Propaganda and Democracy: a History
Book Project. Expected Start Date: Winter 2023.
Edward Bernays, Propaganda (1928).
Today, propaganda is usually portrayed as antithetical to democracy. This has not always been the case. This project investigates how and why we came to see propaganda and democratic politics as being incompatible.
The story starts in the 1890s. At this juncture, the development of mass psychology in Europe shattered the democratic ideal of the active and knowledgeable citizen. In the 1910s and 1920s, political actors in France, Britain and the United States started defending propaganda as the mode of political participation par excellence in a mass democracy. In the 1930s, however, Fascist and Nazi theorists and their opponents dissociated propaganda from democracy and pined them against each other.
As I intend to show, after World War II, some political theorists tried to rehabilitate propaganda as a central ingredient of democratic life, but their efforts were overshadowed by Habermas and his disciples' critique of propaganda and their corresponding association of democracy with deliberation.