We often use the term, "they wrote the book on...." whatever the subject may be, but when it comes to propaganda we can genuinely say Edward Bernays literally did so.
The nephew of Sigmund Freud, Bernays adapted his uncles techniques to manipulate the emotional responses of the masses. In 1928 he did write the book called Propaganda.
Reading it is recommended, not just for the realisation that many of the strategies he defines are commonly used today, but also because it provides and insight into who the government really is.
For more on this fascinating and important figure, check out my post The Danger of Public Relations:
As the race to shut down freedom of speech surges ahead, the UK government has created the ‘National Security Communications Unit‘ (NSCR) to ‘tackle fake news and disinformation.’ The NSCR is formed from representatives of the intelligence and security agencies, external experts in cybersecurity, communications and public relations. For reasons we are about to explore, it is the inclusion of public relations ‘experts’ which is perhaps the greatest cause for alarm.
In 1928 an Austrian American called Edward Bernays wrote a book entitled ‘Propaganda.’ You may never have heard of Bernays, but he was undoubtedly one of the most influential men of the 20th century. His profound impact upon all our lives cannot be underestimated. Bernays literally shaped the development of 20th century U.S. society. Not because he was a politician or political advisor like Brzezinski, but because he was a brilliant confidence trickster.
Bernays was the nephew of Sigmund Freud, the man who developed psychoanalysis. He was quite close to his uncle in his youth and spent many summers walking and chatting with Freud during regular trips to Vienna. Bernays listened to his uncle and absorbed his ideas and theories. Freud taught Bernays his view regarding why humans think the way they do and how their thoughts impacted upon their behaviour. Freud considered that human behaviour was driven by deep-rooted primal instincts, not rationality. He thought sexual drives and aggression were the fundamental forces that shaped individual personality. While Freud was focused upon developing a treatment model for patients Bernays took his uncles ideas and applied them to crowd psychology. He realised that he could manipulate and control huge numbers of people by appealing to their base instincts.
Before Bernays, advertisers tried to sell products by highlighting their function. For example, a car was just a vehicle to get you from one place to another. Advertisers would petition people’s rational minds by explaining why the car they were selling was faster, more efficient or offered greater comfort than their competitors. Bernays revolutionised advertising. Rather than explain the practical uses of a product he used association to appeal to the what Freud called ‘the id.’
Freud believed the id responded to pleasure and constantly sought instant gratification without rational conscience or morality; the superego reflected the morality we learn from our parents and society, it acted as a restraint upon the powerful urges of the id; he believed the ego was the rational part of the psyche, developing in response to our knowledge of reality. It acted as a balance between the impulses of the id and the suppressive morality of the superego, enabling human being to pursue their desires while still functioning as part of society. He saw the ego as amoral, its sole purpose being to rationally plan how we can achieve the gratification the id desires, while avoiding the potentially dangerous reality of social disapproval.
Instead of selling the product itself, Bernays sold the idea of how the product would fulfill your desires. He understood that he could sell people anything, not because they needed it, but because he could convince them they wanted it by manipulating them on an unconscious, instinctive level.
For example, the American Tobacco Company (ATC) approached Bernays because they were unable to reach half of their potential market. The patriarchal social norms of 1920s America meant women were dissuaded from smoking in public because men deemed it socially unacceptable. Consequently, smoking uptake among women was much lower than among men. Bernays realised he could manipulate both women and men to remove this social barrier by appealing to their desires.
The Easter day parade in New York was a huge annual event reported across the nation. Bernays employed a group of attractive young women to join the parade. On his given signal they all lit cigarettes and openly smoked in public. He knew this would cause public uproar and the MSM would react strongly. So Bernays prepared one of the world’s first ‘sound-bites.’
He convened a press conference and, rather than refer to the cigarettes as ‘cigarettes’ he told his representatives to refer to them as ‘torches of freedom.’ He established them as a symbol of women’s emancipation while, at the same time, appealing to men’s carnal desires, making cigarettes a symbol of female sexuality, overpowering men’s prejudices. The product was practically irrelevant. It was the effect of the symbolism that mattered. He effectively changed society through the process of hidden manipulation of the media.
