on July 3, 2004
Way back in 1922, Walter Lippmann analyzed the nature of public opinion with many valuable insights that still hold true today. Note that most of the historical references Lippmann uses to illustrate his theories are from World War I and surrounding events, and some aspects of the political environment of the time are totally irrelevant today. However, this book rises above the confines of its time. Lippmann dealt in an interdisciplinary method that is extremely rare, if not structurally impossible, in today's academic environment. His basic treatise is in the realm of political science but ably brings in supporting theories and knowledge from psychology, sociology, communications, history, and logic. Lippmann's then-current style of writing is also nearly impossible to find in today's social science writing, with a flowing prose loaded with references to classic literature and frequent use of imagined characters and scenarios. Part VI offers a surprisingly no-holds-barred examination of the American political system that is refreshingly free of today's unyielding us-and them ideologies. This feat of the intellect, just slightly outdated in its specific examples but not in its underlying insights, is a powerhouse treatise on how public opinion is constructed and influenced by social trends, politics, and media. [~doomsdayer520~]
"The study of error is not only in the highest degree prophylactic, but it also serves as a stimulating introduction to the study of truth" -Walter Lippmann, "Public Opinion"
In this brief study on how and why we hold to certain views on a wide range of popular subjects, Lippmann attempts to open our minds to the possibility that our opinions are really shaped by forces often outside our control. Personal opinions are really only a microcosm of the public domain from which they are derived through many channels. Having established that idea as his thesis, Lippmann, arguably one of the great liberal thinkers of the twentieth century along with Isaiah Berlin, makes his case. Using examples from an earlier age - the Great War of 1914-1918 - Lippmann begins to describe that bigger world out there as one containing big events, traditional institutions, great 'men', and monumental ideas all coming together in a collectivity called society, held together by a complex process of decision-making. While the individual may at times think he or she has acquired a valid viewpoint on any number of issues, Lippmann is quick to show us that many of the ideas we claim as our own are really just amalgams of other people's erroneous perceptions of reality. What is particularly disturbing is his contention that governments, mass media and religious institutions have attempted, through the use of various forms of propaganda, to manipulate the facts so that we, the trusting public, can readily adopt national and cultural symbols and myths associated with national greatness in time of war, courageous leadership in time of crisis, and political correctness in time of conflict. Anybody with half an ounce of societal influence is interested in seeking personal opinion in order to create the image of public sentiment. In all things, Lippmann believes that the individual should never abdicate his or her responsibility to test the truth and integrity of public views as to their potentially negative impact on the private conscience. Truth about the world we live in is a value earned through the power of trust and not the inspiration of words.
Walter Lippmann was an American journalist and political thinker. This book, published in 1922, presents Lippmann's view on democracy, its shortcomings and its potential. Blending political science, common sense and both individual and group psychology (I was pleased to see that Gustave Le Bon received mention) Lippmann lays out his case that democracy suffers because it demands too much from voters. Our stereotypes, our prejudices, our inability and often unwillingness to see beyond our own noses, even the nature of industrial society, all limit the potential greatness of democracy. Lippmann prescribes reason and solid facts which will enable voters to make sound decisions based not on their perceived reality but on a reality that extends beyond their horizon.
I was struck both by Lippmann's honest assessment of the seemingly impossible demands that democracy makes of citizens and also by his optimism that these shortcomings can and must be overcome. This book is as relevant now as it was in the early stages of mass society when Lippmann wrote it.
on December 11, 2012
Books on media that predate the internet (let alone most of the electronic age), I find incredibly valuable. Increasingly lost in today's world is a sense of where we've been, media-wise, and what the impacts of mediation between us and our environment really means. Back at a time when geography held much more weight than it does now, reading Lippmann gave me a sense of the impact that information diffusion has on our lifestyle, our choice of governance, and the potentials for each given the situations. This book made clearer, to me, what our current potentials are and how far we, and I, are yet from full-filling them.
I loved some of Lippmann's discussions about such topics as symbolism, stereotyping situations, and particularly his comments on journalism and mass media are very insightful. Lippmann isn't one of those names that comes to mind when you think about great 20th century thinkers or philosophers, but his writing warrants such consideration - his perspective as a journalist, the era of great change he lived in, and his writing ability all make his work saturated with useful explanation and ideas. It's a book I consult often, even if it's just to kickstart some thinking process in my head when I feel stagnated.
on November 17, 2014
A seminal work by Lippman for the fields of media studies, political science, and social psychology.
"Stereotypes" in broadcasting are interesting to read about. Lippman spends time discussing WWI propaganda in this book, which makes sense considering its initial publication was in 1922. Although a lot of work in the area has been done since, it's a great starter book toward a greater understanding of propaganda or dissemination of knowledge via news media.