Public Opinion







THE idea that men have to go forth and study the world in order to
govern it, has played a very minor part in political thought. It could
figure very little, because the machinery for reporting the world in
any way useful to government made comparatively little progress from
the time of Aristotle to the age in which the premises of democracy
were established.

Therefore, if you had asked a pioneer democrat where the information
was to come from on which the will of the people was to be based, he
would have been puzzled by the question. It would have seemed a little
as if you had asked him where his life or his soul came from. The will
of the people, he almost always assumed, exists at all times; the duty
of political science was to work out the inventions of the ballot and
representative government. If they were properly worked out and
applied under the right conditions, such as exist in the
self-contained village or the self-contained shop, the mechanism would
somehow overcome the brevity of attention which Aristotle had
observed, and the narrowness of its range, which the theory of a
self-contained community tacitly acknowledged. We have seen how even
at this late date the guild socialists are transfixed by the notion
that if only you can build on the right unit of voting and
representation, an intricate cooperative commonwealth is possible.

Convinced that the wisdom was there if only you could find it,
democrats have treated the problem of making public opinions as a
problem in civil liberties. [Footnote: The best study is Prof.
Zechariah Chafee’s, _Freedom of Speech_.] “Who ever knew Truth
put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?” [Footnote: Milton,
_Areopagitica_, cited at the opening of Mr. Chafee’s book. For
comment on this classic doctrine of liberty as stated by Milton, John
Stuart Mill, and Mr. Bertrand Russel, see my _Liberty and the
News_, Ch. II.] Supposing that no one has ever seen it put to the
worse, are we to believe then that the truth is generated by the
encounter, like fire by rubbing two sticks? Behind this classic
doctrine of liberty, which American democrats embodied in their Bill
of Rights, there are, in fact, several different theories of the
origin of truth. One is a faith that in the competition of opinions,
the truest will win because there is a peculiar strength in the truth.
This is probably sound if you allow the competition to extend over a
sufficiently long time. When men argue in this vein they have in mind
the verdict of history, and they think specifically of heretics
persecuted when they lived, canonized after they were dead. Milton’s
question rests also on a belief that the capacity to recognize truth
is inherent in all men, and that truth freely put in circulation will
win acceptance. It derives no less from the experience, which has
shown that men are not likely to discover truth if they cannot speak
it, except under the eye of an uncomprehending policeman.

No one can possibly overestimate the practical value of these civil
liberties, nor the importance of maintaining them. When they are in
jeopardy, the human spirit is in jeopardy, and should there come a
time when they have to be curtailed, as during a war, the suppression
of thought is a risk to civilization which might prevent its recovery
from the effects of war, if the hysterics, who exploit the necessity,
were numerous enough to carry over into peace the taboos of war.
Fortunately, the mass of men is too tolerant long to enjoy the
professional inquisitors, as gradually, under the criticism of men not
willing to be terrorized, they are revealed as mean-spirited creatures
who nine-tenths of the time do not know what they are talking
about. [Footnote: _Cf._ for example, the publications of the Lusk
Committee in New York, and the public statements and prophecies of Mr.
Mitchell Palmer, who was Attorney-General of the United States during
the period of President Wilson’s illness.]

But in spite of its fundamental importance, civil liberty in this
sense does not guarantee public opinion in the modern world. For it
always assumes, either that truth is spontaneous, or that the means of
securing truth exist when there is no external interference. But when
you are dealing with an invisible environment, the assumption is
false. The truth about distant or complex matters is not self-evident,
and the machinery for assembling information is technical and
expensive. Yet political science, and especially democratic political
science, has never freed itself from the original assumption of
Aristotle’s politics sufficiently to restate the premises, so that
political thought might come to grips with the problem of how to make
the invisible world visible to the citizens of a modern state.

So deep is the tradition, that until quite recently, for example,
political science was taught in our colleges as if newspapers did not
exist. I am not referring to schools of journalism, for they are trade
schools, intended to prepare men and women for a career. I am
referring to political science as expounded to future business men,
lawyers, public officials, and citizens at large. In that science a
study of the press and the sources of popular information found no
place. It is a curious fact. To anyone not immersed in the routine
interests of political science, it is almost inexplicable that no
American student of government, no American sociologist, has ever
written a book on news-gathering. There are occasional references to
the press, and statements that it is not, or that it ought to be,
“free” and “truthful.” But I can find almost nothing else. And this
disdain of the professionals finds its counterpart in public opinions.
Universally it is admitted that the press is the chief means of
contact with the unseen environment. And practically everywhere it is
assumed that the press should do spontaneously for us what primitive
democracy imagined each of us could do spontaneously for himself, that
every day and twice a day it will present us with a true picture of
all the outer world in which we are interested.


This insistent and ancient belief that truth is not earned, but
inspired, revealed, supplied gratis, comes out very plainly in our
economic prejudices as readers of newspapers. We expect the newspaper
to serve us with truth however unprofitable the truth may be. For this
difficult and often dangerous service, which we recognize as
fundamental, we expected to pay until recently the smallest coin
turned out by the mint. We have accustomed ourselves now to paying two
and even three cents on weekdays, and on Sundays, for an illustrated
encyclopedia and vaudeville entertainment attached, we have screwed
ourselves up to paying a nickel or even a dime. Nobody thinks for a
moment that he ought to pay for his newspaper. He expects the
fountains of truth to bubble, but he enters into no contract, legal or
moral, involving any risk, cost or trouble to himself. He will pay a
nominal price when it suits him, will stop paying whenever it suits
him, will turn to another paper when that suits him. Somebody has said
quite aptly that the newspaper editor has to be re-elected every day.

This casual and one-sided relationship between readers and press is an
anomaly of our civilization. There is nothing else quite like it, and
it is, therefore, hard to compare the press with any other business or
institution. It is not a business pure and simple, partly because the
product is regularly sold below cost, but chiefly because the
community applies one ethical measure to the press and another to
trade or manufacture. Ethically a newspaper is judged as if it were a
church or a school. But if you try to compare it with these you fail;
the taxpayer pays for the public school, the private school is endowed
or supported by tuition fees, there are subsidies and collections for
the church. You cannot compare journalism with law, medicine or
engineering, for in every one of these professions the consumer pays
for the service. A free press, if you judge by the attitude of the
readers, means newspapers that are virtually given away.

Yet the critics of the press are merely voicing the moral standards of
the community, when they expect such an institution to live on the
same plane as that on which the school, the church, and the
disinterested professions are supposed to live. This illustrates again
the concave character of democracy. No need for artificially acquired
information is felt to exist. The information must come naturally,
that is to say gratis, if not out of the heart of the citizen, then
gratis out of the newspaper. The citizen will pay for his telephone,
his railroad rides, his motor car, his entertainment. But he does not
pay openly for his news.

He will, however, pay handsomely for the privilege of having someone
read about him. He will pay directly to advertise. And he will pay
indirectly for the advertisements of other people, because that
payment, being concealed in the price of commodities is part of an
invisible environment that he does not effectively comprehend. It
would be regarded as an outrage to have to pay openly the price of a
good ice cream soda for all the news of the world, though the public
will pay that and more when it buys the advertised commodities. The
public pays for the press, but only when the payment is concealed.


Circulation is, therefore, the means to an end. It becomes an asset
only when it can be sold to the advertiser, who buys it with revenues
secured through indirect taxation of the reader. [Footnote: “An
established newspaper is entitled to fix its advertising rates so that
its net receipts from circulation may be left on the credit side of
the profit and loss account. To arrive at net receipts, I would deduct
from the gross the cost of promotion, distribution, and other expenses
incidental to circulation.” From an address by Mr. Adolph S. Ochs,
publisher of _the New York Times,_ at the Philadelphia Convention
of the Associated Advertising Clubs of The World, June 26, 1916.
Cited, Elmer Davis, _History of The New York Times,_ 1851-1921,
pp. 397-398.] The kind of circulation which the advertiser will buy
depends on what he has to sell. It may be “quality” or “mass.” On the
whole there is no sharp dividing line, for in respect to most
commodities sold by advertising, the customers are neither the small
class of the very rich nor the very poor. They are the people with
enough surplus over bare necessities to exercise discretion in their
buying. The paper, therefore, which goes into the homes of the fairly
prosperous is by and large the one which offers most to the
advertiser. It may also go into the homes of the poor, but except for
certain lines of goods, an analytical advertising agent does not rate
that circulation as a great asset, unless, as seems to be the case
with certain of Mr. Hearst’s properties, the circulation is enormous.

A newspaper which angers those whom it pays best to reach through
advertisements is a bad medium for an advertiser. And since no one
ever claimed that advertising was philanthropy, advertisers buy space
in those publications which are fairly certain to reach their future
customers. One need not spend much time worrying about the unreported
scandals of the dry-goods merchants. They represent nothing really
significant, and incidents of this sort are less common than many
critics of the press suppose. The real problem is that the readers of
a newspaper, unaccustomed to paying the cost of newsgathering, can be
capitalized only by turning them into circulation that can be sold to
manufacturers and merchants. And those whom it is most important to
capitalize are those who have the most money to spend. Such a press is
bound to respect the point of view of the buying public. It is for
this buying public that newspapers are edited and published, for
without that support the newspaper cannot live. A newspaper can flout
an advertiser, it can attack a powerful banking or traction interest,
but if it alienates the buying public, it loses the one indispensable
asset of its existence.

Mr. John L. Given, [Footnote: _Making a Newspaper_, p. 13. This
is the best technical book I know, and should be read by everyone who
undertakes to discuss the press. Mr. G. B. Diblee, who wrote the
volume on _The Newspaper_ in the Home University Library says (p.
253), that “on the press for pressmen I only know of one good book,
Mr. Given’s.”] formerly of the New York Evening Sun, stated in 1914
that out of over two thousand three hundred dailies published in the
United States, there were about one hundred and seventy-five printed
in cities having over one hundred thousand inhabitants. These
constitute the press for “general news.” They are the key papers which
collect the news dealing with great events, and even the people who do
not read any one of the one hundred and seventy-five depend ultimately
upon them for news of the outer world. For they make up the great
press associations which cooperate in the exchange of news. Each is,
therefore, not only the informant of its own readers, but it is the
local reporter for the newspapers of other cities. The rural press and
the special press by and large, take their general news from these key
papers. And among these there are some very much richer than others,
so that for international news, in the main, the whole press of the
nation may depend upon the reports of the press associations and the
special services of a few metropolitan dailies.

Roughly speaking, the economic support for general news gathering is
in the price paid for advertised goods by the fairly prosperous
sections of cities with more than one hundred thousand inhabitants.
These buying publics are composed of the members of families, who
depend for their income chiefly on trade, merchandising, the direction
of manufacture, and finance. They are the clientele among whom it pays
best to advertise in a newspaper. They wield a concentrated purchasing
power, which may be less in volume than the aggregate for farmers and
workingmen; but within the radius covered by a daily newspaper they
are the quickest assets.


They have, moreover, a double claim to attention. They are not only
the best customers for the advertiser, they include the advertisers.
Therefore the impression made by the newspapers on this public matters
deeply. Fortunately this public is not unanimous. It may be
“capitalistic” but it contains divergent views on what capitalism is,
and how it is to be run. Except in times of danger, this respectable
opinion is sufficiently divided to permit of considerable differences
of policy. These would be greater still if it were not that publishers
are themselves usually members of these urban communities, and
honestly see the world through the lenses of their associates and

They are engaged in a speculative business, [Footnote: Sometimes so
speculative that in order to secure credit the publisher has to go
into bondage to his creditors. Information on this point is very
difficult to obtain, and for that reason its general importance is
often much exaggerated.] which depends on the general condition of
trade, and more peculiarly on a circulation based not on a marriage
contract with their readers, but on free love. The object of every
publisher is, therefore, to turn his circulation from a medley of
catch-as-catch-can news stand buyers into a devoted band of constant
readers. A newspaper that can really depend upon the loyalty of its
readers is as independent as a newspaper can be, given the economics
of modern journalism. [Footnote: “It is an axiom in newspaper
publishing–‘more readers, more independence of the influence of
advertisers; fewer readers and more dependence on the advertiser’ It
may seem like a contradiction (yet it is the truth) to assert: the
greater the number of advertisers, the less influence they are
individually able to exercise with the publisher.” Adolph S. Ochs,
_of. supra._] A body of readers who stay by it through thick and
thin is a power greater than any which the individual advertiser can
wield, and a power great enough to break up a combination of
advertisers. Therefore, whenever you find a newspaper betraying its
readers for the sake of an advertiser, you can be fairly certain
either that the publisher sincerely shares the views of the
advertiser, or that he thinks, perhaps mistakenly, he cannot count
upon the support of his readers if he openly resists dictation. It is
a question of whether the readers, who do not pay in cash for their
news, will pay for it in loyalty.




THE loyalty of the buying public to a newspaper is not stipulated in
any bond. In almost every other enterprise the person who expects to
be served enters into an agreement that controls his passing whims. At
least he pays for what he obtains. In the publishing of periodicals
the nearest approach to an agreement for a definite time is the paid
subscription, and that is not, I believe, a great factor in the
economy of a metropolitan daily. The reader is the sole and the daily
judge of his loyalty, and there can be no suit against him for breach
of promise or nonsupport.

Though everything turns on the constancy of the reader, there does not
exist even a vague tradition to call that fact to the reader’s mind.
His constancy depends on how he happens to feel, or on his habits. And
these depend not simply on the quality of the news, but more often on
a number of obscure elements that in our casual relation to the press,
we hardly take the trouble to make conscious. The most important of
these is that each of us tends to judge a newspaper, if we judge it at
all, by its treatment of that part of the news in which we feel
ourselves involved. The newspaper deals with a multitude of events
beyond our experience. But it deals also with some events within our
experience. And by its handling of those events we most frequently
decide to like it or dislike it, to trust it or refuse to have the
sheet in the house. If the newspaper gives a satisfactory account of
that which we think we know, our business, our church, our party, it
is fairly certain to be immune from violent criticism by us. What
better criterion does the man at the breakfast table possess than that
the newspaper version checks up with his own opinion? Therefore, most
men tend to hold the newspaper most strictly accountable in their
capacity, not of general readers, but of special pleaders on matters
of their own experience.

