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The intelligent minorities have long understood this to be their function. Walter Lippmann described a "revolution" in "the practice of democracy" as "the manufacture of consent" has become "a self-conscious art and a regular organ of popular government." This is a natural development when public opinion cannot be trusted: "In the absence of institutions and education by which the environment is so successfully reported that the realities of public life stand out very sharply against self-centered opinion, the common interests very largely elude public opinion entirely, and can be managed only by a specialized class whose personal interests reach beyond the locality," and are thus able to perceive "the realities." These are the men of best quality, who alone are capable of social and economic management.
It follows that two political roles must be clearly distinguished, Lippmann goes on to explain. First, there is the role assigned to the specialized class, the "insiders," the "responsible men," who have access to information and understanding. Ideally, they should have a special education for public office, and should master the criteria for solving the problems of society; "In the degree to which these criteria can be made exact and objective, political decision," which is their domain, "is actually brought into relation with the interests of men." The "public men" are, furthermore, to "lead opinion" and take the responsibility for "the formation of a sound public opinion." "They initiate, they administer, they settle," and should be protected from "ignorant and meddlesome outsiders," the general public, who are incapable of dealing "with the substance of the problem." The criteria we apply to government are success in satisfying material and cultural wants, not whether "it vibrates to the self-centered opinions that happen to be floating in men's minds." Having mastered the criteria for political decision, the specialized class, protected from pubic meddling, will serve the public interest -- what is called "the national interest" in the webs of mystification spun by the academic social sciences and political commentary.
The second role is "the task of the public," which is much more limited. It is not for the public, Lippmann observes, to "pass judgment on the intrinsic merits" of an issue or to offer analysis or solutions, but merely, on occasion, to place "its force at the disposal" of one or another group of "responsible men." The public "does not reason, investigate, invent, persuade, bargain or settle." Rather, "the public acts only by aligning itself as the partisan of someone in a position to act executively," once he has given the matter at hand sober and disinterested thought. It is for this reason that "the public must be put in its place." The bewildered herd, trampling and roaring, "has its function": to be "the interested spectators of action," not participants. Participation is the duty of "the responsible man."31
These ideas, described by Lippmann's editors as a progressive "political philosophy for liberal democracy," have an unmistakeable resemblance to the Leninist concept of a vanguard party that leads the masses to a better life that they cannot conceive or construct on their own. In fact, the transition from one position to the other, from Leninist enthusiasm to "celebration of America," has proven quite an easy one over the years. This is not surprising, since the doctrines are similar at their root. The critical difference lies in an assessment of the prospects for power: through exploitation of mass popular struggle, or service to the current masters.
There is, clearly enough, an unspoken assumption behind the proposals of Lippmann and others: the specialized class are offered the opportunity to manage public affairs by virtue of their subordination to those with real power -- in our societies, dominant business interests -- a crucial fact that is ignored in the self-praise of the elect.
Lippmann's thinking on these matters dates from shortly after World War I, when the liberal intellectual community was much impressed with its success in serving as "the faithful and helpful interpreters of what seems to be one of the greatest enterprises ever undertaken by an American president" (New Republic). The enterprise was Woodrow Wilson's interpretation of his electoral mandate for "peace without victory" as the occasion for pursuing victory without peace, with the assistance of the liberal intellectuals, who later praised themselves for having "impose[d] their will upon a reluctant or indifferent majority," with the aid of propaganda fabrications about Hun atrocities and other such devices. They were serving, often unwittingly, as instruments of the British Ministry of Information, which secretly defined its task as "to direct the thought of most of the world."32
Fifteen years later, the influential political scientist Harold Lasswell explained in the Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences that when elites lack the requisite force to compel obedience, social managers must turn to "a whole new technique of control, largely through propaganda." He added the conventional justification: we must recognize the "ignorance and stupidity [of]...the masses" and not succumb to "democratic dogmatisms about men being the best judges of their own interests." They are not, and we must control them, for their own good. The same principle guides the business community. Others have developed similar ideas, and put them into practice in the ideological institutions: the schools, the universities, the popular media, the elite journals, and so on. A challenge to these ideas arouses trepidation, sometimes fury, as when students of the 1960s, instead of simply bowing to authority, began to ask too many questions and to explore beyond the bounds established for them. The pretense of manning the ramparts against the onslaught of the barbarians, now a popular pose, is scarcely more than comical fraud.
The doctrines of Lippmann, Lasswell, and others are entirely natural in any society in which power is narrowly concentrated but formal mechanisms exist by which ordinary people may, in theory, play some role in shaping their own affairs -- a threat that plainly must be barred.
The techniques of manufacture of consent are most finely honed in the United States, a more advanced business-run society than its allies and one that is in important ways more free than elsewhere, so that the ignorant and stupid masses are more dangerous. But the same concerns arise in Europe, as in the past, heightened by the fact that the European varieties of state capitalism have not yet progressed as far as the United States in eliminating labor unions and other impediments to rule by men (and occasionally women) of best quality, thus restricting politics to factions of the business party. The basic problem, recognized throughout, is that as the state loses the capacity to control the population by force, privileged sectors must find other methods to ensure that the rascal multitude is removed from the public arena. And the insignificant nations must be subjected to the same practices as the insignificant people. Liberal doves hold that others should be free and independent, but not free to choose in ways that we regard as unwise or contrary to our interests,33 a close counterpart to the prevailing conception of democracy at home as a form of population control. At the other extreme of the spectrum, we find the "conservatives" with their preference for quick resort to Kristol's methods: gunboats and police cars.
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31 Rossiter & Lare, The Essential Lippmann.
32 Cited from secret documents by R.R.A. Marlin, "Propaganda and the Ethics of Persuasion," International Journal of Moral and Social Studies, Spring 1989. For more on these matters, see "Intellectuals and the State."
33 See chapter 8, p. 261; chapter 11, p. 346f.