Democratic leadership and mass manipulation

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Theodor W Adorno*

Notes on the techniques of the fascist agitator and the personality of his followers.

The concepts of leadership and democratic action are so deeply involved in the dynamics of modern mass society that their meaning can no longer be taken for granted in the present situation. In contrast to princes and feudal lords, the idea of ​​the leader emerged with the rise of modern democracy. It then related to the election, by political parties, of those to whom they delegated the authority to speak and act on their behalf and who, at the same time, supposedly qualified to guide the common man through rational argumentation.

Since the famous Soziologie des Parteiwesens [in the Modern Demokratie, Leipzig, 1911; Sociology of political parties, UNB, 1982)] by Robert Michels, which is no longer the case: political science has shown that this classical, Rousseauian conception no longer corresponds to reality. Through various processes, such as the enormous numerical growth of modern parties, their dependence on very concentrated vested interests and, finally, their very institutionalization, the true democratic functioning of the leadership, to the extent that it was actually achieved in reality, had faded.

Despite the fact that in important decisions grassroots democracy, as opposed to official public opinion, still occasionally shows surprising vitality, the interaction between party and leadership has become more and more limited to abstract manifestations of the will of the majority through of voting and the mechanisms of the latter, largely subject to the control of established leaderships.

Leadership itself has become increasingly rigid and autonomous, losing, in most cases, contact with people. At the same time, the impact of leadership on the masses ceased to be entirely rational, and began to clearly reveal some of the authoritarian traits that are always latent where power is controlled by a few. The hollow and inflated figures of leaders like Hitler and Mussolini, invested with a false “charisma”, are the last beneficiaries of these societal changes within the leadership structure. These are changes that also profoundly affect the masses themselves. When people feel that they are really not in a position to determine their own destiny, as happened in Europe; when they become disillusioned with the authenticity and effectiveness of democratic political processes; then they are tempted to surrender the substance of democratic self-determination and take their chances with those they least consider powerful: their leaders.

Freud[I] described hierarchical organizations, such as armies and churches, in terms of authoritarian identification and introjection mechanisms that can impose themselves on large numbers of people, with no exception for groups whose essence is anti-authoritarianism, such as political parties in the first place. . Although apparently distant now, this danger is the counterpart of the procedures with which a leadership seeks to perpetuate itself. The observation generally made that, today, democracy fosters anti-democratic movements and forces is one of the clearest signs of manifestation of this danger.

As a result, it is necessary to give a more concrete meaning to the ideas of democracy and leadership, if it is to prevent their transformation into mere words, when not into disguises of situations totally opposite to those indicated by their meaning. The knowledge that most people often act blindly and in accordance with the will of demagogic figures or powerful institutions, at the same time going against the basic principles of democracy and their own rational interest, crosses all times. It appeared long before Ibsen made it his thesis. The enemy of the people [1882]; in fact, since the problem of ochlocracy first arose in ancient Greece.

Applying the idea of ​​democracy in a merely formalistic way, accepting the will of the majority per se, without considering the content of democratic decisions, can lead to the complete perversion of democracy and, ultimately, to its abolition. Today more than ever, it is the function of democratic leadership to make its subjects, the people, aware of their own desires and needs against the ideologies that are drummed into their heads by the innumerable channels of communication of vested interests. People need to understand that those democratic principles, once violated, prevent the exercise of their own rights and can make them pass from self-determined subjects to objects of the most obscure political maneuvers.

In an age like ours, when the spell of a thought-controlling mass culture has become almost universal, this postulate, bearing the best of common sense, seems utopian. It would certainly be naive idealism to assume that such a thing can be achieved only through intellectual means. The consciousness and unconsciousness of the masses have been conditioned by the existing powers to such an extent that it is not enough just to "give them the facts". At the same time, however, technological progress has made people so “rational”, skeptical, alert and resistant against all kinds of counterfeiting that there can be no doubt about the existence of strong counter-tendencies to the pervasive ideological patterns existing in our cultural environment. It often happens that people remain indifferent even in the face of the most intense propaganda pressure, if important issues are at stake. Democratic enlightenment has to be supported by these counter-tendencies and these, in turn, must be based on all the resources of scientific knowledge available to us.

Attempts in this direction may have a profound support in the very idea of ​​leadership, but to do so would require a fearless unmasking of the kind of leadership promoted everywhere by modern mass society, insofar as it strengthens a irrational transfer or identification irreconcilable with intellectual autonomy, core of the democratic ideal. Furthermore, democratic enlightenment must impose very definite demands on democratic leadership. On the assumption that it wishes to build objective and progressive trends within the minds of the masses, this cannot mean, even in imagination, that it will make use of these trends; that, under the guise of furthering democratic goals and through cunning exploitation of their mentality, he should manipulate the masses. Instead of further enslavement, what is needed [now] is the emancipation of consciousness.