‘Torches of freedom,’ as we would say today, went viral. ATC’s sales soared as women across America took up smoking and became addicted to nicotine to prove they were free.
Bernays recognised that you did not need to overtly advertise a product if you could manipulate the ‘news’ to deliver a behaviour changing message. People are automatically more sceptical of advertising, most understand that they are being sold something. However, if you could deliver your message as ‘news’ people were preconditioned to accept this as factual information and were much more likely to act upon it.
He employed ‘third party authorities’ to sway public opinion. He would convince academics, scientists, movie stars and entertainers to say whatever he wished. Often simply by paying them.
He coerced the medical profession to issue ‘study reports’ to journalists claiming that eating a hearty breakfast was essential, thereby selling a lot more bacon for his client. He also convinced dentists to extol the virtues of Fluoride for oral hygiene. Despite the fact that Fluoride was a highly toxic industrial waste product which caused a range of neurological and other health problems, Bernays used ‘expert opinion’ to sell it to the public.
He realised the leaders of society could be co-opted to convince the public to accept anything, no matter how harmful, because they ‘wanted’ to believe what their leaders told them. The id fears harm and WWI and the social upheavals of the time demonstrated how dangerous the world was. Therefore, people were emotionally compelled to desire the protection of a benevolent state, not because it existed in reality, but rather as a psychological defence mechanism against violent chaos and the fears it induced.
Another of Bernays strategy was the ‘tie in’ or ‘tie up.’ He coordinated seemingly unrelated strands of the media, each subtly linked, driving public opinion towards his intended outcome. The world’s first marketing funnel.
In 1928 the Dodge brothers wanted to sell a new car model. Bernays secured the services of silent movie star Charlie Chaplin. The public had never heard Chaplin speak, so his announced appearance on the sponsored ‘Dodge Hour’ radio show was a big draw.
In order to maximise the audience, rather than simply advertise it, Bernays took out a large insurance policy against Chaplin being rendered speechless as a result of stage fright. This was not a genuine risk, Chaplin could speak perfectly well in interviews. Bernays then promoted the ‘story’ of the insurance coverage to the news media. Once reported as news by the MSM, this raised baseless public expectations that Chaplin might have some sort of nervous breakdown on live national radio. Even people who didn’t like Chaplin tuned in to be told how great the new Dodge was.
He understood how to coordinate different media strategies to impact upon peoples primal emotions. By manipulating their underlying desires and fears he could shape public opinion. Bernays believed that the ego, if alerted, would act as a rational defence mechanism against this manipulation. Therefore, it was essential the public didn’t realise they were being manipulated. He called this process the ‘engineering of consent.’ Today we call this social engineering. Bernays wrote:
“If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind is it not possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it?”
[Edward Bernays – Propaganda Ch4 par’1]
Bernays ideas about ‘manipulation of the masses’ were hugely influential and soon came to the attention of the economic and political elite, not just in the U.S. but across the world. Following the rapid expansion of manufacturing during WWI, once the war ended, U.S. corporations were left with idle industrial capacity. Generally American workers bought what they needed from their savings. However, their low pay meant they rarely bought luxury items. The ravages of war had hit export markets hard, so the corporations faced a demand problem. The corporate elite needed to stimulate the U.S. domestic market. Bernays methods offered a potential solution. In 1927 Lehman Brothers banker Paul Mazur wrote:
“We must shift America from a needs, to a desires culture, People must be trained to desire, to want new things even before the old had been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”
They turned to Bernays and he used his psychological manipulation techniques to change Americans. He employed psychologists to issue fake reports that linked products to self-expression and then fed them to the MSM; he marketed cars, not as vehicles, but as symbols of male virility; using ‘tie up,’ he began product placement in films, employed celebrities to be seen using products and placed stories about famous film stars using the new manufactured goods in glossy magazines and news articles.
