Montaigne Prophesies Propaganda

Which observation occurred to me, gleaned from the Penguin “Great Ideas” anthology, which goes under the title of On Solitude. I’ve podcasted about the chap before. The following quote is from his “On Books”:

It is always a pleasure to see things written about by those who had assayed how to manage them, but there is no denying that in these two noblemen there is clearly revealed a great decline from that shining frankness and freedom in writing found in older authors of their rank such as the Seigneur de Joinville (the close friend of Saint Louis), Eginhard (the Chancellor of Charlemagne) and more recently Philippe de Commines. This is not history so much as pleading the case of King Francis against the Emperor Charles V. I am unwilling to believe that they altered any of the major facts, but they make it their job to distort the judgement of events to our advantage, often quite unreasonably, and to pass over anything touchy in the life of their master: witness the fall from grace of the Seigneur de Montmorency and the Seigneur de Brion, which is simply omitted; indeed the very name of Madame d’Estampes is not to be found in them! Secret deeds can be hushed up, but to keep silent about things which everyone knows about, especially things which led to public actions of such consequence, is a defect which cannot be pardoned.

Michel de Montaigne, “On Books”, On Solitude, pgs. 40-41

Remarkable, is it not, how easily an educated nobleman of the Renaissance was able to describe the precise methodology of the modern Propagandist: the removal of anything not suited to the Narrative. One does not lie, one simply elides, and then accuses anyone who notices this of disseminating disinformation. After all, if it had been important and true, you would have mentioned it.

And it works, because the masses are not intimately connected with the whole of the facts, the way a baron like Montaigne could be. The average peasant or merchant of 16th century France knew nothing of Montmorency or Brion or Estampes, and cared less. They’re content either to believe what they’re told, or dismiss what they’re told as a pack of lies and ignore the whole mess.

There is a consequence to all of this, but no one wants to address it.


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