Propaganda: Extracts - Introduction

Propaganda by Edward Bernays

Propaganda is a Latin word meaning 'to spread' or 'to propagate'. In 1622, it was originally used to describe the mission of a new administrative body in the Catholic Church called the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide (Congregation for Propagating the Faith). Its activity was aimed at "propagating" the Catholic faith in non-Catholic countries.

Until the 20th Century, its meaning was largely apolitical and amoral. But thanks to Edward Bernays the power of persuasion became an essential tool in prompting acceptance of WWI.  The, after the war, he re-purposed that success into developing a new field of marketing goods and concepts. He outlined the methods behind propaganda in what became the textbook for the practice, aptly named "Propaganda".

Following are excerpts from Mark Crispin Miller's Introduction in the 2005 edition. They explain the derivation and evolution of the concept.

(Promotional text on back cover)
Originally published in 1928, this manual of mass manipulation provides a detailed examination of how public discourse and opinion are shaped and controlled in politics, business, art, education and science. 

In a world dominated by political spin and media manipulation, Propaganda is an essential read for all who wish to understand how power is used by the ruling elite of our society.

About the Author
The nephew of Sigmund Freud, Edward Bernays (1891-1995) pioneered the scientific technique of shaping and manipulating public opinion, which he called "engineering of consent." 

During World War I, he was an integral part - along with Walter Lippmann - of the U.S. Committee on Public Information (CPI), a powerful propaganda machine that advertised and sold the war to the American people as one that would "Make the World Safe for Democracy." The marketing strategies for all future wars would be based on the CPI model.

Over the next half century, Bernays, combining the techniques he had learned in the CPI with the ideas of Lippmann and Freud, fashioned a career as an outspoken proponent of propaganda for political and corporate manipulation of the population, earning the moniker "father of public relations." 

Among his powerful clients were President Calvin Coolidge, Procter & Gamble, CBS, the American Tobacco Company and General Electric. In addition, his propaganda campaign for the United Fruit Company in the early 195Os led directly to the CIA's overthrow of the elected government of Guatemala.

(Front cover text detail)
Only through the active energy of the intelligent few can the public at large become aware of and act upon new ideas.

Propaganda bears the same relation to education as to business or politics. It may be abused. It may be used to over-advertise an institution and to create in the public mind artificial values. There can be no absolute guarantee against its misuse.

A presidential candidate may be "drafted" in response to "overwhelming popular demand," but it is well-known that his name may be decided upon by half a dozen men sitting around a table in a hotel room.

Governments, whether they ore monarchical, constitutional, democratic or communist, depend upon acquiescent public opinion for the success of their efforts and, in fact, government is government only by virtue of public acquiescence.

As civilization hos become more complex, and of the need for invisible government has been increasingly demonstrated, the technical means have been invented and developed by which opinion may be regimented.

Nowadays the successors of the rulers, those whose position or ability gives them power, can no longer do what they want without the approval of the masses, they find in propaganda a tool which is increasingly powerful in gaining that approval.

Democracy is administered by the intelligent minority who know how to regiment and guide the mosses.

An entire party, a platform, on international policy is sold to the public, or is not sold, on the basis of the intangible element of personality.

INTRODUCTION by Mark Crispin Miller

Prior to World War One, the word propaganda was little-used in English, except by certain social activists, and close observers of the Vatican; and, back then, propaganda tended not to be the damning term we throw around today. The word had been coined in 1622, when Pope Gregory XV, frightened by the global spread of Protestantism, urgently proposed an addition to the Roman curia. 

The Office for the Propagation of the Faith (Congregatio de propaganda fide) would supervise the Church's missionary effort in the New World and elsewhere: "They are to take account of and to deal with each and every concern for the spread of the faith throughout the world." 

Far from denoting lies, half- truths, selective history or any of the other tricks that we associate with "propaganda" now, that word meant, at first, the total opposite of such deception. Of "the sheep now wretchedly straying" the world over, Gregory wrote:

Especially it is to be desired that, inspired by divine grace, they should cease to wander amidst heresies through the unhappy pastures of infidelity, drinking deadly and poisonous water, but be placed in the pasture of the true faith, that they may be gathered together in saving doctrine, and be led to the spring of the water of life.

The word seems to have retained its strongly Catholic aura well into the 19th century; and, often, when the user stressed that Roman origin, the word would be pejorative.

"Derived from this celebrated society [the Congregatio de propaganda fide], the name propaganda applied in modern political language as a term of reproach to secret associations for the spread of opinion and principle which are viewed by most governments with horror and aversion," writes the British chemist William Thomas Brande in 1842. However, while the word then could be used to make a sinister impression, it did not automatically evoke subversive falsehood, as it has since the 1920s.

