By Nathan Barton
Modern advertising, as we know it today, did not exist until sometime in the 1700s, well after the invention of printing. Today, in print and electronic media, it is pervasive – and invasive. We cannot do anything without seeing advertising of some sort.
The advertising wants us to DO something – especially to BUY something. It reminds us of the benefits (real or imagined) of doing or using or owning something. Sometimes it is negative: it warns us of the problems because we do NOT do or use or own something.
Of course, the majority of the advertising we think of (and perhaps have) today is commercial in nature: products and services. They are trying to get us to voluntarily buy something that we cannot do without.
In the past, the world did have advertising, but of a much different sort. In an era where most products were made and most services provided at home, there were no big commercial enterprises – private or public – trying to sell the goods and services that they provided.
With one exception: government.
Government has been advertising its “services” for millennia. (We might call it propaganda, but it is closely akin to advertising – if indeed all propaganda is not some form of advertising.) Most of the advertising by government is directed towards those ruled by government – not to the rulers. But much is also devoted to the enemies of government, of the state. Both OTHER governments or states, and those who would resist the power of the government.
Like all advertising, government advertising wants us to DO something: to buy (into) the goods and services (mostly services, admittedly) they provide. (But do not, usually, produce.) The government wants us to accept these things, to believe that we cannot live without them, to believe that we want them. And since these are often services (and goods) that we cannot refuse to buy or have, the emphasis is on the value and essential nature.
But the major theme of government advertising over the thousands of years of history is fear: see how mighty and powerful the state is! Understand that you must submit! Understand that you cannot resist us. To other states, other governments, the message is similar: fear us, fear what we will do to you if you do not do what we want.
The two facets: the need for government and the power of government, go hand-in-hand.
The advertising was (and is) done in various ways: the grand marching of armies, the vast palaces and temples built. Later on, coins with the heads of state and deities (linking the two) were (and are) important – as was later paper currency. The invention of symbols such as banners and standards and, later, flags added “value” to their advertising. Uniforms and seals and shields (heraldic arms) all are forms of advertising. All serve to proclaim the pervasive nature, power, necessity, and value of government. And how much the common people need it – and should fear it.
And for all that time, 99.9% of us have bought into it.
As government “services” (power) has grown, so has the nature, amount, and sophistication of their advertising. Newspaper adverts and broadsides were as valuable to government as to any commercial, private enterprise. As were news stories and editorials and endorsements. We are bombarded today with every sort of advertising extolling the virtues of, and need for, government. Again, 99.9% of us accept that pitch – to some significant degree.
But do we have to?
No. No more than we have to believe and act on “Things go better with Coke,” or “I’d walk a mile for a Camel,” or “Just do it!”
We don’t have to buy into their advertising. We can see that it is often as empty of truth and sense as any commercial advertising.
I agree, that peace and prosperity and a bit of order are nice to have in society. That laws are even essential. But none of these things HAVE to come from government. And in fact, government often prevents these things from doing any good and making any sense.
Toilet paper is (in most modern opinion, at least) pretty near essential. That does NOT mean we have to buy into the idea that Charmin or Scott are better – or that they are essential. (Anyone who has used Brit TP knows that standards are very different!)
Just because some good or service is essential – or highly desirable – does NOT mean that only one source (in any geographic area) is automatically necessary to supply it. In reality, there is no good and no service that is commonly or normally provided by government in 2018 that cannot be provided by some private individual or organization acting in a voluntary, non-coercive manner.
Which is why government advertising has been and is so essential. We must be convinced of something that is NOT the truth.
We no more must have Democratic government or Republican government – or even government at all, than we must have Folgers coffee or Starbucks coffee – or coffee at all. We can drink tea, or soda, or… gasp, just plain water. We don’t have to have GOP or Dem or even “Libertarian” government – we can have voluntary, non-coercive “government” in willing cooperation with our neighbors, our family, our associates in churches or clubs or business – and still have civilization.
And indeed, have a BETTER civilization.