What the Romans Did for Us: On the Age-Old Art of Propaganda

By Jemimah Steinfeld, deputy editor of Index on Censorship magazine. This article appeared in the summer issue of the magazine. Click here for more information on Index. Cross posted from Open Democracy

People see propaganda as a modern problem – manipulation by mass media. But the story is far older, and the tactics are timeless. While the game has moved on, the rules remain the same.

The EU’s police agency, Europol, recently revealed evidence that Isis is creating its own social media platform for the purpose of disseminating propaganda. It may be connected to Facebook and Google ramping up efforts to curb extremist material and “fake news”. In May, according to Reuters, Europol director Rob Wainwright said it showed “some members of Daesh, at least, continue to innovate in this space”. But while technological innovation might still be possible, will there be anything original on this new platform?

Until the reign of Augustus, no one in Rome had come close to creating a personality cult.

 A striking image, a catchy phrase, shocking material – these are the bread and butter of propaganda. It turns out these tactics stretch right the way back through history. From etchings in caves to the Bayeux Tapestry, pushing out messages that seek to persuade and influence – the basic definition of propaganda – is as old as mankind. There was one figure, though, who really cracked it.

“Augustus is probably the supreme master of the art of propaganda in the entire history of the West. No one has rivalled him and everyone has since been in his shadow,” said historian Tom Holland, author of bestselling books on Rome, in an interview with Index on Censorship magazine.

Until the reign of Augustus, no one in Rome had come close to creating a personality cult. Rome was built on the idea that it was a republic and that no single man should dominate all others. When Caesar’s vanity led to his face appearing on coins, his demise quickly followed. Augustus, coming straight after Caesar, used hindsight to his advantage. He cast himself as essentially a normal person, even adopting the title princeps (first citizen), and would partake in entertainment with the masses, like racing, boxing and watching gladiators. But he also positioned himself as exceptional, using the title divi filius (son of the god), and his portraits echoed those of Apollo. Augustus’s face was everywhere, from statues, friezes and coins to writings and poems, and most famously in his appearance in Virgil’s Aeneid.

“He promotes himself with absolute genius,” Holland said. “He is simultaneously a figure who is an everyday guy and a figure of supernatural potency… he appeals to every aspect.”

Augustus perfected propaganda and his influence can be seen clearly in Napoleon, Mussolini and Hitler. The careful crafting of Mao’s image – clad in a simple “Mao suit”, with sunbeams resonating off his body – was straight out of the Roman ruler’s playbook.

The Bayeux tapestry: the death of King Harold of England at the Battle of Hastings, 1066. Trevor Huxham/Flickr. Some rights reserved.

So Augustus provided the template, but technological change has undoubtedly improved the means. The birth of the modern printing press was a godsend for propaganda. It was during World War I, when there was a need to recruit, that Wellington House in London established a secret propaganda bureau, and from this the political poster was born. Driven by similar motives, President Woodrow Wilson in the USA formed the Committee of Public Information, which produced posters, films and other material that sought to champion home security and democracy against a foreign enemy. The committee attempted to convince millions of people that they should support the war, and those that still rallied against it, such as socialist publications, were silenced in the process.

The demands of the Russian Revolution quickly gave birth to a whole new genre, socialist realism or constructivism (“production art”), in which smiling peasants and strident factory workers were portrayed in bold colours and geometric shapes, pithy slogans slapped on top. Anatoly Lunacharsky, who was in charge of the People’s Commissariat for Education shortly after the Bolsheviks took charge, believed that by depicting the perfect Soviet man, art could create perfect Soviets.

Propaganda did not work just on what was shown; it worked also on what was omitted. Stalin was a master of this. Long before the advent of Photoshop, technicians in Russia manipulated photos so much that they became outright lies. David King, in The Commissar Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin’s Russia, wrote that during the Great Purges, in the 1930s, “a new form of falsification emerged. The physical eradication of Stalin’s political opponents at the hands of the secret police was swiftly followed by their obliteration from all forms of pictorial existence”. The book highlights classic cases of “now you see me, now you don’t”. It includes a series of images featuring the same backdrops but with rotating casts, depending on who was or wasn’t in favour at the time.

