The most influential man in America – the individual who has had the single biggest influence on what America has become is a man few people have ever heard about: Edward Bernays.
Nephew of famed psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, Bernays is the inspiration and power behind everything from getting woman to smoke cigarettes to young men eagerly marching off to war. His 1928 book, “Propaganda” is the detailed playbook of how to rule the masses through what he called, “Engineering consent”.
Certainly there had been advertisers and spokesmen before, but Bernays is the one who discovered the levers and switches of human desire and how to manipulate them. He literally is the father of the modern public relations industry.
His insights were so successful at selling everything from soap to corn flakes he was hired as a consultant to the United States government. That is how we went form the perfectly upfront and honest “War Department” to the Orwellian “Defense Department”. Other governments found his ideas helpful as well. Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels was a big fan and became a master at molding the public mind.
Where Benays instructed marketers on how to link their products up to subliminal desires of consumers for acceptance, security, fun, sophistication and sex appeal, the chief tool for governments, he instructed, was the manipulation of fear. War on terror, anyone?
As Noam Chomsky observed, “…it is possible to “regiment the public mind every bit as much as an army regiments their bodies.” These new techniques of regimentation of minds, he said, had to be used by the intelligent minorities in order to make sure that the slobs stay on the right course. We can do it now because we have these new techniques.”
For a quick introduction to Bernays link to the short video below, where you can also read a short piece by Chomsky.