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Geroe, G. (1943). The Danger of Propaganda: E. Kris. Amer. Imago, II, 1941, pp. 3–42.. Psychoanal Q., 12:443-444.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: The Danger of Propaganda: E. Kris. Amer. Imago, II, 1941, pp. 3–42.

(1943). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 12:443-444

The Danger of Propaganda: E. Kris. Amer. Imago, II, 1941, pp. 3–42.

George Geroe

In order to investigate the dangers of propaganda, Kris first reviews the psychoanalytic theories on suggestion and hypnosis. The term, suggestion, generally designates the fact that man can be influenced by determined actions of others without being fully aware of it. Expressed in psychoanalytic terminology, suggestibility refers to conditions not under the control of the adult ego. Psychoanalysis understands suggestion and hypnosis as regressive phenomena in connection with unconscious libidinal processes. Psychoanalysis has also studied the conditions which increase and decrease suggestibility.

Having reviewed these theories, Kris tries to apply them to a better understanding of the effect of totalitarian propaganda. It is for example a common psychoanalytic statement that disappointment increases the readiness to accept suggestions. A child who is disappointed by being forced to realize that his parents are not omnipotent, is looking for other persons who might be more powerful. Something similar probably takes place when social events shake the confidence of the masses in their leaders. In such a situation the suggestibility of the masses increases; they are easily influenced by 'prophets' who promise salvation. Suggestibility increases in proportion to the disturbance of social equilibrium.

However, the opposite may also occur under similar circumstances. Kris analyzes a certain scepticism towards all propaganda which may be compared to a state of saturation by overadvertising. Such a scepticism is not only directed against foreign propaganda but also against propaganda from one's own groups. This condition may even indirectly help the foreign propaganda. If weariness results in an unconscious wish to give up, the propaganda of the dictators may find willing listeners. It states that the powers of the dictators are irresistable and if that is true resistance would be senseless. This, says Kris, is an aspect of the danger of propaganda because of our suggestibility.

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Kris instructively characterizes the paramount features of totalitarian propaganda. It usually leads from persuasion to hypnotism, from mutual understanding to the victory of magic formulas. The reaction which they try to obtain is panic or an extremely masochistic attitude. Totalitarian propaganda copies the methods of modern advertising to a certain extent in its repetition and variation of slogans and its hammering in of formulas. In the totalitarian state propaganda also has another function. It must achieve a displacement or redirection of emotions. The repressed tendencies to rebel which have accumulated during a time of social hardships have to be transferred to other objects. The 'enemy' and minority gróups like the 'Jews' have to serve as scapegoats.

Kris then compares the propaganda methods of democracies with the totalitarian technique. Democratic propaganda does not intend to convert all human beings into anonymous masses without personal meaning and without individual will. Totalitarian propaganda has the aim of transforming human society into a crowd which has only one function, to fulfil all the commands of the leader.

Kris's paper is a promising start in the important field of psychoanalytic psychology of propaganda. He does not repeat the mistakes of previous authors who underestimated the autonomy of social factors and thereby blocked their insight into the interrelationship between those factors and the psychology of individual minds. Kris's paper proves that psychoanalysis has important tasks in the fight against Hitlerism.

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Article Citation

Geroe, G. (1943). The Danger of Propaganda. Psychoanal. Q., 12:443-444

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