Ig publishing, 2005, paper
(originally published in 1928)
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 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
Our invisible governors are, in many cases, unaware of the identity
of their 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 our 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 of 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 party
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 issue 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 question;
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 every one 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 it attention through propaganda of all kinds. There is consequently
a vast and continuous effort going on to 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.
Who are the men, who, without our realizing it, give us our ideas, tell us whom
to admire and whom to despise, what to believe about the ownership of public
utilities .. about immigration who tell us how our houses should be designed,
what furniture we should put into them, what menus we should serve at our table,
what kind of shirts we must wear, what sports we should indulge in, what plays
we should see, what charities we should support, what pictures we should admire,
what slang we should affect, what jokes we should laugh at?
A presidential candidate may be "drafted" in response to "around
popular demand," but it is well known that his name may be decided upon
by half a dozen men sitting L.. around a table in a hotel room.
A man buying a suit of clothe imagines that he is choosing, according to his
taste and his personality, the kind of garment which he prefers. In reality,
he may be obeying the orders of an anonymous gentleman tailor in London. This
personage is the silent partner in a modest tailoring establishment, which is
patronized by gentlemen of fashion and princes of blood. He suggest to British
noblemen and others a blue cloth instead of gray, two buttons instead of three,
or sleeves a quarter of an inch narrower than last season. The distinguished
customer approves of the idea. But how does this fact affect John Smith of Topeka?
The gentleman tailor is under contract with a certain large American firm, which
manufactures men's suits, to send them instantly the designs of the suits chosen
by the leaders of London fashion. Upon receiving the designs, with specifications
as to color, weight, and texture, the firm immediately places an order with
the cloth makers for several hundred thousand dollars' worth of cloth. The suits
made up according to the specifications are then advertised as the latest fashion.
The fashionable men in New York Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia wear them.
And the Topeka man, recognizing this leadership, does the same.
Women are just as subject to the commands of invisible government
as men. A silk manufacturer, seeking a new market for its product, suggested
to a large manufacturer of shoes that women's shoes should be covered with silk
to match their dresses. The idea was adopted and systematically propagandized.
A popular actress was persuaded to wear the shoes. The fashion spread. The shoe
firm was ready with the supply to meet thee created demand. And the silk company
was ready with the silk for more shoes.
The new profession of public relations has grown up because of the increasing
complexity of modern life and the consequent necessity for making the actions
of one part of the public understandable to other sectors of the public. It
is due, too, to the increasing dependence of organized power of all sorts upon
public opinion. Governments, whether they are monarchical, constitutional, democratic
or communist, depend upon acquiescent public opinion for the success of their
efforts and, in fact, government is government only by virtue of public acquiescence.
Industries, public utilities, educational movements, indeed all groups representing
any concept or product, whether they are majority or minority ideas, succeed
only because of approving public opinion. Public opinion is the unacknowledged
partner in all broad efforts.
The public relations counsel, then, is the agent who, working with
modern media of communications and the group formations of society, brings an
idea to the consciousness of the public.
The systematic study of mass psychology revealed t7 students the potentialities
of invisible government of society by manipulation of the motives which actuate
man in the group. Trotter and Le Bon, who approached the subject in a scientific
manner, and Graham Wallas, Walter Lippmann, and others who continued with searching
studies of the group mind, established that the group has mental characteristics
distinct from those of the individual, and is motivated by impulses and emotions
which cannot be explained on the basis of what we know of individual psychology.
So the question naturally arose. If we understand the mechanism and motives
of the group mind, is it not possible to control and regiment the masses according
to our will without their knowing about it?
If you can influence the leaders, either with or without their conscious cooperation,
you automatically influence the group which they sway. But men do not need to
be actually gathered together in a public meeting or in a street riot, to be
subject to the influences of mass psychology. Because man is by nature gregarious
he feels himself to be member of a herd, even when he is alone in his room with
the curtains drawn. His mind retains the patterns which have been stamped on
it by the group influences.
Trotter and Le Bon concluded that the group mind does not think in the strict
send of the word. In place of thoughts it has impulses, habits, and emotions.
