“[A] true pilot must of necessity pay attention to the seasons, the heavens, the stars, the winds, and everything proper to the craft if he is really to rule a ship” (Plato, The Republic, 487e).

You hear it all the time: ‘A democratic republic requires an informed citizenry’. Yet, it’s doubtful that any democratic republic has ever had a truly informed public. Citizens do not have the time, training, or timely access to information they need to be truly informed. They never have and it is highly unlikely that they ever will. The Founding Fathers never intended to create a government that would be run by a mob. And the powerful people within American society have always operated with an understanding that ‘public opinion’ must be molded. In the 19th-century the press helped build an uniquely American mythology, replete with heroic cowboys, Horatio Alger success stories, and the like. The 20th-Century saw John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, the dichotomy of the Cold War. America was asked, time and time again, to make sacrifices. And those sacrifices were justified by appeals to our innate goodness, our special mission in the world…and this was contrasted to various malevolent forces that allegedly sought to stymie our mission or even to cause our destruction.

In the 19th-Century those malevolent forces were Native Americans, Mexicans, and the European powers that all sought to stem our western expansion. In the 20th-Century, those forces were fascism and international communism. Now, those forces are wrapped up under the banner of Islam-inspired terrorism. How do we get our society to accept the mission of the day? If our task is to combat terrorism, is this a goal that the people can come to naturally? Or does it require some kind of steering by a class of philosopher-kings?

To expect that all men for all time will go on thinking different things, and yet doing the same things, is a doubtful speculation. It is not founding society on a communion, or even on a convention, but rather on a coincidence. Four
men may meet under the same lamp post; one to paint it pea green as part of a great municipal reform; one to read his breviary in the light of it; one to embrace it with accidental ardour in a fit of alcoholic enthusiasm; and the last merely because the pea green post is a conspicuous point of rendezvous with his young lady. But to expect this to happen night after night is unwise….”
[Footnote: G.
K. Chesterton, “The Mad Hatter and the Sane Householder,” _Vanity
Fair_, January, 1921, p. 54]

Indeed. The power-brokers in our country have never relied on chance to bring everyone to the same lamp post, be it opposition to western expansion, war in the Philippines, entry into World War One, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the invasion of Panama, or either Persian Gulf War.

Walter Lippmann discussed this in his 1922 book, Public Opinion:

For the four men at the lamp post substitute the governments, the parties, the corporations, the societies, the social sets, the trades and professions, universities, sects, and nationalities of the world.

Think of the legislator voting a statute that will affect distant peoples, a statesman coming to a decision. Think of the Peace Conference reconstituting the frontiers of Europe, an ambassador in a foreign country trying to discern the intentions of his own government and of the foreign government, a promoter working a concession in a backward country, an editor demanding a war, a clergyman calling on the police to regulate amusement, a club lounging-room making up its mind about a strike, a sewing circle preparing to regulate the schools, nine judges deciding whether a legislature in Oregon may fix
the working hours of women, a cabinet meeting to decide on the recognition of a government, a party convention choosing a candidate and writing a platform, twenty-seven million voters casting their ballots, an Irishman in Cork thinking about an Irishman in Belfast, a Third International planning to reconstruct the whole of human
society, a board of directors confronted with a set of their employees’ demands, a boy choosing a career, a merchant estimating supply and demand for the coming season, a speculator predicting the
course of the market, a banker deciding whether to put credit behind a new enterprise, the advertiser, the reader of advertisments…. Think
of the different sorts of Americans thinking about their notions of “The British Empire” or “France” or “Russia” or “Mexico.” It is not so different from Mr. Chesterton’s four men at the pea green lamp post.

The molding of public opinion is required to move the country toward some national purpose. That purpose may vary, but it isn’t determined by public opinion…rather, public opinion is molded and moved to support a national purpose that is decided upon by a narrow universe of power-brokers. The national purpose may be wise or unwise, and it may involve near consensus among the power-brokers or rancorous dissent. But, in any case, it is not for the people to decide on the direction, nor for them to initiate the program.

In Public Opinion, Lippmann developed his theory on this. And he took it a bit farther than I have so far. Even within the ranks of the power-brokers, no individual is capable of forming a complete picture of all the complexities of life. Therefore, Lippmann argues, we need some organization that can gather all the facts and refine them for the decision makers. And the press should be employed in the process of molding public opinion for the policies that this organization supplies to the power-brokers.

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. I attempt, therefore, to argue that the serious acceptance of the principle that personal representation must be supplemented by representation of the unseen facts would alone permit a satisfactory decentralization, and allow us to escape from the intolerable and unworkable fiction that each of us must acquire a competent opinion about all public affairs.