In his English Traits (1856), for instance, Emerson uses propagandist as an adjective not at all suggestive of the stealthy spread of some pernicious creed or notion. He describes the British a "still aggressive and propagandist, enlarging the dominion of their art and liberty" - a passage that associates propaganda not with alien subversion but the most enlightened rule:

Their laws are hospitable, and slavery does not exist under them. What oppression exists is incidental and temporary; their success is not hidden or fortunate, but they have maintained constancy and self-equality for many ages.

Prior to the war, the word’s derogatory use was far less common than its neutral denotation. Here for example, is the calm (and accurate) definition given in the Oxford English Dictionary:

''Any association, systematic scheme, or concerted movement for the propagation of a particular doctrine or practice."

Thus was propaganda generally perceived not a an instrument for striking "horror and aversion" in the souls of government officials, but as an enterprise whose consequences might seem horrid - or innocuous, or even beneficial, depending on its authors and their aim (and the perceiver's point of view). 

A campaign to improve public health through vaccination, sanitary cooking or the placement of spittoons was, or is, no less a propaganda drive than any anti-clerical or socialist or nativist crusade. Evidently this fact was apparent to those few who used the word - which did not become a synonym for big black lies until the Allies made the word familiar to the masses of Great Britain and America. Until then, propaganda was a term so unimportant that there is no definition for it in the great 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica (which does include a short entry for propagate).

The war had a complex effect on the repute of propaganda. Although the practice had, albeit unnamed, been variously used by governments for centuries (Napoleon was especially incisive on the subject, as well as an inspired practitioner), it was not until 1915 that governments first systematically deployed the entire range of modern media to rouse their populations to fanatical assent. 

Here was an extraordinary state accomplishment: mass enthusiasm at the prospect of a global brawl that otherwise would mystify those very masses, and that shattered most of those who actually took part in it. The Anglo - American drive to demonize "the Hun,” and to cast the war as a transcendent clash between Atlantic “civilization" and Prussian "barbarism," made so powerful an impression on so many that the worlds of government and business were forever changed.

Now "public opinion" stood out as a force that must be managed, and not through clever guesswork but by experts trained to do that all-important job. Thus the war improved the status of those working in the field of public suasion. Formerly, the lords of industry and commerce had often seen the advertising agent as a charlatan, associated with the tawdry bunkum used to peddle patent medicines and cigarettes, and trying to sell a service that any boss with half a brain could surely manage on his own.

The nascent field of public relations also had been disesteemed by those atop the social pyramid, who saw that sort of work as necessary only on the vaudeville circuit and on Broadway. The great Allied campaign to celebrate (or sell) Democracy, etc., was a venture so successful, and, it seemed, so noble, that it suddenly legitimized such propagandists, who, once the war had ended, went right to work massaging or exciting various publics on behalf of entities like General Motors, Procter & Gamble, John D. Rockefeller, General Electric.

And so, from the signing of the Versailles Treaty to the Crash of 1929, there was high excitement in the booming field of peace-time propaganda. That reborn generation of admen and publicists, no longer common hucksters but professionals, sold their talents to Big Business through a long barrage of books, essays, speeches and events extolling the miraculous effects of advertising and/or publicity - i.e., propaganda, as the proponents of the craft, and their corporate clients, often kept referring to it, quietly.

According to the propagandists' evangelical self-salesmanship (many of them were in fact the son of ministers), their revolutionary "science" would do far more than make some people richer. Just as during the war, propaganda would at once exalt the nation and advance the civilizing process, teaching immigrants and other folk of modest means how to transform themselves, through smart consumption, into happy and presentable Americans. 

Throughout the Twenties, as propaganda's earnest advocates devoutly pushed that faux-progressive line, "propaganda" seemed - at least to those who peddled it - a wondrous new progressive force, capable of brightening every life and every home. That quasi-religious pitch was memorably made in book like Earnest Elmo Calkins's Business the Civilizer (1928), Bruce Barton's best-selling parable The Man Nobody Knows (1925), and, less distinctively, in countless other works of what we might call propaganda propaganda. 

Like its wartime prototype, the post-war propaganda drive was an immense success, as it persuaded not just businessmen but journalists and politicians that "the manufacture of consent," in Walter Lippmann's famous phrase, was a necessity throughout the public sphere.

And yet, for all its honking boosterism, that sales campaign was oddly hobbled from the start, because the product's very name had come into the news, and into common conversation, as a dirty word. Ironically, the same great war drive that had made that alien term "propaganda" commonplace had also made the neutral term pejorative. At the very moment of the propagandists' triumph as professionals, in other words, to be referred to as a "propagandist" was an insult. 

