Democracy and Propaganda: A Timeline of Thoughts from Responsible Men

Let’s start at the beginning.

Alexander Hamilton (January 11, 1755 – July 12, 1804) was an American statesman and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He was an influential interpreter and promoter of the U.S. Constitution, as well as first Secretary of the Treasury.

Hamilton, much like the rest of the founding fathers, acknowledged that the biggest challenge to “peace and liberty” of the newly formed Union was not external, but rather threats arising from “domestic” causes:

In the Federalist Papers No. 9, Hamilton begins with:

A firm Union will be of the utmost moment to the peace and liberty of the States, as a barrier against domestic faction and insurrection.

James Madison,  fourth President of the United States (1809 – 1817) and hailed as the “Father of the Constitution”, begins that most famous of the Federalist Papers, No. 10, by arguing that:

Among the numerous advantages promised by a well-constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction….By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

In short, the founding fathers simply didn’t trust the people. But why specifically?

Madison’s statements from Federal Convention of 1787 are truly insightful:

The man who is possessed of wealth, who lolls on his sofa or rolls in his carriage, cannot judge the wants or feelings of the day-laborer. The government we mean to erect is intended to last for ages. The landed interest, at present, is prevalent; but in process of time, when we approximate to the states and kingdoms of Europe, — when the number of landholders shall be comparatively small, through the various means of trade and manufactures, will not the landed interest be overbalanced in future elections, and unless wisely provided against, what will become of your government? In England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of landed proprietors would be insecure. An agrarian law would soon take place. If these observations be just, our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. The senate, therefore, ought to be this body; and to answer these purposes, they ought to have permanency and stability.

In other words, wealth (“landed interests”) will be increasingly concentrated into fewer and fewer hands through markets (“various means of trade and manufactures”). The wealthy, therefore, would be outvoted in a democratic system and government would be overrun by the majority of the people. To prevent the people from attaining political power and expropriating the property and wealth of the rich (“an agrarian law”), we have to “wisely” ensure that government “protect the minority” of the rich against the majority of the poor.

The following year (1788), James Madison wrote in The Federalist, no. 51:

In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

However, non were as eloquent as John Jay, president of the Continental Congress and first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. In vol. 1, chapter 3 of The Life of John Jay (1833), son William Jay quotes his fathers favorite maxim:

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Those who own the country ought to govern it.

Clearly, you can see how our founding fathers were very conscious of “class”. They were, after all, the upper class and were all too aware of the dangers posed by the lower classes. This ideology is ancient. The founding fathers were just a group of men in the long history of men that truly believed to be above the rest.

The ruling classes hold interests that are inherently antagonistic to those of the lower classes which have to be subjugated politically and economically to maintain their position in society.

At most points throughout history, the masses of any society, even in the most democratic, understand that they are not the ones in control of their own lives, and history is littered with examples of ordinary people rising up to take control of their situations, to create their own destinies.

These are the “factions” which are founding fathers feared so much.

To maintain “peace and liberty” (a.k.a. “control”), it is immensely important to have a way to manipulate the society’s ways of thinking and understanding of the world around them; to minimize and under represent ideas that are contrary to those of the ruling establishment, and to propagate those of the ruling elite. Karl Marx couldn’t have said it more clearly when he wrote in The Communist Manifesto:

The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class.

The ruling elite are a small group of people who analyze, execute, make decisions, and run things in the political, economic, and ideological systems. This class is generally a small percentage of the population and have to be protected from the masses. It used to be that physical force was the weapon of choice to maintain control over the people. This all changed in the very early 1900s with propaganda, specifically State Propaganda.

Propaganda has always existed, but it was perfected in the early 1900s.

The first successful propaganda campaign carried out by a modern government took place under the Woodrow Wilson Administration. Wilson was elected President in 1916, during the middle of World War I. The population at the time was predominantly pacifist and saw no reason to get caught up in a European war. But the government wanted involvement and needed the consent of the American people.

Within a week of Congress declaring war, on April 13, 1917, Wilson issued an executive order creating a new federal agency that would put the government in the business of actively shaping press coverage. Wilson’s government established a propaganda campaign called the “Committee on Public Information” (a.k.a.: Creel Committee for its chairman, George Creel).

In the brief year and a half of its existence, the Committee’s News Division set out to shape the coverage of the war in U.S. newspapers and magazines. One technique was to bury journalists in paper, creating and distributing some 6,000 press releases – or, on average, handing out more than 10 a day.