“At the heart of authoritarian propaganda is the manipulating of reality. The authoritarian must undermine this,” said Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley, author of How Propaganda Works, in an interview with Index.

The birth of mass media meant that propaganda didn’t need to confine itself to unmoving imagery. Instead, people’s minds could be influenced in a far more interactive way. Lenin called the radio “a newspaper without paper… and without boundaries” and used it to promote the Bolshevik message. And the revolution was televised, first at the cinema and then on TV. Sergei Eisenstein’s most famous films – October, Battleship Potemkin and Alexander Nevsky – were huge successes precisely because they fused technical brilliance with politically correct storylines.

The myriad possibilities of propaganda were not lost on Hitler, either. He devoted two chapters of Mein Kampf to it and, once in power, recruited a minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, who declared that with enough repetition and understanding of the human psyche, people could be convinced that a square was a circle.

Propaganda once again changed with the advent of the internet as information, or misinformation, could be spread with a simple click. Yet even though the game has moved on, the rules remain the same. Whether it’s a fabricated blog post, a viral video of North Korea bombing Washington or tirades of tweets telling everyone you’re going to Make America Great Again, these are all timeless tactics repackaged for the modern day.

“Everything you read in the newspapers, it’s age-old,” said Stanley, who added that “tech people” see this as a modern problem that they can solve. People are misinformed about the past, he said.

Misinformed, yes, but also manipulated by people and industries that can look to history’s masterminds for best practice when it comes to propaganda.

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45 comments

  1. Disturbed Voter

    There is enough continuity in our behavior, that Western Civilization is a concept (as is other forms of civilization). We are Romans in many ways … but you have to go back further to Alexander the Great and his father Phillip.

    1. lyman alpha blob

      Just started reading a book called Into the Land of Bones discussing Alexander’s campaign in Afghanistan and comparing it to modern times. The author mentions early on that Alexander put out a lot of hype about the need to civilize backward peoples to convince his army to follow him. Sounds eerily familiar.

      It didn’t pan out too well for Alexander but surely Uncle Sugar can make it work. Meanwhile George Santayana sits somewhere in the great beyond chuckling to himself.

    2. Synoia

      The Roman propaganda machine included their version of TV, the Theater, and the head of household imposing the propaganda on the whole household.

      Attending Theater was a head-of-household privilege, and attendance also identified exactly where you were in the Civic Strata, based on the position of one’s seat in the Theater.

      No pressure there, no, none at all.

  2. For_Christ's_Sake

    The photo of the Syrian boy in the back of the ambulance is one example of the power of media coverage.
    It, in istself, wasn’t the most striking or compelling of the myriad photo coverage to date, yet it received a disproportionete amount of coverage in the media, and at a crucial time when the Syrian forces loyal to Bashar al Assad were making considerable gains in the Aleppo area.

    1. Enquiring Mind

      There are various sites, some tending toward tin-foil territory and others closer to what used to be thought of as journalism, where inquirers may learn more about what is not being presented in our media. The public may be deceived by the Grey Lady and her fellow-travelers, but there are still those who seek the truth.

  3. thoughtful person

    I remember reading a copy of the Pike Report (1976, spokesman books). What impressed me was that most of the CIA budget appeared to be going to propaganda around the world – manipulation of reality as it were. Including a hot topic right now, spending millions on influenceing elections. History certainly rhymes. Thanks for the article, will check out the links!

    1. Willem

      The pharmaceutical industry does a similar thing: it spends millions on drug trials that cannot be replicated by doctors, because such trials are too expensive to be conducted by independent doctors. And then the pharma even spends more millions on advertisements (propaganda) to convince doctors and patients alike that the new drug works better than the old one. What would be more rational than spending money on PR is when the pharma would replicate their studies, preferably by independent researchers, but they seldom do this, or only at the time when their ‘new’ drug runs out of patent and they need yet a newer drug to compare to the ‘new’ drug. Etc, etc.