This was no accident, but a paradoxical result of the war propagandists' winning enterprise: for the propagandists had themselves besmirched the word by using it always and only in dark reference to the enemy. "We did not call it propaganda, for that word, in German hands, had come to be associated with deceit and corruption," writes George Creel, director of the U.S. Office of War Information, in How We Advertised America (1920). 

The Germans having trashed the word, Creel claims, the Americans never used it to refer to their own output, but - rightly - favored other, more exalted term instead: "Our effort was educational and informative throughout, for we had such confidence in our case as to feel that no other argument was needed than the simple, straightforward presentation of facts".

That passage is itself, of course, a stunning bit of propaganda, as it bluntly reconfirms the Manichaean plot that Creel & Co. had hammered home throughout the war: Germans always lie, Americans always tell the truth. How the German propaganda "had come to be associated with deceit and corruption" is a question Creel would rather not address, preferring instead to bury it in that sly (if sly it was) passive construction. 

There is much to say about Creel's obfuscation, or evasion, of the fact that his own propagandists had "associated" German propaganda with "corruption" and "deceit"-- and did so just as Creel does in that passage. At this point, however, our main concern is not propaganda's crucial self-effacement, but the darkening effect of Allied propaganda on the elusive word itself.

In World War One it was the propaganda of our side that first made "propaganda" so opprobrious a term. Fouled by close association with "the Hun," the word did not regain its innocence - not even when the Allied propaganda used to tar "the Hun" had been belatedly exposed to the American and British people. 

Indeed, as they learned more and more about the outright lies, exaggerations and half-truths used on them by their own governments, both populations came, understandably, to see “propaganda” as a weapon even more perfidious than they had thought when they had not perceived themselves as its real target. Thus did the word's demonic implications only harden through the Twenties, in spite of certain random efforts to redeem it.

Edward Bernays's Propaganda (1928) was the most ambitious of such efforts. Through meticulous descriptions of a broad variety of post-war propaganda drives - all of them ingenious, apparently benign in purpose and honest in their execution - Bernays attempts to rid the word of its bad smell. His motivation would appear to be twofold. 

Bernays always deemed himself to be both "a truth-seeker and a propagandist for propaganda," as he put it in another apologia in 1929. On the one hand, then, his interest would be purely scientific; and so his effort to redeem the word is based to some extent on intellectual necessity, there being no adequate substitute for propaganda. In this Bernays was right (and never quite gave up his preference for that word over all the euphemisms). His wish to reclaim the appropriate term bespeaks a serious commitment to precision; Bernays was not one to hype anything -- not his clients' wares, and not his craft.

In Propaganda, as in all his writings, there is none of the utopian grandiosity that marks so many of the decade's other pro-commercial homilies. Bernays's tone is managerial, not millenarian, nor does he promise that his methodology will turn this world into a modern paradise. His vision seems quite modest. 

The world informed by "public relations" will be but "a smoothly functioning society," where all of us are guided imperceptibly throughout our lives by a benign elite of rational manipulators. Bernays derived this vision from the writings of his intellectual hero, Walter Lippmann, whose classic Public Opinion had appeared in 1922.

From his observations on the Allied propaganda drives' immense success (and his own stint as a U.S. war propagandist), and from his readings of Gustave Le Bon, Graham Wallas and John Dewey, among others, Lippmann had arrived at the bleak view that "the democratic El Dorado" is impossible in modern mass society, whose members - by and large incapable of lucid thought or clear perception, driven by herd instincts and mere prejudice, and frequently disoriented by external stimuli - were not equipped to make decisions or engage in rational discourse. "Democracy therefore requires a supra-governmental body of detached professionals to sift the data, think things through, and keep the national enterprise from blowing up or crashing to a halt".

Although mankind surely can be taught to think, that educative process will be long and slow. In the meantime, the major issues must be framed, the crucial choices made, by "the responsible administrator." "It is on the men inside, working under conditions that are sound, that the daily administration of society must rest."

While Lippmann's argument is freighted with complexities and tinged with the melancholy of a disillusioned socialist, Bernays's adaptation of it is both simple and enthusiastic: “We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of." 

These "invisible governors” are a heroic elite, who coolly keep it all together, thereby "organizing chaos," as God did in the Beginning. "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." While Lippmann is meticulous-indeed, at times near-Proustian-in demonstrating how and why most people have such trouble thinking straight, Bernays takes all that for granted as “a fact." 

It is a sort of managerial aristocracy that quietly determines what we buy and how we vote and what we deem as good or bad. "They govern us," the author writes, "by their qualities of natural leadership, their ability to supply needed ideas and by their key position in the social structure."