Select Quotes from Edward Bernays’s “Propaganda”

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.

So begins “Propaganda”, by Edward Bernays, a man sometimes called “The Father of Public Relations”. What’s that? You confused the above for a Moldbug quote? I don’t blame you. They sound very similar, but there’s one rather large difference. Bernays wrote this work in 1928, 80 years before Moldbug ever Moldbugged.

Bernays arguably did more to found the science of propaganda and develop the manipulation of the modern mind through mass media than anyone else. I expected that reading him would be a haunting experience. What I did not expect was that it would be so spine-tinglingly exciting.

The steam engine, the multiple press, and the public school, that trio of the industrial revolution, have taken the power away from kings and given it to the people. The people actually gained power which the king lost. For economic power tends to draw after it political power; and the history of the industrial revolution shows that power passed from the king and the aristocracy to the bourgeoisie. Universal suffrage and universal schooling reinforced this tendency, and at last even the bourgeoisie stood in fear of the common people. For the masses promised to become king.

Today, however, a reaction has set in. The minority has discovered a powerful help in influencing majorities. It has been found possible so to mold the mind of the masses that they will throw their newly gained strength in the desired direction. In the present structure of society, this practice is inevitable.

Technologies like the Internet give power to the people, but they also give power over the people. Bernays understood this long before surveillance cameras, GPS trackers, and NSA wiretapping. He noted that the initially destabilizing impact of new technology disrupts old orders and put them in the grave before cementing new ones that somehow always seem to look exactly like the old orders.

In other words, any technology that gives power to the majority quite frequently becomes used by the minority to control the majority.

Universal literacy was supposed to educate the common man to control his environment. Once he could read and write he would have a mind fit to rule. So ran the democratic doctrine. But instead of a mind, universal literacy has given him rubber stamps, rubber stamps linked with advertising slogans, with editorials, with published scientific data, with the trivialities of the tabloids and the platitudes of history, but quite innocent of original thought. Each man’s rubber stamps are the duplicates of millions of others, so that when those millions are exposed to the same stimuli, all receive identical imprints.

“We train our students in critical thinking so that they can develop and defend their own ideas and beliefs in order to become the leaders of tomorrow.”

Page one of the New York Times on the day these paragraphs are written contains eight important news stories. Four of them, or one-half, are propaganda.

Hold on, let me check something. Let’s see…copyright 1928…first printing Novermber 1928…second printing December 1928…third printing March 1930.

The more things change, am I right?

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.

Father of public relations, remember? Not hard to see how that came to be in light of the above passage (the emphasis was mine, by the way).

This practice of creating circumstances and of creating pictures in the minds of millions of people is now very common…sometimes the effect on the public is created by a professional propagandist, sometimes by an amateur deputed for the job.

And nowadays, many who engage in spreading propaganda are not even aware that they are doing such a thing! How far we have come over the past century. How can my fellow neoreactionaries disbelieve in progress when we have such clear evidence of it right in front of our eyes?

Formerly, the rulers were the leaders. They laid out the course of history, by the simple process of doing what they wanted. And if 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.

In a modern democracy, the people do not suggest to the leaders what they ought to do. They leaders suggest to the people what the people should demand the leaders do.

After reading this book, I am convinced that free will, if it exists, can be extinguished and replaced with the will of another, as if by a dark magic.

There are invisible rulers who control the destinies of millions. It is not generally known to what extent the words and actions of our most influential public men are dictated by shrewd persons operating behind the scenes.

If you said that today you would be labelled a conspiracy theorist. But when it comes from the mouth of someone who was so instrumental in setting up the modern system…

The propagandist who specializes in interpreting enterprises and and ideas to the public, and in interpreting the public to promulgators of new enterprises and ideas, has come to be known by the name of “public relations counsel”.

Propaganda is business, and business is booming (emphasis mine, once again).

Is it not possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing it? The recent practice of propaganda has proved that it is possible.

At this point, I almost expected Dr. Evil to hop off the page and ask for ONE MILLION DOLLARS.

The group mind does not think in the strictest sense of the word. In place of thoughts it has impulses, habits, and emotions.

Zing.

Men are rarely aware of the real reasons which motivate their actions.

Which is why you have to laugh every time you see a pick-up guru or manosphere blogger claim that women are irrational creatures driven by emotion by men are totally logical and never do anything stupid the way those drunken sluts do, am I right? Hey, remember to buy my e-book on how to use Tinder to meet loose bitches but no fat chicks ‘cuz that would be gay, brah.

I believe that [business] competition in the future will not be only an advertising between individual products or big associations, but that it will in addition be a competition of propaganda.