      It is time that people see through this propaganda, but unfortunately those who should see through this first (doctors in pharma, journalists in news, economists in banking) often have a conflict of interest that makes them deaf blind and stupid. Either because they receive money from corporations or information, or titles, or it could be as simple as receiving a penn from a company that people with a conflict of interest sincerely start to believe that these companies can’t be that bad.

      And those who do not have a conflict of interest are seldom heard in corporate media.

      But fortunately there are other channels too.

    2. rfdawn

      Good point about the CIA. Propaganda benefits greatly from surveillance providing feedback, so having both in one agency sounds like amazing public sector efficiency. The links didn’t get me anywhere much so I still don’t know how Augustus got his feedback – the acclaim of the mob? That’s important considering the failure of the similar Julian personality cult just prior.

  4. Mike

    I have no proof, but isn’t it propaganda when a weak argument upholding the governments position gets commented upon by “cranks”, “crackpots”, and wild “conspiracy theories” that can easily be used a straw men to be assaulted whenever “proof” of the governments side can’t be presented? We have seen countless websites and blogs arise around the 9-11 story, spouting holograms, energy waves, and scientifically hazy plot lines. When “conspiracy theory” has to be kicked, these are the ones presented, while building science and physics are truly denied in the official explanation, and needs no proof because the “nuts” are the only argument against.

    Is it possible that the spurious or questionable postings/books/articles are MEANT to obfuscate, meant to create rejection, or at least doubt as to the reality of any position? I don’t wish to attribute more power to this than necessary, but we have been hoodwinked before by more and less.

    Also, as a side note, Stalin sure did his job is discrediting Communism. Love those monastery students turned apparatchiks…

    1. Disturbed Voter

      You took the wrong pill. You know too much. Is Alex Jones COINTELPRO?

      In the Cold War, the ends justified the means. Not that Communist regimes weren’t a threat, but making a big deal about them, certainly served those who wanted to act on “the ends justify the means”. The fascist elements in the US weren’t gone by 1945 .. they were just getting started.

      Basically we little people will never know, even people closer to the events probably have contextual bias that prevents real knowing. Whether 9/11, or the death of Meriwether Lewis. Traditional and PC historical narrative … is propaganda too. Even about Washington and Lincoln.

      1. Procopius

        I guess I’ve always been contrarian. When I was in high school (the McCarthy years) I noticed our school library did not have one single book that described Communism. Not one that reported what Marx and Engels had said. Not one copy of a speech by Lenin. Not even a description of the famine caused by Stalin’s collectivization of the farms. Nor was there a single such book in the town public library. I think the Detroit Public Library had a copy of Kapital, but it was in the locked section, and you had to have academic credentials to access the material there. On the other hand, our library had two copies of Mein Kampf. I suppose the owners decided that danger was already passed, and Nazis would automatically hate Communists (Prussian Socialism was something very different).

    2. JTMcPhee

      In case any of us missed it, “Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt” (FUD) is a “thing,” and one can read up on, and take classes in, how to generate and use FUD to promote any dishonorable and deceptive notion or product, or denigrate any decent thought or thing: “How to Market with FUD: Fear, Uncertainty, & Doubt,” https://strategypeak.com/fud-fear-uncertainty-doubt/

      1. Norb

        After reading your link, there is no mention as to whether the new computer software was able to actually achieve the stated goal of backwards compatibility. The lost trust was regained by a bold claim playing on the clients fears and desires.

        The article has a self-congratulatory tone that clearly shows what is wrong with current social relations. A clever marketing guy figures out a way to “beat” a competitor with lies and deceit. ( no evidence is given contrary) The executives making the decision are probably well paid either way with no downside for failure.