Rather than simply pay their workers more money the bankers and corporation owners extended financial credit and loans to Americans, ensuring they would both buy the products they desired and pay more than the purchase price back to the banks. As WWII loomed the corporations and Edward Bernays had already started the process of turning working American citizens into debt laden consumers.
Nazis used Bernay’s techniques.
Reportedly Bernays was alarmed when journalist Karl von Weigand told him that Nazi propagandist, Joseph Goebbels, had adopted many of his ideas. Bernays was Jewish and his uncle had to flee to London to escape Nazi persecution, so Bernays was no friend of the German fascists. Unfortunately that didn’t stop Goebbels employing Bernays’ ideas. Many of his statements could have been uttered by Bernays himself:
“Propaganda works best when those who are being manipulated are confident they are acting on their own free will.”
Whether Bernays was upset on personal or moral grounds, or whether he was simply concerned association with the Nazis could harm his business, is not clear. Bernays was reportedly an unpleasant man. His daughter later told how he considered the public, and anyone who disagreed with him, stupid.
Bernays saw himself as far more than an advertiser. He considered himself a ‘public relations counsel,’ an expert, and his work spawned the rapid expansion of the PR industry. In 2006 Harold Burson, the founder of the PR firm Burson-Marsteller, reported his meeting with Bernays:
“Bernays thought that he could control public opinion. His methodology, of course, was fundamental. Most of the things we do today were identified by Bernays 80 years ago. He had brilliant ideas. I met him a few times, but didn’t like him. He was one of the most egocentric people I have ever met.”
With a select client list of political leaders, corporate giants, global financiers, leading industrialists, media moguls and think tanks, Bernays was part of a small group of elites who believed society needed them to control it. They saw it as their duty to quell the animalistic urges of the masses. Under their management, by using Bernays methods, in conjunction with emerging communication technologies like television, they intended to shape nation states into a global, technocratic society of their design. One which, above all else, would protect and enhance their power and wealth. As the engineers of the technocracy they saw themselves as the most vital part of n humanity and others as expendable.
“As civilization has become more complex, and as the need for invisible government has been increasingly demonstrated, the technical means have been invented and developed by which opinion may be regimented.”
[Edward Bernays – Propaganda Ch1 par’10]
Public Relations is the practice of managing the flow of information about an individual or organisation. Bernays competitor, often cited alongside him as the founder of modern public relations was, Ivy Ledbetter Lee. Like Bernays, he too was an influential member of the emerging oligarchy with numerous wealthy and powerful clients. In the early 20th century the Rockefeller family business had an image problem. Everyone hated them.
They were widely seen as an evil empire of oil tycoon bankers whose tentacles reached across the U.S. and world economy, suffocating and crushing smaller businesses while exploiting their workers and customers. In April 1914 in Ludlow, Colorado the National Guard attacked a large family encampment of striking minors, killing more than 20 including women and children. Already disliked,the mining operation’s owner, John D Rockefeller, was blamed by the public for the ‘Ludlow Massacre,’ making him arguably the most despised person in America.
Ivy Lee turned his image around. He convinced Rockefeller, who fiercely guarded his privacy, to meet with the miners families and listen to their concerns while using the mainstream media to relentlessly publicise their meetings as ‘news.’ He suggested that Rockefeller family use philanthropy to be ‘seen’ to do good works. The Rockefeller’s also recognised that they could exploit their philanthropic foundations and trusts to corner whole sectors of society and set about changing U.S. education and medicine in order to control these markets.
Ivy Lee set up a series of publicity stunts where J.D. Rockefeller was seen handing out dimes to people, especially children, using the media to promote the stunt as a symbol of Rockefeller philanthropy. It worked, by the mid 1920s J.D was seen as a great social reformer and leading light of U.S. civil society, despite his responsibility for ordering the brutal murders of striking miners and their families. The Rockefeller brand was transformed and J.D always carried a bag of freshly minted dimes with him.
