Liberty And News


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 crea- tive leadership of planning and inventive minds, our thinking is shriveled with panic. Time and energy that should go j to building and restoring are instead con- sumed in warding off the pin-pricks of prejudice and fighting a guerilla war against misunderstanding and intoler- ance. For suppression is felt, not simply by the scattered individuals who are ac- tually suppressed. It reaches back into the steadiest minds, creating tension everywhere; and the tension of fear pro- duces 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 cultivating 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 can- not 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 i 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 ab- solute 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 sim- ple reason that nobody knows^enough, \ or can know enough, to do it. But we all use absolutes, because an ideal which seems to exist apart from 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 points 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 in- stance, 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 i aims.

If there were any man who believed in liberty apart from particular pur- poses, that man would be a hermit contemplating all existence with a hopeful and neutral eye. For him, in the last analysis, there ~ould 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 cause.

Among the English classics none are more representative than Milton’s Areopagitlca and the essay On Liberty by John Stuart Mill. Of living men Mr. Bertrand Russell is perhaps the most outstanding advocate 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 doubtless is more wholsome, more prudent, and more Chris- tian that many be tolerated, rather than all compel!’ 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 civil supremacies, so itself should be extirpat, 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 manners 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 nob- lest 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 commu- nity feels itself menaced. When revolu- tion seems to be contagious, heresy-hunt- ing 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 ap- pear, 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 indiffer- ence.

In Mill this truth reveals itself still

more clearly. Though his argument is 29

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surer and completer than Milton’s, the qualification is also surer and completer.

Such being the reasons which make it im- perative that human beings should be free to form opinions, and to express their opinions without reserve; and such the baneful conse- quences to the intellectual and through that to the moral nature of man, unless this lib- erty 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 hin- drance, 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 in- dispensable. No one pretends that actions should be as free as opinions. On the con- trary, 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 dam- nation. The premise from which Mill 30

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argued was that many opinions then un- der 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 theo- cratic. It assumed that a man’s opin- ions on cosmic affairs might endanger his personal salvation and make him a dan- gerous 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 re- ligious sanction. In fact, he was con- vinced that a more reasoned morality could be formed by laying aside theolog- ical assumptions. “But no one pretends that actions should be as free as opin- ions.” The plain truth is that Mill did not believe that much action would re- sult from the toleration of those opinions in which he was most interested.

Political heresy occupied the fringe of

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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 im- munity, when the circumstances in which they are expressed are such as to consti- tute their expression a positive instiga- tion to some mischievious act.” Clearly there is no escape here for Debs or Hay- wood 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 32

What Modern Liberty Means

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 consid- ered opinions which might directly affect social order. Where the stimulus of opinion upon action 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 publication 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 33

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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 in- stincts that build up life and fill it with mental delights.” He calls these in- stincts “creative”; and against them he sets off the “possessive impulses.” These, he says, should be restricted by “a pub- lic authority, a repository of practically irresistible force whose function should be primarily to repress the private use of force.” Where Milton said no “tol- erated Popery,” Mr. Russell says, no tol- erated “possessive impulses.” Surely he is open to the criticism that, like every authoritarian who has preceded him, he is interested in the unfettered develop- ment of only that which seems good to him. Those who think that “enlightened 34

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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 im- pulse 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 an- other kind. It is that the traditional core of liberty, namely, the notion of in- i difference, is too feeble and unreal a doc- trine to protect the purpose of liberty, which is the furnishing of a healthy en- vironment in which human judgment and inquiry can most successfully organ- ize human life. Too feeble, because in time of stress nothing is easier than to insist, and by insistence to convince, that 35

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tolerated indifference is no longer toler- able because it has ceased to be indif- ferent.

It is clear that in a society where pub- Ik opinion has become decisive, noth- ing 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, conscrip- tion, 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, consti- tutes 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


What Modern Liberty Means

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 righting 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, re- quiring other methods and other theories.

The world about which each man is I /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 pur- poses 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 knowj of no man, even among those who devote 37

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all of their time to watching public af- fairs, who can even pretend to keep track, at the same time, of his city gov- ernment, his state government, Congress, the departments, the industrial situation, and the rest of the world. What men who make the study of politics a voca- tion 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.


What Modern Liberty Means

The taking of testimony in a trial is hedged about with a thousand precau- tions 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 every- body. The jury is the whole community, not even the qualified voters alone. The jury is everybody who creates public sentiment chattering gossips, unscrupu- lous liars, congenital liars, feeble-mind- ed 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 39

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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 center. 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 Jap- anese secretly drank the blood of chil- dren, that Japanese women were un- chaste, that the Japanese were really not a branch of the human race after all, I guarantee that most 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 de- pendent on testimony and protected by .no rules of evidence, can act only on the 40

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excitement of its pugnacities and its hopes.

