Propaganda | Edward L. Bernays

Summary of: Propaganda
By: Edward L. Bernays

Introduction

Dive into the intricate world of propaganda with Edward L. Bernays’ thought-provoking book that brings to light its evolution, influences, and impact. Exploring its key role during the First World War, discover how the newly established Committee on Public Information manipulated American public opinion to support the war effort. As you navigate through the realm of propaganda, uncover how it has seeped into every aspect of life – from shaping our buying behavior to our political views. Be prepared to face some challenging questions about the ethics and true purpose of propaganda while unraveling its power in orchestrating the collective mindset in a constantly evolving society.

The Use of Propaganda in Total War: A Historical Analysis

The concept of propaganda became evident during World War I, a period characterized by global participation and the integration of civilians into the war effort. Governments used propaganda to justify the hardships and motivate populations to support the war, a strategy that was particularly effective in the United States following the formation of the Committee on Public Information. The committee was created to convince Americans to support the country’s involvement in the war, and it was successful in rebranding the war from a European conflict to “making the world safe for democracy.” Edward Bernays, a press agent who played a crucial role in the committee, recognized the power of propaganda and considered whether it could be useful in peacetime.

The Power of Propaganda

In his book Propaganda, Edward Bernays redefines the meaning of the word. According to him, propaganda is a neutral means to an end, but what matters is the intention. It raises an important question: Who gets to decide whether the end justifies the means? Bernays suggests a group of intelligent experts can make that decision. His beliefs were based on his role in the Committee’s work, where he shared Wilson’s view of America’s calling in the world. However, Bernays did not believe in using euphemisms and called propaganda what it was — actively molding popular opinion.

The Tragic View of Democracy

In the book, “Propaganda,” Edward Bernays discusses the two conflicting theories of governance: vox populi, vox Dei and L’État, c’est moi. He explains how democracy can only work if humans are rational beings who can make logical decisions but argues that humans lose their conscious personalities when they become part of a large group. This notion, according to Bernays, makes democracy almost impossible. When psychologists observed actual democracies, they noticed that group behavior is erratic, emotional, and irrational. Thus, governments would be pandering to fashionable prejudices, making it impossible to take difficult but necessary steps. In short, Bernays adopts a tragic view of democracy.

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