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Walter Lippmann was born in New York City on September 23, 1889. He supported the election in Schenectady of George Lunn, New York state`s first socialist mayor in 1912 and remained as Lunn`s secretary during the reformation of city politics.Lippmann`s book A Preface to Politics had a considerable influence on Theodore Roosevelt`s Progressive Party. He took a leave of absence during World War I in order to act as special secretary to the secretary of war, later seeing service in Army Military Intelligence in France.From 1921 to 1931, Lippmann worked for the New York World newspaper, becoming its editor in 1929. When the newspaper ceased publishing in 1931, Lippmann began writing a widely-syndicated column about politics called Today and Tomorrow. An example of Lippmann`s writing is found in his June 5, 1934 column, which began:
While no one will grudge relief in the emergency, the question is bound to be raised in many minds as to how far the government can and should go in assuming the burdens caused by natural and by man-made calamities. The traditional view is, of course, that farmers must take the weather as it comes; relying not at all upon government devices, they become the self-reliant independent stock from which the nation renews its vitality. In this view a paternalistic policy for the farmer is undesirable, not so much because it costs money, but because it softens him as an individual.There are few persons who would not feel that while there is something in this view, it is infected with a kind of moral blindness. Is the modem American farmer the same kind of farmer around whom there has grown the ideal of complete self-reliance? The traditional view is an ancient one based upon the experience of farmers working their own land for their own needs and for a neighboring community. But the wheat farmer in the Dakotas and Kansas and Nebraska does not live that kind of life. He produces for a world market and he supplies his own needs out of a world market. He is no longer even approximately self-sufficient. Can he then be expected to be wholly self-reliant?In earlier days if his crop was bad, he suffered and accepted his lot. But today if his crop is bad, his competitor in another region makes a big profit. In earlier days, because he supplied his principal needs at home or in the neighborhood, his standard of life was relatively independent of the consequences of political and economic policies. Today his real income fluctuates spectacularly due to causes which he cannot control by his own prudence, thrift, or industry.
Respected for his insights into foreign policy, Lippmann was sometimes criticized for advocating power politics. An example was his book, "U.S. Foreign Policy: Shield of the Republic," which appeared in 1943. In it, Lippmann concluded that no world order could be stable without a "nuclear alliance" of Britain, America, and Russia, regardless of any ideological differences they might have or the wishes of smaller nations.Walter Lippmann won two Pulitzer Prizes for his column, in 1958 and again in 1962. He died on December 14, 1974, in the city of his birth at the age of 85.
Public Opinion (book)
Public Opinion is a book by Walter Lippmann, published in 1922. It is a critical assessment of functional democratic government, especially of the irrational and often self-serving social perceptions that influence individual behavior and prevent optimal societal cohesion.  The detailed descriptions of the cognitive limitations people face in comprehending their sociopolitical and cultural environments, leading them to apply an evolving catalogue of general stereotypes to a complex reality, rendered Public Opinion a seminal text in the fields of media studies, political science, and social psychology.
Social Planning: The Intellectual Impossibility
The intellectual problems with social planning are illustrated by Colbert’s troubles in managing the economy of Bourbon France. The regulations for the textile industry, to take one case, filled four volumes of 2,200 pages and three supplementary volumes. It was discovered in 1718 that planners had in spite of this neglected to include the number of threads appropriate for use in the cloth of Langogne, “a matter which must be attended to without fail.” The information for attending to it could be obtained only by means of reference to existing procedures, which was available only from established manufacturers, who were thus empowered to use the law for preventing innovative competitors from introducing new methods.
This points to the dark truth behind every “plan” for “improving society.” Governments, Lippmann said, are made up of people who meet to make speeches and write resolutions, of people who study papers, listen to complaints, and shuffle paperwork. These people suffer from indigestion, asthma, boredom, and headaches, and all of them would rather be making love than passing laws. They know whatever they have happened to learn, are aware of what they have happened to observe, and are interested in whatever has happened to catch their imagination. A power-holder may sometimes have high ideals, but he is in the end no more than a human being, “a little man in trousers, slightly jagged,” as William Vaughan Moody put it.
Such a person cannot possibly know enough to devise wide-ranging schemes for society as a whole. No matter what the source of their authority human rulers are human beings, and as such have only a severely limited understanding of the world in which they find themselves. The social planner sits down to a breakfast that is the final link in a chain stretching far beyond his comprehension. Society goes on as it does because of processes that are habitual and unconscious, and it is only because people can take so much for granted that they have the time to attend to anything. Anyone who attempts to plan everything is immediately trapped in a web of details. “The real, rather than the apparent, policy of any state will be determined by the limited competence of finite beings dealing with unlimited and infinite circumstances,” Lippmann wrote.
In his efforts to manage this complexity every ruler must imitate Colbert in calling on the expertise of those whose industry he hopes to regulate. In attempting to plan the production of cloth in eighteenth-century France the government got its advice from existing manufacturers and passed decrees that would protect them from competition. This led to laws against the production of printed calicoes, which then were all the rage. Attempting to regulate health care in early twenty-first-century America, the Obama administration accepted the advice (and contributions) of the American Hospital Association and the Federation of American Hospitals. These represent the interests of large community hospitals, whose dominance is threatened by the emergence of smaller hospitals offering superior service in particular physician groups’ areas of expertise. With its provisions against the creation of any additional doctor-financed hospitals, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act might have been better named the Large Hospital and Inferior Service Protection Act.
Earlier in his life Lippmann had endorsed a policy of gradual collectivism. He had never admitted to being a socialist, but he had argued that the government should gradually assume control of the economy, if not through outright ownership, then at least by means of detailed regulations. There should be a survey of all the available resources, and then national authorities should put together a plan for developing them. By the time he wrote The Good Society he had come to realize that such a plan would be flawed from the outset. The planners’ limited information must necessarily put them under the influence of such organized interests. “In practice,” he wrote, “gradual collectivism is not an ordered scheme of social reconstruction. It is the polity of pressure groups.”
Though they demand different things, these pressure groups agree in asserting that their interest is identical to the national interest. Those who believe the national interest is best served by means of cheap steel for the automobile industry, however, and those who believe it is best served by fixed and protected prices for the sake of the steel manufacturers, cannot both be right. Every new regulation, Lippmann said, is a decision in favor of some interest and against others.
Those who believe they have been harmed will react by seeking to protect their interests as well as they can. New laws lead to new violations, and these in turn to more new laws. In early eighteenth-century France lawsuits over methods for the production of cloth were endless. Observing that smuggling and bootlegging had become standard business practices Colbert decided to put the power of the State behind his decrees. An estimated 16,000 people were killed in his war on printed calicoes. A much larger number were punished somewhat less severely, though still with great cruelty. On one occasion 77 were hanged, 58 were broken on the wheel, 631 were sentenced to the galleys, one was set free, and none were pardoned. One assumes the Obama administration’s attempts to regulate health care will be less violent.
Why Walter Lippmann Is Still Talked About
The distinguished American journalist Walter Lippmann (1889-1974) completed a broad curriculum in the social sciences at Harvard College and almost finished a master’s degree in philosophy. He toyed with the possibility of a career in academe but instead went into the media, first as assistant to the muckraker Lincoln Steffens, then as a founder of the New Republic and editor of the daily New York World. Finally he ran a syndicated column for the New York Herald Tribune and then the Washington Post. When the column began in 1931 he found the world in a sorry state: the Great Depression had begun, totalitarian governments were springing up in Europe, and what little international cooperation had been initiated after World War I seemed ineffective. From his school days Lippmann was remarkable self-confident. He was usually at the top of his class, could charm just about anybody , and he quickly became an accomplished writer. After the New York World closed he could easily have moved into government, business, or a university. Instead he set out to use the social sciences to enlighten the American people about what ailed them and what they could do about it. He proposed to do this just as the social sciences were erecting barriers to entry for amateurs through complex jargon and technique. Thus one of Lippmann’s first jobs was translation. He concluded quickly that the depression was the most critical issue of the moment, both for economic and political reasons the rising level of the unemployed reduced the production of essential goods and services, but it also imperiled peace and freedom. He was certain that if men did not go to work they would go to war.
Lippmann concluded that within the social sciences there must be answers to the current crises. Yet he did not feel well acquainted enough either to represent them fairly to the public or to sort the wheat from the chaff. To prepare himself to deal with the problems he read widely and deeply in the professional literature of economics and political science, and he communicated with the most prominent scholars in Europe and America. He was converted quickly to Keynesian macroeconomics by Keynes himself, that government must pay close attention to all the components of the demand for goods and services, and he insisted that after an initial burst of public expenditure in response to depression government must stimulate investment in the private sector. He became increasingly worried about schemes such as the National Recovery Administration that could weaken the free market system and threaten personal liberty. When World War II brought an end to the Great Depression Lippmann turned to foreign and defense policy where he found the American people were as ill-informed as they had been about the economy. Americans had been so enamored of isolationism that they had ignored foreign affairs. Once again he stepped into the breach and undertook another program of adult education of the American people. He was deeply impressed by how quickly and effectively America mobilized for war, but he worried that its leaders did not understand sufficiently the consequences of their actions. He became one of the most effective critics of the Vietnam war both because of what he thought was a misreading of the history and politics of Southeast Asia, and because the war drained precious resources from the solution of domestic problems promised under President Johnson’s Great Society projects.
Over the four decades during which Lippmann advised the American people on domestic and foreign policy they could feel that they were hearing from someone who was highly intelligent, exceptionally well-connected, enormously skilled as a journalist, well-informed about the social sciences, but never tied for long to party, ideology, or methodology. Typically he took everything into account that he thought was important and then he told it as he saw it. He had few prejudices and no client other than his readers, the American people. The one policy proposal to which he returned repeatedly over his career was for a broad liberal education as the bedrock of democracy. Therein he saw the social sciences anchored in a foundation of history, philosophy, creative literature and the arts. There has not been a journalist to equal Walter Lippmann since his time, but there is no reason to think that his career should not be a model for journalists of the future.
Who's Who - Walter Lippmann
Walter Lippmann (1889-1974), the noted liberal journalist, was among the first moderate liberals to sign-up to President Wilson's policy of 'limited preparedness' in 1916, and was influential in encouraging support from similar quarters.
Born in New York on 23 September 1889 to German-Jewish parents, Lippmann studied at Harvard where he developed socialist beliefs and there co-founded the Harvard Socialist Club, simultaneously editing the Harvard Monthly.
Lippmann was befriended in 1911 by Lincoln Steffens, the campaigning journalist. Steffens (and subsequently Lippmann) supported Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive Party in the 1912 presidential election. The following year, 1913, Lippmann published the well-received A Preface to Politics.
He co-founded in 1914 (with Herbert Croly) the New Republic magazine of political criticism, and which was part-intended as an antidote to what he regarded as the 'muck-raking' format of political press coverage of the period.
Lippmann came to reject his earlier embracing of socialism in Drift and Mastery (1916), while retaining liberal progressive tendencies. Lippmann used the New Republic to champion Wilson's re-election campaign in 1916, which brought him into subsequent contact with Wilson's closest advisor, Colonel House.
With war underway Lippmann, a prominent pacifist, was persuaded (initially by Colonel House) to back a policy of limited military preparedness for war in 1916. With Lippmann's backing, who envisaged the war as a vehicle for liberal values, other moderate liberals were encouraged to come forward with support.
Lippmann likewise approved the U.S. government's increasing participation in social and economic management during wartime. Perhaps as importantly, Lippmann believed in Wilson, and was confident that the president would ultimately prove able to impose a liberal form of peace upon the warring nations of Europe.
In 1917 Lippmann accepted an appointment as assistant to Newton Baker, Wilson's Secretary of War.
Wilson established a wartime 'Inquiry' body, in effect a secret investigation into world affairs with the aim of producing a programme for world peace. Boasting some 125 researchers, Lippmann acted as its co-ordinator. Its final report, The War Aims and Peace Terms It Suggests, sent to Congress on 22 December 1917, formed the basis for Wilson's subsequent Fourteen Points declaration of January 1918.
Disappointed with the results of the peace thrashed out at the Paris Peace Conference, which he attended as a U.S. delegate, and appalled at the severity of the treatment meted out to Germany, Lippmann distanced himself from Wilson during the summer of 1919. In consequence Lippmann used the New Republic to urge public opposition to the Versailles treaty and to U.S. participation in the proposed League of Nations.
With the collapse of the so-called 'Progressive' policies most associated with Wilson (and the re-election of the Republicans first to control of the Senate and then to the presidency), Lippmann's influence declined in tandem.
In 1920 Lippmann left the New Republic to join the New York World. He published two controversial works in the 1920s, Public Opinion (1922) and The Phantom Public (1925), which expressed doubts as to the practical feasibility of establishing a true democracy in modern society.
Rising to edit the New York World in 1929, Lippmann moved to the Herald Tribune with the closure of the former newspaper in 1931. For the following 30 years Lippmann edited the nationally syndicated column 'Today and Tomorrow', during the course of which he shifted his political stance. Taking a rather more pragmatic approach to current events, Lippmann came out in support of seven Democratic presidential nominees and six Republicans.
