack on U.S. Communists and Communist propaganda that began in the immediate postwar era is beyond the scope of this study. I suggest, however, that from the end of the 1930s, with the formation of the Justice Department's Special Defense Unit, through the Cold War, concerns about the subversive effects of propaganda remained continuous in U.S. intellectual and political culture and consistently resulted in the triumph of national security liberalism over free speech liberalism. In the academic and literary discussions about propaganda and U.S. democracy, a split between the cultural critics and the social science empiricists produced two divergent, unsatisfactory schools of thought: an aesthetics-based repudiation of mass culture and, by extension, mass democracy and a social scientific defense of postwar democratic culture that failed to examine critically the political intolerance of U.S. culture during the cold war and the limited political debate that intolerance produced.1

At the end of World War II, fears of Communist propaganda returned to the center of U.S. politics with a vengeance, resulting in an even more intensive mobilization of a restrictive and punitive propaganda prophylaxis, directed by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI and the Justice Department's Internal Security and Criminal divisions, instead of being under the putative control of a coterie of Chafee-inspired free speech liberals housed in the Special Defense Unit. Overall, the continuities from the prewar era to the postwar period were more pronounced than were the aberrations, and the results of the roughly fifteen-year-long (1939–1954) defense against socalled foreign propaganda in the United States produced, among other things, a deep fissure between civil libertarians and national security liberals; a widespread, multi-institutional assault on civil liberties, especially against freedom of speech and association and freedom from self-incrimination and the right to confront one's accuser; a failure on the part of the federal judiciary to protect extreme speech by making sure that the tests of its dangerousness were based on proximity and degree (and actual effects), as opposed to the state's assertions of probable bad tendencies; and


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The Nervous Liberals: Propaganda Anxieties from World War I to the Cold War


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