Dr. Jason Stanley

Dr. Jason Stanley

I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Stanley speak at the JCC on the Palisades, Tenafly, NJ on September 14. He is a professor at Yale, and the son of survivors. Below is are some notes from his presentation:

Propaganda is a very old problem, Dr. Stanley said, and is inextricably tied to democracy, in which it can flourish and to which it is poison. He begins his book with a discussion of “Plato’s Republic,” which told the ancient world that democracy will never work, and with a quote from Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, “This will always remain one of the best jokes of democracy – that it gave it’s definitely enemies the means by which it was destroyed,” Goebbels is reported to have said. 

In other words, “democracy requires that you allow people to say what they want to say.”  But they have the right to free speech. “But that means that a demagogue,” who like everyone else is free to say what he wants to say, “can get people to set people against each other,” Dr. Stanley said. “Plato spells it all out.” A demagogue will define an enemy, and set the majority against that enemy. “He will create fear and represent himself as a protector, and then seize power.” And then of course democracy ends. 

It is built in, an inescapable paradox of democracy. 

“To have a democracy, you need a well-formed state,” Dr. Stanley said. “You can’t have a groups that resent other groups. You can’t build a state on racism or sexism. If you do then democracy doesn’t work.”