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Public Opinion Paperback – June 12, 1997
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About the Author
Walter Lippmann (1889-1974) was the author of many books on political thought and was widely considered America's most distinguished syndicated columnist. In addition to being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, he won two Pulitzer Prizes for his newspaper column "Today and Tomorrow," which appeared in the New YorkHerald Tribune. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Lippmann was part of the Creel Committee, whose job it was to sell the idea that America should get involved in World War I to the American people...so the importance of peeking into the thought processes behind that campaign of pro-war propaganda is a priceless opportunity.
If you wish to understand what those in power actually think of the public's importance in a democracy (or democratic republic), make sure you read this book...twice!
''For the most part we do not first see, and then define, we define first and then see. In the great blooming, buzzing confusion of the outer world we pick out what our culture has already defined for us, and we tend to perceive that which we have picked out in the form stereotyped for us by our culture.'' (855)
This is a key theme. What is seen must be given. Facts are never found, they are arranged. Presents Aristotle's defense of slavery as example-
''Aristotle, therefore, excluded entirely that destructive doubt. Those who are slaves are intended to be slaves. Each slave holder was to look upon his chattels as natural slaves. When his eye had been trained to see them that way, he was to note as confirmation of their servile character the fact that they performed servile work, that they were competent to do servile work, and that they had the muscles to do servile work.''
The slave owner saw the ''fact'' of the person as a ''natural'' slave. His perception does not allow any other ''fact'' into his mind.
''This is the perfect stereotype. Its hallmark is that it precedes the use of reason; is a form of perception, imposes a certain character on the data of our senses before the data reach the intelligence.'' (1004)
Lippmann provides an ''stereotype'' (worship of progress) that drives American society . . .
''"It is not easy," he writes, "for a new idea of the speculative order to penetrate and inform the general consciousness of a community until it has assumed some external and concrete embodiment, or is recommended by some striking material evidence. In the case of Progress both these conditions were fulfilled (in England) in the period 1820-1850."
''The most striking evidence was furnished by the mechanical revolution. "Men who were born at the beginning of the century had seen, before they had passed the age of thirty, the rapid development of steam navigation, the illumination of towns and houses by gas, the opening of the first railway." In the consciousness of the average householder miracles like these formed the pattern of his belief in the perfectibility of the human race.''
These 'miracles' were proof that the 'god of progress' is alive and protecting his worshippers. What else did this 'religion' teach? -
''This pattern, taken up by others, reinforced by dazzling inventions, imposed an optimistic turn upon the theory of evolution. That theory, of course, is, as Professor Bury says, neutral between pessimism and optimism. But it promised continual change, and the changes visible in the world marked such extraordinary conquests of nature, that the popular mind made a blend of the two. Evolution first in Darwin himself, and then more elaborately in Herbert Spencer, was a "progress towards perfection."
''The stereotype represented by such words as "progress" and "perfection" was composed fundamentally of mechanical inventions. And mechanical it has remained, on the whole, to this day.''
Mechanical progress does not produce mental, emotional, spiritual, political or any other type of progress. Human life is not 'mechanical'. The stereotype is delusional.
