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Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  937 ratings  ·  84 reviews
"A far more frightening work than any of the nightmare novels of George Orwell. With the logic which is the great instrument of French thought, [Ellul] explores and attempts to prove the thesis that propaganda, whether its ends are demonstrably good or bad, is not only destructive to democracy, it is perhaps the most serious threat to humanity operating in the modern world ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published January 12th 1973 by Vintage (first published 1962)
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Feb 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Probably best you make yourself comfortable – as this is going to take some time. A friend of Nell’s recommended this book when she shared my review of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, ironically enough, on Facebook. I’d never heard of Ellul before – at least, I don’t think I had. He is a French Christian sociologist, but his ideas are much more interesting than those three adjectives might imply.

We tend to think of propaganda in much the same way that we think of advertising. We know it work
Jan 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Intellectuals who think they are immune to Propaganda
This is the third book concerning technology and society that really changed the way I think about the world. As with The Technological Society and Mumford's Pentagon of Power, this book contains many ideas and concepts that turn our normal worldviews upside down. He states that Propaganda is necessary for modern societies to function and that they play an integral part in the power structures that run them. This is all the more true for our modern, so-called Democracies. He also states that the ...more
Aug 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is, put quite simply, a MUST read. It was written shortly after WWII and focuses on the propaganda machine of Goebbels. It is shocking how much of what is described in this book is the norm in today's "quality" of discourse. Truly prophetic. ...more
Lynn Waddell
Oct 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book is the most influential of my career in journalism, and one of the top 10 of my life. I read it almost 20 years ago, and I often reflect on it. It changed the way I analyze news media, politicians, and marketing. Although written in the 1960s, the components essential to propaganda that he outlines hold true. Given the weighty subject matter, it isn't a quick read, more one to pause and contemplate over coffee before moving to next chapter. Even still, Ellul's extreme passion for his t ...more
Nov 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Wow. My biggest take-away from this book is a question - what would Ellul say today? Because the way he talked about the power of propaganda, what it does to people and the threat it is to democracy and thought seems incredibly relevant to today. Ellul books are always a bit tough, but certainly worth it. He defies many definitions of propaganda, saying that propaganda actually uses facts, not lies as most think. Also, rather than uneducated people being susceptible to it, it is the most educate ...more
Oct 26, 2018 marked it as to-read
Shelves: try-again
I had every intention of reviewing this, but time started to get away from me, I couldn't read it all before returning it, but I decided to skim the contents to see if I wanted to request it again at a later time. And what I found was something completely unexpected, a story within a book. Shared spaces allow for intersections, sometime across space and time.

The book contained significant handwritten notes, marginalia, throughout the text and it told a story. Clearly a critique, but also a voic
Michael Perkins
Jan 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
as timely as ever.....

"An exhaustive catalog of horrors. It shows how modern, committed man, surrounded and seized by propaganda, more often than not surrenders himself to it only too willingly, especially in democracies--because he is educated for his rule as dupe. 'The most favorable moment to seize a man and influence him,' Ellul writes, 'is when he is alone in the mass; it is at this point that propaganda can be most effective. This is the situation of the 'lonely crowd,' or of isolation in
Jake M.
Nov 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This is among the few books to alter how I think of how the world presents itself. Ellul has a talent for presenting complex ideas in readable text. The book focuses on the conditions, uses, mediums, structures and belief systems needed for propaganda to flourish. In addition, he identifies a working definition of propaganda that is repeated throughout the text to remind the reader of its ever-present influence in our daily lives. This is as much a dissection of propaganda as it is a warning aga ...more
Jan 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Parts of this book are amazing, even today. While portions of it are a little dated or too caught up in the Cold War or focused on the forces which brought about the second world war, the insights he draws from them are not. I've never read a description of just what propaganda is or why it is so dangerous and effective that was close to this good. Ellul's background in Theology shines through in a lot of places and he is also concerned with understanding how the modern state and the ideologies ...more
Ki Seung
Mar 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: will-reread
A dense (with some technical jargon) philosophical work on the nature of man in a technical society, whether it be democratic or fascist. To consider that propaganda (as described by Ellul) is not only necessary, but also a natural outcome in a large and diverse modern society, is a rather bitter concept to swallow, but for me, Ellul makes an excellent case as to its diverse means and forms.
May 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I'm actually reading this right now, so I'll update this as I am amazed and transformed by this highly underappreciated and brilliant Frenchman. ...more
May 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics
Despite its age, it remains a penetrating, insightful must read for how people's actions are influenced by deliberate and even incidental propaganda, and how this propaganda becomes (even without design) essential to adapting people's behavior to mechanized mass society. Typical of Ellul, his work is filled with sweeping statements not specifically supported by empirical evidence (though he cites legion other works for more technical analysis of specific subjects), but when one considers most of ...more
Varapanyo Bhikkhu
Jan 25, 2021 rated it really liked it
Revilo Oliver:

Experience has shown that the mass-armies of "democratic" states fight with greater zeal when they are animated by hatred and supported by a hate-crazed populace that fancies it is fighting a holy war. Lies have therefore become military equipment, a kind of mental logistics; but it is the essence of such propaganda that its spuriousness is known only to the persons who manufacture it. The model of such operations is the famous lie-factory managed by Lord Bryce during the First Wor
Mark Gring
Aug 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: rhetoric, propaganda
Jacques Ellul's book is what I consider the definitive work, thus far, on propaganda. I have not found another text that covers this topic so well as he. The work is comprehensive, thoughtful, subtle, and historical-philosophical.
First, Ellul himself is an interesting enigma. He is born into a historic (reformed) Christian home but accepts a more neo-orthodox (Karl Barth, et al) perspective along with an extreme libertarian political perspective. He ends up with what he defines as "Christian An
Oct 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book propagandized me to understand the importance and dire need of propaganda. That's how good it is. One important theme of this book: "propaganda" is not what you think it is. It is precisely the moment when you scoff at the notion of oppositional propaganda, that you lower your defenses for others, and that you are already under the influences of another set of propaganda.

A very eye-opening read.
Sep 11, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: junk
As probably most products of the French educational system Ellul proves to be an intellectual fraud. Like Bergson who used to base his ramblings about life on popular drama characters he had seen in a play the night before, Ellul describes life on what he has seen on TV the night before. E. g. the last annex that describes as real an imaginary technique of "brainwashing." No wonder France is a top consumer of Homeopathy. Yet, somehow, his literary and rhetoric technique are good enough to convin ...more
Eduardo Goye
Jul 27, 2020 rated it did not like it
Despite having a few moments of clarity and interesting analysis, this book can only be a real red-pill text if you are utterly convinced that what you see on the media is the absolute truth. If you have any kind of ability to question your environment, most of Ellul's claims will seem obvious. The repetitive style in which is written forces you to read the same ideas over and over, dragging through a text that could have been several hundred pages shorter.

The author's anti-communist sentiment i
Michael S
Oct 01, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: citizens of a democracy
Scary, scary, scary.
Jeffrey Brannen
Jan 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
**WARNING** This book will destroy your ability to rely on “trusted news sources”. Proceed with caution.

We imagine propaganda to be the tool of dictators and totalitarian states. Ellul argues that propaganda is a tool of population control which all governments are tempted to use. Regardless of political or ideological bent, each government finds itself having to deal with the problem of an absolute deluge of information. Controlling that information by spin is essential to remain in power.
"Propaganda is the true remedy for loneliness."

"Propaganda's artificial and unreal answers for modern man's psychological suffering are [akin to dulling the pain in an alcoholic's liver so that they can keep drinking]: they allow him to continue living abnormally under the conditions in which society places him. Propaganda suppresses the warning signals that anxieties, maladjustments, rebellions, and demands once supplied.

"Not only is propaganda itself a technique, it is also an indispensable c
Apr 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing

“Propaganda,” in Ellul’s usage, is neither intrinsically “good” or “evil.” In its most benign form, it includes those unwritten societal codes of behavior which we learn to follow at an early age and, without which, civil society would be rather chaotic. In our growth from infancy to adulthood, we unconsciously build on the mental scaffolding provided by our parents and religious faith, continually modifying it as new experiences unfold. The very solidity of our belief system is reinforced by ho
Dan Douglas
Feb 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This one will get you thinking. Propaganda, Ellul insists, is not simply wartime films put out by authoritarian regimes, spinning away in 1950s movie houses. Nor is it normally put together via conspiracy, as we tend to imagine, although sometimes that does happen.

No, Ellul points out that most propaganda is the benign, sometimes even well-intentioned, shaping of public opinion as a necessary sociological consequence of mass, technological, democratic societies. Whoever resides at the top of cul
Steve Penner
Nov 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Each book by Jacques Ellul is fascinating in its own way. This book was written in the early 1960's so reflects the era and its concern with propaganda. The recent past of Nazi propaganda, the ongoing use of it in the communist bloc, the beginnings of television as a medium for propaganda and the general technologization of society all become part of his analysis on the uses and misuses of propaganda. As others have pointed out, Ellul was the first to point out that the goal of propaganda was no ...more
Nigel Shenton
Aug 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020

Reading this cause, I notice a conservative read a centralized book. Just as it happens, I'll have to go over it again. Female to hard gander for lame review on my reading mid-winter lost the book. Quite frustrating that mid winter, this book could be anywhere in my paper book dog eared book pile that I can't do find the note. Read again when one sees it.