The true democratic leader, who is more than a mere exponent of the political interests of liberal ideology, would necessarily have to refrain from any “psychotechnical” speculation, from any attempt to influence the masses or groups of people through irrational means. Under no circumstances should he treat the subjects of political and social action as mere objects to whom an idea is sold, as this attitude would generate an inconsistency between ends and means that could not only undermine all the sincerity of his approach but also destroy his inner convictions. Pragmatically such an attempt would exhaust itself in the skill of those who think and act only in terms of power, who are largely indifferent to the objective validity of an idea and who, unencumbered by “humanitarian illusions”, subscribe as a whole to the cynical attitude of considering human beings as raw material that can be molded at will.

During the crisis of the Weimar Republic, for example, the Reich banner black-red-gold, a fairly large progressive liberal organization, tried to counter the Nazis' scheme of rationally employing irrational propaganda stimuli by introducing other symbols. Against the Swastika, they created the three arrows. Against the battle cry Heil Hitler, the Friar Heil, later changed to Freedom. The fact that these badly mixed symbols of German democracy were not even known in the country is evidence of their utter failure. It was easy for the Goebbels machine to ridicule them. Unconsciously, the masses realized very well that this type of counter-propaganda was merely an attempt to steal a leaf from the Nazi book; that as such it was inferior and that, in a way, the very act of emulation on which it relied was a sign of defeat.

[Democratic clarification versus fascist propaganda]

We believe that it is not too daring to apply the lesson of this experience to our own scene. The task of the democratic leadership, so far as it shows concern for the masses' relationship to democracy, should not be to do better and more comprehensive propaganda, but to strive to overcome the spirit of propaganda through adherence to the principle of truth. In fighting Hitler, the Allied leadership came to recognize this principle and stood up to German domestic propaganda only by stating the facts. This procedure not only proved to be morally superior to the Nazi propaganda brains technique, it proved effective in gaining the confidence of the German population.

Reverting to this principle, however, involves a problem of the highest seriousness. Whenever stated abstractly, the postulation of unconditional sincerity sounds like an attempt at appeasement reminiscent of childlike innocence, an idea that is often ripped to shreds by exponents of Realpolitik, above all, by Hitler himself. To win the support of the masses, runs his argument, it is necessary to take them as they are, and not as one wishes them to be. In other words, you have to mess with your psychology: it's useless to spread objective truth without an evaluation of the subjects to whom it is directed. Since it may go beyond their understanding, it may never reach them and thus be completely ineffective.

According to Hitler's reasoning, propaganda has to fit the most stupid among those whom it targets; it must not be rational but emotional. It's a formula that has proven so successful that avoiding it seems to lead to an unworkable situation. The very effectiveness of the principle of truth in Allied war propaganda, it would be argued along these lines, could have been the product of mere psychological conditions: the truth only became acceptable and seductive in response to a need that only arose after the shattering of the Goebbelsian total lie system and promises of a short war and protection of the homeland against Nazi air raids.

On the other hand, no measured analysis of the American scene could fail to note that advertising itself is strongly libidinous. In a business culture in which advertising has become a public institution of staggering proportions, people really do find themselves hooked not just on the content but on the mechanisms of advertising themselves. However vicarious or even spurious it may be, modern advertising is itself a source of gratification.

The renunciation of advertising would therefore require an instinctive renunciation on the part of the masses who are exposed to it, and this is something that has to do not only with the beauty of the kitchen with which “your favorite soup” is associated, but, in a profound sense more effective and subtle, to political propaganda itself. The champions of fascist propaganda, for example, managed to develop a ritual that, for their adherents, occupies a much broader place than any well-designed political program.

To the superficial observer, the political sphere thus seems destined to be monopolized by cunning propaganda men: politics is seen by a vast number of people as a field for initiates, if not for politicians and heads of party machines. The problem is that the less people believe in political integrity, the more easily they can fall into the hands of politicians who rant against politicians. While the principle of truth and its intrinsically rational processes require a certain intellectual effort that is unlikely to attract many friends, propaganda in general and fascist propaganda in particular are entirely adapted to the so-called line of least resistance.

The truth principle will therefore remain a slippery assertion unless it is formulated more concretely. In this case, the tasks would be two. First, an approach would have to be found that makes no allowance for those aberrations that are almost inevitable whenever communications are tailored to their potential customers. Together, one would have to pass through the barriers of inertia, resistance and conditioned mental behavior patterns. To those who bemoan the immaturity of the masses, all this may seem like a hopeless undertaking. However, the argument that people have to be taken as they really are is only half true; he overlooks something that is still very much alive, the potential for autonomy and spontaneity of the masses. It is impossible to say whether the kind of approach proposed here will eventually succeed, and the reason why it has never been tested on a large scale must be sought in the dominant [social] system itself. Despite this, it is essential that it should be tested.