In the wake of the Second World War Lippmann apparently returned to his former liberal values. He subsequently opposed the Korean War, upsetting both major parties at once.
Walter Lippmann papers
For almost seventy-five years of the twentieth century Walter Lippmann knew and corresponded with a great many men and women in most parts of the world who were deeply involved in and helped shape the course of events. His papers, starting in 1906 with his undergraduate years at Harvard and ending with his death in 1974 at the age of eighty-five, constitute an important contribution to the history of our own time. They give a picture of the public life of this century from the angle of vision of an author, editor, journalist and political philosopher. In the political drama, Walter Lippmann was back stage, on stage, and among the critics in the stalls.
The Walter Lippmann Papers (MS. Group No. 326), consisting of 115 linear feet of correspondence and other types of material, are divided into the following ten series: I. Correspondence, 1906-1930 II. Requests to Speak, Write or Reprint, 1906-1930 III. Correspondence, 1931-1981 IV. Requests To Speak, Write or Reprint, 1931-1974 V. Public Opinion Mail, 1935-1968 VI. Manuscripts and/or Typescripts, 1917-1967 VII. Diaries and Engagement Books, 1914-1974 VIII. Honors IX. Photographs, Portraits, and Sketches, 1889-1979 X. Films, Recordings, and Tapes, 1914-1974.
Because of the volume of the papers, the first four series are divided into the periods 1906-1930 and 1931-1974. The year 1931 was considered a logical series break because Walter Lippmann's career as an editor ended with the demise of the New York World in February and his career as a columnist for the New York Herald Tribune began in September. A description of the content and arrangement of each of the ten series immediately precedes the folder listing for the series in this register.
Researchers should be aware that there are two Walter Lippmann manuscript groups at the Yale Library, with separate registers. The group described above, and in this register, is known as the Walter Lippmann Papers, Manuscript Group Number 326. The second is known as the Robert O. Anthony Collection of Walter Lippmann, 66. The distinction between the two is that Group 326 consists of Lippmann's personal papers and manuscripts of his writings, while Group 766 is, in general, a collection of his published work. Between the two collections, probably no other journalist and few public figures will have had a career so carefully and completely documented for the historian of the future.
The life of Walter Lippmann has been the subject of a number of books and magazine articles, and it seems unnecessary to include a biographical sketch here. The researcher is, however, directed to the following sources:
Walter Lippmann , by David E. Weingast. 1949
Through These Men , by John Mason Brown. Chapter IX, 1956
Walter Lippmann and His Times , by Marquis Childs and James Reston. 1959
Ten Contemporary Thinkers , by Victor E. Amend and Leo T. Hendrick. Chapter VII. 1964
Famous Headliners , by Aylesa Forsee. Chapter V. 1967
Arrivals and Departures , by Richard H. Rovere. Chapter IX. 1976
American, September , 1932. "A Man with a Flashlight Mind," by Beverly Smith.
Saturday Review of Literature , January 7, 1933. "Walter Lippmann," by James Truslow Adams.
Book-of-the-Month Club News , June, 1943. "Walter Lippmann," by Allan Nevins.
Public Opinion Quarterly , Summer, 1950. "Walter Lippmann: A Content Analysis," by David E. Weingast.
Flair , January 1951. "Walter Lippmann: Pundit and Prophet," by Richard H. Rovere.
Harper's , April, 1957. "The New American Conservatives," by Clinton Rossiter.
New York Times Magazine , September 14, 1969. "A Talk with Walter Lippmann," by Henry Brandon.
Quill , October, 1973. "Tribute to Walter Lippmann," by Marquis W. Childs.
New Republic , September 29, 1974. "A Birthday Greeting to Walter Lippmann," by Gilbert A. Harrison.
New Republic , December 28, 1974. "Walter Lippmann, 1889-1974," by Ronald Steel.
New Yorker , December 30, 1974. "Notes and Comments," by Richard H. Rovere.
Nieman Reports , Winter, 1974. "Walter Lippmann," by Louisa H. Lyons.
New Times , January 10, 1975. "Final Tribute," by Harrison E. Salisbury.
New Republic , January 25, 1975. "Fine Print," by Doris Grumbach.
American Scholar , Autumn, 1975. "Walter Lippmann," by Richard N. Rovere.
Washingtonian , February, 1977. "The Man Who Knew Walter Lippmann."
Gilbert A. Harrison interviewed by Doris Grumbach.
For the convenience of researchers, a chronology of Walter Lippmann's life is included in this register.
The Walter Lippmann Papers (MS Group No. 326, Manuscripts and Archives) became the property of the Yale University Library by deed of gift in July 1944. Inasmuch as the 1940s were probably the busiest years of his career as author and columnist, Lippmann needed his files for reference purposes, and it was not until 1963, some twenty years later, that the papers were actually removed from his home in Washington, D.C., and deposited in the Yale Library.
As early as 1941 Walter Lippmann had given to Yale some 300 numbers of serials and pamphlets for the Yale War Collection through his long-time friend, Wilmarth S. Lewis, Yale '18, who was active in the affairs of the Yale Library. In 1942, Lippmann wrote his lawyer, Albert Stickney, that he had been asked by the Library of Congress and also by the Yale University Library to give them all his papers, and that this action would involve a change in his will when he knew more clearly just exactly what he wanted to do. Two years later, in a letter to Lewis dated July 3, 1944, Lippmann wrote: "I took the invitation from Yale as a favor to me, and a very great distinction, not as something I was doing for Yale. It never occurred to me to consult Harvard, where I had been an overseer, about my papers any more than I might have asked them if they were going to give me an honorary degree." Lewis replied on July 5th: "Needless to say, I am very happy that you have given Yale your papers. The Yale Library is one of the chief things in my life, and it is a joy for me to have this great collection. The scholars of the future will now have to come to Yale to study our time." On the same date, Charles Seymour, President of Yale University, wrote Lippmann: "May I express again and more titleatically our deep gratitude for the gift of your papers. Their value in the Yale collection will be obviously enormous," and in a letter the next day Lewis reminded Lippmann: "I first spoke to you about your papers two years ago."
The decision in 1944 also involved a collection of published works by and about Walter Lippmann which had been assembled as a hobby, beginning in 1931, by Robert Olney Anthony, Amherst '26, a telephone executive for the Bell System in New York City. His collection included magazine articles, a complete file of Lippmann's "Today and Tomorrow" column (1931-1967) which he indexed, other newspaper articles, bulletins and pamphlets concerning Lippmann, newspaper clippings, and books by, about, or prominently mentioning him. Both for the protection of the collection, and to increase its availability to scholars, it was a propitious time to transfer his collection to the Yale Library. Lippmann agreed that both collections should be kept together, and in 1944 when Lippmann decided to give his papers to Yale, Anthony also offered his associated collection. Two years later when Anthony was transferred from New York to the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company in Providence, Rhode Island, on December 2, 1946, his collection was transferred to the Yale Library. His collection is listed as the Robert O. Anthony Collection of Walter Lippmann (MS Group 766, Manuscripts and Archives). On December 3, 1946, Anthony was named curator of the newly-formed collection by the Yale Corporation.
During 1945 and early 1946 Lippmann sent to Yale several items, e.g., manuscripts of some of his books, and the announcement of his gift appeared in the press in June 1946. Also in 1946 at the time of the Anthony collection move, the library truck picked up Lippmann's bound volumes of the editorial pages of the New York World for the period 1924 through February 1931, which were in his office at the New York Herald Tribune in New York City.
It was not until February 1963, when he was almost seventy-four, that Lippmann felt he could give up the bulk of his papers, consisting at that time of forty-two large files of personal correspondence and two boxes of original manuscripts. They were shipped to Providence, Rhode Island, for processing by Anthony and eventual shipment to Yale. In 1964 another shipment arrived in Providence, consisting of diaries and engagement books through 1959.
In 1964, Richard H. Rovere began his work in both collections as the authorized biographer of Walter Lippmann, with the assistance of Gary Clarkson. Four years later, finding himself uneasy in the role of biographer without the assurance of complete independence as to content, Rovere, in 1968, found a successor in Ronald Steel, a journalist who had been a foreign service officer.
Accession 2001-M-077 originated with Lippmann's first wife, Faye, and presumably consists of materials left behind by Lippmann after their divorce. The addition provides a substantive supplement to the materials described above, particularly for Lippmann's undergraduate years at Harvard and for most of the 1910s. Included are his classroom notes and several academic papers from Harvard correspondence with family, friends, and business associates holograph and typescript drafts of many early writings, including his first three books photographs and personal papers. The papers in the accession provide documentation of Lippmann's early professional life.
John Brown's Notes and Essays
American public diplomacy can be defined in two ways: it should tell the truth or tell a story. Of course, there are many shades of gray between these two activities. Their tensions go back to Plato's Gorgias, in which Socrates (the truth-speaking philosopher searching for knowledge) has sharp, often sarcastic, exchanges with Gorgias (the story-telling rhetorician seeking power).
In the twentieth century, specifically during World War I, the tension between philosophy and rhetoric in political life took a new, amplified form with the appearance of a new type of propaganda, differentiated from its earlier historical forms by its efforts manipulate mass audiences through the latest forms of communications at times of global conflict.
In the United States during Great War -- from the perspective of the history of public diplomacy -- the still quite well-known Walter Lippmann was the philosopher, and the far lesser-known George Creel the rhetorician. Lippmann, part of the East coast elite, studied philosophy at Harvard Creel, born poor in Missouri, was a journalist/publicist with an eight-graduate education. Lippmann thought for a living Creel scribbled for a living. Both men, despite their different backgrounds, were concerned with that new political force, public opinion, and how to deal with it.
Lippmann, the philosopher, wanted to enlighten public opinion Creel, the rhetorician, to manipulate it. Both men worked for the U.S. government in the Great War in that new frontier, the public-opinion field -- Lippmann as a captain in military intelligence Creel as the chairman of the Committee on Public Information, labelled as America's first ministry of propaganda.
Lippmann and Creel, men whose weapons were words (but used differently), were rivals in Washington bureaucratic turf wars. Each, self-promoters infatuated with politics, wanted to be a favorite of that powerful man in the country, the president. Because of this competition, they couldn't stand each other. But intellectually they did have something in common. This is because the distinction between philosophy and rhetoric, in the real world, can be very blurry indeed.
The below deals in a concrete fashion with a philosophy vs. rhetoric issue with which students of the past are not in full agreement:
Was Walter Lippmann a member of Creel's Committee on Public Information?
Britain needed U.S. backing, so Britain had its Ministry of Information aimed primarily at American opinion and opinion leaders. The Wilson administration reacted by setting up the first state propaganda agency here, called the Committee on Public Information . It succeeded brilliantly, mainly with liberal American intellectuals, people of the John Dewey circle, who actually took pride in the fact that for the first time in history, according to their picture, a wartime fanaticism was created, and not by military leaders and politicians but by the more responsible, serious members of the community, namely, thoughtful intellectuals. And they did organize a campaign of propaganda, which within a few months did succeed in turning a relatively pacifist population into raving anti-German fanatics who wanted to destroy everything German. It reached the point where the Boston Symphony Orchestra couldn’t play Bach. The country was driven into hysteria.
The members of Wilson’s propaganda agency included people like Edward Bernays, who became the guru of the public relations industry, and Walter Lippmann, the leading public intellectual of the 20th century, the most respected media figure . They very explicitly drew from that experience. If you look at their writings in the 1920s, they said, We have learned from this that you can control the public mind, you can control attitudes and opinions. That’s where Lippmann said, 'We can manufacture consent by the means of propaganda.' Bernays said, 'The more intelligent members of the community can drive the population into whatever they want' by what he called 'engineering of consent.' It’s the 'essence of democracy,' he said.'Another member of the Creel Commission was Walter Lippmann, the most respected figure in American journalism for about half a century (I mean serious American journalism, serious think pieces). He also wrote what are called progressive essays on democracy, regarded as progressive back in the 1920s. He was, again, applying the lessons of the work on propaganda very explicitly. He says there is a new art in democracy called manufacture of consent. That is his phrase. Edward Herman and I borrowed it for our book, but it comes from Lippmann. So, he says, there is this new art in the method of democracy, 'manufacture of consent.' By manufacturing consent, you can overcome the fact that formally a lot of people have the right to vote. We can make it irrelevant because we can manufacture consent and make sure that their choices and attitudes will be structured in such a way that they will always do what we tell them, even if they have a formal way to participate. So we’ll have a real democracy. It will work properly. That’s applying the lessons of the propaganda agency.
Walter Lippmann - History
Mr X's article is . . . not only an analytical interpretation of the sources of Soviet conduct. It is also a document of primary importance on the sources of American foreign policy--of at least that part of it which is known as the Truman Doctrine.
