Public Opinion

by Walter Lippmann. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co. 1922. 12mo, pp. x+427. $2.75.
MR. LIPPMANN states his argument thus: ‘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. . . . My conclusion is that public opinions must be organized for the press, if they are to be Sound, not by the press as is the case to-day.’ The discussion leads him into many directions, for he is dealing with a triangular relationship ’ between the scene of action, the human picture of that scene, and the human response to that picture working itself out upon the scene of action.’ In his final chapters he develops his plan for bodies of experts in each department of government, competent to prepare facts and inferences for the guidance of the responsible chiefs or leaders of opinion.
It is in the intermediate stages of developing his idea that Mr. Lippmann is most suggestive. The ‘stereotype’ or fixed prejudice offers an obstacle to a free formation of opinion. ‘For the most part we do not first see, then define; we define first and then see.’ Whatever is familiar, ‘we tend to visualize with the aid of images already in our mind.’ How to alter the stereotype and influence the subject is the purpose of all propaganda. The individual looks at great problems as a mimic enlargement of his private life, and ‘men’s ideas of all things and of themselves are not instinctive. They are acquired.’ In seeking to make a common will there must be a wider view and environment and, especially, an ability to apprehend the unseen environment. Political leaders are of limited power, but the political machine gathers sufficient influence to get what it wants. Symbols have their place and the press could be a power. In an analysis of what the press does in the gathering of news the author touches a problem as yet. unsolved, and his suggestions are vital even if not revolutionary.
Particularly good is his account of the Selfcontained Community, the almost extreme limitations it imposes upon public opinion, and the far from correct views expressed by the fathers of the constitution. Jefferson’s image of democracy is mercilessly dissected and Hamilton fares little better. The remedy for the situation is organized intelligence. The examination of specific examples of interpretation and propaganda conveys sound doctrine, even if if is tinged with a humiliating shame for past errors of judgment.
Mr. Lippmann does not claim to have solved the question of a healthy and intelligent public opinion, but he has shown the extent of the problem and devised a remedy, and he has done this in a readable and critical volume.