        My wife is an ER nurse, and even in that environment, they are given coaching by management to repeat certain phrases to patients during treatment to ensure positive perception. It’s really quite disturbing when you consider the ubiquitous nature of the brainwashing by corporate powers. You can refuse to cooperate, but then you are branded as a troublemaker- not a team player.

        1. Carla

          “My wife is an ER nurse, and even in that environment, they are given coaching by management to repeat certain phrases to patients during treatment to ensure positive perception.”

          This is tragic. The profound element of the tragedy is that we all kinda know this goes on, in every area of our lives, including the most intimate ones, and yet we do nothing. Of course, we feel completely overwhelmed and inadequate in the naked face of this POWER.

          Norb, honestly, the main things that help me get through the day are Naked Capitalism and the Move to Amend the Constitution with a 28th amendment abolishing corporate personhood and money as speech.

          Last November 8, we had local citizen petition initiatives on the ballot in two suburbs of Cleveland: Shaker Heights and South Euclid, Ohio. Both had similar ballot language, stating that the electorates of those communities support and want to pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution stating that only human beings are entitled to constitutional rights; and money is not equivalent to speech, and therefore money spent on election campaigns can be regulated.

          These local initiatives passed, with 78% voting yes in South Euclid and 82% voting yes in Shaker Heights. They were the 10th and 11th cities to pass such ballot measures in Ohio.

          For a look at the 28th amendment we support, see:
          https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-joint-resolution/48/text?r=19

          Also just search on Move to Amend (I’m trying to avoid moderation by giving another link).

          1. Norb

            Thanks for sharing the link Carla. Resisting corporate power in any way possible is now the duty of every citizen. That cognitive shift is the main tipping point to bring about social change. What is good for corporations is not good for citizens.

            That point has to be repeated over and over.

            The message is getting through.

  5. Angry Panda

    Aaaaaand the article falls apart the moment it veers into actual history. Or, rather, a highly distorted picture thereof. The old Internet-debate principle of why should I listen to your argument if you’re getting some tangential facts wrong. [And the fun bit, I’d be the first to agree with the premise that propaganda dates back to at least Sumer and Egypt, which are the first civilizations we have any writings from so far as I know.]

    For example, specifically to Rome, before Caesar there was Sulla, for example. And Caesar wasn’t killed for his “vanity” but rather by the “wealthy conservative” faction that wasn’t happy he, Caesar, cut them off from power and was finally getting stuff done, including for the poor, and wanted to get back to the “good old days” (explicitly saying as much). And even the early-middle Republic saw plentiful propaganda, but especially late Republic when you had a whole conservatives-vs.-demagogues dynamic for many election cycles straight.

    I realize that this is meant to be a brief excursus to prove a point (…which could have been expressed in three sentences in lieu of a whole “article”, but whatever), however that isn’t really an excuse. Also, too, the whole “printing press” to “World War I” segue feels at best rushed (what, no propaganda in the 1500s-1600s? the 1700s? Franklin owned what again?), and at worst misleading (as in – the printing press must have been invented just before World War I…). Also, too, again, fun that the Russian Bolsheviks get top billing while the Nazis get a footnote. Although curiously there is a bit more accuracy in the Russian Bolshevik paragraphs than in the Roman ones.

    1. DJG

      Angry Panda: Maybe. I tend to doubt that Sulla qualifies as a personality cult. He was a brute during the brutal Roman civil wars.

      Julius Caesar may qualify as the first personality cult, regardless of his end. The Gallic Wars and the subsequent “book contract.” The symbolic crossing of the Rubicon. Then there is the episode that may seem more bizarre now but was remarkable for its social / religious significance: Mark Anthony, naked from participating in the sacred races of Lupercalia, offering the crown to Julius Caesar, who turned it away three times. That’s personality cult! (Although, admittedly, some of the Persian kings had had even more mythical rises to power.)

      But only Augustus Caesar, the former Octavian, succeeded in some minor propaganda efforts like renaming the months, eh–and we still use the names July and August (for his putative father Julius Caesar and himself).

