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propaganda

propaganda, systematic manipulation of public opinion, generally by the use of symbols such as flags, monuments, oratory, and publications. Modern propaganda is distinguished from other forms of communication in that it is consciously and deliberately used to influence group attitudes; all other functions are secondary. Thus, almost any attempt to sway public opinion, including lobbying, commercial advertising, and missionary work, can be broadly construed as propaganda. Generally, however, the term is restricted to the manipulation of political beliefs. Although allusions to propaganda can be found in ancient writings (e.g., Aristotle's Rhetoric ), the organized use of propaganda did not develop until after the Industrial Revolution, when modern instruments of communication first enabled propagandists to easily reach mass audiences. The printing press, for example, made it possible for Thomas Paine's Common Sense to reach a large number of American colonists. Later, during the 20th cent., the advent of radio and television enabled propagandists to reach even greater numbers of people. In addition to the development of modern media, the rise of total warfare and of political movements has also contributed to the growing importance of propaganda in the 20th cent. In What Is To Be Done? (1902) V. I. Lenin emphasized the use of "agitprop," a combination of political agitation and propaganda designed to win the support of intellectuals and workers for the Communist revolution. Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini also used propaganda, especially in oratory, to develop and maintain the support of the masses. During World War II all the warring nations employed propaganda, often called psychological warfare, to boost civilian and military morale as well as to demoralize the enemy. The U.S. agency charged with disseminating wartime propaganda was the Office of War Information. In the postwar era propaganda activities continue to play a major role in world affairs. The United States Information Agency (USIA) was established in 1953 to facilitate the international dissemination of information about the United States. Radio Moscow, Radio Havana, and The Voice of America are just three of the large radio stations that provide information and propaganda throughout the world. In addition, certain refinements of the propaganda technique have developed, most notably brainwashing, the intensive indoctrination of political opponents against their will.

See J. Ellul, Propaganda (1965, repr. 1973); T. C. Sorensen, The Word War (1967); T. J. Smith II, ed., Propaganda (1989).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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