Propaganda by Edward Bernays

Summary
  1. Edward Bernays is the father of propaganda and this book takes a deep look into how governments, corporations, “people behind the scenes” control how we think and act using Bernay’s principles. 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, making it an essential read for all who wish to understand how power is used by the ruling elite of our society. (I stumbled on this book after watching Century of the Self – a bit dark and disturbing but educational if you’re interested in this space)
Key Takeaways
  1. Background and Fundamentals of Propaganda
    1. Modern propaganda is a consistent, enduring effort to create or shape events to influence the relations of the public to an enterprise, idea, or group.
    2. The first mass use of propaganda was for WWI and it forever changed business and government, making public relations scientific for the first time. The “manufacture of consent” was needed in the public sphere in order to get buy in for the war and for people to sign up to fight
    3. Only through the active energy of the intelligent few can the public at large become aware of and act upon new ideas
    4. An entire party, a platform, an international policy is sold to the public, or is not sold, on the basis of the intangible element of personality
    5. The public relations expert seeks to make a gradual impression, after long research and sober planning. In the hearts of such methodical manipulators there would seem to be no streak of mad commitment, as their enterprise is not infuriating and millenial but businesslike, mundane, and rational. And yet those who do such work are also prone to lose touch with reality; for in their universe the truth is ultimately whatever the client wants the world to think is true. Whatever cause they serve or goods they sell, effective propagandists must believe in it – or at least momentarily believe that they believe in it. Even he or she who propagates commodities must be to some extent a true believer. To advertise a product you must believe in it. To convince, you must be convinced yourself.
    6. The counsel on public relations, after he has examined all these and other factors, endeavors to shape the actions of his client so that they will gain the interest, the approval, and the acceptance of the public. The means by which the public is apprised of the actions of his client are as varied as the means of communication themselves, such as conversation, letters, the stage, the motion picture, the radio, the lecture platform, the magazine, the daily newspaper. The counsel on public relations is not an advertising man but he advocates advertising where that is indicated.
    7. The whole basis of successful propaganda is to have an objective and then to endeavor to arrive at it through an exact knowledge of the public and modifying circumstances to manipulate and sway the public
    8. Father’s of propaganda – Bernays, Trotter, Le Bon, Wallas, Lippman
    9. No matter how sophisticated, how cynical the public may become about publicity methods, it must respond to the basic appeals, because it will always need food, crave amusement, long for beauty, respond to leadership. If the public becomes more intelligent in its commercial demands, commercial firms will meet the new standards. If it becomes weary of the old methods used to persuade it to accept a given idea or commodity, its leaders will present their appeals more intelligently. Propaganda will never die out. Intelligent men must realize that propaganda is the modern instrument by which they can fight for productive ends and help to bring order out of chaos.
    10. Men do not need to be actually gathered together in a public meeting or in a street riot, to be subject to the influences of mass psychology. Because man is by nature gregarious, he feels himself to be member of a herd, even when he is alone in his room with the curtains drawn. His mind retains the patterns which have been stamped on it by the group influences. Trotter and Le Bon concluded that the group mind does not think in the strict sense of the word.  In place of thoughts it has impulses, habits, and emotions. In making up its mind, its first impulse is usually to follow the example of a trusted leader. This is one of the most firmly established principles of mass psychology. It operates in establishing the rising or diminishing prestige of a summer resort, in causing a run on the bank, or a panic in the stock exchange, in creating a best-seller, or a box-office success. But when the example of the leader is not at hand and the herd must think for itself, it does so by means of cliches, pat words or images which stand for a whole group of ideas or experiences.
    11. Men are rarely aware of the real reasons which motivate their actions. The successful propagandaist must understand the true motives and not be content to accept the reasons which men give for what they do. It is not sufficient to understand only the mechanical structure of society, the groupings and cleavages and loyalties.
    12. Instead of removing sales resistance by direct attack, the propagandaist is interested in removing sales resistance. He creates circumstances which will swing emotional currents so as to make for purchaser demand. The modern propagandaist therefore sets to work to create circumstances which will modify the custom. He appeals perhaps to the home instinct which is fundamental. The interests of the client, service, product, idea, etc. and the communities which it impacts mutually interact and feed one another. The ideas of the new propaganda are predicated on sound psychology based on enlightened self-interest.
    13. Propaganda’s great enemy is inertia
    14. Continuous interpretation is achieved by trying to control  every approach to the public mind in such a manner that the public receives the desired impression, often without being conscious of it. High-spotting, on the other hand, vividly seizes the attention of the public and fixes it upon some detail or aspect which is typical of the entire enterprise. When a real estate corporation which is erecting a tall office building makes it ten feet taller than the highest skyscraper in existence, that is dramatization
    15. There is no detail too trivial to influence the public in a favorable or unfavorable sense
    16. Public relations should often be put in the hands of an outsider for the correct approach to a problem may be indirect
    17. Propaganda 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
    18. 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. We are governed, our minds molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society.
    19. Napoleon was ever on the watch for indications of public opinion; always listening to the voice of the people, a voice which defies calculation. “Do you know what amazes me more than anything else? The impotence of force to organize anything.”