As a first step, communications should commit to the truth and try to develop towards overcoming the subjective factors that make the truth unacceptable. The psychological stage of communication [of democratic leadership], no less than its content, should respect the principle of truth. While the irrational element has to be duly considered, it should not be accepted as a given but rather as something to be tackled with and by enlightenment. Factual and objective integrity should be combined with an effort to promote insight into irrational dispositions that make it difficult for people to make rational and autonomous judgments.

The truth to be spread by democratic leadership needs to be related to certain facts that are often obscured by arbitrary distortions and, in many cases, by the very spirit of our culture. Its purpose is to encourage self-reflection in those we wish to free from the clutches of all-powerful conditioning. These are goals that are justified above all if we take into account that there can hardly be any doubt that there is an intimate interaction between both factors: the illusions of anti-democratic ideology and the absence of introspection (due in large part to defense mechanisms).

In order to be efficient, our approach assumes a broad knowledge of the nature and content of the anti-democratic stimuli to which the masses are exposed today. It requires knowledge of the needs and desires that make the masses sensitive to these stimuli. Obviously, the main efforts of democratic leadership should be directed to those points where subjective dispositions and anti-democratic stimuli coincide.

Considering the complexity of the problem, we content ourselves here with discussing a limited but highly critical area, in which the effects and stimuli are strongly concentrated: that of racial hatred in general and, in particular, anti-Semitic totalitarianism. It was stressed that the latter, as far as its political angle is concerned, is a phenomenon per se, the spearhead of anti-democratism, much more than a spontaneous demonstration. There are few areas where the manipulative character of anti-democratism is more revealing than here. At the same time, however, it happens to be nourished by archaic traditions and strong emotional sources. Fascist demagogues usually reach the peak of their performance when they mention and demean the Jews. This is an indisputable fact, which always occurs in all forms of anti-Semitism and which, as such, is indicative of the existence of certain more or less articulated desires for the destruction of democracy itself, insofar as there is no democracy without the principle of equality. human.

Some scientific research that shed light on this relationship between susceptibility and stimuli serves as a starting point for our approach. The Institute for Social Research has examined, for stimuli, the techniques of American fascist agitators, typified by their open sympathies for Hitler and Nazi Germany.[ii] These studies clearly showed that American fascist agitators follow a rigid and highly standardized model that relies almost entirely on their content. psychological. There are no positive political programs. Only negative measures are recommended, especially against minorities, since they serve as an outlet for the aggressiveness and fury of their repressed feelings.

The totality of the agitators' speeches, monotonously similar to one another, represents above all a performance with the immediate purpose of creating the desired atmosphere. While the pseudo-patriotic surface of these communications is a mixture of pompous platitudes and preposterous lies, their underlying meaning appeals to the audience's secret yearnings: they radiate destruction. The convergence between these men who dream of being the Leader and his potential followers rests on the occult meaning which, through incessant repetition, is drummed into the latter's heads. The ideational contents of these agitators' speeches and pamphlets can be reduced to a small number – no more than twenty – of mechanically applied expedients. The agitator does not expect the audience to be bored by the constant repetition of these expedients and Slogans smoothies. He believes that it is the intellectual poverty of his frame of reference that provides the halo of self-evidence, if not a peculiar attraction, to those who know what they can expect for themselves, the way children enjoy the literal and endless repetition of the same story. or song.

[The “fascist character”]

 The problem of subjective susceptibility to anti-Semitism and anti-democratism has been examined by the Social Discrimination Research Project, a joint venture of the Berkeley Study Group on Public Opinion and the Institute for Social Research.[iii] The main theme of the study is the connection between, on the one hand, motivations and psychological traits and, on the other hand, social attitudes and political and economic ideologies. The findings add support to the hypothesis that there is a very clear separation between authoritarian and anti-democratic personalities and those whose psychological makeup is in harmony with democratic principles. It provided us with evidence that there is a “fascist character”.

Although very definite variations of this character can be found among the population, there is a concrete and tangible core, a broader common syndrome, which can be well defined as that of authoritarianism. As such, she combines flattery and subservience to the strong with sadistic aggression toward the weak. The fascist character is more strongly related to discriminatory and anti-minority attitudes than to overt political ideologies; in other words, susceptibility to fascist stimuli is not established through the superficial creed of the subjects but, rather, in the psychological and characterological plane of their existence.

