by Edward Bernays
Ig publishing, 2005, paper
(originally published in 1928)
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 molded, our
tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never
heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic
society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate
in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning
Our invisible governors are, in many cases,
unaware of the identity of their fellow members in the inner cabinet.
They govern us by their qualities of natural
leadership, their ability to supply needed ideas and by their
key position in the social structure. Whatever attitude one chooses
toward this condition, it remains a fact that 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-a trifling fraction
of our hundred and twenty million-who understand the mental processes
and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires
which control the public mind, who harness old social forces and
contrive new ways to bind and guide the world.
It is not usually realized how necessary
these invisible governors are to the orderly functioning of our
group life. In theory, every citizen may vote for whom he pleases.
Our Constitution does not envisage political parties as part of
the mechanism of government, and its framers seem not to have
pictured to themselves the existence in our national politics
of anything like the modern political machine. But the American
voters soon found that without organization and direction their
individual votes, cast, perhaps, for dozens of hundreds of candidates,
would produce nothing but confusion. Invisible government, in
the shape of rudimentary political parties, arose almost overnight.
Ever since then we have agreed, for the sake of simplicity and
practicality, that party machines should narrow down the field
of choice to two candidates, or at most three or four.
In theory, every citizen makes up his
mind on public questions and matters of private conduct. In practice,
if all men had to study for themselves the abstruse economic,
political, and ethical data involved in every question, they would
find it impossible to come to a conclusion without anything. We
have voluntarily agreed to let an invisible government sift the
data and high-spot the outstanding issue so that our field of
choice shall be narrowed to practical proportions. From our leaders
and the media they use to reach the public, we accept the evidence
and the demarcation of issues bearing upon public question; from
some ethical teacher, be it a minister, a favorite essayist, or
merely prevailing opinion, we accept a standardized code of social
conduct to which we conform most of the time.
In theory, everybody buys the best and
cheapest commodities offered him on the market. In practice, if
every one went around pricing, and chemically tasting before purchasing,
the dozens of soaps or fabrics or brands of bread which are for
sale, economic life would be hopelessly jammed. To avoid such
confusion, society consents to have its choice narrowed to ideas
and objects brought to it attention through propaganda of all
kinds. There is consequently a vast and continuous effort going
on to capture our minds in the interest of some policy or commodity
It might be better to have, instead of
propaganda and special pleading, committees of wise men who would
choose our rulers, dictate our conduct, private and public, and
decide upon the best types of clothes for us to wear and the best
kinds of food for us to eat. But we have chosen the opposite method,
that of open competition. We must find a way to make free competition
function with reasonable smoothness. To achieve this society has
consented to permit free competition to be organized by leadership
Who are the men, who, without our realizing it, give us our ideas,
tell us whom to admire and whom to despise, what to believe about
the ownership of public utilities .. about immigration who tell
us how our houses should be designed, what furniture we should
put into them, what menus we should serve at our table, what kind
of shirts we must wear, what sports we should indulge in, what
plays we should see, what charities we should support, what pictures
we should admire, what slang we should affect, what jokes we should
A presidential candidate may be "drafted" in response
to "around popular demand," but it is well known that
his name may be decided upon by half a dozen men sitting L.. around
a table in a hotel room.
A man buying a suit of clothe imagines that he is choosing, according
to his taste and his personality, the kind of garment which he
prefers. In reality, he may be obeying the orders of an anonymous
gentleman tailor in London. This personage is the silent partner
in a modest tailoring establishment, which is patronized by gentlemen
of fashion and princes of blood. He suggest to British noblemen
and others a blue cloth instead of gray, two buttons instead of
three, or sleeves a quarter of an inch narrower than last season.
The distinguished customer approves of the idea.
But how does this fact affect John Smith
The gentleman tailor is under contract
with a certain large American firm, which manufactures men's suits,
to send them instantly the designs of the suits chosen by the
leaders of London fashion. Upon receiving the designs, with specifications
as to color, weight, and texture, the firm immediately places
an order with the cloth makers for several hundred thousand dollars'
worth of cloth. The suits made up according to the specifications
are then advertised as the latest fashion. The fashionable men
in New York Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia wear them. And the
Topeka man, recognizing this leadership, does the same.
Women are just as subject to the commands
of invisible government as men. A silk manufacturer, seeking a
new market for its product, suggested to a large manufacturer
of shoes that women's shoes should be covered with silk to match
their dresses. The idea was adopted and systematically propagandized.
A popular actress was persuaded to wear the shoes. The fashion
spread. The shoe firm was ready with the supply to meet thee created
demand. And the silk company was ready with the silk for more
The new profession of public relations has grown up because of
the increasing complexity of modern life and the consequent necessity
for making the actions of one part of the public understandable
to other sectors of the public. It is due, too, to the increasing
dependence of organized power of all sorts upon public opinion.
Governments, whether they are monarchical, constitutional, democratic
or communist, depend upon acquiescent public opinion for the success
of their efforts and, in fact, government is government only by
virtue of public acquiescence. Industries, public utilities, educational
movements, indeed all groups representing any concept or product,
whether they are majority or minority ideas, succeed only because
of approving public opinion. Public opinion is the unacknowledged
partner in all broad efforts.
The public relations counsel, then, is
the agent who, working with modern media of communications and
the group formations of society, brings an idea to the consciousness
of the public.