As such I am venturing to examine it critically in this essay. My criticism, I hasten to say at once, does not arise from any belief or hope that our conflict with the Soviet government is imaginary or that it can be avoided, or ignored or easily disposed of. I agree entirely with Mr.X that the Soviet pressure "cannot be charmed or talked out of existence." I agree entirely that the Soviet power will expand unless it is prevented from expanding because it is confronted with the power, primarily American power, that it must respect. But I believe and shall argue, that the strategical conception and plan which Mr.X recommends is fundamentally unsound, and that it cannot be made to work, and that the attempt to make it work will cause us to squander our substance and our prestige.
We must begin with the disturbing fact, which anyone who will reread the article can verify for himself, that Mr.X's conclusions depend upon the optimistic prediction that the "Soviet power . . . bears within itself the seeds of its own decay, and that the sprouting of these seeds is well advanced" that if "anything were ever to occur to disrupt the unity and efficacy of the party as a political instrument, Soviet Russia might be changed overnight (sic) from one of the strongest to one of the weakest and most pitiable of national societies" and "that Soviet society may well (sic) contain deficiencies which will eventually weaken its own total potential."
Of this optimistic prediction Mr. X himself says that it "cannot be proved. And it cannot be disproved." Nevertheless, he concludes that the United States should construct its policy on the assumption that the Soviet power is inherently weak and impermanent, and that this unproved assumption warrants our entering 'with reasonable confidence upon a policy of firm containment, designed to confront the Russians with unalterable counterforce at every point where they show signs of encroaching upon the interests of a peaceful and a stable world. "
I do not find much ground for reasonable confidence in a policy which can be successful only if the most optimistic prediction should prove to be true. Surely a sound policy must be addressed to the worst and hardest that may be judged to be probable, and not to the best and easiest that may be possible.
As a matter of fact, Mr. X himself betrays a marked lack of confidence in his own diagnosis. For no sooner had he finished describing the policy of firm containment with unalterable counterforce at every point where the Russians show signs of encroaching, when he felt he must defend his conclusions against the criticism, one might almost say the wisecrack, that this is a policy of "holding the line and hoping for the best." His defense is to say that while he is proposing a policy of holding the line and hoping for the best, "in actuality the possibilities for American policy are by no means limited to holding the line and hoping for the best." The additional possibilities are not, however, within the scope of the authority of the Department of State: "the aims of Russian Communism must appear sterile and quixotic, the hopes and enthusiasms of Moscow's supporters must wane, and added strain must be imposed on the Kremlin's foreign policies" if "the United States can create among the peoples of the world generally the impression of a country which knows what it wants, which is coping successfully with the problems of its internal life and with the responsibilities of a world power, and which has a spiritual vitality capable of holding its own among the major ideological currents of the time."
This surely is a case of bolstering up the wishful thinking of "hoping for the best"--namely, the collapse of the Soviet power--by an extra strong dose of wishful thinking about the United States. There must be something deeply defective in Mr. X's estimates and calculations. For on his own showing, the policy cannot be made to work unless there are miracles and we get all the breaks.
In Mr. X's estimates there are no reserves for a rainy day. There is no margin of safety for bad luck, bad management, error and the unforeseen. He asks us to assume that the Soviet power is already decaying. He exhorts us to believe that our own highest hopes for ourselves will soon have been realized. Yet the policy he recommends is designed to deal effectively with the Soviet Union as a rival, not a partner, in the political arena." Do we dare to assume, as we enter the arena and get set to run the race, that the Soviet Union will break its leg while the United States grows a pair of wings to speed it on its way?
Mr. X concludes his article on Soviet conduct and American policy by saying that "the thoughtful observer of Russian-American relations will . . . experience a certain gratitude to a Providence which, by providing the American people with this implacable challenge, has made their entire security as a nation dependent upon their pulling themselves together and accepting the responsibilities of moral and political leadership that history plainly intended them to bear." Perhaps. It may be that Mr. X has read the mind of Providence and that he knows what history plainly intended. But it is asking a good deal that the American people should stake their "entire security as a nation" upon a theory which, as he Himself says, cannot be proved and cannot be disproved.
Surely it is by no means proved that the way to lead mankind is to spend the next ten or fifteen years, as Mr. X proposes we should, in reacting at "a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points, corresponding to the shifts and manoeuvres of Soviet policy." For if history has indeed intended us to bear the responsibility of leadership, then it is not leadership to adapt ourselves to the shifts and manoeuvres of Soviet policy at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points. For that would mean for ten or fifteen years Moscow, not Washington, would define the issues, would make the challenges, would select the ground where the conflict was to be waged, and would choose the weapons. And the best that Mr. X can say for his own proposal is that if for a long period of time we can prevent the Soviet power from winning, the Soviet power will eventually perish or "mellow" because it has been "frustrated."
This is a dismal conclusion. Mr. X has, I believe, become bogged down in it because as he thought more and more about the conduct of the Soviets, he remembered less and less about the conduct of the other nations of the world. For while it may be true that the Soviet power would perish of frustration, if it were contained for ten or fifteen years, this conclusion is only half baked until he has answered the crucial question which remains: can the western world operate a policy of containment? Mr. X not only does not answer this question. He begs it, saying that it will be very discouraging to the Soviets, if the western world finds the strength and resourcefulness to contain the Soviet power over a period of ten or fifteen years.
Now the strength of the western world is great, and we may assume that its resourcefulness is considerable. Nevertheless, there are weighty reasons for thinking that the kind of strength we have and the kind of resourcefulness we are capable of showing are peculiarly unsuited to operating a policy of containment.
How, for example, under the Constitution of the United States is Mr. X going to work out an arrangement by which the Department of State has the money and the military power always available in sufficient amounts to apply "counterforce" at constantly shifting points all over the world? Is he going to ask Congress for a blank check on the Treasury and for a blank authorization to use the armed forces? Not if the American constitutional system is to be maintained. Or is he going to ask for an appropriation and for authority each time the Russians "show signs of encroaching upon the interests of a peaceful and stable world"? If that is his plan for dealing with the manoeuvres of a dictatorship, he is going to arrive at the points of encroachment with too little and he is going to arrive too late. The Russians, if they intend to encroach, will have encroached while Congress is getting ready to hold hearings.
A policy of shifts and manoeuvres may be suited to the Soviet system of government, which, as Mr. X tells us, is animated by patient persistence. It is not suited to the American system of government.
It is even more unsuited to the American economy which is unregimented and uncontrolled, and therefore cannot be administered according to a plan. Yet a policy of containment cannot be operated unless the Department of State can plan and direct exports and imports. For the policy demands that American goods be delivered or withheld at "constantly shifting geographical and political points corresponding to the shifts and manoeuvres of Soviet policy."
Thus Mr. X and the planners of policy in the State Department, and not supply and demand in the world market, must determine continually what portion of the commodities produced here may be sold in the United States, what portion is to be set aside for export, and then sold, lent, or given to this foreign country rather than to that one. The Department of State must be able to allocate the products of American industry and agriculture, to ration the goods allocated for export among the nations which are to contain the Soviet Union and to discriminate among them, judging correctly and quickly how much each nation must be given, how much each nation can safely be squeezed, so that all shall be held in line to hold the line against the Russians.
If then the Kremlin's challenge to American society is to be met by the policy which Mr. X proposes, we are committed to a contest, for ten or fifteen years, with the Soviet system which is planned and directed from Moscow. Mr. X is surely mistaken, it seems to me, if he thinks that a free and undirected economy like our own can be used by the diplomatic planners to wage a diplomatic war against a planned economy at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points. He is proposing to meet the Soviet challenge on the ground which is most favorable to the Soviets, and with the very instruments, procedures, and weapons in which they have a manifest superiority.
I find it hard to understand how Mr. X could have recommended such a strategic monstrosity. For he tells us, no doubt truly, that the Soviet power "cannot be easily defeated or discouraged by a single victory on the part of its opponents, and that "the patient persistence by which it is animated" means that it cannot be "effectively countered" by "sporadic acts." Yet his own policy calls for a series of sporadic acts: the United States is to apply "counterforce" where the Russians encroach and when they encroach.
On his own testimony no single victory will easily defeat or discourage the patient persistence of the Kremlin. Yet Mr. X says that the United States should aim to win a series of victories which will cause the Russians to "yield on individual sectors of the diplomatic front." And then what? When the United States has forced the Kremlin to "face frustration indefinitely" there will "eventually" come "either the breakup or the gradual mellowing of the Soviet power."
There is, however, no rational ground for confidence that the United States could muster "unalterable counterforce" at all the individual sectors. The Eurasian continent is a big place, and the military power of the United States, though it is very great, has certain limitations which must be borne in mind if it is to be used effectively. We live on an island continent. We are separated from the theaters of conflict by the great oceans. We have a relatively small population, of which the greater proportion must in time of war be employed in producing, transporting and servicing the complex weapons and engines which constitute our military power. The United States has, as compared with the Russians, no adequate reserve of infantry. Our navy commands the oceans and we possess the major offensive weapons of war. But on the ground in the interior of the Eurasian continent, as we are learning in the Greek mountains, there may be many "individual sectors" where only infantry can be used as the "counterforce."
These considerations must determine American strategy in war and, therefore, also in diplomacy, whenever the task of diplomacy is to deal with a conflict and a contest of power. The planner of American diplomatic policy must use the kind of power we do have, not the kind we do not have. He must use that kind of power where it can be used. He must avoid engagements in those "Individual sectors of the diplomatic front" where our opponents can use the weapons in which they have superiority. But the policy of firm containment as defined by Mr. X ignores these tactical considerations. It makes no distinction among sectors. It commits the United States to confront the Russians with counterforce "at every point" along the line, instead of at those points which we have selected because, there at those points, our kind of sea and air power can best be exerted.
American military power is peculiarly unsuited to a policy of containment which has to be enforced persistently and patiently for an indefinite period of time. If the Soviet Union were an island like Japan, such a policy could be enforced by American sea and air power. The United States could, without great difficulty, impose a blockade. But the Soviet Union has to be contained on land, and "holding the line" is therefore a form of trench warfare.
Yet the genius of American military power does not lie in holding positions indefinitely. That requires a massive patience by great hordes of docile people. American military power is distinguished by its mobility, its speed, its range and its offensive striking force. It is, therefore, not an efficient instrument for a diplomatic policy of containment. It can only be the instrument of a policy which has as its objective a decision and a settlement. It can and should be used to redress the balance of power which has been upset by the war. But it is not designed for, or adapted to, a strategy of containing, waiting, countering, blocking, with no more specific objective than the eventual "frustration" of the opponent.
The Americans would themselves probably be frustrated by Mr. X's policy long before the Russians were.
There is still greater disadvantage in a policy which seeks to "contain" the Soviet Union by attempting to make "unassailable barriers" out of the surrounding border states. They are admittedly weak. Now a weak ally is not an asset. It is a liability. It requires the diversion of power, money, and prestige to support it and to maintain it. These weak states are vulnerable. Yet the effort to defend them brings us no nearer to a decision or to a settlement of the main conflict. Worst of all, the effort to develop such an unnatural alliance of backward states must alienate the natural allies of the United States.
The natural allies of the United States are the nations of the Atlantic community: that is to say, the nations of western Europe and of the Americas. The Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, which is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean, unite them in a common strategic, economic and cultural system. The chief components of the Atlantic community are the British Commonwealth of nations, the Latin states on both sides of the Atlantic, the Low Countries and Switzerland, Scandinavia and the United States.
The boundaries of the Atlantic community are not sharp and distinct, particularly in the case of the Germans and the western Slavs and the dependencies and the colonies of western Europe. But the nucleus of the Atlantic community is distinct and unmistakable, and among the nations that are indisputably members of the Atlantic community there exists a vital connection founded upon their military and political geography, the common traditions of western Christendom and their economical, political, legal, and moral institutions which, with all their variations and differences, have a common origin and have been shaped by much the same historic experience.
Now the policy of containment as described by Mr. X, is an attempt to organize an anti-Soviet alliance composed in the first instance of peoples that are either on the shadowy extremity of the Atlantic community, or are altogether outside it. The active proponents of the policy have been concerned immediately with the anti-Soviet parties and factions of eastern Europe, with the Greeks, the Turks, the Iranians, the Arabs and Afghans, and with the Chinese Nationalists.
Instead of concentrating their attention and their efforts upon our allies of the Atlantic community, the makers and shapers of the policy of containment have for more than a year been reaching out for new allies on the perimeter of the Soviet Union. This new coalition, as we can see only too clearly in Greece, in Iran, in the Arab states and in China, cannot in fact be made to coalesce. Instead of becoming an unassailable barrier against the Soviet power, this borderland is a seething stew of civil strife.
We have not succeeded in organizing the new and alien coalition of the Russian perimeter, and we have failed to consolidate, as the mounting crisis of western Europe and of Latin America shows, the old and familiar coalition of the Atlantic community. The supporters of the Truman Doctrine attribute the divisions and the paralysis of western Europe to the machinations of the Soviet Union, to its obstruction in the United Nations and in all the various peace conferences, to the propaganda, the infiltration of the communist parties. Perhaps. But their argument, if true, destroys the last reason for thinking that the policy of containment can be made to work successfully.
