In Plato’s Republic, several political systems were critiqued with a rational analysis in order to decide what the ideal and just city state was. One of these political systems, democracy, was critiqued for its ability to give too much liberty and equality to the general population. Plato wrote that:
‘The utmost freedom for the majority is reached in such a city when bought slaves, both male and female, are no less free than those who bought them. And I almost forgot to mention the extent of the legal equality of men and women and of the freedom in the relations between them.’
Since it was intuitively true to Plato that such a society where women, men, slaves and owners all had the same political rights was an unjust society, a solution was proposed. The solution was that this ideal city state would have a class of philosopher guardians that were trained in specialized knowledge, so that they would be able to make the right decisions on behalf of the rest of society.
This philosophical and moral justification for a technocratic elite-based society, what we might call guardianship, has been repeated in most political systems since Plato’s Republic from what I can tell. In the 20th century, it took multiple forms. One was Lenin’s justification for a vanguard of scientific Marxists, where these intellectuals would bring class consciousness to the rest of society as the working class was incapable of reaching anything beyond ‘trade union consciousness’, not enough to bring about a socialist society.
At about the same time, the progressive liberal intellectuals in America were developing their own form of guardianship that was combined with the development of corporate propaganda as discussed in part 1. The main founder of modern public relations, Edward Bernays, wrote that
‘Clearly it is the intelligent minorities which need to make use of propaganda continuously and systematically. In the active proselytizing minorities in whom selfish interests and public interests coincide lie the progress and development of America. Only through the active energy of the intelligent few can the public at large become aware of and act upon new ideas’.
This was a common view among elite intellectuals. One of the founders of modern political science Harold Lasswell wrote that the intelligent few must recognize the ‘ignorance and stupidity of the masses’, and not succumb to ‘democratic dogmatisms about men being the best judges of their own interest’. This was the standard moral justification for the early public relations system, which was miniscule back then compared to what it has become in the present time.
I will now turn to the topic of how this public relations system has managed to develop over time, and it’s interconnectedness with the media and university institutions. I will start by looking at the common aim that elites have expressed in their use of propaganda. That is in maintaining the current political system of what might be called ‘really existing capitalism’. The purpose of maintaining the political system was expressed by American Justice Lewis Powell, back when he was a lobbyist for the tobacco industry, who wrote in a memorandum to the US chamber of commerce that:
‘The day is long past when the chief executive officer of a major corporation discharges his responsibility by maintaining a satisfactory growth of profits, with due regard to the corporation’s public and social responsibilities. If our system is to survive, top management must be equally concerned with protecting and preserving the system itself. This involves far more than an increased emphasis on “public relations” or “governmental affairs” — two areas in which corporations long have invested substantial sums.’
The political purpose, which he later expanded on in the memo, included a massive overhaul of the media and educational system.
In 1977 a similar view was expressed by the president of the Institute of Directors in Australia, Sir Robert Crichton Brown (also another Tobacco executive), who addressed fellow directors on the future role of the institute. He proposed that the institute’s purpose was to ‘publicise and sell the benefits of the system it espouses.’ Sir Robert concluded that:
‘We cannot relax until… we have convinced society at large that our influence is indeed for its good. That … will take up some of your time and some corporate systems money. The expenditure of both will be well worthwhile if it succeeds in obtaining for the corporate system society’s seal of approval thus relieving our successors of the need to spend their resources of time and money on the further promotion of the system.’
Thus it was understood that without the intensification of the public relations industry in its role of indoctrinating people with the values of capitalism, that this system wouldn’t be around for much longer.
It will be useful now to ask how this doctrinal system works, by analyzing the political economy of the media and the educational system. The media has a capitalist institutional structure which has evolved over time into a highly concentrated private oligopoly. The Inputs into this structure, or ‘filters’, were described in Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent. They call it the propaganda model.
Over the 20th century in various industrial societies, a more radical and widely read working class media was wiped out by market forces. For example, in the 1960’s in Britain, there was a widely read social democratic media that was read by millions of people. Even though it was widely read, it went out of business, as advertisers were not willing to support the newspaper that had a readership with no money to buy the products that could be advertised to them.
The capitalist media is also dependent on outside support. This includes support from the public relations industry which creates news for the media. It is much easier to get news from government, military or corporate PR releases who would love to shape the news in their interest, than for journalists to be researching news themselves. The political economist Robert McChesney notes that in America, in 1960 there was .75 PR agent for every working journalist. In 1990 there was two PR agents for every journalist, 2012 saw a ratio of 4 PR agents to every journalist.
