Jackson School professor to deliver colloquium on Jan. 14

Daniel Bessner news banner-01

On Wednesday, January 14, Assistant Professor Daniel Bessner of the UW Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies will deliver a talk focused on an interesting aspect of communication history: namely, the intellectual trajectory of German-exile Hans Speier throughout the 1930s. Join us from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in CMU 126.

“Propaganda and Democratic Thought in the 1930s”

Abstract: This paper examines the relationship between theories of propaganda and democracy by examining the work of Hans Speier, a German exile who during World War II became head of the Office of War Information group that developed anti-German propaganda directives. Speier began the 1930s by accusing propaganda of being an “anti-democratic” tool used by totalitarians to manipulate the public. By the late-1930s, however, Speier embraced propaganda and committed himself to improving U.S. psychological warfare. Two factors led Speier to endorse propaganda. First, the continuing triumphs of National Socialism compelled him to abandon his commitment to the idea that ordinary people’s reason could triumph over their emotions. Second, he developed an understanding of total war that emphasized the necessity of retaining domestic morale, which compelled him to embrace propaganda as a necessary evil in the struggle against fascism. Speier’s late-1930s embrace of propaganda signaled a broader shift in U.S. political and foreign policy culture in which self-proclaimed liberals justified the use of propaganda with reference to the ignorance of the “masses” and utilitarian necessity. Such justifications would continue into the Cold War, when “Cold War liberals” supported the use of a variety of anti-democratic measures, from assassination to political subversion, with the same justifications.