For the nations of the Atlantic community are not occupied by the Red Army. They cannot be occupied by the Red Army unless the Kremlin is prepared to face a full-scale world war, atomic bombs and all the rest. Though impoverished and weakened, the nations of the Atlantic community are incomparably stronger, richer, more united and politically more democratic and mature than any of the nations of the Russian perimeter.
If the Soviet Union is, nevertheless, able to paralyze and disorganise them, then surely it can much more readily paralyze and disorganise the nations of the perimeter. They have never, in fact been organized and effective rnodern states. Yet we are asked to believe that we can organize the perimeter of Russia, though the Russians are so strong and so cunning that we cannot consolidate the Atlantic community.
By concentrating our efforts on a diplomatic war in the borderlands of the Soviet Union, we have neglected--because we do not have unlimited power, resources, influence, and diplomatic brain power--the vital interests of our natural allies in western Europe, notably in reconstructing their economic life and in promoting a German settlement on which they can agree.
The failure of our diplomatic campaign in the borderlands, on which we have staked so much too much, has conjured up the specter of a Third World War. The threat of a Russian-American war, arising out of the conflict in the borderlands, is dissolving the natural alliance of the Atlantic community. For the British, the French, and all the other European see that they are placed between the hammer and the anvil. They realize, even if we do not realize it, that the policy of containment in the hope that the Soviet power will collapse by frustration, cannot be enforced and cannot be administered successfully, and that it must fail. Either Russia will burst through the barriers which are supposed to contain her, and all of Europe will be at her mercy, or at some point and some time, the diplomatic war will become a full-scale shooting war. In either event Europe is lost. Either Europe falls under the domination of Russia, or Europe becomes the battlefield of a Russian-American war.
Because the policy of containment offers these intolerable alternatives to our old allies, the real aim of every European nation, including Great Britain, is to extricate itself from the Russian-American conflict. While we have been devoting our energies to lining up and bolstering up the Chinese Nationalists, the Iranians, the Turks, the Greek monarchists and conservatives, the anti-Soviet Hungarians, Romanians, Poles, the natural alignment of the British, French, Belgians, Dutch, Swiss and Scandinavians has been weakened.
And so in any prudent estimate of our world position, they are no longer to be counted upon as firm members of the coalition led by the United States against the Soviet Union. We must not deceive ourselves by supposing that we stand at the head of a world-wide coalition of democratic states in our conflict with the Soviet Union.
The aim of the leading democratic states of Europe and probably also of the Americas is at best to hold the balance of power between Russia and America, and thus to become mediators of that conflict. At worst, their aim is to isolate themselves in some kind of neutrality which will spare them the dual catastrophe of being overrun by the Red Army and bombed by the American air forces.
For they cannot have reasonable confidence in what Mr. X says is sufficient ground for reasonable confidence. They cannot rely on his wishful prediction which "cannot be proved" and "cannot be disproved," that the Soviet power will break up or "mellow" when it has been frustrated for ten or fifteen years by unassailable barriers in such inaccessible "individual sectors" as Manchuria, Mongolia, north China, Afghanistan, Iran, Hungary and Romania.
They remember Mr. Chamberlain's efforts to contain Hitler by a guarantee to Poland. They remember Mr. Hull's effort to contain Japan in China. They know that a policy of containment does not contain, that measures of "counterforce" are doomed to be too late and too little, that a policy of holding the line and hoping for the best means the surrender of the strategic, initiative, the dispersion of our forces without prospect of a decision and a settlement, and in the end a war which, once begun, it would be most difficult to conclude.
In the introduction to this essay, I said that Mr. X's article on "The Sources of Soviet Conduct" was "a document of primary importance on the sources of American foreign policy" in that it disclosed to the world the estimates, the calculations, and the conclusions on which is based that part of American foreign policy which is known as the Truman Doctrine. Fortunately, it seems to me, the Truman Doctrine does not have a monopoly. Though it is a powerful contender for the control of our foreign policy, there are at least two serious competitors in the Field. One we may call the Marshall line, and the other is the American commitment to support the United Nations.
The contest between the Truman Doctrine on the one hand, the Marshall line and the support of the U.N on the other is the central drama within the State Department, within the Administration, within the government as a whole. The outcome is still undecided.
The real issue is hidden because the Truman Doctrine was promulgated shortly after General Marshall became secretary of state, and because he made the decision to go to the support of Greece and Turkey, which was a concrete application of the Truman Doctrine. The issue is confused by that fact that Mr. Molotov and the Soviet propaganda abroad and many publicists here at home are representing the Marshall proposals to Europe as an application of the Truman Doctrine. The confusion is compounded still more because of the director of Secretary Marshall's planning staff is now known, through the publication of Mr. X's article, to have been the leading expert upon whose observations, predictions, and hypotheses the Truman Doctrine is based.
Nevertheless, if we look at the two main theaters of American diplomatic interest--at China and at Europe--and if we fix our attention on the Secretary Marshall's approach, we can see a line of policy developing which is altogether different from the line of the Truman Doctrine. General Marshall's report on China, which has now been reviewed and confirmed by General Wedemeyer, made it quite clear that in his judgement we could not, and should not, attempt the kind of intervention in China which we are carrying on in Greece. The Marshall and Wedemeyer reports do not argue that we can contain the Soviet Union and erect unassailable barriers in its path by participating in the Chinese civil war, as we are in the Greek civil war, and by underwriting Chiang Kai-shek's government as we are underwriting the Athens Government. The Marshall line in China is not an application of the Truman Doctrine, but of an older American doctrine that we must not become entangled all over the world in disputes that we alone cannot settle.
Yet the Marshall line in China is not isolationist. It would not end in our ceasing to interest ourselves in China and in giving Russia a free hand. But it is emphatically not the line of the Truman Doctrine which would involve us as partisans in the Chinese conflict and as patrons of one faction.
The line of the Marshall policy in China is to disentangle the United States, to reduce, not to extend, our commitments in Asia, to give up the attempt to control events which we do not have the power, the influence, the means, and the knowledge to control.
The proposal which Secretary Marshall addressed to Europe in his Harvard speech last June was animated by the same fundamental conception--as China's problem has to be dealt with primarily by the Chinese, so European problems have to be dealt with primarily by Europeans. Thus there was no "Marshall Plan" for Europe: the essence of his proposal was that only a European plan for Europe could save Europe, or provide a basis on which the American people could prudently and fairly be asked to help Europe save itself. The Marshall proposal was not, as Mr. Molotov and many Americans who do not understand it have tried to make out, an extension to Europe as a whole of the experiment in Greece. Quite the contrary. In Greece we made an American plan, appropriated the money, entered Greece and are now trying to induce the Greek government to carry out our plan. In the Harvard speech Secretary Marshall reversed this procedure. He told the European governments to plan their own rehabilitation, and that then he would go to Congress for funds, and that then the European governments would have to carry out their plans as best they could with the funds he could persuade Congress to appropriate.
The difference is fundamental. The Truman Doctrine treats those who are supposed to benefit by it as dependencies of the United States, as instruments of the American policy for "containing" Russia. The Marshall speech at Harvard treats the European governments as independent powers, whom we must help but cannot presume to govern, or to use as instruments of an American policy.
The Harvard speech was delivered about three months after President Truman's message. Much had happened in those three months, and all of it had gone to show that while Congress and the people were willing to applaud the Truman Doctrine, because they are exasperated with the Russia, they were not going to support it with the funds and blanket authority which it requires. Though the President got the funds he asked for in order to apply his doctrine in Greece and Turkey, he got them after a long delay and in circumstances which were tantamount to telling him not to come back too soon for much more The plans which existed for extending the Truman Doctrine to Korea and then to a series of impoverished, disordered and threatened countries on the perimeter of the Soviet Union were discreetly shelved.
Yet a crisis, enormously greater than that in Greece or Korea or Iran or Turkey, was developing. It was a crisis of the British Empire, and of France, and of Italy, and indeed of the whole western world. Extraordinary measures of American assistance were obviously going to be needed. After Congress had showed its attitude last spring, there was no possibility that this assistance would be provided by applying the principles, the procedure and precedent of the Truman Doctrine, as it, had been revealed in the Greek affair. A wholly different conception and a radically different approach were necessary if the crisis of the western world was to be dealt with.
Out of the knowledge that the Truman Doctrine was unworkable in Europe, that Congress would not support it anyway, and that a constructive revival of European collaboration was imperatively necessary, the policy of the harvard speech was conceived. And I think it is true to say that those who conceived it were concerned not only to devise a way by which Europe could be saved from economic disaster, but also to devise a graceful way of saving the United States from the destructive and exhausting entanglements of the Truman Doctrine.
They may not, succeed. If the planning of policy in the Truman administration were to be dominated by the conclusions propounded by Mr. X, the Marshall's proposals would fail. For the European crisis is insoluble if Europe remains divided by the iron curtain, raised by the Russians, and by the containing wall which we are supposed to construct.
But there are reasons for thinking that the Russians will not be able to maintain the iron curtain and that we cannot construct western Europe as a containing wall. they are that the vital needs of the people of Europe will prevail: the economic independence of western and eastern Europe will compel the nations of the continent to exchange their goods across the military, political and ideological boundary lines which now separate them.
The great virtue of the Marshall proposal is that it has set in motion studies abroad and in this country which will demonstrate conclusively that the division of Europe cannot be perpetuated. And since the, division of Europe came about, because the Red Army, the Red Army and Anglo-American armies met in the middle of Europe, the withdrawal of these armies is necessary if Europe is to be reunited. The Harvard speech calls, therefore, for a policy of settlement, addressed to the military evacuation of the continent, not for a policy of containment which would freeze the non-European armies in the heart of Europe.
The Marshall studies will show that the industrialized areas of western Europe cannot be supported, except to relieve their most pressing immediate needs, from North and South America. They must revive their trade with the agricultural regions of eastern Europe and with European Russia. If they do not do that, the cost of maintaining a tolerable standard of life in western Europe will be exorbitant, and the effort to meet it will require a revolutionary readjustment of the economic life of the whole of the western hemisphere.
At the same time studies made in Warsaw, Prague and in Moscow will show that the problems of eastern Europe are insoluble without increasing economic intercourse with western Europe. Thus from all quarters in eastern Europe and in western Europe, in Washington and in Moscow, the pressure will increase to reunite the divided economy of Europe--and perhaps to go on towards a greater unity than ever existed before.
At the root of Mr. X's philosophy about Russian-American relations and underlying all the ideas of the Truman Doctrine there is a disbelief in the possibility of a settlement of the issues raised by this war. Having observed, I believe quite correctly, that we cannot expect "to enjoy political intimacy with the Soviet regime," and that we must "regard the Soviet Union as a rival, not a partner in the political arena," and that "there can be no appeal to common purposes," Mr. X has reached the conclusion that all we can do is to "contain" Russia until Russia changes, ceases to be our rival, and becomes our partner.
The conclusion is, it seem to me, quite unwarranted. The history of diplomacy is the history of relations among rival powers, which did not enjoy political intimacy, and did not respond to appeals to common purposes. Nevertheless, there have been settlements. Some of them did not last very long. Some of them did. For a diplomat to think that rival and unfriendly powers cannot be brought to a settlement is to forget what diplomacy is about. There would be little for diplomats to do if the world consisted of partners, enjoying political intimacy, and responding to common appeals.
The method by which diplomacy deals with a world where there are rival powers is to organize a balance of power which deprives the rivals, however lacking in intimacy and however unresponsive to common appeals, of a good prospect of successful aggression. That is what a diplomat means by the settlement of a conflict among rival powers. He does not mean that they will cease to be rivals. He does not mean that they will all be converted to thinking and wanting the same things. He means that, whatever they think, whatever they want, whatever their ideological purposes, the balance of power is such that they cannot afford to commit aggression.
In our conflict with Russia a policy of a policy of settlement--as I have sought to show--would aim to redress the balance of power, which is abnormal and dangerous, because the Red Army has met the British and American armies in the heart of Europe. The division between east and west is at that military boundary line. The meeting of those armies caused the division. No state in eastern Europe can be independent of the Kremlin as long as the Red Army is within it and all around it. No state in western Europe is independent while it is in effect in the rear of this military frontier. The presence of these non-European armies in the continent of Europe perpetuates the division of Europe. The Soviet government has been communist for thirty years. For more than a hundred years all Russian governments have sought to expand over eastern Europe. But only since the Red Army reached the Elbe River have the rulers of Russia been able to realize the ambitions of the Russian Empire and the ideological purposes of communism.
A genuine policy would, therefore, have as its paramount objective a settlement which brought about the evacuation of Europe. That is the settlement which will settle the issue which has arisen out of the war. The communists will continue to be communists. The Russians will continue to be Russians. But if the Red Army is in Russia, and not on the Elbe the power of the Russians communists and the power of the Russian imperialists to realise their ambitions will have been reduced decisively.
Until a settlement which results in withdrawal is reached, the Red Army at the centre of Europe will control eastern Europe and will threaten western Europe. In those circumstances American power must be available, not to "contain" the Russians at scattered points, but to hold the whole Russian military machine, in check, and to exert a mounting pressure in support of a diplomatic policy which has as its concrete objective a settlement that means withdrawal.
