The Use of Propaganda in Times of Global or National Crises


Dr Gary Kohls | Duty to Warn - TRANSCEND Media Service

Conspiracy Theories

16 Apr 2020 – When Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud (the Father of Psychoanalysis), wrote his famous 1928 book, Propaganda, he titled the first chapter of the book “Organizing Chaos”. The first part of this article are quotes from the first chapter of the book. It is obvious that Bernays doesn’t try to sugar-coat what he thinks are the reasons why propaganda is necessary – and not even evil – in a modern society.

Probably the most telling admission appears in the tenth paragraph of the first chapter:

“…the manipulation of news, the inflation of personality, and the general ballyhoo by which politicians and commercial products and social ideas are brought to the consciousness of the masses. The instruments by which public opinion is organized and focused may be misused. But such organization and focusing are necessary to orderly life.”

 The next dozen paragraphs relate the essence of the book:

“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 molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely my 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.

“Our invisible governors are, in many cases, unaware of the identity other fellow members in the inner cabinet.

“They govern us by their qualities of natural leadership, their ability to supply needed ideas and by their key position in the social structure. Whatever attitude one chooses 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 out social conduct or our ethical thinking,

“we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons – a trifling fraction of our hundred and twenty million – who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. 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.”

“It is not usually realized how necessary these invisible governors are to the orderly functioning of our group life. In theory, every citizen may vote for whom he pleases. Our Constitution does not envisage political parties as part of the mechanism of government, and its framers seem not to have pictured to themselves the existence in our national politics or anything like the modern political machine. But the American voters soon found that without organization and direction their individual votes, cast, perhaps, for dozens of hundreds of candidates, would produce nothing but confusion. Invisible government, in the shape of rudimentary political parties, arose almost overnight. Ever since then we have agreed, for the sake of simplicity and practicality, that arty machines should narrow down the field of choice to two candidates, or at most three or four.

“In theory, every citizen makes up his mind on public questions and matters of private conduct. In practice, if all men had to study for themselves the abstruse economic, political and ethical data involved in every question, they would find it impossible to come to a conclusion without anything. We have voluntarily agreed to let an invisible government sift the data and high-spot the outstanding issues so that our field of choice shall be narrowed to practical proportions. From our leaders and the media they use to reach the public, we accept the evidence and the demarcation of issues bearing upon public questions; from some ethical teacher, be it a minister, a favorite essayist, or merely prevailing opinion, we accept a standardized code of social conduct to which we conform most of the time.

“In theory, everybody buys the best and cheapest commodities offered him on the market. In practice, if everyone went around pricing, and chemically tasting before purchasing, the dozens of soaps or fabrics or brands of bread which are for sale, economic life would be hopelessly jammed. To avoid such confusion, society consents to have its choice narrowed to ideas and objects brought to its attention through propaganda of all kinds. There is consequently a vast and continuous effort going on the capture our minds in the interest of some policy or commodity or idea.

“It might be better to have, instead of propaganda and special pleading, committees of wise men who would choose our rulers, dictate our conduct, private and public, and decide upon the best types of clothes for us to wear and the best kinds of food for us to eat. But we have chosen the opposite method, that of open competition. We must find a way to make free competition function with reasonable smoothness; To achieve this society has consented to permit free competition to be organized by leadership and propaganda.

“Some of the phenomena of this process are criticized – the manipulation of news, the inflation of personality, and the general ballyhoo by which politicians and commercial products and social ideas are brought to the consciousness of the masses. The instruments by which public opinion is organized and focused may be misused. But such organization and focusing are necessary to orderly life.

“As civilization has become more complex, and as the need for invisible government has been increasingly demonstrated, the technical means have been invented and developed by which opinion may be regimented.

“With the printing press and the newspaper, the railroad, the telephone, telegraph, radio and airplanes, ideas can be spread rapidly and even instantaneously all over the whole of America.

“It is the purpose of this book to explain the structure of the mechanism which controls the public mind, and to tell how it is manipulated by the special pleader who seeks to create public acceptance for a particular idea or commodity. It will attempt at the same time to find the due place in the modern democratic scheme for this new propaganda and to suggest its gradually evolving code of ethics and practice.”

In 1965, Jacques Ellul, French author, philosopher, theologian, legal scholar, and sociologist published Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes (1965).

In the preface to that book, Konrad Kellen writes:

Most people are easy prey for propaganda …But modern propaganda has long disdained the ridiculous lies of past and outmoded forms of propaganda. It operates instead with many different kinds of truth – half truth, limited truth, truth out of contest. Even Josef Goebbels (the Nazi Party’s Minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment) always insisted that the Wehrmacht communiques be as accurate as possible.”

