Flag on the Mountain: A Political Anthropology of War in Croatia and Bosnia

In the propagandist’s kitchen, an ideological heritage is like a cupboard full of ingredients. The chef selects a different combination of ingredients from his or her cupboard, depending on what kind of dish he or she is preparing. Similarly, a propagandist draws on different elements of an ideological heritage, depending on what political purpose a particular speech or text is intended to serve. Just as a chef sees no contradiction in preparing a roast leg of lamb one day and a vegetarian dish the next, so the propagandist may see nothing wrong in conjuring up entirely contradictory messages using different ingredients from the same heritage. A century ago, the heretical left-wing agitator Georges Sorel noted that simple symbols counted for much more in the realm of political mobilisation than did correct theory. Sorel consequently rejected the often dry-as-dust Marxist theorising of his generation of socialists in favour of an appeal to phenomena that, he considered, might strike more of a chord with the masses – nationalism and anti-Semitism. That Sorel’s politics were cynical and destructive – he was one of the intellectual fathers of fascism – does not diminish the perceptiveness of his observation: in propaganda, symbols with emotional content count for more than correct reasoning.

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