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Propaganda and Democracy: a History

Book Project. Expected Start Date: Summer 2024.


This book project, provisionally titled Propaganda and Democracy: A History, investigates how and why we came to see propaganda and democracy as stellar opposites in the wake of WWII.


The story starts in the 1890s-1900s, when the development of mass psychology in France and Italy shattered the democratic ideal of the involved and knowledgeable citizen. This trend triggered new reflections about how political mobilization should replace proactive participation in democratic states.


In the 1910s, political actors in the United States and Russia started defending propaganda as the mode of political mobilization par excellence in a mass democracy. In the 1930s, however, Fascist and Nazi theorists as well as their opponents dissociated propaganda from democracy and pitted them against each other.

After WWII, some American and European political actors tried to rehabilitate propaganda as a central ingredient of democratic life, but their efforts were overshadowed by Habermas, Arendt, and Popper's critiques of propaganda and their corresponding association of democracy with (various kinds of) deliberation. A postface will show how, in the 1980s, resistance to propaganda came to be perceived as constitutive of liberal forms of democracy.

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