Rarely is anyone but the interested party able to test the accuracy of
a report. If the news is local, and if there is competition, the
editor knows that he will probably hear from the man who thinks his
portrait unfair and inaccurate. But if the news is not local, the
corrective diminishes as the subject matter recedes into the distance.
The only people who can correct what they think is a false picture of
themselves printed in another city are members of groups well enough
organized to hire publicity men.

Now it is interesting to note that the general reader of a newspaper
has no standing in law if he thinks he is being misled by the news. It
is only the aggrieved party who can sue for slander or libel, and he
has to prove a material injury to himself. The law embodies the
tradition that general news is not a matter of common concern,
[Footnote: The reader will not mistake this as a plea for censorship.
It might, however, be a good thing if there were competent tribunals,
preferably not official ones, where charges of untruthfulness and
unfairness in the general news could be sifted. _Cf. Liberty and the
News,_ pp. 73-76. ] except as to matter which is vaguely described
as immoral or seditious.

But the body of the news, though unchecked as a whole by the
disinterested reader, consists of items about which some readers have
very definite preconceptions. Those items are the data of his
judgment, and news which men read without this personal criterion,
they judge by some other standard than their standard of accuracy.
They are dealing here with a subject matter which to them is
indistinguishable from fiction. The canon of truth cannot be applied.
They do not boggle over such news if it conforms to their stereotypes,
and they continue to read it if it interests them. [Footnote: Note, for
example, how absent is indignation in Mr. Upton Sinclair against
socialist papers, even those which are as malignantly unfair to
employers as certain of the papers cited by him are unfair to


There are newspapers, even in large cities, edited on the principle
that the readers wish to read about themselves. The theory is that if
enough people see their own names in the paper often enough, can read
about their weddings, funerals, sociables, foreign travels, lodge
meetings, school prizes, their fiftieth birthdays, their sixtieth
birthdays, their silver weddings, their outings and clambakes, they
will make a reliable circulation.

The classic formula for such a newspaper is contained in a letter
written by Horace Greeley on April 3, 1860, to “Friend Fletcher” who
was about to start a country newspaper: [Footnote: Cited, James Melvin
Lee, _The History of American Journalism,_ p. 405.]

“I. Begin with a clear conception that the subject of deepest interest
to an average human being is himself; next to that he is most
concerned about his neighbors. Asia and the Tongo Islands stand a long
way after these in his regard…. Do not let a new church be
organized, or new members be added to one already existing, a farm be
sold, a new house raised, a mill set in motion, a store opened, nor
anything of interest to a dozen families occur, without having the
fact duly, though briefly, chronicled in your columns. If a farmer
cuts a big tree, or grows a mammoth beet, or harvests a bounteous
yield of wheat or corn, set forth the fact as concisely and
unexceptionally as possible.”

The function of becoming, as Mr. Lee puts it, “the printed diary of
the home town” is one that every newspaper no matter where it is
published must in some measure fill. And where, as in a great city
like New York, the general newspapers circulated broadcast cannot fill
it, there exist small newspapers published on Greeley’s pattern for
sections of the city. In the boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx there
are perhaps twice as many local dailies as there are general
newspapers. [Footnote: _Cf._ John L. Given, _Making a Newspaper,_
p. 13.] And they are supplemented by all kinds of special publications for
trades, religions, nationalities.

These diaries are published for people who find their own lives
interesting. But there are also great numbers of people who find their
own lives dull, and wish, like Hedda Gabler, to live a more thrilling
life. For them there are published a few whole newspapers, and
sections of others, devoted to the personal lives of a set of
imaginary people, with whose gorgeous vices the reader can in his
fancy safely identify himself. Mr. Hearst’s unflagging interest in
high society caters to people who never hope to be in high society,
and yet manage to derive some enhancement out of the vague feeling
that they are part of the life that they read about. In the great
cities “the printed diary of the home town” tends to be the printed
diary of a smart set.

And it is, as we have already noted, the dailies of the cities which
carry the burden of bringing distant news to the private citizen. But
it is not primarily their political and social news which holds the
circulation. The interest in that is intermittent, and few publishers
can bank on it alone. The newspaper, therefore, takes to itself a
variety of other features, all primarily designed to hold a body of
readers together, who so far as big news is concerned, are not able to
be critical. Moreover, in big news the competition in any one
community is not very serious. The press services standardize the main
events; it is only once in a while that a great scoop is made; there
is apparently not a very great reading public for such massive
reporting as has made the New York Times of recent years indispensable
to men of all shades of opinion. In order to differentiate themselves
and collect a steady public most papers have to go outside the field
of general news. They go to the dazzling levels of society, to scandal
and crime, to sports, pictures, actresses, advice to the lovelorn,
highschool notes, women’s pages, buyer’s pages, cooking receipts,
chess, whist, gardening, comic strips, thundering partisanship, not
because publishers and editors are interested in everything but news,
but because they have to find some way of holding on to that alleged
host of passionately interested readers, who are supposed by some
critics of the press to be clamoring for the truth and nothing but the

The newspaper editor occupies a strange position. His enterprises
depend upon indirect taxation levied by his advertisers upon his
readers; the patronage of the advertisers depends upon the editor’s
skill in holding together an effective group of customers. These
customers deliver judgment according to their private experiences and
their stereotyped expectations, for in the nature of things they have
no independent knowledge of most news they read. If the judgment is
not unfavorable, the editor is at least within range of a circulation
that pays. But in order to secure that circulation, he cannot rely
wholly upon news of the greater environment. He handles that as
interestingly as he can, of course, but the quality of the general
news, especially about public affairs, is not in itself sufficient to
cause very large numbers of readers to discriminate among the dailies.

This somewhat left-handed relationship between newspapers and public
information is reflected in the salaries of newspaper men. Reporting,
which theoretically constitutes the foundation of the whole
institution, is the most poorly paid branch of newspaper work, and is
the least regarded. By and large, able men go into it only by
necessity or for experience, and with the definite intention of being
graduated as soon as possible. For straight reporting is not a career
that offers many great rewards. The rewards in journalism go to
specialty work, to signed correspondence which has editorial quality,
to executives, and to men with a knack and flavor of their own. This
is due, no doubt, to what economists call the rent of ability. But
this economic principle operates with such peculiar violence in
journalism that newsgathering does not attract to itself anything like
the number of trained and able men which its public importance would
seem to demand. The fact that the able men take up “straight
reporting” with the intention of leaving it as soon as possible is, I
think, the chief reason why it has never developed in sufficient
measure those corporate traditions that give to a profession prestige
and a jealous self-respect. For it is these corporate traditions which
engender the pride of craft, which tend to raise the standards of
admission, punish breaches of the code, and give men the strength to
insist upon their status in society.


Yet all this does not go to the root of the matter. For while the
economics of journalism is such as to depress the value of news
reporting, it is, I am certain, a false determinism which would
abandon the analysis at that point. The intrinsic power of the
reporter appears to be so great, the number of very able men who pass
through reporting is so large, that there must be some deeper reason
why, comparatively speaking, so little serious effort has gone into
raising the vocation to the level say of medicine, engineering, or

Mr. Upton Sinclair speaks for a large body of opinion in
America, [Footnote: Mr. Hilaire Belloc makes practically the same
analysis for English newspapers. _Cf. The Free Press._] when he
claims that in what he calls “The Brass Check” he has found this
deeper reason:

“The Brass Check is found in your pay envelope every week–you who
write and print and distribute our newspapers and magazines. The Brass
check is the price of your shame–you who take the fair body of truth
and sell it in the market place, who betray the virgin hopes of
mankind into the loathsome brothel of Big Business.” [Footnote: Upton
Sinclair, _The Brass Check. A Study of American Journalism._ p.

It would seem from this that there exists a body of known truth, and a
set of well founded hopes, which are prostituted by a more or less
conscious conspiracy of the rich owners of newspapers. If this theory
is correct, then a certain conclusion follows. It is that the fair
body of truth would be inviolate in a press not in any way connected
with Big Business. For if it should happen that a press not controlled
by, and not even friendly with, Big Business somehow failed to contain
the fair body of truth, something would be wrong with Mr. Sinclair’s

There is such a press. Strange to say, in proposing a remedy Mr.
Sinclair does not advise his readers to subscribe to the nearest
radical newspaper. Why not? If the troubles of American journalism go
back to the Brass Check of Big Business why does not the remedy lie in
reading the papers that do not in any remote way accept the Brass
Check? Why subsidize a “National News” with a large board of directors
“of all creeds or causes” to print a paper full of facts “regardless
of what is injured, the Steel Trust or the I. W. W., the Standard Oil
Company or the Socialist Party?” If the trouble is Big Business, that
is, the Steel Trust, Standard Oil and the like, why not urge everybody
to read I. W. W. or Socialist papers? Mr. Sinclair does not say why
not. But the reason is simple. He cannot convince anybody, not even
himself, that the anti-capitalist press is the remedy for the
capitalist press. He ignores the anti-capitalist press both in his
theory of the Brass Check and in his constructive proposal. But if you
are diagnosing American journalism you cannot ignore it. If what you
care about is “the fair body of truth,” you do not commit the gross
logical error of assembling all the instances of unfairness and lying
you can find in one set of newspapers, ignore all the instances you
could easily find in another set, and then assign as the cause of the
lying, the one supposedly common characteristic of the press to which
you have confined your investigation. If you are going to blame
“capitalism” for the faults of the press, you are compelled to prove
that those faults do not exist except where capitalism controls. That
Mr. Sinclair cannot do this, is shown by the fact that while in his
diagnosis he traces everything to capitalism, in his prescription he
ignores both capitalism and anti-capitalism.

One would have supposed that the inability to take any non-capitalist
paper as a model of truthfulness and competence would have caused Mr.
Sinclair, and those who agree with him, to look somewhat more
critically at their assumptions. They would have asked themselves, for
example, where is the fair body of truth, that Big Business
prostitutes, but anti-Big Business does not seem to obtain? For that
question leads, I believe, to the heart of the matter, to the question
of what is news.




ALL the reporters in the world working all the hours of the day could
not witness all the happenings in the world. There are not a great
many reporters. And none of them has the power to be in more than one
place at a time. Reporters are not clairvoyant, they do not gaze into
a crystal ball and see the world at will, they are not assisted by
thought-transference. Yet the range of subjects these comparatively
few men manage to cover would be a miracle indeed, if it were not a
standardized routine.

Newspapers do not try to keep an eye on all mankind. [Footnote: See the
illuminating chapter in Mr. John L. Given’s book, already cited, on
“Uncovering the News,” Ch. V.] They have watchers stationed at certain
places, like Police Headquarters, the Coroner’s Office, the County
Clerk’s Office, City Hall, the White House, the Senate, House of
Representatives, and so forth. They watch, or rather in the majority
of cases they belong to associations which employ men who watch “a
comparatively small number of places where it is made known when the
life of anyone… departs from ordinary paths, or when events worth
telling about occur. For example, John Smith, let it be supposed,
becomes a broker. For ten years he pursues the even tenor of his way
and except for his customers and his friends no one gives him a
thought. To the newspapers he is as if he were not. But in the
eleventh year he suffers heavy losses and, at last, his resources all
gone, summons his lawyer and arranges for the making of an assignment.
The lawyer posts off to the County Clerk’s office, and a clerk there
makes the necessary entries in the official docket. Here in step the
newspapers. While the clerk is writing Smith’s business obituary a
reporter glances over his shoulder and a few minutes later the
reporters know Smith’s troubles and are as well informed concerning
his business status as they would be had they kept a reporter at his
door every day for over ten years. [Footnote: _Op. cit._, p. 57.]

When Mr. Given says that the newspapers know “Smith’s troubles” and
“his business status,” he does not mean that they know them as Smith
knows them, or as Mr. Arnold Bennett would know them if he had made
Smith the hero of a three volume novel. The newspapers know only “in a
few minutes” the bald facts which are recorded in the County Clerk’s
Office. That overt act “uncovers” the news about Smith. Whether the
news will be followed up or not is another matter. The point is that
before a series of events become news they have usually to make
themselves noticeable in some more or less overt act. Generally too,
in a crudely overt act. Smith’s friends may have known for years that
he was taking risks, rumors may even have reached the financial editor
if Smith’s friends were talkative. But apart from the fact that none
of this could be published because it would be libel, there is in
these rumors nothing definite on which to peg a story. Something
definite must occur that has unmistakable form. It may be the act of
going into bankruptcy, it may be a fire, a collision, an assault, a
riot, an arrest, a denunciation, the introduction of a bill, a speech,
a vote, a meeting, the expressed opinion of a well known citizen, an
editorial in a newspaper, a sale, a wage-schedule, a price change, the
proposal to build a bridge…. There must be a manifestation. The
course of events must assume a certain definable shape, and until it
is in a phase where some aspect is an accomplished fact, news does not
separate itself from the ocean of possible truth.


Naturally there is room for wide difference of opinion as to when
events have a shape that can be reported. A good journalist will find
news oftener than a hack. If he sees a building with a dangerous list,
he does not have to wait until it falls into the street in order to
recognize news. It was a great reporter who guessed the name of the
next Indian Viceroy when he heard that Lord So-and-So was inquiring
about climates. There are lucky shots but the number of men who can
make them is small. Usually it is the stereotyped shape assumed by an
event at an obvious place that uncovers the run of the news. The most
obvious place is where people’s affairs touch public authority. De
minimis non curat lex. It is at these places that marriages, births,
deaths, contracts, failures, arrivals, departures, lawsuits,
disorders, epidemics and calamities are made known.

In the first instance, therefore, the news is not a mirror of social
conditions, but the report of an aspect that has obtruded itself. The
news does not tell you how the seed is germinating in the ground, but
it may tell you when the first sprout breaks through the surface. It
may even tell you what somebody says is happening to the seed under
ground. It may tell you that the sprout did not come up at the time it
was expected. The more points, then, at which any happening can be
fixed, objectified, measured, named, the more points there are at
which news can occur.

