Propaganda, the Little Platoons and the New Normal

Propaganda, the Little Platoons and the New Normal
Roger Oliver

Galatians 6:10, So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the family of faith.

According to Jacques Ellul, propaganda only works in a mass/individualist society. The old organic structures must be broken down and replaced by the sovereign individual, that is the individual is asked to be the measure of all things. At the same time, he makes himself part of a mass society, the burden of judging everything for himself being too much to bear. As part of a mass society, the “sovereign” individual inevitably makes himself a slave to mass propaganda.¹

J. Budziszewski calls these organic structures the little platoons, family, church, local businesses, clubs and local communities.² The little platoons are organic and spontaneously organizing. God created and ordained the family. It forms spontaneously. The more complex a spontaneously organizing system, the more design is implicated.

The little platoons are self-governing and largely self-sufficient if left alone. The governing organizations above the little platoons are artificial, not organic, i.e. not natural, not spontaneously forming and more contrived. The higher the governing organization the more artificial it is, the federal government for example. The principle of subsidiarity posits that the higher governing organizations should not do for the little platoons what they can do for themselves, for example educating their children, organizing their daily economic lives.

Ellul observes that when these little platoons, the organic structures, are broken down and replaced by a mass/individualist society, new groups tend to reform but as part of the mass propaganda driven society. A condition for propaganda via the reformed small group to work is a lack of contact between groups. Strong family and church ties give a person the opportunity to rethink mass propaganda and resist it. The family is a powerful obstacle to the success of propaganda.

“This is why the Chinese Communists insisted on breaking up traditional groups, such as the family…It is not necessary to break up the family in the United States and the Western societies…the family already is broken up. It no longer has the power to envelop the individual; it is no longer the place where the individual is formed and has his roots.”³

When today’s propagandists talk about a new normal the other side of the coronavirus pandemic, they mean a new mass/individualist social order that will replace what is left of the family, the church, the local community. They are intent on breaking up the naturally forming little platoons and reforming an individualist/mass society they can control. One recently formed security agency in the US government with the Orwellian mission of implementing the new Artificial Intelligence driven society euphemistically refers to “legacy” systems that must be replaced.⁴ Legacy systems are those naturally forming human relations upon which God’s social order is founded, starting with the family.

The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, (NSCAI), created by the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, exists to beat the Chinese in the race to an AI driven society. Why we should want to beat the Chinese to fulfill their dystopian dreams is unclear to me. In a document obtained by the Freedom of Information Act, the NSCAI euphemistically

calls the little platoons, legacy systems that must be eliminated to implement the new AI driven society.

Such groups will reform, likely initially as willing instruments of the mass propaganda society. Ellul observes of the modern family and the church:

“It is curious to see how the few remaining organic groups, such as the family and the church, try at all costs to live by propaganda: families are protected by family associations; churches try to take over the methods of psychological influence. They are now the very negation of the old organic groups.”⁵

But can dystopia last? If the little platoons form spontaneously, will that even be possible to maintain? Can we endure such a dystopian dream? No. It is not sustainable. Humans are not mere animals or material beings. We are God’s image bearers. We have to ask the age-old question in Psalm 2:1, Why do the nations rebel? Why are the countries devising plots that will fail?

No matter how loud the protests, to deny that the present situation is the judgment of God is to be whistling in the dark. “Say it isn’t so, Joe.” Oh, but it is. We ought to be looking forward to the other side of this judgment. This is not the first time God has meted out judgment on the world. From that history we know that there is salvation in judgment, that God always takes his own through the trial or calls them home. What we do not know is how long or how difficult the judgement will be. But if Christ must reign until he puts all his enemies under his footstool, we also know for sure there will be a new normal the other side of this and it will be more Christian. The little platoons will once again rule as vice-regents of God on the earth.

In the meantime, what to do? Strengthen your own little platoons, family, church, local community. Read your Bible every day. Greatest antidote to the poison propaganda pill. Patronize the businesses of your neighbors. Challenge your local magistrates to defend their neighbors, to stand up to tyranny. What other practical things can you think of?