Comparing the results of these two studies corroborates the theoretical hypothesis that there is a very intimate affinity between the meaning of the political-psychological expedients of fascism and the characterological and ideological structure of those to whom its propaganda is directed. Probably the fascist agitator tends to have the fascist character. What has been remarked about Hitler - the fact that he was a practical and astute psychologist and that, despite his apparent madness, he was very aware of the dispositions of his followers - holds true for his American imitators who, incidentally, no doubt were familiar with the recipes so cynically offered by him in Mein Kampf. A few illustrations of the existing harmony between susceptibility and stimuli suffice to show this.

The very general technique of endlessly repeating certain rigid formulas, employed by agitators, harmonizes with the compulsive inclination to think rigidly and stereotyped in the fascist personality. To the fascist personality as much as to its potential leader, the individual is a mere specimen of his type. This is what, in part, accounts for the fixed and intransigent division between inside and outside the existing group. In Hitler's famous description, the agitator relentlessly distinguishes between the sheep and the rabbit, those who have to be saved, the chosen ones, "us", and those who are not good enough to do themselves harm, who are damned. beforehand and must die, "they," the Jews.

Analogously, the fascist personality or character is convinced that all those who belong to his own clan or group, his friends and relatives, are the right kind of people, whereas everything that is alien is viewed with suspicion and moralistically , rejected. Thus, the moral compass of the agitator and potential followers is double-edged. While both extol conventional values ​​and, first and foremost, demand complete loyalty to people in the same group, neither recognizes moral duties to others.

The agitator professes indignation against the sentimentalists in the government who want to send "eggs to Afghanistan", just as the prejudiced personality has no pity for the poor and is inclined to regard the unemployed as natural lazybones, a nuisance, and the Jew as a natural loafer. a misfit, a parasite, who could also be eliminated. The desire for extermination is connected with ideas of dirt and rottenness, going hand in hand with an overemphasis on external physical values ​​such as neatness and cleanliness.

The agitator never tires of denouncing Jews, foreigners and refugees as vermin and leeches.

Finally, we could mention the existing consensus between fascist agitators and the fascist character, something that can only be explained through depth psychology. The agitator poses as the savior of all established values ​​and his country, but he is always reiterating ominous and dark forebodings of “imminent doom”. We can find similar elements in the composition of the prejudiced personality, which always emphasizes the positive, the conservative order of things, and condemns critical attitudes as being destructive. Experiments with the Murray Thematic Perception Test have clearly shown that she exhibits strong destructive tendencies in her own spontaneous imaginary activity. The prejudiced individual sees the action of evil forces everywhere and tends to be an easy victim of all kinds of superstition and fears of world catastrophe. Objectively, he seems to prefer the chaotic situation to the established order he pretends to believe in: he considers himself conservative, but his conservatism is an imposture.

The correspondence between reactive patterns and stimuli noted above is of prime importance in a limited approach like ours, as it allows us to use the Agitators' lie technique as a guide to realistically put the principle of truth into practice. Dealing adequately with the agitator's expedients, we could not only reduce the effectiveness of his mass manipulation technique, highly dangerous from the point of view of its potential, but catch the psychological characteristics that make it difficult for a large number of people to accept the truth.

On a rational level, the assertions made by the agitator are so spurious, so absurd, that there must be very powerful emotional reasons why he comes out with them. Furthermore, we can presume that the audience somehow senses this absurdity. However, instead of being put off by this, it turns out that she enjoys it. It is as if the energy of blind rage is directed against the idea of ​​truth itself, as if the message actually savored by the audience is entirely different from its pseudofactual presentation. It is precisely this critical point that should be the target of our attack.

The psychoanalytic overtones of our discussion are obvious. Transporting the principle of truth beyond the level of factual statements and rational refutation, which until now has proved to be inefficient or, at least, insufficient in this area,[iv] and translating it into terms of the subjects' personalities would be equivalent to doing psychoanalysis on a mass scale. Obviously this is not doable. In addition to the economic considerations that rule out this method and limit it to selected cases,[v] there is a more intrinsic reason that must be mentioned. The fascist subject is not a sick person; it does not show any symptoms in the ordinary clinical sense. The Social Discrimination Research Project seems to indicate that he is actually in many respects less neurotic and, superficially at least, better adjusted than the non-prejudiced personality.

The deformations that undoubtedly exist at the root of the prejudiced personality belong to the sphere of the "character neuroses", which, as has been recognized by psychoanalysis, are the most difficult to cure and, when they are, only through prolonged treatment. Under prevailing conditions, democratic leadership cannot hope to change the base personalities of those on whose support anti-democratic propaganda depends. It has to concentrate on clarifying attitudes, ideologies and conduct, making the best possible use of the insights revealed by depth psychology, without venturing into psychotherapeutic undertakings.