The mechanism of the news-supply J 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 ac- companied 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^i 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 or no, but

Liberty and the News

subtle, and a matter of balanced evi- dence, the subdivision of the labor in- volved in the report causes no end of derangement, misunderstanding, and even misrepresentation.

Thus the number of eye-witnesses cap- able of honest statement is inadequate and accidental. Yet the reporter mak- ing 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 wit- nesses consist of emigres or Bolshevist agents?

At the Peace Conference, news was 42

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given out by the agents of the conferees and the rest leaked through those who were clamoring at the doors of the Con- ference. Now the reporter, if he is to earn his living, must nurse his personal contacts with the eye-witnesses and privi- leged informants. lf he is openly hos- tile to those in authority, he will cease to be a reporter unless there is an op- position party in the inner circle who can feed him news. Failing that, he will know precious little of what is going on. J

Most people seem to believe that, when they meet a war correspondent or a spe- cial writer from 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, 43

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unless it be the aviators, saw a battle. What the correspondents saw, occasion- ally, 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 pres- ent 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 impertinences of curiosity. This and the French press, than which there is nothing more censored and inspired, a 44

What Modern Liberty Means

local English trade-journal of the ex- patriates, the gossip of the Crillon lobby, the Majestic, and the other official ho- tels, 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 govern- ments. They wore ribbons in their but- ton-holes to prove it. They were in many ways the most useful correspond- ents 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 I 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 po- 45

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litical 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 /*bn the page. But the real censorship on the wires is the cost of transmission. This in itself is enough to limit any ex- pensive competition or any significant in- dependence. 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 edi- tor, another series of interventions oc- ‘curs. 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

What Modern Liberty Means

question which is of more importance than any other in the formation of opin- ions, the question where attention is to be directed. In a newspaper the heads/ are the foci of attention, the odd cor- ners the fringe; and whether one aspect of the news or another appears in the center or at the periphery makes all the difference in the world. The news of the day as it reaches the newspaper of- fice is an incredible medley of fact, prop- aganda, rumor, suspicion, clues, hopes, and fears, and the task of selecting and ordering that news is one of the truly sacred and priestly offices in a democ-

A **”T

racy. For the newspaper is in all literal- ‘ ness the bible of democracy, the book iout of which a people determines its con- duct. It is the only serious book most people read. It is the only book they read every day. Now the power to de- termine each day what shall seem impor- 47

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tant and what shall be neglected is a power unlike any that has been exercised since the Pope lost his hold on the secu- lar mind.

The ordering is not done by one man, but by a host of men, who are on the whole curiously unanimous in their se- lection and in their emphasis. I Once you know the party and social affiliations of a newspaper, you can predict with con- siderable certainty the perspective in which the news will be displayedjj 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 par-

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ticular set of ideas is a difficult question in social psychology, of which no ade- quate analysis has been made. But we shall not be far wrong if we say thatjhe ; deals with the news in reference to the prevailing mores of his social group.J 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 criti- cal weekly, the circular, the paid adver- tisements of ideas, in order to change the emphasis which had become obsolete and habit-ridden.

Into this extremely refractory, and I think increasingly disserviceable mech- anism, there has been thrown, especially since the outbreak of war, another mon- key-wrench propaganda. The word, of 49

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course, covers a multitude of sins and a few virtues. The virtues can be easily separated out, and given another name, { either advertisement or acivocacv. Thus, I if the National Council of Belgravia wishes to publish a magazine out of its own funds, under its own imprint, advo- cating the annexation of Thrums, no one will object. But if, in support of that advocacy, it gives 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 Amster- dam, not from the press-service of the National Council of Belgravia, then Bel- gravia is conducting propaganda. If, after arousing a certain amount of inter- est in itself, Belgravia then invites a carefully selected correspondent, or per- haps a labor leader, to its capital, puts him up at the best hotel, rides him around in limousines, fawns on him at

What Modern Liberty Means

banquets, lunches with him very confi- dentially, 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 prop- aganda. 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 con- trol 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 writ- ing many months after the Armistice. The Senate is at this moment engaged

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in debating 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 is- sues of Europe is simply out of the ques- tion 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 for- eign 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 consti- tuted themselves the only true and au- thentic 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, 52

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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 Se- curity League, the American Federation of Labor, and the Republican National Committee are up to; but what the un- organized workers, and the unorganized farmers, the shopkeepers, the local bank- ers and boards of trade are thinking and* feeling, no one has any means of know- ing, 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 secre- taries, traveling agents, and a very ex- pensive press-clipping bureau.

We do not think nationally because the facts that count are not systemati- cally reported and presented in a form 53

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we can digest. Our most abysmal igno- rance occurs where we deal with the im- migrant. 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 immi- grant colonies are like holes in the road which we never notice until we trip over them. Then, because we have no cur- rent information and no background of facts, we are, of course, the undiscrim- inating objects of any agitator who chooses to rant against “foreigners.”

