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August 13th, 2008
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thorstein veblen on the propaganda of the faith

Official Seal of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples
Writers who discuss these matters have not directed attention to the Propaganda of the Faith as an object-lesson in sales-publicity, its theory and practice, its ways and means, its benefits and its possibilities of gain. Yet it is altogether the most notable enterprise of the kind. The Propaganda of the Faith is quite the largest, oldest, most magnificent, most unabashed, and most lucrative enterprise in sales-publicity in all Christendom. Much is to be learned from it as regards media and suitable methods of approach, as well as due perseverance, tact, and effrontery. By contrast, the many secular adventures in salesmanship are no better than upstarts, raw recruits, late and slender capitalisations out of the ample fund of human credulity. It is only quite recently, and even yet only with a dawning realisation of what may be achieved by consummate effrontery in the long run, that these others are beginning to take on anything like the same air of stately benevolence and menacing solemnity. No pronouncement on rubber-heels, soap-powders, lip-sticks, or yeast-cakes, not even Sapphira Buncombe’s Vegetative Compound, are yet able to ignore material facts with the same magisterial detachment, and none has yet commanded the same unreasoning assent or acclamation. None other have achieved that pitch of unabated assurance which has enabled the publicity-agents of the Faith to debar human reason from scrutinising their pronouncements. These others are doing well enough, no doubt; perhaps as well as might reasonably be expected under the circumstances, but they are a feeble thing in comparison. Saul has slain his thousands, perhaps, but David has slain his tens of thousands.
    There is, of course, no occasion for levity in so calling to mind these highly significant works of human infatuation, past and current. Nor should it cast any shadow of profanation on any of the sacred verities when it is so called to mind that, when all is said, they, too, rest after all on the same ubiquitously human ground of unreasoning fear, aspiration, and credulity, as do the familiar soap-powders, yeast-cakes, lip-sticks, rubber tires, chewing-gum, and restoratives of lost manhood, whose profitable efficacy is likewise created and kept in repair by a well-advised sales-publicity. Indeed, it should rather seem the other way about. That the same principles of sales-publicity are found good and profitable for the traffic in spiritual amenities and in these material comforts should serve to show how deep and pervasively the scheme of deliverance and rehabilitation is rooted in the merciful gift of credulous infatuation. It should redound to the credit of the secular arm of sales-publicity rather than cast an aspersion on those who traffic in man’s spiritual needs; and should go to show how truly business-as-usual articulates with the business of the Kingdom of Heaven. As it is with the traffic in these divinely beneficial intangibles, so it is with the like salesmanship on the material plane; the marvels of commercial make-believe, too, seek and find a lodgment in the popular knowledge and belief by way of a tireless publicity, such as blessed experience has long and profitably proved and found good in the Propaganda of the Faith. Ways and means which so have proved gainful to His publicity-agents and conducive to the Glory of God—indeed indispensable to the continued upkeep of that Glory—are being drawn into the service of the secular Good of Man; so attesting the excellence of that devoutly familiar form of words which describes the summum bonum as a balanced ration of divine glory and human use. It is worth noting in this connection that those Godfearing business men who administer the nation’s affairs appear to realise this congruity between sacred and secular salesmanship; so much so that they have on due consideration found that investment in commercial advertising is rightfully exempt from the income tax, very much as the assets and revenues of the churches are tax-exempt. The one line of publicity, it appears is intrinsic to the good of man, as the other is essential to the continued Glory of God.
    There is more than one reason for speaking of these matters here, and for speaking of them in a detached and objective way as mere workday factors of human conduct,—leaving all due sanctimony on one side for the time being, without thereby questioning the need and merit of such sanctimony as an ordinary means of grace, or the expediency of it as a standard vehicle of sales-publicity in putting over the transcendent verities of the Faith. It all implies no call and no inclination to lay profane hands on these verities. Taken objectively as a human achievement, the high example of the Propaganda of the Faith should serve as a moral stimulus and a pacemaker. The whole duty of sales-publicity is to “put it over”, as the colloquial phrasing has it; and in the matter of putting it over, it is plain that the laurel, the palms, and the paean are due to go to the publicity-agents of the Faith, without protest. The large and enduring success of the Propaganda through the ages is an object-lesson to show how great is the efficacy of ipse dixit when it is put over with due perseverence and audacity. It also carries a broad suggestion as to what may be the practical limits eventually to be attained by commercial advertising in the way of capitalisable earning-capacity.
    Commercial sales-publicity of the secular sort evidently falls short, hitherto, in respect of the pitch and volume of make-believe which can be put over effectually and profitably. But it also falls short conspicuously at another critical point. It is of the nature of sales-publicity, to promise much and deliver a minimum. Suppressio veri, suggestio falsi. Worked out to its ideal finish, as in the promises and performance of the publicity-agents of the Faith, it should be the high good fortune of the perfect salesman in the secular field also to promise everything and deliver nothing.
