The Clare Spark Blog

August 19, 2009

Noam Chomsky’s misrepresentation of Walter Lippmann’s chief ideas on manufacturing consent

Walter Lippmann

[For a related blog see]

I first defended Walter Lippmann’s chief ideas from the 1920s and 1930s on a KPFK radio program, then worked up this longer analysis for a discussion group on Humanities Net (the History of Diplomacy). It is archived there, but the material remains timely, as science is always on the defensive, and the entire subject of “public opinion” is paramount in importance to any would-be democracy.

For instance, as I showed in my book, Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival,  Melville’s character Captain Ahab was appropriated by “moderately” conservative psychoanalysts and sociologists calling for government psychological warfare during and after World War II, and blaming fascism on Byronic/Ahab-ish puritanism and romanticism, at times recommending the adoption of (Byronic, Ahab-ish, Jewish) Hitler’s astute and effective techniques of mind-management in order to evacuate the Radical Enlightenment (i.e., civil liberties, rational-secular education, the accountability of “experts” directly to the people). One of these, the political scientist Harold Lasswell (featured in my book), is now paired in his Wikipedia entry with Walter Lippmann as a proponent of propaganda designed to make us dependent upon experts, who may not be interrogated by non-experts. Anyone who has read Lippmann’s Liberty and the News, would have to be outraged by this comparison. Meanwhile, Chomsky still draws crowds among the Left and the social psychologists whose antidemocratic policies I have addressed remain unexposed.

[Added 3-11-10: Jonah  Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism (p.109) similarly misreads Lippmann. He footnotes an apparently damning quote from Public Opinion, but then gives no page number. See]

The H-Diplo interchanges started with a query, 7 December 2001, and raised the hackles of Chomsky-ites who defended Chomsky to the death:

[My query:] I am trying to get a handle on why Noam Chomsky and his followers are so hostile to Walter Lippmann. I have read Lippmann’s Public Opinion and the sequel The Phantom Public  (both published in the 1920s), and there is no basis for the Chomskyite claim that Lippmann thought that the manufacture of consent was a good idea; it was quite the opposite.

Moreover, the second work (Phantom Public) was decidedly Heraclitean, postmodern and cultural/ethical relativist in its epistemology; one would think that the New Left academic cohort would have embraced Lippmann (though perhaps experiencing discomfort with his defense of fact-finding and truth vs. falsehood, a task best handled by experts).

I would also like to add that from my reading of right-wing populist screeds (and including the Carroll Quigley tome), that Walter Lippmann is a favorite bogeyman, along with other “Jews” and their Anglo-Saxon co-conspirators who have allegedly controlled the mass media to the detriment of participatory democracy.

[Second H-Diplo posting, 15 Jan.2002:] This message responds to questions and claims offered by a few list members with respect to whether or not Noam Chomsky and his followers have misrepresented Walter Lippmann’s positions on the role of experts and others in the formation of public opinion. Specifically, in my initial query on this list I alluded to the Chomskyite distortion of Lippmann’s attitude to “the manufacture of consent” in his book, Public Opinion (1922).

Chomsky’s characterization of Lippmann and his role in what is often called “elite culture” is frequently repeated in both written and spoken form, and widely disseminated to college audiences. For instance, in his talk “Media Control,” at M.I.T., 3/17/91, Chomsky noted that “Walter Lippman, who was the dean of American journalists, a major foreign and domestic policy critic and also a major theorist of liberal democracy…argued that what he called a ‘revolution in the art of democracy,’ could be used to ‘manufacture consent,’ that is, to bring about agreement on the part of the public for things they didn’t want by the new techniques of propaganda.” And speaking to the Society of Professional Journalists at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, 4/30/00, a graduate student noted in the Minutes for the Society, “Chomsky frames his media criticism around Walter Lippmann’s famous term, “manufactured consent…The public’s role is to be spectators, not participants, and that is the sound of the trampling and roar of an obedient herd.”

Chomsky’s constant invocation of Lippmann is reflected in the title of his book co-authored with Edward S. Herman, Manufacturing Consent: the political economy of mass media  (1988) and in the videorecording Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media (National Film Board of Canada, 1992). The award-winning film, an argument that Chomsky has been denied access to what is commonly called “the corporate media,” shows sentences on the printed page from Public Opinion (with the words “manufacture of consent”) purportedly demonstrating that Lippmann was, in fact, a powerful advocate of mind-management . I saw the film when it was used by the Public Broadcasting System as a fund drive premium for Los Angeles station KCET and was stunned. [This was an unforgivable crime against the historical record. C.S. 8-19-09]

As a preface to further remarks, I offer the following comments about the general context surrounding the debate over Lippmann. WL  is frequently linked to Freud and his nephew Edward Bernays (see my bibliography below). As many of these titles suggest, Lippmann, Freud and Bernays are the “spinmeisters” who originated the practice of brainwashing the public. Both Bernays and Lippmann had worked for George Creel’s Committee during the First World War, as Chomsky and his followers note. Deploying their propaganda techniques, they claim that Bernays has corrupted the working class with consumerism, and, through symbol manipulation (allegedly advocated by Lippmann, who had studied Freud, as had Bernays), they engineer the consent of the masses to the takeover of government by big business. Thus the State becomes the engine of imperialist war in the sole interest of commercial values, hence destroying the spirituality that hitherto protected and united peace-loving communities. This linkage seemed to me to echo well-known populist allegations that “the Jews” control the media, to the detriment of “the people” who are thereby hornswoggled. Further, according to a recent NBC television special, “Roots of Rage” Arab populations believe that in fact the Jews do control the media (I don’t know if there were any polls taken). Other reports note that many Arabs believe that “Hollywood” can make anything look real, i.e. the supposedly manufactured bin Laden tape recently circulated. It is thus essential for us to be very careful about the relationship between the media and public opinion, especially on the foreign policy issues that are the focus of this discussion group.

