Unknown to most Americans (and others) who are daily bombarded with commercial messages, political campaign promises, and the vapid slogans of countless advocacy groups, what is now called the Public Relations or Advertising industry was originally more honestly titled the art and science of Propaganda, and its primary founding theorist and practitioner was a nephew of Sigmund Freud.

Edward Bernays

Edward Bernays

Edward Louis Bernays (1891 – 1995) was an American pioneer in the field of public relations. Combining the ideas of Gustave Le Bon and Wilfred Trotter on crowd psychology with the sexualized psychoanalytical ideas of his uncle, Sigmund Freud, as well as Pavlov’s conditioning techniques, Bernays was one of the first to attempt to manipulate public opinion using the subconscious.

He called this scientific technique of opinion-molding the ‘engineering of consent’ and it was employed in 1917 by President Woodrow Wilson in the Committee on Public Information to drum up support for World War I (as was done in various ways for every foreign war of the United States – see America was Born of Conspiracy Theory – From the Declaration of Independence to 9/11).

His “art” is what Upton Sinclair would later call “The Lie Factory”, and it has become a staple of corporate America, with much support from the political establishment.

Bernays convinced Americans to support WWI, women to smoke tobacco, Americans to eat bacon and eggs and use disposable Dixie Cups to drink fluoridated water, and helped United Fruit Company facilitate the successful overthrow of the democratically elected president of Guatemala.

Propaganda 1928

In his 1928 treatise, straightforwardly titled Propaganda, Edward Bernays wrote:

“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.”

Bernays asked rhetorically:

“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? The recent practice of propaganda has proved that it is possible, at least up to a certain point and within certain limits.”

He continued, in his Machiavellian and Orwellian manner:

“We are governed, our minds are 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 society. … 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.”

In The Engineering of Consent (1947), Bernays reiterated this politically, if not morally, inverted premise:

“The engineering of consent is the very essence of the democratic process, the freedom to persuade and suggest.”

But, by “persuade and suggest”, as is quite evident from his earlier book that defined the field of Public Relations, Bernays meant unconscious manipulation of the masses by a small elite who comprised the shadow government within what is ostensibly a popular democracy.

Bernays began his career as Press Agent in 1913, counseling theaters, concerts and the ballet. In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson founded the Committee on Public Information, and invited Bernays to participate in it in order to influence public opinion towards supporting American participation in World War I (Americans have always resisted foreign military adventures, requiring persuasion and manipulation).

In 1919, Bernays opened an office as Public Relations Counselor in New York, held the first Public Relations course at the University of New York in 1923, and published the first groundbreaking book on public relations entitled Crystallizing Public Opinion that same year.

Some of the campaigns Bernays worked on:

  • In the 1920s, working for the American Tobacco Company, he sent a group of young models to march in the New York City parade. He then told the press that a group of women’s rights marchers would light “Torches of Freedom”. On his signal, the models lit Lucky Strike cigarettes in front of the eager photographers. The New York Times (April 1, 1929) printed: “Group of Girls Puff at Cigarettes as a Gesture of ‘Freedom’.” This helped to break the taboo against women smoking in public.
  • Bernays engineered a “pancake breakfast” with vaudevillians for Calvin Coolidge in what is widely considered one of the first overt media acts for a president.
  • Bernays used his uncle Sigmund Freud’s ideas to help convince the public, among other things, that bacon and eggs was the true all-American breakfast.
  • In October 1929, Bernays was involved in promoting “Light’s Golden Jubilee”. The event, which spanned across several major cities in the US, was designed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Thomas Edison’s invention of the light-bulb (the light-bulb was actually invented by Joseph Swan).
  • Bernays helped the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) and other special interest groups to convince the American public that water fluoridation was safe and beneficial to human health (fluoride was an industrial waste product of aluminum smelting), using the American Dental Association in a highly successful media campaign (the same association that insisted that putting mercury – a known neurotoxin – into people’s teeth was a good thing).
  • In the 1930s, Bernays’ Dixie Cup campaign was designed to convince consumers that only disposable cups were sanitary.
  • Bernay’s most extreme political propaganda activities were conducted on behalf of the multinational corporation United Fruit Company (today’s Chiquita Brands International) and the US government to facilitate the successful overthrow of the democratically-elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, and return Guatemala to a “banana republic”, which exploited cheap labor to export bananas to the US market. Bernays’ propaganda, branding Arbenz as communist, was published in major US media, and became a major element of Cold War propaganda.

