Escaping Mental Bondage

Josef Pieper (1904-1997) lived through one of the most brutal of modern tyrannies: the murderous reign of the Nazi party.

Before and after Nazi domination, Germany has been regarded as one of the most advanced liberal democracies. Decades after the liberation of Europe from totalitarianism, Pieper reflected on how the sophistications of modern culture, rather than rendering us immune to abuses of power, actually make us prone to certain forms of artful despotism.

Pieper observes that manipulative techniques known as “propaganda” are rooted in a devilishly skillful combination of persuasion and force. On the surface, propaganda attempts to convince us that conforming to its demands is “the reasonable thing” to do. This assurance only half-conceals the essential point: that those who fail to acquiesce will be subject to “political persecution,” “defamation, or public ridicule.”

Propaganda is not the result of sheer ignorance or backwardness. Rather, it is the fruit of an overly refined education, one that trains us in the intricate art of finding “good reasons even for the most evil of things.”

Man is lingual by nature, and human dignity is inextricably tied to “the dignity of the word.” That dignity consists in helping us “to perceive, as much as possible, all things as they really are and to live and act according to this truth.”

When we lie in order to manipulate others, whether it be for money, fame, power, or pleasure, we degrade ourselves as well as our victims. The vital question, however, is why large numbers of people in educated societies would be content, or downright eager, to be deceived in this way.

Pieper briefly but brilliantly shines a light on each of the major sectors in modern society where words and images are systematically abused. Advertisers stir our passions to stimulate artificial consumer demand. The entertainment industry immerses us in narratives extoling “sex, sensuality, vanity, nosiness,” “sentimentalism,” “cruelty,” and “the vicious enjoyment of other’s misfortune.” The news media bombard us with “countless superficial information bits,” then offer to cure our confusion by selling us pre-packaged ideological explanations.

Each of us fancies himself above the influence of such manipulators. The billions of dollars spent on deceiving us, as well as the actual behavior of the masses, suggests otherwise. Our very aloofness blinds us to the reality that “public discourse, the moment it becomes basically neutralized with regard to a strict standard of truth,” opens the door to a “pseudoauthority” capable of placing us in “mental bondage” to a “pseudoreality.”

Only a firm conviction of the “overriding importance” of a “well-ordered language” able to “express reality with as little distortion and as little omission as possible” can rescue us from this refined but brutal form of spiritual servitude.

If you enjoy this blog, please share with friends!

2 thoughts on “Escaping Mental Bondage

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: