In this column some time ago I quoted one of the great political minds of the 20th Century and what he had to say about political campaigns and propaganda. The man was a genius for his time, understanding how to manipulate crowds and win support without revealing one’s true agenda. I call him a genius – and he was – but in many ways he was an evil genius, for he used his understanding of human nature to manipulate the electorate and mold the culture in his own image.
In this election cycle it would do us well to revisit the man’s writings in which he revealed early in his political career how he would gain support for his movement. He put it this way:
"The receptive powers of the masses are very restricted, and their understanding is feeble. On the other hand, they quickly forget. Such being the case, all effective propaganda must be confined to a few bare essentials and those must be expressed as far as possible in stereotyped formulas. These slogans should be persistently repeated until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea that has been put forward. If this principle be forgotten and if an attempt be made to be abstract and general, the propaganda will turn out ineffective; for the public will not be able to digest or retain what is offered to them in this way. Therefore, the greater the scope of the message that has to be presented, the more necessary it is for the propaganda to discover that plan of action which is psychologically the most efficient."
Put differently, complex discussions about important issues won’t win the election because the common folk just aren’t smart enough to understand the underlying arguments, let alone remember them beyond the 24 hour news cycle. He goes on:
"Propaganda must be limited to a few simple themes and these must be represented again and again. Here, as in innumerable other cases, perseverance is the first and most important condition of success."
Slogans and sound-bites are as deep as most people will go. "Four legs good and two legs bad" is good enough for most people. Employ no more substance than that.
"Its chief function is to convince the masses, whose slowness of understanding needs to be given time in order that they may absorb information; and only constant repetition will finally succeed in imprinting an idea on the memory of the crowd."
"The success of any advertisement, whether of a business or political nature, depends on the consistency and perseverance with which it is employed."
This elitist could have written the handbook for our own political campaigns. Come up with a catchy slogan that lacks substance, repeat it until it numbs, and accuse others of moral chauvinism if they raise questions about it. Such campaign tactics betray no respect for you and your intelligence. In the height of elitism such campaigns hope to use manipulate you with catch phrases. Succumbing to such manipulation can lead us down the road to serfdom.
God is neither an elitist nor a propagandist. He doesn’t care about your family background or your worldly wealth. He doesn’t insult your intelligence with slogans in place of truth. He wants us to learn how to think clearly because of who we are now and what we shall be. More than once we’re called heirs of God. We’re called a royal priesthood. In Revelation we’re told that we shall be kings and priests, and elsewhere we’re told that we shall judge angels. All these honors require good, solid, level thinking.
None of us, regardless of our status in this life, is beneath the potential that God would expect of his children. Think of it this way. God took a rag-tag band of fisherman, carpenters, and tax collectors and turned them into a force that changed the world. The first king of Israel was a farmer, and the second a shepherd boy. Many of the prophets were ordinary people placed in an extraordinary calling. And the great thing about the God of the Bible is his insistence that we think. "Prove all things; hold fast to that which is good." (I Thess. 5:21) "Prove me now herewith." (Mal. 3:10)
God does not want you to be manipulated by political or religious leaders. If there is one thing that ticked Jesus off, it was that very thing as practiced by the Sadducees and Pharisees. Freedom is a precious thing that propaganda will jeopardize. Jesus knew what he meant when he said the truth will set you free.
By the way, the quote earlier in this article comes from chapter 6 of Hitler’s Mein Kampf.