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Modern Understandings of Propaganda 1920–2020: Conclusion

By Burton St. John III


The last twenty-three years have shown that books on propaganda, with some key exceptions, tend to present, particularly in textbook form, the more fundamental aspects of propaganda or offer extensive historical accounts with little new theorizing. In this way, the more recent books tend to replicate the orientation of the post–WW I era, which shaped most of the books on propaganda until the 1990s. This is not surprising. It is not uncommon that, over a hundred-year period, a certain level of exhaustion on the subject has led to either reemphasizing fundamental understandings and/or returning to the historical accounting method, though with more depth. One can anticipate, however, that increasing societal tensions about issues such as climate change, wealth inequality, social injustice, health inequities, and the threat of untethered technological advances (e.g., ChatGPT) will likely result in volumes on propaganda that describe and theorize how it works to either exacerbate or potentially address these stressors. If such works come to pass, they will be valuable for helping individuals better understand how viewpoints on all these stressors do not simply appear: they are shaped through propaganda to help tell people how to understand the world around them. The best books will tell readers what to make of its presence and how to account for it while navigating their lives.