Installment #7 Bernays and The Invisible Government

In the first pages of Propaganda, Bernays explains his “invisible government concept” by saying:

“Conscientious and intelligent manipulation of the habits and opinions of the masses is an important element of a democratic society. These people constitute the invisible government, which is the real dominating power in our country… In some way men who we have never heard of are the ones who govern us, shape our minds, create our preferences and suggest our ideas. This is the logical result of the way our democratic society is organized. A large number of human beings must accommodate to this if they are to live in a harmonious society.”

The fact is, for Bernays, the progress and development of the United States lies in the power of  active minorities in which private and public interests coincide. “Only through the active energy of an intelligent minority can the public freely take conscience and act according to new ideas.” 

Bernays asks himself, who are these shapers of public opinion? We could write a list of several hundred people, leaders in different activities in society, rulers, politicians, artists, clergymen, university directors, powerful financiers, athletes, celebrities, etc. However, it is well known that some of leaders are “led” at the same time by names that are unknown by many. These types of people represent the kind of “manager” associated with the concept of “invisible government.”

These invisible leaders rule us through their natural leadership qualities, their ability to supply basic ideas and through their significant position within the social structure. Bernays affirms that in almost every act in our daily lives, we are dominated by a relatively small number of people who understand the mental processes and social guidelines of the masses.” However, we rarely take conscience of how necessary this "invisible government” is to maintain the order of our lives in society.

Thus, instead of propaganda, a committee of wise men could choose our rules and dictate the way he behave privately and publicly. However we have not chosen aristocracy as a way of government but on the contrary, as Bernays suggests, we have chosen the opposite method: free competition. For this reason, we must find a way in which this free competition works with “reasonable ductility.” To accomplish this, society as a whole must give its consent so free competition can organize itself through leadership and propaganda”.

Through broadcast media, these “invisible leaders” have a fundamental function and ensure consensus within the masses; a society in which there is no middle ground and is characterized by a discontinuous social link. A society in which the notion of public space has fragmented into several individual spaces, value systems and interests. In his invisible government concept, Bernays gives the “communicator” (public relations consultant) a key social roll”: the shaper. Its no longer only about informing but molding public opinion and leading people towards the “proper path.”  

Nevertheless, Bernays  observes that various elements of this process are highly criticized: news manipulation, and sensationalist propaganda in which politicians, products, services and social ideas are exposed to the masses’ conscience. To confront this criticism, Bernays points out that even though these instruments that reach public opinion can be used incorrectly, “an organization and a similar focus are necessary for an organized life.” 

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