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Repeated twice for emphasis

Recommended Reading:
"Crystallizing Public Opinion" - Edward Bernays $12 on Amazon

"Propaganda" - Edward Bernays $11 on Amazon

The Influence of 20th Century Propaganda on Disclosure, Reason and Subjective Interpretation:

Implications of Totalitarian and Authoritarian Operations of Propaganda:

 “In the absence of contrasting views the very highest form of propaganda warfare can be fought: the propaganda for a definition of reality within which only certain limited viewpoints are possible.” – C Wright Mills

“None are more helplessly enslaved than those who falsely believe that they are free.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.” These “invisible governors” are heroic elite. “It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind, who harness old social forces and contrive new ways to bind and guide the world.” (Continued) "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." -Edward Bernays, Propaganda (1928)


The study of the formation of symbolic relationships in the socio-political realm is fundamental to understanding the operation and effects of cognitive-generation by government and the media. When psychologically-charged stimuli are presented to the public it elicits an influence on the ideological thinking processes which eventually influences the ordering of logic and cognitive analysis of individuals. Furthermore, it influences the ways in which individuals align with specific ideals and social groups. As a consequence, manipulation of dogma, charged symbols and subjective reasoning are capable of summoning experiences of affective qualities that can be validated by these ideas and social groups. This is true even in conditions that are carefully constructed to evade the normal processes of logic and reason. Affective cognitive-generations can trigger psychological states that activate individual and social meanings through the use of emotionally conditioned response and formalizations of subjective reasoning. In modern propaganda controlling the context of what is seen by the public is just as important as controlling the interconnected variables of perspective and information that are not seen or discussed. As a result the symbolic contexts and circumstances in which news images are presented to the public plays a large role in the formation of social and individual stereotypes, ideals and socio-political realities.


As such, this paper will discuss the foundation and theory behind the operations of propaganda in the 20th century and its ties to individuals and groups, especially in authoritarian environments. Further, it will discuss the increased prevalence, concealment and efficiency of propaganda in our increasingly technological society. However, even prior to the crucial technological breakthroughs of communications, the mechanisms of totalitarian propaganda made large strides in the early 1900’s and as a result have been detected in many of the totalitarian and fascist movements of the 20th century. For instance, the fascist movement in Nazi Germany was largely fueled by the writings of the Walter Lippmann (“The engineering of consent”) and his apprentice Edward Bernays who wrote the propaganda book Crystallizing Public Opinion that Joseph Goebbels claimed to have used more than any other source entitled. Bernays extensive influence on the construction of the modern public relations industry led him to be crowned the father of public relations (Tye 1998.)


Interestingly, aside from Bernays’ theory which fits exceptionally well into totalitarian manipulations, he had also envisioned a very small and selective hierarchical committee of elites who would be the ones to engage in the use of propaganda  in a similar fashion to totalitarian and fascist governments. To illustrate, Bernays identified with certain ideals of the Federalists in that a group of wise men should form a single national committee that almost single-handedly determines our leaders, dictates our views and conduct, and even the kinds of clothes and foods we consume (Bernays 1928, p.39.) Bernays feels that a select group of elites should use their public relations system in order to construct an “invisible government” which can mold and direct the ideals and motives of the masses while installing elites as the moderators who would interpret the people to the government and government to the people under their own propaganda models (Bernays 1928, p.39). Walter Lippmann provided a clear statement concerning the operations of such procedures:

"The general public, are ignorant and meddlesome outsiders who must be put in their place. They are to be spectators of action not participants who must be regimented to abandon any ideas about controlling their own lives. Their task is to develop a philosophy of futility and to follow orders while focusing their attention on more superficial things which comprise much of fashionable consumption." – Walter Lippmann (1922) – Chomsky 2002 Tom Paine’s Challenge

In order to achieve this top-down structure of consolidated influence over the disclosure of information and the processes of subjective interpretation which are present in every event of human experience, Bernays discusses some of the mechanisms of invisible manipulation. He points out that one of the most integral elements in attaining the aforementioned goals of manufacturing consent could govern the masses through the use of systematically manipulating the perspectives and motives of individual as well as groups (Bernays 1928, p71). Additionally, it was also clear to Bernays that the public relations industry would also have to reduce the degree of "cognitive complexity" involved in the cognitive processing of propaganda (Bernays 1928, p44.) In order to achieve these reductions, discourse and logic would have to be simplified to the point where semiotic and phenomenological manipulations could function under their own deceptive and at times illogical cloak. The presence of authoritarian rule, such as the limitation to black and white perspectives and ideals are examples of subjective reasoning and dogmatic manifestations of cognitive externalization. However, similar results can be achieved in paradigms of greater cognitive complexity. This can be done by inducing schemas of formalized subjective reasoning within a controlled information bubble; one that is carefully crafted to conceal perspectives and discourse that could disprove its bases of logic, or its lack thereof. This, in turn, can engineer schemas of subjective reason to operate in the same externalized manner as dogmatic rationality. Bernays felt this invisible manipulation would be possible given the effects that "the mass mind" could have on the transformation of cognitive processing from thoughts over to stereotypes, impulses, habits and emotions (Bernays 1928, p73)

