Curtis (2007) suggests that those in power have used Freud’s theories in an attempt to control the people aimed at creating democracy among the masses. Freud suggested it was feelings from our animal past which we humans had suppressed.

Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays shared his theory of psychoanalysis with his nephew; the theory formed the basis of his control of people in society.

The basic tenets of psychoanalysis included:

  1. beside the inherited constitution of personality, a person's development is determined by events in early childhood
  2. human behavior, experience, and cognition are largely determined by irrational drives
  3. those drives are largely unconscious
  4. attempts to bring those drives into awareness meet psychological resistance in the form of defense mechanisms
  5. conflicts between conscious and unconscious (repressed) material can result in mental disturbances such as neurosis, neurotic traits, anxiety, depression etc.
  6. the liberation from the effects of the unconscious material is achieved through bringing this material into the conscious mind (via e.g. skilled guidance)

The Austro Hungarian empire led Europe into war and Freud suggested that people had unleashed their previously suppressed strong feelings which had led them into war and we should have expected this was how people would behave. Governments had released these primitive forces by going to war. When America entered the 2nd World War the government set up a committee on public information and Bernay’s was employed to promote what they were trying to achieve by being at war and promote their aims within the press. At the end of the war as the peace talks were going on in Paris, Barnays was surprised by the way Woodrow Wilson was portrayed as a liberator and how well they had communicated their ideas. Bernay’s started to think that he might be able to use the same ideas of mass persuasion in peace time renaming propaganda to public relations (PR) as he felt Hitler has damaged the term propaganda. Bernay’s set up a PR group in new york at the end of the 2nd World War.

 Most governments at the time felt that motivating of people was by giving the facts; however Bernays, appropriated psychoanalysis’s use by applying it to shopping creating what we no as markating today. One example of the use of psychoanalysis is when in 1927 George Hill President of American Tobacco Co hired Bernays to break the taboo against women smoking in public. Bernays work with Abraham Brill a psychiatrist, successfully linking smoking with female empowerment Bernays calling cigarettes "Torches of Freedom". Even though this idea that cigarettes give people freedom is irrational and played with the people’s emotions it still worked. This example shows the distructive power of PR/Propergander and how it plays on irrational feelings inside all of us.

Bernay used Freud’s theories in showing large American businesses how they could manipulate people into wanting things they did not necessarily need but might instead unconsciously desire. This manipulation influenced political ideas regarding how politicians could control the masses by satisfying the public’s inner self-centred desires. This formed the start of people being passive to the self-domination of the world.

I have found it interesting how these two areas, the advertising of politics have been closely linked together and this is something that I aim to examine within my work particularly the aspect of psychoanalytical manipulation of the public in politics.

Curtis A (2007) Century of the Self, Available at: (Accessed 19th February 2013)

Tye L (1998) The Father of Spin, New York: Henry Holt and Company LLC, p80, 97


AuthorOliver Perry