In making up its mind, its first impulse is usually to follow the example of
a trusted leader. This is one of the most firmly established principles of mass
psychology. It operates in establishing the rising or diminishing prestige of
But when the example of the leader is not at hand and the herd must think for
itself, it does so by means of clichés, pat words or images which stand
for a whole group of ideas or experiences. Not many years ago, it was only necessary
to tag a political candidate with the word interests to stampede millions of
people into voting against him, because anything associated with "the interests"
seemed necessary corrupt. Recently the word Bolshevik has performed a similar
service for persons who wished to frighten the public away from a line of action.
By playing upon a old cliché, or manipulating a new one, the
propagandist can sometimes swing a whole mass group emotions.
It is chiefly the psychologists of the school of Freud( who have pointed out
that many of man's thoughts and actions are compensatory substitutes for desires
which has been obliged to suppress. A thing may be desired not for its intrinsic
worth or usefulness, but because he has unconsciously come to see in it a symbol
of something else, the desire for which he is ashamed to admit to himself. A
man buying a car may think he wants it for purposes of locomotion, whereas the
fact may be that he would really prefer not to be burdened with it, and would
rather walk for the sake of his health. He may really want it because it is
a symbol of social position, an evidence of his success in business, or a means
of pleasing his wife.
This general principle, that men are very largely actuated by motives which
they conceal from themselves, is as true of mass as of individual psychology.
It is evident that the successful propagandist must understand the true motives
and not be content to accept the reasons which men give for what they do.
Human desires are the steam which makes the social machine work. Only by understanding
them can the propagandist control that vast, loose-jointed mechanism which is
... while, under the handicraft of small-unit system of production was that
typical a century ago, demand created the supply, today supply must actively
seek to create its corresponding demand. A single factory, potentially capable
of supplying a whole continent with its particular product, cannot afford to
wait until the public asks for its product; it must maintain constant touch,
through advertising and propaganda, with the vast public in order to assure
itself the continuous demand which alone will make its costly plant profitable.
This entails a vastly more complex system of distribution than formerly.
No serious sociologist any longer believes that the voice of the people expresses
any divine or specially wise and lofty idea. The voice of the people expresses
the mind of 3 the people, and that mind is made up for it by the group leaders
in whom it believes and by those persons who understand the manipulation of
public opinion. It is composed of inherited prejudices and symbols and clichés
and verbal formulas supplied to them by the leaders.
Fortunately, the sincere and gifted politician is able, by the instrument
of propaganda, to mold and form the will of the people.
The political apathy of the average voter, of which we hear so much, is undoubtedly
due to the fact that the politician does not know how to meet the conditions
of the public mind. He cannot dramatize himself and his platform in terms which
have real meaning to the public. Acting on the fallacy that the leader must
slavishly follow, he deprives his campaign of all dramatic interest. An automaton
cannot arouse the public interest. A leader, a fighter, a dictator, can. But,
given our present political conditions under which every office seeker must
cater to the vote of the masses, the only means by which the born leader can
lead is the expert use of propaganda. Whether in the problem of getting elected
to office or in the problem of interpreting and popularizing new issues, or
in the problem of making the day-to-day administration of public affairs a vital
part of the community life, the use of propaganda, carefully adjusted to the
mentality of the masses, is an essential adjunct of political life.
It is not necessary for the politician to be the slave to the public's group
prejudices, if he can learn how to mold the mind of the voters in conformity
with his own ideas of public welfare and public service. The important thing
for the statesman of our age is not so much to know how to please the public,
but know how to sway the public.
Good government can be sold to a community just as any other commodity can be
One reason, perhaps, why the politician today is slow to take up methods which
are a commonplace in business life is that he has such ready entry to the media
of communication on which his power depends.
The newspaperman looks to him for news. And by his power of giving
or withholding information the politician can often effectively censor political
news. But being dependent, every day of the year and for year after year, upon
certain politicians for news, the newspaper reporters are obliged to work in
harmony with their news sources.
Propaganda is of no use to the politician unless he has something to say which
the public, consciously or unconsciously, wants to hear.
The criticism is often made that propaganda tends make the President of the
United States so important that he becomes not the President but the embodiment
of the idea of hero worship, not to say deity worship. I quite agree that this
is so, but how are you going to stop a condition which accurately reflects the
desires of a certain part of the public? The American people rightly senses
the enormous importance of the executive's office. If the public tends to make
of the President a heroic symbol of that power, that is not the fault of propaganda
but lies in the very nature of the office and its relation to the people.