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Unformatted text preview: Propaganda by Edward Bernays (1928) Propaganda (1928)
by Edward Bernays
[The] American business community was also
very impressed with the propaganda effort. They
had a problem at that time. The country was
becoming formally more democratic. A lot more
people were able to vote and that sort of thing. The
country was becoming wealthier and more people
could participate and a lot of new immigrants were
coming in, and so on.
So what do you do? It's going to be harder to
run things as a private club. Therefore, obviously,
you have to control what people think. There had
been public relation specialists but there was never
a public relations industry. There was a guy hired
to make Rockefeller's image look prettier and that
sort of thing. But this huge public relations
industry, which is a U.S. invention and a monstrous
industry, came out of the first World War. The
leading figures were people in the Creel
Commission. In fact, the main one, Edward
Bernays, comes right out of the Creel Commission.
He has a book that came out right afterwards
called Propaganda. The term "propaganda,"
incidentally, did not have negative connotations in
those days. It was during the second World War
that the term became taboo because it was
connected with Germany, and all those bad things.
But in this period, the term propaganda just meant
information or something like that. So he wrote a
book called Propaganda around 1925, and it starts
off by saying he is applying the lessons of the first
World War. The propaganda system of the first
World War and this commission that he was part of
showed, he says, it is possible to "regiment the
public mind every bit as much as an army
regiments their bodies." These new techniques of
regimentation of minds, he said, had to be used by
the intelligent minorities in order to make sure that
the slobs stay on the right course. We can do it now
because we have these new techniques.
This is the main manual of the public relations
industry. Bernays is kind of the guru. He was an
authentic Roosevelt/Kennedy liberal. He also
engineered the public relations effort behind the
U.S.-backed coup which overthrew the democratic
government of Guatemala.
His major coup, the one that really propelled
him into fame in the late 1920s, was getting women
to smoke. Women didn't smoke in those days and he
ran huge campaigns for Chesterfield. You know all
the techniques—models and movie stars with 1 of 50 5/16/2013 11:50 PM Propaganda by Edward Bernays (1928) cigarettes coming out of their mouths and that kind
of thing. He got enormous praise for that. So he
became a leading figure of the industry, and his
book was the real manual.
(From Chomsky's "What Makes Mainstream Media
Mainstream": a talk at Z Media Institute, June
I. ORGANIZING CHAOS
II. THE NEW PROPAGANDA
III. THE NEW PROPAGANDISTS
IV. THE PSYCHOLOGY OF PUBLIC RELATIONS
V. BUSINESS AND THE PUBLIC
VI. PROPAGANDA AND POLITICAL LEADERSHIP
VII. WOMEN'S ACTIVITIES AND PROPAGANDA
VIII. PROPAGANDA FOR EDUCATION
IX. PROPAGANDA IN SOCIAL SERVICE
X. ART AND SCIENCE
XI. THE MECHANICS OF PROPAGANDA CHAPTER I
THE conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and
opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who
manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government
which is the true ruling power of our country.
We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas
suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the
way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human
beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly
Our invisible governors are, in many cases, unaware of the identity of their
fellow members in the inner cabinet.
They govern us by their qualities of natural leadership, their ability to supply
needed ideas and by their key position in the social structure. Whatever attitude
one chooses to take toward this condition, it remains a fact that in almost every
act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social
conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number
of persons—a trifling fraction of our hundred and twenty million—who
understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who
pull the wires which control the public mind, who harness old social forces and
contrive new ways to bind and guide the world.