The whole operation took advantage of a fact of journalistic life. In times of war, readers hunger for news and newspapers attempt to meet that demand. But at the same time, the government was taking other steps to restrict reporters’ access to soldiers, generals, munitions-makers and others involved in the struggle. So, after stimulating the demand for news while artificially restraining the supply, the government stepped into the resulting vacuum and provided a vast number of official stories that looked like news.

The Committee then went a step further, creating something new in the American experience: a daily newspaper published by the government itself. Unlike the “partisan press” of the 19th century, the Wilson-era Official Bulletin was entirely a governmental publication, sent out each day and posted in every military installation and post office as well as in many other government offices. In some respects, it is the closest the United States has come to a paper like the Soviet Union’s Pravda or China’s People’s Daily.

An article in the New Republic published in April 14, 1917 stated:

We have seen a democratic nation forced into war, in spite of the manifest indifference or reluctance of the majority of its population.

The Committee was, in short, a vast effort in propaganda. Creel denied that his committee’s work amounted to propaganda, but he acknowledged that he was engaged in a battle of perceptions. “The war was not fought in France alone,” he wrote in 1920 in his fascinating book How We Advertised America:

The fight for the minds of men, for the “consent of their convictions,” and the battle-line ran through every home in every country.

In all things, from first to last, without halt or change, it was a plain publicity proposition, a vast enterprise in salesmanship, the world’s greatest adventure in advertising.

Overall, the Creel Committee was a great success. Propaganda was now a science in every sense of the word. These new techniques could now be used by any member of the ruling elite to shape the minds and attitudes of public.

In an essay titled Internal Social Reorganization After The War (1918), John Dewey, a well-known public intellectual and “progressive liberal” wrote:

The one great thing that the war has accomplished, it seems to me, of a permanent sort, is the enforcement of a psychological and educational lesson…. . . . It has proved now that it is possible for human beings to take hold of human affairs and manage them, to see an end which has to be gained, a purpose which must be fulfilled, and deliberately and intelligently to go to work to organize the means, the resources and the methods of accomplishing those results.

The real question with us will be one of effectively discerning whether the intelligent men of the community really want to bring about a better reorganized social order.

Enter Walter Lippmann.

Walter Lippmann (September 23, 1889 – December 14, 1974) was an American writer, reporter, and political commentator famous for being among the first to introduce the concept of Cold War, coining the term “stereotype” in the modern psychological meaning, and critiquing media and democracy in his newspaper column and several books, most notably his 1922 book Public Opinion.

Lippmann was also a notable author for the Council on Foreign Relations and played a notable role in Woodrow Wilson’s post-World War I board of inquiry, as its research director. He has also been highly praised with titles ranging anywhere from “most influential” journalist of the 20th century, to “Father of Modern Journalism”.

Michael Schudson writes that James W. Carey considered Walter Lippmann’s book Public Opinion as “the founding book of modern journalism” and also “the founding book in American media studies”.

Lippmann wrote in his 1922 book Public Opinion:

Chapter 15: Leaders and the Rank and File, Pg. 248

That the manufacture of consent is capable of great refinements no one, I think, denies. The process by which public opinions arise is certainly no less intricate than it has appeared in these pages, and the opportunities for manipulation open to anyone who understands the process are plain enough. . . . [a]s a result of psychological research, coupled with the modern means of communication, the practice of democracy has turned a corner. A revolution is taking place, infinitely more significant than any shifting of economic power…. Under the impact of propaganda, not necessarily in the sinister meaning of the word alone, the old constants of our thinking have become variables. It is no longer possible, for example, to believe in the original dogma of democracy; that the knowledge needed for the management of human affairs comes up spontaneously from the human heart. Where we act on that theory we expose ourselves to self-deception, and to forms of persuasion that we cannot verify. It has been demonstrated that we cannot rely upon intuition, conscience, or the accidents of casual opinion if we are to deal with the world beyond our reach.

Lippmann’s theory of democracy divides citizens into two groups: The “bewildered public” and the “responsible men”. Notice how these terms are a use of propaganda itself. These are the ruling elites vs the lower classes. Our founding fathers would recognize and relate to these term immediately.

