Jacques Ellul wrote "Propaganda" 45 years ago. In the book he articulates a theory about the development of a modern system of propaganda that is designed to enable societies to progress toward certain aims (political, technological, etc). In one section he describes 'sociological propaganda' in the U.S. Here is a very interesting excerpt:
"Another very curious and recent phenomenon (confirmed by several American sociologists) is the appearance of 'agitators' alongside politicians and political propagandists. The pure agitator, who stirs public opinion in a 'disinterested' fashion, functions as a nationalist. He does not appeal to a doctrine or principle, nor does he propose specific reforms. He is the 'true' prophet of the American Way of Life. Usually he is against the New Deal and for laissez-faire liberalism; against plutocrats, internationalists, and socialists - bankers and communists alike are the 'hateful other party in spite of which well-informed "I" survive...'
The agitator is especially active in the most unorganized groups of the United States. He uses the anxiety psychoses of the lower middle class, the neo-proletarian, the immigrant, the demobilized soldier - people who are not yet integrated into American society or who have not yet adopted ready-made habits and ideas... He makes groups act in the illogical yet coherent, Manichaean universe of propaganda, of which we will have more to say. The most remarkable thing about this phenomenon is that these agitators do not work for a political party; it is not clear which interests they serve... but they deeply influence American public opinion, and their influence may crystallize suddenly in unexpected forms."
Now, I have no doubt this sort of 'agitation', if it is genuine, occurs across the political spectrum. But, doesn't this sound a lot like the current explosion of "tea parties" that are taking place in the U.S.? Groups of people are coming together for a common cause that is nonetheless vague: They want to get rid of Obama, or his policies, or "liberalism"; they want "freedom" or "less government" or any number of things. Many of them claim to be neither republicans nor democrats, but independents. And what they desire isn't necessarily bad, but seems to be primarily a reactionary movement held together by the sorts of elements described above by Ellul.
What do you think? Is Ellul's description valid here? Does it still apply today? Have we become, in our age of ubiquitous media pundits and disaffected voters, a nation of 'agitators'?