It is not usually realized how necessary these invisible governors are to the
orderly functioning of our group life. In theory, every citizen may vote for whom
he pleases. Our Constitution does not envisage political parties as part of the
mechanism of government, and its framers seem not to have pictured to
themselves the existence in our national politics of anything like the modern
political machine. But the American voters soon found that without organization
and direction their individual votes, cast, perhaps, for dozens or hundreds of
candidates, would produce nothing but confusion. Invisible government, in the
shape of rudimentary political parties, arose almost overnight. Ever since then we
have agreed, for the sake of simplicity and practicality, that party machines 2 of 50 5/16/2013 11:50 PM Propaganda by Edward Bernays (1928) should narrow down the field of choice to two candidates, or at most three or
In theory, every citizen makes up his mind on public questions and matters of
private conduct. In practice, if all men had to study for themselves the abstruse
economic, political, and ethical data involved in every question, they would find
it impossible to come to a conclusion about anything. We have voluntarily agreed
to let an invisible government sift the data and high-spot the outstanding issues
so that our field of choice shall be narrowed to practical proportions. From our
leaders and the media they use to reach the public, we accept the evidence and
the demarcation of issues bearing upon public questions; from some ethical
teacher, be it a minister, a favorite essayist, or merely prevailing opinion, we
accept a standardized code of social conduct to which we conform most of the
In theory, everybody buys the best and cheapest commodities offered him on
the market. In practice, if every one went around pricing, and chemically testing
before purchasing, the dozens of soaps or fabrics or brands of bread which are
for sale, economic life would become hopelessly jammed. To avoid such
confusion, society consents to have its choice narrowed to ideas and objects
brought to its attention through propaganda of all kinds. There is consequently a
vast and continuous effort going on to capture our minds in the interest of some
policy or commodity or idea.
It might be better to have, instead of propaganda and special pleading,
committees of wise men who would choose our rulers, dictate our conduct,
private and public, and decide upon the best types of clothes for us to wear and
the best kinds of food for us to eat. But we have chosen the opposite method, that
of open competition. We must find a way to make free competition function with
reasonable smoothness. To achieve this society has consented to permit free
competition to be organized by leadership and propaganda.
Some of the phenomena of this process are criticized—the manipulation of
news, the inflation of personality, and the general ballyhoo by which politicians
and commercial products and social ideas are brought to the consciousness of the
masses. The instruments by which public opinion is organized and focused may
be misused. But such organization and focusing are necessary to orderly life.
As civilization has become more complex, and as the need for invisible
government has been increas ingly demonstrated, the technical means have been
invented and developed by which opinion may be regimented.
With the printing press and the newspaper, the railroad, the telephone,
telegraph, radio and airplanes, ideas can be spread rapidly and even
instantaneously over the whole of America.
H. G. Wells senses the vast potentialities of these inventions when he writes
in the New York Times:
"Modern means of communication—the power afforded by print,
telephone, wireless and so forth, of rapidly putting through directive
strategic or technical conceptions to a great number of cooperating
centers, of getting quick replies and effective discussion—have
opened up a new world of political processes. Ideas and phrases can
now be given an effectiveness greater than the effectiveness of any
personality and stronger than any sectional interest. The common
design can be documented and sustained against perversion and
betrayal. It can be elaborated and developed steadily and widely
without personal, local and sectional misunderstanding."
What Mr. Wells says of political processes is equally true of commercial and
social processes and all manifestations of mass activity. The groupings and
affiliations of society to-day are no longer subject to "local and sectional"
limitations. When the Constitution was adopted, the unit of organization was the
village community, which produced the greater part of its own necessary
commodities and generated its group ideas and opinions by personal contact and
discussion directly among its citizens. But to-day, because ideas can be 3 of 50 5/16/2013 11:50 PM Propaganda by Edward Bernays (1928) instantaneously transmitted to any distance and to any number of people, this
geographical integration has been supplemented by many other kinds of
grouping, so that persons having the same ideas and interests may be associated
and regimented for common action even though they live thousands of miles
It is extremely difficult to realize how many and diverse are these cleavages
in our society. They may be social, political, economic, racial, religious or
ethical, with hundreds of subdivisions of each. In the World Almanac, for
example, the following groups are listed under the A's:
The League to Abolish Capital Punishment; Association to Abolish War;
American Institute of Accountants; Actors' Equity Association; Actuarial
Association of America; International Advertising Association; National
Aeronautic Association; Albany Institute of History and Art; Amen Corner;
American Academy in Rome; American Antiquarian Society; League for
American Citizenship; American Federation of Labor; Amorc (Rosicrucian
Order); Andiron Club; American-Irish Historical Association; Anti-Cigarette
League; Anti-Profanity League; Archeological Association of America; National
Archery Association; Arion Singing Society; American Astronomical
Association; Ayrshire Breeders' Association; Aztec Club of 1847. There are
many more under the "A" section of this very limited list.