      Another aspect of the perfection of propaganda under Augustus Caesar: The mystery of why the poet Ovid was sent into exile. Unlike Virgil, who was more flexible about his patriotism, Ovid was genuinely disruptive, and Ovid wrote erotic poetry that didn’t fit well with official sexuality. And off he went to farthest Romania, living out his days unhappily.

  6. Susan the other

    Also recently revealed by Erdogan himself is a “platform” of sorts which Turkey is promoting across Europe. It is meant to disseminate Islam’s political views and influence elections. And it is very interesting that Europol is referring to something similar and calling it propaganda, with an intent to censorship. No? How did Isis get the headline and not Erdogan? It’s all propaganda, that’s how.

  7. JTMcPhee

    The vector of despair that is propaganda rot is old news, though always, always topical, And still interesting and informative, for those wanting to try to armor themselves against DYSinformation and aim to “try to make things better in the world.”

    It may be a feckless effort, given the ubiquity of DYSinformation: “our” the CIA has been at it, on the massive offense against honesty and decency, via all the mechanisms we mopes, or too many of us, have thought worthy of “trust.” Here’s a telling review of a long form book on the subject of “Who Paid The Piper: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War,” https://ratical.org/ratville/CAH/CIAcultCW.pdf Who would have thought that all those organs of public thought and the writers and artists that fed “content” into the public consciousness, people lionized for their “progressive” and/or “liberal” credentials, were actually, both consciously and in so many cases for pay out of CIA Secret Funds, filling the public mind and channels of political and “cultural” thought and debate with a particularly ancient and murderous set of poisons?

    So it is left up to each of us individuals, as Promethean actors and consumers and sorters and selectors of “information,” to try to render ourselves sufficiently perceptive and skeptical and disbelieving and wise, to be discerning enough to separate the signal from the noise, the wheat from the chaff, the polished turds from the real gems of insight and event. Because NOTHING and NO ONE can be trusted to tell the truth, when even the concept of “truth” has been rendered meaningless in the Bernays Bouillabaisse of “ideas” and “information” that sloshes about and seeps and leaks into every corner and crevice of “our” political economy.

    Always, there are the Fifth Columnists (like Krauthammer and Krugman and the rest), and subtle little Iagos who infiltrate any kind of decency-based collective action (Occupy, NoDAPL, etc.) who will happily troll with Shakespearean “subtility” and betray and work full time to fiddle the rest of us, short-circuiting and defeating any efforts at collective action that might promote “the general welfare…”

    Interesting that in so many of the pop cultural video dreck I waste time viewing, so many of the plots involve a supposedly Trustworthy Character warning the protagonist to “Trust no one.” And we discover that the TC’s phrase included an arch and covert warning that the protagonist should not have trusted the corrupt or murderous TC, who is actually part of the category “No one.”

    But of course the CIA manipulators and masters know that some public awareness and knowledge of their shenanigans on behalf of corporate globalism, and the CIA as its own fortress of advancement and career and corruption, and the REAL Neos (-liberalism and -conservatism, both sic), only helps build the myth, and reality, of the agency’s reach and clout and invulnerability and impunity. So they let us bloggers talk and fulminate about what they have done, to increase the sense of futility and debility that all of us have to feel, in some measure, about the nature and reach of the Deep REAL state… They don’t even have to put a lot of active, positive effort into pushing onto our consciousnesses the phrase “Resistance is futile,” made iconic via Star Trek (that set of glimmering promises of Wonderful Technology and the triumph of the human spirit and innovation even in seemingly hopeless circumstances — if only we hold to the Federation’s principles… http://memory-beta.wikia.com/wiki/Kobayashi_Maru_scenario

  8. lyman alpha blob

    Same it it ever was with propaganda and with political smears as well. The Romans were pretty good at those too with a favorite being that a political figure had buggered one of his family members. Even the contemporary historians had no idea if these rumors were true, but modern historians are still talking about them.

