Installment # 6 The Bernays School of Thought

Let’s briefly consider the three basic elements that make up the origins of the “Bernaysian”school of thought. These key elements are: his atheism, his confessed Freudianism and his profound belief that an “invisible government” had to exist in order to “direct the flocks” to the “appropriate pens” through a proper use of public relations.

On one hand, the belief that a supreme being that somehow controls human destiny, or in other words, the conviction that man is a transcendent creature (belief that often conditioned his colleagues’ professional development) was not in Bernays’ head.  Despite being born in a Jewish family, Bernays didn’t receive a religious education. In fact, religion rarely appears in his work. To solve this issue, Bernays was determined to believe in himself and his ability to “manipulate public opinion” (the term manipulation always had a positive connotation for Bernays).

This way, Bernays’ work, permeated with an atheism that could be considered “practical”, proposed a “world without God”. This has substantial consequences that affect his conception of public opinion and public relations. Without the existence of a source that rules the world, humanity was irremediably headed to a state of social chaos. In this situation, Bernays sustained that manipulation coming from public relations consultants was justified in the sense that it created “gods created by men” who could ensure social order and prevent chaos; a chaos which sooner or later would end up condemning society without the role of these “manipulators”.

In fact, Bernays affirms that if public relations didn’t exist as an ordering force of society, the world would be controlled by capricious forces defined by fate. In a world governed by chance, manipulation is beneficial because it helps prevent error, increase investments from businessmen and avoid accidents.  With this conviction, Bernays shamelessly established a strong defense in favor of the public relations consultant and public opinion manipulation, in a stronger way than professionals like Ivy Lee who operated under ethical and religious concerns.

The second important aspect of Bernay’s way of thinking is his vital and scientific relationship with Sigmund Freud, and more specifically, Freudianism. Beyond their family ties and how they worked in favor of his self-promotion, his early identification with his uncle’s stream of thought was crucial for Bernays’ intellectual development. The practical application of Freudian concepts applied to public relations is seen clearly throughout Bernays’ work during the first decades of the 20th century. However, some of these concepts partially steer away from Freud’s original ideas.  These “Freudian” concepts marked his notion of public opinion, mass and ultimately his anthropological conception.

The third key to understanding Bernays’ thought was his belief in an invisible government. Under this “Bernaysian” concept, these invisible forces could not escape their social responsibility of leading the masses and constructing social order in a world constantly on the verge of chaos. This could only be accomplished through the proper use of public relations. These “puppet men” standing behind the scenes are the only ones capable of existing between the order and chaos of society. Olasky sustains that public relations, under Bernays’ concept don’t need to be protected as if they were developed by sinners in a damned society. Quite on the contrary, public relations are exalted and proclaimed as a great social service done by "saviors" within a sinful society.