Discussion of Three Kinds of Propaganda
In previous articles, we distinguished three kinds of propaganda: first-order (totalitarian), second-order (crisis), and third-order (defensive).
Totalitarian propaganda occurs when government is controlled by a single political party and opposition parties are outlawed. In nineteenth and twentieth century West, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany are outstanding examples of single-party states. Today, North Korea follows their examples. Revulsion toward the fascist agendas led, after 1945, some fascist states to tolerate opposition parties, while at the same time neutralizing the political effectiveness of those parties. Strong-man rule and dictatorial rule usually means that a state has only one effective political party - the ruling party. In such states, dictators are "elected" with nearly 100% mandates. Iran today fits this example. In totalitarian states, political dissent is persecuted. Therefore, "government" is synonymous with the governing political party.
In totalitarian society, no institutions or organizations, such as newspapers, can effectively oppose governmental policy. As a result, first-order propaganda is unopposed. Because it is unopposed, it is also open, direct, and effective. The propaganda is an essential and permanent feature of the state.
Crisis propaganda is often indirect and impermanent. The government uses propaganda to (try to) create a set of attitudes in citizens favorable to governmental policy or political party doctrine. The government hopes citizens will convince themselves to accept the policy or doctrine.
In nominally free societies, undergoing crisis, such as the United States and Britain in world wars I and II, public opposition to governmental policy and political doctrine can be expressed, but there are limits to its expression. For instance, a newspaper editorial might criticize a military strategy, but the newspaper would not be permitted to call for the defeat of its national military forces (which would be treason).
These attitudes are usually promoted by hidden psychological techniques. In a sense, second-order propaganda tries to trick the citizenry into adopting attitudes favorable to government policy or party doctrine. Calls for patriotism can be used to dampen dissent against war policies. Government warnings about espionage in the homeland might promote division among ethnic groups that inhibits joint political action against war policies. Claims that the enemy are demonic promote acceptance of governmental policies because our policies, though not perfect, are tolerable by comparison with the enemy's action. Britain engaged in such propaganda during the Napoleonic Wars. Britain and Germany used propaganda about enemy atrocities to justify war policies.
Defensive propaganda, our third kind of propaganda, occurs in a society with actively exercised freedoms of press, speech, and political association. Opposition can freely include calls for the dissolution of government. Free opposition to governmental policy and political doctrine deprives government and the governing party of the ability to coerce political beliefs openly.
Government officers of one party must engage in public discussion with their opponents about the merits of policy and doctrine. Whether or not government policy is meritorious, governments seek to obtain agreement with their policy by promoting an interpretation of events. This interpretation appears to meet the rules of public debate, but actually takes unfair advantage of the government's position to make the governmental interpretation seem more truthful than the interpretation of opponents. Put somewhat differently, using defensive propaganda, the government attempts to control the news, by managing what the news is.
A government might try to tilt interpretation in its favor by denying to political opponents the information the opponents need to refute the governmental interpretation. Documents containing damaging information might be designated, for example, "Classified Top Secret," on the grounds that public knowledge of it might compromise national military security.
Another common tactic of defensive propaganda is for governmental officials to blur the line between governmental and political activities. In the U.S., political attacks against a president of one party by opposing politicians situated in Congress might be met with a constitutional defense. For instance, calls for documents (that might reveal governmental officers were acting politically beyond their official duty) are met with refusals based on the Constitutional separation of governmental powers.
Defensive propaganda was common during the Vietnam War, after opposition to the war became well organized. The Defense Department and the Department of State, as well as the President's Executive Office directly, would release incomplete information relating to events and policy. If taken as the whole story, the incomplete information would lead the public to an interpretation of events favorable to governmental policy.