    Back then it was Nero screwing his mother, today we have the Trump ‘dossier’ and piddling prostitutes.

  9. glib

    The Romans also imposed wheat on the Empire, to the point of killing those who refused. Many reasons, some related to propaganda: wheat was the fuel of war, so it was good to have it everywhere (not related), but also due to the opioids in wheat and the poorer health of the citizens, they had figured out that wheat eating populations were easier to conquer and hold. Totally unlike the Germans, the Scots and other tribes originating from the steppes.

  10. John

    You fail to mention one of the biggest purveyors and origin of the use of the word……the Congregatio Propaganda Fide established by Pope Gregory XV in 1622.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      As Edward Bernays pointed out in his 1926 book Propaganda, the word once had positive connotations precisely because it was seen as being about the legitimate spreading of the religious word. Bernays in his book tried hard, and unsuccessfully, to depict propaganda as positive and benign.

  11. Altandmain

    Closer to home, all the recent American Presidents and candidates have created their own cults of personality.

    The Obama Presidency: His cult tells us that he is a selfless community organizer and constitutional lawyer who will make America a post-racial society. He is a speaker who is very persuasive and charismatic. Any criticism of His Presidency is racism by the ignorant. Of course in reality the man had sold out to Wall Street from the start and America may as well have elected Bill Clinton for 2 more terms.

    Trump is of course the business man and deal maker who will turn America around. This cult relies heavily on the right-wing propaganda that business is superior to government and that Trump is a capable businessman. In reality, Trump inherited his wealth, went bankrupt several times, and I have read underperformed compared to an index fund. He also has a history of abusing the people he does business with and apparently women too.

    Hillary Clinton proved unable to fool people in her cult. She is apparently a selfless experienced politician who will break glass ceilings. The reality? Her economic policies are little more than the typical neoliberalism, which will create ceilings for working and middle class Americans, outright kicking the poor down. She loves going to war. She is not charismatic at all. Her supporters tried to portray all criticism of Clinton as sexism unsuccessfully. The lesson here is that if you want any personality cult, it has to be believable and your candidate has to be likeable.

    I think that like Rome, the US is going to come apart. Let’s face the reality. It is largely an empire. It relies on its military dominance to get its way and enrich its already obscenely wealthy. Much like Rome or the USSR, internal contradictions could bring it down.

    An example, the US claims that it is the land of opportunity, yet social mobility is better in Canada, Australia, and the Nordic Nations which have far more egalitarian cultures. It claims to be number 1 at everything, yet when you look at standards of living, it usually is a competition between the Nordic nations. There are other nations that do well. Japanese women for example have very long life expectancies. Healthcare is said to be the top, yet other nations spend less and live longer. I could go on, but the point is that propaganda can only go so far.

    Yet it is the costs of war and the greed of the rich that will eventually bring these contradictions to an end. How this will end, I don’t know. I think that it could end up like the Soviet Union. We have am elite class that is literally looting everything from the rest of us. The only question is, can we avoid a total collapse like the Romans?

    1. Bullwinkle

      I would like to take a sentence from your Hillary Clinton paragraph, revise it and add it to your Obama paragraph: His supporters tried to portray all criticism of Obama as racism.

    2. Procopius

      The “Roman collapse” wasn’t actually a sudden event that you can pin down. It was a million collapses and failures and successes by new people and strangers moving in next door and somebody you never heard of being elected to the town council. The Eastern Empire lasted until Crusaders conquered Constantinople in 1204, and arguably made a partial comeback in 1261 until the Turks captured the city in 1453. Even in the Western Empire some of the forms were still followed, legal precedents were followed, the ancient taxes were still collected. I think the collapse of the American Empire is going to be more spectacular, but you could argue, I think, that America actually “fell” when we entered World War I.

  12. Norb

    Goebbels had at least one thing right. Understanding the human psyche is key in shaping human society.

