Carnegie Mellon University

'The Moral Sentiments that Moves to Action': An Examination of the Moral Foundations of the Liberty Bond Drives of WWI American Propaganda

Author: Eric Hanbury

Degree: Ph.D. in Rhetoric, Carnegie Mellon University, 2016

This dissertation is an analysis of the visual/linguistic artifacts of the World War I American propaganda used to sell war bonds, called Liberty Bonds.  Although the question of what propaganda is and whether its assumed effects are benevolent or malevolent is discussed and opinions on the subject are reviewed, this dissertation focuses on one researcher’s view that propaganda is distinguished by its epistemic defectiveness, that is, its inapt use of conceptual schemas and moral precepts (Ross, 2002).  Then, this project questions the moral precepts with which WWI propaganda has been judged by critics.  What research has been done on WWI American propaganda tends to focus on the issues of individual rights and welfare, referred to in this project as individualizing moral precepts.  Judging from these precepts, the argument is made that the propaganda of the time and its effects are immorally suppressing individual rights and harming human welfare, constituting an ‘Orwellian nightmare’ with one researcher arguing that comparisons between WWI American propaganda and Orwell’s novel 1984 are ‘instructive.’  Drawing on discourse analytic approaches to examine a corpus of posters and template speeches surrounding the Liberty Bond campaigns of 1917-1918, this dissertation attempts to alter the conversation from past researchers’ focus on those individualizing moral precepts.   This project argues that the artifacts of the Liberty Bond campaigns, for example, are exhibiting binding moral precepts, that is, they are making arguments emphasizing moral issues often excluded from the moral domain by many researchers, namely, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and ideas about sanctity/degradation.  It is then argued that understanding these precepts as legitimate moral concerns in a diverse society aids research aimed at understanding the rhetoric of the time as well as the issues confronting the United States during WWI.