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
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."
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
(Front cover text detail)O
nly through the active energy of the intelligent few can the public at
large become aware of and act upon new ideas.
ropaganda 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.
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.G
overnments, 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.A
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.N
owadays 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.D
is administered by the intelligent minority who know how to regiment and guide
n entire party, a platform, on international policy is
sold to the public, or is not sold, on the basis of the intangible element of
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.
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
"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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
, 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.
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
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".
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
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."