Now, men who have lost their grip (upon the relevant facts of their envir- onment 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 infor- 54

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mation. 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-en- vironment 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 Rus- sia, but whether Mr. Raymond Robins is at heart more friendly to the Bolshe- viki than Mr. Jerome Landfield. And so, since they are deprived of any trust- worthy means of knowing what is really going on, since everything is on the plane of assertion and propaganda, they be- lieve whatever fits most comfortably with their prepossessions. ^

That this breakdown of the means of public knowledge should occur at a time 55

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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 in- fluence of headlines and panicky print, the contagion of unreason can easily spread through a settled community. For when the comparatively recent and un- stable nervous organization which makes us capable of responding to reality as it is, and not as we should wish it, is baf- fled over a continuing period of time, the “^ … ,

more primitive but much stronger m-

j stincts 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 pas- sion unsettle disciplined behavior. Both


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breed fanatics of all kinds, men who, in the words of Mr. Santayana, have re- doubled their effort when they have for-*” gotten their aim. The effort itself has become the aim. Men live in their ef- fort, 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. Pub- lic 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, con- stitutes the touchstone of our sanity. And 57

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a society which lives at second-hand will commit incredible follies and counte- nance inconceivable brutalities if that contact is intermittent and untrust- worthy. 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, con- sciously or unconsciously an undetected

i liar.

r Many students of politics have con- cluded that, because public opinion was unstable, the remedy lay in making gov- ernment as independent of it as possible. The theorists of representative govern- ment 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 success-


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fully it seems to me, they have failed sufficiently to notice the increasing mal- ady of representative government.

Parliamentary action is becoming no- toriously ineffective. In America cer- tainly 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 gov- ernment. The cause is fairly clear. Con- gress 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 con- stituency. 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 news- paper. Except for its spasmodic investi- gating committees, Congress has no par- ticular way of informing itself. But the \ 59

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Executive has. The Executive is an elab- orate hierarchy reaching to every part of the nation and to all parts of the world. It has an independent machinery, fallible and not too truthworthy, of course, but nevertheless a machinery of intelligence. It can be informed and it can act, where-


as Congress is not informed and cannot act.

Now the popular theory of represen- tative government is that the representa- tives have the information and therefore


create the policy which the executive ad- ministers. The more subtle theory is that the executive initiates the policy which the legislature corrects in accordance with popular wisdom. But when the leg- islature 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 re- 60

What Modern Liberty Means

suit has been the development of a kind of government which has been harshly described as plebiscite autocracy, or gov- ernment by newspajpers. Decisions in tfie modern state tend to be made by the interaction, not of Congress and the exec- utive, but of public opinion and the executive. r

Public opinion for this purpose finds itself collected about special groups which act as extrajhegal organs of gov- ernment. 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 un- formed, exploitable mass of public opin- ion. 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 depart- 61

Liberty and the News

merits 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 con- trolled 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 news- paper proprietor in the English-speak- ing world declined a mere government post.

No wonder, too, that the protection of 62

What Moaern Liberty Means

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 deci- sion 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 as- sume a public opinion that governs. Es- sentially it demanded toleration of opin- ions that were, as Milton said, indiffer- ent. It can guide us little in a world where opinion is sensitive and decisive, j

The axis of the controversy needs to be shifted. The attempt to draw fine distinctions between “liberty” and “li- cense” is no doubt part of the day’s work, but it is fundamentally a negative part. It consists in trying to make opinion re- sponsible to prevailing social standards,


Liberty ‘and the News

whereas the really important thing is to try and make opinion increasingly re- sponsible ^o_the_f acts. 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 con- sequences, and may perhaps offer an es- cape from the logon^afchy into which the contests of liberty so easily degenerate.

It may be bad to suppress a particu- lar opinion, but the really deadly thing is to suppress the news. In time of great insecurity, certain opinions acting on un- stable 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 unlim- ited prerogatives is to build it upon the

What Modern Liberty Means

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 spasmodi- cally for such liberty. When freedomjjf opinion is revealed as freedom oi-ewor, illusion, and misinterpretation, it is vir- tually impossible to stir up much inter- est 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 en- listed 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 cove- nants were not openly arrived at This


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fact stirred Republican Senators, British Labor, 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 diffi- culties. 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 alto- gether to accept. It was lack of infor- mation 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 66

What Modern Liberty Means

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 t kind of unity possible in a world as di- verse as ours. It is unity of method, rather than of aim; the unity of the dis- ciplined experiment. There is but one I bond of peace that is both permanent and enriching: the increasing knowledge of the world in which experiment oc- curs. With a common intellectual meth- od and a common area of valid fact, differences may become a form of co- operation and cease to be an irreconcil- able antagonism.