However, it was Bernays techniques of engineering mass consent that were of greater interest to the government, the military and the intelligence agencies, the Rockefeller’s and other globalists. During WWI Bernays was a leading member of the ‘Committee on Public Information’ who successfully turned a sceptical U.S. public towards supporting the war effort. He refined and perfected his techniques of psychological mass manipulation to develop the modern concept of propaganda. Bernays demonstrated he could manipulate entire nations using nothing more than information, orchestrated events and media manipulation.
During the early 1950s, as the Cold War between East and West intensified, the CIA employed Bernays as part of Operation PBSuccess. This was a branch of the larger Operation Mockingbird which was already strongly influenced by Bernays’ ideas.
The U.S. based United Fruit Company (UFC) were a neocolonialist corporation who had economically exploited a number of developing countries and operated monopolies in Central American nations, including Guatamala. They had exerted feudal rule over the country by installing a succession of compliant, puppet dictators. In 1951, as part of the ongoing Guatemalan revolution, which started in 1944, Guatemala’s democratically elected socialist President, Jacobo Árbenz, instigated land reforms which saw the redistribution of farmland from U.S. corporate ownership to the people.
John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State under President Eisenhower, and his brother Allen Dulles, director of the CIA, had a long-standing relationship with UFC. John’s law firm, Sullivan & Cromwell, represented UFC and Allen sat on the UFC board of directors. UFC were also one of Bernays’ clients. Arbenz’ land reforms impacted upon their profits.
In 1953 the CIA authorised Operation PBSuccess led by CIA operative Howard Hunt, who would later go on to be one of the Watergate burglars. The U.S. administration didn’t want to be implicated so the CIA armed trained and equipped a paramilitary group, led by Carlos Castillo Armas, as their proxy, in order to maintain U.S. plausible deniability. Hunt stated:
“What we wanted to do was have a terror campaign. To terrify Arbenz particularly and terrify his troops. Much as the German Stuka bombers terrified the population of Holland, Belgium and Poland at the onset of WWII.”
In 1954 Armas launched his militarily operation. It was a complete flop. His relatively small force of just 480 men were easily repelled by the Guatemalan military, police and angry civilians in armed militias. However, the CIA assisted the coup attempt and flew a number of bombing raids in unmarked planes. Again with little military success.
Nonetheless, Arbenz was forced to resign when his military suddenly refused to fight. They laid down their arms because they had become convinced the U.S. were about to launch a full scale military invasion of the country. All thanks to the public relations skills of Edward Bernays.
The U.S. administration’s links to the UFC were a source of speculation about possible corruption in U.S. politics. This made it extremely difficult for the government to convince a sceptical American public that Arbenz had to go. When the CIA first brought their problem to Bernays he realised he could exploit the underlying fears of both the U.S. and Guatemalan people by creating a false narrative that would build the political momentum to facilitate the coup.
He knew he had to remove the toxic UFC brand from the equation. So he created a fake news agency called the Middle American Information Bureau. Arbenz was a democratic socialist with no ties to the Soviet Union and held no communist affiliations. However, Bernays Information Bureau started a flood of press releases and leaked false documents, based upon dubious CIA intelligence reports, that alleged the Arbenz was working with the USSR to establish military bases in Guatamala, from where they could launch an attack against the U.S. mainland.
Bernays flew a group of leading American journalists to Guatamala City where he wined, dined and entertained them. While there, they interviewed a number of hand-picked Guatemalan politicians who Bernays had primed to allege that Arbenz was a dangerous communist backed by Moscow. The trip also coincided with a violent protest against the U.S. in the city.
While there is no clear evidence, many UFC employees suspected that Bernays was behind the riots. Regardless, sufficiently convinced, the journalists were flown back to the U.S. where they added to the torrent of anti-Arbenz propaganda. Constantly fed this disinformation, via the Operation Mockingbird media, the American public were bombarded by a centrally controlled MSM psychological warfare operation.
