Edward Bernays is known for his pioneering work in the field of public relations and propaganda, as well as the “engineering of consent,” a term he devised to describe the manipulation of public opinion. He was born in 1891 in Vienna, Austria, before immigrating to the United States with his parents and residing in New York City, where his uncle, Sigmund Freud, was also living. Bernays attended Cornell University and graduated with a degree in agriculture in 1912, but instead pursued a career as a public agent, working with New York theaters and ballets, among others. In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson formed the Committee on Public Information within the War Department, and selected Bernays to join the group, along with Walter Lippman. The committee was tasked with the job of increasing public favor of U.S. involvement in World War I, and Bernays proved to be an indispensable asset to the group.
In 1919, Bernays, along with his future wife, Doris Fleischman, opened a public relations office in New York City. Four years later, Bernays published his first writing about the newly-invented field, entitled Crystallizing Public Opinion. That same year, Bernays taught the first-ever course on public relations at New York University. In the coming decades, Benays made a name for himself as the “father of public relations” and as a supporter of the use of propaganda for manipulation of the public opinion, publishing several more works on the subject, including the notable Propaganda in 1928 and Public Relations in 1952. He is also known for working with clients including General Electric, the American Tobacco Company and the U.S. War Department. In the 1950s, it was Bernays’ propaganda work for the United Fruit Company that led to the overthrowing of the Guatemalan government by the CIA. Bernays continued his life’s work in the field of public relations until his retirement in the 1960s, and passed away in 1995.
In excerpts from Propaganda, specifically the chapters “Organizing Chaos” and “The New Propagandists,” Bernays argues that the presence of certain invisible rulers within a democratic society is necessary and inevitable. As a well-known proponent of propaganda to influence the public opinion, it’s only fitting that Bernays would reveal the presence of these invisible forces and support their work. He is making readers aware of all of the marketing forces occurring around them, and how the new profession of public relations, or as he initially terms it, “propaganda specialist,” is a necessity in order to interpret new ideas to the public as a whole. However, it is for this reason that we must maintain a sense of skepticism about Bernays’ claims. While he does possess an inside knowledge of how propaganda is created and received by the public, he also creates new terms to present a well-known idea, propaganda, with a negative connotation, as an entirely new concept, what he calls the public relations counsel.
Bernays, Edward L. (1928). Propaganda. Brooklyn, New York: Ig Publishing.
Edward L. Bernays. (2013). In Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/62470/Edward-L-Bernays