That, I think, constitutes the meaning of freedom for us. We cannot success- fully define liberty, or accomplish it, by a series of permissions and prohibitions. For that is to ignore the content of opin- ion in favor of its form. Above all, it

Liberty and the News

is an attempt to define liberty of opinion in terms of opinion. It is a circular and sterile logic. A useful definition of lib- erty is obtainable only by seeking the principle of liberty in the main business of human life, that is to say, in the pro- cess 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 in- crease the veracity of the information upon which we act.



THE debates about liberty have hitherto all been attempts to de- termine just when in the series from Right to Left the censorship should in- tervene. In the preceding paper I ven- tured to ask whether these attempts do not turn on a misconception of the prob- lem. The conclusion reached was that, in dealing with liberty of opinion, we were dealing with a subsidiary phase of the whole matter; that, so long as we were content to argue about the privi- leges and immunities of opinion, we were missing the point and trying to make bricks without straw. We should never succeed even in fixing a standard of tol- erance for opinions, if we concentrated

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all our attention on the opinions. For they are derived, not necessarily by rea- son, to be sure, but somehow, from the stream of news that reaches the public, and the protection of that stream is the critical interest in a modern state. In going behind opinion to the information which it exploits, and in making the val- idity of the news our ideal, we shall be fighting the battle where it is really be- ing fought. We shall be protecting for the public interest that which all the special interests in the world are most anxious to corrupt.

As the sources of the news are pro- tected, as the information they furnish becomes accessible and usable, as our capacity to read that information is edu- cated, the old problem of tolerance will wear a new aspect. Many questions which seem hopelessly insoluble now will cease to seem important enough to be 70

Liberty and the News

worth solving. Thus the advocates of a larger freedom always argue that true opinions will prevail over error; their opponents always claim that you can fool most of the people most of the time. Both statements are true, but both are half-truths. _True opinions can prevail only if the facts to which they refer are known ; if they are not known, false ideas ‘are just as effective as true ones, if not a little more effective.!

The sensible procedure in matters af- fecting the liberty of opinion would be to ensure as impartial an investigation of the facts as is humanly possible. But it is just this investigation that is denied us. It is denied us, because we are de- pendent upon the testimony of anony, mous and untrained and prejudiced wit- nesses; because the complexity of the relevant facts is beyond the scope of our hurried understanding; and finally, be-

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cause the process we call education fails so lamentably to educate the sense of evi- dence or the power of penetrating to the ‘/ controlling center of a situation. The task of liberty, therefore, falls roughly under three heads, protection of the sources of the news, organization of the news so as to make it comprehensible, . and education of human response.

We need, first, to know what can be ; done with the existing news-structure, in order to correct its grosser evils. How far is it useful to go in fixing personal responsibility for the truthfulness of news? Much further, I am inclined to think, than we have ever gone. We ought to know the names of the whole staff of every periodical. While it is not necessary, or even desirable, that each article should be signed, each article should be documented, and false docu- mentation should be illegal. An item of 72

Liberty and the News

news should always state whether it is received from one of the great news- agencies, or from a reporter, or from a press bureau. Particular emphasis should be put on marking news supplied by press bureaus, whether they are lab- eled “Geneva,” or “Stockholm,” or “Ely Paso.”

One wonders next whether anything can be devised to meet that great evil of the press, the lie which, once under way, can never be tracked down. The more scrupulous papers will, of course, print a retraction when they have unintention- ally injured someone; but the retraction rarely compensates the victim. The law of libel is a clumsy and expensive instru- ment, and rather useless to private indi- viduals or weak organizations because of the gentlemen’s agreement which ob- tains in the newspaper world. After all, the remedy for libel is not money dam- 73

Liberty and the News

ages, but an undoing of the injury/ Would it be possible then to establish courts of honor in which publishers should be compelled to meet their ac- cusers and, if found guilty of misrepre- sentation, ordered to publish the cor- rection in the particular form and with the prominence specified by the finding of the court? I do not know. Such courts might prove to be a great nuis- ance, consuming time and energy and at- tention, and offering too free a field for individuals with a persecution mania.

Perhaps a procedure could be devised which would eliminate most of these in- conveniences. Certainly it would be a great gain if the accountability of pub- lishers could be increased. They exer- cise more power over the individual than is healthy, as everybody knows who has watched the yellow press snooping at keyholes and invading the privacy of 74

Liberty and the News

helpless men and women. Even more important than this, is the utterly reck- less power of the press in dealing with news vitally affecting the friendship of peoples. In a Court of Honor, possible perhaps only in Utopia, voluntary asso- ciations working for decent relations with other peoples might hale the jingo and the subtle propagandist before a tri- bunal, to prove the reasonable truth of his assertion or endure the humiliation of publishing prominently a finding against his character.