Having read Public Opinion and seen the numerous slams at Lippmann mentioned above, several years ago I asked Ronald Steel, Lippmann’s biographer, if Chomsky had not mischaracterized WL’s position. He said that I was correct, but then cautioned me to read The Phantom Public, where I would see what an elitist Lippmann really was. I have read the latter book and also Drift and Mastery (1914), written when Lippmann was only 24, an outspoken socialist, and about to become a founding editor of The New Republic; it is an optimistic affirmation of the possibilities of a scientifically conceived, trained, and informed democratic polity. There is no evidence that Lippmann (then or later) had contempt for democracy, let alone workers, consumers, women, or any other members of a “bewildered herd” as one list member alleges. “Bewildered” is a word Lippmann often uses, and applies it to himself and to every other person attempting to grasp the huge changes in scale and the titanic social forces aroused by industrial society, along with its sharply divergent proposals for reform or revolution. It is a modest and humble but hopeful book, and strongly influenced by Freud insofar as Lippmann wishes to make the hitherto unconscious elements of our volition susceptible to apprehension and constructive redirection. (It should be mentioned here that Woodrow Wilson and Lippmann, following Theodore Roosevelt, had divergent views on the role of experts in an industrial society [Cooper, 1983], and the Wilson-Roosevelt rivalry may be an element of the historical sub-text underlying the Chomsky-Lippmann debate.)

The most persuasive riposte I can offer to those who believe Chomsky (along with other antagonists claiming that Lippmann was an antidemocrat, i.e. an elitist opponent of “popular sovereignty” [Riccio, 1994] is to quote relevant passages from Public Opinion, including the one cited by list member Charles Young (p.248) as evidence in support of the allegation that Lippmann was indeed advocating mind-control.

First, Lippmann lays out the project of the book at the end of his first chapter “The Pictures In Our Heads.”

…”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. And then, because the democratic theory is under criticism by socialist thinkers, there follows an examination of the most advanced and coherent of these criticisms, as made by the English Guild Socialists. My purpose here is to find out whether these reformers take into account the main difficulties of public opinion. My conclusion is that they ignore these 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.

[Lippmann continues:] “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 the 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 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.” (pp.31-32, Harcourt Brace edition, 1922)

The second excerpt uses the contested term “manufacture of consent” in the chapter entitled “Leaders and the Rank and File”:

“The established leaders of any organization have great natural advantages. They are believed to have better sources of information. The books and papers are in their offices. They took part in the important conferences. They met the important people. They have responsibility. It is, therefore, easier for them to secure attention and to speak in a convincing tone. But also they have a very great deal of control over access to the facts. Every official is in some degree a censor. And since no one can suppress information, either by concealing it or forgetting to mention it, without some notion of what he wishes the public to know, every leader is in some degree a propagandist. Strategically placed, and compelled often to choose even at the best between the equally cogent though conflicting ideals of safety for the institution, and candor to his public, the official finds himself deciding more and more consciously what fact, in what setting, in what guise he shall permit the public to know. [subsection 4 follows]
“That the manufacture of consent is capable of great refinements, no one, I think, denies. The process by which public opinions arise is certainly no less intricate than it has appeared in these pages, and the opportunities for manipulation open to anyone who understands the process are plain enough.
[Lippmann, cont.] “The creation of consent is not a new art. It is a very old one which was supposed to have died out with the appearance of democracy. But it has not died out. It has, in fact, improved enormously in technic, because it is now based on analysis rather than on rule of thumb. And so, as a result of psychological research, coupled with the modern means of communication, the practice of democracy has turned a corner. A revolution is taking place, infinitely more significant than any shifting of economic power.
“Within the life of the generation now in control of affairs, persuasion has become a self-conscious art and a regular organ of popular government. None of us begins to understand the consequences, but it is no daring prophecy to say that the knowledge of how to create consent will alter every political calculation and modify every political premise. Under the impact of propaganda, not necessarily in the sinister meaning of the word alone, the old constants of our thinking have become variables. It is no longer possible, for example, to believe in the old original dogma of democracy; that the knowledge needed for the management of human affairs comes up spontaneously from the human heart. Where we act on that theory we expose ourselves to self-deception, and to forms of persuasion that we cannot verify. It has been demonstrated that we cannot rely upon intuition, conscience, or the accidents of casual opinion if we are to deal with the world beyond our reach.” (Lippmann, 247-249)

Does Lippmann want his political science fact-finders to hide the truth from the populace; i.e. to “manufacture consent” ? In distinguishing between the news and truth, he is clearly on the side of correcting misconceptions propagated by media: “…news and truth are not the same thing, and must be clearly distinguished. The function of news is to signalize an event, the function of truth is to bring to light the hidden facts, to set them in relation with each other, and make a picture of reality on which men can act. Only at these points, where social conditions take recognizable and measurable shape, do the body of truth and the body of news coincide.” (358)