So, if some day a legislature, having exhausted all other ways of
improving mankind, should forbid the scoring of baseball games, it
might still be possible to play some sort of game in which the umpire
decided according to his own sense of fair play how long the game
should last, when each team should go to bat, and who should be
regarded as the winner. If that game were reported in the newspapers
it would consist of a record of the umpire’s decisions, plus the
reporter’s impression of the hoots and cheers of the crowd, plus at
best a vague account of how certain men, who had no specified position
on the field moved around for a few hours on an unmarked piece of sod.
The more you try to imagine the logic of so absurd a predicament, the
more clear it becomes that for the purposes of newsgathering, (let
alone the purposes of playing the game) it is impossible to do much
without an apparatus and rules for naming, scoring, recording. Because
that machinery is far from perfect, the umpire’s life is often a
distracted one. Many crucial plays he has to judge by eye. The last
vestige of dispute could be taken out of the game, as it has been
taken out of chess when people obey the rules, if somebody thought it
worth his while to photograph every play. It was the moving pictures
which finally settled a real doubt in many reporters’ minds, owing to
the slowness of the human eye, as to just what blow of Dempsey’s
knocked out Carpentier.

Wherever there is a good machinery of record, the modern news service
works with great precision. There is one on the stock exchange, and
the news of price movements is flashed over tickers with dependable
accuracy. There is a machinery for election returns, and when the
counting and tabulating are well done, the result of a national
election is usually known on the night of the election. In civilized
communities deaths, births, marriages and divorces are recorded, and
are known accurately except where there is concealment or neglect. The
machinery exists for some, and only some, aspects of industry and
government, in varying degrees of precision for securities, money and
staples, bank clearances, realty transactions, wage scales. It exists
for imports and exports because they pass through a custom house and
can be directly recorded. It exists in nothing like the same degree
for internal trade, and especially for trade over the counter.

It will be found, I think, that there is a very direct relation
between the certainty of news and the system of record. If you call to
mind the topics which form the principal indictment by reformers
against the press, you find they are subjects in which the newspaper
occupies the position of the umpire in the unscored baseball game. All
news about states of mind is of this character: so are all
descriptions of personalities, of sincerity, aspiration, motive,
intention, of mass feeling, of national feeling, of public opinion,
the policies of foreign governments. So is much news about what is
going to happen. So are questions turning on private profit, private
income, wages, working conditions, the efficiency of labor,
educational opportunity, unemployment, [Footnote: Think of what guess
work went into the Reports of Unemployment in 1921.] monotony, health,
discrimination, unfairness, restraint of trade, waste, “backward
peoples,” conservatism, imperialism, radicalism, liberty, honor,
righteousness. All involve data that are at best spasmodically
recorded. The data may be hidden because of a censorship or a
tradition of privacy, they may not exist because nobody thinks record
important, because he thinks it red tape, or because nobody has yet
invented an objective system of measurement. Then the news on these
subjects is bound to be debatable, when it is not wholly neglected.
The events which are not scored are reported either as personal and
conventional opinions, or they are not news. They do not take shape
until somebody protests, or somebody investigates, or somebody
publicly, in the etymological meaning of the word, makes an
_issue_ of them.

This is the underlying reason for the existence of the press agent.
The enormous discretion as to what facts and what impressions shall be
reported is steadily convincing every organized group of people that
whether it wishes to secure publicity or to avoid it, the exercise of
discretion cannot be left to the reporter. It is safer to hire a press
agent who stands between the group and the newspapers. Having hired
him, the temptation to exploit his strategic position is very great.
“Shortly before the war,” says Mr. Frank Cobb, “the newspapers of New
York took a census of the press agents who were regularly employed and
regularly accredited and found that there were about twelve hundred of
them. How many there are now (1919) I do not pretend to know, but what
I do know is that many of the direct channels to news have been closed
and the information for the public is first filtered through publicity
agents. The great corporations have them, the banks have them, the
railroads have them, all the organizations of business and of social
and political activity have them, and they are the media through which
news comes. Even statesmen have them.” [Footnote: Address before the
Women’s City Club of New York, Dec. 11, 1919. Reprinted, _New
Republic_, Dec. 31, 1919, p. 44.]

Were reporting the simple recovery of obvious facts, the press agent
would be little more than a clerk. But since, in respect to most of
the big topics of news, the facts are not simple, and not at all
obvious, but subject to choice and opinion, it is natural that
everyone should wish to make his own choice of facts for the
newspapers to print. The publicity man does that. And in doing it, he
certainly saves the reporter much trouble, by presenting him a clear
picture of a situation out of which he might otherwise make neither
head nor tail. But it follows that the picture which the publicity man
makes for the reporter is the one he wishes the public to see. He is
censor and propagandist, responsible only to his employers, and to the
whole truth responsible only as it accords with the employers’
conception of his own interests.

The development of the publicity man is a clear sign that the facts of
modern life do not spontaneously take a shape in which they can be
known. They must be given a shape by somebody, and since in the daily
routine reporters cannot give a shape to facts, and since there is
little disinterested organization of intelligence, the need for some
formulation is being met by the interested parties.


The good press agent understands that the virtues of his cause are not
news, unless they are such strange virtues that they jut right out of
the routine of life. This is not because the newspapers do not like
virtue, but because it is not worth while to say that nothing has
happened when nobody expected anything to happen. So if the publicity
man wishes free publicity he has, speaking quite accurately, to start
something. He arranges a stunt: obstructs the traffic, teases the
police, somehow manages to entangle his client or his cause with an
event that is already news. The suffragists knew this, did not
particularly enjoy the knowledge but acted on it, and kept suffrage in
the news long after the arguments pro and con were straw in their
mouths, and people were about to settle down to thinking of the
suffrage movement as one of the established institutions of American
life. [Footnote: _Cf._ Inez Haynes Irwin, _The Story of the
Woman’s Party._ It is not only a good account of a vital part of a
great agitation, but a reservoir of material on successful,
non-revolutionary, non-conspiring agitation under modern conditions of
public attention, public interest, and political habit.]

Fortunately the suffragists, as distinct from the feminists, had a
perfectly concrete objective, and a very simple one. What the vote
symbolizes is not simple, as the ablest advocates and the ablest
opponents knew. But the right to vote is a simple and familiar right.
Now in labor disputes, which are probably the chief item in the
charges against newspapers, the right to strike, like the right to
vote, is simple enough. But the causes and objects of a particular
strike are like the causes and objects of the woman’s movement,
extremely subtle.

Let us suppose the conditions leading up to a strike are bad. What is
the measure of evil? A certain conception of a proper standard of
living, hygiene, economic security, and human dignity. The industry
may be far below the theoretical standard of the community, and the
workers may be too wretched to protest. Conditions may be above the
standard, and the workers may protest violently. The standard is at
best a vague measure. However, we shall assume that the conditions are
below par, as par is understood by the editor. Occasionally without
waiting for the workers to threaten, but prompted say by a social
worker, he will send reporters to investigate, and will call attention
to bad conditions. Necessarily he cannot do that often. For these
investigations cost time, money, special talent, and a lot of space.
To make plausible a report that conditions are bad, you need a good
many columns of print. In order to tell the truth about the steel
worker in the Pittsburgh district, there was needed a staff of
investigators, a great deal of time, and several fat volumes of print.
It is impossible to suppose that any daily newspaper could normally
regard the making of Pittsburgh Surveys, or even Interchurch Steel
Reports, as one of its tasks. News which requires so much trouble as
that to obtain is beyond the resources of a daily press. [Footnote: Not
long ago Babe Ruth was jailed for speeding. Released from jail just
before the afternoon game started, he rushed into his waiting
automobile, and made up for time lost in jail by breaking the speed
laws on his way to the ball grounds. No policeman stopped him, but a
reporter timed him, and published his speed the next morning. Babe
Ruth is an exceptional man. Newspapers cannot time all motorists. They
have to take their news about speeding from the police.]

The bad conditions as such are not news, because in all but
exceptional cases, journalism is not a first hand report of the raw
material. It is a report of that material after it has been stylized.
Thus bad conditions might become news if the Board of Health reported
an unusually high death rate in an industrial area. Failing an
intervention of this sort, the facts do not become news, until the
workers organize and make a demand upon their employers. Even then, if
an easy settlement is certain the news value is low, whether or not
the conditions themselves are remedied in the settlement. But if
industrial relations collapse into a strike or lockout the news value
increases. If the stoppage involves a service on which the readers of
the newspapers immediately depend, or if it involves a breach of
order, the news value is still greater.

The underlying trouble appears in the news through certain easily
recognizable symptoms, a demand, a strike, disorder. From the point of
view of the worker, or of the disinterested seeker of justice, the
demand, the strike, and the disorder, are merely incidents in a
process that for them is richly complicated. But since all the
immediate realities lie outside the direct experience both of the
reporter, and of the special public by which most newspapers are
supported, they have normally to wait for a signal in the shape of an
overt act. When that signal comes, say through a walkout of the men or
a summons for the police, it calls into play the stereotypes people
have about strikes and disorders. The unseen struggle has none of its
own flavor. It is noted abstractly, and that abstraction is then
animated by the immediate experience of the reader and reporter.
Obviously this is a very different experience from that which the
strikers have. They feel, let us say, the temper of the foreman, the
nerve-racking monotony of the machine, the depressingly bad air, the
drudgery of their wives, the stunting of their children, the dinginess
of their tenements. The slogans of the strike are invested with these
feelings. But the reporter and reader see at first only a strike and
some catchwords. They invest these with their feelings. Their feelings
may be that their jobs are insecure because the strikers are stopping
goods they need in their work, that there will be shortage and higher
prices, that it is all devilishly inconvenient. These, too, are
realities. And when they give color to the abstract news that a strike
has been called, it is in the nature of things that the workers are at
a disadvantage. It is in the nature, that is to say, of the existing
system of industrial relations that news arising from grievances or
hopes by workers should almost invariably be uncovered by an overt
attack on production.

You have, therefore, the circumstances in all their sprawling
complexity, the overt act which signalizes them, the stereotyped
bulletin which publishes the signal, and the meaning that the reader
himself injects, after he has derived that meaning from the experience
which directly affects him. Now the reader’s experience of a strike
may be very important indeed, but from the point of view of the
central trouble which caused the strike, it is eccentric. Yet this
eccentric meaning is automatically the most interesting. [Footnote:
_Cf_. Ch. XI, “The Enlisting of Interest.”] To enter imaginatively
into the central issues is for the reader to step out of himself, and into
very different lives.

It follows that in the reporting of strikes, the easiest way is to let
the news be uncovered by the overt act, and to describe the event as
the story of interference with the reader’s life. That is where his
attention is first aroused, and his interest most easily enlisted. A
great deal, I think myself the crucial part, of what looks to the
worker and the reformer as deliberate misrepresentation on the part of
newspapers, is the direct outcome of a practical difficulty in
uncovering the news, and the emotional difficulty of making distant
facts interesting unless, as Emerson says, we can “perceive (them) to
be only a new version of our familiar experience” and can “set about
translating (them) at once into our parallel facts.” [Footnote: From
his essay entitled _Art and Criticism_. The quotation occurs in a
passage cited on page 87 of Professor R. W. Brown’s, _The Writer’s

If you study the way many a strike is reported in the press, you will
find, very often, that the issues are rarely in the headlines, barely
in the leading paragraphs, and sometimes not even mentioned anywhere.
A labor dispute in another city has to be very important before the
news account contains any definite information as to what is in
dispute. The routine of the news works that way, with modifications it
works that way in regard to political issues and international news as
well. The news is an account of the overt phases that are interesting,
and the pressure on the newspaper to adhere to this routine comes from
many sides. It comes from the economy of noting only the stereotyped
phase of a situation. It comes from the difficulty of finding
journalists who can see what they have not learned to see. It comes
from the almost unavoidable difficulty of finding sufficient space in
which even the best journalist can make plausible an unconventional
view. It comes from the economic necessity of interesting the reader
quickly, and the economic risk involved in not interesting him at all,
or of offending him by unexpected news insufficiently or clumsily
described. All these difficulties combined make for uncertainty in the
editor when there are dangerous issues at stake, and cause him
naturally to prefer the indisputable fact and a treatment more readily
adapted to the reader’s interest. The indisputable fact and the easy
interest, are the strike itself and the reader’s inconvenience.

All the subtler and deeper truths are in the present organization of
industry very unreliable truths. They involve judgments about
standards of living, productivity, human rights that are endlessly
debatable in the absence of exact record and quantitative analysis.
And as long as these do not exist in industry, the run of news about
it will tend, as Emerson said, quoting from Isocrates, “to make of
moles mountains, and of mountains moles.” [Footnote: _Id.,
supra_] Where there is no constitutional procedure in industry, and
no expert sifting of evidence and the claims, the fact that is
sensational to the reader is the fact that almost every journalist
will seek. Given the industrial relations that so largely prevail,
even where there is conference or arbitration, but no independent
filtering of the facts for decision, the issue for the newspaper
public will tend not to be the issue for the industry. And so to try
disputes by an appeal through the newspapers puts a burden upon
newspapers and readers which they cannot and ought not to carry. As
long as real law and order do not exist, the bulk of the news will,
unless consciously and courageously corrected, work against those who
have no lawful and orderly method of asserting themselves. The
bulletins from the scene of action will note the trouble that arose
from the assertion, rather than the reasons which led to it. The
reasons are intangible.