Back of book says stuff
If you have heard of the indoctrination of hate of 1984
Look a
Night Train Express
Apr 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book opened my eyes, I gained a whole new perspective to how the world really works. I learned a lot about our views and mindsets are formed. This book made me question a lot of things and it made me wonder whether our thoughts truly belong to us or not? It reminded me of something very important, something I realized our society has neglected for quite a while now, to think critically, to think for one's self.
If you seek to wake up and see the world clearly. Read this book. I strongly rec
Jul 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Written in the 1950s and generally holds up really well. The only changes that affect how the ideas described in it apply are ones that Ellul wouldn't necessarily have foreseen: the 24-hour news cycle, and the internet. With those two developments, the ability to bombard people with propaganda (having it stick more effectively) and target them more accurately has become less of an issue than it was when the book was written. Overall, very chilling and a little depressing, but should be required ...more
Excellent and clearly written. The translation is quite good. I learned more from this than I expected. The impact of propaganda goes much further than most people realize. That's a deliberate intention. Very relevant to today's issues despite being published in 1965. I felt like I was reading a description of how FOX News operates and how social media influences people.

This book took me a long time to read because I kept needing to put it down and think about it for awhile before being able to
Jacob Russell
Aug 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing
As in The Technological Society, Ellul examines, not the practice of propaganda, but the the underlying assumptions and ideology that gives rise to it--a much broader category of communication than commonly assigned to the term.
Adam Ross
Sep 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
An interesting book on the way in which comprehensive propaganda is employed in the modern world (a bit dated now, but still good and helpful, covering ground others have ignored). Ellul is a Christian as well, so his approach is more interesting than just an academic approach to the subject.
Oct 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
I think I was halfway in reading this book before I got it, (a good thing I did too because it was required for school) and when I did, there is nothing like that feeling. It will challenge you and stretch your mind and thinking.
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Baptised Catholic, Ellul became an atheist and Marxist at 19, and a Christian of the Reformed Church at 22. During his Marxist days, he was a member of the French Communist Party. During World War II, he fought with the French Underground against the Nazi occupation of France.

Educated at the Universities of Bordeaux and Paris, he taught Sociology and the History of Law at the Universities of Strau

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“To the extent that propaganda is based on current news, it cannot permit time for thought or reflection. A man caught up in the news must remain on the surface of the event; be is carried along in the current, and can at no time take a respite to judge and appreciate; he can never stop to reflect. There is never any awareness -- of himself, of his condition, of his society -- for the man who lives by current events. Such a man never stops to investigate any one point, any more than he will tie together a series of news events. We already have mentioned man's inability to consider several facts or events simultaneously and to make a synthesis of them in order to face or to oppose them. One thought drives away another; old facts are chased by new ones. Under these conditions there can be no thought. And, in fact, modern man does not think about current problems; he feels them. He reacts, but be does not understand them any more than he takes responsibility for them. He is even less capable of spotting any inconsistency between successive facts; man's capacity to forget is unlimited. This is one of the most important and useful points for the propagandist, who can always be sure that a particular propaganda theme, statement, or event will be forgotten within a few weeks. Moreover, there is a spontaneous defensive reaction in the individual against an excess of information and -- to the extent that he clings (unconsciously) to the unity of his own person -- against inconsistencies. The best defense here is to forget the preceding event. In so doing, man denies his own continuity; to the same extent that he lives on the surface of events and makes today's events his life by obliterating yesterday's news, he refuses to see the contradictions in his own life and condemns himself to a life of successive moments, discontinuous and fragmented.

This situation makes the "current-events man" a ready target for propaganda. Indeed, such a man is highly sensitive to the influence of present-day currents; lacking landmarks, he follows all currents. He is unstable because he runs after what happened today; he relates to the event, and therefore cannot resist any impulse coming from that event. Because he is immersed in current affairs, this man has a psychological weakness that puts him at the mercy of the propagandist. No confrontation ever occurs between the event and the truth; no relationship ever exists between the event and the person. Real information never concerns such a person. What could be more striking, more distressing, more decisive than the splitting of the atom, apart from the bomb itself? And yet this great development is kept in the background, behind the fleeting and spectacular result of some catastrophe or sports event because that is the superficial news the average man wants. Propaganda addresses itself to that man; like him, it can relate only to the most superficial aspect of a spectacular event, which alone can interest man and lead him to make a certain decision or adopt a certain attitude.

But here we must make an important qualification. The news event may be a real fact, existing objectively, or it may be only an item of information, the dissemination of a supposed fact. What makes it news is its dissemination, not its objective reality.”
“To be effective, propaganda must constantly short-circuit all thought and decision. It must operate on the individual at the level of the unconscious. He must not know that he is being shaped by outside forces...but some central core in him must be reached in order to release the mechanism in the unconscious which will provide the appropriate - and expected - action.” 12 likes
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