Paul Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945, relied on Bernays’ book Crystallizing Public Opinion to formulate his campaign against the Jews of Germany.

Bernays liked to think of himself as a kind of “psychoanalyst to troubled corporations”, but his most persistent public relations campaign was the promotion of himself.


Uncle Freud’s Prescient Disciple

Freud called Carl Jung “his adopted eldest son, his crown prince and successor”, and Jung served as chairman of the International Psychoanalytical Association with Freud’s support.

Carl Jung

Carl Jung

But Jung de-emphasized the importance of sexual development and the libido and focused on the collective unconscious: the part of the unconscious mind that contains memories and ideas that he believed were inherited from our ancestors and shared among all people.

Carl Gustav Jung (1875 – 1961), often referred to as C. G. Jung, was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist who founded Analytical Psychology. His work has been influential not only in psychiatry but also in philosophy, anthropology, archaeology, literature, and religious studies, and he was a far broader thinker than his mentor, Sigmund Freud.

The central concept of Analytical Psychology is individuation – the psychological process of integrating opposites, including the conscious with the unconscious, while maintaining their relative autonomy. Jung created some of the best known psychological concepts, including the archetype, the collective unconscious, the complex, and extraversion and introversion.

But perhaps Jung’s greatest contribution to human understanding were his perceptions on the way the collective unconscious, manipulated by political and cultural leaders who were, themselves, under the sway of the buried and unacknowledged Shadow, would manifest in mass movements and unrecognized societal and environmental destruction – what he called “psychic epidemics” and which he understood as a “struggle between light and darkness”.

“The world today hangs by a thin thread, and that thread is the psyche of man.” – Psychological Reflections (1905-1961)

In a lecture given in 1939, titled “The Symbolic Life”, Jung said:

“Indeed, it is becoming ever more obvious that it is not famine, not earthquakes, not microbes, not cancer but man himself who is man’s greatest danger to man, for the simple reason that there is no adequate protection against psychic epidemics, which are infinitely more devastating than the worst of natural catastrophes.”

Once emotions such as fear reach a certain pitch, Jung said, “…the possibility of reason’s having any effect ceases and its place is taken by slogans and chimerical wish-fantasies. This is to say, a sort of collective possession results which rapidly develops into a psychic epidemic.” – Civilization in Transition (essays from the 1920s and 1930s)

Also in Civilization in Transition:

“When we look at human history, we see only what happens on the surface, and even this is distorted in the faded mirror of tradition. But what has really been happening eludes the inquiring eye of the historian, for the true historical event lies deeply buried, experienced by all and observed by none. It is the most private and most subjective of psychic experiences. Wars, dynasties, social upheavals, conquests, and religions are but the superficial symptoms of a secret psychic attitude unknown even to the individual himself.”

In The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche (1913 – 1935), Jung warned: “Greater than all physical dangers are the tremendous effects of delusional ideas.”

Jung, having witnessed the enormous popularity of Adolph Hitler and his delusional ideas, noted that:

“As soon as people get together in masses and submerge the individual, the shadow is mobilized, and, as history shows, may even be personified and incarnated.” – The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (1934–1954)

Jung believed that our national leaders are the literal incarnation of the people’s collective unconscious – that we call forth the leader who will speak to our deepest desires – and that when that unconscious is denied, it emerges in a destructive shadow form.

“So-called leaders are the inevitable symptoms of a mass movement, …a reflected image of the collective hysteria.” – Civilization in Transition

He also believed that the only way to overcome the shadow is with lucidity, or conscious awareness of our unconscious impulses.

