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How Propaganda Works

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  177 ratings  ·  23 reviews
Our democracy today is fraught with political campaigns, lobbyists, liberal media, and Fox News commentators, all using language to influence the way we think and reason about public issues. Even so, many of us believe that propaganda and manipulation aren't problems for us--not in the way they were for the totalitarian societies of the mid-twentieth century. In "How Propa ...more
Hardcover, 376 pages
Published May 26th 2015 by Princeton University Press (first published May 25th 2015)
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3.64  · 
Rating details
 ·  177 ratings  ·  23 reviews

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Wordy, long and could have edited the author's personal thoughts at the beginning and the end of each chapter and his long-winded descriptions of tactics. His goal was to focus on propaganda in liberal (rights) democratic (equality) society, but the book veered off mostly to the linguistics of liberal democratic politics which in itself the only form of propaganda that occurs in a society that claims to be rights and the equality of its people.

Ideologies are full with loaded wth words/rhetoric
Noah Weisling
Dec 07, 2015 rated it it was ok
This was a required reading for Phil-P 145 at Indiana University. I was not a fan of this book. While he had some decent insights he displayed them in a very partisan manner. He also seemed to talk in circles and used a lot of unnecessary long and different names that all meant the same thing. I am proud to say that we talked our professor out of using this book as a reading in the future.
Peter Mcloughlin
Very clear exposition of propaganda and ideology and how democracies are susceptible to it. Not just demagogic politicians but structural inequalities like coral reefs can make the whole of popular thought to be channeled into flawed ideologies that our cognitive biases disguised as common sense that can mislead. We are all products of the cauldron of ideas that are both true and products of our bias. Demagogues and manipulators use our biases and mental shortcuts and self serving beliefs to cha ...more
Dec 13, 2016 rated it liked it
Rather academic and corrective to start with, the author is in dialogue with a discipline, advocating some sense of interdisciplinarity, which is always commendable, but still belonging to a particular debate. The book is written in the first person, there are many references to the author's experiences and role in public discourse, sometimes verging on the self-important. The argument is not organised very methodically or logically and reads as a collection of reflections, non-linear, with some ...more
B Sarv
Jun 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Well it came late in life. The realization that I was duped into believing I was living and growing up in a democracy. The fact that it calls itself the greatest democracy is in fact propaganda. It is clearly an undemocratic system and it was decidedly designed so. The secondary system I was a part of was specifically designed to brainwash its participants to believe that merit was what brought about the conditions in the communities where diverse people lived under very starkly different circum ...more
Tazar Oo
Sep 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
ပေလတိုအေနနဲ႔ ဒီမိုကေရစီကို အားမနာတမးေ၀ဖနတာေတြလညး အမားႀကီး ရွိခဲတယ။ အဲဒါေတြထဲက တစခုကေတာ ဒီမိုကေရစီဟာ "သာတူညီမွအခြငအေရး" (Equality) ဆီ ဦးတညသြားလိမမယဆိုတဲ အခကပဲ။ ဒီေနရာမွာ သာတူညီမွ အခြငအေရးဆိုတာက ကၽြနေရာ ကၽြနမဟုတ လူတနးစားေရာ၊ ေယာကားေရာ မိနးမေရာ ိုငငံတစခုရဲ႕ ိုငငံေရးမူ၀ါဒကို သာတူညီမွ ဆံုးျဖတခြငရွိတဲ အေျခအေနမဳိးကို ဆိုလိုတာပဲ။ ...more
Feb 27, 2017 rated it it was ok
Propaganda generally involves an emotional appeal strong enough to overcome rational thinking. People are more or less susceptible to propaganda based on the biases they acquire in life. There, now you don't have to read the book. The author makes the point that emphasizing reliance on experts can be anti-democratic, but most of the book reads like a tortured academic trying to make himself feel special. To wit, a random couple of sentences: "One alternative to sensitivity that has arisen in an ...more
Robert Fairhurst
Jul 28, 2017 rated it did not like it
God this is a woeful, almost unreadable book. I am slugging through it but it is such a struggle. The sentences are so long-winded and seem to be just showing off what he knows rather than actually having a message. There are almost no concrete, modern examples, just examples from Plato or theoretical examples. With a title like this, and with his obvious knowledge, it could have been so much more than what is essentially an academic book review of the semantics of propaganda. It is difficult to ...more
Bookforum Magazine
"Stanley is surely onto something when he claims that the most productive role for propaganda in a liberal democracy is to shore up liberal-democratic ideals.

Stanley's book clarifies what's at stake when journalists fail to see how the propaganda of our liberal democracy is functioning."

–David V. Johnson on Jason Stanley's How Propaganda Works in the Summer 2015 issue of Bookforum

To read the rest of this review, go to Bookforum:

Arthur Thomas
Lost his way.

