Understanding the Liberal/Progressive Lexicon: Part II
–Joe Bakanovic, July , 2012
This is Part II of a series on the importance of role language plays in Progressive thinking and methodology. It is part of a larger series I am starting tracing the history of the American Progressive movement in general. You can find Part I of this series here:
At first glance, it may seem that this post would be better suited under a heading more like “The Founders of the Progressive Movement,” but I thought it better to introduce this next figure under the subcategory of language because of the crucial role language played in his major contribution to the Progressive movement and Progressive methods. So it is that I would like to start the second part of this series by introducing you to one of the most important and most influential men of the entire 20th Century. Dear reader, I give you the father of modern propaganda, mass marketing, public relations and what we now call political spin, Edward Bernays. (You might find this link of some use if you have an interest in Bernays’ general background and accomplishments). The following was taken from Wiki and summarized by a fellow blogger at Dillsnap Cogitations:
Edward Louis Bernays (November 22, 1891 – March 9, 1995) was the father of public relations and an American pioneer in the field of psychological operations. Combining the ideas of Gustave Le Bon and Wilfred Trotter on crowd psychology with the psychoanalytical ideas of his uncle, Sigmund Freud, Bernays was one of the first to attempt to manipulate public opinion using the subconscious.
He felt this manipulation was necessary in society, which he regarded as irrational and dangerous as a result of the “herd instinct” [NOTE: this reference of the American public as a “herd” is echoed by another founding father of the Progressive movement and of public manipulation, famed journalist, Walter Lippmann].Bernays was named one of the 100 most influential Americans of the 20th century by Life Magazine.
- In the 1920s, working for the American Tobacco Company, he sent a group of young models to march in the New York City parade. On his signal, the models lit Lucky Strike cigarettes (“torches of freedom”) in front of the eager photographers. The New York Times (1 April 1929) printed: “Group of Girls Puff at Cigarettes as a Gesture of ‘Freedom’”. This helped to break the taboo against women smoking in public.
- Bernays used his uncle Sigmund Freud’s ideas to help convince the public, among other things, that bacon and eggs was the true all-American breakfast.
- Bernays helped the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) and other special interest groups to convince the American public that Water fluoridation was safe and beneficial to human health. This was achieved by using the American Dental Association in a highly successful media campaign.
- In the 1930s, his Dixie Cup campaign was designed to convince consumers that only disposable cups were sanitary.
I would strongly recommend that you take time to read the following article as understanding Bernays is key to understanding the Progressive mind and motivation:
One of Bernays’ most important and influential books is titled Propaganda, (online text here). It is in this book that Bernays attempts to apply modern science to the purpose of manufacturing and directing public opinion for the purpose of governing society. He frequently included the work of his uncle, Sigmund Freud, into his own ideas. In fact, Bernays’ use of Freud’s ideas is part of the reason you probably eat bacon and eggs for breakfast today. At this point, you should take just a moment to read the following link, as it will provide you with a better understanding of just how important Freud’s ideas were to Bernays:
It is at this point in our discussion that I can finally start to explain how and why language is so important when discussing Bernays and his contributions to the Progressive movement. But this is also where the truth starts to get difficult to read – even more so to accept. I can only ask that you trust that I point out what follows for a reason and that you continue reading to the end of this post so that I may explain the connection is real and valid.
The NAZI’s credited Bernays (as well as the Woodrow Wilson Administration) with teaching them the art of propaganda. This is a fact to which Bernays, himself, attested to:
“Karl von Weigand, foreign correspondent of the Hearst newspapers, an old hand at interpreting Europe and just returned from Germany, was telling us about Goebbels and his propaganda plans to consolidate Nazi power. Goebbels had shown Weigand his propaganda library, the finest Weigand had ever seen. Goebbels, said Weigand, was using my book Crystallizing Public Opinion as a basis for his destructive campaign against the Jews of Germany. This shocked me…” — Bernays, recalling a dinner at his home in 1933
But this should not have surprised Bernays. Whether or not he ever envisioned a regime such as NAZI Germany using his work for the purposes to which they applied it is irrelevant. What he said in Propaganda, arguably his most important work, should have made it readily apparent to him and the world that – sooner or later – someone would do with it exactly what the NAZIs did. In Propaganda, Bernays argues that this conscious manufacture and direction of the public sentiment is actually necessary to chaos and prevent conflict within society. He goes on to argue that, without this behind the scenes manipulation, our democracy would not survive. It was in Propaganda that he made such bold and assertive statements such as:
“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. …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 relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.”
“Propaganda is the executive arm of the invisible government.”
“If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, it is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without them knowing it.”
So it should be of no surprise that, faced with the chaos and conflict of 1930’s Germany, Hitler and his NAZI Party would look to Bernays’ work to help them manufacture and direct the opinion of the German People. Nor should the similarities between what Bernays wrote in Propaganda and what Goebbels and Hitler said about propaganda:
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
“Not every item of news should be published. Rather must those who control news policies endeavor to make every item of news serve a certain purpose.”
“It is the absolute right of the state to supervise the formation of public opinion.”
“Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play.”
“The efficiency of the truly national leader consists primarily in preventing the division of the attention of a people, and always in concentrating it on a single enemy.”
“All propaganda must be so popular and on such an intellectual level, that even the most stupid of those toward whom it is directed will understand it… Through clever and constant application of propaganda, people can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way around, to consider the most wretched sort of life as paradise.”
The primary difference between what Bernays said and what Hitler and Goebbels were saying is found in the difference between theories (Bernays) and actual application (the NAZIs) – only Bernays was equally involved in application as were the Germans, just to a different purpose. Either way, in both cases, the central role of manipulating language was the same.
We will return to Bernays and his ideas later in this series when we take a closer look at how Progressives use our social institutions to manipulate the American public. As this series continues, we will also start to see the connections between the many players; how they remain connected through history from the early 1900’s to today; and how they all share a common language that doesn’t always mean to them the same thing it means to the average American. But, for now, I hope I have managed to show that the careful manipulation of language is central to the Progressive view of the public as well as their methodology. If I have succeeded, the next time you hear a Progressive/Liberal complaining that they lost an election because they “didn’t get their message out,” you will understand that what they really mean is they didn’t formulate their language correctly; they didn’t “sell” you on their story. To the Progressives, politics is not about having a rational debate about what is best for the nation by stating your beliefs and openly discussing your ideas vs. your opponents’: it’s about selling a PR campaign – nothing more. And as we get back into The Little Blue Book, we will see that Lakoff actually says exactly this.