PART I: INTRODUCTION
Chapter I: The World Outside and the Pictures in Our Heads
PART II: APPROACHES TO THE WORLD OUTSIDE
Chapter II: Censorship and Privacy
Chapter III: Contact and Opportunity
Chapter IV: Time and Attention
Chapter V: Speed, Words, and Clearness
PART III: STEREOTYPES
Chapter VI: Stereotypes
Chapter VII: Stereotypes as Defense
Chapter VIII: Blind Spots and Their Value
Chapter IX: Codes and Their Enemies
Chapter X: The Detection of Stereotypes
PART IV: INTERESTS
Chapter XI: The Enlisting of Interest
Chapter XII: Self-Interest Reconsidered
PART V: THE MAKING OF A COMMON WILL
Chapter XIII: The Transfer of Interest
Chapter XIV: Yes or No
Chapter XV: Leaders and the Rank and File
PART VI: THE IMAGE OF DEMOCRACY
Chapter XVI: The Self-Centered Man
Chapter XVII: The Self-Contained Community
Chapter XVIII: The Role of Force, Patronage and Privilege
Chapter XIX: The Old Image in a New Form: Guild Socialism
Chapter XX: A New Image
PART VII: NEWSPAPERS
Chapter XXI: The Buying Public
Chapter XXII: The Constant Reader
Chapter XXIII: The Nature of News
Chapter XXIV: News, Truth, and a Conclusion
PART VIII: ORGANIZED INTELLIGENCE
Chapter XXV: The Entering Wedge
Chapter XXVI: Intelligence Work
Chapter XXVII: The Appeal to the Public
Chapter XXVIII: The Appeal to Reason
From the Introduction -
''And so in the chapters which follow we shall inquire first into some of the reasons why the picture inside so often misleads men in their dealings with the world outside. Under this heading we shall consider first the chief factors which limit their access to the facts.''
Public opinion of the world is wrong, distorted. Why?
''They are the artificial censorships, the limitations of social contact, the comparatively meager time available in each day for paying attention to public affairs, the distortion arising because events have to be compressed into very short messages, the difficulty of making a small vocabulary express a complicated world, and finally the fear of facing those facts which would seem to threaten the established routine of men's lives.''
''From this it proceeds to examine how in the individual person the limited messages from outside, formed into a pattern of stereotypes, are identified with his own interests as he feels and conceives them.''
''In the succeeding sections it examines how opinions are crystallized into what is called Public Opinion, how a National Will, a Group Mind, a Social Purpose, or whatever you choose to call it, is formed.''
''There follows an analysis of the traditional democratic theory of public opinion. The substance of the argument is that democracy in its original form never seriously faced the problem which arises because the pictures inside people's heads do not automatically correspond with the world outside.''
''My conclusion is that they ignore the difficulties, as completely as did the original democrats, because they, too, assume, and in a much more complicated civilization, that somehow mysteriously there exists in the hearts of men a knowledge of the world beyond their reach.''
''I argue that representative government, either in what is ordinarily called politics, or in industry, cannot be worked successfully, no matter what the basis of election, unless there is an independent, expert organization for making the unseen facts intelligible to those who have to make the decisions.''
This 'independent, expert organization' was created by Wilson to get populace to support the war. It worked. Lippmann was part of this. This work is the result.
Lippmann concludes with this somber judgement -
''Until reason is subtle and particular, the immediate struggle of politics will continue to require an amount of native wit, force, and unprovable faith, that reason can neither provide nor control, because the facts of life are too undifferentiated for its powers of understanding.''
This is a sad loss of faith in 'reason' as cure. The enlightenment has failed with WW1. Lippmann does not imagine the horror to soon follow.
''And yet, even when there is this will to let the future count, we find again and again that we do not know for certain how to act according to the dictates of reason. The number of human problems on which reason is prepared to dictate is small.''
Lippmann now looks to something else beyond 'reason'. What? He doesn't know.
Pascal wrote (four hundred years ago) in the dawn of the worship of 'reason' -
''The last proceeding of reason is to recognize that there is an infinity of things which are beyond it. It is but feeble if it does not see so far as to know this. But if natural things are beyond it, what will be said of supernatural?''
Here are only some of the problems I found -
- Some pages are "wavy" and blurred to the point of being absolutely unreadable. What is said on these pages, I will never know. This flaw resembles what would happen if one were to copy a document on a photocopier while pulling the document out at the same time.
- Random pages are printed with a very dark grey background - making the text quite difficult to see.
- Literally every other page of the book has a strange printing flaw where, at the top of these pages, there is a strange image - something that resembles an accidental, nonsensical banner ad. It's quite large. It seems as if in this image, the mechanics of the scanning equipment are visible. Interesting in it's own weird way I suppose, but very unprofessional and distracting.
Somebody didn't care.