Propaganda by Edward Bernays

1. What is the origin of the term ‘propaganda’? 

The term propaganda was not always the deceitful and dangerous word that we know today. According to Bernays, the term propaganda had very little use or meaning prior to World War I. The term was invented in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV. He coined this word to try to stop the spread of Protestantism. An organization was formed called the Office for the Propagation of the Faith. This organization was used to supervise the church’s missionary efforts in the new world. The word held this meaning until it received a new connotation during World War I.

2. Why does Bernay’s believe that all people rely on “invisible rulers” and “invisible government”? 

Bernay’s believes that all people rely on invisible rulers and invisible government because they are necessary to the orderly functioning of our group life. Bernay’s says that without having invisible governments, there would be no organization or direction in voting and that we would have mass confusion. He elaborates by stating, “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” (38). Without having an invisible ruler or invisible government to narrow down our choices, we would likely be overwhelmed by the amount of choices and decisions we would need to make on a daily basis.

3. Why does Bernays believe that all organizations, even charitable ones, must engage in the practice of shaping the public mind using propaganda?

Edward Bernays believes that all organizations, even charitable ones, must engage in the practice of shaping the publics mind using propaganda because if not, the organization will no longer have the approval of the public. Bernays states that if an organization does not impress itself on the public than it will be lost or forgotten about. If an organization is forgotten about or not impressionable than it will not receive profit or revenue from the public. Bernays states: “Charity, as well as business, and politics and literature, for that matter, have had to adopt propaganda, for the public must be regimented into giving money just as it must be regimented into tuberculosis prophylaxis” (53). Charities must use propaganda because even though they are not using deceitful motives, they still rely on donations and Bernays believes those donations are not possible without utilizing propaganda.

4. Why is fashion a form of propaganda according to Bernays?

Fashion is a form of propaganda because the companies that sell and promote clothing are able to create new trends in order to sell what they want to sell. In his book, Bernays used an example of velvet manufactures who were losing money because velvet was going out of style and they could no longer sell it. To fix this problem, they had to figure out a way to make velvet trendy again. To revive velvet, manufactures in America worked with fashion industries in Paris because Paris was the home of fashion. Soon, fashion designers in Paris started making their garments out of velvet and women in American started to believe that it was back in style. As a result, newspapers started writing about velvet and department stores starting selling more and more of it. Soon, velvet came back in style all as a result of propaganda.

10. How have your attitudes about propaganda changed after reading this book?

My views about propaganda have definitely changed after reading this book because I have become more aware of the propaganda in our society. Even though Bernays wrote his book 90 years ago, many of his ideas are still prevalent today. I am now becoming more aware that the choices I make might not really be ones that I’ve thought of on my own. When Bernays talked about invisible rulers, I started to realize that politicians, business owners, and CEOS are really the people who decides what society thinks and choices they make. I was especially surprised to know that fashion is impacted by propaganda. I never knew that a trend could be started because a company wants to sell more of a product. Overall, this book has made me be more aware and weary of the messages and propaganda in our society today.


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This blog is dedicated to writing about propaganda and studying how propaganda effects today’s society. On this site, I will be posting projects from my COM 416 course. To see more of my thoughts on propaganda follow me on twitter @jessblcom416 🙂