In the introduction of his book, Ellul writes:

“In the midst of increasing mechanization and technological organization, propaganda is simply the means used … to persuade man to submit with good grace. When man … will end by obeying with enthusiasm, convinced of the excellence of what he is forced to do, the constraint of the organizations will no longer be felt by him; the truth is, it will no longer be a constraint, and the police will have nothing to do. The civic and technological good will and the enthusiasm for the right social myths – both created by propaganda – will finally have solved the problem of man.”

n the body of the book, Ellul writes:

“To make the organization of propaganda possible, the media must be concentrated, the number of news agencies reduced, the press brought under single control, and radio and film monopolies established. The effect will be still greater if the various media are concentrated in the same hands. When a newspaper trust (ie, monopoly) also extends its control over films and radio, propaganda can be directed at the masses and the individual can be caught in the wide net of media.”

“Only through concentration in a few hands of a large number of media can one attain a true orchestration, a continuity, and an application of scientific methods of influencing individuals. A state monopoly, or a private (corporate) monopoly, is equally effective. Such a situation is in the making in the United States, France, and Germany – the fact is well known.”

“The number of newspapers decreases while the number of readers increases. Production costs constantly increase and necessitate greater concentration; all statistics converge on that. This concentration itself keeps accelerating, thus making the situation increasingly favorable to propaganda. Of course, one must not conclude from this that the concentration of mass media inevitably produces propaganda. Such concentration is merely a prerequisite for it. But that the media be concentrated is not enough; it is also necessary that the individual will listen to them. This seems to be a truism: ‘Why produce a propaganda paper if nobody will buy it?’”

“In reality, propaganda is at work here, for what is involved is a progression from vague, diffuse opinion on the part of the reader to rigorous, exciting, active expression of that opinion. A feeling or an impression is transformed into a motive for action. Confused thoughts are crystallized. Myths and the reader’s conditioned reflexes are reinforced if he reads that paper. All this is characteristic of propaganda. The reader is really subject to propaganda, even though it be propaganda of his choice. Propaganda is a means of reinforcing opinions, of transforming them into action. The reader himself offers his throat to the knife of the propaganda he chooses.“

Under the section of the book, titled The Need of an Average Standard of Living, Ellul writes:

“More advanced propaganda can influence only a man who is not completely haunted by poverty, a man who can view things from a certain distance and be reasonably unconcerned about his daily bread, and who therefore can take an interest in more general matters and mobilize his actions for purposes other than merely earning a living. It is well known that in Western countries propaganda is particularly effective in the upper segment of the working class and in the middle classes. It faces much greater problems with the proletariat or the peasantry.”

 Then, in another of my handful of books that deal with propaganda, “Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush’s War on Iraq” (2003), authors Sheldon Rampton & John Stauber write:

“Propagandists view communications as a set of techniques for indoctrinating ‘target audiences’ whereas the democratic concept of communication defines it as an ongoing process of dialogue among diverse voices. Of course, the propaganda approach becomes more attractive during wartime, when each side (of the issue) becomes preoccupied with manipulating and coercing the thinking of their enemy or domestic population (including was on viruses, perhaps). The propagandist wants to promote his or her own interests or those of an organization – sometimes at the expense of the recipients, sometimes not. The point is that the propagandist does not regard the well-being of the audience as a primary concern. Propagandists also tend to have a low regard for the rationality and intelligence of their audience.”

 “The audience that thinks critically and is prepared to challenge (the propagandist’s) message becomes a problem that must be overcome. Whereas democracy is built upon the assumption that ‘the people’ are capable of rational self-governance, propagandists regard rationality as an obstacle to efficient indoctrination. Since propaganda is often aimed at persuading people to do things that are not in their own best interests, it frequently seeks to bypass the rational brain altogether and manipulate us on a more primitive level, appealing to emotional symbolism.”

“Fear is one of the most primitive emotions in the human psyche, and it definitely keeps us watching (television).”

 Then Rampton and Stauber quotes Hermann Goering just before he commits suicide during the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals in 1946:

“Why of course the people don’t want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

— Hermann Goering, head of the Nazi army’s equivalent of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff – April 18, 1946


Dr Gary Kohls is a retired physician from Duluth, MN, USA and a member of the TRANSCEND Network. In the decade prior to his retirement, he practiced what could best be described as “holistic (non-drug) and preventive mental health care”. Since his retirement, he has written a weekly column for the Duluth Reader, an alternative newsweekly magazine. His columns mostly deal with the dangers of American imperialism, friendly fascism, corporatism, militarism, racism, and the dangers of Big Pharma, psychiatric drugging, the over-vaccinating of children and other movements that threaten American democracy, civility, health and longevity and the future of the planet. Many of his columns are archived at;; or at;


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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 20 Apr 2020.

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One Response to “The Use of Propaganda in Times of Global or National Crises”

  1. rosemerry says:

    Excellent article to get us thinking!