Obviously, such a program has something of a vicious circle: a substantial penetration of the powerful defense mechanisms of the fascist character is something that, really, can only be expected through a thorough analysis, which is beyond question. However, attempts in this direction should be made. There are “leverage effects”, to use the Freudian expression, in psychological dynamics. While it is a fact that they rarely occur enough in the individual's everyday life, democratic leadership could perhaps place itself in a favorable position for their induction, given that it cannot be content with psychological transference alone, but, on the contrary, must rely on the sources of objective truth and rational interest.

[Anti-Fascist Handbook]

In this regard, our knowledge of the Agitators' expedients can prove very helpful. We can derive from them as that vaccines against anti-democratic indoctrination. These vaccines are more powerful than mere reiteration of the falsehoods of various anti-Semitic claims. The pamphlet or manual that was jointly developed by the Author and Max Horkheimer describes each of the standard expedients used by agitators, the difference between their overt pretensions and their hidden intentions, and the specific psychological mechanisms that encourage subjects' responses to the standardized stimuli.

The manual has not gone beyond the preliminary stage and still faces the extremely difficult task of translating the objective findings on which it is based into language that can be easily understood without watering down its substance. This is a task that must be accomplished by trial and error, by testing the intelligibility and effectiveness of the manual for various groups, and by continually improving it before it is distributed on a large scale. Objectively, a premature distribution could do more harm than good.

In any case, what is important for us here is the approach as such, not its final elaboration. Its merits seem to rest on the fact that it combines the uncompromising principle of truth with the real chance of hitting some nerves of anti-democratism. Therefore, it seeks the elucidation of these subjective factors that prevent the attainment of the truth. The least that can be said in favor of our approach is that it will induce people to reflect on their own attitudes and opinions, which they take for granted, without falling into the moralizing or admonishing attitude. Technically, it is an easy task to some extent, given the very limited number of expedients employed by agitators.

Our approach will no doubt raise some heavy objections, whether politically or psychologically. Politically, it can be argued that the existing power interests behind contemporary reactionism are much stronger to be overcome than any “change of thought”. It can also be said that modern mass political movements seem to have a sociological moment of their own, which is completely impervious to introspective methods.

The first objection cannot be fully answered on the basis of [analysis of] the relationship between leader and mass, but has to be seen in connection with existing constellations within the field of political power. The second does not seem valid to us under current circumstances, although it could have been important in a pre-fascist situation. very pronounced. It tends to downplay the subjective element in social development and to fetishize the objective tendency. The sociological moment cannot be hypostatized. The hypothesis about the existence of a group mentality is mostly mythological. Freud pointed out very convincingly that the forces that serve as the irrational cement of social groups, as stressed by authors such as Le Bon, actually function within each individual in the group and, therefore, cannot be seen as entities independent of the individual's psychological dynamics. .

Considering that the emphasis of our approach rests mainly on the psychological plane, the criticism coming in this direction deserves a more detailed discussion. It would be argued that we cannot anticipate any “profound effects” for our vaccination. Granting the correctness of our hypothesis about the underlying potential for the development of the fascist character, which exists in the pre-established harmony between it and the expedients of the agitators, it follows that we cannot expect that the unmasking of these expedients will substantially alter their attitudes. , since they seem to be reproduced rather than engendered by the agitators' harangues.

Insofar as we don't really touch on the interplay of forces existing in our subjects' unconscious, our approach needs to remain rationalist even as it attributes irrational dispositions to its object of study. The abstract discernment of their own irrationalities by these subjects, deprived of the penetration of their real motivations, would not necessarily work in a cathartic way. In the course of our studies we encountered numerous people who, while admitting that they “should not be prejudiced” and exhibiting some knowledge of the sources that make them that way, nonetheless firmly support this syndrome. Therefore, it is convenient not to underestimate the function of prejudice in the individual's own psychological domain, nor in the strength of his resistance. While the above objections indicate very clear limitations of our approach, they should not entirely discourage us.

[The Prejudiced Personality]

To start without going too deep, consider the astonishing political naivety of a large number of people – by no means just the uneducated. The programs, platforms and Slogans [authoritarians] are accepted at face value; judged on what appears to be their immediate merit. Leaving aside the somewhat vague suspicion of bureaucrats and political plunder, a suspicion that, it should be noted, is much more characteristic of the antidemocratic personality than its opposite, the idea that political goals hide much of the interests of those who defend them is foreign to many people. Even stranger, however, is the idea that political decisions themselves largely depend on subjective factors that one may not even be aware of. O shock caused by drawing attention to this possibility can help to produce the aforementioned leverage effect.