This whole subject is immensely diffi- cult, and full of traps. It would be well worth an intensive investigation by a group of publishers, lawyers, and stu- dents of public affairs. Because in some form or other the next generation will attempt to bring the publishing business under greater social control. There is everywhere an increasingly angry disil- 75

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lusionment about the press, a growing sense of being baffled and misled; and wise publishers will not pooh-pooh these omens. They might well note the his- tory of prohibition, where a failure to work out a programme of temperance brought about an undiscriminating taboo. The regulation of the publishing busi- ness is a subtle and elusive matter, and only by an early and sympathetic effort to deal with great evils can the more sen- sible minds retain their control. If pub- lishers and authors themselves do not face the facts and attempt to deal with them, some day Congress, in a fit of tem- per, egged on by an outraged public opinion, will operate on the press with an ax. For somehow the community ,must find a way of making the men who ‘publish news accept responsibility for an honest effort not to misrepresent the facts.

Liberty and the News

But the phrase “honest effort” does not take us very far. The problem here is not different from that which we begin dimly to apprehend in the field of gov- ernment and business administration. The untrained amateur may mean well, but he knows not how to do well. Why should he? What are the qualifications for being a surgeon? A certain mini- mum of special training. What are the qualifications for operating daily on the brain and heart of a nation? None. Go some time and listen to the average run of questions asked in interviews with Cabinet officers or anywhere else. ” I remember one reporter who was de- tailed to the Peace Conference by a lead- ing news-agency. He came around every day for “news.” It was a time when Central Europe seemed to be disinte- grating, and great doubt existed as to whether governments would be found 77

Liberty and the News

with which to sign a peace. But all that this “reporter” wanted to know was whether the German fleet, then safely in- terned at Scapa Flow, was going to be sunk in the North Sea. He insisted every day on knowing that. For him it was the German fleet or nothing. Fi- nally, he could endure it no longer. So he anticipated Admiral Reuther and an- nounced, in a dispatch to his home pa- pers, that the fleet would be sunk. And when I say that a million American adults learned all that they ever learned about the Peace Conference through this reporter, I am stating a very moderate figure.

He suggests the delicate question raised by the schools of journalism: how . far can we go in turning newspaper en- terprise from a haphazard trade into a disciplined profession? Quite far, I imagine, for it is altogether unthinkable


Liberty and the News

that a society like ours should remain forever dependent upon untrained acci- dental witnesses. It is no answer to say that there have been in the past, and that there are now, first-rate correspondents. Of course there are. Men like Brails- ford, Oulahan, Gibbs, Lawrence, Swope, Strunsky, Draper, Hard, Dillon, Lowry, Levine, Ackerman, Ray Stannard Baker, Frank Cobb, and William Allen White, know their way about in this world. But they are eminences on a rather flat pla- teau. The run of the news is handled by men of much smaller caliber. It is handled by such men because reporting is not a dignified profession for which men will invest the time and cost of an education, but an underpaid, insecure, anonymous form of drudgery, conducted on catch-as-catch-can principles. Merely to talk about the reporter in terms of his real importance to civilization will make 79

Liberty and the News

newspaper men laugh. Yet reporting is a post of peculiar honor. Observation must precede every other activity, and ; the public observer (that is, the report- er) is a man of critical value. No amount of money or effort spent in fitting the right men for this work could possibly be wasted, for the health of society de- pends upon the quality of the informa- tion it receives.

Do our schools of journalism, the few we have, make this kind of training their object, or are they trade-schools designed to fit men for higher salaries in. the ex- isting structure? I do not presume to answer the question, nor is the answer of great moment when we remember how \ small a part these schools now play in actual journalism. But it is important to know whether it would be worth while to endow large numbers of schools on the model of those now existing, and 80

Liberty and the News

make their diplomas a necessary condi- tion for the practice of reporting. It is worth considering. Against the idea lies the fact that it is difficult to decide just what reporting is where in the whole mass of printed matter it begins and ends. No one would wish to set up a closed guild of reporters and thus exclude in- valuable casual reporting and writing. If there is anything in the idea at. all, it would apply only to the routine serv- ice of the news through large organiza- tions.

