CODA The Public and Its Problems: Some Notes for the New Millennium

IN MARCH 1995, as this book neared completion, Edward L. Bernays died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the age of 102. 1 Present at the beginning, so to speak, his life ( 1892-1995) spanned the history that is explored in this book. It is perhaps fitting, then, that just as we opened our quest standing at Bernays's doorstep, so we shall conclude with him.

When I visited with Bernays in the autumn of 1990, I encountered two different people. On the one hand, I met a man who--as witnessed in his nostalgic recollection of Dumb Jack--understood public relations as a necessary response to a society in which expanding democratic expectations were forcefully combating the out- moded assumptions of an old, hierarchical social order. According to this Bernays, the modern belief in universal rights and popular struggles for democracy had confronted elites with a profound question: How could they preserve their social, economic, and political advantages in an age when the idea of a privileged class was coming under mounting attack from below? This first Bernays understood the "public sphere" as contested ground and public relations as a historic response to the vocal demands of a conscious, and increasingly critical, public.

Yet as he described his life and his profession, I glimpsed another Bernays. This one saw the public as a malleable mass of protoplasm, plastic raw material that--in the hands of a skilled manipulator-- could be manufactured at will. According to this Bernays, the public mind posed little danger and could be engineered through dexterous appeals to its instinctual and unconscious inner life. This Bernays was the paradigmatic "expert" in a world where "expertise" often refers to a scientifically trained individual's capacity to monitor, forecast, and influence the ideas and/or behavior of others.

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