The editor deals with these bulletins. He sits in his office, reads
them, rarely does he see any large portion of the events themselves.
He must, as we have seen, woo at least a section of his readers every
day, because they will leave him without mercy if a rival paper
happens to hit their fancy. He works under enormous pressure, for the
competition of newspapers is often a matter of minutes. Every bulletin
requires a swift but complicated judgment. It must be understood, put
in relation to other bulletins also understood, and played up or
played down according to its probable interest for the public, as the
editor conceives it. Without standardization, without stereotypes,
without routine judgments, without a fairly ruthless disregard of
subtlety, the editor would soon die of excitement. The final page is
of a definite size, must be ready at a precise moment; there can be
only a certain number of captions on the items, and in each caption
there must be a definite number of letters. Always there is the
precarious urgency of the buying public, the law of libel, and the
possibility of endless trouble. The thing could not be managed at all
without systematization, for in a standardized product there is
economy of time and effort, as well as a partial guarantee against

It is here that newspapers influence each other most deeply. Thus when
the war broke out, the American newspapers were confronted with a
subject about which they had no previous experience. Certain dailies,
rich enough to pay cable tolls, took the lead in securing news, and
the way that news was presented became a model for the whole press.
But where did that model come from? It came from the English press,
not because Northcliffe owned American newspapers, but because at
first it was easier to buy English correspondence, and because, later,
it was easier for American journalists to read English newspapers than
it was for them to read any others. London was the cable and news
center, and it was there that a certain technic for reporting the war
was evolved. Something similar occurred in the reporting of the
Russian Revolution. In that instance, access to Russia was closed by
military censorship, both Russian and Allied, and closed still more
effectively by the difficulties of the Russian language. But above all
it was closed to effective news reporting by the fact that the hardest
thing to report is chaos, even though it is an evolving chaos. This
put the formulating of Russian news at its source in Helsingfors,
Stockholm, Geneva, Paris and London, into the hands of censors and
propagandists. They were for a long time subject to no check of any
kind. Until they had made themselves ridiculous they created, let us
admit, out of some genuine aspects of the huge Russian maelstrom, a
set of stereotypes so evocative of hate and fear, that the very best
instinct of journalism, its desire to go and see and tell, was for a
long time crushed. [Footnote: _Cf. A Test of the News,_ by Walter
Lippmann and Charles Merz, assisted by Faye Lippmann, _New
Republic,_ August 4, 1920.]


Every newspaper when it reaches the reader is the result of a whole
series of selections as to what items shall be printed, in what
position they shall be printed, how much space each shall occupy, what
emphasis each shall have. There are no objective standards here. There
are conventions. Take two newspapers published in the same city on the
same morning. The headline of one reads: “Britain pledges aid to
Berlin against French aggression; France openly backs Poles.” The
headline of the second is “Mrs. Stillman’s Other Love.” Which you
prefer is a matter of taste, but not entirely a matter of the editor’s
taste. It is a matter of his judgment as to what will absorb the half
hour’s attention a certain set of readers will give to his newspaper.
Now the problem of securing attention is by no means equivalent to
displaying the news in the perspective laid down by religious teaching
or by some form of ethical culture. It is a problem of provoking
feeling in the reader, of inducing him to feel a sense of personal
identification with the stories he is reading. News which does not
offer this opportunity to introduce oneself into the struggle which it
depicts cannot appeal to a wide audience. The audience must
participate in the news, much as it participates in the drama, by
personal identification. Just as everyone holds his breath when the
heroine is in danger, as he helps Babe Ruth swing his bat, so in
subtler form the reader enters into the news. In order that he shall
enter he must find a familiar foothold in the story, and this is
supplied to him by the use of stereotypes. They tell him that if an
association of plumbers is called a “combine” it is appropriate to
develop his hostility; if it is called a “group of leading business
men” the cue is for a favorable reaction.

It is in a combination of these elements that the power to create
opinion resides. Editorials reinforce. Sometimes in a situation that
on the news pages is too confusing to permit of identification, they
give the reader a clue by means of which he engages himself. A clue he
must have if, as most of us must, he is to seize the news in a hurry.
A suggestion of some sort he demands, which tells him, so to speak,
where he, a man conceiving himself to be such and such a person, shall
integrate his feelings with the news he reads.

“It has been said” writes Walter Bagehot, [Footnote: On the Emotion of
Conviction, _Literary Studies_, Vol. Ill, p. 172.] “that if you
can only get a middleclass Englishman to think whether there are
‘snails in Sirius,’ he will soon have an opinion on it. It will be
difficult to make him think, but if he does think, he cannot rest in a
negative, he will come to some decision. And on any ordinary topic, of
course, it is so. A grocer has a full creed as to foreign policy, a
young lady a complete theory of the sacraments, as to which neither
has any doubt whatever.”

Yet that same grocer will have many doubts about his groceries, and
that young lady, marvelously certain about the sacraments, may have
all kinds of doubts as to whether to marry the grocer, and if not
whether it is proper to accept his attentions. The ability to rest in
the negative implies either a lack of interest in the result, or a
vivid sense of competing alternatives. In the case of foreign policy
or the sacraments, the interest in the results is intense, while means
for checking the opinion are poor. This is the plight of the reader of
the general news. If he is to read it at all he must be interested,
that is to say, he must enter into the situation and care about the
outcome. But if he does that he cannot rest in a negative, and unless
independent means of checking the lead given him by his newspaper
exists, the very fact that he is interested may make it difficult to
arrive at that balance of opinions which may most nearly approximate
the truth. The more passionately involved he becomes, the more he will
tend to resent not only a different view, but a disturbing bit of
news. That is why many a newspaper finds that, having honestly evoked
the partisanship of its readers, it can not easily, supposing the
editor believes the facts warrant it, change position. If a change is
necessary, the transition has to be managed with the utmost skill and
delicacy. Usually a newspaper will not attempt so hazardous a
performance. It is easier and safer to have the news of that subject
taper off and disappear, thus putting out the fire by starving it.



As we begin to make more and more exact studies of the press, much
will depend upon the hypothesis we hold. If we assume with Mr.
Sinclair, and most of his opponents, that news and truth are two words
for the same thing, we shall, I believe, arrive nowhere. We shall
prove that on this point the newspaper lied. We shall prove that on
that point Mr. Sinclair’s account lied. We shall demonstrate that Mr.
Sinclair lied when he said that somebody lied, and that somebody lied
when he said Mr. Sinclair lied. We shall vent our feelings, but we
shall vent them into air.

The hypothesis, which seems to me the most fertile, is that news and
truth are not the same thing, and must be clearly distinguished.
[Footnote: When I wrote _Liberty and the News,_ I did not
understand this distinction clearly enough to state it, but _cf._
p. 89 ff.] The function of news is to signalize an event, the function
of truth is to bring to light the hidden facts, to set them into
relation with each other, and make a picture of reality on which men
can act. Only at those points, where social conditions take
recognizable and measurable shape, do the body of truth and the body
of news coincide. That is a comparatively small part of the whole
field of human interest. In this sector, and only in this sector, the
tests of the news are sufficiently exact to make the charges of
perversion or suppression more than a partisan judgment. There is no
defense, no extenuation, no excuse whatever, for stating six times
that Lenin is dead, when the only information the paper possesses is a
report that he is dead from a source repeatedly shown to be
unreliable. The news, in that instance, is not “Lenin Dead” but
“Helsingfors Says Lenin is Dead.” And a newspaper can be asked to take
the responsibility of not making Lenin more dead than the source of
the news is reliable; if there is one subject on which editors are
most responsible it is in their judgment of the reliability of the
source. But when it comes to dealing, for example, with stories of
what the Russian people want, no such test exists.

The absence of these exact tests accounts, I think, for the character
of the profession, as no other explanation does. There is a very small
body of exact knowledge, which it requires no outstanding ability or
training to deal with. The rest is in the journalist’s own discretion.
Once he departs from the region where it is definitely recorded at the
County Clerk’s office that John Smith has gone into bankruptcy, all
fixed standards disappear. The story of why John Smith failed, his
human frailties, the analysis of the economic conditions on which he
was shipwrecked, all of this can be told in a hundred different ways.
There is no discipline in applied psychology, as there is a discipline
in medicine, engineering, or even law, which has authority to direct
the journalist’s mind when he passes from the news to the vague realm
of truth. There are no canons to direct his own mind, and no canons
that coerce the reader’s judgment or the publisher’s. His version of
the truth is only his version. How can he demonstrate the truth as he
sees it? He cannot demonstrate it, any more than Mr. Sinclair Lewis
can demonstrate that he has told the whole truth about Main Street.
And the more he understands his own weaknesses, the more ready he is
to admit that where there is no objective test, his own opinion is in
some vital measure constructed out of his own stereotypes, according
to his own code, and by the urgency of his own interest. He knows that
he is seeing the world through subjective lenses. He cannot deny that
he too is, as Shelley remarked, a dome of many-colored glass which
stains the white radiance of eternity.

And by this knowledge his assurance is tempered. He may have all kinds
of moral courage, and sometimes has, but he lacks that sustaining
conviction of a certain technic which finally freed the physical
sciences from theological control. It was the gradual development of
an irrefragable method that gave the physicist his intellectual
freedom as against all the powers of the world. His proofs were so
clear, his evidence so sharply superior to tradition, that he broke
away finally from all control. But the journalist has no such support
in his own conscience or in fact. The control exercised over him by
the opinions of his employers and his readers, is not the control of
truth by prejudice, but of one opinion by another opinion that it is
not demonstrably less true. Between Judge Gary’s assertion that the
unions will destroy American institutions, and Mr. Gomper’s assertion
that they are agencies of the rights of man, the choice has, in large
measure, to be governed by the will to believe.

The task of deflating these controversies, and reducing them to a
point where they can be reported as news, is not a task which the
reporter can perform. It is possible and necessary for journalists to
bring home to people the uncertain character of the truth on which
their opinions are founded, and by criticism and agitation to prod
social science into making more usable formulations of social facts,
and to prod statesmen into establishing more visible institutions. The
press, in other words, can fight for the extension of reportable
truth. But as social truth is organized to-day, the press is not
constituted to furnish from one edition to the next the amount of
knowledge which the democratic theory of public opinion demands. This
is not due to the Brass Check, as the quality of news in radical
papers shows, but to the fact that the press deals with a society in
which the governing forces are so imperfectly recorded. The theory
that the press can itself record those forces is false. It can
normally record only what has been recorded for it by the working of
institutions. Everything else is argument and opinion, and fluctuates
with the vicissitudes, the self-consciousness, and the courage of the
human mind.

If the press is not so universally wicked, nor so deeply conspiring,
as Mr. Sinclair would have us believe, it is very much more frail than
the democratic theory has as yet admitted. It is too frail to carry
the whole burden of popular sovereignty, to supply spontaneously the
truth which democrats hoped was inborn. And when we expect it to
supply such a body of truth we employ a misleading standard of
judgment. We misunderstand the limited nature of news, the illimitable
complexity of society; we overestimate our own endurance, public
spirit, and all-round competence. We suppose an appetite for
uninteresting truths which is not discovered by any honest analysis of
our own tastes.

If the newspapers, then, are to be charged with the duty of
translating the whole public life of mankind, so that every adult can
arrive at an opinion on every moot topic, they fail, they are bound to
fail, in any future one can conceive they will continue to fail. It is
not possible to assume that a world, carried on by division of labor
and distribution of authority, can be governed by universal opinions
in the whole population. Unconsciously the theory sets up the single
reader as theoretically omnicompetent, and puts upon the press the
burden of accomplishing whatever representative government, industrial
organization, and diplomacy have failed to accomplish. Acting upon
everybody for thirty minutes in twenty-four hours, the press is asked
to create a mystical force called Public Opinion that will take up the
slack in public institutions. The press has often mistakenly pretended
that it could do just that. It has at great moral cost to itself,
encouraged a democracy, still bound to its original premises, to
expect newspapers to supply spontaneously for every organ of
government, for every social problem, the machinery of information
which these do not normally supply themselves. Institutions, having
failed to furnish themselves with instruments of knowledge, have
become a bundle of “problems,” which the population as a whole,
reading the press as a whole, is supposed to solve.

The press, in other words, has come to be regarded as an organ of
direct democracy, charged on a much wider scale, and from day to day,
with the function often attributed to the initiative, referendum, and
recall. The Court of Public Opinion, open day and night, is to lay
down the law for everything all the time. It is not workable. And when
you consider the nature of news, it is not even thinkable. For the
news, as we have seen, is precise in proportion to the precision with
which the event is recorded. Unless the event is capable of being
named, measured, given shape, made specific, it either fails to take
on the character of news, or it is subject to the accidents and
prejudices of observation.

Therefore, on the whole, the quality of the news about modern society
is an index of its social organization. The better the institutions,
the more all interests concerned are formally represented, the more
issues are disentangled, the more objective criteria are introduced,
the more perfectly an affair can be presented as news. At its best the
press is a servant and guardian of institutions; at its worst it is a
means by which a few exploit social disorganization to their own ends.
In the degree to which institutions fail to function, the unscrupulous
journalist can fish in troubled waters, and the conscientious one must
gamble with uncertainties.

The press is no substitute for institutions. It is like the beam of a
searchlight that moves restlessly about, bringing one episode and then
another out of darkness into vision. Men cannot do the work of the
world by this light alone. They cannot govern society by episodes,
incidents, and eruptions. It is only when they work by a steady light
of their own, that the press, when it is turned upon them, reveals a
situation intelligible enough for a popular decision. The trouble lies
deeper than the press, and so does the remedy. It lies in social
organization based on a system of analysis and record, and in all the
corollaries of that principle; in the abandonment of the theory of the
omnicompetent citizen, in the decentralization of decision, in the
coordination of decision by comparable record and analysis. If at the
centers of management there is a running audit, which makes work
intelligible to those who do it, and those who superintend it, issues
when they arise are not the mere collisions of the blind. Then, too,
the news is uncovered for the press by a system of intelligence that
is also a check upon the press.

That is the radical way. For the troubles of the press, like the
troubles of representative government, be it territorial or
functional, like the troubles of industry, be it capitalist,
cooperative, or communist, go back to a common source: to the failure
of self-governing people to transcend their casual experience and
their prejudice, by inventing, creating, and organizing a machinery of
knowledge. It is because they are compelled to act without a reliable
picture of the world, that governments, schools, newspapers and
churches make such small headway against the more obvious failings of
democracy, against violent prejudice, apathy, preference for the
curious trivial as against the dull important, and the hunger for
sideshows and three legged calves. This is the primary defect of
popular government, a defect inherent in its traditions, and all its
other defects can, I believe, be traced to this one.







