Forward to next post: Open thread 67
Argosy Books on East 59th deals in rare books and prints, but just outside their door they keep a random selection of secondhand books and printed ephemera priced at a buck or two a pop. It’s a fun browse. This last time I picked up an old sociology text: Social Control: Social Organization and Disorganization in Process by Paul H. Landis (New York: Lippincott, 1939).
Thing I learned about which no longer exists: “mental epidemics”, as in the Crusades, the Flagellant movement, and the Mississippi Bubble. Losing this concept is probably a good thing.
Bits that are familiar from age to age: predictably, the book’s big on the idea that, until recently, traditional values held society together and enforced morality; but now that we’ve become an atomized society, other mechanisms of control will have to be found. People say that today, and I remember them saying it when I was a sprat, so it’s nice to find out that they were saying it in 1939. I suspect that if asked how many years earlier it was that traditional values still held sway, you’d have gotten roughly the same estimates in 1939 and 1974 that you get in 2006.The real reason I picked up the book: It discusses stuff you no longer see stated that bluntly. For instance:
But the real prize was a section that turned out to have been quoted (approvingly) from Harold Lasswell’s Propaganda Technique in World War I (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1927):
In a nation of voluntary church affiliation, possessing no state church and having a heterogeneous population and culture, denominational stratification on the basis of such factors as wealth, educational qualities, and levels of emotional appeal is necessary if all groups are to be brought under the scope of church control. (p. 252)
We really don’t see people saying stuff like that in clear any more. Of course, being me, I’d be happier if we did.
Propaganda is a concession to the rationality of the modern world. A literate world, a reading world, a schooled world, prefers to thrive on argument and news. It is sophisticated to the extent of using print; and he that takes to print shall live or perish by the Press. All the apparatus of diffused erudition popularizes the symbols and forms of pseudo-rational appeal; the wolf of propaganda does not hesitate to masquerade in the sheepskin. All the voluble men of the day—writers, reporters, editors, preachers, lecturers, teachers, politicians—are drawn into the service of propaganda to amplify a master voice. All is conducted with the decorum and the trappery of intelligence, for this is a rational epoch, and demands its raw meat cooked and garnished by adroit and skillful chefs.
Propaganda is a concession to the willfulness of the age. The bonds of personal loyalty and affection which bound a man to his chief have long since dissolved Monarchy and class privilege have gone the way of all flesh, and the idolatry of the individual passes for the official religion of democracy. It is an atomized world, in which individual whims have wider play than ever before, and it requires more strenuous exertions to co-ordinate and unify than formerly. The new antidote to willfulness is propaganda. If the mass will be free of chains of iron, it must accept its chains of silver. If it will not love, honor and obey, it must not expect to escape seduction.Propaganda is a reflex to the immensity, the rationality and willfulness of the modern world. It is the new dynamic of society, for power is subdivided and diffused, and more can be won by illusion than by coercion. It has all the prestige of the new and provokes all the animosity of the baffled. To illuminate the mechanisms of propaganda is to reveal the secret springs of social action, and to expose to the most searching criticism our prevailing dogmas of sovereignty, of democracy, of honesty, and of the sanctity of individual opinion. (pp. 198-199)