Although our approach is not intended to reorganize the unconscious of those we hope to reach, it can reveal to them that they themselves, as much as their ideology, represent a problem. The chances of achieving this are strong given the fact that outright anti-Semitism is still judged as something of low repute, that those who indulge in it do so with a bad conscience and that, therefore, they find themselves to some extent in a conflict situation. There can hardly be any doubt that the transition from the naive to the reflective attitude produces a certain weakening of its violence. The ego's control is strengthened, even if the ego is not touched. The person who perceives anti-Semitism as a problem, let alone that being an anti-Semite is a problem, is likely to be less fanatical than someone who, in a sense and in line, swallows the bait of prejudice.

The possibility of revealing to subjects their anti-Semitism for what it is: their own internal problem, is all the more important for the following psychological considerations. As has been noted, the prejudiced person externalizes all values: he firmly believes in the ultimate importance of categories like nature, health, respect for established standards, etc. She has a definite reluctance against introspection and is unable to place blame on herself or those with whom she identifies. Clinical studies have no doubt that this attitude is primarily reaction formation. While being over-adjusted to the external world, the prejudiced person feels insecure at a deeper level.[vi]

The unwillingness to look at oneself is, first of all, an expression of the fear of making unpleasant discoveries. In other words, something that hides the underlying conflicts of your personality. However, as these conflicts inevitably produce suffering, the defense against self-reflection is ambiguous. Although the prejudiced individual hates to get on his own "bad side", he nonetheless expects some kind of relief from the chance of getting to know himself better than he normally does.

The dependence of many prejudiced people on external direction, their readiness to consult the descriptions offered by all kinds of charlatans, from the astrologer to the human relations columnist, are, in part at least, distorted and external expressions of their desire for self-consciousness. Although they are initially hostile to psychological interviews, prejudiced people often end up deriving some kind of gratification from them once they have started and however superficial they may be. It is a latent desire which, in the last analysis, is the desire for truth itself and which could be satisfied through explanations of the kind we think of. Such interviews could give these people the kind of relief and spark what some psychologists call a "surprise experience" [aha-experience] It should not be overlooked that the basis of this effect is prepared by the narcissistic pleasure that many people derive from those situations in which they feel important for the simple fact of being themselves the focus of interest.

In counter-argument, one could point to the indisputable fact that these people have to defend their own prejudice, given that it fulfills numerous functions, ranging from pseudo-intellectual, providing easy and uniform formulas for the explanation of all the evil that exists in the world, until the creation of an object for negative cathexis, of a catalyst for aggressiveness. If these people really are to be regarded as having a character syndrome, it does not seem likely that they will emancipate themselves from a fixation on satisfying this goal which is determined by the inner structure of their personality much more than by this goal.

The last remark, however, contains an element that transcends a plausible critique of our approach. It is not so much the target as the person that matters where prejudice is concerned. If, as is often said, anti-Semitism has very little to do with Jews, the prejudiced individual's fixation on his objects of prejudice should not be overemphasized. Nobody is doubting the rigidity of prejudice, that is, the existence of certain blind spots that are not accessible to the dialectic of experience. However, this rigidity affects the relationship between the subject and the object of hatred much more than the choice of object or even the obstinacy with which it is maintained.

Empirically, those who are rigidly prejudiced reveal a certain mobility in relation to the choice of their hate object.[vii] This is something that was born out of several cases studied within the framework of the Research Project on Social Discrimination. For example, people who clearly have fascist character syndrome might – because of some strange reason, such as being married to a Jewish woman – replace Jews with some other eventual group, Armenians or Greeks, as the object of hatred.

Among prejudiced individuals, the instinctual urge is so strong, and their relation to any object, their affective aptitude for real things, whether as an object of love or as an object of hate, is of such a problematic nature, that one cannot remain faithful nor even to the chosen enemy. The projective mechanism to which the individual is subject can be diverted according to the principle of least resistance and the opportunities offered by the situation in which he finds himself.

We believe that our manual can perhaps create a psychological situation in which the negative cathexis of the Jews will be destroyed. This, of course, must not be misunderstood; it is not intended that anyone, using manipulation, replace Jews with any other groups as an object of hatred. We only say that the chance, arbitrariness and weakness of the chosen object per se can be turned into a force with which these anti-Semitic-minded subjects could be made to doubt their own ideology. When they learn that who they hate is less important than the fact that they hate something, their egos might let go of the hate, and so on, the intensity of their aggression might lessen.

Our intention is to use the mobility of prejudice to dominate it.[viii] Our approach could turn the prejudiced person's indignation against the object that deserves it: the expedients of the agitators and the very illegitimacy of fascist manipulation. On the basis of our explanations, it would not be very difficult to make subjects aware of the trickery and insincerity of anti-democratic propaganda techniques. What is important in this regard is not so much the objective falsehood of the anti-Semitic claims as the disparagement of those whom this propaganda is aimed at and the way in which their weaknesses are systematically exploited [by these techniques].