In The Phantom Public, published in 1925, Lippmann writes:

Chapter 2: The Unattainable Ideal:

If the voter cannot grasp the details of the problems of the day because he has not the time, the interest or the knowledge, he will not have a better public opinion because he is asked to express his opinion more often. He will simply be more bewildered, more bored and more ready to follow along.

Chapter 13: The Principles of Public Opinion:

Democracy, therefore, has never developed an education for the public. It has merely given it a smattering of the kind of knowledge which the responsible man requires. It has, in fact, aimed not at making good citizens but at making a mass of amateur executives. It has not taught the child how to act as a member of the public. It has merely given him a hasty, incomplete taste of what he might have to know if he meddled in everything. The result is a bewildered public and a mass of insufficiently trained officials. The responsible men have obtained their training not from the courses in “civics” but in the law schools and law offices and in business. The public at large, which includes everybody outside the field of his own responsible knowledge, has no coherent political training of any kind.

These critics have seen that the important decisions were taken by individuals, and that public opinion was uninformed, irrelevant and meddlesome. They have usually concluded that there was a congenital difference between the masterful few and the ignorant many.

The fundamental difference which matters is that between insiders and outsiders. Their relations to a problem are radically different. Only the insider can make decisions, not because he is inherently a better man but because he is so placed that he can understand and act. The outsider is necessarily ignorant, usually irrelevant and often meddlesome, because he is trying to navigate the ship from dry land.

A personal favorite of mine comes from Chapter 14 which is aptly titled: Society in its Place:

A false ideal of democracy can lead only to disillusionment and to meddlesome tyranny.

The public must be put in its place, so that it may exercise its own powers, but no less and perhaps even more, so that each of us may live free of the trampling and roar of the bewildered herd.

Chapter 16: The Realms of Disorder:

I have conceived public opinion to be, not the voice of God, nor the voice of society, but the voice of the interested spectators of action. I have, therefore, supposed that the opinions of the spectators must be essentially different from those of the actors.

The term “propaganda,” incidentally, did not have negative connotations until the second World War when it became associated with Nazi Germany. In this period, the term propaganda just meant information.

Another leading figure from this era was Edward Bernays and he wrote the manual on propaganda. In fact, Bernays was a member of the Creel Committee.

Edward Bernays (November 22, 1891 − March 9, 1995) was an Austrian-American pioneer in the field of public relations and propaganda, referred to in his obituary as “the father of public relations”. Bernays was named one of the 100 most influential Americans of the 20th century by Life magazine. He was the subject of a full length biography by Larry Tye called The Father of Spin (1999) and later an award-winning 2002 documentary for the BBC by Adam Curtis called The Century of the Self.

His best-known campaigns include a 1929 effort to promote female smoking by branding cigarettes as feminist “Torches of Freedom” and his work for the United Fruit Company connected with the overthrow of the Guatemalan government in 1954. He worked for dozens of major American corporations including Procter & Gamble and General Electric, and for government agencies, politicians, and non-profit organizations.

Of his many books, Crystallizing Public Opinion (1923) and Propaganda (1928) gained special attention as early efforts to define and theorize the field of public relations. Citing works of writers such as Gustave Le Bon, Wilfred Trotter, Walter Lippmann, and his own double uncle Sigmund Freud, he described the masses as irrational and subject to herd instinct—and outlined how skilled practitioners could use crowd psychology and psychoanalysis to control them in desirable ways.

Bernay’s wrote in Propaganda (1928):

Chapter 1: Organizing Chaos:

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate the unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. In almost every act of our lives whether in the sphere of politics or business in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind . . . If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, it is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without them knowing it.

As civilization has become more complex, and as the need for invisible government has been increasingly demonstrated, the technical means have been invented and developed by which opinion may be regimented.

Chapter 2: The New Propaganda:

Whatever of social importance is done to-day, whether in politics, finance, manufacture, agriculture, charity, education, or other fields, must be done with the help of propaganda. Propaganda is the executive arm of the invisible government.

This practice of creating circumstances and of creating pictures in the minds of millions of persons is very common. Virtually no important undertaking is now carried on without it, whether that enterprise be building a cathedral, endowing a university, marketing a moving picture, floating a large bond issue, or electing a president. Sometimes the effect on the public is created by a professional propagandist, sometimes by an amateur deputed for the job. The important thing is that it is universal and continuous; and in its sum total it is regimenting the public mind every bit as much as an army regiments the bodies of its soldiers.