Coke or Pepsi? Answer the question. You’ve done that? Good. Now tell me why you answered the question the way you did.

Oh wait, I just went back and read the quote right above this one. Never mind. Don’t say anything.

The voice of the people expresses the mind of the people, and that mind is made up for it by the group leaders in whom it believes and by those persons who understand the manipulation of public opinion.

Recap of one of Bernays’s main points in this work: that the will of the people is whatever the propagandists want it to be.

Political campaigns today are all side shows, all honors, all bombast, glitter, and speeches. These are for the most part unrelated to the main business of studying the party scientifically, of supplying the public with party, candidate, platform, and performance, and selling the public these ideas and products.

ARE YOU READY FOR HILLARY (OR MAYBE NOT HILLARY AFTER ALL BECAUSE WE ARE GOING TO MILK THE DRAMA FOR ALL IT IS WORTH) IN 2016 I HOPE YOU ARE BECAUSE IT IS GOING TO BE AN EPIC SHOWDOWN WITH THIS OTHER PERSON WHO HAS ALREADY BEEN DECIDED FOR YOU BUT WE ARE NOT GOING TO TELL YOU WHO IT IS JUST YET TO BUILD SUSPENSE AND GET YOU RILED UP AND EXCITED TO VOTE REMEMBER THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION EVER AND ONLY YOU HAVE THE POWER AND THE FREE WILL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

The criticism is often made that propaganda tends to make the President of the United States so important that he becomes not the President but embodiment of hero worship, not to say deity worship. I quite agree that this is so, but how are you going to stop a condition which very accurately reflects the desires of a certain part of the public?

The easiest time to convince someone of anything is when they already want to be convinced of it.

(Side Note: Henry Dampier has a great piece that touches on the idea of Presidential hero-worship as a sublimated religious impulse.)

Ours must be a leadership democracy administered by the intelligent minority who know how to regiment and guide the masses. Is this government by propaganda? Call it, if you prefer, government by education.

What an odd move for someone who has just spent 104 pages explaining to me that propaganda is perfectly legitimate and is absolutely necessary for the functioning of a modern democracy, and who stated at the beginning of this book that he wished to remove the negative stigma from the word “propaganda”. Does he not trust his own efforts or does he just not believe them?

The normal school should provide for the training of the educator to make him realize that his is a two-fold job: education as a teacher and education as a propagandist.

Hang on, I think I need to read that bit again. That can’t seriously be what it says. Maybe I misread it the first time.

The normal school should provide for the training of the educator to make him realize that his is a two-fold job: education as a teacher and education as a propagandist.

Yep. He said that. He definitely said that.

I think I just figured out why I was never assigned to read this book in school.

Propaganda, by repeatedly interpreting new scientific ideas and inventions to the public, has made the public more receptive. Propaganda is accustoming the public to change and progress.

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The American motion picture is the greatest unconscious carrier of propaganda in the world today.

I think it’s safe to say that television and the internet have edged it out since then, but that doesn’t exactly make this any less salient of a point.

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.

An observation of the Red Queen hypothesis manifesting itself in market conditions decades before the idea was ever proposed? Check. This book just gets better and better.

It’s also a pretty ominous threat though. Catch on to our public relations techniques? We’ll just develop better ones, thank you very much.

Finally, Bernays ends his work in spectacular style:

Propaganda will never die out. Intelligent men must realize that propaganda is the modern instrument by which the can fight for productive ends and help to bring order out of chaos.

THE END

Well that’s certainly a note to end on.

It is at this point I must make a confession. I have been “selective” (some might say dishonest) in selecting quotes from this book, and in doing so, I have taken a tome that was written to defend propaganda as beneficial and necessary and turned it on its head. Bernays argued in this work that propaganda was only bad if used for ill purposes, and I have deliberately quoted him to make him sound sinister.

I guess all that reading on propaganda rubbed off on me after all.

Just goes to show how easily someone can be swayed, especially if you are swaying them to believe something that they want to believe and greatly desire to believe in the first place.

I can see how reading this work might strengthen one’s perception of the use of propaganda, though. That is what the book set out to do, after all, and it makes a strong case as to the necessity of propaganda in modern society. I’ll even go so far as to say that Bernays was, at least to a certain degree, absolutely correct.

It is also not difficult to see why one might believe something in the vein of Bernays’s argument. If you truly think that you are teaching people the right things, and you are guiding them in the right way, and you are looking out for their best interests, then of course you are going to rationalize it to yourself that you are not only doing the right thing, but that you are doing the world a great service. How could you not throw yourself into this task and devote your life to it? It is for the good of your fellow mankind!

Did you ever stop to wonder why you think that?

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