If the remedy were interesting, American pioneers like Charles
McCarthy, Robert Valentine, and Frederick W. Taylor would not have had
to fight so hard for a hearing. But it is clear why they had to fight,
and why bureaus of governmental research, industrial audits, budgeting
and the like are the ugly ducklings of reform. They reverse the
process by which interesting public opinions are built up. Instead of
presenting a casual fact, a large screen of stereotypes, and a
dramatic identification, they break down the drama, break through the
stereotypes, and offer men a picture of facts, which is unfamiliar and
to them impersonal. When this is not painful, it is dull, and those to
whom it is painful, the trading politician and the partisan who has
much to conceal, often exploit the dullness that the public feels, in
order to remove the pain that they feel.


Yet every complicated community has sought the assistance of special
men, of augurs, priests, elders. Our own democracy, based though it
was on a theory of universal competence, sought lawyers to manage its
government, and to help manage its industry. It was recognized that
the specially trained man was in some dim way oriented to a wider
system of truth than that which arises spontaneously in the amateur’s
mind. But experience has shown that the traditional lawyer’s equipment
was not enough assistance. The Great Society had grown furiously and
to colossal dimensions by the application of technical knowledge. It
was made by engineers who had learned to use exact measurements and
quantitative analysis. It could not be governed, men began to
discover, by men who thought deductively about rights and wrongs. It
could be brought under human control only by the technic which had
created it. Gradually, then, the more enlightened directing minds have
called in experts who were trained, or had trained themselves, to make
parts of this Great Society intelligible to those who manage it. These
men are known by all kinds of names, as statisticians, accountants,
auditors, industrial counsellors, engineers of many species,
scientific managers, personnel administrators, research men,
“scientists,” and sometimes just as plain private secretaries. They
have brought with them each a jargon of his own, as well as filing
cabinets, card catalogues, graphs, loose-leaf contraptions, and above
all the perfectly sound ideal of an executive who sits before a
flat-top desk, one sheet of typewritten paper before him, and decides
on matters of policy presented in a form ready for his rejection or

This whole development has been the work, not so much of a spontaneous
creative evolution, as of blind natural selection. The statesman, the
executive, the party leader, the head of a voluntary association,
found that if he had to discuss two dozen different subjects in the
course of the day, somebody would have to coach him. He began to
clamor for memoranda. He found he could not read his mail. He demanded
somebody who would blue-pencil the interesting sentences in the
important letters. He found he could not digest the great stacks of
type-written reports that grew mellow on his desk. He demanded
summaries. He found he could not read an unending series of figures.
He embraced the man who made colored pictures of them. He found that
he really did not know one machine from another. He hired engineers to
pick them, and tell him how much they cost and what they could do. He
peeled off one burden after another, as a man will take off first his
hat, then his coat, then his collar, when he is struggling to move an
unwieldy load.


Yet curiously enough, though he knew that he needed help, he was slow
to call in the social scientist. The chemist, the physicist, the
geologist, had a much earlier and more friendly reception.
Laboratories were set up for them, inducements offered, for there was
quick appreciation of the victories over nature. But the scientist who
has human nature as his problem is in a different case. There are many
reasons for this: the chief one, that he has so few victories to
exhibit. He has so few, because unless he deals with the historic
past, he cannot prove his theories before offering them to the public.
The physical scientist can make an hypothesis, test it, revise the
hypothesis hundreds of times, and, if after all that, he is wrong, no
one else has to pay the price. But the social scientist cannot begin
to offer the assurance of a laboratory test, and if his advice is
followed, and he is wrong, the consequences may be incalculable. He is
in the nature of things far more responsible, and far less certain.

But more than that. In the laboratory sciences the student has
conquered the dilemma of thought and action. He brings a sample of the
action to a quiet place, where it can be repeated at will, and
examined at leisure. But the social scientist is constantly being
impaled on a dilemma. If he stays in his library, where he has the
leisure to think, he has to rely upon the exceedingly casual and
meager printed record that comes to him through official reports,
newspapers, and interviews. If he goes out into “the world” where
things are happening, he has to serve a long, often wasteful,
apprenticeship, before he is admitted to the sanctum where they are
being decided. What he cannot do is to dip into action and out again
whenever it suits him. There are no privileged listeners. The man of
affairs, observing that the social scientist knows only from the
outside what he knows, in part at least, from the inside, recognizing
that the social scientist’s hypothesis is not in the nature of things
susceptible of laboratory proof, and that verification is possible
only in the “real” world, has developed a rather low opinion of social
scientists who do not share his views of public policy.

In his heart of hearts the social scientist shares this estimate of
himself. He has little inner certainty about his own work. He only
half believes in it, and being sure of nothing, he can find no
compelling reason for insisting on his own freedom of thought. What
can he actually claim for it, in the light of his own conscience?
[Footnote: Cf. Charles E. Merriam, _The Present State of the Study
of Politics_, _American Political Science Review_, Vol. XV.
No. 2, May, 1921.] His data are uncertain, his means of verification
lacking. The very best qualities in him are a source of frustration.
For if he is really critical and saturated in the scientific spirit,
he cannot be doctrinaire, and go to Armageddon against the trustees
and the students and the Civic Federation and the conservative press
for a theory of which he is not sure. If you are going to Armageddon,
you have to battle for the Lord, but the political scientist is always
a little doubtful whether the Lord called him.

Consequently if so much of social science is apologetic rather than
constructive, the explanation lies in the opportunities of social
science, not in “capitalism.” The physical scientists achieved their
freedom from clericalism by working out a method that produced
conclusions of a sort that could not be suppressed or ignored. They
convinced themselves and acquired dignity, and knew what they were
fighting for. The social scientist will acquire his dignity and his
strength when he has worked out his method. He will do that by turning
into opportunity the need among directing men of the Great Society for
instruments of analysis by which an invisible and made intelligible.

But as things go now, the social scientist assembles his data out of a
mass of unrelated material. Social processes are recorded
spasmodically, quite often as accidents of administration. A report to
Congress, a debate, an investigation, legal briefs, a census, a
tariff, a tax schedule; the material, like the skull of the Piltdown
man, has to be put together by ingenious inference before the student
obtains any sort of picture of the event he is studying. Though it
deals with the conscious life of his fellow citizens, it is all too
often distressingly opaque, because the man who is trying to
generalize has practically no supervision of the way his data are
collected. Imagine medical research conducted by students who could
rarely go into a hospital, were deprived of animal experiment, and
compelled to draw conclusions from the stories of people who had been
ill, the reports of nurses, each of whom had her own system of
diagnosis, and the statistics compiled by the Bureau of Internal
Revenue on the excess profits of druggists. The social scientist has
usually to make what he can out of categories that were uncritically
in the mind of an official who administered some part of a law, or who
was out to justify, to persuade, to claim, or to prove. The student
knows this, and, as a protection against it, has developed that branch
of scholarship which is an elaborated suspicion about where to
discount his information.

That is a virtue, but it becomes a very thin virtue when it is merely
a corrective for the unwholesome position of social science. For the
scholar is condemned to guess as shrewdly as he can why in a situation
not clearly understood something or other may have happened. But the
expert who is employed as the mediator among representatives, and as
the mirror and measure of administration, has a very different control
of the facts. Instead of being the man who generalizes from the facts
dropped to him by the men of action, he becomes the man who prepares
the facts for the men of action. This is a profound change in his
strategic position. He no longer stands outside, chewing the cud
provided by busy men of affairs, but he takes his place in front of
decision instead of behind it. To-day the sequence is that the man of
affairs finds his facts, and decides on the basis of them; then, some
time later, the social scientist deduces excellent reasons why he did
or did not decide wisely. This ex post facto relationship is academic
in the bad sense of that fine word. The real sequence should be one
where the disinterested expert first finds and formulates the facts
for the man of action, and later makes what wisdom he can out of
comparison between the decision, which he understands, and the facts,
which he organized.


For the physical sciences this change in strategic position began
slowly, and then accelerated rapidly. There was a time when the
inventor and the engineer were romantic half-starved outsiders,
treated as cranks. The business man and the artisan knew all the
mysteries of their craft. Then the mysteries grew more mysterious, and
at last industry began to depend upon physical laws and chemical
combinations that no eye could see, and only a trained mind could
conceive. The scientist moved from his noble garret in the Latin
Quarter into office buildings and laboratories. For he alone could
construct a working image of the reality on which industry rested.
From the new relationship he took as much as he gave, perhaps more:
pure science developed faster than applied, though it drew its
economic support, a great deal of its inspiration, and even more of
its relevancy, from constant contact with practical decision. But
physical science still labored under the enormous limitation that the
men who made decisions had only their commonsense to guide them. They
administered without scientific aid a world complicated by scientists.
Again they had to deal with facts they could not apprehend, and as
once they had to call in engineers, they now have to call in
statisticians, accountants, experts of all sorts.

These practical students are the true pioneers of a new social
science. They are “in mesh with the driving wheels” [Footnote: Cf. The
Address of the President of the American Philosophical Association,
Mr. Ralph Barton Perry, Dec. 28, 1920. Published in the Proceedings of
the Twentieth Annual Meeting.] and from this practical engagement of
science and action, both will benefit radically: action by the
clarification of its beliefs; beliefs by a continuing test in action.
We are in the earliest beginnings. But if it is conceded that all
large forms of human association must, because of sheer practical
difficulty, contain men who will come to see the need for an expert
reporting of their particular environment, then the imagination has a
premise on which to work. In the exchange of technic and result among
expert staffs, one can see, I think, the beginning of experimental
method in social science. When each school district and budget, and
health department, and factory, and tariff schedule, is the material
of knowledge for every other, the number of comparable experiences
begins to approach the dimensions of genuine experiment. In
forty-eight states, and 2400 cities, and 277,000 school houses,
270,000 manufacturing establishments, 27,000 mines and quarries, there
is a wealth of experience, if only it were recorded and available. And
there is, too, opportunity for trial and error at such slight risk
that any reasonable hypothesis might be given a fair test without
shaking the foundations of society.

The wedge has been driven, not only by some directors of industry and
some statesmen who had to have help, but by the bureaus of municipal
research, [Footnote: The number of these organizations in the United
States is very great. Some are alive, some half dead. They are in
rapid flux. Lists of them supplied to me by Dr. L. D. Upson of the
Detroit Bureau of Governmental Research, Miss Rebecca B. Rankin of the
Municipal Reference Library of New York City, Mr. Edward A.
Fitzpatrick, Secretary of the State Board of Education (Wisconsin),
Mr. Savel Zimand of the Bureau of Industrial Research (New York City),
run into the hundreds.] the legislative reference libraries, the
specialized lobbies of corporations and trade unions and public
causes, and by voluntary organizations like the League of Women
Voters, the Consumers’ League, the Manufacturers’ Associations: by
hundreds of trade associations, and citizens’ unions; by publications
like the _Searchlight on Congress_ and the _Survey_; and by
foundations like the General Education Board. Not all by any means are
disinterested. That is not the point. All of them do begin to
demonstrate the need for interposing some form of expertness between
the private citizen and the vast environment in which he is entangled.




THE practice of democracy has been ahead of its theory. For the theory
holds that the adult electors taken together make decisions out of a
will that is in them. But just as there grew up governing hierarchies
which were invisible in theory, so there has been a large amount of
constructive adaptation, also unaccounted for in the image of
democracy. Ways have been found to represent many interests and
functions that are normally out of sight.

We are most conscious of this in our theory of the courts, when we
explain their legislative powers and their vetoes on the theory that
there are interests to be guarded which might be forgotten by the
elected officials. But the Census Bureau, when it counts, classifies,
and correlates people, things, and changes, is also speaking for
unseen factors in the environment. The Geological Survey makes mineral
resources evident, the Department of Agriculture represents in the
councils of the nation factors of which each farmer sees only an
infinitesimal part. School authorities, the Tariff Commission, the
consular service, the Bureau of Internal Revenue give representation
to persons, ideas, and objects which would never automatically find
themselves represented in this perspective by an election. The
Children’s Bureau is the spokesman of a whole complex of interests and
functions not ordinarily visible to the voter, and, therefore,
incapable of becoming spontaneously a part of his public opinions.
Thus the printing of comparative statistics of infant mortality is
often followed by a reduction of the death rate of babies. Municipal
officials and voters did not have, before publication, a place in
their picture of the environment for those babies. The statistics made
them visible, as visible as if the babies had elected an alderman to
air their grievances.

In the State Department the government maintains a Division of Far
Eastern Affairs. What is it for? The Japanese and the Chinese
Governments both maintain ambassadors in Washington. Are they not
qualified to speak for the Far East? They are its representatives. Yet
nobody would argue that the American Government could learn all that
it needed to know about the Far East by consulting these ambassadors.
Supposing them to be as candid as they know how to be, they are still
limited channels of information. Therefore, to supplement them we
maintain embassies in Tokio and Peking, and consular agents at many
points. Also, I assume, some secret agents. These people are supposed
to send reports which pass through the Division of Far Eastern Affairs
to the Secretary of State. Now what does the Secretary expect of the
Division? I know one who expected it to spend its appropriation. But
there are Secretaries to whom special revelation is denied, and they
turn to their divisions for help. The last thing they expect to find
is a neat argument justifying the American position.

What they demand is that the experts shall bring the Far East to the
Secretary’s desk, with all the elements in such relation that it is as
if he were in contact with the Far East itself. The expert must
translate, simplify, generalize, but the inference from the result
must apply in the East, not merely on the premises of the report. If
the Secretary is worth his salt, the very last thing he will tolerate
in his experts is the suspicion that they have a “policy.” He does not
want to know from them whether they like Japanese policy in China. He
wants to know what different classes of Chinese and Japanese, English,
Frenchmen, Germans, and Russians, think about it, and what they are
likely to do because of what they think. He wants all that represented
to him as the basis of his decision. The more faithfully the Division
represents what is not otherwise represented, either by the Japanese
or American ambassadors, or the Senators and Congressmen from the
Pacific coast, the better Secretary of State he will be. He may decide
to take his policy from the Pacific Coast, but he will take his view
of Japan from Japan.


It is no accident that the best diplomatic service in the world is the
one in which the divorce between the assembling of knowledge and the
control of policy is most perfect. During the war in many British
Embassies and in the British Foreign Office there were nearly always
men, permanent officials or else special appointees, who quite
successfully discounted the prevailing war mind. They discarded the
rigmarole of being pro and con, of having favorite nationalities, and
pet aversions, and undelivered perorations in their bosoms. They left
that to the political chiefs. But in an American Embassy I once heard
an ambassador say that he never reported anything to Washington which
would not cheer up the folks at home. He charmed all those who met
him, helped many a stranded war worker, and was superb when he
unveiled a monument.