Then we shall know what we are trying to do. The Russians will know it. Europe will know it. We shall be trying to do a great thing which is simple and necessary: to settle the main consequences of this particular war, to put an end to the abnormal situation where Europe, one of the chief centers of civilization, though liberated from the Nazis, is still occupied by its non-European liberators.
We shall be addressing ourselves to an objective to which our own power is suited--be it in diplomacy or in war. We shall be seeking an end that all men can understand, and one which expresses faithfully our oldest and best tradition--to be the friend and champion of nations seeking independence and an end to the rule of alien powers.
Such was the gilded myopia for which Tom Wolfe would later savage Lippmann. “For 35 years Lippmann seemed to do nothing more than ingest the Times every morning, turn it over in his ponderous cud for a few days, and then methodically egest it in the form of a drop of mush on the foreheads of thousands of readers of other newspapers in the days thereafter,” he wrote in a 1972 New York magazine article about the New Journalism. “The only form of reporting that I remember Lippmann going for was the occasional red-carpet visit to a head of state, during which he had the opportunity of sitting on braided chairs in wainscoted offices and swallowing the exalted one’s official lies in person instead of reading them in the Times.”
In an obituary, Lippmann’s biographer Ronald Steel wrote that Lippmann’s aversion to actual reporting was so severe that he “shied away from a scoop, even when handed to him on a platter, as though it were distasteful and slightly odoriferous.”
This may have been because Lippmann never saw himself as a reporter, but as a commentator or a political philosopher, says Nicholas Lemann, dean emeritus and the Joseph Pulitzer II and Edith Pulitzer Moore Professor of Journalism at Columbia’s School of Journalism: “I think he thought of his column as a way to be engaged and try to influence public affairs. I don’t think there was ever a moment in his life that I was aware of when he thought, ‘I hold myself separate from public officials’ or ‘I would never advise a president.’ He really functioned throughout his life as part of that very elite little corner of the political system.”
Protesters canvass London for a mass rally to be held in Hyde Park against the death sentence leveled against Sacco and Vanzetti in America. When Lippmann wrote about the two Italian immigrant anarchists—who were executed for murdering two men despite another man’s confession that he committed the crime— he focused on those who decided their fate, rather than on Sacco and Vanzetti Bettmann/Contributor via Getty Images
Lippmann’s ascent into that elite little corner was rapid. President Woodrow Wilson invited Lippmann to a gala dinner reception in 1916, and Lippmann would come to know every president who succeeded him up to Richard Nixon, who resigned months before Lippmann’s death more than 50 years later.
The close relationships Lippmann enjoyed with politicians can strike a modern journalist as too cozy. He relished being part of the establishment and, for much of his career, seemed reluctant to write in a manner that would threaten that membership. Lippmann also didn’t refrain from helping politicians, including by drafting papers and speeches for them, even while working as a journalist. This work included helping to edit John F. Kennedy’s inauguration address—a speech he then praised in a column.
But Lippmann worked at a time when the wall between politicians and journalists was far more porous than it is today. High-level political journalists such as Lippmann simply didn’t see themselves as outsiders in Washington, says Maurine Beasley, professor emerita of journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park. They “were part of the political establishment, and whether they should have been or not, ethically, is a question you can debate. But I think they were.”
And Lippmann was hardly alone. “He might have been at the pinnacle as one of the leading journalists. As one of the most brilliant minds, he might have been called on the most, but there are lots of others,” says Greenberg.
Lippmann eventually came to rethink the relationship between journalists and those in power. In 1964, he told a television interviewer: “There are certain rules of hygiene in the relationship between a newspaper correspondent and high officials—people in authority—which are very important and which one has to observe … There always has to be a certain distance between high public officials and newspapermen. I wouldn’t say a wall or a fence, but an air space, that’s very necessary.”
Lippmann was never obsequious, nor did he shrink from taking on presidents and the Washington establishment. He criticized Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. He fiercely opposed Harry Truman’s strategy of containing the Soviet Union following World War II. His opposition to the Truman administration’s belligerence on Korea was even sharper. But the “air space” he said should exist between a politician and a journalist was, in his case, generally pretty small.
“Before the second half of the war in Vietnam there was kind of a bedrock assumption that the United States had an establishment, needed an establishment, and that the establishment should be made up of the best people—not in the British sense of the best born, but the most capable and the most dedicated,” says Daly. “I think [Lippmann] thought we’re all in this together, and other serious people like him who cared about the country had a common cause.”
“We operate off a set of rules that we think are normal and expected for journalists and that we think are pretty well established,” says Lemann. “Those rules basically didn’t exist until Walter Lippmann was maybe 60 years old, so we’re sort of retrofitting his life with a set of rules that he wasn’t even really aware of.”
Lippmann worked at a time when the wall between politicians and journalists was far more porous than it is today
And it may be that prevailing mores haven’t changed that much, after all. Some journalists still seek affirmation from their interview subjects and prize access over independence. Even policy consultations between journalists and politicians persist. They’re just framed differently, says Greenberg. President Barack Obama often invited journalists into the White House for off-the-record discussions, he says.
And if journalists today would not help politicians draft speeches or consciously act as an administration’s unofficial messenger, other forms of cooperation persist. It was only in 2012 that The New York Times announced it would sharply curtail the practice of “quote approval”—submitting quotes to a source before publication.
Lippmann’s willingness to cooperate with the powerful people he wrote about was also a product of his time. He cut his teeth under muckraker Lincoln Steffens. But even the muckrakers, in their turn-of-the-century heyday, were not true outsiders. They had a progressive political agenda and sought allies among politicians they thought could advance it.
Ray Stannard Baker, reporter for McClure’s magazine and among the most prominent in muckraker ranks, was tight with Theodore Roosevelt. Baker sent Roosevelt articles in advance of publication, and Roosevelt gave Baker access to restricted government files. David Woolner, a professor of history at Marist College and a senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, says the muckrakers’ access to Theodore Roosevelt didn’t blunt their criticism. But when there was inevitable discord, Baker tried to smooth it over.
Lippmann would also become smitten with Roosevelt. He leapt at a chance to write Roosevelt a position paper on labor. Roosevelt, who was contemplating another attempt to return to the White House in 1916, gripped the 24-year-old Lippmann’s hand and said the two were linked in a common cause, Steel writes in “Walter Lippmann and the American Century.” They would fall out, but Lippmann’s fondness never cooled.
Woolner says Roosevelt inspired excitement among progressive-minded people who believed government should have a role in giving average people economic justice. “Journalists got caught up in this idea and wanted to move it forward,” he says. “And to the extent that they wanted to be a part of it, they may have been willing to do things, cooperate with these political figures, in ways that may seem in today’s world to be crossing that line. But in the political context of the day it made sense.”
When America entered the war in 1917, Lippmann was recruited as an assistant to Secretary of War Newton D. Baker. America did not handle wartime dissent well. Publications were suppressed, editors indicted and harassed. Hundreds who questioned the war were jailed. And in a foreshadowing of congressional cafeterias selling “freedom fries” instead of “French fries” to protest France’s opposition to the proposed invasion of Iraq in 2003, sauerkraut was renamed “liberty cabbage.” Lippmann protested, with arguments built on wartime tactical considerations rather than principles.
A Harvard alum, Walter Lippmann (front row, far left) received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from the school in 1944. Lippmann played an integral role in establishing Harvard’s Nieman Foundation Bettmann/Contributor via Getty Images
“So far as I’m concerned, I have no doctrinaire belief in free speech. In the interest of war it is necessary to sacrifice some of it,” he told Wilson advisor Edward “Colonel” House. “But the point is that the method now being pursued is breaking down the liberal support of the war and is tending to divide the country’s articulate opinion into fanatical jingoism and fanatical pacifism.”
Later in the war, Lippmann was commissioned as a captain in military intelligence, where he worked on propaganda, and then joined the American delegation negotiating peace in Paris following the armistice. Lippmann believed in the work he did on behalf of the war effort but wanted to return to journalism. He did so in 1919.
The sense that journalists and politicians share a common goal during times of national crisis persisted into World War II, says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. Even during the Cold War, journalists tended to support their government because of the perceived stakes in America’s ongoing confrontation with the Soviet Union, he says.
With John F. Kennedy’s administration came a sense of glamour that seduced many reporters covering him. “Kennedy entranced the press, and reporters gave him even more breaks than they gave his predecessors,” says Sabato. “They were well aware of some of the comings and goings of young beautiful women and actresses and so on. They were also taken into Kennedy’s inner circle in a sense … and given inside information. The administration did not suggest to them or require that these things be off the record. They simply knew they weren’t supposed to report it. Occasionally they’d check with the press secretary and ask.”
Sabato says reporters became more confrontational during the Lyndon B. Johnson presidency, and especially so when Richard Nixon was president. After the Watergate scandal, he says, it was “open season.”
The mostly male Washington press corps and those they covered operated in kind of unofficial fraternity. They drank together, often heavily, and could be fairly confident that knowledge of certain transgressions would be kept between them. This was a time in which the public at large was willing to afford politicians more privacy than it is today. Journalists reflected this. But those writing about politicians also feared losing access.
The roots of Walter Lippmann’s insecurity about losing his insider status may have begun with his upbringing as an American Jew in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century New York. It seems that insecurity left him hesitant or slow to write about those who hadn’t reached a similar level of status and social acceptance, and on occasion to commit errors of judgment when he did so.
Lippmann was never obsequious, nor did he shrink from taking on presidents and the Washington establishment
In his biography of Lippmann, Steel describes young Walter, who was born in 1889, growing up among wealthy and thoroughly assimilated German Jews who shut themselves off from more recently arrived migrants fleeing the pogroms of Eastern Europe. Those Jews, the Lippmann crowd believed, were too loud and obviously foreign. The rabbi of the Emanu-El temple where the Lippmanns prayed praised his congregation because its members were “no longer Oriental,” meaning Polish or Russian.
Lippmann carried a desire to shed any foreign vestige with him to Harvard, where he learned this wasn’t as easy as he had hoped. Final clubs, unofficial social clubs that functioned as a sort of escalator into America’s ruling class, didn’t want Jews as members. He wasn’t invited to join The Harvard Crimson student newspaper either. His background and faith limited his options. Lippmann rebelled, briefly. But for most of his life he tried to hold on to his place within establishment bastions, rather than forcing their gates.
This was especially true concerning Judaism. In the 1920s, several universities began imposing limits on the number of Jews they would admit. Harvard, after what Steel describes as a bitter faculty debate, chose not to. But Harvard University President A. Lawrence Lowell remained unhappy about the “excessive” number of Jews at Harvard and appointed a committee to reconsider.
One committee member asked Lippmann for his thoughts. In a draft letter, which Steel could not determine was delivered, Lippmann said he was prepared to accept the judgment of Harvard authorities who believed more than 15 percent Jews in the student body would lead to segregation and confrontation between Jews and gentiles. His sympathies lay with “the non-Jew,” he added: “His personal manners and physical habits are, I believe, distinctly superior to the prevailing manners and habits of the Jews.” Lippmann thought Jews should assimilate.
He supported “a more even dispersion of the Jews, and of any other minority that brings with it some striking cultural peculiarity.” As a way around quotas, he suggested Harvard select more students from parts of the country where fewer Jews lived. He was against any “test of admission based on race, creed, color, class or section,” he wrote in the letter.
Harvard imposed an informal quota on Jews all the same. Lippmann publicly condemned it. “Harvard, with the prejudices of a summer hotel Harvard, with the standards of a country club, is not the Harvard of her greatest sons,” he wrote in an editorial.
Jews at this time in America had to walk a difficult line. Some, such as Lippmann, had achieved social prominence. But there was enough discrimination in society, and memories of far worse bigotry, that the position of even those who had reached such high status must have felt precarious.
In a February 1938 letter to Helen Byrne, who would soon become his second wife, Lippmann described his friend Carl Binger as having a somewhat “oppressed” spirit because “he has that rather common Jewish feeling of not belonging to the world he belongs to.” Lippmann understood these emotions but did not share them, he added: “I have never in my life been able to discover in myself any feeling of being disqualified for anything I cared about.”
But Lippmann was disqualified from things he wanted at Harvard. In the same letter, Lippmann listed a number of injustices faced by Jews, from exclusion from some summer hotels to job discrimination, but concluded that one should learn not to care about such things. It’s hard not to see Lippmann’s desire to subsume his Jewish identity reflected in his journalism. He rarely wrote about Jewish issues, and when he did the results could be disastrous.
The roots of Lippmann’s insecurity about losing his insider status may have begun with his upbringing as an American Jew
In a 1933 column, in which he also described a speech by Adolf Hitler as “statesmanlike” and “the authentic voice of a genuinely civilized people,” he urged readers not to condemn all German people because of the uncivilized things that are said and done in Germany.