In Public Opinion by Walter Lippmann (1922), there is a crucial discussion on the formation, functionality, and theory of stereotypes and how they can be used as a means of defense as well as prosecution. First off, Lippmann makes an important distinction between the formation and qualities of ideals and stereotypes.  To illustrate, an ideal generally relates to a reservation around what we consider to be good or proper where on the other hand the stereotyped world is not always one that is good or the way we desired, but rather simply the way we expected it to be. Lippmann poses that through our worldly interaction and development of schemas we establish small as well as fundamental stereotypes that mold the socio-symbolic lens in which one views the world (Lippmann 1922, Ch 8.) Lippmann believes that the schemas and relationships between stereotypes may very well be the crux of our social and personal traditions that are the prominent defenses of the positions we choose to take in society.


Bernays believes that these invisible structured formations of social groups and their associations is the main mechanism in which democracy constructs its "group minds" and simplifies the process and cognitive complexity behind "mass thinking" (Bernays 1928, p44.) According to Bernays this instrument is called "modern propaganda" and essentially uses psychological schemas and the manipulation of emotional habits as a means to enact ”a consistent, enduring effort to create or shape events to influence the relations of the public to an enterprise, idea, or group.” (Bernays 1928, p52) As such, the formation of totalitarian propaganda is generally directed towards cognitive schemas of logic and emotional evocation that can be processed and internally validated ad hominem and prima facie through controlled bubbles of subjective exposure and reasoning. Further, this influence over individuals in totalitarian infrastructures is generally directed towards the formation of a “psychology of the masses” which attempts to manufacture a homogenization of ideals and social consent under a single in-group or leader (Adorno 1951, p408). Totalitarian and fascist movements generally push towards the formulation of specific semiotic and symbolic structural units in order to regiment the psychology of the masses. Bernays comments on his vision for improving the use of crystallized structural units. He desires to solidify the drive for a homogenous social interpretation of any given stimuli that could be presented to the masses, which he referred to as a rubber stamping on the mind. In the process of rubber stamping, Bernays goal was to influence the public so that one person’s rubber stamp would be a duplicate of millions of other rubber stamps (Bernays 1928, 48.) If correctly implemented this would allow the systems of communication to distribute a single stimuli which systematically creates millions of identical imprints within the masses and their social groupings.


There are four important information biases according to Bennett that provide an increasingly expansive and critical analysis of the mass media. The first is personalization which allows a story to be presented from specific ideological reference points in order to contrast between controlled sets of exposure and ego-driven perspectives on a topic. This allows for the media to present its material in a way that aligns with the viewer’s emotions and the stereotypical expectations of the world around them. For example, the personalization could be directed towards U.S. citizens in which the exposure and explanation of content only concerns itself with the humanity of its national forces while depicting equal acts of returning fire, hostile terrorist acts (Bennett 1996, p.48.) The second is dramatization which helps produce emotional tension and resolution within paradigms of thought and emotional conditioning that cater to the ego and conditioned emotional responses of individuals rather than the use of analytical reasoning and processes of logic. It helps create a greater impact of attention and concern in order to further saturate and condition the public with strategically selected coverage and ideological perspectives (Bennett 1996, 52.)

