manipulation of the masses

Freudian theory has made more impact on our life today than you could imagine. Read on to learn how his ideas were used for the manipulation of the masses.

In the early 1900s, Sigmund Freud formulated his theories on psychodynamics that have led to controversies around the world. While many of us are aware of his theories on unconscious desires, with the most famous being our sexual needs, people are actually not familiar with the application of his theories. In fact, the pioneers of psychoanalysis were the members of the Freud family: his daughter Anna Freud and nephew Edward Bernays. With Sigmund Freud’s theories on psychodynamics, both his daughter and nephew saw that the public did, in fact, inhibit irrational behavior. As a result, they devoted their careers to trying to not only understand this behavior but also to control it.

Edward Bernays and the Manipulation of the Masses

Edward Bernays was an Austrian just like his uncle but he moved to New York when he was just 1 year old. He spent his whole life in New York and graduated from Cornell in 1912. With the psychoanalytical ideas he learned from his uncle, he came to a conclusion that the public was indeed irrational and had to be controlled. Keep in mind that his career spanned from pre-world war 1 to post-world war 2. He truly believed that the manipulation of the masses was the only way to control people’s inevitable irrationality. His ideas were controversial because they actually worked on the public. From then on, he was known as the father of public relations.

His methods are now used widely by advertisement agencies and even political leaders. With theories formulated by his uncle, Bernays was able to create techniques that were subtly aggressive. One of his most popular campaigns was for a cigarette company. During those days, smoking was not socially accepted for women and they either smoked in private or not at all. But with a few fashion models on an Easter parade in New York, he publicly paraded the women smoking and pushed out a headline calling the cigarettes “torches of freedom.” He was subtly telling the women in the public that smoking had now become a symbol of freedom, not only was the cigarette a phallic symbol that they were burning but it also had links to the torch on the statue of liberty. He was then able to break the taboo of women smoking.

Bernays was a very influential man in his time and he was able to convince the public to do many things he wanted them to do. He was especially gifted in the manipulation of the masses to his ideology. During the post-world war 2 era, he believed that the fear of communism was an essential tool to control the public and it was through him that it became a weapon used in the cold war. By using the Freudian theory, he was able to control the masses and make them believe what he wanted them to believe, which makes him not only one of the most influential men of the 20th century but also one of the most dangerous.

Anna Freud and Conformity

Anna Freud, on the other hand, believed the same as her uncle and cousin. She saw that the irrational behavior of the public was very real and possibly harmful to them. During the post-war era, many people were trying to figure out why the Nazis were capable of such atrocities. Her goal was not only to find out why but to also control it. She was funded by the government to help repress the irrational behavior of the public to ensure that there would be no repeat of the World War 2.

She believed that people’s irrational behavior stemmed from repressing their childhood traumas. She formulated a theory that if people conformed to society’s rules and followed what was socially acceptable, the irrational behavior could be suppressed. Her research came from 4 children of her close friend Dorothy Burlingham. She tried to control their behavior from an early age, teaching them how to conform to society and its norms. But many years later, one of Burlingham’s daughters had a mental breakdown and committed suicide in Freud’s Vienna home.

Freudian theory has made a lot of impact on our life today even though we may not see it. The remnants of Freud’s ideas were aggressively exploited by psychoanalysis in the 20th century and have shaped some parts of our world as we know it. The manipulation of the masses may have started a long time ago but it does not mean it has ended.

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I'm a law student who is fond of reading and writing about interesting topics on science (especially cognitive science and psychology), technology, and different extraterrestrial and paranormal stuff. I'm passionate about movies, travelling and photography.