“The future of mankind very much depends upon the recognition of the shadow.” – Letters, vol. 1

And Jung wished for a time in which our leaders would be vetted for psychological fitness.

“Perhaps in a more enlightened era a candidate for governmental office will have to have it certified by a psychiatric commission that he is not a bearer of psychic bacilli.” – The Symbolic Life (1939)

“Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is also in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow, he has done something real for the world. He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved problems of our day. – Psychology and Religion: East and West (1938)


The Unwashed American Jung

Eric Hoffer (1898 – 1983) was an American moral and social philosopher, known as the longshoreman philosopher, who had virtually no formal education. Yet his first book, The True Believer, published in 1951 and subtitled Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, has had profound influence among scholars and laymen. He was the author of ten books and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in February 1983.

Eric Hoffer

Eric Hoffer

Hoffer, who lost both parents at a young age, was a Skid Row denizen, a migrant farm worker, a gold prospector, and finally a longshoreman from WWII to 1967. He was both a prolific reader and a prolific thinker and writer.

In The True Believer, Hoffer expressed his concern about the rise of totalitarian governments, especially those of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, and sought the roots of these “madhouses” in human psychology.

Hoffer argued that fanatical and extremist cultural movements, whether religious or political, arose under predictable circumstances: when large numbers of people come to believe that their individual lives were worthless and ruined, that the modern world was irreparably corrupt, and that hope lies only in joining a larger group that demands radical change.

Hoffer noted that such mass movements, even ostensibly in conflict with each other, such as Nazism and Communism, share members who flip back and forth between them, and that Saul, a fanatical persecutor of Christians, became Paul, the leading Christian apostle. He noticed that the substance of the cause was less important than simply being part of a movement.

At a time in which Freud’s psychological ideas were dominant, this self-educated working man offered a competing and equally compelling analysis of human nature.

Hoffer wrote:

“The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause.”

“Unless a man has the talents to make something of himself, freedom is an irksome burden… We join a mass movement to escape from individual responsibility, or, in the words of an ardent young Nazi, ‘to be free from freedom’. It was not sheer hypocrisy when the rank-and-file Nazis declared themselves not guilty of all the enormities they had committed. They considered themselves cheated and maligned when made to shoulder responsibility for obeying orders. Had they not joined the Nazi movement in order to be free from responsibility?”

“The proselytizing fanatic strengthens his own faith by converting others. The creed whose legitimacy is most easily challenged is likely to develop the strongest proselytizing impulse.”

“It is the true believer’s ability to shut his eyes and stop his ears to facts which in his own mind deserve never to be seen nor heard which is the source of his unequalled fortitude and consistency.”

“Faith, enthusiasm, and passionate intensity in general are substitutes for the self-confidence born of experience and the possession of skill. … The substitute for self-confidence is faith … the substitute for self-esteem is pride; and the substitute for individual balance is fusion with others in a compact group. … In the chemistry of the soul, a substitute is almost always explosive if for no other reason than that we can never have enough of it. We can never have enough of that which we really do not want. What we want is justified self-confidence and self-esteem. …. We can be satisfied with moderate confidence in ourselves and with a moderately good opinion of ourselves, but the faith we have in a holy cause has to be extravagant and uncompromising, and the pride we derive from an identification with a nation, race, leader, or party [religion] is extreme and overbearing.” – The Ordeal of Change (1963).


A Modern Master of Shadow Propaganda

Ronald Wilson Reagan was an ad man and actor, who also served as the 33rd Governor of California from 1967 to 1975, and as the 40th President of the United States from 1981 to 1989.

Reagan Ad Man

Beginning his working life as a sports announcer on several radio stations, Reagan moved to Hollywood in 1937 and became an actor, starring in some B movies. He was twice elected as President of the Screen Actors Guild, where he worked to root out Communist influence. In the 1950s, he moved into television and was a motivational speaker for General Electric.

