Necessary Illusions

For the documentary film production company, see Peter Wintonick.
Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies
Author Noam Chomsky
Publisher South End Press, Pluto Press
Publication date
June 1989
Media type Paperback
Pages 422
ISBN 0-89608-366-7
OCLC 19457706
302.2/3 19
LC Class P95.8 .C48 1989

Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies is a 1989 book by United States academic Noam Chomsky concerning political power using propaganda to distort and distract from major issues to maintain confusion and complicity, preventing real democracy from becoming effective. The title of this book borrows a phrase from the writings of Reinhold Niebuhr.

Nearly the entire first half of the book is based on Chomsky's five 1988 Massey Lectures on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Radio from November 1988 and extends his and Edward S. Herman's propaganda model to a variety of new situations. The remaining appendices address criticisms of the work and provide additional detail.

As a genre of political thought, parallels exist between Niebuhr's "necessary illusions" and the "noble lies" of Leo Strauss, "public relations" of Edward Bernays and "myth making" of Niccolò Machiavelli. Likewise, Chomsky's analyses in Necessary Illusions represent a refocus on the use of these patterns of power, which he implies to underscore the failure of populations - particularly in a representative democracy - to learn from history in this regard.


Chapter 1: Democracy and the Media
Chapter 2: Containing the Enemy
Chapter 3: The Bounds of the Expressible
Chapter 4: Adjuncts of Government
Chapter 5: The Utility of Interpretations

Appendix I

  1. The Propaganda Model: Some Methodological Considerations
  2. On Critical Balance

Appendix II

  1. The Containment Doctrine
  2. The Red Scare

Appendix III

  1. The Sanctity of Borders

Appendix IV

  1. The Craft of "Historical Engineering"
  2. The Obligation of Silence
  3. The Summits
  4. The Media and International Opinion
  5. Demolishing the Accords

Appendix V

  1. The US and Costa Rican Democracy
  2. "The Evil Scourge of Terrorism"
  3. Hereos and Devils
  4. The "Peace Process" in the Middle East
  5. The Best Defense
  6. La Prensa and its Colleagues
  7. "The Courage to Preserve Civil Liberties"
  8. The Continuing Struggle

See also

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