Another source of outside support is think tanks, which in themselves are funded by concentrated private capital. The head of the American Heritage Foundation, Dr Feulner, presented his basic thesis to an audience of elites in Australia that the role of think tanks was that while academics and intellectuals are necessary for the production of ideas, ‘it takes an institution to help popularise and propagandise an idea… This is the role of organisations like the Institute of Economic Affairs or the Adam Smith Institute in London, my own Heritage Foundation in the United States and the Centre for Policy Studies and the Centre for Independent Studies in Australia.’ Using the analogy of Procter & Gamble selling toothpaste, Feulner explained that ‘They sell it and resell it every day by keeping the product fresh in the consumer’s mind.’ By the sales effort, including the dissemination of the correct ideas to ‘thousands of newspapers,’ it is possible to keep debate ‘within its proper perspective.’
On top of this academics are selected from the right departments in the university by the media, and they give the appropriate analysis. The educational system also has its own institutional constraints. These constraints filter out those who are too openly disobedient. At the university level it starts partitioning off into separate specialized disciplines. And if you don’t agree that say for example, economic history should play no or very little role in undergraduate economics education, then you aren’t going to continue learning economics. There are exceptions to this, of course.
Then there are disciplinary measures. The neoliberal economic model has imposed disciplinary techniques on those work in the media and the educational system. The Auckland University of Technology has a report on the ownership of the media that comes out every year, and in New Zealand the media has basically become a duopoly for each medium, with most of the ownership of the media being controlled by foreign financial institutions, like private equity, which make money by cutting jobs. This incidentally has a side benefit of imposing discipline on those who want to keep their jobs, since they will be more fearful of the job cuts. In the educational system student debt has a similar side effect. It forces people to focus on whatever will get them to pay off their debt sooner, rather than valuing their own independent but ill-paying research topics. So it has a disciplinary effect, but I should say that I don’t know whether this is intentional or not.
Research grants don’t come from the poor, so they are typically aligned towards those that don’t deviate too far from elite values. A good example of this is research grants for climate change. Kevin Anderson (University of Manchester) of Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research said on an interview to Democracy Now that “So far we simply have not been prepared to accept the revolutionary implications of our own findings, and even when we do we are reluctant to voice such thoughts openly… many are ultimately choosing to censor their own research… our science now asks fundamental questions about this idea of economic growth in the short term, but we’re very reluctant to say that. In fact, the funding bodies are reluctant to fund research that raises those questions.”
The next several parts of this Discourse on Propaganda I will be drawing on examples from both the media and the university. In the last part I will suggest some alternatives to the current system. The example’s I use show very rarely that propaganda is about outright lying or censure, although that does sometimes happen. But a large part of it comes from the selection of topics and framing the boundaries of acceptable discussion. So long as people in the doctrinal institutions accept this framework, it is a highly effective system. And I do not by any means think that people are unaware that they are being subjected to it. Journalists and bloggers rate extremely untrustworthy in polls as professions go. So I think many are aware in some way that they are being subjected to propaganda.
Douglas Renwick is a student at Victoria University. He can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org
 Plato’s Republic as cited in Jason Stanley, How Propaganda Works, p9
 Edward Bernays, Propaganda, p31
 Noam Chomsky, Profit over people, p55
 Powell Memorandum, Retrieved from http://law2.wlu.edu/deptimages/Powell%20Archives/PowellMemorandumTypescript.pdf
 Alex Carey, Taking the Risk Out of Democracy: Corporate Propaganda versus Freedom and Liberty, p118
 Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, p15
 Robert McChesney, Digital Disconnect, p183
 Alex Carey, Taking the Risk Out of Democracy: Corporate Propaganda versus Freedom and Liberty, p111
 Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, p23-24
 Auckland University of Technology Media Ownership Report, Retrieved from http://www.aut.ac.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/608366/JMAD-2015-Report.pdf
 Top Climate Expert: Crisis is Worse Than We Think & Scientists Are Self-Censoring to Downplay Risk, Democracy Now! Dec. 8, 2015. As cited in Counterpunch, does-methane-threaten-life March 15, 2016. Retrieved from http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/03/15/does-methane-threaten-life/