 The third is normalization and it consists of an audience seeing a seemingly consistent structure of media coverage and perspectives over a period of time, which creates individual and widespread formations of media expectations around some notion of social and broadcasting “normalcy.” The use of selective censorship through personalization, fragmentation, and the saturated dramatization of corporate-friendly perspectives helps mold what is socially anticipated and accepted as a norm. It can also be used to forge a false sense of security or resolution around events of turmoil or domestic and international disapproval of corporate, governmental or military operations. The process of media-controlled normalization and its conditioning is reinforced in critical ways by the previous three information biases as well as the use of a fourth, information fragmentation (Bennett 1996, 64.) Fragmentation helps with the concealment process of public relations by making it harder for the public to connect the dots between news clips and the bigger picture. The mixture of short coverage clips and a general population who has become more than accustomed to sound bytes functions to diminish the attention span and level of socially significant material. Similarly, the use of fragmentation in the media breeds distraction and brings forth potential decreases in the levels of social and political understanding and thus the context for public concern. The effects of fragmenting media content that is already stripped down to “infotainment” is one of the key factors that can distort and even cripple the critical thinking capabilities that the  public could use to put together the big picture. In short, the functions of analysis and cognitive reason are limited to and only as accurate as the information and the mental associations connected to the stimuli (Bennett 1996, 58.)


The effects of such processes play out differently depending on the abilities of deductive reasoning concerning psychological schemas, dogmas and generalizations. Allan Brooks (2004) investigated the models and manifestations behind the adaptations of semantic truisms and indoctrination of authoritative upbringings. The main cognitive basis that Brooks studies concerns the degree of open-mindedness associated with environmental interpretation, generalization, and the caliber of logical deductions. Brooks found that those with greater levels of open-mindedness were able to process mental tasks in a much more dynamic and expansive way than those who with analytical limitations brought forth by shorthanded generalizations of their dogmatic or stereotyped lenses. In sum, both the open and limited cognitive processes operate in terms of deductive and prescriptive schemas. However, the capacity to deduce such information is greatly increased in subjects capable of processing social alternatives and who generally have a greater amount of sub-sets for process of cognitive generalization (Brooks 2004.)


Concerning the transformation of individuals into a mass, it is important to study in depth the motives, associations, and logic that allows a group of individuals to identify and align themselves under a hierarchy with a real or pseudo common socio-psychological binding (Adorno 1951, p412.) Adorno (1951) explains that in order for fascism or totalitarianism to effectively unify the greatest amount of individuals the leaders generally exercise semiotic and authoritarian transformations of socio-political and emotional symbols into free-floating signifiers. In short, free-floating signifiers can be considered the dialectical stem cells of the social and political world. The basis of manipulation generally lies on the leaders’ and propagandists’ ability to forge their own perceptual totalitarianism into the already prevalent and popular symbols that the masses or largest social group have already aligned themselves behind such as: religion, national territory, and social or historical customs and rituals. To clarify, the propagandists realized that it would be a lot harder to manufacture new ideals, structures of alignment, and dialectical schemas which would need to be force fed to the public. Consequently, they resorted to techniques that would allow a totalitarian movement to operate in a synthetic manner behind the schemas, ideals, and symbolic relationships which already bind large groups such as national territory. Additionally, in cases where the unification of a whole nation is not desirable or achievable, campaigns are often engaged to pull the strings of emotional symbols that are deeply associated with the schemas and beliefs of a targeted social group. In fact, if propagandists are able to successfully usurp the symbols and emotional responses of the masses with their own definitions of free-floating signifiers, it provides many more opportunities for the totalitarian infrastructure to manufacture their own terms for the binding of the masses by pitting free-floating signifiers against the logic of the masses to contradict or nullify their stances to a state of “doublethink.” As such, the core of fascist propaganda is similarly symbolic and psychological due to its irrational and contradictory aims of selling authoritarianism to the voters of a democracy with rational convictions.

“By liberty I mean the assurance that every man shall be protected in doing what he believes is his duty against the influence of authority and majorities, custom and opinion.” - Lord Acton


“… when information which properly belongs to the public is withheld by those in power, the people soon become ignorant of their own affairs, distrustful of those who manage them, and, eventually, incapable of determining their own destinies.”
                                                                                                     - Richard Nixon




1. Adorno, Theodor (1972). The Culture Industry. Ch. 5 Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda, New York, NY: Routledge Classic.

2. Bennett, Lance (1996). News: The politics of Illusion. White Plains, NY: Longman.

3. Bernays, Edward (1928). Propaganda. Ig Publishing.

4. Brooks, Allan (2004).General Semantics and Authoritarianism. General Semantics. 61, 349-352.

5. Lippmann, Walter (1922). Public Opinion. Ch 8: Stereotypes as Defense, Free Press.

6. Lippmann, Walter (1922). Public Opinion. Ch 9: Blind Spots and their Value, Free Press.

7. Shanahan, James (1998).Television and Authoritarianism: Exploring the Concept of Mainstreaming. Political Communication. 15, 483-495.

8. Tye, Larry (1998). The Father of Sping. New York, NY: Henery Holt and Company.