Developing resilience against propaganda

On the book by Johannes Menath “Moderne Propaganda. 80 Methoden der Meinungslenkung – Modern Propaganda. 80 Methods of Steering Public Opinion”*

by Eliane Perret

If you want to use mainstream media to inform yourself about world events today, you will necessarily realise that you are being confronted with professionally designed opinion-steering. This is especially true in a time like ours, which is overshadowed by war. “When war is declared, truth is the first casualty”, wrote Lord Arthur Ponsonby 1928 in his book “Falsehood in Wartime”, in which he described the lies disseminated during the First World War. Basing her research on his book, Belgian historian Anne Morelli condensed his research results into rules of war propaganda. Johannes Menath’s book with the title “Moderne Propaganda. 80 Methoden der Meinungslenkung” (Modern Propaganda. 80 Methods of Steering Public Opinion), published at the end of last year, fits into this tradition. The author’s aim is to make us aware of the methods used to steer opinion, since we are surrounded by “an invisible cloud of artificial emotions, opinions and conclusions” (p. 9). So we can begin to see how our desire for information is being abused and we can empower ourselves to recognise the techniques being used, to examine news for its truthfulness and thus to counteract the undermining of democratic debate. Menath says that “any democracy is only as strong as the sovereign consciousness of its voters. Education, especially with regard to factors that influence our psyche, is thus at the beginning of the development into an empowered citizen” (p. 10), and “in times when the press and media no longer fulfil their genuine and original task as a corrective to political power, it becomes all the more significant to develop resilience against propaganda. And when media corporations threaten to themselves become the greatest power in the state, responsible citizens are called upon to counteract an erosion of democracy.” (p. 11)

Methods of opinion control

With meticulous precision, the author presents 80 methods of opinion steering in short sections as the main part of the book. They are often built one upon the other or are combined with each other. They are divided into those that create certain opinions, those that are intended to destroy undesirable views, and finally, Menath describes techniques with which social framework conditions are created that facilitate the influencing of public opinion. To do this, the author has worked his way through an impressively broad spectrum of literature from antiquity to modern times. If you take the time to read his descriptions carefully and if you allow them to have an effect on yourself, you will always recognise behind them the author’s deeply ethical goal of not leaving people high and dry in immaturity, but giving them something to hand so that they can evolve into independent fellow citizens. It also becomes clear how manipulation takes advantage of human social nature. It is all about species-specific forms of behaviour that evolution has given us and that, so to speak, make up the collective “unconsciousness”, as anthropological research has shown us. There is, for example, our tendency to fit into the group and not to stand apart, because this gives us security.

Malicious manipulation versus education

Following the presentation of the 80 methods of propaganda, the author takes a look at the reasons for their effect, starting with the evolutionary development of the human race. In order to survive, humans have always been dependent on perceiving their environment correctly and, from the infinite abundance of information, evaluating that as important which is useful to their goal, and being selective about other information. “We do not perceive in order to recognise, but to survive” (p. 92). But this is always against an individual background, which we can and must expand through interpersonal exchange. Manipulation techniques tie in with these human characteristics, narrowing down a topic, simplifying it, assigning symbols to it and linking it with emotions, so that the desired opinions may be generated. It is education that provides the necessary cornerstone of human development and thus a positive counterbalance to such sinister manipulation of the personality. It should therefore be aimed at “helping to develop the personality of others, taking into account their inherent strengths and weaknesses, in order to form a self-responsible, courageous and intelligent person” (p. 94). In order to arrive at our own view, a constructive-critical attitude, the conscious questioning and gathering of a wide range of information and, finally, knowledge of the essential political and philosophical concepts is required.

Political and humanistic education versus opinion power

In the following chapters, the author looks at how we can protect ourselves from indoctrination. A necessary prerequisite for a free, informed formation of opinion is looking at a question from different angles. This is made difficult by the fact that our mainstream media obtain most of their information from the four press agencies AP, Reuters, AFP and dpa (sda for Switzerland), which in their role as gate guards pre-select information even before it arrives in the editorial offices. In addition, it is hardly possible for mainstream media journalists to report on content that would run counter to the economic interests of the company owners – if they do not want to risk their jobs – just as there is no place for articles critical of the system. Therefore, our local press landscape is dependent on certain US-American interest groups. So if you want to look beyond your own horizon you will not be able to avoid spending the time necessary for acquiring really profound knowledge, “if you do not want to become the unconscious accomplice of opinion control” (p. 96). Thus, political education becomes the first pillar of independent thought, while the author refers to the study of classical literature as the second pillar to deal with ideals, processes and events of the past.
  “We live in the midst of ideas that have come alive. They have been conceived, written down, disseminated and put into practice.” (p. 97) Reading the great classics – the author cites Aristotle, Plato, Nietzsche, Confucius and Marcus Aurelius – will help everyone to correctly classify what is happening today and to correctly evaluate the state and its politics. Thus “reading [becomes] an act of liberation from immaturity, apathy and disorientation” (p. 98). In the appendix, Menath has therefore compiled a catalogue of books that he recommends for reading.