Obey the King of kings in the little, everyday details as He has commanded us. We have no king but Jesus. Act like it.

James 1:27, Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Matthew 25:37–40, Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.’

Romans 13:8–10, Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not covet,” (and if there is any other commandment) are summed up in this, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Matthew 22:36–40, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your

mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

There will be a new normal and it will be Christian. Perhaps not in our lifetimes but it is inevitable. Let us look to this future, not pine to return to the past. Christ is sovereign, resistance is futile.



¹ Jacques Ellul, Propaganda, The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, Individualist Society and Mass Society, pp. 90-99
² J. Budziszewski, from a talk given at the Wilberforce Forum conference, “Living Out Your Worldview at Street Level,” Minneapolis, Minn., September 28, 2002, adapted from What We Can’t Not Know, pp. 92-94.
³ Propaganda, p. 83
⁵ Propaganda. p. 98

What Happened to Civility in Politics

What Happened to Civility in Politics?
Roger Oliver
Some say that Trump’s inimitable style killed political civility. First of all, political civility is an oxymoron. At best, words of honey are loaded with venom. Always have been. But whatever imagined civility may have existed in the past had already been killed long before Trump came along. Trump isn’t the murderer, he is just the coroner who kicked the dead body and said, «Hey everybody, this is a corpse. Stop pretending it isn’t.» Political civility was DOA a long time ago.

Of course, there have always been exceptions, people of character who God places in positions of influence. Such folks have been able to stand firm against the corruption of political power without lowering their standards to join the pigs in a mud fight. In the English I learned as a child, we called these people statesmen to distinguish them from politicians. Unfortunately, they rarely win the popular vote.

A recent example of political incivility: Senator Schumer spewing threats against two supreme court associate justices by name. That was as over the top as it gets. Schumer’s antics dominated the press coverage of the event. What was not reported was the hysteria in the gathered crowd to celebrate the murder of the unborn. It was as rabidly irrational as the prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel crying out to wake up their false god to set their sacrifice on fire. 

One of those vivid memory I have from high school is a political TV ad the LBJ campaign launched against the Republican candidate, Berry Goldwater. The ad showed a little girl playing in a field of daisies followed by a mushroom cloud from a nuclear bomb. It was extremely effective propaganda. Even as a wet-behind-the-ears sophomore in high school, I thought it was uncivil politics because it was a lie and hyperbolic to boot. 

Full disclosure, I was a Berry Goldwater supporter, the only kid in my sophomore civics class who willingly volunteered to take the Republican side in a debate. I researched the issues and presented logical, cogent arguments as best as a sophomore could. That surprised my teammates who were intellectual drifters and had been assigned by losing the lottery. They did little to prepare and didn’t contribute beyond feelings and maybe an occasional, «What he said.» 

The opposing side was also set back on their heels. Not prepared to respond to facts, they had guessed correctly that most of the class was either decided or could be intimidated into silence. Because they had nothing beyond what had seen on TV, they never responded to the arguments and facts I presented. Their side of the debate amounted to ad homonym attacks on Senator Goldwater. I felt good, certain I had won by the strength of logic and facts. Nevertheless, the class voted the win to the LBJ side. 

I concluded from that experience that, at least when it comes to politics, most people are irrational and uncivil. The vote was political, informed by propaganda and decided before the debate began. My sweet, energized, intelligent and pretty civics teacher agreed with me in private. “Such is democracy,” she counseled. Explains my cynicism towards politics ever since. 

Politics is never civil because power lust and avarice destroy the love of truth and justice. As Christian reformers, we seek first the peace of God’s Kingdom and His righteousness in our own lives, families, churches and local communities. We pray for our civil authorities so that, “…we may lead a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” (1 Timothy 2:2) We do not pray that they succeed in lording it over us in the name of being our benefactors and saviors. Promises to lord it over your neighbor and give you the plunder always backfire on those who greedily hope they are true.

Political reform is the fruit of seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, never the other way around. Let us not put the cart before the horse. History is rife with the rotten fruit of such error: i.e. anarchy and tyranny. 