    Too bad for us all that current leaders have such limited visions of what human society could be. Or should that be shame on us all for allowing such a condition to arise in the first place. It seems a negative approach is always used to exploit human weakness. The reigning morality is find a weakness and exploit it.

    What human society SHOULD be has always been the problem faced by the left. The history of human societies has always been the balance of what is and what should be. These are moral questions that find no place for discussion in a modern world busy consuming the planet.

    Somehow, we need to stop consuming and find the strength to reconsider the relationship and bonds we have formed with one another and the rest of the world. It is an approach understanding the fragility of the human psyche and attempting to strengthen that weakness instead of exploiting it.

    Propaganda is devoid of morality. It is just the roadmap to where you would like to go. All the talk of fake news, the sharing economy, public/private enterprises, privatization, fighting terrorism, the Russian menace, and TINA are attempts to obfuscate the fact that the morality brought about by capitalism no longer functions.

    Deciding what is right and wrong bring about revolutions.

    1. rps

      Propaganda and ideology are one in the same, they are belief systems. Neither can be found in the physical world; rather, they reside in our chosen identities. Thus, the ideologues must persuade each of us to willingly submit our personal power to them and become their compliant subject. The ideologues are not ‘in’ power but ‘hold’ the collectives’ power until the individual chooses to break away and regain their individual power.

      Louis Althusser’s “Ideological State Apparatuses” is a good read. For Althusser, ideology was not a passive relation between the economic base and superstructure, but a pervasive set of dynamic conditions suffusing the institutional apparatus of the state and shaping not just the idea of the person as subject, but clarifying in structural terms the idea of a subject position; wherein, political and psychological forces converge to define possibilities of action and forces of constraint and repression.

      Religion is one example in the mechanisms of ideology, explaining how the subject is “called” or “hailed”, known as interpellation, which has been transferred to the political domain. In Althusser’s thesis, ideology has no history since it is carried in the material, institutional forms of social life, and is always submerged back into them (reification).

      The analytical problem is to preserve a critical focus on the moment of “calling,” as the interpellated subject is both created as a subject by being called, and subsumed by the very acknowledgement that, as he puts it, “It is I” who is being called. In this sense, one is always dealing with ideologies, and not a monolithic doctrine, that may be applied in any arena of social life including: family, schools, churches, political parties, governments, and so forth.

      By reading Marx expansively, Althusser had recontextualized Marxist theories by releasing it from the dogmas of doctrine or limitations of subject matter through the next step up of connecting the ranking of the subject to the institutional apparatus that at once sustains and vexes identity. One characteristic of his analytical approach lies in the fact that it does not insist on a barrier between the political and the psychoanalytic, instead, pointing the way to the praxis of ideology within one’s identity and participation.

  13. Indrid Cold

    No one here has given Ramses II due credit! Romans?! Pft!

    And Philip K Dick was right. Rome never fell. We’re still living in it.

    1. OffgassingWaddler

      A relevant “quote”

      Ariel: You ever heard of the Masada? For two years, 900 Jews held their own against 15,000 Roman soldiers. They chose death before enslavement. The Romans? Where are they now?

      Tony Soprano: You’re looking at them, a–hole.

    2. Synoia

      Rome 600 BC to 410 AD, but
      Constantinople 300 AD to 1460 AD, as the Byzantine Empire
      Ottoman Empire 1460 AD to 1918 AD

      (I believe the fall of Constantinople was 1460 AD, but am not positive)

      And we’d have to include the Holy Roman, the French, Austro-Hungarian, British and US Empires which collectively bring us to the current day.

      Not sure about the historical foundations of China, Russia and the other Asian states which appear to not fall under Rome’s shadow.

      I’d assert the the morals and machinations of the Ruling Class in all of these Empires were copied form the success of the Roman Empire. Technology might have changed how the messages is, or was, delivered, the desire to rule has not.

      Philip K Dick was correct.

      1. Vatch

        Not 1460, but close: 1453. The western Roman empire officially fell in 476, although the sack of Rome in 410 was a disaster. And the Ottomans preceded the fall of Constantinople by about one and a half centuries. The Ottoman empire wasn’t dissolved until 1922; they were effectively finished in 1918, of course.