I expected a discourse on propaganda but this devolved into linguistics instead. Stanley spent too much time writing about what he would be doing and not enough time doing it.
The foray into linguistics was mildly interesting but it did not add to my understanding of how propaganda works.
Annie Maurer
Jan 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was a difficult read, very academic. However, it provided invaluable insight into how propaganda is used to undermine democratic ideals and to support educational and economic hierarchies.
Oct 01, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Not for anyone without a high tolerance for formal philosophy.
Mark Plakias
Feb 01, 2019 rated it liked it
This is an academic book, written by a Yale philosopher for other philosophers and for policymakers (I presume). That said, if you are interested in the current political moment and the growing tide of demagoguery that the coming election cycle will spawn, this will reward a close reading -- but it's hard work.
This is too bad, because Stanley has written a book of vital importance -- and mis-titled it as a tract about propaganda. A better title would be "Lies Elites Tell Us -- and Themselves."
Mar 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
When thinking about political philosophy, I often find myself returning to Gulliver's Travels. Though the fanaticism of the Lilliputians gets most of our attention, it is the rationality of the Houyhnhms' planned genocide that has always fascinated me. In How Propaganda Works, Jason Stanley provides a philosophical foundation for the specific speech acts and the horizon of legitimation criteria through which propaganda works to guide reasoning to anti-democratic conclusions, all while being perf ...more
Muhammad Ahmad
Oct 24, 2018 rated it liked it
Somewhere amid all the digressions the subject of propaganda got lost. There are some insights in this book but you have to wade through thickets of verbiage to get to them. There are long segments which convinced me that Stanley is a very nice guy and is very conscious of oppression and inequality, but they told me nothing about propaganda. I came to this after reading his very good "How Fascism Works"; but I get the sense that this book was published without an editor. His arguments could have ...more
May 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
[ Gov 10 Spring 2017 Reading ]
Interesting ideas, although I don't necessarily agree that his "undermining" definition of propaganda explains what we intuitively know to be true.

I do appreciate the premise that propaganda, like any other phenomenon, can be decomposed and studied in a systematic way. I think Stanley's rare philosophical approach / focus on the _theory_ of propaganda provides a more rigorous overview than extrapolating general principles from historical examples, but his style did
Tom Eckhardt
Jan 11, 2019 rated it did not like it
Complete disappointment. I had high hopes for this book but wish I would have read the reviews before hand.

I have a minor in philosophy so I was able to follow the book, but honestly this was a poor attempt at a philosophical book. Wasn't fun to read and I don't think I am any smarter for reading it. One the worst things I have read
Sep 07, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
a scholarly work in every way. that's a half compliment.
Jan 24, 2017 rated it liked it
I picked up this book, excited to read it after seeing a glowing review. Alas, I was disappointed.

The author is an academic who writes in a style that only his fellow philosophers can love. Rather than treat propaganda as a political problem or lay out concrete outcomes, he applies the full philosophical treatment. He quotes frequently from Plato and philosophers I haven't studied since college three decades ago, and is fond of theorizing. His favorite word is "epistemic" (I had to look that up
Scott Brogan
Dec 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
If you're interested in discovering how people, and groups, tend to organize their ideas (and why those ideas become so entrenched into people's concept of themselves), then this book is probably for you.

It reads like a high school or college level text book rather than a 'light' read. And it references and cites many studies and other writers that, if you haven't already been introduced to, might seem to leave the reader without the prerequisites to fully understand some concepts.

But don't let
Giorgi Bratchuli
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Nov 02, 2017
Yohanan EliYah
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Moritz Bonacker
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Mark Mengerink
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Feb 21, 2018
Masahiro Caldwell Jackson
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Jul 05, 2018
Nicholas Maurer
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Mar 28, 2018
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“In the United States, the two-party system works as a way to manufacture an artificial group identity, akin to an ethnic or national one or an allegiance to a sports team. Part of the identity seems to consist in allegiance to certain conclusions on a range of “hot button” political issues. On those issues, political party affiliation does seem to result in rigidly held belief and loyalty in the voting booth. Allegiance to the group identity forged by political party affiliation renders Americans blind to the essential similarities between the agendas of the two parties, similarities that can be expected to be exactly the ones that run counter to public interest, in other words, those interests of the deep-pocketed backers of elections to which any politician must be subservient in order to raise the kind of money necessary to run for national office. Satisfaction at having one’s group “win” seems to override the clearly present fundamental dissatisfaction with the lack of genuine policy options.33 If the function of the two parties is to hide the fact that the basic agenda of both is shared, and irrational adherence to one of the two parties is used propagandistically to mask their fundamental overlap, then we can see how Burnham’s prediction may have come to pass, despite the existence of two distinct political parties.” 1 likes
“Here is one final reason to think that the United States may be a state that uses the language of democracy to mask an undemocratic reality. An oligarchy is a system in which only those with a certain amount of money or land have access to the political process. An oligarchy is not a majoritarian electoral democracy. For years, the political scientist Martin Gilens has been trying to test empirically the claim that the United States is, as we learn it to be in schools, a “majoritarian electoral democracy.” Gilens and his coauthor Benjamin Page conclude that the empirical evidence between 1981 and 2002 entails that the hypothesis that the United States is a pure majoritarian electoral democracy “can be decisively rejected.”40 Wealthy individuals and powerful interest groups (such as the gun lobby) have significant impact on policy. In contrast, “[n]ot only do ordinary citizens not have uniquely substantial power over policy decisions; they have little or no independent influence on policy at all.” Gilens’s work is the subject of continuing debate.41 But it seems nevertheless widely agreed that the available empirical evidence makes it at the very least worthy of serious consideration that the language of liberal democracy does not accurately explain the cause of most US policy. One must worry about even apparently robustly liberal democratic states that the language of democracy is simply used to mask an undemocratic reality.” 1 likes
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