Monday, May 22, 2006

Book Review: PROPAGANDA by Edward Bernays


No matter what political position you take, or do not take, PROPAGANDA is a must-read.

Edward Bernays (1891-1995), the world's pre-eminent and most influential propagandist, was a nephew of Sigmund Freud, to whom he refers in his book PROPAGANDA a couple of times. Bernays considered the dissemination of propaganda, that is the shaping and manipulating of public opinion, not only respectable, but absolutely necessary in modern society. He considered it a science, most certainly based on psychology, and appeals to the authority of the eminent uncle in order to convince business people and especially politicians that the "engineering of consent" can, and must, be carried out coldly and systematically – and all this for the benefit of society.

In addition to his uncle Sigmund Freud, Bernays was influenced by and worked with Walter Lippmann who coined the blood chilling phrase "the manufacture of consent". He was also influenced by the research of Ivan Pavlov (!).

Bernays' clientele was most impressive and achievements were formidable. It is not for naught that he was called the "father of public relations". Counted among his clients were President Calvin Coolidge, Proctor & Gamble, CBS, the American Tobacco Company, John D. Rockefeller and General Electric. His propaganda campaign for the United Fruit Company is said to have led to the CIA's overthrow of the government of Guatemala.

The candor with which Bernays speaks about propaganda is remarkable. Actually, it is his most brash, and one assumes he thought most effective, propagandistic technique. He is so very sure of the absolute sway that propaganda has over the public imagination that he has no qualms whatsoever about informing society of what he is doing. He is quite certain that knowing that they are being propagandized will in no wise protect the public against it. Quite the contrary, in informing the public about the power and persuasiveness of "scientific" propaganda being administered by expert hands it is his intention to have the public surrender to it as inevitable, omnipresent and irresistible. Evidently, he succeeded.

Bernays informs us that the modern "science" of propaganda, used to control and "regiment" public thinking, as he puts it, is a direct outgrowth of the propaganda that was used in order to demonize the Germans in the eyes of the US public during WWI. In fact, he apprises us of the fact that the very self-same people who engaged in wartime propaganda are now the propagandists "regimenting public opinion" in peacetime. He and Lippmann were among those people. During WWI they worked together on the U.S. Committee on Public Information (CPI), those who "sold" the idea of the war to the U.S. public by inventing the phrase "make the world safe for democracy".

Bernays refers to crackerjack propagandists as "invisible governors". Propagandists, while employed by big business people and politicians, are not their servants and not acting at their behest. It is the propagandists who are the invisible pullers of the politicians' and business people's strings. The propagandists, Bernays informs us in no uncertain terms and wholly devoid of inhibition, control every level of society from large numbers of former proletarians who were recently (as of 1928) allowed to go upscale socio-economically and attain parity with the lower rung of the petit bourgeoisie in order to stave off revolution all the way up to the level of big business and politicians. He goes on to apprise us of the fact that "propaganda is here to stay". That is not so much a statement of fact as a command to become resigned to the fact, like it or not.

In 1928 there were still enough Americans who were socially aware and Left-oriented that propagandists had a bad name. Bernays attempts in his book PROPAGANDA to give propagandists a better name, to make them appear more society-friendly, but he lets the public know that their acceptance of propaganda or not will not be the determining factor in whether or not it is influential and certainly not whether or not it continues to exist and exert tremendous influence.

In his book PROPAGANDA Bernays devotes a chapter to a brief overview of how propaganda can be made to affect and can, in turn, be put into effect by:

Political Leadership
Social Service
Arts and Science

Those that are "scientifically" and "well" propagandized become, in turn, agents for the dissemination of propaganda.

The edition of PROPAGANDA presently available is published by Ig Publishing (See: is riddled with typographical errors, the most amusing of which is: "Czechoslovakia officially became a free state on Monday, October 28, 1918, instead of Sunday, October 17, 1918 [sic] because Professor Masaryk realized that the people of the world would receive more information and would be more receptive to the announcement of the republic's freedom on a Monday morning than on a Sunday, because the press would have more space to devote to it on Monday morning."

The most entertaining aspect of reading Edward Bernay's PROPAGANDA, of course, is finding as many propagandistic techniques in it as one can.

Doreen Ellen Bell-Dotan, Tzfat, Israel

Join the Blue Ribbon Online Free Speech Campaign
Join the Blue Ribbon Online Free Speech Campaign!