Bernays, E. (1928). Propaganda: Q&A

Assignment: In response to Edward Bernays’ classic book, Propaganda, select 5 questions and answer each one by composing a blog post. The goal is to demonstrate comprehension of the reading by offering a summary of key ideas with strategic use of paraphrase and direct quotation.  

Q: What is the origin of the term ‘propaganda’?

A: Bernays begins by explaining the origin of the term propaganda by saying: “In itself, the word ‘propaganda’ has certain technical meanings, which, like most things in this world, are ‘neither good nor bad but custom makes them so.'” Furthermore, he explains the word propaganda defined in Funk and Wagnalls’ Dictionary in four different ways…

  1. A Society of cardinals, the overseers of foreign missions; also the College of the Propaganda at Rome founded by Pope Urban VIII in 1627 for the education of missionary priests; Sacred College de Propaganda Fide. 

  2. Hence, any institution or scheme for propagating a doctrine or system.

  3. Effort directed systematically toward the gaining of public support for an opinion or a course of action. 

  4. The principles advanced by a propaganda.

After quoting these definitions, he further explains that the true meaning of propaganda was extremely distorted and not even in the Standard Dictionary. This was due to the term taking on a sinister meaning during the “late war,” Bernays says. (Bernays, 21) 

After all the change and misuse of the term propaganda, Bernays states: “Modern propaganda is a consistent, enduring effort to create or shape events to influence the relations of the public to an enterprise, idea or group.” (Bernays, 25) Furthermore, “This practice of creating circumstances and of creating pictures in the minds of millions of persons is very common. Virtually no important undertaking is now carried on without it, whether that enterprise be building a cathedral, endowing a university, marketing a moving pictures, floating a large bond issue, or electing a president.” (Bernays, 25) Giving the word more meaning, Bernays states: “Sometimes the effect on the public is created by a professional propagandist, sometimes by an amateur deputed for the job. the important thing is that it is universal and continuous; and in its sum total it is regimenting the public mind every bit as much as an army regiments the bodies of its soldiers.” (Bernays, 25) 

Edward Bernays brings the term propaganda back to life and gives it new meaning. He gives the word a more neutral meaning versus the old fashion meaning, which had a negative connotation. 

Q: Why does Bernays believe people rely on “invisible rulers” and “invisible government”?

A: People rely on the “invisible rulers” and “invisible government” because many times we are not even aware we are relying on them. Bernays states, “Our invisible governors are in many cases, unaware of the identity of their fellow members in the inner cabinet.” (Bernays, 9) We are so heavily influences by people whom we don’t even know the true identity of many times. These same people are behind the propaganda in which we allow to influence our lives. He further explains that “they govern us by their qualities of natural leadership, their ability to supply needed ideas and by their key position in the social structure.” Therefore, these “invisible rulers” and “invisible government” are those of stature and importance in our social society. We rely heavily on their power and source of information to function in our society. Perhaps, this is is where the power of propaganda stems from. All together, according to Bernays, we need these invisible rulers in order to function; “It is not usually realized how necessary these invisible governors are to the overly functioning of our group life.” (Bernays, 10)

Q: “Men do not need to be gathered in a public meeting to be subject to the influences of mass psychology,” notes Bernays. How do propagandists influence people? 

A: Propagandas is meant to resonate with people. Therefore, even when someone is alone, he/she is thinking about propaganda and the action to be taken. Bernays claims, “Because man is by nature gregarious he feels himself to be a member of a herd, even when he is alone in his room with the curtains drawn.” I interpret this as Bernays saying that propaganda has the power to effect a mass of people, even if that mass of people aren’t together, because everyone feels like they are part of something even if they are alone. He further explains, “His mind retains the patterns which have been stamped on it by the group influences.” To me, this goes back to how propaganda resonates with its audience. Whether it is in a positive or negative light, propaganda leaves a mark on whoever it is visible to. If I see propaganda I am somehow going to react to it, whether is with positivity or negativity – that means the propaganda did its job. Either way, the propaganda is getting promoted and reactions out of both its intended and unintended audiences. Propagandists influence people because they have the ability to get into people’s minds and resonate their message(s) with them. Propaganda and Propagandists are extremely powerful and influential. 

Q: How have your attitudes about propaganda changed after reading this book? 

A: Before reading this book, my thoughts on propaganda surprisingly, somewhat aligned with Bernays thoughts on propaganda. I have always believed that there is a good and a bad side to propaganda. I also believe that how people see propaganda depends on their interpretation of the media being put forth; either way we feed into propaganda. Bernays states: “Whatever attitude one chooses to take toward this condition, it remains a fact that in almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics, or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relativity small number of persons — a trifling fraction of our hundred and twenty million — who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses.” (Bernays, 9-10) For example, if I find an ad or a campaign to be deceiving and manipulative, I am most likely to have a negative opinion of propaganda. On the other end, if I find an ad or campaign to be inspirational and empowering I may see the positive side of propaganda and find it to be helpful in spreading messages. Either way, I am being influence because of the power of propaganda. While reading Bernay’s book, it seemed that our ideals aligned. I also believe that propaganda will never disinigrate and it will only decrease, especially as social media and digital marketing grow. Bernays says exactly what I believe to end the book by stating, “Propaganda will never die out.” (Bernays, 159) As the general public, I do believe we must be aware of propaganda and caution how we act upon it, as our reactions can effect the world. 

Q: Some ideas from Bernays are outdated because the book was written 90 years ago. Give a couple of examples of this and explain what’s different now. 

A: Bernays states: “The radio is at present one of the most important tools of the propagandist. Currently, I do not believe the radio stands as one of the most important tools of propaganda. I would say that social media is one of the most important tools of the propagandist. With social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc, it is very easy to spread campaigns, ads, and even fake news. Furthermore, we have many broadcasting stations promoting campaigns, ads and spreading fake news as well. Social media has the ability to reach billions of people and I firmly believe social media platforms are reaching a much larger audience than the radio is reaching in 2018.

Bernays also claims, “It [the radio] may compete with the newspaper as an advertising medium. Its ability to reach millions of persons simultaneously naturally appears to the advertiser.” I disagree with this statement. In 2018, I believe that the newspaper is dying out, especially with the rise of digital platforms. Many people use the web as a source of news and do not even get a newspaper. Speaking from experience, I am one of those people. According to Pew Research Center, only 23% of Americans currently read a print newspaper. Furthermore, they explain, “Currently, 55% of regular New York Times readers say they read the paper mostly on a computer or mobile device, as do 48% of regular USA Today and 44% of Wall Street Journal readers.” This tells me that Bernays’ thought about the radio and newspaper in competition to reach the masses is incorrect. I believe the only thing the newspaper is competing for is to stay alive.



Bernays, E. (1928). Propaganda

Heimlich, Russell. “Number of Americans Who Read Print Newspapers Continues Decline.” Pew Research Center, 10 Oct. 2012,

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