Thursday, January 17, 2008

Propaganda by Edward Bernays (with an Introduction by Mark Crispin Miller)

Propaganda by Edward Bernays (with an Introduction by Mark Crispin Miller) is a classic propaganda text by the so-called "Father of Public Relations." Published in 1928, it is an interesting read, but certainly reflects the time in which it was written. As pointed out in the introduction, this work is philosophically Positivist (in the deterministic classic sense as opposed to the Modern). As it was written during the development of the Copenhagen Interpretation, such faults will not be remarked upon further.

Edward Bernays, who was a nephew of Sigmund Freud, was deeply involved with the U.S. Committee on Public Relations, which was responsible for propagandizing US involvement in World War I. It was partially due to these activities that the word Propaganda began to be regarded with negative connotations. This book was his attempt (which obviously failed) to restore its neutral meaning.

Even if one views his advocacy for the blatant manipulation of the public mind as disturbing, his honesty concerning doing so is refreshing. He also believed that the propagandist required a certain idea of ethics to avoid going too far. (He did abandon his advocacy for cigarettes once the health effects were irrefutable.) He believed that propaganda could be used for good or bad, and was correct in believing so. However, even good uses, such as public health campaigns, were not enough to remove the taint from the word propaganda. Hitler sealed its fate.

Basically, this book is an attempt to sell his craft to the rich and powerful. One way or another, he certainly succeeded. For a look into the thinking of a master of propaganda, the book is worth reading for that reason alone.


Anonymous said...

Your essay "Maximum Advantage" seems to me to be one of the most insightful pieces of writing I have ever read. And not because I've lacked reading material that should have helped me 'put it together' since I'm familiar with much of the Frankfurt School and their derivatives.

Thank you for writing it.

SRL said...

Thank you for reading it. If you're interested, I will soon (this year anyway) be publishing that essay and others in several collections. Maximum Advantage also draws upon Neitzche's theories concerning the genealogy of morals.