Auden on Propaganda

In all ages, the technique of the Black Magician has been essentially the same. In all spells the words are deprived of their meanings and reduced to syllables or verbal noises. This may be done literally, as when magicians used to recite the Lord’s Prayer backwards, or by reiterating a word over and over again as loudly as possible until it has become a mere sound. For millions of people today, words like communism, capitalism, imperialism, peace, freedom, democracy, have ceased to be words, the meaning of which can be inquired into and discussed, and have become right or wrong noises to which the response is as involuntary as a knee-reflex.

It makes no difference if the magic is being employed simply for the aggrandizement of the magician himself or if, as is more usual, he claims to be serving some good cause. Indeed, the better the cause he claims to be serving, the more evil he does…. Propaganda, like the sword, attempts to eliminate consent or dissent and, in our age, magical language has to a great extent replaced the sword.

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