It is argued that the problem of the press is confused because the critics and the apologists expect the press to realize this fiction, expect it to make up for all that was not foreseen in the theory of democracy, and that the readers expect this miracle to be performed at no cost or trouble to themselves. The newspapers are regarded by democrats as a panacea for their own defects, whereas analysis of the nature of news and of the economic basis of journalism seems to show that the newspapers necessarily and inevitably reflect, and therefore, in greater or lesser measure, intensify, the defective organization of public opinion.

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 today. This organization I conceive to be in the first instance the task of a political science that has won its proper place as formulator, in advance of real decision, instead of apologist, critic, or reporter after the decision has been made. I try to indicate that the perplexities of government and industry are conspiring to give political science this enormous opportunity to enrich itself and to serve the public. And, of course, I hope that these pages will help a few people to realize that opportunity more vividly, and therefore to pursue it more consciously.

Now, Walter Lippmann was one of the founders of The New Republic.

The New Republic (TNR) was founded by Herbert Croly and Walter Lippmann through the financial backing of heiress Dorothy Payne Whitney and her husband, Willard Straight, who maintained majority ownership. The magazine’s first issue was published on November 7, 1914. The magazine’s politics were liberal and progressive, and as such concerned with coping with the great changes brought about by America’s late-19th century industrialization. The magazine is widely considered important in changing the character of liberalism in the direction of governmental interventionism, both foreign and domestic. Among the most important of these was the emergence of the U.S. as a Great Power on the international scene, and in 1917 TNR urged America’s entry into World War I on the side of the Allies.

From the very beginning, The New Republic was concerned with convincing liberals and progressives of the necessity of ‘governmental interventionism, both foreign and domestic.’ Lippmann understood his mission very well. In order to understand the neo-conservative agenda for America, it is essential that we look at another major thinker on public opinion, Professor Leo Strauss. Strauss is the intellectual source for neo-conservatism. Here is a snippet on Strauss from Seymour Hersh.

Robert Pippin, the chairman of the Committee on Social Thought at Chicago and a critic of Strauss, told me, “Strauss believed that good statesmen have powers of judgment and must rely on an inner circle. The person who whispers in the ear of the King is more important than the King. If you have that talent, what you do or say in public cannot be held accountable in the same way.” Another Strauss critic, Stephen Holmes, a law professor at New York University, put the Straussians’ position this way: “They believe that your enemy is deceiving you, and you have to pretend to agree, but secretly you follow your own views.” Holmes added, “The whole story is complicated by Strauss’s idea—actually Plato’s—that philosophers need to tell noble lies not only to the people at large but also to powerful politicians.”

Here, Lippmann’s original observation has become somewhat more specific and nefarious. Lippmann was calling for something very like the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence. It would be a group of highly trained people that would do what no single leader could do…break down the huge amounts of data in the world into digestable bits, and allow power-brokers to make reality-based decisions. And, then, help mobilize the media to mold public opinion in support of a policy that had been well thought out by experts, but might not be easily sellable to an uninformed public.

The Straussians had a different take. For them, the kind of analysis done by the CIA was doomed to be flawed by the actions of the enemy…who would always seek to deceive. Moreover, matters of policy couldn’t, or shouldn’t, be left to politicians. Politicians have certain skill sets but, for Straussians, deep thinking isn’t necessary one of them. If you understand this mindset it makes it easier to understand the meaning of Ron Suskind’s famous contact with an aide to George W. Bush:

The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

Far too many people on the left misinterpreted this statement and went racing to declare themselves ‘proud members of the reality-based community’. Doing that is only a way of making yourself look stupid and validating the Straussian’s contempt for you. For the neo-conservatives in this administration, the meaning of reality-based is quite different from how most people conceive it. Reality-based refers to those people that are on the receiving end of the media barrage and not on the production end. People that deal only in reality are people that think reality can be discerned by reading the papers. But, for the Straussians, that is but the shadow on the wall of a cave. The true Form of reality is made, for example, when Scooter Libby sits down for a chat with Judith Miller in the St. Regis Hotel and leaks part if the National Intelligence Estimate to her. Libby worked to get misinformation into the NIE, and then he leaks that misinformation back to the press in order to justify other misinformation that is under threat of exposure.

In other words, while we’re studying reality (reading Joe Wilson’s editorial in the New York Times), they will act again (leak the NIE, expose the critic’s wife, spread new disinformation) and we will be left to study what they do.

This type of manipulation of public opinion is most blatant where it is consciously done. And the two places where it is most consciously done is at The New Republic and within neo-conservative circles.

Both efforts are deeply cynical and undemocratic. And they have dominated U.S. foreign policy for years.

0 0 votes
Article Rating