    Hitherto this climax of salesmanlike felicity has not been attained in the secular merchandising enterprise, except in a sporadic and dubious fashion. On the other hand, hitherto the publicity-agents of the Faith have habitually promised much and have delivered substantially none of the material advertised, and have “come through” with none of the tangible performances promised by their advertising matter. All that has been delivered hitherto has—perhaps all for the better—been in the nature of further publicity, often with a use of more pointedly menacing language; but it has always been more language, with a moratorium on the liquidation of the promises to pay, and a penalty on any expressed doubt of the solvency of the concern. There have of course, from time to time, been staged certain sketchy prodigies, in the nature of what the secular outdoor advertisers would call “spectacular displays”, apparently designed to demonstrate the nature and merits of the goods kept in stock. These have not infrequently been highly ingenious, and also quite convincing to such persons as are fit to be convinced by them. They have carried conviction to those persons whose habitual beliefs are of a suitable kind. But as viewed objectively and as seen in any other than their own dim religious light, these admirable feats of manifestation have been after all essentially ephemeral and nugatory hitherto; very much of a class with those lunch-counter sample-packages that are designed to demonstrate the expansive powers of some noted baking-powder, in miniature and with precautions. They are after all in the nature of publicity-gestures, eloquent, no doubt, and graceful, but they are not the goods listed in the doctrinal pronouncements; no more than the wriggly gestures with which certain spear-headed manikins stab the nightly firmament over Times Square are an effectual delivery of chewing-gum. Bona-fide delivery of the listed goods would have to be a tangible performance of quite another complexion, inasmuch as the specifications call for Hell-fire and the Kingdom of Heaven; to which the most heavily capitalised of these publicity concerns of the supernatural adds a broad margin of Purgatory.
    There is, of course, no call and no inclination to take the publicity-agents of the Faith to task for failure to deliver the goods listed in their advertising matter. Quite otherwise, indeed. Since the sales-publicity from which these publicity-concerns derive their revenue plays on unreasoning fear and unreasoning aspiration, the output of goods listed in their advertising matter, falls under the two general heads of Hell-fire and the Kingdom of Heaven; so that, on the whole, their failure to deliver the goods is perhaps fortunate rather than otherwise. Hell-fire is after all a commodity the punctual delivery of which is not desired by the ultimate consumers; and according to such descriptive matter as is available the Kingdom of Heaven, on the other hand, should not greatly appeal to persons of sensitive taste, being presumably something of a dubiously gaudy affair, something in the nature of three rings and a steam-calliope, perhaps. It might have been worse.
    This failure to deliver the goods is brought up here only as an object-lesson which goes to show what and how great are the powers of sales-publicity at its best; as exemplified in a publicity enterprise which has over a long period of time very profitably employed a very large personnel and a very extensive and costly material equipment, coupled with no visible ability or intention to deliver any material part of the commodities advertised, or indeed to deliver anything else than a further continued volume of the same magisterial publicity that has procured a livelihood for its numerous personnel and floated its magnificent overhead charges in the past. In this lucrative enterprise the Propaganda of the Faith employs a larger and more expensive personnel and a larger equipment of material appliances, with larger running-expenses and larger revenues,—not only larger than any given one line among the secular enterprises in sales-publicity, but larger than the total of all that goes into secular sales-publicity in all the nations of Christendom.
    Of such sacred sales-publicity concerns operating as certified agents for this marketing of supernatural intangibles, the Census of 1916 enumerates 202 chain-store organizations, comprising a total of 203,432 retail establishments occupied exclusively with the sale of such publicity to the ultimate consumers; of whom there is one born every minute, and who are said to be carried on the books of these retailers to the number of 41,926,854. It has been confidently estimated, on the ground of these data, that the effectual number of paying customers will be approximately 90,000,000; regard being had to the very appreciable floating clientele and the great number of effectual consumers attached to and associated with the customers of record. The stated value of “church property” is $1,676,600,582. These tangible assets are exempt from taxation.
    The figures of this enumeration are suggestive, but it takes account of only such establishments as are formally chartered to do business exclusively in the retail distribution of sacred sales-publicity. It covers no more than the certified apparatus for retail merchandising of the output. If regard be had to the equipment and personnel engaged in the fabrication, sorting, storage, ripening and mobilisation of the output, these figures will be found impossibly scant. If regard be had to the very considerable number of schools for the training of certified publicity-agents in Divinity and for generating a suitable bias of credulity in the incoming generation, as well as to the mighty multitude of convents, clubs, camps, infirmaries, retreats, missions, charities, cemeteries, and periodicals, in whole or in part given over to this work and its personnel, at home and abroad, it will be evident that any of the figures commonly assigned, whether for the material equipment, the receipts and disbursements, or for the operative personnel engaged on the propaganda, should freely be doubled, at least.[1]
    The man-power employed in this work of the Propaganda is also more considerable than that engaged in any other calling, except Arms, and possibly Husbandry. Prelates and parsons abound all over the place, in the high, the middle, and the low degree; too many and too diversified, in person, station, nomenclature, and vestments, to be rightly enumerated or described,—bishops, deans, canons, abbots and abbesses, rectors, vicars, curates, monks and nuns, elders, deacons and deaconesses, secretaries, clerks and employees of YMCA, Epworth Leagues, Christian Endeavors, et cetera, beadles, janitors, sextons, Sunday-school teachers, missionaries, writers, editors, printers and vendors of sacred literature, in books, periodicals and ephemera. All told—if it were possible—it will be evident that the aggregate of human talent currently consumed in this fabrication of vendible imponderables in the nth dimension, will foot up to a truly massive total, even after making a reasonable allowance, of, say, some thirty-three and one-third per cent., for average mental deficiency in the personnel which devotes itself to this manner of livelihood.[2]