  14. Oguk

    Wondering if people are familiar with Jacques Ellul’s book Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes (1962)? I read it a long time ago. My take from it was: (1) propaganda is everywhere, is almost the same as what we might call culture; (2) the case that propaganda is not as much about spreading falsehoods as the selective use of truth, and (3) propaganda is an essential technique of mass politics and the modern state. He traces modern propaganda to the French Revolution, where it was essential to mobilize large parts of the population on behalf of the revolution.

    Personality cults seem to me like a vary narrow understanding of propaganda.

  15. Alan

    The Roman Senate was nominally responsible for paying soldiers but by the time the republic was in it’s waning days the coinage had become debased and devalued. The Roman soldier then looked to his individual commander as his meal ticket. A competent and generous general commanded loyalty above that of the state itself because it was upon his generalship and good fortune his soldiers depended. Caesar, apart from being the Michael Jordan of his day, was exceedingly generous in doling out plunder to his victorious legionnaires. Caesar’s rivals also put their faces on coins, of course vanity played a role but it was much more that that. Troops could often be seduced into transferring allegiance if they believed they could get a better deal. Octavian (Augustus) while a competent general himself did not possess anything close to the skill of Caesar and ultimately owes his success to the tenth legion, Caesar’s most loyal and skilled troops. These men transferred their allegiance to Octavian instead of Marc Antony because Octavian manipulated his men’s aversion to what they perceived as the weakness and effeminacy of the East (Antony’s relationship with Cleopatra and his subsequent appropriation of Eastern dress and manners). So this then was the beginning of propaganda, Augustus portrayed himself as fighting for traditional Roman virtue against that of the soft and corruptible East. Augustus made a point to always appear in public dressed in humble garb and forbade conspicuous consumption among Rome’s patrician class. He further enshrined this commitment to Roman modesty by commissioning Virgil to compose an epic myth of Rome’s founding, which masterfully echoed many of the themes Augustus sought to reinforce.

    1. Procopius

      Do you have a reference for the claim that Roman coinage was debased and devalued? I understood that under the Republic generals were always responsible for distributing their pay to the troops. In fact, as I understood it, Caesar was deeply in debt, to the point where he had to cross the Rubicon and prevail in a civil war or have his head chopped off (I think the actual punishment was to be thrown into the Tiber River, but would need to look it up). Anyway, that was a systemic problem throughout the Empire, as well. I don’t think that debasement of coinage can actually be demonstrated, although I know it’s a favorite claim of far right wing gold bugs (the Roman monetary system was based on silver, not gold — originally based on iron, but that goes way back).

  16. arte

    Apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?

    1. JTMcPhee

      Some pretty good models from the Romans, for big effing standing armies, and looting colonies, and marking a very few very rich, and a whole lot of lesser people very very dead… It’s called “civilization…

    2. craazyman

      Something like 10,000 of them helped make the movie Ben Hur with Charlton Heston. And they helped make lots of other movies over many decades, mostly playing themselves as extras in the background.

      I think Elizabeth Taylor was even a Roman before she became an Egyptian.

  17. VietnamVet

    Raised with the fear of The Big Lie, what is interesting today is corporate media’s propaganda omissions. The 20% decline in the number of middle class families. Earlier deaths. The transfer of enormous wealth to a very few very rich families.

    The fall of the Soviet Union is recent enough that those who lived through it to say to us that the reason for the collapse was USSR’s propaganda didn’t match reality. When Boris Yeltsin’s counter coup took place, Russians didn’t take to the streets to defend the Communist Party and the economic system. Perhaps 5% of Americans are doing well servicing the oligarchs. That is far too few to defend predatory capitalism when the global economy crashes; which it will, due to spreading wars, climate change, fading democracy and social unrest. Survivors will say good riddance to the Hamptons. They had it coming.

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