Personally I should distrust too much ingenuity of this kind, on the ground that, while it might correct certain evils, the general tendency would be to turn the control of the news over to unenter- prising stereotyped minds soaked in the traditions of a journalism always ten years out of date. The better course is to avoid the deceptive short cuts, and 81

Liberty and the News +

make up our minds to send out into re- porting a generation of men who will by sheer superiority, drive the incompetents out of business. That means two things. It means a public recognition of the dig-

i nity of such a career, so that it will cease to be the refuge of the vaguely talented. With this increase of prestige must go a professional training in journalism in which the ideal of objective testimony

( is cardinal. The cynicism of the trade needs to be abandoned, for the true pat- terns of the journalistic apprentice are not the slick persons who scoop the news, but the patient and fearless men of sci- ence who have labored to see what the world really is. It does not matter that the news is not susceptible of mathemati- cal statement. In fact, just because news is complex and slippery, good reporting requires the exercise of the highest of the scientific virtues. They are the habits of 82

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ascribing no more credibility to a state- ment than it warrants, a nice sense of the probabilities, and a keen understanding of the quantitative importance of partic- ular facts. You can judge the general reliability of any observer most easily by the estimate he puts upon the reliability of his own report. If you have no facts of your own with which to check him, the best rough measurement is to wait and see whether he is aware of any limi- tations in himself ; whether he knows that he saw only part of the event he de- scribes; and whether he has any back- ground of knowledge against which he can set what he thinks he has seen.

This kind of sophistication is, of course, necessary for the merest pretense to any education. But for different pro- fessions it needs to be specialized in par- ticular ways. A sound legal training is pervaded by it, but the skepticism is

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pointed to the type of case with which the lawyer deals. The reporter’s work is not carried on under the same condi- tions, and therefore requires a different specialization. How he is to acquire it is, of course, a pedagogical problem re- quiring an inductive study of the types of witness and the sources of information with whom the reporter is in contact.

Some time in the future, when men have thoroughly grasped the role of pub- lic opinion in society, scholars will not hesitate to write treatises on evidence for the use of news-gathering services. No such treatise exists to-day, because po- litical science has suffered from that curious prejudice of the scholar which consists in regarding an irrational phe- nomenon as not quite worthy of serious study.

Closely akin to an education in the tests of credibility is rigorous discipline

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in the use of words. It is almost impos- sible to overestimate the confusion in daily life caused by sheer inability to use language with intention. We talk scornfully of “mere words.” Yet through words the whole vast process of human communication takes place. The sights and sounds and meanings of nearly all that we deal with as “politics,” we learn, not by our own experience, but through the words of others. If those words are meaningless lumps charged with emo- tion, instead of the messengers of fact, all sense of evidence breaks down. Just so long as big words like Bolshevism, Americanism, patriotism, pro-German- ism, are used by reporters to cover any- thing and anybody that the biggest fool at large wishes to include, just so long shall we be seeking our course through a fog so dense that we cannot tell whether we fly upside-down or right-side-up. ItJ


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is a measure of our education as a peo- ple that so many of us are perfectly con- tent to live our political lives in this fraudulent environment of unanalyzed words. For the reporter, abracadabra is fatal. So long as he deals in it, he is gullibility itself, seeing nothing of the world, and living, as it were, in a hall of crazy mirrors.

Only the discipline of a modernized logic can open the door to reality. An overwhelming part of the dispute about “freedom of opinion” turns on words which mean different things to the cen- sor and the agitator. So long as the meanings of the words are not disso- ciated, the dispute will remain a circular wrangle. Education that shall make men masters of their vocabulary is one of the central interests of liberty. For

such an education alone can transform the 86

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dispute into debate from similar pre- mises.

A sense of evidence and a power to define words must for the modern re- porter be accompanied by a working knowledge of the main stratifications and currents of interest. Unless he knows that “news” of society almost always starts from a special group, he is doomed to report the surface of events. He will report the ripples of a passing steamer, and forget the tides and the currents and the ground-swell. He will report what Kolchak or Lenin says, and see what they do only when it confirms what he thinks they said. He will deal with the flicker of events and not with their mo- tive. There are ways of reading that flicker so as to discern the motive, but they have not been formulated in the light of recent knowledge. Here is big work for the student of politics. The

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good reporter reads events with an in- tuition trained by wide personal experi- ence. The poor reporter cannot read them, because he is not even aware that there is anything in particular to read, r And then the reporter needs a general sense of what the world is doing. Em- phatically he ought not to be serving a cause, no matter how good. In his pro- fessional activity it is no business of his to care whose ox is gored. To be sure, when so much reporting is ex parte, and hostile to insurgent forces, the insurgents in self-defense send out ex parte report- ers of their own. But a community can- not rest content to learn the truth about the Democrats by reading the Repub- lican papers, and the truth about the Re- publicans by reading the Democratic pa- pers. There is room, and there is need, for disinterested reporting; and if this sounds like a counsel of perfection now,

Liberty and the News

it is only because the science of public opinion is still at the point where as-

“” – . f

tronomy was when theological interests proclaimed the conclusions that all re- V search must vindicate.

While the reporter will serve no cause^ he will possess a steady sense that the chief purpose of “news” is to enable mankind to live

future. He will know that the world is a process, not by any means always onward and upward, but never quite the same. As the observer of the signs of change, his value to society depends upon the prophetic discrimination with which $ he selects those signs.

