"He who wants to persuade should put his trust not in the right argument, but in the right word. The power of sound has always been greater than the power of sense." The novelist Joseph Conrad,...

"He who wants to persuade should put his trust not in the right argument, but in the right word. The power of sound has always been greater than the power of sense."

The novelist Joseph Conrad, whose works often deal with how a person's belief affect his or her goal and choices in life, wrote these words. Discuss the meaning of Conrad's statement. Then discuss how this quotation relates to the difference between persuasion and propaganda.

Asked on by Angie A.

2 Answers

mizzwillie's profile pic

mizzwillie | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted on

This statement by Joseph Conrad is indeed powerful as the right word is the size of a sound byte and easily repeated. His statement means that reason can be overcome by emotion and the right word, especially if it is repeated often enough and loudly enough to be heard over any logical argument. An argument must have many words to persuade the listener to consider and accept a point of view or a position on an issue.  Sound as conveyed in the right word can overpower a correct argument by sheer sound volume and repetition.  A perfect example is the current political ads running on tv.  Candidates are not really setting forth their beliefs or policies which would be like an argument, but choosing instead to use power words such as ebola, Obama Care, taxes or Social Security.  Argument is really persuasion where you, through the logic and power of your argument, get another person to consider and believe your point of view.  Propaganda is using the right words, not to get someone to think of other points of view, but to overpower thinking with emotion. A good example is the propaganda during World War II where Jews were equated with vermin, were not human, were to blame for every problem in Germany and were to be exterminated.  Politics today uses propaganda when the candidates use negative ads, use deceptive figures to slant views, and tar the other candidates with a negative slogan.  

chrisyhsun's profile pic

chrisyhsun | Student, College Freshman | (Level 1) Salutatorian

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In this quote, Conrad is comparing the value of having a strong argument (right argument) versus having strong communication skills (right word). As the first sentences states, he finds that the "right word" is a more guaranteed tool in the art of persuasion. In other words, when you are trying to persuade others, it doesn't matter so much that your argument is "correct" necessarily, but it probably matters more that you are using convincing words to appeal to your audience. To Conrad, this second part is more likely to pull your audience members to believe your argument than simply having the "right answer" but not expressing it well. The second sentence of the quote reiterates this idea, this time using the "power of sound" to represent the communication skills and the "power of sense" to represent the correct argument.

In terms of the relationship between this quote and the persuasion vs propaganda, I think that the two characteristics (arguments versus communication) are being paralleled with persuasion versus propaganda, with argument/sense equalling persuasion and communication/sound equalling propaganda. Propaganda is mostly about taking a snippet of information and drawing the audience in as much as possible, regardless of if the snippet of information is necessarily "right" in all senses of the words. The connotation of persuasion, on the other hand, deals more with appealing to logic and therefore goes along well with the idea of merely having the correct argument.