Chapter 6: Propaganda and Political Leadership:

Ours must be a leadership democracy administered by the intelligent minority who know how to regiment and guide the masses. Is this government by propaganda? Call it, if you prefer, government by education. But education, in the academic sense of the word, is not sufficient. It must be enlightened expert propaganda through the creation of circumstances, through the high-spotting of significant events, and the dramatization of important issues. The statesman of the future will thus be enabled to focus the public mind on crucial points of policy, and regiment a vast, heterogeneous mass of voters to clear understanding and intelligent action.

By now, propaganda was a respected academic social and political science. The founder of what’s called communications and academic political science is Harold Lasswell.

Harold Dwight Lasswell (February 13, 1902 – December 18, 1978) was a leading American political scientist and communications theorist. He was a PhD student at the University of Chicago, and he was a professor of law at Yale University. He served as president of the American Political Science Association (APSA), of the American Society of International Law and of the World Academy of Art and Science (WAAS).

Lasswell’s work was important in the post-World War II development of behavioralism. Similarly, his definition of propaganda was also viewed as an important development to understanding the goal of propaganda. Lasswell’s studies on propaganda produced breakthroughs on the subject which broadened current views on the means and stated objectives that could be achieved through propaganda to include not only the change of opinions but also change in actions. He inspired the definition given by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis:

Propaganda is the expression of opinions or actions carried out deliberately by individuals or groups with a view to influence the opinions or actions of other individuals or groups for predetermined ends through psychological manipulations

Lasswell was credited with being the founder of the field of political psychology and was the man at which the concepts of psychology and political science intersected.

In 1937, now established as one of the leading American political scientists, Lasswell wrote in the Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, Vol. 12, Propaganda:

Pg. 523:

Military writers were among the first to see how greatly the displacement of cults of simple obedience by democratic assertiveness complicated the problem of eliciting concerted action. Warfare reached a phase calling for the cooperation of the whole population in military action, munition production and the supply services. As older sentiments gave way to nationalism, the spread of schooling augmented the prestige of national heroes, legends, virtues and emblems at the expense of local symbols. It did not release the masses from ignorance and superstition but altered the nature of both and compelled the development of a whole new technique of control, largely through propaganda.

Since the World War accelerated social change has fostered new perplexities, disintegrated old loyalties and spread a new self-will. Merely automatic and historically hallowed ways of handling social adjustments have been rendered
obsolete by shifts in technology and by strange new conditions of human contact. The programs of contending leaders, duly sanctified by theocratic or aristocratic connections, are confuted by one another. When lords fall out, commoners come into their own. Simultaneously with the fading away of old loyalties, the scale of collective activities has broadened. As proposals for action along new lines arise to compete for the moral and physical support of masses, propaganda attains eminence as the one means of mass mobilization which is cheaper than violence, bribery or other possible control techniques.

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Propaganda is surely here to stay; the modern world is peculiarly dependent upon it for the coordination of atomized components in times of crisis and for the conduct of large scale “normal” operations.

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This regard for men in the mass rests upon no democratic dogmatism about men being the best judges of their own interests. The modern propagandist, like the modern psychologist, recognizes that men are often poor judges of their own interests. . . . With respect to those adjustments which do require mass action the task of the propagandist is that of inventing goal symbols which serve the double function of facilitating adoption and adaptation.

This involves the cultivation of sensitiveness to those concentrations of motive which are implicit and available for rapid mobilization when the appropriate symbol is offered.

The ruling class recognized that the country was getting more democratized and it wouldn’t be a private men’s club for much longer. They concluded politics has to become political warfare, applying the mechanisms of propaganda that worked so brilliantly during the first World War towards controlling people’s thoughts.

In 1936, Reinhold Nieburh wrote in similar fashion in Moral Man and Immoral Society:

Introducion XV:

Contending factions in a social struggle require morale; and morale is created by the right dogmas, symbols and emotionally potent oversimplifications. These are at least as necessary as the scientific spirit of tentativity. No class of industrial workers will ever win freedom from the dominant classes if they give themselves completely to the “experimental techniques” of the modern educators.

Pg. 3

All social cooperation on a larger scale than most intimate social group requires a measure of coercion.

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The stupidity of the average man will permit the oligarch, whether economic or political, to hide his real purposes from the scrutiny of his fellows and to withdraw his activities from effective control.

Pg. 221

The naive faith of the proletarian is the faith of the man of action. Rationality belongs to the cool observers. There is of course an element of illusion in the faith of the proletarian, as there is in all faith. But it is a necessary illusion.

