The Anti-Propaganda of Calvin Coolidge

by Ted V. McAllister on June 28, 2010 · 5 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

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In a wonderful little essay on Calvin Coolidge (Calvin Coolidge: Puritanism de Luxe) written in 1926, Walter Lippmann described the president as having mastered the “technique of anti-propaganda” by sapping public interest in government, by deflating enthusiasm for programs, projects, and political dreams coming from Washington. The Democrats of his time worked hard to whip up passions for policies, programs, for politics generally—but it was “Mr. Coolidge’s skill in destroying issues.”

Reading this essay today, in the inferno of contemporary political debate, I began to wonder if finding a leader who is capable of what Lippmann called “anti-propaganda” might not be helpful. As you ponder the possibilities, you might read this one paragraph from Lippmann’s essay.

“Mr. Coolidge’s genius for inactivity is developed to a very high point. It is far from being an indolent inactivity. It is a grim, determined, alert inactivity which keeps Mr. Coolidge occupied constantly. Nobody has ever worked harder at inactivity, with such force of character, with such unremitting attention to detail, with such conscientious devotion to the task. Inactivity is a political philosophy and a party program with Mr. Coolidge, and nobody should mistake his unflinching adherence to it for the soft and easy desire to let things slide. Mr. Coolidge’s inactivity is not merely the absence of activity. It is on the contrary a steady application to the task of neutralizing and thwarting political activity wherever there are signs of life.”

Most successful politicians use propaganda (as Lippmann employed the word) to create enough popular wind to form a political hurricane. The anti-propagandist seeks instead to rob the politician of the public wind that churns Washington, makes political fortunes, and, often, lays waste to existing political structures.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar rex June 29, 2010 at 3:53 pm

I agree his Kung-Fu was powerful, and it would be a refreshing change, but how could such a leader emerge in this circus? As the nation-state degrades into the market-state, a man like Coolidge would never receive the financial backing to hold our ramshackle consciousness for more than a tweet or two.

avatar Grant June 29, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Is this essay available online? If not, is it published in a collected writings sort of book?

avatar Ted V. McAllister June 30, 2010 at 12:18 am


Lippmann reprinted the essay in a collection of essays called “Men of Destiny” (1927) Most of that book is available on google books, including all of the essay I referenced here.

His essay on Mencken is also a gem.

avatar Peter B. Nelson July 6, 2010 at 10:35 am

Ah, the good old “Party of No”.

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