Necessary Illusions is a 1989 book by American writer Noam Chomsky
about how political power uses propaganda to distort and distract from
real issues to maintain confusion and complicity, preventing real
democracy from becoming effective. Like many of the titles by Chomsky,
such as Pirates and Emperors the themes come from such titles as St. Augustine's City of God and Public Opinion by Walter Lippmann,
the title of this book borrows a phrase from an earlier political
commentary; in this case, Chomsky quotes from the writings of Reinhold Niebuhr.
The book is based in Chomsky's 1988 Massey Lectures on CBC Radio in Canada and extends his propaganda model to a variety of new situations. Appendices address criticisms of the work and provide additional detail.
As a genre of political thought, parallels exist between Niebuhr's "necessary illusions" and the "noble lies" of Leo Strauss, "public relations" of Edward Bernays, and "myth making" of Niccolò Machiavelli. Likewise, Chomsky's analyses in Necessary Illusions
represent a rediscovery of the use of these patterns of power, Chomsky
implies to underscore the failure of populations -- particularly in a
democracy -- to learn from history in this regard.