He wrote, “Who that has studied history and cares for the truth would judge the French people by what went on during the Terror? Or the British people by what happened in Ireland? Or the American people by the hideous record of lynchings? Or the Catholic Church by the Spanish Inquisition? Or Protestantism by the Ku-Klux-Klan? Or the Jews by their parvenus? Who then shall judge finally the Germans by the frightfulness of war times and of the present revolution? If a people is to be judged solely by its crimes and its sins, all the people of this planet are utterly damned.”
Shortly after America entered World War II, Lippmann wrote a column about the “enemy alien problem … or much more accurately the Fifth Column problem” on the Pacific Coast. America, he said after talking to military officials, was in imminent danger of a combined attack from within and without.
President Roosevelt authorized military authorities to remove anyone it chose from military zones on the West Coast. Japanese Americans were given 48 hours to pack up or sell a lifetime of goods and were shipped to internment camps. More than 100,000 people, mostly American citizens, were detained in barracks behind barbed wire fences as if they were criminals or prisoners of war.
Lippmann’s defense of repressive measures reflected popular hysteria, and perhaps demonstrates how difficult it can be for journalists to clearly assess events as they unfold, without the benefit of time and distance. “Very often the conventional wisdom turns out to be wrong, or it’s overtaken by events, or it’s discredited in one way or another. So, if you epitomize the conventional wisdom, that’s going to happen to you,” says Daly, speaking of Lippmann.
Japanese citizens of the United States en route to their internment at the Santa Anita racetrack, California during World War II, April 1942 United States National Archives via Popperfoto/Getty Images
Steel writes that Lippmann had no personal prejudice against African Americans. But he largely overlooked their struggles until they became an unavoidable part of the national conversation. In 1919, Lippmann advocated “race parallelism,” roughly meaning separate but equal, which qualified as a progressive opinion at the time. He wrote little about segregation in the ensuing decades.
Barry D. Riccio, in his book “Walter Lippmann–Odyssey of a Liberal,” describes Lippmann’s relationship to civil rights and the civil rights movement as “especially illustrative of his rather conservative brand of liberalism.” Discussions about the issue were bound up with considerations of precedent, constitutionalism, and order. “Rarely did it seem to be a matter of race or morals.” Riccio says that when Lippmann did address civil rights in the mid-1950s, he did so through a Cold War lens. Jim Crow made America look bad internationally, diminishing its global appeal.
Lippmann’s framing of civil rights in America as, at least partly, a Cold War issue was not an uncommon position as America vied with the Soviet Union for influence in Africa and other parts of the developing world. His broader caution was also not unique. Yet Lippmann’s views could change, and on civil rights, they did.
Lippmann’s defense of repressive measures reflected popular hysteria
He supported President Dwight Eisenhower’s dispatch of federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957 to ensure school desegregation. By 1963, following the Freedom Rides, the use by police of attack dogs on peaceful demonstrators in Birmingham, Alabama, and the March on Washington organized by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Lippmann realized “equal rights could not be achieved by persuasion alone,” writes Steel. Lippmann concluded desegregation must become a national movement led and directed by the federal government.
Lippmann was not indifferent to the discrimination women faced. At Harvard, he wrote of the suffragists: “They are unladylike, just as the Boston Tea Party was ungentlemanly, and our Civil War bad form. But unfortunately in this world great issues are not won by good manners.”
Lippmann’s “rather conservative brand of liberalism,” as Riccio describes it, meant he was rarely at the forefront of journalism related to the rights of the disenfranchised and overlooked. Journalists today can miss stories and misjudge the strength of movements for similar reasons.
In the twilight of his career, Lippmann adopted an iconoclasm he had until then largely avoided. The trigger was the war in Vietnam.
President Johnson seemed to want Lippmann’s help. Less than two weeks into his presidency, he asked to come over to Lippmann’s house for a chat, recounts Steel. The two were on good terms for a time, with Lippmann visiting Johnson’s Texas ranch a couple of months later. They blasted down ranch roads in a Lincoln Continental, stopping to drink whiskey and soda while Johnson leaned on the car horn to warn cattle wandering nearby. Whatever genuine
affection Johnson’s attention and flattery might have engendered, it didn’t blind Lippmann to the flaws in Johnson’s decision to escalate America’s military involvement in Vietnam.
The escalation came amidst frequent consultations between Lippmann, Johnson, and members of Johnson’s administration—which, for Lippmann, might have added to his later sense of betrayal and disappointment. Because the White House did not want to alienate Lippmann, Steel writes, Johnson and his national security advisor, McGeorge Bundy, kept telling him they would be willing to negotiate a settlement in Vietnam once the military situation there improved. Their real objective was winning the war.
Lippmann grew skeptical of what the White House was telling him. He also recognized that military success would require more blood and treasure than America was willing to expend, and that American interests in Vietnam were too minuscule to justify the sacrifice. Concluding privately in 1965 that he had been “pulling my punches,” Lippmann endeavored to more forcefully expose the folly of Johnson’s Vietnam strategy. “There are some wars which must be averted and avoided because they are ruinous,” he wrote the following year. Lippmann had avoided personal attacks on Johnson but now accused him of “messianic megalomania.”
Lippmann picked this fight even as most American media, including his home paper, The Washington Post, backed the war. He suffered derision and hostility as a result. Johnson, who had once draped an arm around Lippmann and proclaimed, “This man here is the greatest journalist in the world, and he’s a friend of mine!” now told guests Lippmann was senile and mocked him in public.
But Lippmann made no attempt to write his way back into favor. When Lippmann decided to leave Washington for New York and stop writing his regular “Today and Tomorrow” column in 1967, he told colleagues at a farewell dinner that he was not leaving “because I no longer stand very near the throne of the prince nor very well at his court” but because “time passes on.” “Change and a new start,” he added, “is good for the aging.”
Looking back on Walter Lippmann’s life, Ronald Steel concluded there could never be another to match him: “The mold that Lippmann filled so impressively no longer exists.”
This is true on many levels. His productivity, range, and impact have not been equaled since. Few political philosophers ever reach the audiences Lippmann did, and even fewer have the capacity to simultaneously write multiple columns a week for decades on end.
He also lived during a different time in American journalism. Writing in 1998, Steel recognized its landscape had already irrevocably changed: “The sources of news and opinion are too atomized and varied. No single person can encompass them all.” The scope of what is covered today has also changed. People and communities whose stories seldom appeared in newspapers 80 years ago are no longer as ignored.
What’s considered an acceptable relationship between a journalist and a politician has shifted, too. Here, Greenberg shares Lemann ’s caution against judging historical figures by today’s ethical standards. “It’s very easy to cast a moralistic eye backward on someone like Lippmann. But I think the reality is high-level journalism and high-level Washington politics are intertwined, and it’s human nature to be seduced by power, so I’m not particularly judgmental of Lippmann,” he says.
Lippmann, says Greenberg, believed the personal influence he could have on politicians was part of his role as a journalist and thinker. “The ethics of the time didn’t really proscribe that,” he says.
Looking back on Walter Lippmann’s life, Ronald Steel concluded there could never be another to match him
Lippmann was at times horrendously wrong—about Hitler in 1933, about the herding of Japanese Americans into internment camps a decade later. But his warnings about the dangers of America overextending itself abroad, his insistence that the country should limit its interventions to places where vital interests are at stake (not Vietnam), would resonate today among American policy makers who feel they’ve had to learn those lessons all over again.
And if Lippmann was often elitist, he was in the end a democrat who believed that if a country is to be governed with the consent of its people, journalists must provide citizens with the information they need to decide how they want to be governed. “This is our job,” he said in a speech to a National Press Club gathering in honor of his 70th birthday in 1959. “It is no mean calling. We have a right to be proud of it and to be glad it is our work.”
Lippmann’s career was characterized by re-evaluation and continuous learning. It is tempting to see a reflection of this in Lippmann’s support for the Nieman Foundation and the fellowships it provided so that journalists might study at Harvard and enhance their skills. Lippmann wrote for as long as had something to say and his health would permit, writing his final article in 1971 at the age of 81. Facing death a few years later, he was calm and impassive. “At no time did he ever speak of prayer or God or an afterlife,” his lawyer, Louis Auchincloss, recalled. “Whatever was or would be, he accepted.”
The Basic Problem of Democracy
From our recent experience it is clear that the traditional liberties of speech and opinion rest on no solid foundation. At a time when the world needs above all other things the activity of generous imaginations and the creative leadership of planning and inventive minds, our thinking is shriveled with panic. Time and energy that should go to building and restoring are instead consumed in warding off the pin-pricks of prejudice and fighting a guerilla war against misunderstanding and intolerance. For suppression is felt, not simply by the scattered individuals who are actually suppressed. It reaches back into the steadiest minds, creating tension everywhere and the tension of fear produces sterility. Men cease to say what they think and when they cease to say it, they soon cease to think it. They think in reference to their critics and not in reference to the facts. For when thought becomes socially hazardous, men spend more time wondering about the hazard than they do in developing their thought. Yet nothing is more certain than that mere bold resistance will not permanently liberate men’s minds. The problem is not only greater than that, but different, and the time is ripe for reconsideration. We have learned that many of the hard-won rights of man are utterly insecure. It may be that we cannot make them secure simply by imitating the earlier champions of liberty.
Something important about the human character was exposed by Plato when, with the spectacle of Socrates’s death before him, he founded Utopia on a censorship stricter than any which exists on this heavily censored planet. His intolerance seems strange. But it is really the logical expression of an impulse that most of us have not the candor to recognize. It was the service of Plato to formulate the dispositions of men in the shape of ideals, and the surest things we can learn from him are not what we ought to do, but what we are inclined to do. We are peculiarly inclined to suppress whatever impugns the security of that to which we have given our allegiance. If our loyalty is turned to what exists, intolerance begins at its frontiers if it is turned, as Plato’s was, to Utopia, we shall find Utopia defended with intolerance.
There are, so far as I can discover, no absolutists of liberty I can recall no doctrine of liberty, which, under the acid test, does not become contingent upon some other ideal. The goal is never liberty, but liberty for something or other. For liberty is a condition under which activity takes place, and men’s interests attach themselves primarily to their activities and what is necessary to fulfill them, not to the abstract requirements of any activity that might be conceived.
And yet controversialists rarely take this into account. The battle is fought with banners on which are inscribed absolute and universal ideals. They are not absolute and universal in fact. No man has ever thought out an absolute or a universal ideal in politics, for the simple reason that nobody knows enough, or can know enough, to do it. We all use absolutes, because an ideal which seems to exist apart form time, space, and circumstance has a prestige that no candid avowal of special purpose can ever have. Looked at from one point of view universals are part of the fighting apparatus in men. What they desire enormously they easily come to call God’s will, or their nation’s purpose. Looked at genetically, these idealizations are probably born in that spiritual reverie where all men live most of the time. In reverie there is neither time, space, nor particular reference, and hope is omnipotent. This omnipotence, which is denied to them in action, nevertheless illuminates activity with a sense of utter and irresistible value.
The classic doctrine of liberty consists of absolutes. It consists of them except at the critical point where the author has come into contact with objective difficulties. Then he introduces into the argument, somewhat furtively, a reservation which liquidates its universal meaning and reduces the exalted plea for liberty in general to a special argument for the success of a special purpose.
There are at the present time, for instance, no more fervent champions of liberty than the western sympathizers with the Russian Soviet government. Why is it that they are indignant when Mr. Burleson suppresses a newspaper and complacent when Lenin does? And, vice versa, why is it that the anti-Bolshevist forces in the world are in favor of restricting constitutional liberty as a preliminary to establishing genuine liberty in Russia? Clearly the argument about liberty has little actual relation to the existence of it. It is the purpose of the social conflict, not the freedom of opinion, that lies close to the heart of the partisans. The word liberty is a weapon and an advertisement, but certainly not an ideal which transcends all special aims.
If there were any man who believed in liberty apart from particular purposes, that man would be a hermit contemplating all existence with a hopeful and neutral eye. For him, in the last analysis, there could be nothing worth resisting, nothing particularly worth attaining, nothing particularly worth defending, not even the right of hermits to contemplate existence with a cold and neutral eye. He would be loyal simply to the possibilities of the human spirit, even to those possibilities which most seriously impair its variety and its health. No such man has yet counted much in the history of politics. For what every theorist of liberty has meant is that certain types of behavior and classes of opinion hitherto regulated should be somewhat differently regulated in the future. What each seems to say is that opinion and action should be free that liberty is the highest and most sacred interest of life. But somewhere each of them inserts a weasel clause to the effect that ‘of course’ the freedom granted shall not be employed too destructively. It is this clause which checks exuberance and reminds us that, in spite of appearances, we are listening to finite men pleading a special clause.
Among the English classics none are more representative than Milton’s Areopagitica and the essay On Liberty by John Stuart Mill. Of living men Mr. Bertrand Russell is perhaps the most outstanding advocates of ‘liberty.’ The three together are a formidable set of witnesses. Yet nothing is easier than to draw texts from each which can be cited either as an argument for absolute liberty or as an excuse for as much repression as seems desirable at the moment. Says Milton: —
Yet if all cannot be of one mind, as who looks they should be? this doubtles is more wholesome, more prudent, and more Christian that many be tolerated, rather than all compell’d.
