[For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2012/01/12/the-counter-culture-vs-the-establishment/]
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 https://clarespark.com/2010/03/10/jonah-goldbergs-liberal-fascism-part-one/]
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).