16
Engineering
Consensus

FOR THE FIELD OF public relations, like the society around it, the decade following the end of the Second World War was a period of blinding contradictions. On the one hand, "welfare capitalist" PR agendas--underscoring democratic ideals and building on the notion of inherent social and economic rights--announced that the voice of the people had been heard. Corporate America, so went the narrative, was respectfully and deferentially beckoning to its call. According to this majestic promise, the ancient utopian longing for universal well- being was--at last--in the process of being satisfied.

At the same time, however, the crusade against Godless Communism--and the demonization of all but a "private enterprise" point of view--was petitioning people's darkest fears, molding their anxieties into a bleak environment of political silence. Paralleling a determined attempt to respond to the demands of an active public, a reborn Le Bonianism was also emerging, one that sought--once again--to transform the democratic public into a silent and manageable entity.

Nowhere was this curious juxtaposition of democratic ideals and ardent mass manipulation more eloquently found than in Edward L. Bernays's 1947 essay, "The Engineering of Consent."1 Just as James Madison's Federalist Paper No. 10 provides an incisive glimpse into the thinking that propelled the Founding Fathers to draft a new Constitution for the United States in 1789, Bernays "Engineering of Consent" offers a revealing look at the ideas that have come to inform the exercise of political and economic power in our own time. The essay remains one of the clearest statements of the assumptions and

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