At the same time President Eisenhower’s administration started publicly denouncing the Guatemalan government. With the UFC issue all but forgotten, acting on Bernays advice, The U.S. administration were free to use the propaganda he created to denounce the Guatemalan ‘regime.’ At the Inter American Conference John Dulles threatened economic sanctions and the withdrawal of U.S. non interventionism commitments unless other Central and South American countries agreed to sign a deceleration to stop Soviet expansionism in central and South America. Another deception that played upon peoples irrational fears.
The U.S. public were terrified. Convinced the Soviets were intent upon establishing a potential nuclear military presence only 200 miles from their shores, they clamoured for ‘regime change‘ in Guatamala. This had an even greater impact in Guatamala. Convinced a U.S. invasion was imminent, despite the largely ineffectual attempt at a military coup, Bernays had destroyed the Guatemalan military’s confidence to such an extent they turned their backs on a popular leader who was improving the nations fortunes.
The U.S. claimed a victory for democracy over communism, installed their puppet Carlos Castillo Armas as president and UFC profits started flowing again. However, the coup also propelled Guatamala into four decades if political chaos. A series of U.S. backed dictators fought a string of vicious counter insurgencies as the Guatemalan people struggled to reassert their primacy over a corrupt political and military establishment. An estimated 140,000 people were killed.
Once again Bernays had demonstrated the devastating power of his ideas. He proved his techniques were the most formidable and effective form of psychological warfare ever devised. He could literally topple nation states by exploiting human beings’ deepest fears, using nothing more than the mainstream media and some carefully staged events.
Providing his victims, the public, didn’t know who was controlling them or how they were being manipulated, they were defenceless in the face of his ‘genius.’ Something which apparently gave him an immense sense of personal gratification.
Bernays had demonstrated to his tiny clique of elite, corporate clients that public relations could facilitate whatever social, economic, political or military objective they required. All they needed to do was exert their unimaginable economic might, deploy their political and military assets and his strategies could control the public and ensure their compliance. He could even convince the people to commit acts of mass self harm.
In 2016 the worldwide PR industry was worth an estimated $14 billion annually. While some of this income still comes from convincing people to buy stuff they don’t need, as we have discussed, PR firms frequently work closely with government and the intelligence agencies. They collaborate on a range of ‘projects’ designed to deliver the mass manipulation their clients demand. The UK government’s plans to involve them in the NSCR ‘Ministry of Truth‘ reveals much about the intended purpose of this organisation.
Bernays ideas have been adapted and perfected to the point where we are now perilously close to a one world government controlled by a financial elite. Most of us have absolutely no idea what’s going on. Distracted by the latest football scores or riveting programs about someone making a cake, we are hopelessly divorced from reality. Even though we know, for a fact, that our governments lie to us about the reasons for war, as evidenced by false Iraq WMD claims, we can easily be convinced to accept the next ‘reason’ we’re given, without question. The minority who are aware of the manipulation are marginalised and ignored.
Bernays established that fear was the key. Keep the people frightened, and they will turn to their government both for reassurance and protection. All the while, completely oblivious of the fact that, more often than not, it is their own government who are causing the unnecessary anxiety in the first place.
Once again, we are being ‘told’ there is a reason to start a war. On this occasion in Syria, and this time, with an extremely dangerous foe. One that could potentially engage in a global conflict with the U.S. led coalition, especially if Russia, Iran and China join forces, which is a distinct possibility. Just as the false WMD claims led us to war in Iraq we are now being led to war on unsubstantiated claims of chemical weapons attacks.
Following the WMD debacle The MSM apologised for letting everyone down and declared they would never do so again. Fifteen years later, they are still using the ideas inspired by Bernays’ to manipulate the public into supporting unjustified military intervention in Syria.
Now that you have at least considered this possibility, I really hope you will find out more yourself. Because Bernays’ words, written 90 years ago, are as true today as they were then.
“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 are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”[Edward Bernays: – Propaganda Ch1 par’1]