The American Newspaper Annual and Directory for 1928 lists 22,128
periodical publications in America. I have selected at random the N's published
in Chicago. They are:
Narod (Bohemian daily newspaper); Narod-Polski (Polish monthly); N.A.R.D.
(pharmaceutical); National Corporation Reporter; National Culinary Progress
(for hotel chefs); National Dog Journal; National Drug Clerk; National Engineer;
National Grocer; National Hotel Reporter; National Income Tax Magazine;
National Jeweler; National Journal of Chiropractic; National Live Stock
Producer; National Miller; National Nut News; National Poultry, Butter and Egg
Bulletin; National Provisioner (for meat packers); National Real Estate Journal;
National Retail Clothier; National Retail Lumber Dealer; National Safety News;
National Spiritualist; National Underwriter; The Nation's Health; Naujienos
(Lithuanian daily newspaper); New Comer (Republican weekly for Italians);
Daily News; The New World (Catholic weekly); North American Banker; North
The circulation of some of these publications is astonishing. The National
Live Stock Producer has a sworn circulation of 155,978; The National Engineer,
of 20,328; The New World, an estimated circulation of 67,000. The greater
number of the periodicals listed—chosen at random from among 22,128—have a
circulation in excess of 10,000.
The diversity of these publications is evident at a glance. Yet they can only
faintly suggest the multitude of cleavages which exist in our society, and along
which flow information and opinion carrying authority to the individual groups.
Here are the conventions scheduled for Cleveland, Ohio, recorded in a single
recent issue of "World Convention Dates"—a fraction of the 5,500 conventions
and rallies scheduled.
The Employing Photo-Engravers' Association of America; The Outdoor
Writers' Association; the Knights of St. John; the Walther League; The National
Knitted Outerwear Association; The Knights of St. Joseph; The Royal Order of
Sphinx; The Mortgage Bankers' Association; The International Association of
Public Employment Officials; The Kiwanis Clubs of Ohio; The American PhotoEngravers' Association; The Cleveland Auto Manufacturers Show; The
American Society of Heating and Ventilating Engineers.
Other conventions to be held in 1928 were those of:
The Association of Limb Manufacturers' Associations; The National Circus Fans'
Association of America; The American Naturopathic Association; The American
Trap Shooting Association; The Texas Folklore Association; The Hotel Greeters;
The Fox Breeders' Association; The Insecticide and Disinfectant Association;
The National Association of Egg Case and Egg Case Filler Manufacturers; The 4 of 50 5/16/2013 11:50 PM Propaganda by Edward Bernays (1928) American Bottlers of Carbonated Beverages; and The National Pickle Packers'
Association, not to mention the Terrapin Derby—most of them with banquets
and orations attached.
If all these thousands of formal organizations and institutions could be listed
(and no complete list has ever been made), they would still represent but a part of
those existing less formally but leading vigorous lives. Ideas are sifted and
opinions stereotyped in the neighborhood bridge club. Leaders assert their
authority through community drives and amateur theatricals. Thousands of
women may unconsciously belong to a sorority which follows the fashions set by
a single society leader.
"Life" satirically expresses this idea in the reply which it represents an
American as giving to the Britisher who praises this country for having no upper
and lower classes or castes:
"Yeah, all we have is the Four Hundred, the White-Collar Men, Bootleggers,
Wall Street Barons, Criminals, the D.A.R., the K.K.K., the Colonial Dames, the
Masons, Kiwanis and Rotarians, the K. of C, the Elks, the Censors, the
Cognoscenti, the Morons, Heroes like Lindy, the W.C.T.U., Politicians,
Menckenites, the Booboisie, Immigrants, Broadcasters, and—the Rich and Poor."
Yet it must be remembered that these thousands of groups interlace. John
Jones, besides being a Rotarian, is member of a church, of a fraternal order, of a
political party, of a charitable organization, of a professional association, of a
local chamber of commerce, of a league for or against prohibition or of a society
for or against lowering the tariff, and of a golf club. The opinions which he
receives as a Rotarian, he will tend to disseminate in the other groups in which
he may have influence.
This invisible, intertwining structure of groupings and associations is the
mechanism by which democracy has organized its group mind and simplified its
mass thinking. To deplore the existence of such a mechanism is to ask for a
society such as never was and never will be. To admit that it easts, but expect that
it shall not be used, is unreasonable.
Emil Ludwig represents Napoleon as "ever on the watch for indications of
public opinion; always listening to the voice of the people, a voice which defies
calculation. 'Do you know,' he said in those days, 'what amazes me more than all
else? The impotence of force to organize anything.'"
It is the purpose of this book to explain the structure of the mechanism which
controls the public mind, and to tell how it is manipulated by the special pleader
who seeks to create public acceptance for a particular idea or commodity. It will
attempt at the same time to find the due place in the modern democratic scheme
for this new propaganda and to suggest its gradually evolving code of ethics and
practice. CHAPTER II
THE NEW PROPAGANDA
IN the days when kings were kings, Louis XIV made his modest remark,
"L'Etat c'est moi." He was nearly right.
But times have changed. The steam engine, the multiple press, and the public
school, that trio of the industrial revolution, have taken the power away from
kings and given it to the people. The people actually gained power which the
king lost For economic power tends to draw after it political power; and the
history of the industrial revolution shows how that power passed from the king
and the aristocracy to the bourgeoisie. Universal suffrage and universal schooling
reinforced this tendency, and at last even the bourgeoisie stood in fear of the
common people. For the masses promised to become king.
To-day, however, a reaction has set in. The minority has discovered a
powerful help in influencing majorities. It has been found possible so to mold the
mind of the masses that they will throw their newly gained strength in the desired 5 of 50 5/16/2013 11:50 PM Propaganda by Edward Bernays (1928) direction. In the present structure of society, this practice is inevitable. Whatever
of social importance is done to-day, whether in politics, finance, manufacture,
agriculture, charity, education, or other fields, must be done with the help of
propaganda. Propaganda is the executive arm of the invisible government
Universal literacy was supposed to educate the common man to control his
environment. Once he could read and write he would have a mind fit to rule. So
ran the democratic doctrine. But instead of a mind, universal literacy has given
him rubber stamps, rubber stamps inked with advertising slogans, with editorials,
with published scientific data, with the trivialities of the tabloids and the
platitudes of history, but quite innocent of original thought. Each man's rubber
stamps are the duplicates of millions of others, so that when those millions are
exposed to the same stimuli, all receive identical imprints. It may seem an
exaggeration to say that the American public gets most of its ideas in this
wholesale fashion. The mechanism by which ideas are disseminated on a large
scale is propaganda, in the broad sense of an organized effort to spread a
particular belief or doctrine.
I am aware that the word "propaganda" carries to many minds an unpleasant
connotation. Yet whether, in any instance, propaganda is good or bad depends
upon the merit of the cause urged, and the correctness of the information
In itself, the word "propaganda" has certain technical meanings which, like
most things in this world, are "neither good nor bad but custom makes them so."
I find the word defined in Funk and Wagnalls' Dictionary in four ways:
1. "A society of cardinals, the overseers of foreign missions; also the College
of the Propaganda at Rome founded by Pope Urban VIII in 1627 for the
education of missionary priests; Sacred College de Propaganda Fide.
2. "Hence, any institution or scheme for propagating a doctrine or system.
3. "Effort directed systematically toward the gaining of public support for an
opinion or a course of action.
4. "The principles advanced by a propaganda."
The Scientific American, in a recent issue, pleads for the restoration to
respectable usage of that "fine old word 'propaganda.'"
"There is no word in the English language," it says, "whose meaning has
been so sadly distorted as the word 'propaganda.' The change took place mainly
during the late war when the term took on a decidedly sinister complexion.
"If you turn to th...
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