In this respect, the forces of psychological resistance can work against anti-democratism more than against enlightenment. Nobody, least of all the potentially fascist personality, wants to be treated like a muggle, but that is exactly what the agitator does, when he tells his audiences that they are made of fools by Jews, bankers, bureaucrats and other "sinister forces". The American traditions of common sense and sales resistance can be revitalized through our approach, given that in this country the so-called Leader, in many ways, is nothing more than an idolized baker.

[Fascist “nostalgia”]

There is a specific area where psychological exploitation, once uncovered, can boomerang. The agitator usually poses as the little big man, the person who, in spite of his exalted idealism and indefatigable vigilance, belongs to the people, is a neighbor, someone close to the hearts of the common people, who comforts by his condescending sympathy and creates a atmosphere of warmth and fellowship. This technique, which, it should be noted, is much more characteristic of the American scene than the well-planned Nazi mass meetings, aims to reach a specific condition, typical of the highly industrialized society in which we live. In the sphere of mass culture, this phenomenon is known as “nostalgia”.

The more technification and specialization erupt in the immediate human relationships that are associated with the family, the workshop and the small business, the more the social atoms that form the new collectivities yearn for shelter, economic security and for what psychoanalysts would call the restitution of the uterine situation. . It seems that a significant portion of fascist fanatics - the so-called lunatic fringe - consists of those people, alone, isolated and, in many ways, frustrated, in whose psychology the aforementioned nostalgia plays an important role. The agitator's job is to cunningly win their support by posing as their neighbor.

In this way, however, a truly human motive, the yearning for love, for genuine and spontaneous relationships, is appropriated by the cold-blooded promoters of the inhuman. The very fact that people suffer from universal manipulation is used in a manipulative way. People's most sincere feelings are perverted and fraudulently gratified. Even if they fall into it for a while, the desires involved are so deep, however, that there is no way they can be [definitely] satisfied by this imposture. Treated like children, people will eventually react like children and come to realize that the uncle who talks to them like a baby only does so the better to insinuate his ulterior aims. Through experiences like this it can happen that the energy inherent in your desires finally turns against your exploration.


First, the manual describes the difference between the political speaker and the various types of agitator, proposing some criteria in order to recognize the latter. Additionally, it discusses the expedients to which agitators' technique can be reduced, and explains how they work and what their specific appeals to listeners are.

Here are two examples of these discussions:

1. Martyr — The agitator's main purpose is to make us direct our human interest to him. He claims to be an honest and independent man who sacrifices everything for his cause and lives under modest circumstances. He repeats that he is not backed by big money or any existing power. He is particularly anxious to have us believe that he is not a politician but, rather, is distant and somehow above politics.

Faking loneliness is an easy way to capture our sympathy. Today's life is hard, cold and complicated. Everyone is lonely in some way. That's what he explores. Underlining his isolation, he appears to be one of us, someone who suffers from the same causes we all do. Really, though, he's not alone. He is the man with good connections who will boast of them whenever the opportunity presents itself. At that moment, for example, he will read to us the letter from that senator who praises him for his patriotic zeal.

The agitator talks in terms of selling all the time, but he wants us to believe he's not selling anything. He is afraid of our resistance to sales and, therefore, hammers into our heads the idea that he is a pure soul, while others try to make fools of us. As a smart-ass publicist, he exploits even our distrust of advertising.

He knows that we hear about corruption and political plunder, using our aversion to that kind of thing for his own political purposes, because, in fact, he is the looter of politics, he is the one who has agents, bodyguards, financial interests dark and everything else that belongs to darkness; [despite this] he is always shouting, “Catch the thief!”

But there is one more reason for him to play the lone wolf. He poses as a being with so many needs that will make us feel something for him and be proud of it. In reality, we are poor sheep. While he tries to court our vanity by suggesting that everything depends on our coming to his aid, he really just wants to make us his followers, these men who just say yes and who automatically act on his orders.

2. If you only knew – The demagogue's speeches are permeated by indications of dark secrets, revolting scandals and unspeakable crimes. Instead of discussing social and political issues objectively, he blames bad people for all the illnesses we suffer from. He's always blaming dealings, corruption, or sex. He poses as an angry citizen who wants to clean house and promises to make sensational revelations. Sometimes he follows through on these promises of fantastical, hair-raising stories. However, just as he generally does not keep his promise, he suggests that his secrets are too dreadful to be told in public and that his listeners know very well what he is talking about. Both techniques, the performance as well as the suspension of revelations, work in your favor.