Lippmann’s chapter “The Appeal To The Public” speaks directly to teachers, and once again reiterates his commitment to scientific method, and the mastery of the irrational (the theme of Drift and Mastery). Note that the professionals are not hoarding their expertise:

[This is my favorite part: C.S., 8-19-09] “The study of error is not only in the highest degree prophylactic, but it serves as a stimulating introduction to the study of truth. As our minds become more deeply aware of their own subjectivism, we find a zest in objective method that is not otherwise there. We see vividly, as normally we should not, the enormous mischief and casual cruelty of our prejudices. And the destruction of a prejudice, though painful at first, because of its connection with our self-respect, gives an immense relief and fine pride when it is successfully done. There is a radical enlargement of the range of attention. As the current categories dissolve, a hard, simple version of the world breaks up. The scene turns, vivid and full. There follows an emotional incentive to hearty appreciation of scientific method, which otherwise it is not easy to arouse, and is impossible to sustain. Prejudices are so much easier and more interesting. For if you teach the principles of science as if they had always been accepted, their chief virtue as a discipline, which is objectivity, will make them dull. But teach them at first as victories over the superstitions of the mind, and the exhilaration of the chase and of the conquest may carry the pupil over that hard transition from his own self-bound experience to the phase where his curiosity has matured, and his reason has acquired passion.” (my italics, 409-410).

As for The Phantom Public (1925), Lippmann criticizes those who claim to speak for the public interest or community or nation or society while concealing their own particular interests. He proposes that a fully pluralist political and intellectual environment will offer the opportunity for such deceptions to be exposed by the opposition. The book is yet another attempt to rethink democratic political practices, and reiterates the position that the complexity and technicalities of industrial society (modernity) put an impossible burden on individual voters, who are asked to become proficient in areas for which no one is prepared. Lippmann’s implication is that peer review is needed to sort out which experts we should endorse. I don’t find his concern elitist, but rather realistic. This view is also consistent with his earlier critiques of populism, Marxian socialism, and Wilson’s New Freedom, plus all other movements that practice reductive social labeling and neglect the concrete individual and his behavior who does not fit the ideal type of exploiter, etc.

It is also worth noting that a recent study of Lippmann and his cohort takes to task the revisionist historiography of the 1960s and 1970s that characterized the progressives as “misleading if not dishonest.” Whereas they could have been seen as persons in a dilemma: that is, they were democratic theorists without a political base that could realize their idealistic admonitions. [Thompson, 1987, 287-88] Thompson also notes that Lippmann had been contemplating a revision of democratic social theory at least since 1915 (when he was still influenced by English socialists).

I am not an uncritical acolyte of Walter Lippmann, but I do not see how any democrat can fail to worry about the state of culture and education during the period when Lippmann was a public intellectual, or the terrible decline of standards today. I do think that it behooves scholars, as a matter of ethics and professionalism, not to distort the views of their opponents. Finally, if others on this list know of other refutations of the Chomsky claim that Lippmann is an antidemocrat and mind-manager, arch manufacturer of consent, I would like to know about them. If there are none or few, then this matter should be widely publicized, for Chomsky’s bitter and negative views of American identity and U.S. foreign policy have had a broad impact on college youth and many an autodidact.


Chomsky, Noam and Edward S. Herman. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of Mass Media. New York: Pantheon, 1988.

Cooper, John Milton, Jr.. The Warrior and the Priest. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1983

Ewen, Stuart. PR! A Social History of Spin. New York: Basic Books, 1996.

Ewen, Stuart. Interviewed by David Barsamian. _Z Magazine_, May 2000.

Gabler, Neal. “The Fathers of P.R.” New York Times Magazine, 31 Dec.1995, 28-29.

Jackson, Charles E. “The Long and Influential Life of the Original Spinmeister.” Boston Globe, 23 Aug.1998, C2. Review of Larry Tye, The Father of Spin.

Lippmann, Walter. Drift and Mastery. New York: Mitchell Kennerly, 1914.

Lippmann, Walter. Public Opinion . New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1922.

Lippmann, Walter. The Phantom Public. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1925.

Riccio, Barry D. Walter Lippmann: Odyssey of a Liberal. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 1994.

Thompson, John A. Reformers and War: American progressive publicists and the First World War. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 1987.

Valby, Karen. Minutes for Chomsky lecture, Society of Professional Journalists, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, 30 April 2000.

Wintonick, Peter and Mark Achbar. Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media. National Film Board of Canada, 1992.

Worth, Mark. “Who Are ‘They’? Alex Carey Outs The Founders of the American Propaganda Machine.” Internet review of Alex Carey, Taking The Risk Out of Democracy (University of Illinois Press, 1997).

Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman, Manufacturing Consent: the political economy of mass media (Pantheon, 1988), and then consult the videorecording Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media (National Film Board of Canada, 1992, distributed by Zeitgeist Films), and the accompanying companion book, Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media: the companion book to the award-winning film, by Peter Wintonick and Mark Achbar (Montreal: Black Rose Press, 1994).


  1. Reblogged this on YDS: The Clare Spark Blog.

    Comment by clarelspark — May 19, 2018 @ 1:43 pm | Reply

  2. I’d give my opinion, but clearly your mind is made up. You don’t have the patience for my kind, so I don’t have anything to offer. I must be the general public, and you the “expert.”

    Comment by freeoftruth — December 14, 2017 @ 2:53 am | Reply

    • What “kind” are you? I thought that we were all of the same species!