But the news from which he must pick and choose has long since become too complicated even for the most highly trained reporter. The work, say, of the government is really a small part of the day’s news, yet even the wealthiest and

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most resourceful newspapers fail in their efforts to report “Washington.” The high lights and the disputes and sensa- tional incidents are noted, but no one can keep himself informed about his Con- gressman or about the individual depart- ments, by reading the daily press. This failure in no way reflects on the news- papers. It results from the intricacy and unwieldiness of the subject-matter. Thus, it is easier to report Congress than it is to report the departments, because the work of Congress crystallizes crudely every so often in a roll-call. But ad- ministration, although it has become more important than legislation, is hard to follow, because its results are spread over a longer period of time, and its ef- fects are felt in ways that no reporter can really measure.

Theoretically Congress is competent to act as the critical eye on administra- 90

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tion. Actually, the investigations of Congress are almost always planless raids, conducted by men too busy and

too little informed to do more than catch 1 ,


the grosser evils, or intrude upon good work that is not understood. It was a recognition of these difficulties that was the cause of two very interesting experi- ments in late years. One was the .estab- lishment of more or less semi-official in- * stitutes of government research; the other, the growth of specialized private agencies which attempt to give tech- nical summaries of the work of various branches of the government. Neither experiment has created much commo- tion: yet together they illustrate an idea which, properly developed, will be in- creasingly valuable to an enlightened \ public opinion.

Their principle is simple. They are expert organized reporters. Having no

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horror of dullness, no interest in being dramatic, they can study statistics and orders and reports which are beyond the digestive powers of a newspaper man or of his readers. The lines of their growth would seem to be threefold: to make a current record, to make a running analy- sis of it, and on the basis of both, to sug- gest plans.

Record and analysis require an ex- perimental formulation of standards by which the work of government can be tested. Such standards are not to be evolved off-hand out of anyone’s con- sciousness. Some have already been worked out experimentally, others still need to be discovered; all need to be re- fined and brought into perspective by the wisdom of experience. Carried out competently, the public would gradually learn to substitute Qijecthte criteria for gossip and intuitions. One can imagine 92

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a public-health service subjected to such expert criticism. The institute of re- search publishes the death-rate as a whole for a period of years. It seems that for a particular season the rate is bad in certain maladies, that in others the rate of improvement is not suffi- ciently rapid. These facts are compared with the expenditures of the service, and with the main lines of its activity. Are the bad results due to the causes beyond the control of the service? do they indicate a lack of foresight in ask- ing appropriations for special work? or in the absence of novel phenomena, do they point to a decline of the personnel, or in its morale? If the latter, further analysis may reveal that salaries are too low to attract men of ability, or that the head of the service by bad manage- ment has weakened the interest of his



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When the work of government is ana- lyzed in some such way as this, the re- porter deals with a body of knowledge that has been organized for his appre- hension. In other words, he is able to report the “news,” because between him and the raw material of government there has been interposed a more or less expert political intelligence. He ceases to be the ant, described by Wil-

*= ‘ J t- *r

liam James, whose view of a building was obtained by crawling over the cracks in the walls.

These political observatories will, I think, be found useful in all branches of government, national, state, munici- pal, industrial, and even in foreign af- fairs. They should be clearly out of reach either of the wrath or of the favor

‘JftJUMMBt- -tf *

of the office-holders. They must, of

course, be endowed, but the endowment

should be beyond the immediate control


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of the legislature and of the rich patron. Their independence can be partially protected by the terms of the trust; the rest must be defended by the ability of the institute to make itself so much the master of the facts as to be impregnably based on popular confidence.

One would like to think that the uni- versities could be brought into such a scheme. Were they in close contact with the current record and analysis, there might well be a genuine “field work” in political science for the students; and there could be no better directing idea for their more advanced researches than the formulation of the intellectual methods by which the experience of government could be brought to usable control. After all, the purpose of study- ing “political science” is to be able to act more effectively in politics, the word effectively being understood in the largest 95

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and, therefore, the ideal sense. In the universities men should be able to think patiently and generously for the good of society. If they do not, surely one of the reasons is that thought terminates in doctor’s theses and brown cjuarterlies, and not in the critical issues of politics. On first thought, all this may seem rather a curious direction for an inquiry into the substance of liberty. Yet we have always known, as a matter of com- mon sense, that there was an intimate

connection between “liberty” and the use


of liberty. Every one who has examined

the subject at all has had to conclude

that tolerance per se is an arbitrary line,

and that, in practice, the determining

factor is the significance of the opinion to

be tolerated. This study is based on an

avowal of that fact. Once it is avpjved,

U there seems to be no way of evading the

. | conclusion that liberty is not so much


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permission as it is the construction of a system of information increasingly inde- pendent of opinion. In the long run it looks as if opinion could be made at v/. once free and enlightening only by trans- ferring our interest from “opinion” to the objective realities from which it springs. This thought has led us to speculations on ways of protecting and organizing the stream of news as the source of all opinion that matters. Obviously these speculations do not pretend to offer a fully considered or a completed scheme. Their nature forbids it, and I should be guilty of the very opinionativeness I have condemned, did these essays claim to be anything more than tentative in- dications of the more important phases J of the problem.

