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Propaganda by Edward L. Bernays
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's review
Dec 26, 2007

really liked it
bookshelves: essential-reference
Read in January, 1998

Bernays is popularly known (sometimes in competition with Ivy Lee) as the "father of public relations," and PROPAGANDA is a large part of why. It's a wholly enthusiastic and spirited call for business leaders and politicians of the 1920s to shape the mind (singular, not plural) of the masses. I suspect that it's the sheer shameslessness of Bernays's attitude toward his subject that is the reason contemporary critics like Mark Crispin Miller, Neil Postman, and Stewart Ewen keep discussing him. (Not to mention that he was Sigmund Freud's nephew and only died in 95 at 104!). The first sentence says it all: "The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in a democratic society." Just how we reconcile 'manipulation' with 'democracy' isn't something Bernays is particularly worried about---for him, business leaders are exemplums of Social Darwinism who have risen to the top because they're best suited to save society from the messiness of mob mentality. Bernays was personally something of a comic figure---a Groucho-esque character---which is why much of the vituperation leveled at his Rovian heirs escapes him. Still, PROPAGANDA is a pretty chilling reminder that some people genuinely do believe that consent MUST be engineered for America and democracy to exist. Strangely enough, those folks often nominate themselves to be the engineers. Best read with a dollop of Walter Lippmann as an antidote.

PS. Miller's intro to the 05 edition offers an excellent history of the word 'propaganda.' Especially interesting is how the pejorative connotations of it didn't become its dominant meaning until the post-WWI era.
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message 1: by Janibenjamins (new)

Janibenjamins It seems like Bernays had what would be termed narcissistic personality disorder and combined with the fact that he was a genius probably made him out to be the most influential man of the 20th century. He sold man's soul to the machine.

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