Read Public Opinion: With linked Table of Contents by Walter Lippmann Free Online
Book Title: Public Opinion: With linked Table of Contents|
The author of the book: Walter Lippmann
Edition: Wilder Publications
Date of issue: June 10th 2015
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Reader ratings: 6.1
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Format files: PDF
The size of the: 7.18 MB
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I read this book after reading Brian's review here http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...
Where this book is really quite interesting is in the fact that it is a kind of modernisation of Plato’s Republic. I’m not just saying that because it starts by quoting the allegory of the cave, but because all of the central ideas of the book seem to me to be essentially Platonic. For example, democracy is presented as a really good idea ‘in theory’, but one that is incapable of working in practice. This is put forward for much the same reason’s Plato used in criticising democracy: that it is too easy to be perverted by flatterers, that 'the people' are too blinded by their day-to-day needs to understand the great sweep of history, and that the masses are lead more by their loins and stomachs than by their reason.
But this book also updates Plato by reference to what was at the time the latest in psychological research which shows that mere humans don’t cope very well with complexity. The problem is that the world is an incredibly complex place. People understand their own needs quite well, but, and this is where the book is much more intelligent than say, works by Hayek or Friedman, an understanding of these immediate needs simply isn’t enough to understand the complexities of life in society. Where Hayek and Friedman resolve this complication by essentially denying society (see Margaret Thatcher’s famous ‘there is no such thing as society, there are individuals and there are families’) – Lippmann does quite the opposite. He says that because there is such a thing as society and since the path necessary to forge society onward is too complex to be understood by the great mass of humanity, there is a need for ‘experts’ to mould the minds of people in society so that they choose the right path. His definition of an expert as someone disinterested and a kind of boffin is also amusing.
Given people are confronted by complexity all of the time the solution they have for dealing with this complexity is essentially to resort to stereotypes. And he doesn’t limit this just to the great unwashed – everyone is guilty of these simplifications. The problem is we couldn't function without such simplifications – but obviously enough, our simplified view always leaves us in danger of choosing the wrong path – and, again, this is why those disinterested souls (what Plato referred to as Philosopher Kings) need to intervene to ensure that government of the people and for the people doesn’t end up government by the people. The people are never disinterested enough to make good rulers. And when they vote for something they don't vote for a single reason - but for a complexity of reasons, with people voting for the same candidate often for quite opposite reasons. This part of the book was particularly interesting.
Many of the same arguments put today about why we can’t really have a free press where also standard then, it seems - and I hadn't really expected this. For example, you might be excused for believing that it was the internet that brought about the argument that because we aren’t prepared to pay for our news, that we need to expect that those who will pay for our news, advertisers, will filter what we read through their perspective and in their interests. But it is argued here that the little amount we are prepared to pay for newspapers, even back then, also meant that the news was effectively free and therefore advertising has always played this role.
The best of this was his discussion of why strike action is generally portrayed badly in the press. To Lippmann it is simply a matter of self-interest. Not just the self interest of the ruling class – you know, the owners of the factories being more or less the same group as the owners of the papers and so the papers generally taking their side as a matter of course. But rather it is also the self-interest of the readers. The readers, on average, are unlikely to be directly involved in the strike – but, if the strike is effective, they are likely to be affected by the strike. Perhaps the striking factory makes something they need to buy. Perhaps it will stop them being able to work themselves through the lack of supply of something they use in their work – such being the interconnections of life in society. So, the fact strike action is likely to have a negative impact on the reader – much more likely that than it is to have a positive impact on them – it is fairly safe for newspapers to not be on the side of the strikers. Also, the reasons why people go on strike generally either sound selfish or are too complicated to make into a simple story to tell. Anyway, people think in stereotypes and one of the stereotypes is that strikes are always bad. Now, I still hold to the naïve view that newspapers advance the class interests of their owners and that is part of the reason why strikes are generally portrayed as bad – but I did find this alternative view interesting too.
There is, and always will be, something chilling in the Platonic vision of the master race finding useful lies to tell to the great mass of ill-informed humanity so as to distract and direct them towards the best of all possible worlds. But at least there is an honesty to this book that is quite missing from so much else today. That people like Murdoch act out these views today is not in the least hidden by the fact they say nearly the exact opposite of what they do in practice. Give me the chilling truth over the pacifying lie any day.
A lot of this book is quite dated now - I'm not sure how interesting the discussion on guild socialism is, to be honest, and many of the discussions on WW1 were overly long for me and too specific for me to really see their worth in supporting the argument of the book - but I think you could nearly get away with reading the first and last chapters of this to get enough of an overview to be going on with.
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Read information about the authorWalter Lippmann was an American intellectual, writer, reporter, and political commentator who gained notoriety for being among the first to introduce the concept of Cold War. Lippmann was twice awarded (1958 and 1962) a Pulitzer Prize for his syndicated newspaper column, "Today and Tomorrow."
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