      Comment by clarelspark — December 27, 2017 @ 2:24 pm | Reply

  3. You never addressed his primary argument or even bothered to address the primary direct quote he uses as an example of the built-in elitism of WL and hatred for the populous: The public are “ignorant and meddlesome outsiders [who] must be put in their place.”

    I look forward to you re-interpreting this quote to support people and democracy!

    Comment by Joe — April 15, 2017 @ 10:54 pm | Reply

    • You give me another Chomsky quote? Did you read my posting?

      Comment by clarelspark — June 7, 2017 @ 1:37 pm | Reply

  4. […] The question of real versus fake has haunted our species forever. Plato gave that job to the “Guardians” of his Republic who would be expert in defining what sense perceptions are to be taken seriously, versus the shadows in the Cave. We are besieged by “journalists” and all intellectuals all eager to shape our inquisitiveness. Even Walter Lippmann advocated the training of a special class to separate truth from lies in his interwar books, thus earning the enmity of libertarians such as Noam Chomsky:…. […]

    Pingback by “Fake News” (and “pigs in a blanket….”) | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — January 14, 2017 @ 8:30 pm | Reply

  5. It is interesting that you consider Lippman’s (paraphrased) call for peer-review in the debate among experts sensible, rather than elitist. Indeed, it sounds like the same system of peer-review which is currently waging war on the integrity of scientific institutions. Drowning in the torrential downpour of “peer-reviewed” journal articles, backscratching, impact factors and KPI’s, science is left teeming with enthusiasm for pointless productivity and superficial declarations of human advancement.

    I get where you’re coming from; I just disagree on the efficacy of peer-review. Peer-review moderates discussion, marginalises those who are willing to break the mould, and subjugates reason to the whims of the prevailing social structure. The trouble is that it’s much easier to pretend to be an expert than it is to actually be an expert. Qualifying examinations, for example, are quite commonly used to separate the men from the boys in the school of science. It is quite obvious however, to anyone who has ever studied a physical science, that the breadth of known material is so vast as to make this method of separation worse than arbitrary – it’s almost rigged! Mere familiarisation with the tools, methods and facts of the (master’s) subject matter does not in any way qualify someone as an expert, in the sense that the word might be intended to convey some competency in forming judgements outside the scope of the master’s work.

    It’s honestly ludicrous to suggest that peer-reviewed expert discussion should amount to anything more than schoolyard bullying disguised as skilful jousting. Chomsky may have done Lippmann a disservice in trivialising his work, but the elitist streak sticks out like a sore thumb. I sympathise with your position, but I cannot condone it, because it’s based on a misplaced trust in the disgracefully fallible concept of the “qualified expert”.

    I’m not saying that it’s impossible to ascertain the suitability of a person for an occupation (or even general critical thinking ability). What I’m saying is that politically sophisticated individuals are sufficiently adept at faking/utilising an obsequious talent to obtain qualifications, which they don’t necessarily deserve in a technical sense, and too often intend to exploit in a social sense. The mass of these professionals without vocation are the true gatekeepers. Among them may be people worth listening to, but they can seldom be recognised in the crowd.

    Comment by Andrew — April 7, 2016 @ 12:23 pm | Reply

  6. […] toward Walter Lippmann for encouraging the “spinmeisters” who “manufacture consent” (…): magicians and puppeteers like the fictional Don Draper, archetypally a Jewish […]

    Pingback by Matthew Weiner’s MAD MEN and the double audience | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — May 19, 2015 @ 2:28 am | Reply

  7. […] consent” in the newly developing mass media, in order to hornswoggle the gullible people. ( See….) A similar condemnation of mass culture can be found in Hannah Arendt’s must-read tome The […]

    Pingback by LABOR DAY 2014 | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — August 29, 2014 @ 8:21 pm | Reply

  8. You are attributing a lot to Chomsky that isn’t in his work. He mentions Lippmann, but it doesn’t follow that Chomsky blamed Lippmann. Your knee-jerk negative reaction to “Chomsky-ites” leads you to a faulty analysis of Chomsky. He was attributing the phrase “manufactured consent” to Lippmann, not blaming Lippmann for its existence as a propaganda tool.


    Comment by texshelters — February 5, 2014 @ 7:41 pm | Reply

    • I stand by my essay. It was directed not only against Chomsky’s statements, but at those of his thousands of followers who buy into the animus against Lippmann.

      Comment by clarelspark — February 5, 2014 @ 8:05 pm | Reply

      • I read a lot of Chomsky when I was younger and I am pretty certain that he blamed Lippman for much more than coining a phrase. I can’t recall the source, but I do recall Chomsky, in his typical style, claiming that Lippmann’s advocacy of mass mind control techniques was a sort of open conspiracy. The principles, according to Chomsky, were brazenly laid down in Public Opinion; they did not need to be concealed because the general public was too pacified to notice or care.

        As a student at Harvard, I had the opportunity to attend some of Chomsky’s public lectures. In those days, I greatly admired him. Over the years, my respect has eroded as I’ve compared Chomsky’s characterizations of many writers to the originals. The magnitude of the discrepancies is often bewildering.

