Current Affairs Education Internet Politics

Bad Politics Makes For Bad History With The Online Propagandists Of PragerU

Most people outside the United States of America are only vaguely aware of how pervasive the ideological divisions gripping the country have become. American politics is no longer just a matter of the traditional two-party system, with Republicans and Democrats competing for control of the White House and Congress, governorships and state legislatures. It has spread beyond those national groupings and filtered all the way down to the lowest electoral levels in individual counties and boroughs, and into society more generally. Fuelling this change has been a tiny but disproportionately influential minority of conservative campaigners, activists and commentators. Many of these individuals emerged from the radicalised fringe of the Tea Party movement in 2011-2013. Unlike the rest of that amorphous group, which was gradually absorbed or co-opted by the mainstream Republican Party (or simply abandoned politics altogether until the rise of Trumpism), the extreme edge retained its coherence, becoming one of the loci for the successor alt-right tendency, either explicitly so or as fellow travellers.

This has led to a low-level and usually quite subtle war to capture the hearts and minds of the American people. At the vanguard of this hardline conservatism, and without the notoriety or public scrutiny that mainstream media entities like Fox News are subject to, is a plethora of small and frequently networked organisations. While some are nickel an’ dime affairs run by local enthusiasts, others are million-dollar creations bankrolled by the reactionary moneyed classes. And it is these groupings which have the resources to appropriate unclaimed or unregulated spaces, such as you find on the internet, and fill them with their “propaganda”.

One such body is the Prager University, which purposefully styles itself as PragerU in the familiar terminology of American campuses. The organisation maintains a modern professional-looking website, publishing highly-engaging five-minute “seminar” videos that can be watched and shared on the likes of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. While this may create the impression of an educational institute, a careful read of the small print on the group’s homepage reveals that “Prager University is not an accredited academic institution and does not offer certifications or diplomas”.

In reality, the California-based foundation is a small but apparently well-funded think tank dedicated to preaching the philosophy of Anglo-American exceptionalism. This wealth has allowed it to attract a host of contributors from across the neoconservative spectrum in the United States and the United Kingdom. This includes several well-known writers and historians such as H. W. Crocker III and Andrew Roberts, lending a carefully managed air of respectability to the whole operation. A typical example of its offerings can be seen in this bizarre but extremely well-crafted video extolling the supposed virtues of the British Empire. While informed watchers will easily dismiss the claims, which are historically disingenuous to say the least, nevertheless it has been viewed nearly 800,000 times and no doubt gained innumerable “shares”. The vast majority of these have likely taken place in the US and UK.

In the grand scheme of things some observers might be tempted to underestimate the effect of such relatively low numbers. However, remember this. Donald Trump won the White House because he gained 79,646 votes in the three swing states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. That is less than 0.09% of all the ballots cast in the 2016 presidential general election. These “heartland” regions were purposefully targeted with a deluge of right-wing and anti-establishment publicity in the months leading up to the November 8th polling day, some of which has been linked back to the alleged activities of the Russian Federation. Consequently, it is not just “fake news” which is a danger but also “fake history”. Anything which confuses people’s real understanding of the world around them, of how we got here and how we should interpret what we see.

That, after all, was the intent of the now fading revisionist movement in Ireland, where journalists and historians acted as apologists for Britain’s centuries-old occupation of the country. Indeed, where they saw themselves as cultural warriors in a battle against progressive Irish republicanism and nationalism, and proponents of a new type of alt-unionism. The so-called Prager University sits on that same deceitful spectrum.

25 comments on “Bad Politics Makes For Bad History With The Online Propagandists Of PragerU

  1. That’s a very strange video, a very selective choice of material.

    I think that snark of Lloyd George’s is correct, that there is/was no word for ‘republic’ in Irish. There isn’t a word in English (or French or German) either, for the origin is from the Latin ‘res publica’.

