I’ve been reading Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, the chapter called The End of Truth, and as I was reading it seemed to be as relevant today as it was when it was first written.
To make a totalitarian system function efficiently it is not enough that everybody should be forced to work for the same ends. It is essential that the people should come to regard them as their own ends. Although the beliefs must be chosen for the people and imposed upon them, they must become their beliefs, a generally accepted creed which makes the individuals as far as possible act spontaneously in the way the planner wants.
A propaganda-imposed belief that is now generally accepted: Smoking Causes Lung Cancer.
This is brought about by various forms of propaganda. Its technique is now so familiar that we need say little about it. The only point that needs to be stressed is that neither propaganda in itself, nor the techniques employed, are peculiar to totalitarianism, and that what so completely changes its nature and effect in a totalitarian state is that all propaganda serves the same goal, that all the instruments of propaganda are co-ordinated to influence the individual in the same direction and to produce the characteristic Gleichschaltung of all minds… If all the sources of current information are effectively under one single control, it is no longer a question of merely persuading the people of this or that. The skilful propagandist then has power to mould their minds in any direction he chooses and even the most intelligent and independent people cannot entirely escape that influence if they are long isolated from all other sources of information.
The internet is a new source of information that is not under one single control. It breaks the monopoly.
Although the planning authority will constantly have to decide issues on merits about which there exist no definite moral rules, it will have to justify its decisions to the people – or, at least, have somehow to make the people believe that they are the right decisions. Although those responsible for a decision may have been guided by no more than prejudice, some guiding principle will have to be stated publicly if the community is not merely passively to submit but actively to support the measure. The need to rationalise the likes and dislikes which, for lack of anything else, must guide the planner in many of his decisions, and the necessity of stating his reasons in a form in which they will appeal to as many people as possible, will force him to construct theories, i.e. assertions about the connections between facts, which then become an integral part of the governing doctrine. This process of creating a “myth” to justify his action may not be conscious. The totalitarian leader may be guided merely by an instinctive dislike of the state of things he has found and a desire to create a new hierarchical order which conforms better to his conception of merit… So he will readily embrace theories theories which seem to provide a rational justification for the prejudices which he shares with many of his fellows. Thus a pseudo-scientific theory becomes part of the official creed. which to a greater of lesser degree directs everybody’s action…
The totalitarian antismoker ‘instinctively dislikes’ smoking, and will readily embrace the idea that Smoking Kills or Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, and this pseudoscience becomes the official creed.
The most effective way of making people accept the validity of the values they are to serve is to persuade them that they are really the same as those which they, or at least the best among them, have always held, but which were not properly understood or recognised before. The people are made to transfer their allegiance from the old gods to the new under the pretence that the new gods really are what their sound instinct had always told them but what before they had only dimly seen. And the most efficient technique to this end is to use the old words but change their meaning. Few traits of totalitarian regimes are at the same time so confusing to the superficial observer and yet so characteristic of the whole intellectual climate as the complete perversion of language, the change of meaning of the words by which the ideals of the new regimes are expressed.
e.g. ‘gay’, ‘liberal’, etc.
The worst sufferer in this respect is, of course, the word liberty. It is a word used as freely in totalitarian states as elewhere. Indeed it could almost be said – and it should serve as a warning to us to be on our guard against all the tempters who promise New Liberties for Old – that whatever liberty as we understand it has been destroyed, this has almost always been done in the name of some new freedom promised to the people.
e.g. the lost freedom to smoke in pubs has been replaced by the new ‘freedom’ of making them smoke-free.
The situation in a totalitarian state is permanently and in all fields the same as it is elsewhere in some fields in wartime. Everything which might cause doubt about the wisdom of the government or create discontent must be kept from the people… There is consequently no field where the systematic control of information will not be practised and uniformity of views not enforced.
This applies even to fields apparently most remote from any political interests, and particularly to all the sciences, even the most abstract. That in disciplines… such as history, law, or economics, the disinterested search for truth cannot be allowed in a totalitarian system… is easily seen. It is not surprising that in these spheres even the pretence that they search for truth is abandoned and that the authorities decide what doctrines ought to be taught and published…. they all seem to have in common an intense dislike of of the more abstract forms of thought – a dislike characteristically also shown by many of the collectivists among our scientists.
e.g. antismoking pseudoscience with its foregone conclusions.
It is entirely in keeping with the whole spirit of totalitarianism that it condemns any activity done for its own sake and without ulterior motive. Science for science’ sake, art for art’s sake, are equally abhorrent to the Nazis, our socialist intellectuals, and the communists. Every activity must derive its justification from a conscious social purpose. There must be no spontaneous, unguided activity, because it might produce results which cannot be foreseen and for which the plan does not provide… The principle extends even to games and amusements.
e.g. sitting in pubs, drinking and smoking
The word truth itself ceases to have its old meaning… It becomes something to be laid down by authority…
The desire to force upon the people a creed which is regarded as salutary for them is, of course, not a thing that is new or peculiar to our time. New, however, is the argument by which many of our intellectuals try to justify such attempts. There is no real freedom of thought in our society, so it is said, because the opinions and tastes of the masses are shaped by propaganda, by advertising, by the example of the upper classes, and by other environmental factors which inevitably force the thinking of the people into well-worn grooves. From this it is concluded that if the ideals and tastes of the great majority are always fashioned by circumstances which we can control, we ought to use this power deliberately to turn the thoughts of the people in what we think is a desirable direction.
The desirable direction of stopping smoking It brings to mind something written by ASH’s totalitarian-in-chief, Deborah Arnott:
…being a smoker is not a matter of free choice; they’re gripped by an addiction fuelled by the tobacco industry and they need support to give up.
A new advertising campaign currently being aired on TV illustrates the truth – that smokers are literally “hooked” on tobacco. The sickening images of smokers being dragged along by giant fish hooks illustrates the strength of nicotineaddiction which can be as difficult to break as heroin or crack cocaine. These advertisements and others telling you about the many poisonous substances in cigarettes, such as benzene, arsenic and formaldehyde or how fags make you impotent, smell bad and look old are all designed to shock people into giving up.
The evidence is that these advertisements work. Research in Britain, the US and Australia all showed that young people in particular responded most to advertisements with graphic, visceral, negative or strong testimonial elements.
Anyway, what Hayek wrote is all as true today as it was when he wrote it back in 1944. It only needed some of the current uses of propaganda to be added.