The interim between World War I (1914–1918) and the onset of World War II (1941–1945) illustrates the discursive struggle over evolving conceptions of propaganda. Propaganda meant different things to different observers, but for the most part, everyone agreed that its conditions were worth debating, and most people believed that, left unchecked, it posed some kind of threat to democracy. In intellectual, political, and social senses, propaganda became the subject of protracted study and deliberation concerning how best to understand its various incarnations in relation to democratic capitalism. Discourses generating stringent critiques of propaganda's dangers to democracy gradually shifted toward a new focus on mass persuasion and social influence informed by scientific behavioralism and quantitative methodology in relation to media effects. As the field of communication took hold, propaganda's political significance was overshadowed by more apolitical projects, such as public opinion and marketing research, which contributed to the distinction between political propaganda and social influence and the eventual subsumption of propaganda to mass persuasion.
No interim period other than the one between World War I (1914–1918) and the onset of World War II (1941–1945) more critically illustrates the discursive struggle over evolving conceptions of propaganda in the modern age. The word “propaganda” derives from a relatively ...