Niebuhr received the 1964 Presidential Medal of Freedom. Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. described Niebuhr as “the most influential American theologian of the 20th century” and Time Magazine posthumously called Niebuhr “the greatest Protestant theologian in America since Jonathan Edwards.”

The New York Times quotes Niebuhr in his obituary on June 2, 1971:

The whole art of politics consists in directing rationally the irrationality of men.

By 1947, the war for the control of the American mind had all but been won. Objection to democratic propaganda on ethical grounds had almost completely disappeared by this time. One of the reasons for this silence was that by 1947 large numbers of social scientists and university departments were actively engaged in promoting the practices of consent engineering – largely because they worked on behalf of corporations.

To see how the social scientist and university departments openly embraced this bizarre notion of democracy, read the speech from February of 1935 by the president [emphasis added] of The American Political Science Association (APSA), Water J. Shepard:

The dissipation of the democratic doctrine must result in the reduction of the electorate to its proper position as an organ of government, and its subjection to a critical appraisal, with respect to both structure and function. It must lose the halo which has surrounded it, and be judged by the effectiveness with which it performs the work assigned to it. That work must be radically reduced in amount; and it must be greatly simplified in character. Furthermore, the dogma of universal suffrage must give way to a system of educational and other tests which will exclude the ignorant, the uninformed, and the anti-social elements which hitherto have so frequently controlled elections. We must frankly recognize that government demands the best thought, the highest character, the most unselfish service that is available. We must admit, as did Aristotle, that an aristocratic as well as a democratic element is necessary in government – not an aristocracy of wealth, or class, or privileged position, but an aristocracy of intellect and character.

In 1947, Bernays writes an article in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science titled The Engineering of Consent:

Pg. 114

This phrase [Engineering of Consent] quite simply means the use of an engineering approach—that is, action based only on thorough knowledge of the situation and on the application of scientific principles and tried practices to the task of getting people to support ideas and programs.

The engineering of consent is the very essence of the democratic process, the freedom to persuade and suggest.

The average American adult has only six years of schooling behind him. With pressing crises and decisions to be faced, a leader frequently cannot wait for the people to arrive at even general understanding. In certain cases, democratic leaders must play their part in leading the public through the engineering of consent to socially constructive goals and values.

In 1949, the leading business journal, Fortune Magazine, published an article titled “Business is Still in Trouble on their May issue, which consequently, Bernays references in his 1952 book Public Relations.

It is as impossible to imagine a genuine democracy without the science of persuasion as it is to think of a totalitarian state without coercion.

By the time of the second World War, we have a clear picture of the role of these “responsible men” in a capitalist democracy. These “responsible men” conduct mass mobilization in a way that is, as Lasswell observed, cheaper than violence or bribery and much better suited to the image of democracy.

There are, of course, other kinds of “responsible men” bent on combating, limiting, undermining, and dissolving democracy as much as possible to help clear the way for an effective society.

Let’s take a look at these other “responsible men”.

George F. Kennan (February 16, 1904 – March 17, 2005) was an American adviser, diplomat, political scientist, and historian, best known as “the father of containment” and as a key figure in the emergence of the Cold War. He also served as US ambassador to the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. In a top secret memo written in 1948, declassified in 1974, Kennan wrote:

We must be very careful when we speak of exercising ‘leadership’ in Asia. We are deceiving ourselves and others when we pretend to have answers to the problems, which agitate many of these Asiatic peoples. Furthermore, we have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3 of its population. This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships, which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world benefaction…In the face of this situation we would be better off to dispense now with a number of the concepts which have underlined our thinking with regard to the Far East. We should dispense with the aspiration to ‘be liked’ or to be regarded as the repository of a high-minded international altruism. We should stop putting ourselves in the position of being our brothers’ keeper and refrain from offering moral and ideological advice. We should cease to talk about vague — and for the Far East — unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.

Thomas Bailey from Stanford University authored two of the century’s biggest selling textbooks on U.S. history wrote in The Man in the Street: the Impact of American Public Opinion on Foreign Policy (1948)

Pg. 13

A president who cannot entrust the people with the truth betrays a certain lack of faith in the basic tenets of democracy. But because the masses are notoriously short-sighted, and generally cannot see danger until it is at their throats, our statesmen are forced to deceive them into an awareness of their own long-run interests. Deception of the people may in fact become increasingly necessary, unless we are willing to give our leader in Washington a freer hand.