    • Exactly. They originate in Latin and the implication by the Welsh Wizard that the Celts were inherently royalist flew in the face of 100+ years of Irish political history up to that point. De Valera wasn’t buying it as a basis for accepting Dominion status rather than a republic. Unfortunately Griffith and Collins were more susceptible to British reasoning.

  2. Alan Gordon

    If that vid was to change your opinion or make you feel guilty for viewing them in the wrong light, it failed. I just watched confirmation to the title “perfidious Albion”.

    • Yep, but the “university” is selling to the susceptible or the ignorant. I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense, just people who wouldn’t know any better or are culturally conditioned to think, yeah, that sounds about right. It is a pretty slick hard-right propaganda machine for a certain type of middle-class susceptible. The average tattooed neo-nazi is not in their demographic. They are looking for future shakers and makers. The right-wing intelligentsia of the future. It is the same path some Christian colleges went down in the 1980s, deliberately producing battalions of conservative entryists for politics, the media, the law and so on.

      And it worked.

  3. So according to Crocker (shit?), British and English are interchangeable equivalents, even today. Enough said, in truth. Perhaps this intellectual collosus isn’t actually aware of the Welsh, the Scots and the Irish as distinct nations, who knows. But Lloyd George could speak Welsh, so presumably was a “native Englishman” as opposed to one of the more prevalent and superior Anglo-Saxon type of Englishman. And whether the ancient Celts ever had a word for republic I do not know, but the Welsh certainly do – gweriniaeth (derived gwerin / y werin – the people), and I’d be very surprised if this word and it’s associated ideals wasn’t current in Lloyd George’s time. The proud ‘Welsh nationalist’ founder of Cymru Fydd who ended up overseeing the partitioning of Ireland lost his bearings somewhere along the line, for sure.

    • Unfortunately he remained an imperialist, not matter how concerned with ending the conflict in Ireland. He could only go so far in his politics, both by instinct and by the party political restraints of the period.

  4. ‘Poblacht’ has been around since 1916, ancient history not withstanding.

  5. Sean Hurley

    Just started reading -“Inglorious Empire”, by Shashi Tharoor, a United Nations diplomat turned Indian National Congress MP in New Delhi, adds to a growing list of books on what the British did to India ,I think he would beg to differ

    • Indeed. Some great publications have published on this subject in the last decade. Though UK TV will always opt for the Ferguson view of the “good empire” when it comes to serialising them.

  6. This video is absolute, 100% batshit crazy. Sweet mother of god.

    • Crazy like a fox, in terms of its academic veneer and high production values. I’d lay a wager that the majority of its 800,000 viewers in the US and UK have come away thinking, yep, spot on. Something that professional looking will always carry weight with the susceptible.

      Plus, if you factor in YouTube’s algorithms, if you are watching vaguely related items this is bound to come up as a suggested viewing in the side panel or the after-play menu. Propaganda-wise it is damn smart.


      • True. It is slick production.

        I had never heard of this “best-selling author” before, so I looked him up on Amazon. He seems to have written the historical equivalent of clickbait e.g. “A politically incorrect introduction to the British Empire”, “A politically incorrect introduction to the Civil War”. Niall Ferguson for the lazy man/woman who enjoys shocking people at dinner parties with half-digested anecdotes.

        • *youtube – should be Amazon

          • Fixed that typo for you.

            Yeah, they use a few respectable – or at least published – authors/writers/commentators to tentpole the crazies. Then again, is the likes of Dinesh D’Souza “mainstream” even within conservatism?

