In 1928, Edward Bernays, (Freud’s nephew, and) intellectual father of the public relations industry, wrote a book entitled Propaganda.
The first two lines read
“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.”
Noted linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky has also identified the operation of propaganda in the mass media as a means by which consensus around social and political policies may be engineered in the public mind. (See ‘Necessary Illusions’, 1989) And the operation of this mechanism is not difficult to spot in Canadian culture – message control is a primary concern of the present federal government. Leaders and public officials are often caught in acts of naked deception.
But propaganda need not be imposed from above – systemic biases may be applied by writers seeking to curry favour by singing with the choir. Recent examples may be identified; from flag-waving exercises and fulmination in support of foreign war and ‘national security’ to the fanning of moral panics pressing the need for some desired legislation, the manipulation of public opinion is an integral part of the media culture in which we live and breathe. Being able to triangulate when and how one is being manipulated is a vital skill for anyone that desires to understand the sort of ‘democratic society’ Bernays had in mind.
“Bernays’s honest and practical manual provides much insight into some of the most powerful and influential institutions of contemporary industrial state capitalist democracies.” ~ Noam Chomsky
A seminal and controversial figure in the history of political thought and public relations, Edward Bernays (1891-1995), pioneered the scientific technique of shaping and manipulating public opinion, which he famously dubbed “engineering of consent.” During World War I, he was an integral part of the U.S. Committee on Public Information (CPI), a powerful propaganda apparatus that was mobilized to package, advertise and sell the war to the American people as one that would “Make the World Safe for Democracy. The CPI would become the blueprint in which marketing strategies for future wars would be based upon.
Bernays applied the techniques he had learned in the CPI and, incorporating some of the ideas of Walter Lipmann, became an outspoken proponent of propaganda as a tool for democratic and corporate manipulation of the population. His 1928 bombshell Propaganda lays out his eerily prescient vision for using propaganda to regiment the collective mind in a variety of areas, including government, politics, art, science and education. To read this book today is to frightfully comprehend what our contemporary institutions of government and business have become in regards to organized manipulation of the masses.