Having been a lifelong liberal Democrat, Reagan became a conservative and in 1962 switched to the Republican Party. In 1964, Reagan’s speech, “A Time for Choosing”, in support of Barry Goldwater’s floundering presidential campaign, earned him national attention as a new conservative spokesman.

As California governor, Reagan ordered National Guard troops to quell student protests, and signed the Mulford Act, the nation’s strictest gun-control law, in order to disarm the Black Panthers, who at the time were insisting on the right to armed self-defense – a right now demanded by mostly white males on the political far right.

Ronald Reagan

The Quintessential American Symbol: All Hat and No Cattle

Ronald Reagan, in his first presidential inaugural address on January 20, 1981, urged Americans to recall the achievements of the Founders, in particular their confidence in self-government and individual freedom. Against liberalism’s reliance on bureaucracy, Reagan insisted that “government is the problem” and that ordinary Americans should be recognized as heroes.

Reagan exuded a confidence in the ability of the people, exercising their freedom, to revive America. In contrast to FDR, he used his confidence in Americans to take power out of Washington and return it to the states and the people.

Reagan presented himself as a follower of the Constitution. “Our Government,” he emphasized, “has no power except that granted it by the people. It is time to check and reverse the growth of government which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed.” The old Constitution, with its restraints and emphasis on limited government, allows individual freedom to work for the common good. “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

Reagan left office after his second term as president with approval ratings rivaling those of FDR and, later, Bill Clinton. What each man had in common was a charisma that allowed them to awe both supporters and opponents with their personal charm and strength of conviction.

But what Reagan really achieved was the artificial continuation of the Iran hostage crisis to give him the edge over Jimmy Carter, an escalation of the Cold War and the defining of the Soviet Union as the “evil empire” (presaging George W. Bush’s later emphasis on the Axis of Evil), the unconstitutional Iran-Contra scandal, drastically lowered taxes on the wealthy, a widening of the wealth gap, an escalation of budget deficits and the national debt, a dramatic increase in poverty and homelessness, and a new War on Drugs which ended up putting much of America’s young black male population in prison. He also popularized many counter-factual myths.

In Reference to the Murderous Contra Counter-Revolutionaries

In Reference to the Nicaraguan Contra Counter-Revolutionaries

Reagan was an ad man to the end, masterfully employing Bernays’ propaganda techniques to incite a new mass movement of Ayn Rand individualists who idolized personal freedom at the expense of the common good – a philosophy in diametric opposition to Thomas Jefferson’s Civic Republicanism, which is the placing of the public interest on at least equal footing with individual rights and liberties, and when necessary placing the common good above individual self-interest.

This “constitutional sovereignty” movement, one which Carl Jung would understand as a “psychic epidemic” and which Eric Hoffer would recognize as built on a collective delusion and energized by self-loathing and personal frustrations, has been waxing and waning depending on who is in the White House.

When Reagan declared himself to be a “sagebrush rebel”, the Sagebrush Rebellion went to the back burner on a low simmer. With the first black progressive president in office, the new anti-federalists emerged en masse to put right-wing firebrands in the Congress whose only mission was to block Obama’s initiatives, and to face off against federal authority at the Cliven Bundy ranch in Bunkerville, Arizona in 2014 and at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns, Oregon in 2016, in what many hope will be the spark of a Second American Revolution.

While an anti-federalist strain has colored America politics and culture from its inception, what these “freedom-defending patriots” fail to understand, immersed as they are in a mass-mind hallucination, is that the Tea Party, the Sovereign Lands Movement, and 2nd Amendment defenders are all created or organized, funded and manipulated by corporate elites (such as the Koch Brothers) and corporate lobbies (such as the NRA).

Those who cling most desperately to the idol of individual freedom are dangling from the puppet strings of the “invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country”, and are mere pawns in a game that none of them comprehend.


by Robert Riversong: may be reproduced only with attribution for non-commercial purposes and a link to this page

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