Consider these words from the great Robert McNamara.

The Essence of Security, 1968:

Vital decision-making, particularly in policy matters, must remain at the top. God — the Communist commentators to the contrary — is clearly democratic. He distributes brain power universally, but He quite justifiably expects us to do something efficient and constructive with that priceless gift. That is what management is all about. Its medium is human capacity, and its most fundamental task is to deal with change. It is the gate through which social, political, economic, technological change, indeed change in every dimension, is rationally spread through society . . . the real threat to democracy comes not from overmanagement, but from undermanagement. To undermanage reality is not to keep it free. It is simply to let some force other than reason shape reality . . . if it is not reason that rules man, then man falls short of his potential.

McNamara may be using different terms, but he is alluding to the God-given duty of “responsible men” at the “top” to “reason” and manage society from all angles.

In 1971, Lewis Powell, then a corporate lawyer and member of the boards of 11 corporations, wrote a memo to his friend Eugene Sydnor, Jr., the Director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The memorandum was dated August 23, 1971, two months prior to Powell’s nomination by President Nixon to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The purpose is to identify the problem, and suggest possible avenues of action for further consideration.

The most disquieting voices joining the chorus of criticism come from perfectly respectable elements of society: from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians. In most of these groups the movement against the system is participated in only by minorities. Yet, these often are the most articulate, the most vocal, the most prolific in their writing and speaking.

The national television networks should be monitored in the same way that textbooks should be kept under constant surveillance.

It is time for American business — which has demonstrated the greatest capacity in all history to produce and to influence consumer decisions — to apply their great talents vigorously to the preservation of the system itself.

The Chamber should consider establishing a staff of highly qualified scholars in the social sciences who do believe in the system

There should be no hesitation to attack the Naders, the Marcuses and others who openly seek destruction of the system. There should not be the slightest hesitation to press vigorously in all political arenas for support of the enterprise system. Nor should there be reluctance to penalize politically those who oppose it.

This is a vast area of opportunity for the Chamber, if it is willing to undertake the role of spokesman for American business and if, in turn, business is willing to provide the funds.

More interesting than the Powell Memorandum is another publication that came out from the “liberal” side of the mainstream political spectrum: A the book titled The Crisis of Democracy, published in 1975 around the same time by the Trilateral Commission (1973). The political complexion of this group is illustrated by the fact that they almost entirely staffed the Carter administration.

What was the crisis? Pretty much the same as the Powell Memorandum. They said there’s too much democracy. People who are usually passive and apathetic, the way they’re supposed to be, are pressing their demands in the public arena, and it’s too much for the state to accommodate.

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The advanced industrial societies have spawned a stratum of value-oriented intellectuals who often devote themselves to the derogation of leadership, the challenging of authority, and the unmasking and delegitimation of established institutions.

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Yet, in recent years, the operations of the democratic process do indeed appear to have generated a breakdown of traditional means of social control, a delegitimation of political and other forms of authority, and an overload of demands on government.

Pg. 54:

They [Western Europe] should try to accelerate the shift away from their old model of fragmentation, stratification, secrecy, and distance, which produced an acceptable balance between democratic processes, bureaucratic authority, and some aristocratic tradition, and experiment with more flexible models that· could produce more social control with less coercive pressure.

Pg. 61:

The 1960s also saw, of course, a marked upswing in other forms of citizen participation, in the form of marches, demonstrations, protest movements, and “cause” organizations (such as Common Cause, Nader groups, and environmental groups.) The expansion of participation throughout society was reflected in the markedly higher levels of self-consciousness on the part of blacks, Indians, Chicanos, white ethnic groups, students, and women – all of whom became mobilized and organized in new ways to achieve what they considered to be their appropriate share of the action and of the rewards.

Pg. 64:

The basic point is this: The vitality of democracy in the United States in the 1960s produced a substantial increase in governmental activity and a substantial decrease in governmental authority.

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A decline in the governability of democracy at home means a decline in the influence of democracy abroad.

Pg. 114:

The effective operation of a democratic political system usually requires some measure of apathy and non-involvement on the part of some individuals and groups. In the past, every democratic society has had a marginal population, of greater or lesser size, which has not actively participated in politics. In itself, this marginality on the part of some groups is inherently undemocratic, but it has also been one of the factors which has enabled democracy to function effectively. Marginal social groups, as in the case of the blacks, are now becoming full participants in the political system. Yet the danger of overloading the political system with demands which extend its functions and undermine its authority still remains.