  7. ar an sliabh

    I don’t really think that any of that really has an effect on most Americans. Those that are politicised, they will not be swayed. For the rest, Clinton was just that much more slimy and repugnant than Trump at the time. That’s really the bottom line. I really don’t think any Russian internet “adverts” had that much of an effect on a largely a-political voter spectrum (the 2016 election had one of the highest voter turnouts at a lousy 58% – almost half of eligible voters didn’t show – which is a good thing for those left of centre, as the indication is conservative voters are the ones tending to stay home). I think for Clinton to know the questions ahead of time at one of the debates had more effect on the election as all internet “meddling” combined. Similar to their political parties, Americans tend to stick to their accustomed news channels on the internet. They rarely sway into the obscure, unless they are already of a certain conviction. Fox and CNN do their best to highlight the political radicals and give the appearance of impending civil war to heighten their ratings, but most folks are just not moved or impressed. The idiots of this “University,” just like all of these morons, are mostly their own echo chamber. The problem is, the other side in America does the same stuff, inclusive of branding themselves as “left” to give themselves the sheen of liberalism, perhaps even the appearance of a tendency towards socialism, when in fact they just support their own group of reactionary, very much capitalist, and imperialist swine (over there right now, and many left-of-centre folks in my circle are very disappointed in and fed-up with the pandering pundits). Most folks in America (and continental Europe as well, I am afraid), inclusive of those on the (supposed) left are very much anglophile, and do not know of or understand the intricacies of the Irish Republican struggle. We are very much alone in that I am afraid.

    • While I agree generally that many in the US may not precisely understand the intricacies of the Irish historical struggle, I take a more optimistic view in that there is a significant amount of empathy for Ireland eventually breaking free from Perfidious Albion as they did, by means of the American Revolution of 1776.

      • ar an sliabh

        I wish I could share your optimism, but it is hard to even find anyone in the United States that even knows that the Free Republic is not a willing and assimilated part of the United Kingdom (and, in their defense, if you read some of our rags and hear some of our politicians speak, you might actually think that). Most see our struggle as a religious and unwarranted conflict of terrorist elements against the status quo.

        • The largest concentration of Irish sympathizers can be found on the east coast of The US around Boston and Net York etc where there are still large numbers of Irish Diaspora descendents. They did receive a wake up jolt of reality however on 9/11, when the towers were brought down, ostensibly reported as a terrorist act.

    • I’m not sure. The studies are still in their early days but there does seem to be some proof that these internet sites, especially the interlinked ones, are having some effect. Even if it is just to build up a sense of group identity and reaffirm confirmation bias.

      Fox News is the classic TV example and there is no denying its effect. Social media is the next battlefield.

      • Yes there is that, combined with the 9/11 effects on the American psyche where sympathizing with ‘terrorists’ against an ally became a non starter. The struggle was no longer in the news as a ‘just’ cause and so faded from view also.

      • ar an sliabh

        The same could be said for the equally hair-brained shyte CNN and some of the over-the-top fascist-leftist radicals produce. I actually think CNN puts Faux News to shame right now, something I thought no-one would stoop low enough to do. Perhaps some are swayed by that, but all-in-all, if anything, voters in the U.S. are moving away from the extreme style of (tea party) conservatism, super libertarian-ism, whatever you want to call that reality-ignoring self-hype, as the votes of those voting showed. The issue for the American voters is that both of their accustomed parties are pushing extremely radical agendas and their media have turned into partisan propaganda organs (quite similar to here, might I add, the Independent being one example), whereas their base is actually quite moderate. I don’t trust any of the studies, especially in the United States, as many have been found to ignore their own results and report what they want to be “fact.” It is very sad.

        • CNN is certainly on a weird obsession with the Russian angle. I tend to believe that the allegations have some truth to them and that Trump is mixed up with the post-glasnost kleptocracy of Russia. But then so is half of Wall Street. And the Beltway. And the Russians definitely did try to run pro-Trump, anti-Clinton propaganda in the US. I saw evidence of that myself. But the CNN 24/7 Russian stories thing could do with taking a breather.

          Who knew all the Russians had to do to win the Cold War between Moscow and Washington was to become rampant capitalists? 😉

    • ar an sliabh

      They always have been excellent in diverting attention from their numerous genocides.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: