Freudian Influence Upon Edward Berney's Idea of Propaganda

Topics: Public relations, Edward Bernays, Sigmund Freud Pages: 14 (4725 words) Published: September 13, 2013
Public Relations Technique (Fall 2000)
Course Project
Instructor: Dr. Calvin Troup

Freudian Influences upon Edward Bernays’ idea of Propaganda

Fr. Augustine Tae Woo Jung


The term propaganda has had negative connotations. People are not only suspicious and skeptical about the word or the activities that bears the name, but they are cynical about them. This arises an interesting question: why this negative attitude and the cynicism, when we are in the midst of the propaganda flood? Edward L. Bernays was one of the most decisive proponents of propaganda. His book with the word as the title was actually written as propaganda for propaganda. It could even be said that he was the responsible person for the emergence of propaganda as a modern profession. As he himself admits, he builds up his argument upon sociology and psychology, in order for his profession to be acceptable as a scientific application. Could he answer for the question asked above, or argue against it, with all his favorable arguments to propaganda and the scientific grounds that back up the arguments? Have the scientific grounds themselves, as he calls it as principles of social psychology, some clue for the connotations inherently?

In this essay I would like to investigate the connection between Bernays’ concept of and defense for propaganda and the Freudian principles of psychology, in terms of how they commonly see human nature. Bernays was, being a cousin of Sigmund Freud himself, obviously influenced by his uncle. He even references to his uncle’s principles here and there, as the underlying foundations for his proposal of propaganda and the applications. I would like to see whether his assumptions were derived from the Freudian principles, and if so, how the assumptions based on psychological principles of human nature affected Bernays’ idea of propaganda. I am convinced that any systematic idea on how we should conduct public affairs is grounded by certain assumptions on human nature. Bernays is no exception: actually he is an excellent example of the conviction. His concept of propaganda is deeply rooted how he sees human beings. I am also convinced that the Freudian influence on him was far more than just providing grounds for the interdisciplinary application. The influence was no less than a paradigm, in which human beings are bound to the ruling force of the materialistic universe that does not know reason or moral, and the paradigm is responsible for the negative tag that has been attached to propaganda.

I. Edward Bernays’ concept of propaganda

1. A short history of the field before him

If we would discuss the general idea and practice of propaganda, we then should go back to and start from the beginning of human society. The discussion should include almost all the activities we have done so far as social beings. However, the word as currently used in Western civilization may found its origin in Christian religion for the efforts of spreading its faith. There is a subsidiary organization in Holy See, Rome, named Congregatio de Propaganda Fide, instituted by Pope Urban VIII in 1622. The organization’s duty is to be in charge of mission activities of the church worldwide, and is still in function as they have been for nearly half a millennium.[i] Early communists also used the word for their quite indifferent activities to those of the church, combined it with the term ‘agitation.’ For them, of course, the activities were nothing but absolutely amendable and honest. The distorted and negative connotation upon the word became popular mostly after the two world wars, especially after the Third Reich used the word naming one of its departments.[ii] Evolution of the secular idea of propaganda, as Bernays himself and other current...
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