Yet I can well imagine their causing a considerable restlessness in the minds of some readers. Standards, institutes, 97

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university research, schools of journal- ism, they will argue, may be all right, but they are a gray business in a vivid world. They blunt the edge of life ; they leave out of account the finely irrespon- sible opinion thrown out by the creative mind; they do not protect the indispens- able novelty from philistinism and op- pression. These proposals of yours, they will say, ignore the fact that such an ap- paratus of knowledge will in the main be controlled by the complacent and the traditional, and the execution will inevit- ably be illiberal.

There is force in the indictment. And yet I am convinced that we shall accomplish more by fighting for truth than by fighting for our theories. It is a better loyalty. It is a humbler one, but it is also more irresistible. Above all it is educative. For the real enemy is ig- norance, from which all of us, conserva-

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tive, liberal, and revolutionary, suffer. If our effort is concentrated on our de- sires, be it our desire to have and to hold what is good, our desire to remake peacefully, or our desire to transform suddenly, we shall divide hopelessly and irretrievably. We must go back of our opinions to the neutral facts for unity * and refreshment of spirit. To deny this, it seems to me, is to claim that the mass of men is impervious to education, and to deny that, is to deny the postulate of democracy, and to seek salvation in a dictatorship. There is, I am convinced, nothing but misery and confusion that way. But I am equally convinced that democracy will degenerate into this dic- tatorship either of the Right or of the Left, if it does not become genuinely self-governing. That means, in terms of public opinion, a resumption of that con- tact between beliefs and realities which 99


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we have been losing steadily since the small-town democracy was absorbed into Ithe Great Society.

I* The administration of public infor- |’mation toward greater accuracy and more

; ‘ successful analysis is the highway of liberty. It is, I believe, a matter of first- rate importance that we should fix this in our minds. Having done so, we may be able to deal more effectively with the traps and the lies and the special interests which obstruct the road and drive us astray. Without a clear conception of what the means of liberty are, the

; struggle for free speech and free opinion easily degenerates into a mere content of opinion.

But realization is not the last step,

^though it is the first. We need be under

no illusion that the stream of news can

be purified simply by pointing out the

value of purity. The existing news-struc-


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ture may be made serviceable to democ- racy along the general lines suggested, by the training of the journalist, and by the development of expert record and analysis. But while it may be, it will not be, simply by saying that it ought to be. Those who are now in control have too much at stake, and they control the source of reform itself.

Change will come only by the drastic competition of those whose interests are not represented in the existing news- * organization. It will come only if or- ganized labor and militant liberalism set v. ‘ a pace which cannot be ignored. Our sanity and, therefore, our safety depend upon this competition, upon fearless and relentless exposure conducted by self- conscious groups that are now in a min- ority. It is for these groups to under- stand that the satisfaction of advertising a pet theory is as nothing compared to


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the publication of the news. And having realized it, it is for them to combine their resources and their talent for the development of an authentic news-service which is invincible because it supplies what the community is begging for and cannot get.

All the gallant little sheets expressing particular programmes are at bottom vanity, and in the end, futility, so long as the reporting of daily news is left in untrained and biased hands. If we are to move ahead, we must see a great in- dependent journalism, setting standards for commercial journalism, like those which the splendid English cooperative societies are setting for commercial busi- ness. An enormous amount of money, is dribbled away in one fashion or another on little papers, mass-meetings, and what not. If only some considerable portion of it could be set aside to establish a


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central international news-agency, we should make progress. We cannot fight the untruth which envelops us by parad- ing our opinions. We can do it only by reporting the facts, and we do not de- serve to win if the facts are against us.

The country is spotted with benevo- lent foundations of one kind or another, many of them doing nothing but pay the upkeep of fine buildings and sine- cures. Organized labor spends large sums of money on politics and strikes which fail because it is impossible to se- cure a genuine hearing in public opinion. Could there be a pooling of money for a news-agency? Not, I imagine, if its object were to further a cause. But sup- pose the plan were for a news-service in which editorial matter was rigorously excluded, and the work was done by men

who had already won the confidence of 103

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the public by their independence? Then, perhaps.

>-. At any rate, our salvation lies in two things: ultimately, in the infusion of the news-structure’ by men with a new training and outlook; immediately, in the concentration of the independent forces against the complacency and bad service of the routineers. We shall ad- vance when we have, learned humility; when we have learned to seek the truth, to reveal it and publish it; when we care more for that th^n for the privi- lege of arguing about ideas in a fog of uncertainty.

By Walter Lippmann