He did not understand that the power of the expert depends upon
separating himself from those who make the decisions, upon not caring,
in his expert self, what decision is made. The man who, like the
ambassador, takes a line, and meddles with the decision, is soon
discounted. There he is, just one more on that side of the question.
For when he begins to care too much, he begins to see what he wishes
to see, and by that fact ceases to see what he is there to see. He is
there to represent the unseen. He represents people who are not
voters, functions of voters that are not evident, events that are out
of sight, mute people, unborn people, relations between things and
people. He has a constituency of intangibles. And intangibles cannot
be used to form a political majority, because voting is in the last
analysis a test of strength, a sublimated battle, and the expert
represents no strength available in the immediate. But he can exercise
force by disturbing the line up of the forces. By making the invisible
visible, he confronts the people who exercise material force with a
new environment, sets ideas and feelings at work in them, throws them
out of position, and so, in the profoundest way, affects the decision.

Men cannot long act in a way that they know is a contradiction of the
environment as they conceive it. If they are bent on acting in a
certain way they have to reconceive the environment, they have to
censor out, to rationalize. But if in their presence, there is an
insistent fact which is so obtrusive that they cannot explain it away,
one of three courses is open. They can perversely ignore it, though
they will cripple themselves in the process, will overact their part
and come to grief. They can take it into account but refuse to act.
They pay in internal discomfort and frustration. Or, and I believe
this to be the most frequent case, they adjust their whole behavior to
the enlarged environment.

The idea that the expert is an ineffectual person because he lets
others make the decisions is quite contrary to experience. The more
subtle the elements that enter into the decision, the more
irresponsible power the expert wields. He is certain, moreover, to
exercise more power in the future than ever he did before, because
increasingly the relevant facts will elude the voter and the
administrator. All governing agencies will tend to organize bodies of
research and information, which will throw out tentacles and expand,
as have the intelligence departments of all the armies in the world.
But the experts will remain human beings. They will enjoy power, and
their temptation will be to appoint themselves censors, and so absorb
the real function of decision. Unless their function is correctly
defined they will tend to pass on the facts they think appropriate,
and to pass down the decisions they approve. They will tend, in short,
to become a bureaucracy.

The only institutional safeguard is to separate as absolutely as it is
possible to do so the staff which executes from the staff which
investigates. The two should be parallel but quite distinct bodies of
men, recruited differently, paid if possible from separate funds,
responsible to different heads, intrinsically uninterested in each
other’s personal success. In industry, the auditors, accountants, and
inspectors should be independent of the manager, the superintendents,
foremen, and in time, I believe, we shall come to see that in order to
bring industry under social control the machinery of record will have
to be independent of the boards of directors and the shareholders.


But in building the intelligence sections of industry and politics, we
do not start on cleared ground. And, apart from insisting on this
basic separation of function, it would be cumbersome to insist too
precisely on the form which in any particular instance the principle
shall take. There are men who believe in intelligence work, and will
adopt it; there are men who do not understand it, but cannot do their
work without it; there are men who will resist. But provided the
principle has a foothold somewhere in every social agency it will make
progress, and the way to begin is to begin. In the federal government,
for example, it is not necessary to straighten out the administrative
tangle and the illogical duplications of a century’s growth in order
to find a neat place for the intelligence bureaus which Washington so
badly needs. Before election you can promise to rush bravely into the
breach. But when you arrive there all out of breath, you find that
each absurdity is invested with habits, strong interests, and chummy
Congressmen. Attack all along the line and you engage every force of
reaction. You go forth to battle, as the poet said, and you always
fall. You can lop off an antiquated bureau here, a covey of clerks
there, you can combine two bureaus. And by that time you are busy with
the tariff and the railroads, and the era of reform is over. Besides,
in order to effect a truly logical reorganization of the government,
such as all candidates always promise, you would have to disturb more
passions than you have time to quell. And any new scheme, supposing
you had one ready, would require officials to man it. Say what one
will about officeholders, even Soviet Russia was glad to get many of
the old ones back; and these old officials, if they are too ruthlessly
treated, will sabotage Utopia itself.

No administrative scheme is workable without good will, and good will
about strange practices is impossible without education. The better
way is to introduce into the existing machinery, wherever you can find
an opening, agencies that will hold up a mirror week by week, month by
month. You can hope, then, to make the machine visible to those who
work it, as well as to the chiefs who are responsible, and to the
public outside. When the office-holders begin to see themselves,–or
rather when the outsiders, the chiefs, and the subordinates all begin
to see the same facts, the same damning facts if you like, the
obstruction will diminish. The reformer’s opinion that a certain
bureau is inefficient is just his opinion, not so good an opinion in
the eyes of the bureau, as its own. But let the work of that bureau be
analysed and recorded, and then compared with other bureaus and with
private corporations, and the argument moves to another plane.

There are ten departments at Washington represented in the Cabinet.
Suppose, then, there was a permanent intelligence section for each.
What would be some of the conditions of effectiveness? Beyond all
others that the intelligence officials should be independent both of
the Congressional Committees dealing with that department, and of the
Secretary at the head of it; that they should not be entangled either
in decision or in action. Independence, then, would turn mainly on
three points on funds, tenure, and access to the facts. For clearly if
a particular Congress or departmental official can deprive them of
money, dismiss them, or close the files, the staff becomes its


The question of funds is both important and difficult. No agency of
research can be really free if it depends upon annual doles from what
may be a jealous or a parsimonious congress. Yet the ultimate control
of funds cannot be removed from the legislature. The financial
arrangement should insure the staff against left-handed, joker and
rider attack, against sly destruction, and should at the same time
provide for growth. The staff should be so well entrenched that an
attack on its existence would have to be made in the open. It might,
perhaps, work behind a federal charter creating a trust fund, and a
sliding scale over a period of years based on the appropriation for
the department to which the intelligence bureau belonged. No great
sums of money are involved anyway. The trust fund might cover the
overhead and capital charges for a certain minimum staff, the sliding
scale might cover the enlargements. At any rate the appropriation
should be put beyond accident, like the payment of any long term
obligation. This is a much less serious way of “tying the hands of
Congress” than is the passage of a Constitutional amendment or the
issuance of government bonds. Congress could repeal the charter. But
it would have to repeal it, not throw monkey wrenches into it.

Tenure should be for life, with provision for retirement on a liberal
pension, with sabbatical years set aside for advanced study and
training, and with dismissal only after a trial by professional
colleagues. The conditions which apply to any non-profit-making
intellectual career should apply here. If the work is to be salient,
the men who do it must have dignity, security, and, in the upper ranks
at least, that freedom of mind which you find only where men are not
too immediately concerned in practical decision.

Access to the materials should be established in the organic act. The
bureau should have the right to examine all papers, and to question
any official or any outsider. Continuous investigation of this sort
would not at all resemble the sensational legislative inquiry and the
spasmodic fishing expedition which are now a common feature of our
government. The bureau should have the right to propose accounting
methods to the department, and if the proposal is rejected, or
violated after it has been accepted, to appeal under its charter to

In the first instance each intelligence bureau would be the connecting
link between Congress and the Department, a better link, in my
judgment, than the appearance of cabinet officers on the floor of both
House and Senate, though the one proposal in no way excludes the
other. The bureau would be the Congressional eye on the execution of
its policy. It would be the departmental answer to Congressional
criticism. And then, since operation of the Department would be
permanently visible, perhaps Congress would cease to feel the need of
that minute legislation born of distrust and a false doctrine of the
separation of powers, which does so much to make efficient
administration difficult.


But, of course, each of the ten bureaus could not work in a watertight
compartment. In their relation one to another lies the best chance for
that “coordination” of which so much is heard and so little seen.
Clearly the various staffs would need to adopt, wherever possible,
standards of measurement that were comparable. They would exchange
their records. Then if the War Department and the Post Office both buy
lumber, hire carpenters, or construct brick walls they need not
necessarily do them through the same agency, for that might mean
cumbersome over-centralization; but they would be able to use the same
measure for the same things, be conscious of the comparisons, and be
treated as competitors. And the more competition of this sort the

For the value of competition is determined by the value of the
standards used to measure it. Instead, then, of asking ourselves
whether we believe in competition, we should ask ourselves whether we
believe in that for which the competitors compete. No one in his
senses expects to “abolish competition,” for when the last vestige of
emulation had disappeared, social effort would consist in mechanical
obedience to a routine, tempered in a minority by native inspiration.
Yet no one expects to work out competition to its logical conclusion
in a murderous struggle of each against all. The problem is to select
the goals of competition and the rules of the game. Almost always the
most visible and obvious standard of measurement will determine the
rules of the game: such as money, power, popularity, applause, or Mr.
Veblen’s “conspicuous waste.” What other standards of measurement does
our civilization normally provide? How does it measure efficiency,
productivity, service, for which we are always clamoring?

By and large there are no measures, and there is, therefore, not so
much competition to achieve these ideals. For the difference between
the higher and the lower motives is not, as men often assert, a
difference between altruism and selfishness. [Footnote: _Cf._
Ch. XII] It is a difference between acting for easily understood aims,
and for aims that are obscure and vague. Exhort a man to make more
profit than his neighbor, and he knows at what to aim. Exhort him to
render more social service, and how is he to be certain what service
is social? What is the test, what is the measure? A subjective
feeling, somebody’s opinion. Tell a man in time of peace that he ought
to serve his country and you have uttered a pious platitude, Tell him
in time of war, and the word service has a meaning; it is a number of
concrete acts, enlistment, or buying bonds, or saving food, or working
for a dollar a year, and each one of these services he sees definitely
as part of a concrete purpose to put at the front an army larger and
better armed, than the enemy’s.

So the more you are able to analyze administration and work out
elements that can be compared, the more you invent quantitative
measures for the qualities you wish to promote, the more you can turn
competition to ideal ends. If you can contrive the right index numbers
[Footnote: I am not using the term index numbers in its purely
technical meaning, but to cover any device for the comparative
measurement of social phenomena.] you can set up a competition between
individual workers in a shop; between shops; between factories;
between schools; [Footnote: See, for example, _An Index Number for
State School Systems_ by Leonard P. Ayres, Russell Sage Foundation,
1920. The principle of the quota was very successfully applied in the
Liberty Loan Campaigns, and under very much more difficult
circumstances by the Allied Maritime Transport Council.] between
government departments; between regiments; between divisions; between
ships; between states; counties; cities; and the better your index
numbers the more useful the competition.


The possibilities that lie in the exchange of material are evident.
Each department of government is all the time asking for information
that may already have been obtained by another department, though
perhaps in a somewhat different form. The State Department needs to
know, let us say, the extent of the Mexican oil reserves, their
relation to the rest of the world’s supply, the present ownership of
Mexican oil lands, the importance of oil to warships now under
construction or planned, the comparative costs in different fields.
How does it secure such information to-day? The information is
probably scattered through the Departments of Interior, Justice,
Commerce, Labor and Navy. Either a clerk in the State Department looks
up Mexican oil in a book of reference, which may or may not be
accurate, or somebody’s private secretary telephones somebody else’s
private secretary, asks for a memorandum, and in the course of time a
darkey messenger arrives with an armful of unintelligible reports. The
Department should be able to call on its own intelligence bureau to
assemble the facts in a way suited to the diplomatic problem up for
decision. And these facts the diplomatic intelligence bureau would
obtain from the central clearing house. [Footnote: There has been a
vast development of such services among the trade associations. The
possibilities of a perverted use were revealed by the New York
Building Trades investigation of 1921.]

This establishment would pretty soon become a focus of information of
the most extraordinary kind. And the men in it would be made aware of
what the problems of government really are. They would deal with
problems of definition, of terminology, of statistical technic, of
logic; they would traverse concretely the whole gamut of the social
sciences. It is difficult to see why all this material, except a few
diplomatic and military secrets, should not be open to the scholars of
the country. It is there that the political scientist would find the
real nuts to crack and the real researches for his students to make.
The work need not all be done in Washington, but it could be done in
reference to Washington. The central agency would, thus, have in it
the makings of a national university. The staff could be recruited
there for the bureaus from among college graduates. They would be
working on theses selected after consultation between the curators of
the national university and teachers scattered over the country. If
the association was as flexible as it ought to be, there would be, as
a supplement to the permanent staff, a steady turnover of temporary
and specialist appointments from the universities, and exchange
lecturers called out from Washington. Thus the training and the
recruiting of the staff would go together. A part of the research
itself would be done by students, and political science in the
universities would be associated with politics in America.


In its main outlines the principle is equally applicable to state
governments, to cities, and to rural counties. The work of comparison
and interchange could take place by federations of state and city and
county bureaus. And within those federations any desirable regional
combination could be organized. So long as the accounting systems were
comparable, a great deal of duplication would be avoided. Regional
coordination is especially desirable. For legal frontiers often do not
coincide with the effective environments. Yet they have a certain
basis in custom that it would be costly to disturb. By coordinating
their information several administrative areas could reconcile
autonomy of decision with cooperation. New York City, for example, is
already an unwieldy unit for good government from the City Hall. Yet
for many purposes, such as health and transportation, the metropolitan
district is the true unit of administration. In that district,
however, there are large cities, like Yonkers, Jersey City, Paterson,
Elizabeth, Hoboken, Bayonne. They could not all be managed from one
center, and yet they should act together for many functions.
Ultimately perhaps some such flexible scheme of local government as
Sidney and Beatrice Webb have suggested may be the proper
solution. [Footnote: “The Reorganization of Local Government” (Ch. IV),
in _A Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great
Britain_.] But the first step would be a coordination, not of
decision and action, but of information and research. Let the
officials of the various municipalities see their common problems in
the light of the same facts.


It would be idle to deny that such a net work of intelligence bureaus
in politics and industry might become a dead weight and a perpetual
irritation. One can easily imagine its attraction for men in search of
soft jobs, for pedants, for meddlers. One can see red tape, mountains
of papers, questionnaires ad nauseam, seven copies of every document,
endorsements, delays, lost papers, the use of form 136 instead of form
2gb, the return of the document because pencil was used instead of
ink, or black ink instead of red ink. The work could be done very
badly. There are no fool-proof institutions.