Working on your own personality

It should be added here that manipulation is malicious deception. It makes improper use of findings from modern psychiatry. It attacks the human mind where it does not understand itself, where it is “seducible”. So it happens that we do things although we should have known … Enlightenment alone has a hard time against such powerful feelings. Often we are not even unconscious of them, but we do not understand them – we do not understand what drives us. This has to do with our personal inner life story. That is why the work on our own personality or character, to which the author refers, is so important (p. 107). In addition to his remarks, it should be noted that it is a question of recognising and understanding our individual way of experiencing and reacting according to our life-historical references and perhaps in our own vulnerability, and that this only becomes apparent in specific situations of demand. This is the field of work of depth psychology, and it entails the political significance of our feelings.


Under this title, the author deals with the significance of the American empire as Germany’s occupying power and with its attempt at global supremacy, which is also reflected in its influence on press and politics. He cites trans-Atlantic networks, think tanks and political lobby organisations in which leading figures from politics and the media are involved. One example is the Atlantikbrücke (Atlantic Bridge), but there are also numerous others, the “Who is Who” of German politics and media. The author quotes the US military strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski, who wrote in his 1997 programmatic book “The Grand Chessboard”: “The brutal truth is that Western Europe, and increasingly Central Europe, remain an American protectorate, with the Allied states resembling ancient vassals and tributaries.”

Political action

Johannes Menath’s analysis calls for action. He himself sees the way forward in joining forces in the mutual concern to put a stop to manipulation and in the demand for free discussion. In this way, those large sections of the population to whom alternative information is inaccessible or obscure, could be made aware, by means of concise information, of the deplorable state of targeted opinion-steering, for example by means of a widely and repeatedly distributed leaflet, in order to come into direct contact with the population and to put the spin generators out of action. The opposing pair “good – evil”, which the media have created, should be replaced by the pair “enlightened – manipulated” and thereby gain moral superiority. This would open the way for a public debate worthy of the name. In the introduction to his book (p. 9), the author writes that today’s controlling media pursue goals that contradict the interests of their own readership, namely: “How do you get the population of a country to go to a war it doesn’t really want? How do you get them to pursue a goal that goes against their fundamental interests?” These goals ignore the fundamentals of peaceful human coexistence.

Courage, wisdom, cohesion

The author introduces the last chapter of his book with the statement: “Today, dissipation has become the norm for the masses” (p. 107). But he expects more from people than an aimless life, because the world is full of challenges, and besides political action, working on your own character is something that will fill every moment of your life meaningfully. This is about working on yourself, and what may seem difficult at first becomes easy once you have taken the first step and have made something that was new your own. “Gradually steering your own actions into a direction that will make it bear fruit is a task that will make your life precious and interesting.” (p. 108) The courage to confront others and yourself is one of the most important virtues. However, without wisdom it will remain aimless. Only with wisdom will action be guided in the right direction. And the author refers once again to classical literature as an important guide, because these books contain the experience of the wisest people, those whose ideas we should know.
  Menath suggests working through this kind of literature together with others in reading groups, as this will not only make it easier but will also strengthen our feeling of belonging. “Those people who surround themselves with people they can talk to well, bring a lot of spiritual enrichment into their lives.” (p. 109) And this cohesion would be the third step towards creative work, based on common goals and a common (possibly also rediscovered) culture.

Important personalities …

The author concludes the book with a brief introduction of important personalities who have dealt with methods of maintaining power, with book recommendations arranged by topic, a comprehensive bibliography and lengthy original quotations from Alexis de Tocqueville, Aristotle and Edward Bernays. In this way, the author has transformed his original pamphlet into a book that – widely distributed and read – could serve to lift the thick veil of opinion control and make free discourse possible for the benefit of all people. For political manipulation intervenes in our community life and must likewise be countered there. That is why we have to talk about these matters together and publicly.  •

* Menath, Johannes. Moderne Propaganda. 80 Methoden der Meinungslenkung. (Modern propaganda. 80 Methods of Steering Public Opinion) Verlag Zeitgeist. Höhr-Grenzhausen 2022. ISBN 978-3-943007-42-8

ep. Johannes Menath (1993) studied chemical engineering in Erlangen and Nuremberg. With friends, he founded the Agora Initiative in 2018. This deals with the undermining of democratic principles through psychological influence and provides education. The book presented here is the result of several years of documentation and research.

Agenda setting – pushing through a political agenda

ep. It is not by chance that a topic is taken up by all mainstream media seemingly abruptly at the same time, but it is deliberately put on the agenda by them. This agenda setting (p. 24f.) determines which topics are to be brought into the focus of media discourse (and which are simultaneously diverted from). Thus, it does not reflect a social need for specific information, but rather a political agenda. Anyone who sees through this tool of opinion steering will certainly notice that the current reporting on the situation after the earthquake in Turkey and Syria was almost exclusively limited to Turkey, while the suffering of the Syrian people was “forgotten” or used to criticise the Syrian government.
  Agenda setting is also one of the manipulation techniques used to launch a smear campaign against a disliked opinion, person or group. Simultaneous, seemingly independent criticism is used to generate “truth” that is only questioned by a few. The same procedure can of course also be used to launch an idea, an opinion or a product.

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