The systematic study of mass psychology revealed t7 students the
potentialities of invisible government of society by manipulation
of the motives which actuate man in the group. Trotter and Le
Bon, who approached the subject in a scientific manner, and Graham
Wallas, Walter Lippmann, and others who continued with searching
studies of the group mind, established that the group has mental
characteristics distinct from those of the individual, and is
motivated by impulses and emotions which cannot be explained on
the basis of what we know of individual psychology. So the question
naturally arose. 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?
If you can influence the leaders, either with or without their
conscious cooperation, you automatically influence the group which
they sway. But men do not need to be actually gathered together
in a public meeting or in a street riot, to be subject to the
influences of mass psychology. Because man is by nature gregarious
he feels himself to be member of a herd, even when he is alone
in his room with the curtains drawn. His mind retains the patterns
which have been stamped on it by the group influences.
Trotter and Le Bon concluded that the group mind does not think
in the strict send of the word. In place of thoughts it has impulses,
habits, and emotions. In making up its mind, its first impulse
is usually to follow the example of a trusted leader. This is
one of the most firmly established principles of mass psychology.
It operates in establishing the rising or diminishing prestige
But when the example of the leader is not at hand and the herd
must think for itself, it does so by means of clichés,
pat words or images which stand for a whole group of ideas or
experiences. Not many years ago, it was only necessary to tag
a political candidate with the word interests to stampede millions
of people into voting against him, because anything associated
with "the interests" seemed necessary corrupt. Recently
the word Bolshevik has performed a similar service for persons
who wished to frighten the public away from a line of action.
By playing upon a old cliché, or
manipulating a new one, the propagandist can sometimes swing a
whole mass group emotions.
It is chiefly the psychologists of the school of Freud( who have
pointed out that many of man's thoughts and actions are compensatory
substitutes for desires which has been obliged to suppress. A
thing may be desired not for its intrinsic worth or usefulness,
but because he has unconsciously come to see in it a symbol of
something else, the desire for which he is ashamed to admit to
himself. A man buying a car may think he wants it for purposes
of locomotion, whereas the fact may be that he would really prefer
not to be burdened with it, and would rather walk for the sake
of his health. He may really want it because it is a symbol of
social position, an evidence of his success in business, or a
means of pleasing his wife.
This general principle, that men are very
largely actuated by motives which they conceal from themselves,
is as true of mass as of individual psychology. It is evident
that the successful propagandist must understand the true motives
and not be content to accept the reasons which men give for what
Human desires are the steam which makes the social machine work.
Only by understanding them can the propagandist control that vast,
loose-jointed mechanism which is modern society.
... while, under the handicraft of small-unit system of production
was that typical a century ago, demand created the supply, today
supply must actively seek to create its corresponding demand.
A single factory, potentially capable of supplying a whole continent
with its particular product, cannot afford to wait until the public
asks for its product; it must maintain constant touch, through
advertising and propaganda, with the vast public in order to assure
itself the continuous demand which alone will make its costly
plant profitable. This entails a vastly more complex system of
distribution than formerly.
No serious sociologist any longer believes that the voice of the
people expresses any divine or specially wise and lofty idea.
The voice of the people expresses the mind of 3 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. It is composed of inherited prejudices and symbols and
clichés and verbal formulas supplied to them by the leaders.
Fortunately, the sincere and gifted politician
is able, by the instrument of propaganda, to mold and form the
will of the people.
The political apathy of the average voter, of which we hear so
much, is undoubtedly due to the fact that the politician does
not know how to meet the conditions of the public mind. He cannot
dramatize himself and his platform in terms which have real meaning
to the public. Acting on the fallacy that the leader must slavishly
follow, he deprives his campaign of all dramatic interest. An
automaton cannot arouse the public interest. A leader, a fighter,
a dictator, can. But, given our present political conditions under
which every office seeker must cater to the vote of the masses,
the only means by which the born leader can lead is the expert
use of propaganda.
Whether in the problem of getting elected
to office or in the problem of interpreting and popularizing new
issues, or in the problem of making the day-to-day administration
of public affairs a vital part of the community life, the use
of propaganda, carefully adjusted to the mentality of the masses,
is an essential adjunct of political life.
It is not necessary for the politician to be the slave to the
public's group prejudices, if he can learn how to mold the mind
of the voters in conformity with his own ideas of public welfare
and public service. The important thing for the statesman of our
age is not so much to know how to please the public, but know
how to sway the public.
Good government can be sold to a community just as any other commodity
can be sold.
One reason, perhaps, why the politician today is slow to take
up methods which are a commonplace in business life is that he
has such ready entry to the media of communication on which his
The newspaperman looks to him for news.
And by his power of giving or withholding information the politician
can often effectively censor political news. But being dependent,
every day of the year and for year after year, upon certain politicians
for news, the newspaper reporters are obliged to work in harmony
with their news sources.
Propaganda is of no use to the politician unless he has something
to say which the public, consciously or unconsciously, wants to
The criticism is often made that propaganda tends make the President
of the United States so important that he becomes not the President
but the embodiment of the idea 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 accurately reflects the desires of a
certain part of the public? The American people rightly senses
the enormous importance of the executive's office. If the public
tends to make of the President a heroic symbol of that power,
that is not the fault of propaganda but lies in the very nature
of the office and its relation to the people.
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