        With so many of Chomsky’s lectures now accessible online, I sometimes watch him, not to be enlightened, but to study what has become an enigma for me. It seems clear enough, that Chomsky himself is compelled to control the thinking of a receptive and naive slice of the populace, centered on college campuses. He seems to elicit adulation by flattering the young audiences with the pretense that they have joined his mysterious clan of virtuous but marginalized souls, battling the world’s oppressive powers. Chomsky can dance around his vague solutions of social ills indefinitely, with indirect references and strange characterizations of thinkers, like Lippmann, that lead in circles. Chomsky never quite spells out what he means, but suggests it’s obvious to those in the know … of course, the young people who know enough to attend his lectures have, fresh out of high school, acquired the secret knowledge of what needs to be done. If however a dissenter wanders into these mobs of sycophants, Chomsky takes equal satisfaction in using his rhetorical skills to cut him down and shame him. If my memory is reliable, he was even more incisive in this way when I was a student.

        Comment by Robert — February 28, 2015 @ 5:00 am

      • I’m so happy I came across with this article.During college Chomsky was a linguist for me and he didn’t impress me. Time went by and I’m witnessing Chomsky being praised and adored as if he was a great thinker and, for my amazement, some people even use the word “genius” for Chomsky.
        I watched some of the videos – I didn’t read his books because I have other thinkers to read that I have to study – and did read some of his articles.
        “There is something strange… there is something wrong…” was the feeling whenever I got in touch with these things.
        It was when I discovered the word “gatekeeper”, I’m Brazilian and we do not have a Portuguese word for that.

        I followed the NATO Spring…. sorry, the “Arab Spring” reading articles and watching videos of the independent journalists and social scientists.
        In 2011 I followed the Libyan invasion, the genocides.. . all the atrocities.

        Chomsky? Hmm… It became very clear to me that even thou he speaks, speaks and speaks his agenda is the same as Washington’s.
        I was watching a video where he speaks about the Arab Spring in BBC:
        and it became crystal clear to me the way Chomsky oratory means nothing.

        Even thou he says US must not intervene in Libya he portrays Qaddafi as a dictator without using the word.
        He speaks smoothly and calmly and if you pay attention you’ll see that his agenda is the official one even though it seems he doesn’t want US to get involved the story he tells implies that it is necessary. He will never say “What they fear is Qaddafi’s modernity.” like Susan Lindauer did.
        His tactics is dangerous.
        Chomsky circumnavigates numerous topics and between the lines… with his mono-chord voice induces people to believe that things are wrong where Washington says it is.
        Of course that he explains some important issues but usually on subjects that are not that important and in numerous cases the “history” he believes is the history of the winners.

        I see many people idolizing Chomsky, even friends of mine. I gave up telling them what I really think but, please, when listening to the man wear a headset because I can’t take his voice. It is as if he fears saying anything with real content.
        I can’t take Chomsky. Thank you for this article. I was going to compare his book to Lippman’s but I don’t think it is necessary any longer.

        I’m happy reading this comment from someone who attended his classes and had the first hand experience.
        I just ask myself how is it possible not to sleep listening to his voice that lacks emotion, passion and humanity.

        Comment by Ana — June 9, 2015 @ 5:11 pm

  9. […] the forces of “manufactured consent” (i.e. the Jews who allegedly control mass media. See…). I understand these attachments, which find their force in loyalty to families and other authority […]

    Pingback by Melodrama and its appeal | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — August 9, 2013 @ 7:56 pm | Reply

  10. […] Without basic trust in our (educated) abilities to make sense of conflict; without proportion and a sense of appropriate scale so that we can discern between national emergencies and local problems, all talk of “participatory democracy” is an obscene joke. At one time, our opinion leaders knew this. (See Walter Lippmann’s Public Opinion, publ. in 1922, and my blog about Chomsky’s attempt to take it down:….) […]

    Pingback by Losing focus and mass media | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — May 10, 2013 @ 12:14 am | Reply

  11. it sounds to me as if you are stuck in your minds and have not the patience to look around and see the results of the “manufacture of concent ! ” whether lippman intended his writings to be used in a certain way is surpurfulais… arguing about a world that does not exist, except in the pages of history books? all that need be done is look at the events of sept/11/2001 and you will see what happens when concent is manufactured…. big words and little arguments do not make one enlightened….. your petty writings will impact the world in no way….. except maybe to distract people from a real world…. i think that is the sad part of this page… watch the nightly news if you want to see manufactured consent…. how can you sound so smart and be so dumb? actions speak loader than words… this is written to you from one of the ” bewildered herd of ignorant outsiders. who need to have there consent enginered so that they may be interested spectators of action.” you all are just muddying up the water for real thought and action. million dollar education without an ounce of sense… bye bye neal

    Comment by neal — March 24, 2013 @ 9:42 pm | Reply

  12. […] Several centuries later, Walter Lippmann, worried about the propensities of the new mass media to spread propaganda distortions, suggested that a special class of intellectuals be developed to determine who was lying in controverted matters: controversies where the facts were faraway and otherwise hidden from citizens who would then be asked to vote on problems that were foreign to their direct experience. (See….) […]

    Pingback by “Free Speech” and the internet | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — March 2, 2013 @ 7:38 pm | Reply