Pg. 162:

In most of the Trilateral countries in the past decade there has been a decline in the confidence and trust which the people have in government, in their leaders, and, less clearly but most importantly, in each other. Authority has been challenged not only in government, but in trade unions, business enterprises, schools and universities, professional associations, churches, and civic groups. In the past, those institutions which have played the major role in the indoctrination of the young in their rights and obligations as members of society have been the family, the church, the school, and the army. The effectiveness of all these institutions as a means of socialization has declined severely.

Pg. 173

An excess of democracy means a deficit in governability; easy governability suggests faulty democracy. At times in the history of democratic government the pendulum has swung too far in one direction or the other. At the present time, it appears that the balance has tilted too far against governments in Western Europe and the United States; in Japan, as yet, this problem is not acute, although it may well become so. The United States and Western Europe consequently need to restore a more equitable relationship between governmental authority and popular control.

These two publications differ rhetorically when placed side by side. The Powell Memorandum is literally a tantrum. The Crisis of Democracy uses big words by intellectuals and so on. But the message is not very different: democracy is simply a threat. The population has to be restored to passivity, then everything will be fine.

In 1981, Samuel Huntington, professor of Government at Harvard and co-author of The Crisis of Democracy, cemented the point that:

You may have to sell [intervention or other military action] in such a way as to create the misimpression that it is the Soviet Union that you are fighting. That is what the United States has done ever since the Truman Doctrine”

Please note that is the liberal end of the spectrum. Here is how conservatives deal the problem of democracy in the modern age:

Former Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman had this to say:

The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people… You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

In 1981, the Republican establishment finally admitted to their definition of “States Rights”. Lee Atwater, one of the leading GOP strategists of the 1980s. He ran George H.W. Bush’s successful campaign in ’88 and later served as chair of the RNC. Atwater explains how Republican candidates can win over white voters by appealing to racist views with coded language:

Here’s how I would approach that issue as a statistician or a political scientist—or, no, as a psychologist, which I’m not, is how abstract you handle the race thing. In other words, you start out—now, ya’ll aren’t quoting me on this. You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968, you can’t say “nigger.” That hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff liked “forced busing,” “states’ rights” and all that stuff. And you’re getting so abstract now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all of these things you’re talking about are totally economic things, and the byproduct of them is: Blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously, maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract and that coded, that we’re doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. Do you follow me? Because, obviously, sitting around saying we want to cut taxes, we want to cut this, and we want—is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “nigger, nigger,” you know. So, any way you look at it, race is coming on the back burner.

Let’s go to Ronald Reagan, 1980 speech, Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi, just a few miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi, the site of the 1964 murders of the civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. This was Reagan’s first speech after accepting the Republican nomination for president. He proclaimed his fidelity to “states’ rights”.

I believe in states’ rights. I believe in people doing as much as they can for themselves at the community level and at the private level. And I believe that we’ve distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the Constitution to that federal establishment.”

Also in 1980, Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, the Free Congress Foundation, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), addressed a seminal Religious Right gathering held in Dallas: [Reagan also attended and addressed the crowd]

Now many of our Christians have what I call the ‘goo-goo syndrome.’ Good government. They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.

In other words, if we stop them from voting, we win!

Fast forward to 2016 and you can see this Republican plan in action. In August 2016, a series of court rulings struck down new voting restrictions in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Kansas and Texas. A three-judge panel found North Carolina’s law targeted African Americans “with almost surgical precision”.

We are now in 2017 and politics are not too different from 1787. Factions continue to plague the ruling class and the ruling class continues to create new mechanism to preserve their power. Unfortunately, I don’t see a happy ending. I’ll let Goethe have the last word:

“None are so helplessly enslaved as those who falsely believe they are free” (1809)

Thanks for reading,


Most of this research came from essays and books written by Noam Chomsky. I took the time to research and reference Chomsky’s quotes to validate their authenticity. I wanted context, dates, and a timeline to demonstrate continuity. Honestly, I’ve doubted some of the things the Chomsky has quoted. How can you not doubt such outlandish claims? After reading the source documents, it turns out that Chomsky was right. Powerful men have been very open about their thoughts and plans for society. Read for yourself 🙂

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