Crystal Cathedral


Footnotes:
[1] Cf. Part I of Report on Religious Bodies, 1916 by the Bureau of the Census.
[2] Extra Services at St Patrick’s
    Special Holy Week services are scheduled for each day at St Patrick’s Cathedral.
    To-morrow night there will be a sermon by the Rev W.B. Martin and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, while the tenebræ will be sung at 4 pm in commemoration of the sufferings and death of Christ.
    On Holy Thursday communion will be given every half hour between 6 and 9 am and at 10 am. There will be pontifical mass, blessing of the holy oils, and procession to the repository. The tenebræ will be sung at 4 pm and the holy hour will begin at 8 pm.
    On Good Friday adoration at the repository will take place from 8 to 10 am, followed by singing of the sacred psalms, sermon, unveiling of the holy cross, procession to the repository, mass of the presanctified, and reverencing of the holy cross.
    The Passion sermon on Friday will be preached by Mgr Lavelle, rector. The tenebræ will be sung at 4 pm.
    The blessing of the new fire will take place at 8 o’clock on Saturday. The paschal candle and the baptismal font also will be blessed.
    Mass on Easter Sunday will be pontificated by the archbishop, who also will give the papal blessing. Pontifical vespers will take place at 4 pm.—The Globe and Commercial Advertiser, New York, Tuesday, March 27, 1923.


—Thorstein Veblen, Note to Chapter XI, Manufactures and Salesmanship, in Absentee Ownership—Business Enterprise in Recent Times: The Case of America (B.W. Heubsch, 1923)

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