  13. My own reading of Lippmann’s Public Opinion lends favourably to Chomsky’s interpretation. Lippmann attempts to discredit the value of popular participation in decision making by arguing that the opinion of the masses are not based in reality. Thus, he begins in chaper 1 by defining public opinion as a ‘pseudo-environment’ of symbols & limited information which paint a particular, bias picture of human affairs in men’s minds. Essentially, for Lippmann, public opinion is a ‘pattern of stereotypes’ (82). This pseudo-environment is controlled through propaganda (27-8) where the manipulation of symbols plays an important role. These symbols, which are vague enough to mean everything to everyone, are implanted in one’s mind by another human being that is recognised to be authoritative (142). The political hierarchy recognise this reality and so associate ‘symbols with a definite action, a vote of Yes or No’ so that ultimately a ‘small number of heads present a choice to a large group’ (148). It typical elitist fashion, Lippmann declares that it is the inherent complexity of the world that renders this simplification of choice to the masses as inevitable. Although he recognises that ‘the symbol is both a mechanism of solidarity, and a mechanism of exploitation’, he concedes that ‘when quick results are imperative, the manipulation of masses through symbols may be the only quick way of having a critical thing done’ (151). Even in a democracy, ‘where masses of people must cooperate in an uncertain and eruptive environment, it is usually necessary to secure unity and flexibility without real consent. The symbol does that’ (153). I think this makes it pretty clear that Lippmann is in favour of the ‘manufacture of consent’, solely for noble purposes of course. After making the case for excluding the general population from decision making, Lippmann moves onto argue that the ‘experts’ in society ought to be the real administrators of human affairs. Once again, given its inherent complexities, modern society requires ‘interposing some form of expertness between the private citizen and the vast environment in which he is entangled’ (238). Furthermore, these complexities are baffling not only to the masses but also the ‘enlightened directing minds’ of society. Such directing minds have thus been forced to call in experts ‘to make parts of this Great Society intelligible to those who manage it’ (233-4). The proper role for the social scientist in this context is as a ‘disinterested expert’ who ‘finds and formulates the facts for the man of action’ (236). Together, the experts and enlightened directors on the inside form those within society who are most equipped to cast judgement on decision making questions. Given the general population are outsiders who have ‘neither time, nor attention, nor interest, nor the equipment for specific judgement’, it is ‘on the men inside… that the daily administrations of society must rest’ (251). In this context, the role of public opinion ought to be limited to ‘principles of procedure’ not analysis and judgement which is reserved for the experts who understand the issues (251). Only after problems have ‘passed through a procedure’ of expert analysis and judgement can the ‘busy citizen of a modern state hope to deal with them in a form which is intelligible’ (252).

    Comment by Vince — October 18, 2012 @ 7:33 am | Reply

    • The point of the essay was that Lippmann recognized a changing situation in mass media, where events could not be directly encountered by ordinary people. Hence, a class of citizens who were trained to find out who was lying to the masses is required. That is a different matter from an advocacy of manufactured consent. It appears that you are against the entire notion of expertise. Do you apply that when seeking medical attention? I spent decades working on my Melville book, and I am proud to call myself a Melville scholar who defended autodidacts throughout. But the problem for the amateur scholar is access to secrets held closely by government and other institutions. That doesn’t mean that there is an elite, each and everyone of whom, is a “spinmeister”, aka “The International Jew.”

      Comment by clarespark — October 18, 2012 @ 2:34 pm | Reply

      • It appears to me that the role of experts in society that Lippmann advocated for is rather different from the role a medical practitioner adopts vis-a-vis his/her client. No one would advocate that a doctor ought to manipulate ‘symbols’ in order to convince the patient to take a course of action, even if he/she believed it was in their best interests. I don’t believe, as Lippmann clearly did, that the private citizen does not hold the capacity to understand the issues that affect him. And even if this were the case, because of the inherent complexities of modern society or whatever, I think it’s naive to believe that once placed in a position of political power, the enlightened ones on the inside would adopt the attitude of a ‘disinterested expert’ and work in the interests of the majority rather than their own self-interest. That’s not a conspiracy theory, as you suggest, simply a function of power. The implicit reference that this is somehow anti-Semitic is just slander. It’s nothing of the sort. The connection between Lippmann’s work and Bernays, Lasswell and others has been clearly established by the likes of Alex Carey (who worked closely with Chomsky). For those who are interested, you can find a sample of Carey’s work online here: As Carey demonstrates, all of these scholars were part of an intellectual milieu which shared the belief in the necessity of propaganda in democratic societies. The underlying impetus emerged from the need to satisfy state and corporate interests, not some Jewish conspiracy theory to control the world.

        Comment by Vince — October 18, 2012 @ 10:21 pm

      • No one has solved the problem of getting at the truth in a society dominated by mass media. Lippmann put hope into an excellent popular education. You should look at the research I have done on left-liberals attempts at mind control. It is scarier than anything Chomsky has written. As for his own views on antisemitism in America, he has minimized it in my hearing. This is my last response, Vince. I have no patience with populists or anarchists.

        Comment by clarespark — October 18, 2012 @ 10:26 pm

  14. What you made me see is Lippman as a little r republican. The design for representative democracy jumped right out at me.
    Far off the mark?