Radical attempts to impose political reform always destroy freedom, peace and justice. This is what distinguishes revolution from redemption. Though such is the constant desire of the humanist utopian dream, the church has been guilty of the same. This is probably the greatest mark of shame on the history of the church, misdirected attempts to impose top down humanist reforms in the name of Christ and His Kingdom. Gratefully, Christ’s Kingdom does not depend on us, but on the glorious sovereignty and power of our Savior and King.

May Christ be praised.  

Does God use the lesser of two evils to advance His Kingdom?

Does God use the lesser of two evils to advance His Kingdom?

Roger Oliver

Reading Deuteronomy 9 this morning, the issue of voting for the lesser of two evils came to mind. I’ve often struggled with the contention that a faithful Christian would never do such a thing. Some who take this position are quite sincere, others are quite self-righteous. It never seemed realistic or reasonable to me.

During the last presidential election some insisted they would never vote for Donald Trump because he was a serial adulterer. Still hear this, bound determined, may it never be, even in 2020. I asked myself, who will they vote for then? Hard decision when it seems the choice is between a horse thief and murderer. I confess, I sat that one out. Doesn’t make me less of a concerned citizen. The insistence that voting is what makes us free is exaggerated at best, just plain false at worst. Is this all that is left of our liberties?

The insistence that a Christian never votes for the lesser of two evils strikes me as utopian perfectionism. Is there ever an ideal choice and would it really make a difference in the long process of Christ advancing His Kingdom? I doubt it. Is my gut telling the truth?

A Christian may never choose between the lesser of two evils but apparently God does. What choice does He have considering what there is to work with? Yes, that includes you and me, the self-righteous voter. David not only committed adultery, he conspired to murder the girl’s husband so he could have her and, I suspect, to avoid political scandal. As far as I can tell, Trump never went that far though others before him may have at least come close. Even with all that, David was considered God’s man of the hour. So were Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar, Ben Hadad and Jeroboam.

Consider too what God says about the generation of Israel who would conquer the land. Deuteronomy 9:4–6

“Do not think to yourself after the Lord your God has driven them out before you, ‘Because of my own righteousness the Lord has brought me here to possess this land.’ It is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out ahead of you. It is not because of your righteousness, or even your inner uprightness, that you have come here to possess their land. Instead, because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out ahead of you in order to confirm the promise he made on oath to your ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Understand, therefore, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is about to give you this good land as a possession, for you are a stubborn people!”

Sure sounds like the chosen people were the lesser of two evils in this case. Israel’s history of stubborn disobedience is an uncomfortable and overlooked fact in some quarters where Israel appears to be worshipped more than Christ these days. And what of the Christian who refuses to vote for the lesser of two evils? Would he not also be disqualified? I, for one, would consider it a blessing not to be ruled by such.

Is God not able to control even the most wicked of rulers for His purposes? Apparently so.

“The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord like channels of water; he turns it wherever he wants.” Proverbs 21:1

Is there a ruler who gains his place and power without God’s permission? Apparently not.

“Let the name of God be praised forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to him. He changes times and seasons, deposing some kings and establishing others.”
Daniel 2:20–21

We have not touched on the question of God’s grace in mercy in all this. We have been considering His sovereignty and divine providence. Trump is bombastic, overconfident and unrepentant, at least publicly. This last is what distinguishes him from David. But is he beyond the reach of God’s mercy and grace? Trump is not the Messiah nor would he accept even the hint that he was. And that, my friends, distinguishes Donald Trump from his predecessor.

The conclusion of the matter, as far as I am concerned, is that Christ is still on his throne. He has not lost control of history. He still puts em and takes em down. That surely includes our presidents as well as the rest of the ruling class. We get who He wants and sometimes that means the worst of them because, quite frankly, we deserve it, perhaps most of all the Pharisees among us. Are not you and I included? Judgement begins with the house of God. It surely has been with us at least for the last few decades.

Now, I’m not about binding anyone’s conscience, just asking those who feel strongly about this to do the same by me.