  2. Propaganda in Government
    1. Governments, whether they are 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. Public opinion is the unacknolwedged partner in all broad efforts
    2. 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
    3. Democracy is administered by the intelligent minority who know how to regiment and guide the masses
    4. There are invisible rulers who control the destinies of millions. It is not generally realized to what extent the words and actions of our most influential public men are dictated by shrewd persons operating behind the scenes. Now, what is still more important, the extent to which our thoughts and habits are modified by authorities. In some departments of our daily life, in which we imagine ourselves free agents, we are ruled by dictators exercising great power. Propaganda is the executive arm of the invisible government
    5. Propaganda is of no use to the politician unless he has something to say which the public, consciously or unconsciously wants to hear
  3. Propaganda in Media
    1. The media by which special pleaders transmit their messages to the public through propaganda include all the means by which people today transmit their ideas to one another. There is no means of human communication which may not also be a means of deliberate propaganda, because propaganda is simply the establishing of reciprocal understanding between an individual and a group. The important point to the propagandaist is that the relative value of the various instruments of propaganda, and their relation to the masses, are constantly changing. If he is to get full reach of his message he must take advantage of these shifts of value the instant they occur. The American motion picture is the greatest unconscious carrier of propaganda in the world today. It is a great distributor for ideas and opinions. The motion picture can standardize the ideas and habits of a nation. Because pictures are made to meet market demands, they reflect, emphasize and even exaggerate broad popular tendencies, rather than stimulate new ideas and opinions. The motion picture avails itself only of ideas and facts which are in vogue. As the newspaper seeks to purvey news, it seeks to purvey entertainment. Another instrument of propaganda is the personality.
  4. Propaganda in Business
    1. Business realize that its relationship to the public is not confined to the manufacture and sale of a given product, but includes at the same time the selling of itself and of all those things for which it stands in the public mind. To make customers is the new problem. One must understand not only his own business – the manufacture of a particular product – but also the structure, the personality, the prejudices, of a potentially universal public. Modern business must study on what terms the partnership can be made amicable and mutually beneficial. It must explain itself, its aims, its objectives, to the public in terms which the public can understand and is willing to accept. The relationship between business and the public can be healthy only if it is the relationship of give and take
    2. Big business studies every move which may express its true personality. It seeks to tell the public, in all appropriate ways, by the direct advertising message and by the subtlest aethetic suggestion, the quality of the goods or services which it has to offer. A store which seeks a large sales volume in cheap goods will preach prices day in and day out, concentrating its whole appeal on the ways in which it can save money for its clients. But a store seeking a high margin of profit on individual sales would try to associate itself with the distinguished and the elegant, whether by an exhibition of old masters or through the social activities of the owner’s wife. The public relations activities of a business cannot be protective coloring to hide its real aims. It is bad business as well as bad morals to feature exclusively a few high-class articles, when the main stock is of medium grade or cheap, for the general impression given is a false one. A sound public relations policy will not attempt to stampede the public with exaggerated claims and false pretenses, but to interpret the individual business vividly and truly through every avenue that leads to public opinion.
      1. Lateral networks, who the customer cares about impressing, is so important
    3. Modern business must have its finger continuously on the public pulse. It must understand the changes in the public mind and be prepared to interpret itself fairly and eloquently to changing opinion
  5. Edward Bernays
    1. He sold the myth of propaganda as a wholly rational endeavor, carried out methodically by careful experts skilled enough to lead “public opinion.” Consistently he casts himself as a supreme manipulator, mastering the responses of a pliable, receptive population. Conscious and intelligent manipulation, invisible governors, they who pull the wires which control the public mind, shrewd persons operating behind the scenes, dictators exercising great power, and, below them, people working as if actuated by the touch of a button – these are but a few expressions of the icy scientific paradigm that evidently drove his propaganda practice, and that colored all his thinking on the subject. The propagandaist rules. The propagandized do whatever he would have them do, exactly as he tells them to, and without knowing it.
    2. 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. As the population has grown and 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
    3. He had no equal as a propaganda strategist. Always thinking far ahead, his aim was not to urge the buyer to demand the product now, but to transform the buyer’s very world, so that the product must appear to be desirable as if without the prod of salesmanship. What is the prevailing custom, and how might that be changed to make this thing or that appear to recommend itself to people? The modern propagandaist sets to work to create circumstances which will modify that custom. Bernays sold Mozart pianos, for example, not just by hyping the pianos. Rather, he sought carefully to develop public acceptance of the idea of a music room in the home – selling the pianos indirectly, through various suggestive trends and enterprises that make it de rigeur to have the proper space for a piano. The music room will be accepted because it has been made the thing. And the man or woman who has a music room, or has arranged a corner of the parlor as a music room, will naturally think of buying a piano. It will come to him as his own idea
      1. Must think of the customers’ lateral networks and how they influence the buying decisions, downstream effects…
    4. In his universe, it is pre-eminent consensus which determines what is true
What I got out of it
  1. Quite scary how this one man and his ideas impacted generations of people, companies, movements and ideas. Becoming aware of these principles can help you guard against them if needed. I think the context in which this was written is also important to keep in mind. People are rarely truly aware of what drives them to act and make the decisions that they do and, because of human nature, this is unlikely to change – although the medium may differ