When he tells the whole story, he gives his listeners the kind of gratification they usually get from gossip columns and scandal pages, only in much brighter colors. Many people don't turn their heads when they smell bad odors, but instead greedily breathe in the stale air, sniff the stench, and try to figure out where it comes from, while lamenting how repulsive it all is. There is no doubt that these people, although they don't even notice it, enjoy the stench. It is a widespread disposition, to which the agitator scandalously appeals. Intending to correct the crimes and vices of others, he satisfies the curiosity of his hearers, relieving them of the boredom of their monotonous lives. People often envy who they believe do the things they secretly want to do. At the same time, the demagogue thus gives them a feeling of superiority.

When he doesn't tell the story, he raises his listeners' expectations with a few vague hints which, nevertheless, allow them to excite their wildest imaginations. That way they can think of whatever they like. The agitator therefore seems to be someone who knows, who has all the backstage information and who, one day, will spill it all out with overwhelming evidence. However, he also suggests that it is not necessary to tell them everything: they somehow know what it is about, and besides, it would be too dangerous to discuss it in public. The hearers are always treated as if they were persons of his confidence, members of his own group, so that the common, unspeakable secret binds them the more closely to him.

Obviously his hearers would never dare to perform the exploits he attributes to his enemies. The less they can satisfy their extravagant desires for luxury and pleasure, the more furious they become against those who, as they fantasize, enjoy the forbidden fruit. Everyone wants to “punish the bastards”. While giving succulent descriptions of the champagne orgies celebrated by Washington politicians and Wall Street bankers with Hollywood dancing girls, he promises the day of reckoning, when, in the name of decency, he and his mob will celebrate a good honest bath. of blood.

*Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969) was a professor at University of Frankfurt (Germany). Author, among other books, of the authoritative personality (Unesp).

Translation: Francisco Rudiger

[I] sigmund freud, Group Pychology and the Analysis of the Ego (London, 1922; trans. bras. Group psychology and ego analysis, Imago, 1987, 2.ª ed.).

[ii] TW Adorno, L. Lowenthal and P. Massin have written monographic studies on the subject. A systematic presentation is found in the volume prophets of deceit, by L. Lowenthal and N. Guterman (Harper & Brothers, 1949). Also see TW Adorno, “Anti-Semitism and Fascist Propaganda,” in: Antisemitism – a social disease (Ernst Simmel, 1946), starting on page 125. Also, mention should be made of Coughlin's study, The fine art of advertising, by A. McClung, undertaken independently by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis. [No. from T.]

[iii] 3. Findings are presented in the book The Authoritarian Personality, by TW Adorno, EF Brunswik, DH Levinson, and RN Sanford (Harper & Brothers, 1950). [No. from T.]

[iv] The most pertinent example is that of Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Its falsity, proven without any room for ambiguity, was so widely disseminated and officially upheld by independent courts that not even the Nazis could defend the authenticity of this pseudo-document. However, they continue to be used for propaganda purposes and are accepted by the population. You Protocols they are like a hydra whose heads grow and multiply as they are cut off. The fascist pamphlets in this country [USA] still work with them. Characteristic is the statement of the late Alfred Rosenberg, who, after the trial in Switzerland, stated that, even though it was fraudulent, the document was “genuine in spirit”. [AUTHOR'S NOTE]

[v] JF. Brown described such a case in a monographic study undertaken within the framework of the research project on social discrimination and published under the title “Anxiety States”, in Case histories in abnormal and clinical psychology (Ed. Burton and Harris, 1948). Further extensive psychoanalytic case studies of prejudiced personalities will be published in the forthcoming volume titled Anti-semitism, a psycholdynamic interpretation, by Nathan Ackerman and Marie Jahoda [Harper & Brothers, 1950]. [AUTHOR'S NOTE]

[vi] The role of insecurity as a driver of prejudice has been underlined by several studies and conclusively commented on in the study The anatomy of prejudice, from Bettelheim and Shils. It should be noted that economic insecurity, which plays such a large role in the formation of anti-minority ideologies, seems to be inseparably intertwined with another, psychological one, which is based on the bad resolution of the Oedipus Complex, that is, of the repressed antagonism against the father. The interconnection between economic and psychological motivation still needs further clarification. [AUTHOR'S NOTE]

[vii] On the political level, this can be illustrated with a few remarks concerning Germany. Nazi propaganda always found it easy to divert the sentiments of the population from one enemy to another. The Poles were courted for a number of years before Hitler unleashed his war machine against them. The Russians, referred to as archenemies, became potential allies in 1939, returning to their status de among people [subhuman] in 1941. These sudden and mechanical shifts from one ideology to another apparently met with no resistance from the population. [AUTHOR'S NOTE]

[viii] The relationship between rigidity and mobility was theoretically elaborated by Max Horkheimer and TW Adorno in “Elements of Anti-Semitism”, in Dialectic of Enlightenment (Zahar, 1985). [No. from T.]

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