So much for the generalization. Now for the qualification which follows immediately upon it.
I mean not tolerated Popery, and open superstition, which as it extirpats all religions and civill supremacies, so itself should be extirpate, provided first that all charitable and compassionat means be used to win and regain the weak and misled: that also which is impious or evil absolutely either against faith or maners no law can possibly permit, that intends not to unlaw it self: but those neighboring differences, or rather indifferences, are what I speak of, whether in some point of doctrine or of discipline, which though they may be many, yet need not interrupt the unity of spirit, if we could but find among us the bond of peace.
With this as a text one could set up an inquisition. Yet it occurs in the noblest plea for liberty that exists in the English language. The critical point in Milton’s thought is revealed by the word ‘indifferences.’ The area of opinion which he wished to free comprised the ‘neighboring differences’ of certain Protestant sects, and only these where they were truly ineffective in manners and morals. Milton, in short, had come to the conclusion that certain conflicts of doctrine were sufficiently insignificant to be tolerated. The conclusion depended far less upon his notion of the value of liberty than upon his conception of God and human nature and the England of his time. He urged indifference to things that were becoming indifferent.
If we substitute the word indifference for the word liberty, we shall come much closer to the real intention that lies behind the classic argument. Liberty is to be permitted where differences are of no great moment. It is this definition which has generally guided practice. In times when men feel themselves secure, heresy is cultivated as the spice of life. During a war liberty disappears as the as the community feels itself menaced. When revolution seems to be contagious, heresy-hunting is a respectable occupation. In other words, when men are not afraid, they are not afraid of ideas when they are much afraid, they are afraid of anything that seems, or can even be made to appear, seditious. That is why nine tenths of the effort to live and let live consists in proving that the thing we wish to have tolerated is really a matter of indifference.
In Mill this truth reveals itself still more clearly. Though his argument is surer and completer than Milton’s, the qualification is also surer and completer.
Such being the reasons which make it imperative that human beings should be free to form opinions, and to express their opinions without reserve and such the baneful consequences to the intellectual and through that to the moral nature of man, unless this liberty is either conceded or asserted in spite of prohibition, let us next examine whether the same reasons do not require that men should be free to act upon their opinions, to carry these out in their lives, without hindrance, either moral or physical, from their fellow men, so long as it is at their own risk and peril. This last proviso is of course indispensable. No one pretends that actions should be as free as opinions. On the contrary, even opinions lose their immunity when the circumstances in which they are expressed are such as to constitute their expression a positive instigation to some mischievous act.
‘At their own risk and peril.’ In other words at the risk of eternal damnation. The premise from which Mill argued was that many opinions then under the ban of society were of no interest to society, and ought therefore not to be interfered with. The orthodoxy with which he was at war was chiefly theocratic. It assumed that a man’s opinions on cosmic affairs might endanger his personal salvation and make him a dangerous member of society. Mill did not believe in the theological view, did not fear damnation, and was convinced that morality did not depend upon the religious sanction. In fact, he was convinced that a more reasoned morality could be formed by laying aside theological assumptions. ‘But no one pretends that actions should be as free as opinions.’ The plain truth is that Mill did not believe that much action would result from the toleration of those opinions in which he was most interested.
Political heresy occupied the fringe of his attention, and he uttered only the most casual comments. So incidental are they, so little do they impinge on his mind, that the arguments of this staunch apostle of liberty can be used honestly, and in fact are used, to justify the bulk of the suppressions which have recently occurred. ‘Even opinions lose their immunity, when the circumstances in which they are expressed are such as to constitute their expression a positive instigation to some mischievous act.’ Clearly there is no escape here for Debs or Haywood or obstructors of Liberty Loans. The argument used is exactly the one employed in sustaining the conviction of Debs.
In corroboration Mill’s single concrete instance may be cited: ‘An opinion that corn dealers are starvers of the poor, or that private property is robbery, ought to be unmolested when simply circulated through the press, but may justly incur punishment when delivered orally to an excited mob assembled before the house of a corn dealer, or when handed about among the same mob in the form of a placard.’
Clearly Mill’s theory of liberty wore a different complexion when he considered opinions which might directly affect social order. Where the stimulus between opinion and act was effective he could say with entire complacency, ‘The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited he must not make himself a nuisance to other people.’ Because Mill believed this, it is entirely just to infer that the distinction drawn between a speech or placard and circulation in the press would soon have broken down for Mill had he lived at a time when the press really circulated and the art of type-display had made a newspaper strangely like a placard.
On first acquaintance no man would seem to go further than Mr. Bertrand Russell in loyalty to what he calls ‘the unfettered development of all the instincts that build up life and fill it with mental delights.’ He calls these instincts that build up life and fill it with mental delights.’ He calls these instincts ‘creative’ and against them he sets off the ‘possessive impulses.’ These, he says, should be restricted by ‘a public authority, a repository of practically irresistible force whose function should be primarily to repress the private use of force.’ Where Milton said no ‘tolerated Popery,’ Mr. Russell says, no tolerated ‘possessive impulses.’ Surely he is open to the criticism that, like every authoritarian who has preceded him, he is interested in the unfettered development of only that which seems good to him. Those who think that ‘enlightened selfishness’ produces social harmony will tolerate more of the possessive impulses, and will be inclined to put certain of Mr. Russell’s creative impulses under lock and key.
The moral is, not that Milton, Mill, and Bertrand Russell are inconsistent, or that liberty is to be obtained by arguing for it without qualifications. The impulse to what we call liberty is as strong in these three men as it is ever likely to be in our society. The moral is of another kind. It is that, the traditional core of liberty, namely, the notion of indifference, is too feeble and unreal a doctrine to protect the purpose of liberty, which is the furnishing of a healthy environment in which human judgment and inquiry can most successfully organize human life. Too feeble, because in time of stress nothing is easier than to insist, and by insistence to convince, that tolerated indifference is no longer tolerable because it has ceased to be indifferent.
It is clear that in a society where public opinion has become decisive, nothing that counts in the formation of it can really be a matter of indifference. When I say ‘can be,’ I am speaking literally. What men believed about the constitution of heaven became a matter of indifference when heaven disappeared in metaphysics but what they believe about property, government, conscription, taxation, the origins of the late war, or the origins of the Franco-Prussian War, or the distribution of Latin culture in the vicinity of copper mines, constitutes the difference between life and death, prosperity and misfortune, and it will never on this earth be tolerated as indifferent, or not interfered with, no matter how many noble arguments are made for liberty, or how many martyrs give their lives for it. If widespread tolerance of opposing views is to be achieved in modern society, it will not be simply by fighting the Debs cases through the courts, and certainly not by threatening to upset those courts if they do not yield to the agitation. The task is fundamentally of another order, requiring other methods and other theories.
The world about which each man is supposed to have opinions has become so complicated as to defy his powers of understanding. What he knows of events that matter enormously to him, the purposes of governments, the aspirations of peoples, the struggle of classes, he knows at second, third, or fourth hand. He cannot go and see for himself. Even the things that are near to him have become too involved for his judgment. I know of no man, even among those who devote all of their time to watching public affairs, who can even pretend to keep track, at the same time, of his city government, his state government, Congress, the departments, the industrial situation, and the rest of the world. What men who make the study of politics a vocation cannot do, the man who has an hour a day for newspapers and talk cannot possibly hope to do. He must seize catchwords and headlines or nothing.
This vast elaboration of the subject-matter of politics is the root of the whole problem. News comes from a distance it comes helter-skelter, in inconceivable confusion it deals with matters that are not easily understood it arrives and is assimilated by busy and tired people who must take what is given to them. Any lawyer with a sense of evidence knows how unreliable such information must necessarily be.
The taking of testimony in a trial is hedged about with a thousand precautions derived from long experience of the fallibility of the witness and the prejudices of the jury. We call this, and rightly, a fundamental phase of human liberty. But in public affairs the stake is infinitely greater. It involves the lives of millions, and the fortune of everybody. The jury is the whole community, not even the qualified voters alone. The jury is everybody who creates public sentiment—chattering gossips, unscrupulous liars, congenital liars, feeble-minded people, prostitute minds, corrupting agents. To this jury any testimony is submitted, is submitted in any form, by any anonymous person, with no test of reliability, no test of credibility, and no penalty for perjury. If I lie in a lawsuit involving the fate of my neighbor’s cow, I can go to jail. But if I lie to a million readers in a matter involving war and peace, I can lie my head off, and, if I choose the right series of lies, be entirely irresponsible. Nobody will punish me if I lie about Japan, for example. I can announce that every Japanese valet is a reservist, and every Japanese art store a mobilization centre. I am immune. And if there should be hostilities with Japan, the more I lied the more popular I should be. If I asserted that the Japanese secretly drank the blood of children, that Japanese women were unchaste, that the Japanese were really not a branch of the human race after all, I guarantee that mot of the newspapers would print it eagerly, and that I could get a hearing in churches all over the country. And all this for the simple reason that the public, when it is dependent on testimony and protected by no rules of evidence, can act only on the excitement of its pugnacities and its hopes.
The mechanism of the news-supply has developed without plan, and there is no one point in it at which one can fix the responsibility for truth. The fact is that the subdivision of labor is now accompanied by the subdivision of the news-organization. At one end of it is the eye-witness, at the other, the reader. Between the two is a vast, expensive transmitting and editing apparatus. This machine works marvelously well at times, particularly in the rapidity with which it can report the score of a game or a transatlantic flight, or the death of a monarch, or the result of an election. But where the issue is complex, as for example in the matter of the success of a policy, or the social conditions among a foreign people, — that is to say, where the real answer is neither yes nor no, but subtle and a matter of balanced evidence, — the subdivision of the labor involved in the report causes no end of derangement, misunderstanding, and even misrepresentation.
Thus the number of eye-witnesses capable of honest statement is inadequate and accidental. Yet the reporter making up his news is dependent upon the eye-witnesses. They may be actors in the event. Then they can hardly be expected to have perspective. Who, for example, if he put aside his own likes and dislikes would trust a Bolshevik’s account of what exists in Soviet Russia or an exiled Russian prince’s story of what exists in Siberia? Sitting just across the frontier, say in Stockholm, how is a reporter to write dependable news when his witnesses consist of emigrés of Bolshevist agents?
At the Peace Conference, news was given out by the agents of the conferees and the rest leaked through those who were clamoring at the doors of the Conference. Now the reporter, if he is to earn his living, must nurse his personal contacts with the eye-witnesses and privileged informants. If he is openly hostile to those in authority, he will cease to be a reporter unless there is an opposition party is the inner circle who can feed him news. Failing that, he will know precious little of what is going on.
Most people seem to believe that, when they meet a war correspondent or a special writer form the Peace Conference, they have seen a man who has seen the things he wrote about. Far from it. Nobody, for example, saw this war. Neither the men in the trenches nor the commanding general. The men saw their trenches, their billets, sometimes they saw an enemy trench, but nobody, unless it be the aviators, saw a battle. What the correspondents saw, occasionally, was the terrain over which a battle had been fought but what they reported day by day was what they were told at press headquarters, and of that only what they were allowed to tell.
At the Peace Conference the reporters were allowed to meet periodically the four least important members of the Commission, men who themselves had considerable difficulty in keeping track of things, as any reporter who was present will testify. This was supplemented by spasmodic personal interviews with the commissioners, their secretaries, their secretaries’ secretaries, other newspaper men, and confidential representatives of the President, who stood between him and the impertinence of curiosity. This and the French press, than which there is nothing more censored and inspired, a local English trade-journal of the expatriates, the gossip of the Crillon lobby, the Majestic, and the other official hotels, constituted the source of the news upon which American editors and the American people have had to base one of the most difficult judgments of their history. I should perhaps add that there were a few correspondents occupying privileged positions with foreign governments. They wore ribbons in their button-holes to prove it. They were in many ways the most useful correspondents because they always revealed to the trained reader just what it was that their governments wished America to believe.
The news accumulated by the reporter from his witnesses has to be selected, if for no other reason than that the cable facilities are limited. At the cable office several varieties of censorship intervene. The legal censorship in Europe is political as well as military, and both words are elastic. It has been applied, not only to the substance of the news, but to the mode of presentation, and even to the character of the type and the position on the page. But the real censorship on the wires is the cost of transmission. This in itself is enough to limit any expensive competition or any significant independence. The big Continental news agencies are subsidized. Censorship operates also through congestion and the resultant need of a system of priority. Congestion makes possible good and bad service, and undesirable messages are not infrequently served badly.
When the report does reach the editor, another series of interventions occurs. The editor is a man who may know all about something, but he can hardly be expected to know all about everything. Yet he has to decide the question which is of more importance than any other in the formation of opinions, the question where attention is to be directed. In a newspaper the heads are the foci of attention, the odd corners the fringe and whether one aspect of the news or another appears in the centre or at the periphery makes all the difference in the world. The news of the day as it reaches the newspaper office is an incredible medley of fact, propaganda, rumor, suspicion, clues, hopes, fears, and the task of selecting and ordering that news is one of the truly sacred and priestly offices in a democracy. For the newspaper is in all literalness the bible of democracy, the book out of which a people determines its conduct. It is the only serious book most people read. It is the only book they read every day. Now the power to determine each day what shall seem important and what shall be neglected is a power unlike any that has been exercised since the Pope lost his hold on the secular mind.
