In A Dream World
"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."Edward Bernays, Nephew of Sigmund Freud, Propaganda (1928)' http://www.geocrisis.com/cp_bp_dream_world.htm
by Larry Tye
book review by John Stauber and Sheldon
Many of the new insights that Tye offers have to do with Bernays's relationship with his family and his uncle Sigmund Freud, whose reputation as "the father of psychoanalysis" owes something to Bernays' publicity efforts. Bernays regarded Uncle Sigmund as a mentor, and used Freud's insights into the human psyche and motivation to design his PR campaigns, while also trading on his famous uncle's name to inflate his own stature.
There is, however, a striking paradox in the relationship between the two. Uncle Sigmund's "talking cure" was designed to unearth his patients' unconscious drives and hidden motives, in the belief that bringing them into conscious discourse would help people lead healthier lives. Bernays, by contrast, used psychological techniques to mask the motives of his clients, as part of a deliberate strategy aimed at keeping the public unconscious of the forces that were working to mold their minds.
Characteristically (and again paradoxically), Bernays was remarkably candid about his manipulative intent. "If we understand the mechanisms and motives of the group mind, it is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing it," he argued in Propaganda, one of his first books. In a later book, he coined the term "engineering of consent" to describe his technique for controlling the masses.
"The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society," Bernays argued. "Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. . . . In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons . . . who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind."
This definition of "democratic society" is itself a contradiction in terms--a theoretical attempt to reconcile rule by the few with the democratic system which threatened (and still threatens) the privileges and powers of the governing elite. On occasion, Bernays himself recoiled from the anti-democratic implications of his theory.
During Bernays' lifetime and since, propaganda has usually had dirty connotations, loaded and identified with the evils of Nazi PR genius Joseph Goebbels, or the oafish efforts of the Soviet Communists. In his memoirs, Bernays wrote that he was "shocked" to discover that Goebbels kept copies of Bernays' writings in his own personal library, and that his theories were therefore helping to "engineer" the rise of the Third Reich.
Bernays liked to cultivate an image as a supporter of feminism and other liberating ideas, but his work on behalf of the United Fruit Company had consequences just as evil and terrifying as if he'd worked directly for the Nazis. The Father of Spin sheds new and important light on the extent to which the Bernays' propaganda campaign for the United Fruit Company (today's United Brands) led directly to the CIA's overthrow of the elected government of Guatemala.
The term "banana republic" actually originated in reference to United Fruit's domination of corrupt governments in Guatemala and other Central American countries. The company brutally exploited virtual slave labor in order to produce cheap bananas for the lucrative U.S. market. When a mildly reformist Guatemala government attempted to reign in the company's power, Bernays whipped up media and political sentiment against it in the commie-crazed 1950s.
"Articles began appearing in the New York Times, the New York Herald Tribune, the Atlantic Monthly, Time, Newsweek, the New Leader, and other publications all discussing the growing influence of Guatemala's Communists," Tye writes. "The fact that liberal journals like the Nation were also coming around was especially satisfying to Bernays, who believed that winning the liberals over was essential. . . . At the same time, plans were under way to mail to American Legion posts and auxiliaries 300,000 copies of a brochure entitled 'Communism in Guatemala--22 Facts.'"
His efforts led directly to a brutal military coup. Tye writes that Bernays "remained a key source of information for the press, especially the liberal press, right through the takeover. In fact, as the invasion was commencing on June 18, his personal papers indicate he was giving the 'first news anyone received on the situation' to the Associate Press, United Press, the International News Service, and the New York Times, with contacts intensifying over the next several days."
The result, tragically, has meant decades of tyranny under a Guatemalan government whose brutality rivaled the Nazis as it condemned hundreds of thousands of people (mostly members of the country's impoverished Maya Indian majority) to dislocation, torture and death.
Bernays relished and apparently never regretted his work for United Fruit, for which he was reportedly paid $100,000 a year, a huge fee in the early 1950s. Tye writes that Bernays' papers "make clear how the United States viewed its Latin neighbors as ripe for economic exploitation and political manipulation--and how the propaganda war Bernays waged in Guatemala set the pattern for future U.S.-led campaigns in Cuba and, much later, Vietnam."
As these examples show, Tye's biography of Bernays is important. It casts a spotlight on the anti-democratic and dangerous corporate worldview of the public relations industry. The significance of these dangers is often overlooked, in large part because of the PR industry's deliberate efforts to operate behind the scenes as it manages and manipulates opinions and public policies. This strategy of invisibility is the reason that PR academic Scott Cutlip refers to public relations as "the unseen power."
Bernays pioneered many of the industry's techniques for achieving invisibility, yet his self-aggrandizing personality drove him to leave behind a record of how and for whom he worked. By compiling this information and presenting it to the public in a readable form, Tye has accomplished something similar to the therapeutic mission that Freud attempted with his patients--a recovery of historical memories that a psychoanalyst might term a "return of the repressed."
Published in PR Watch, Second Quarter 1999, Volume 6, No. 2
- Merrill Jenkins, Monetary Realist
'The corporate mass-media serve to divert the unwashed masses and reinforce the basic social values: passivity, submissiveness to authority, the overriding virtue of greed and personal gain, lack of concern for others, fear of real or imagined enemies, etc. “The goal is to keep the bewildered herd bewildered. It’s unnecessary for them to trouble themselves with what’s happening in the world. In fact, it’s undesirable — if they see too much of reality they may set themselves to change it.” — Noam ChomskyM.I.T. professor of linguistics prolific author & U.S. foreign policy critic What Uncle Sam Really Wants