Adrian Walsh reviews 'How Propaganda Works' by Jason Stanley

Jason Stanley argues in his new book that propaganda is more prevalent within liberal democracies – and is of far greater concern – than is typically assumed. Indeed, Stanley suggests that the very idea that propaganda only proliferates within authoritarian regimes, which have ministries set aside for its production, is a central tenet of the propaganda of the West. Stanley's aim in this book is to outline the distinctive features of propaganda within a liberal democracy (he is particularly focused on the United States). On his account, the 'flawed ideology' of vested and powerful interest groups undermines the genuinely valuable ideals at the heart of the democratic project; this is what he refers to as 'demagogic propaganda'. Although I am highly sceptical of the argumentative strategies Stanley employs, the book raises significant issues about the extent to which public debates in countries like the United States and Australia involve distorted conceptions of what democratic principles properly entail.

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Published in April 2016, no. 380