Considered a fascinating and controversial read, Propaganda by Edward Bernays-written in 1928 and revised in 1955-explains the role of public relations in government and business. It explores how power is used by the ruling elite of our society to curb, control, and manipulate public opinion. It is a summation of how the elite control how we think, how we act, what we buy, and what we do. I found Propaganda apropos to read in October of an election year.
The definition of propaganda, according to Edward Bernays, is “the conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses.” Not only is propaganda necessary for social order, but Bernays believed that it is also a vital and important element in a democratic society, and without its use, the masses would be confused and lost.
Propaganda is used to sell an idea, a product or service, every day. Bernays, although insists that the use of propaganda is essential, does acknowledge that curbing its potentially destructive mass ramifications is impossible; essentially, he does not idealize his stance but rather understands that the use of propaganda is manipulative, covert, and only serves the propagandist.
Today, the word “propaganda” has a very negative connotation, and the Oxford Dictionary definition is: “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.” An example of this, of course, is the propaganda deliberately used by the mass media in this election year of 2016 with the goal of shaping public opinion in regards to the two major presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
In addition to analyzing the role of propaganda in politics, Edward Bernays scrutinizes how it is used in education, social services, business, art, science, and what he terms “women’s studies.” He also briefly discusses the psychology of public relations.
I found Bernays’s book a brief but thorough introduction of the subject of propaganda. Even though this book was originally published in 1928, it is still very pertinent today, almost one hundred years later. I recommend this reading to anyone who seeks to understand how the masses are covertly (and sometimes overtly) manipulated into thinking and acting on all levels. It is truly an eye-opener!
A bit about the author, Edward Bernays:
Austrian-American intellectual Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, pioneered the scientific technique of shaping and manipulating public opinion.
During WWI, he was an integral part of the U.S. Committee on Public Information (CPI), a powerful propaganda machine that 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 this model. Bernays fashioned a career as a proponent of propaganda for political and corporate manipulation of the population. His career earned him the well-known title of “father of public relations.”