The ordering is not done by one man, but by a host of men, who are on the whole curiously unanimous in their selection and in their emphasis. Once you know the party and social affiliations of a newspaper, you can predict with considerable certainty the perspective in which the news will be displayed. This perspective is by no means altogether deliberate. Though the editor is ever so much more sophisticated than all but a minority of his readers, his own sense of relative importance is determined by rather standardized constellations of ideas. He very soon comes to believe that his habitual emphasis is the only possible one.
Why the editor is possessed by a particular set of ideas is a difficult question of social psychology, of which no adequate analysis has been made. But we shall not be far wrong if we say that he deals with the news in reference to the prevailing mores of his social group. These mores are of course in a large measure the product of what previous newspapers have said and experience shows that, in order to break out of this circle, it has been necessary at various times to create new forms of journalism, such as the national monthly, the critical weekly, the circular, the paid advertisement of ideas, in order to change the emphasis which had become obsolete and habit-ridden.
Into this extremely refractory, and I think increasingly disserviceable mechanism, there has been thrown, especially since the outbreak of war, another monkey-wrench—propaganda. The word, of course, covers a multitude of sins and a few virtues. The virtues can be easily separated out, and given a new name, either advertisement or advocacy. Thus, if the National Council of Belgravia wishes to publish a magazine out of its own funds, under its own imprint, advocating the annexation of Thrums, no one will object. But if, in support of that advocacy, it vies to the press stories that are lies about the atrocities committed in Thrums or, worse still, if those stories seem to come from Geneva, or Amsterdam, not from the press-service of the National Council of Belgravia, then Belgravia is conducting propaganda. If, after arousing a certain amount of interest in itself, Belgravia then invites a carefully selected correspondent, or perhaps a labor leader, to its capital, puts him up at the best hotel, rides him around in limousines, fawns on him at banquets, lunches with him very confidentially, and then puts him through a conducted tour so that he shall see just what will create the desired impression, then again Belgravia is conducting propaganda. Or if Belgravia happens to possess the greatest trombone-player in the world, and if she sends him over to charm the wives of influential husbands, Belgravia is, in a less objectionable way, perhaps, committing propaganda, and making fools of the husbands.
Now, the plain fact is that out of the troubled areas of the world the public receives practically nothing that is not propaganda. Lenin and his enemies control all the news there is of Russia, and no court of law would accept any of the testimony as valid in a suit to determine the possession of a donkey. I am writing many months after the Armistice. The Senate is at this moment beginning to consider the question whether it will guarantee the frontiers of Poland but what we learn of Poland we learn from the Polish Government and the Jewish Committee. Judgment on the vexed issues of Europe is simply out of the question for the average American and the more cocksure he is, the more certainly is he the victim of some propaganda.
These instances are drawn from foreign affairs, but the difficulty at home, although less flagrant, is nevertheless real. Theodore Roosevelt, and Leonard Wood after him, have told us to think nationally. It is not easy. It is easy to parrot what those people say who live in a few big cities and who have constituted themselves and the only true and authentic voice of America. But beyond that it is difficult. I live in New York and I have not the vaguest idea what Brooklyn is interested in. It is possible, with effort, much more effort than most people can afford to give, for me to know what a few organized bodies like the Non-Partisan League, the National Security League, the American Federation of Labor, and the Republican National Committee are up to but what the unorganized workers, and the unorganized farmers, the shopkeepers, the local bankers and boards of trade are thinking and feeling, no one has any means of knowing, except perhaps in a vague way at election time. To think nationally means, at least, to take into account the major interests and needs and desires of this continental population and for that each man would need a staff of secretaries, traveling agents, and a very expensive press-clipping bureau.
We do not think nationally because the facts that count are not systematically reported and presented in a form we can digest. Our most abysmal ignorance occurs where we deal with the immigrant. If we read his press at all, it is to discover ‘Bolshevism’ in it and to blacken all immigrants with suspicion. For his culture and his aspirations, for his high gifts of hope and variety, we have neither eyes nor ears. The immigrant colonies are like holes in the road which we never notice until we trip over them. Then, because we have no current information and no background of facts, we are, of course, the undiscriminating objects of any agitator who choose to rant against ‘foreigners.’
Now, men who have lost their grip upon the relevant facts of their environment are the inevitable victims of agitation and propaganda. The quack, the charlatan, the jingo, and the terrorist, can flourish only where the audience is deprived of independent access to information. But where all news comes at second-hand, where all the testimony is uncertain, men cease to respond to truths, and respond simply to opinions. The environment in which they act is not the realities themselves, but the pseudo-environment of reports, rumors, and guesses. The whole reference of thought comes to be what somebody asserts, not what actually is. Men ask, not whether such and such a thing occurred in Russia, but whether Mr. Raymond Robins is at heart more friendly to the Bolsheviki than Mr. Jerome Landfield. And so, since they are deprived of any trustworthy means of knowing what is really going on, since everything is on the plane of assertion and propaganda, they believe whatever fits most comfortably with their prepossessions.
That this breakdown of the mans of public knowledge should occur at a time of immense change is a compounding of the difficulty. From bewilderment to panic is a short step, as everyone knows who has watched a crowd when danger threatens. At the present time a nation easily acts like a crowd. Under the influence of headlines and panicky print, the contagion of unreason can easily spread through a settled community. For when the comparatively recent and unstable nervous organization which makes us capable of responding to reality as it is, and not as we should wish it, is baffled over a continuing period of time, the more primitive but much stronger instincts are let loose.
War and Revolution, both of them founded on censorship and propaganda, are the supreme destroyers of realistic thinking, because the excess of danger and the fearful overstimulation of passion unsettle disciplined behavior. Both breed fanatics of all kinds, men who, in the words of Mr. Santayana, have redoubled their effort when they have forgotten their aim. The effort itself has become the aim. Men live in their effort, and for a time find great exaltation. They seek stimulation of their effort rather than direction of it. That is why both in war and revolution there seems to operate a kind of Gresham’s Law of the emotions, in which leadership passes by a swift degradation from a Mirabeau to a Robespierre and in war, from a high-minded statesmanship to the depths of virulent, hating jingoism.
The cardinal fact always is the loss of contact with objective information. Public as well as private reason depends upon it. Not what somebody says, not what somebody wishes were true, but what is so beyond all our opining, constitutes the touchstone of our sanity. And a society which lives at second-hand will commit incredible follies and countenance inconceivable brutalities if that contact is intermittent and untrustworthy. Demagoguery is a parasite that flourishes where discrimination fails, and only those who are at grips with things themselves are impervious to it. For, in the last analysis, the demagogue, whether of the Right or the Left, is, consciously or unconsciously an undetected liar.
Many students of politics have concluded that, because public opinion was unstable, the remedy lay in making government as independent of it as possible. The theorists of representative government have argued persistently from this premise against the believers in direct legislation. But it appears now that, while they have been making their case against direct legislation, rather successfully it seems to me, they have failed sufficiently to notice the increasing malady of representative government.
Parliamentary action is becoming notoriously ineffective. In America certainly the concentration of power in the Executive is out of all proportion either to the intentions of the Fathers or to the orthodox theory of representative government. The cause is fairly clear. Congress is an assemblage of men selected for local reasons from districts. It brings to Washington a more or less accurate sense of the superficial desires of its constituency. In Washington it is supposed to think nationally and internationally. But for that task its equipment and its sources of information are hardly better than that of any other reader of the newspaper. Except for its spasmodic investigating committees, Congress has no particular way of informing itself. But the Executive has. The Executive is an elaborate hierarchy reaching to every part of the nation and to all parts of the world. It has an independent machinery, fallible and not too trustworthy, of course, but nevertheless a machinery of intelligence. It can be informed and it can act, whereas Congress is not informed and cannot act.
Now the popular theory of representative government is that the representatives have the information and therefore create the policy which the executive administers. The more subtle theory is that the executive initiates the policy which the legislature corrects in accordance with popular wisdom. But when the legislature is haphazardly informed, this amounts to very little, and the people themselves prefer to trust the executive which knows, rather than the Congress which is vainly trying to know. The result has been the development of a kind of government which has been harshly described as plebiscite autocracy, or government by newspapers. Decisions in the modern state tend to be made by the interaction, not of Congress and the executive, but of public opinion and the executive.
Public opinion for this purpose finds itself collected about special groups which act as extra-legal organs of government. There is a labor nucleus, a farmers’ nucleus, a prohibition nucleus, a National Security League nucleus, and so on. These groups conduct a continual electioneering campaign upon the unformed, exploitable mass of public opinion. Being special groups, they have special sources of information, and what they lack in the way of information is often manufactured. These conflicting pressures beat upon the executive departments and upon Congress, and formulate the conduct of the government. The government itself acts in reference to these groups far more than in reference to the district congressmen. So politics as it is now played consists in coercing and seducing the representative by the threat and the appeal of these unofficial groups. Sometimes they are the allies, sometimes the enemies, of the party in power, but more and more they are the energy of public affairs. Government tends to operate by the impact of controlled opinion upon administration. This shift in the locus of sovereignty has placed a premium upon the manufacture of what is usually called consent. No wonder that the most powerful newspaper proprietor in the English-speaking world declined a mere government post.
No wonder, too, that the protection of the sources of its opinion is the basic problem of democracy. Everything else depends upon it. Without protection against propaganda, without standards of evidence, without criteria of emphasis, the living substance of all popular decision is exposed to every prejudice and to infinite exploitation. That is why I have argued that the older doctrine of liberty was misleading, It did not assume a public opinion that governs. Essentially it demanded toleration of opinions that were, as Milton said, indifferent. It can guide us little in a world where opinion is sensitive and decisive.
The axis of the controversy needs to be shifted. The attempt to draw fine distinctions between ‘liberty’ and ‘license’ is no doubt part of the day’s work, but it is fundamentally a negative part. It consists in trying to make opinion responsible to prevailing social standards, whereas the really important thing is to try and make opinion increasingly responsible to the facts. There can be no liberty for a community which lacks the information by which to detect lies. Trite as the conclusion may at first seem, it has, I believe, immense practical consequences, and may perhaps offer an escape from the logomachy into which the contests of liberty so easily degenerate.
It may be bad to suppress a particular opinion, but the really deadly thing is to suppress the news. In time of great insecurity, certain opinions acting on unstable minds may cause infinite disaster. Knowing that such opinions necessarily originate in slender evidence, that they are propelled more by prejudice from the rear than by reference to realities, it seems to me that to build the case for liberty upon the dogma of their unlimited prerogatives is to build it upon the poorest foundation. For, even though we grant that the world is best served by the liberty of all opinion, the plain fact is that men are too busy and too much concerned to fight more than spasmodically for such liberty. When freedom of opinion is revealed as freedom of error, illusion, and misinterpretation, it is virtually impossible to stir up much interest in its behalf. It is the thinnest of all abstractions and an over-refinement of mere intellectualism. But people, wide circles of people, are aroused when their curiosity is baulked. The desire to know, the dislike of being deceived and made game of, is a really powerful motive, and it is that motive that can best be enlisted in the cause of freedom.
What, for example, was the one most general criticism of the work of the Peace Conference? It was that the covenants were not openly arrived at. This fact stirred Republican Senators, the British Labor Party, the whole gamut of parties from the Right to the Left. And in the last analysis lack of information about the Conference was the origin of its difficulties. Because of the secrecy endless suspicion was aroused because of it the world seemed to be presented with a series of accomplished facts which it could not reject and did not wish altogether to accept. It as lack of information which kept public opinion from affecting the negotiations at the time when intervention would have counted most and cost least. Publicity occurred when the covenants were arrived at, with all the emphasis on the at. This is what the Senate objected to, and this is what alienated much more liberal opinion than the Senate represents.
In a passage quoted previously in this essay, Milton said that differences of opinion, ‘which though they may be many, yet need not interrupt the unity of spirit, if we could but find among us the bond of peace.’ There is but one kind of unity possible in a world as diverse as ours. It is unity of method, rather than of aim the unity of the disciplined experiment. There is but one bond of peace that is both permanent and enriching: the increasing knowledge of the world in which experiment occurs. With a common intellectual method and a common area of valid fact, differences may become a form of coöperation and cease to be an irreconcilable antagonism.
That, I think, constitutes the meaning of freedom for us. We cannot successfully define liberty, or accomplish it, by a series of permissions and prohibitions. For that is to ignore the content of opinion in favor of its form. Above all, it is an attempt to define liberty of opinion in terms of opinion. It is a circular and sterile logic. A useful definition of liberty is obtainable only by seeking the principle of liberty in the main business of human life, that is to say, in the process by which men educate their response and learn to control their environment. In this view liberty is the name we give to measures by which we protect and increase the veracity of the information upon which we act.