But if one could assume that there was circulation through the whole
system between government departments, factories, offices, and the
universities; a circulation of men, a circulation of data and of
criticism, the risks of dry rot would not be so great. Nor would it be
true to say that these intelligence bureaus will complicate life. They
will tend, on the contrary, to simplify, by revealing a complexity now
so great as to be humanly unmanageable. The present fundamentally
invisible system of government is so intricate that most people have
given up trying to follow it, and because they do not try, they are
tempted to think it comparatively simple. It is, on the contrary,
elusive, concealed, opaque. The employment of an intelligence system
would mean a reduction of personnel per unit of result, because by
making available to all the experience of each, it would reduce the
amount of trial and error; and because by making the social process
visible, it would assist the personnel to self-criticism. It does not
involve a great additional band of officials, if you take into account
the time now spent vainly by special investigating committees, grand
juries, district attorneys, reform organizations, and bewildered
office holders, in trying to find their way through a dark muddle.

If the analysis of public opinion and of the democratic theories in
relation to the modern environment is sound in principle, then I do
not see how one can escape the conclusion that such intelligence work
is the clue to betterment. I am not referring to the few suggestions
contained in this chapter. They are merely illustrations. The task of
working out the technic is in the hands of men trained to do it, and
not even they can to-day completely foresee the form, much less the
details. The number of social phenomena which are now recorded is
small, the instruments of analysis are very crude, the concepts often
vague and uncriticized. But enough has been done to demonstrate, I
think, that unseen environments can be reported effectively, that they
can be reported to divergent groups of people in a way which is
neutral to their prejudice, and capable of overcoming their

If that is true, then in working out the intelligence principle men
will find the way to overcome the central difficulty of
self-government, the difficulty of dealing with an unseen reality.
Because of that difficulty, it has been impossible for any
self-governing community to reconcile its need for isolation with the
necessity for wide contact, to reconcile the dignity and individuality
of local decision with security and wide coordination, to secure
effective leaders without sacrificing responsibility, to have useful
public opinions without attempting universal public opinions on all
subjects. As long as there was no way of establishing common versions
of unseen events, common measures for separate actions, the only image
of democracy that would work, even in theory, was one based on an
isolated community of people whose political faculties were limited,
according to Aristotle’s famous maxim, by the range of their vision.

But now there is a way out, a long one to be sure, but a way. It is
fundamentally the same way as that which has enabled a citizen of
Chicago, with no better eyes or ears than an Athenian, to see and hear
over great distances. It is possible to-day, it will become more
possible when more labor has gone into it, to reduce the discrepancies
between the conceived environment and the effective environment. As
that is done, federalism will work more and more by consent, less and
less by coercion. For while federalism is the only possible method of
union among self-governing groups, [Footnote: _Cf._ H. J. Laski,
_The Foundations of Sovereignty_, and other Essays, particularly
the Essay of this name, as well as the Problems of Administrative
Areas, The Theory of Popular Sovereignty, and The Pluralistic State.] federalism swings either towards imperial centralization or towards
parochial anarchy wherever the union is not based on correct and
commonly accepted ideas of federal matters. These ideas do not arise
spontaneously. They have to be pieced together by generalization based
on analysis, and the instruments for that analysis have to be invented
and tested by research.

No electoral device, no manipulation of areas, no change in the system
of property, goes to the root of the matter. You cannot take more
political wisdom out of human beings than there is in them. And no
reform, however sensational, is truly radical, which does not
consciously provide a way of overcoming the subjectivism of human
opinion based on the limitation of individual experience. There are
systems of government, of voting, and representation which extract
more than others. But in the end knowledge must come not from the
conscience but from the environment with which that conscience deals.
When men act on the principle of intelligence they go out to find the
facts and to make their wisdom. When they ignore it, they go inside
themselves and find only what is there. They elaborate their
prejudice, instead of increasing their knowledge.




IN real life no one acts on the theory that he can have a public
opinion on every public question, though this fact is often concealed
where a person thinks there is no public question because he has no
public opinion. But in the theory of our politics we continue to think
more literally than Lord Bryce intended, that “the action of Opinion
is continuous,” [Footnote: _Modern Democracies_, Vol. I, p. 159.] even though “its action… deals with broad principles only.”
[Footnote: Id., footnote, p. 158.] And then because we try to think of
ourselves having continuous opinions, without being altogether certain
what a broad principle is, we quite naturally greet with an anguished
yawn an argument that seems to involve the reading of more government
reports, more statistics, more curves and more graphs. For all these
are in the first instance just as confusing as partisan rhetoric, and
much less entertaining.

The amount of attention available is far too small for any scheme in
which it was assumed that all the citizens of the nation would, after
devoting themselves to the publications of all the intelligence
bureaus, become alert, informed, and eager on the multitude of real
questions that never do fit very well into any broad principle. I am
not making that assumption. Primarily, the intelligence bureau is an
instrument of the man of action, of the representative charged with
decision, of the worker at his work, and if it does not help them, it
will help nobody in the end. But in so far as it helps them to
understand the environment in which they are working, it makes what
they do visible. And by that much they become more responsible to the
general public.

The purpose, then, is not to burden every citizen with expert opinions
on all questions, but to push that burden away from him towards the
responsible administrator. An intelligence system has value, of
course, as a source of general information, and as a check on the
daily press. But that is secondary. Its real use is as an aid to
representative government and administration both in politics and
industry. The demand for the assistance of expert reporters in the
shape of accountants, statisticians, secretariats, and the like, comes
not from the public, but from men doing public business, who can no
longer do it by rule of thumb. It is in origin and in ideal an
instrument for doing public business better, rather than an instrument
for knowing better how badly public business is done.


As a private citizen, as a sovereign voter, no one could attempt to
digest these documents. But as one party to a dispute, as a
committeeman in a legislature, as an officer in government, business,
or a trade union, as a member of an industrial council, reports on the
specific matter at issue will be increasingly welcome. The private
citizen interested in some cause would belong, as he does now, to
voluntary societies which employed a staff to study the documents, and
make reports that served as a check on officialdom. There would be
some study of this material by newspaper men, and a good deal by
experts and by political scientists. But the outsider, and every one
of us is an outsider to all but a few aspects of modern life, has
neither time, nor attention, nor interest, nor the equipment for
specific judgment. It is on the men inside, working under conditions
that are sound, that the daily administrations of society must rest.

The general public outside can arrive at judgments about whether these
conditions are sound only on the result after the event, and on the
procedure before the event. The broad principles on which the action
of public opinion can be continuous are essentially principles of
procedure. The outsider can ask experts to tell him whether the
relevant facts were duly considered; he cannot in most cases decide
for himself what is relevant or what is due consideration. The
outsider can perhaps judge whether the groups interested in the
decision were properly heard, whether the ballot, if there was one,
was honestly taken, and perhaps whether the result was honestly
accepted. He can watch the procedure when the news indicates that
there is something to watch. He can raise a question as to whether the
procedure itself is right, if its normal results conflict with his
ideal of a good life. [Footnote: _Cf._ Chapter XX. ] But if he
tries in every case to substitute himself for the procedure, to bring
in Public Opinion like a providential uncle in the crisis of a play,
he will confound his own confusion. He will not follow any train of
thought consecutively.

For the practice of appealing to the public on all sorts of intricate
matters means almost always a desire to escape criticism from those
who know by enlisting a large majority which has had no chance to
know. The verdict is made to depend on who has the loudest or the most
entrancing voice, the most skilful or the most brazen publicity man,
the best access to the most space in the newspapers. For even when the
editor is scrupulously fair to “the other side,” fairness is not
enough. There may be several other sides, unmentioned by any of the
organized, financed and active partisans.

The private citizen, beset by partisan appeals for the loan of his
Public Opinion, will soon see, perhaps, that these appeals are not a
compliment to his intelligence, but an imposition on his good nature
and an insult to his sense of evidence. As his civic education takes
account of the complexity of his environment, he will concern himself
about the equity and the sanity of procedure, and even this he will in
most cases expect his elected representative to watch for him. He will
refuse himself to accept the burden of these decisions, and will turn
down his thumbs in most cases on those who, in their hurry to win,
rush from the conference table with the first dope for the reporters.

Only by insisting that problems shall not come up to him until they
have passed through a procedure, can the busy citizen of a modern
state hope to deal with them in a form that is intelligible. For
issues, as they are stated by a partisan, almost always consist of an
intricate series of facts, as he has observed them, surrounded by a
large fatty mass of stereotyped phrases charged with his emotion.
According to the fashion of the day, he will emerge from the
conference room insisting that what he wants is some soulfilling idea
like Justice, Welfare, Americanism, Socialism. On such issues the
citizen outside can sometimes be provoked to fear or admiration, but
to judgment never. Before he can do anything with the argument, the
fat has to be boiled out of it for him.


That can be done by having the representative inside carry on
discussion in the presence of some one, chairman or mediator, who
forces the discussion to deal with the analyses supplied by experts.
This is the essential organization of any representative body dealing
with distant matters. The partisan voices should be there, but the
partisans should find themselves confronted with men, not personally
involved, who control enough facts and have the dialectical skill to
sort out what is real perception from what is stereotype, pattern and
elaboration. It is the Socratic dialogue, with all of Socrates’s
energy for breaking through words to meanings, and something more than
that, because the dialectic in modern life must be done by men who
have explored the environment as well as the human mind.

There is, for example, a grave dispute in the steel industry. Each
side issues a manifesto full of the highest ideals. The only public
opinion that is worth respect at this stage is the opinion which
insists that a conference be organized. For the side which says its
cause is too just to be contaminated by conference there can be little
sympathy, since there is no such cause anywhere among mortal men.
Perhaps those who object to conference do not say quite that. Perhaps
they say that the other side is too wicked; they cannot shake hands
with traitors. All that public opinion can do then is to organize a
hearing by public officials to hear the proof of wickedness. It cannot
take the partisans’ word for it. But suppose a conference is agreed
to, and suppose there is a neutral chairman who has at his beck and
call the consulting experts of the corporation, the union, and, let us
say, the Department of Labor.

Judge Gary states with perfect sincerity that his men are well paid
and not overworked, and then proceeds to sketch the history of Russia
from the time of Peter the Great to the murder of the Czar. Mr. Foster
rises, states with equal sincerity that the men are exploited, and
then proceeds to outline the history of human emancipation from Jesus
of Nazareth to Abraham Lincoln. At this point the chairman calls upon
the intelligence men for wage tables in order to substitute for the
words “well paid” and “exploited” a table showing what the different
classes _are_ paid. Does Judge Gary think they are all well paid?
He does. Does Mr. Foster think they are all exploited? No, he thinks
that groups C, M, and X are exploited. What does he mean by exploited?
He means they are not paid a living wage. They are, says Judge Gary.
What can a man buy on that wage, asks the chairman. Nothing, says Mr.
Foster. Everything he needs, says Judge Gary. The chairman consults
the budgets and price statistics of the government. [Footnote: See an
article on “The Cost of Living and Wage Cuts,” in the _New
Republic_, July 27, 1921, by Dr. Leo Wolman, for a brilliant
discussion of the naive use of such figures and “pseudo-principles.”
The warning is of particular importance because it comes from an
economist and statistician who has himself done so much to improve the
technic of industrial disputes.] He rules that X can meet an average
budget, but that C and M cannot. Judge Gary serves notice that he does
not regard the official statistics as sound. The budgets are too high,
and prices have come down. Mr. Foster also serves notice of exception.
The budget is too low, prices have gone up. The chairman rules that
this point is not within the jurisdiction of the conference, that the
official figures stand, and that Judge Gary’s experts and Mr. Foster’s
should carry their appeals to the standing committee of the federated
intelligence bureaus.

Nevertheless, says Judge Gary, we shall be ruined if we change these
wage scales. What do you mean by ruined, asks the chairman, produce
your books. I can’t, they are private, says Judge Gary. What is
private does not interest us, says the chairman, and, therefore,
issues a statement to the public announcing that the wages of workers
in groups C and M are so-and-so much below the official minimum living
wage, and that Judge Gary declines to increase them for reasons that
he refuses to state. After a procedure of that sort, a public opinion
in the eulogistic sense of the term [Footnote: As used by Mr. Lowell
in his _Public Opinion and Popular Government_.] can exist.

The value of expert mediation is not that it sets up opinion to coerce
the partisans, but that it disintegrates partisanship. Judge Gary and
Mr. Foster may remain as little convinced as when they started, though
even they would have to talk in a different strain. But almost
everyone else who was not personally entangled would save himself from
being entangled. For the entangling stereotypes and slogans to which
his reflexes are so ready to respond are by this kind of dialectic


On many subjects of great public importance, and in varying degree
among different people for more personal matters, the threads of
memory and emotion are in a snarl. The same word will connote any
number of different ideas: emotions are displaced from the images to
which they belong to names which resemble the names of these images.
In the uncriticized parts of the mind there is a vast amount of
association by mere clang, contact, and succession. There are stray
emotional attachments, there are words that were names and are masks.
In dreams, reveries, and panic, we uncover some of the disorder,
enough to see how the naive mind is composed, and how it behaves when
not disciplined by wakeful effort and external resistance. We see that
there is no more natural order than in a dusty old attic. There is
often the same incongruity between fact, idea, and emotion as there
might be in an opera house, if all the wardrobes were dumped in a heap
and all the scores mixed up, so that Madame Butterfly in a Valkyr’s
dress waited lyrically for the return of Faust. “At Christmas-tide”
says an editorial, “old memories soften the heart. Holy teachings are
remembered afresh as thoughts run back to childhood. The world does
not seem so bad when seen through the mist of half-happy, half-sad
recollections of loved ones now with God. No heart is untouched by the
mysterious influence…. The country is honeycombed with red
propaganda–but there is a good supply of ropes, muscles and
lampposts… while this world moves the spirit of liberty will burn in
the breast of man.”

