How Propaganda Works

Regular price $ 19.95

by Jason Stanley

Princeton University Press


SKU: 9780691173429


Our democracy today is fraught with political campaigns, lobbyists, liberal media, and Fox News commentators, all using language to influence the way we think and reason about public issues. Even so, many of us believe that propaganda and manipulation aren't problems for us--not in the way they were for the totalitarian societies of the mid-twentieth century. In How Propaganda Works, Jason Stanley demonstrates that more attention needs to be paid. He examines how propaganda operates subtly, how it undermines democracy--particularly the ideals of democratic deliberation and equality--and how it has damaged democracies of the past.

Focusing on the shortcomings of liberal democratic states, Stanley provides a historically grounded introduction to democratic political theory as a window into the misuse of democratic vocabulary for propaganda's selfish purposes. He lays out historical examples, such as the restructuring of the US public school system at the turn of the twentieth century, to explore how the language of democracy is sometimes used to mask an undemocratic reality. Drawing from a range of sources, including feminist theory, critical race theory, epistemology, formal semantics, educational theory, and social and cognitive psychology, he explains how the manipulative and hypocritical declaration of flawed beliefs and ideologies arises from and perpetuates inequalities in society, such as the racial injustices that commonly occur in the United States.

How Propaganda Works shows that an understanding of propaganda and its mechanisms is essential for the preservation and protection of liberal democracies everywhere.


"Jason Stanley's How Propaganda Works is a novel and significant contribution that should revitalize political philosophy." -- Noam Chomsky, author of many books including Climate Crisis and the Global New Deal, The Precipice, and Manufacturing Consent.

"Filled with compelling examples, this book examines what propaganda is and what threat bad propaganda poses for democracy. The case it makes--which is conceptual, normative, historical, and empirical--is persuasive and provocative. Stanley is tackling an important topic that many philosophers ignore but shouldn't." -- Tommie Shelby, author of We Who Are Dark

"This ambitious book brings Stanley's insights from epistemology and philosophy of language to bear on the self-masking role of propaganda in democracy. Generous use of concrete political applications enliven the book's arguments and drive home the topic's normative importance." -- Rae Langton, University of Cambridge

About the Author:

Jason Stanley is the Jacob Urowsky Professor of Philosophy at Yale University. He is the author of How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, Knowledge and Practical Interests, Language in Context, and Know How.