    Comment by Mike Mahoney — February 7, 2012 @ 9:35 pm | Reply

  15. […] 2. Experts. The stubborn  hatred directed against Walter Lippmann by followers of Noam Chomsky is impressive in its magnitude. See…. […]

    Pingback by The Counter-culture vs. “the Establishment” « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — January 12, 2012 @ 9:15 pm | Reply

  16. […] establishment” or “experts” or “the Washington DC Beltway.” (See….) The oppressor monopolizes force and has not been elected by the [protesting] people, all of whom […]

    Pingback by “…the legitimate aspirations of the ___ people” « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — December 10, 2011 @ 7:46 pm | Reply

  17. […] agenda in opposing “the nanny state”? I say that he did. (See….) Has this kind of wicked distortion anything to do with the witch hunt being mounted against […]

    Pingback by Call Me Isabel (a reflection on “lying”) « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — June 12, 2011 @ 10:24 pm | Reply

  18. […] [I just reread my blog: I criticized Goldberg on Lippmann elsewhere on the website, here:…] In both cases (Goldberg and Coulter), there is no genealogy that links the [godless]  Jacobin […]

    Pingback by Bad history and hypocrisy on the radical Right « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — June 12, 2011 @ 4:30 pm | Reply

  19. […] or my posting on Walter Lippmann (…). For instance, can we talk about schools without a consideration of the welfare state and its […]

    Pingback by Questions for education reformers « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — May 16, 2011 @ 7:29 pm | Reply

  20. Judging by the quotes you cited, Chomsky’s “misrepresentation” is really more of an interpretation. Lippman didn’t come right out and say that he thought democracy was a bad idea but that’s the basis of every quote you cited. In Lippman’s view, people are prejudiced, ignorant and complacent. Therefore, it would be folly to give them very much say in formulating public policy. Forgetting about the fact that political science, as it stands today, isn’t really a science at all, it’s also divided up among special interests just like we should expect it to be. Lippman’s view of the incompetent public being saved from themselves is typical of those trying to preserve power centers ala Hobbes. In case you missed it, Chomsky analysis of Lippman is not based on Lippman’s delivery but rather his substance. It’s the same way with his analysis of Madison. Madison saw himself as setting up a separation of powers by handing the Senate to the wealth (once again, because the mass is incompetent) unfortunately, what that meant in practice was handing over a disproportionate amount of power to a small elite portion of the society. I think that if you carefully consider the scientific validity of political science as it stands today, you will see that Lippman was his own worst enemy.

    Comment by Ben — March 13, 2011 @ 2:25 am | Reply

    • To Ben, Your blanket dismissal of Lippmann as an antidemocrat and of political science in general marks you as a populist, of what stripe, I cannot tell–an anarchist? If anything, this set of quotes (in the blog) marks Lippmann as one of the most thoughtful democrats of his time. What do you think the call for a universal popular education based in science means? And what do you mean by democracy? Something out of Rousseau’s popular will? That could be fascism or communism.

      Comment by clarespark — March 14, 2011 @ 8:49 pm | Reply

  21. […] it is so bad? For one thing, Jews, it is said, are the spinmeisters who control advertising. (See….)  But more: Perhaps because I was (almost)  fully conscious during those years, had started my […]

    Pingback by Mad Men and the Jewish Problem « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — October 25, 2010 @ 2:42 pm | Reply

  22. Thank you for defending Lippmann from Chomsky’s almost willful misrepresentation of Lippmann. I first read Public Opinion, because I was a fan of Chomsky and only heard about his from the Manufacture of Consent book. I was simply amazed at the complete 180 Chomsky does of Lippmann’s thesis, so much so that it put everything else Chomsky wrote in severe doubt. It’s also funny that Glenn Beck has called Lippmann evil! I seriously doubt Beck could even get through Public Opinion, and it is obvious that Chomsky either didn’t finish Public Opinion, or couldn’t get past the intractable logic of Lippmann’s, which leads the reader to disregard anarchism.

    Comment by Rick — October 4, 2010 @ 4:52 am | Reply

    • Many years ago I read JUST the preface to Public Opinion and had a Chomsky-like response. I thought I had better check this by reading the whole book and naturally, I had a fit. Then read lots of other Lippmann books, Drift and Mastery, Liberty and the News, The Phantom Public, and the Good Society, which amazed me. The amount of forgery that Chomsky’s followers have resorted to (photographing a few sentences out of context) is mind-boggling. Thanks Rick for your supportive comment.

      Comment by clarespark — October 4, 2010 @ 10:22 pm | Reply

  23. […] from the Left, but Beck was vehement today and I am disgusted. See my widely circulated essay… [Added, March 19. I have been reading about Edmund Burke and his revival from the 1950s on. […]

    Pingback by The Glenn Beck Problem « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — May 26, 2010 @ 9:55 pm | Reply

  24. a few examples, i can find more diverse ones if you want (i think, however that you and i may have differing views on what “american identity” is).

    NYT: Have you considered leaving the United States permanently?
    Chomsky: No. This is the best country in the world.

    SPIEGEL: A while ago you called America “the greatest country on earth.” How does that fit together with what you’ve been saying?
    Chomsky: In many respects, the United States is a great country. Freedom of speech is protected more than in any other country. It is also a very free society. In America, the professor talks to the mechanic. They are in the same category.
    SPIEGEL: To conclude, perhaps you can offer a conciliatory word about the state of the nation?
    Chomsky: The American society has become more civilized, largely as a result of the activism of the 1960s. Our society, and also Europe’s, became freer, more open, more democratic, and for many quite scary. This generation was condemned for that. But it had an effect.,1518,583454,00.html

    Comment by Don MacKeen — November 19, 2009 @ 9:32 am | Reply

    • Chomsky is happy because he and his followers have had a grand effect on the nation. The narcissism of the 60s generation is beyond belief: they invented nothing. It was the Progressive movement that dumped the Left and the Enlightenment to the effect that our schools and media are dominated by left-liberals who teach children that America is essentially imperialist, patriarchal, materialistic (money-mad), ecocidal, and racist (see my book on the Melville Revival, or almost any of the blogs on this website for commentary on the intellectual history of the West or about the current polarization between “progressives” and their antagonists on the [factionalized] Right). And free speech for Chomsky enabled him to write a preface for the Holocaust-denier Robert Faurisson.
      You can’t teach critical thought when left-wing ideologues dominate education. You can teach critical thought when there is intellectual diversity and when students are taught contending facts and contending historical explanations for the same event. The drama of conflict stimulates thought and arouses often latent curiosity in the student. On the institutionalization of multiculturalism, see my Pacifica memoir or this article from History News Network:

      Comment by clarespark — November 19, 2009 @ 6:48 pm | Reply

  25. have to admit, my interest is not that of a professional historian, just a citizen. as to whether we can speak of the “American people” or not, i’ll agree to disagree. but i remain interested in your notion that Chomsky has a “bitter and negative view of American identity”. again, can you give examples of this? i can give ample examples countering it.

    that chomsky has taken a “wrong turn”, i find interesting as well. please explain.

    Comment by Don MacKeen — November 18, 2009 @ 10:11 pm | Reply

    • Give examples, then, Don, where Chomsky has positive views of American identity. I should add that I reject most notions of “identity” as they are currently practiced. Too much multiculturalism that erases the entire conception of liberal nationalism as understood by Charles Sumner and others. See my essay Or the two blogs on Pacifica Radio.

      Comment by clarespark — November 18, 2009 @ 10:18 pm | Reply

  26. don’t find this argument very persuasive – you refer to a “terrible decline of standards” – whose standards? the average person? people with power? what sort of standards?

    further your statement regarding “Chomsky’s bitter and negative views of American identity and U.S. foreign policy have had a broad impact on college youth and many an autodidact” is misleading. Chomsky is critical of US foreign policy, a p;olicy which is often at odds with the needs and beliefs of the American people. But to say that Chomsky has a bitter and negative view of American identity is plainly incorrect, as reference to what he actually wrote would show.

    Comment by Don MacKeen — November 17, 2009 @ 12:50 pm | Reply

    • Thanks for your comment, though it does not engage the body of the essay. Briefly, “…terrible decline of standards” refers to the entire spectrum of argument with respect to history and politics. Even the ideologues of the interwar period could command more knowledge of history, politics, and literature than most popular pundits today, let alone the disgracefully anti-Western, anti-intellectual textbooks in use that further “multiculturalism” and trash “Amerika.”
      Does Chomsky fit that category? There is an abundant anti-Chomsky literature that I cannot synopsize here. I have read a great deal of Chomsky, and remind you that he is an amateur historian and social theorist, and as such does not deserve to be taken seriously by trained historians in the areas where he pretends to expertise. Chomsky’s insistence on libeling Lippmann should sow doubts into anyone’s mind about his intellectual seriousness in other matters.
      As for “the American people” that is a term that has no currency among historians. What people? Are there no classes, no genders, no interest groups, no ethnic groups with a will to power? “The American people” is simply a term that any populist demagogue can deploy to further a particular political agenda. It is analogous to Hitler’s use of the phrase “the people’s community” that was to be freed of “Jews” and other masked men.
      Chomsky is an intelligent man who took a wrong turn somewhere in his past. I can’t explain why, but I can suggest that his following is stuck in adolescent defiance. I could say the same for Howard Zinn and other misleaders of the young.

      Comment by clarespark — November 17, 2009 @ 10:10 pm | Reply

      • Don–

        I know I’m about a year late on this reply but couldn’t let it slide when I stumbled upon it. I don’t think that Chomsky or Zinn are historians at all. They are a different breed known as activists and they are/were in no way “amateur” at what they do/did. I do think, however, that they are what we could call applied social theorists who are smart enough to have actually had an impact on society. With respect to Chomsky, one of the main difference between him and an historian is that he incorporates basic moral principles, such as the law of universality, into an analysis of history. Chomsky even goes so far as to admit that debating points in history has no moral worth at all–which is why he resorts to activism. In my opinion Chomsky’s role is more valuable than an historian’s. Not only does he affect change, but he is in a better position to give an analysis of history, modern or ancient, because he’s been a participant in it. You may object that I wouldn’t maintain George Bush is in a position to give an analysis of history because he was a participant in it. To that I would respond, yes he is. What is revealed through their analysis are the principles they adhere to. As long as they are both given a platform, people can decide for themselves. There’s no such thing as “history” really, just the continuation of politics. “Historians” are just waisting their time.

        As for the “narcissim in the 60’s” you mentioned above, come on. What’s better, civil disobedience (even in the form of a pot-smoking hippie) or standing by and allowing a government to slaughter 4 million people? I could go on, but it’d probably be another year before I finished.

        Comment by Greg — January 13, 2011 @ 6:11 pm

      • To Greg: You appear to be under Chomsky’s spell, which my essay has not at all impacted. He twisted the words and intentions of a thoughtful man, who, by the way, also opposed the Vietnam involvement and did so before Chomsky. As for your views on history, are you kidding me? Or were you educated by postmodernists who think that history writing is always ideological and a waste of time? It is true that it is very hard to be a good historian and faithful to the facts and to those sources that are not hidden away. But you are in your judgment overturning the Enlightenment, science, reading, and rationality. I posted your comment because it is typical of the cultist, and I sharply disagree with your view of Chomsky’s contribution to morality. There is nothing moral in misreprepresenting the ideas of your opponents.

        Comment by clarespark — January 13, 2011 @ 7:22 pm

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