The man who found these phrases in his mind needs help. He needs a
Socrates who will separate the words, cross-examine him until he has
defined them, and made words the names of ideas. Made them mean a
particular object and nothing else. For these tense syllables have got
themselves connected in his mind by primitive association, and are
bundled together by his memories of Christmas, his indignation as a
conservative, and his thrills as the heir to a revolutionary
tradition. Sometimes the snarl is too huge and ancient for quick
unravelling. Sometimes, as in modern psychotherapy, there are layers
upon layers of memory reaching back to infancy, which have to be
separated and named.

The effect of naming, the effect, that is, of saying that the labor
groups C and M, but not X, are underpaid, instead of saying that Labor
is Exploited, is incisive. Perceptions recover their identity, and the
emotion they arouse is specific, since it is no longer reinforced by
large and accidental connections with everything from Christmas to
Moscow. The disentangled idea with a name of its own, and an emotion
that has been scrutinized, is ever so much more open to correction by
new data in the problem. It had been imbedded in the whole
personality, had affiliations of some sort with the whole ego: a
challenge would reverberate through the whole soul. After it has been
thoroughly criticized, the idea is no longer _me_ but _that_.
It is objectified, it is at arm’s length. Its fate is not bound up with my
fate, but with the fate of the outer world upon which I am acting.


Re-education of this kind will help to bring our public opinions into
grip with the environment. That is the way the enormous censoring,
stereotyping, and dramatizing apparatus can be liquidated. Where there
is no difficulty in knowing what the relevant environment is, the
critic, the teacher, the physician, can unravel the mind. But where
the environment is as obscure to the analyst as to his pupil, no
analytic technic is sufficient. Intelligence work is required. In
political and industrial problems the critic as such can do something,
but unless he can count upon receiving from expert reporters a valid
picture of the environment, his dialectic cannot go far.

Therefore, though here, as in most other matters, “education” is the
supreme remedy, the value of this education will depend upon the
evolution of knowledge. And our knowledge of human institutions is
still extraordinarily meager and impressionistic. The gathering of
social knowledge is, on the whole, still haphazard; not, as it will
have to become, the normal accompaniment of action. And yet the
collection of information will not be made, one may be sure, for the
sake of its ultimate use. It will be made because modern decision
requires it to be made. But as it is being made, there will accumulate
a body of data which political science can turn into generalization,
and build up for the schools into a conceptual picture of the world.
When that picture takes form, civic education can become a preparation
for dealing with an unseen environment.

As a working model of the social system becomes available to the
teacher, he can use it to make the pupil acutely aware of how his mind
works on unfamiliar facts. Until he has such a model, the teacher
cannot hope to prepare men fully for the world they will find. What he
can do is to prepare them to deal with that world with a great deal
more sophistication about their own minds. He can, by the use of the
case method, teach the pupil the habit of examining the sources of his
information. He can teach him, for example, to look in his newspaper
for the place where the dispatch was filed, for the name of the
correspondent, the name of the press service, the authority given for
the statement, the circumstances under which the statement was
secured. He can teach the pupil to ask himself whether the reporter
saw what he describes, and to remember how that reporter described
other events in the past. He can teach him the character of
censorship, of the idea of privacy, and furnish him with knowledge of
past propaganda. He can, by the proper use of history, make him aware
of the stereotype, and can educate a habit of introspection about the
imagery evoked by printed words. He can, by courses in comparative
history and anthropology, produce a life-long realization of the way
codes impose a special pattern upon the imagination. He can teach men
to catch themselves making allegories, dramatizing relations, and
personifying abstractions. He can show the pupil how he identifies
himself with these allegories, how he becomes interested, and how he
selects the attitude, heroic, romantic, economic which he adopts while
holding a particular opinion. The study of error is not only in the
highest degree prophylactic, but it serves as a stimulating
introduction to the study of truth. As our minds become more deeply
aware of their own subjectivism, we find a zest in objective method
that is not otherwise there. We see vividly, as normally we should
not, the enormous mischief and casual cruelty of our prejudices. And
the destruction of a prejudice, though painful at first, because of
its connection with our self-respect, gives an immense relief and a
fine pride when it is successfully done. There is a radical
enlargement of the range of attention. As the current categories
dissolve, a hard, simple version of the world breaks up. The scene
turns vivid and full. There follows an emotional incentive to hearty
appreciation of scientific method, which otherwise it is not easy to
arouse, and is impossible to sustain. Prejudices are so much easier
and more interesting. For if you teach the principles of science as if
they had always been accepted, their chief virtue as a discipline,
which is objectivity, will make them dull. But teach them at first as
victories over the superstitions of the mind, and the exhilaration of
the chase and of the conquest may carry the pupil over that hard
transition from his own self-bound experience to the phase where his
curiosity has matured, and his reason has acquired passion.




I HAVE written, and then thrown away, several endings to this book.
Over all of them there hung that fatality of last chapters, in which
every idea seems to find its place, and all the mysteries, that the
writer has not forgotten, are unravelled. In politics the hero does
not live happily ever after, or end his life perfectly. There is no
concluding chapter, because the hero in politics has more future
before him than there is recorded history behind him. The last chapter
is merely a place where the writer imagines that the polite reader has
begun to look furtively at his watch.


When Plato came to the point where it was fitting that he should sum
up, his assurance turned into stage-fright as he thought how absurd it
would sound to say what was in him about the place of reason in
politics. Those sentences in book five of the Republic were hard even
for Plato to speak; they are so sheer and so stark that men can
neither forget them nor live by them. So he makes Socrates say to
Glaucon that he will be broken and drowned in laughter for telling
“what is the least change which will enable a state to pass into the
truer form,” [Footnote: _Republic_, Bk. V, 473. Jowett transl.] because the thought he “would fain have uttered if it had not seemed
too extravagant” was that “until philosophers are kings, or the kings
and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and
political greatness and wisdom meet in one… cities will never cease
from ill,–no, nor the human race…”

Hardly had he said these awful words, when he realized they were a
counsel of perfection, and felt embarrassed at the unapproachable
grandeur of his idea. So he hastens to add that, of course, “the true
pilot” will be called “a prater, a star-gazer, a good-for-nothing.”
[Footnote: 2 Bk. VI, 488-489.] But this wistful admission, though it
protects him against whatever was the Greek equivalent for the charge
that he lacked a sense of humor, furnished a humiliating tailpiece to
a solemn thought. He becomes defiant and warns Adeimantus that he must
“attribute the uselessness” of philosophers “to the fault of those who
will not use them, and not to themselves. The pilot should not humbly
beg the sailors to be commanded by him–that is not the order of
nature.” And with this haughty gesture, he hurriedly picked up the
tools of reason, and disappeared into the Academy, leaving the world
to Machiavelli.

Thus, in the first great encounter between reason and politics, the
strategy of reason was to retire in anger. But meanwhile, as Plato
tells us, the ship is at sea. There have been many ships on the sea,
since Plato wrote, and to-day, whether we are wise or foolish in our
belief, we could no longer call a man a true pilot, simply because he
knows how to “pay attention to the year and seasons and sky and stars
and winds, and whatever else belongs to his art.” [Footnote: Bk. VI,
488-489.] He can dismiss nothing which is necessary to make that ship
sail prosperously. Because there are mutineers aboard, he cannot say:
so much the worse for us all… it is not in the order of nature that
I should handle a mutiny… it is not in the order of philosophy that
I should consider mutiny… I know how to navigate… I do not know
how to navigate a ship full of sailors… and if they do not see that
I am the man to steer, I cannot help it. We shall all go on the rocks,
they to be punished for their sins; I, with the assurance that I knew


Whenever we make an appeal to reason in politics, the difficulty in
this parable recurs. For there is an inherent difficulty about using
the method of reason to deal with an unreasoning world. Even if you
assume with Plato that the true pilot knows what is best for the ship,
you have to recall that he is not so easy to recognize, and that this
uncertainty leaves a large part of the crew unconvinced. By definition
the crew does not know what he knows, and the pilot, fascinated by the
stars and winds, does not know how to make the crew realize the
importance of what he knows. There is no time during mutiny at sea to
make each sailor an expert judge of experts. There is no time for the
pilot to consult his crew and find out whether he is really as wise as
he thinks he is. For education is a matter of years, the emergency a
matter of hours. It would be altogether academic, then, to tell the
pilot that the true remedy is, for example, an education that will
endow sailors with a better sense of evidence. You can tell that only
to shipmasters on dry land. In the crisis, the only advice is to use a
gun, or make a speech, utter a stirring slogan, offer a compromise,
employ any quick means available to quell the mutiny, the sense of
evidence being what it is. It is only on shore where men plan for many
voyages, that they can afford to, and must for their own salvation,
deal with those causes that take a long time to remove. They will be
dealing in years and generations, not in emergencies alone. And
nothing will put a greater strain upon their wisdom than the necessity
of distinguishing false crises from real ones. For when there is panic
in the air, with one crisis tripping over the heels of another, actual
dangers mixed with imaginary scares, there is no chance at all for the
constructive use of reason, and any order soon seems preferable to any

It is only on the premise of a certain stability over a long run of
time that men can hope to follow the method of reason. This is not
because mankind is inept, or because the appeal to reason is
visionary, but because the evolution of reason on political subjects
is only in its beginnings. Our rational ideas in politics are still
large, thin generalities, much too abstract and unrefined for
practical guidance, except where the aggregates are large enough to
cancel out individual peculiarity and exhibit large uniformities.
Reason in politics is especially immature in predicting the behavior
of individual men, because in human conduct the smallest initial
variation often works out into the most elaborate differences. That,
perhaps, is why when we try to insist solely upon an appeal to reason
in dealing with sudden situations, we are broken and drowned in


For the rate at which reason, as we possess it, can advance itself is
slower than the rate at which action has to be taken. In the present
state of political science there is, therefore, a tendency for one
situation to change into another, before the first is clearly understood,
and so to make much political criticism hindsight and little else. Both in
the discovery of what is unknown, and in the propagation of that which
has been proved, there is a time-differential, which ought to, in a much
greater degree than it ever has, occupy the political philosopher. We
have begun, chiefly under the inspiration of Mr. Graham Wallas, to
examine the effect of an invisible environment upon our opinions.
We do not, as yet, understand, except a little by rule of thumb, the
element of time in politics, though it bears most directly upon the
practicability of any constructive proposal. [Footnote: _Cf_. H. G.
Wells in the opening chapters of _Mankind in the Making._] We
can see, for example, that somehow the relevancy of any plan depends
upon the length of time the operation requires. Because on the length
of time it will depend whether the data which the plan assumes as
given, will in truth remain the same. [Footnote: The better the
current analysis in the intelligence work of any institution, the less
likely, of course, that men will deal with tomorrow’s problems in the
light of yesterday’s facts.] There is a factor here which realistic
and experienced men do take into account, and it helps to mark
them off somehow from the opportunist, the visionary, the philistine
and the pedant. [Footnote: Not all, but some of the differences
between reactionaries, conservatives, liberals, and radicals are
due, I think, to a different intuitive estimate of the rate of change
in social affairs.] But just how the calculation of time enters into
politics we do not know at present in any systematic way.

Until we understand these matters more clearly, we can at least
remember that there is a problem of the utmost theoretical difficulty
and practical consequence. It will help us to cherish Plato’s ideal,
without sharing his hasty conclusion about the perversity of those who
do not listen to reason. It is hard to obey reason in politics,
because you are trying to make two processes march together, which
have as yet a different gait and a different pace. Until reason is
subtle and particular, the immediate struggle of politics will
continue to require an amount of native wit, force, and unprovable
faith, that reason can neither provide nor control, because the facts
of life are too undifferentiated for its powers of understanding. The
methods of social science are so little perfected that in many of the
serious decisions and most of the casual ones, there is as yet no
choice but to gamble with fate as intuition prompts.

But we can make a belief in reason one of those intuitions. We can use
our wit and our force to make footholds for reason. Behind our
pictures of the world, we can try to see the vista of a longer
duration of events, and wherever it is possible to escape from the
urgent present, allow this longer time to control our decisions. And
yet, even when there is this will to let the future count, we find
again and again that we do not know for certain how to act according
to the dictates of reason. The number of human problems on which
reason is prepared to dictate is small.


There is, however, a noble counterfeit in that charity which comes
from self-knowledge and an unarguable belief that no one of our
gregarious species is alone in his longing for a friendlier world. So
many of the grimaces men make at each other go with a flutter of their
pulse, that they are not all of them important. And where so much is
uncertain, where so many actions have to be carried out on guesses,
the demand upon the reserves of mere decency is enormous, and it is
necessary to live as if good will would work. We cannot prove in every
instance that it will, nor why hatred, intolerance, suspicion,
bigotry, secrecy, fear, and lying are the seven deadly sins against
public opinion. We can only insist that they have no place in the
appeal to reason, that in the longer run they are a poison; and taking
our stand upon a view of the world which outlasts our own
predicaments, and our own lives, we can cherish a hearty prejudice
against them.

We can do this all the better if we do not allow frightfulness and
fanaticism to impress us so deeply that we throw up our hands
peevishly, and lose interest in the longer run of time because we have
lost faith in the future of man. There is no ground for this despair,
because all the _ifs_ on which, as James said, our destiny hangs,
are as pregnant as they ever were. What we have seen of brutality, we
have seen, and because it was strange, it was not conclusive. It was
only Berlin, Moscow, Versailles in 1914 to 1919, not Armageddon, as we
rhetorically said. The more realistically men have faced out the
brutality and the hysteria, the more they have earned the right to say
that it is not foolish for men to believe, because another great war
took place, that intelligence, courage and effort cannot ever contrive
a good life for all men.

Great as was the horror, it was not universal. There were corrupt, and
there were incorruptible. There was muddle and there were miracles.
There was huge lying. There were men with the will to uncover it. It
is no judgment, but only a mood, when men deny that what some men have
been, more men, and ultimately enough men, might be. You can despair
of what has never been. You can despair of ever having three heads,
though Mr. Shaw has declined to despair even of that. But you cannot
despair of the possibilities that could exist by virtue of any human
quality which a human being has exhibited. And if amidst all the evils
of this decade, you have not seen men and women, known moments that
you would like to multiply, the Lord himself cannot help you.