20 January

In the Volume 1 of Great Books of the Western World, entitled The Great Conversation: The Substance of a Liberal Education, the co-editor of the series, Robert Hutchins, writes, "We believe that the reduction of the citizen to an object of propaganda, private and public, is one of the greatest dangers of democracy." He adds, "The reiteration of slogans, the distortion of the news, the great storm of propaganda that beats upon the citizen twenty-four hours a day all his life long mean either that democracy must fall a prey to the loudest and most persistent propagandists or that the people must save themselves by strengthening their minds so that they can appraise the issues for themselves" (p. xiii).

If Hutchins had omitted the word, "private," this passage would seem to be in step with the standard "Cold War liberalism" of the time it was published. Indeed, if he had been writing just four years earlier (1948 instead of 1952) he can't help but wonder if the urge, the temptation, to see Communism as the principal, if not only, threat to democracy left standing after the defeat of the Nazis would have lead him to omit that word. But with the anti-Communism of the Truman administration, Americans for Democratic Action (A D A), and the purgers of the C I O having lead to national popularity for Douglas MacArthur and Joseph McCarthy, and with the nation having been lead by absolute anti-Communism (except Yugoslavia--nevermind that!) into a misguided war in Korea, the mainstream of liberalism was in retreat.

So we have this passage above, where I surmise that advertising is akin to propaganda, and private industry aims to manipulate our opinions in the same way Communists and Fascists do. This author, the kind who has been dismissed by countless others in the decades since as a proponent of "dead white men" and outmoded educational standards, expresses a radicalism of thought and ideology utterly alien to our present-day televisual-screen addicts, our Mac-men zombie pod people. Or, rather, it is radical not so much in its intellectual content, but in what it suggests regarding our daily lives. Our indifference to the negative effect of advertising on our minds, and our growing obsessive viewing of televisual entertainment (now often transmitted via computers and phones), is seen in a harsh light: a willful obliteration of the self, of our personal space and ultimately our literacy. The simplest, basest desires are linked to happiness and satisfaction while the demands of rationality and wisdom are dismissed as restrictive standards imposed by others, creating precisely the classist, corporatist form of authoritarian mind control Americans once fought against.