edited by Katie Toomey and P.C. Bosco

One of my mentors in how to think about politics, propaganda, the sociology of institutions and bureaucracies, and the impulse within society to dominate through politics, is the late Jacques Ellul.  

Ellul was a professor of the History and Sociology of Institutions at the University of Bordeaux in France.  When I say he’s a mentor, I mean that he’s had a large influence on how I think about government, politics, public involvement in civic matters, and the like.  Those familiar with Ellul consider him to be one of the most original and prescient thinkers in the Western World over the past 60 years.

The first Ellul book I read was The Political Illusion, written in 1964 and published in the United States in 1967.  Reading this book is like reading a prophecy which has come to pass.  One of Ellul’s observations in the book is that “It is a fact that in our society everything has become political…But it must be understood that such politization leads necessarily to a totalitarian state. . .where values are superseded by expediency. . .Politicizing everything, [government authorities] consider it normal that the state should constantly expand its area of action and use ever more instruments of power.”

In The Political Illusion, Ellul discusses major interrelated illusions in the sphere of politics.  One is that our society has become so complex and technical that only experts can understand the issues that confront us and how to address those issues.  Then, while “democracy” and “freedom” are given lip service by governing authorities, dependence on an expert class in government requires that true dissent against the experts be exceedingly rare (or suppressed).  Ellul also predicted that, largely due to propaganda used to make the public fall in line with government policies, political groups would become crystallized into warring ideological tribes.  This was written in 1964.

In the years since The Political Illusion was published, the United States has become something of an aggressive empire overseas with 750 military bases in 80 countries, and over 171,000 active duty troops across 178 countries (according to a 10/25/2023 article in globalaffairs.org), and a surveillance state at home.  When was this ever approved by the will of the people?

Through what some have characterized as military-grade PSYOPS techniques (https://www.racket.news/p/twitter-files-why-twitter-let-the), the government no longer needs to follow the will of the people but has become adept at manipulating public opinion through “experts.”  Disagreeing with these government-anointed experts risks being consigned to the margins of public political discussion.  This state of government-produced manipulation of public opinion are fulfillments of Ellul’s predictions some sixty years ago, which were also elaborated on in one of his earlier books, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, first published in English in 1965.

Robert Kennedy Jr. recognizes these realities, rejects them, and is determined to turn them on their heads.  He has said that with our democracy becoming “a Hollywood stage set, a kabuki theater… none of us believes that our voices are audible to anyone in the government.”  And with the sense that the voice and the will of the people are being ignored in Washington, the public’s trust in government has dipped to historic lows.

The Pew Research Center reported on September 19, 2023, that “Public trust in the federal government, which has been low for decades, has returned to near record lows… Currently fewer that two in ten Americans say they trust the government in Washington to do what is right ‘just about always’ (1%) or ‘most of the time’ (15%).”  The Pew Center commented that “This is among the lowest trust measures in nearly seven decades of polling.”  As for the mainstream media, which carries much of the approved narrative of the national government, Fortune, on February 15, 2023, cited polling results from the Gallup organization that “Half of Americans in a recent survey indicated they believe national news organizations intend to mislead, misinform or persuade the public to adopt a particular point of view through their reporting.”  The Gallup survey found that just 25% of Americans believe that the mainstream news media do not intentionally mislead.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is running more than a campaign for President.  His campaign represents a new American revolution (his own words), a peaceful revolution to change the way the nation is governed and to turn the government back to the people.  In truth, his is a campaign of serious reform.

Trappist monk Thomas Merton said in the early 1960s in regard to religious reform movements, “All reform of religious faith communities is [essentially] returning to the fire of the founder.”  Commenting on this, psychologist James Finley, a novice at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky where Merton lived and taught, said, “There are forces of empire, there are forces that institutionalize the original fire.  Now, [the] transformative [spirit]. . .takes place in the heart of each person.  I do that, you do that within the community.  But some people are called to do it in the transformation of social structures.”  In this day, we’re seeing a campaign for President being run with the conscious intention of transforming our government, and with it, the society and nation.

The Robert F. Kennedy Jr. campaign is about healing the divide in this country between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, about uniting the nation around ideals we all share.  So, as his is a transformative campaign, it is also a restorative campaign – restoring or re-lighting the original fire of the spirit of those who formed the country and who installed guarantees of freedom of speech and expression, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, freedom of conscience, freedom to choose, freedom to pursue our lives and dreams in peace.  As Robert Kennedy Jr. has said, “This campaign is about restoring the right to free speech and ending censorship, which has no place in America.”  It’s a campaign about dispelling the political illusion that has gripped and mutated our politics and national culture.


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