Public Opinion







There is an island in the ocean where in 1914 a few Englishmen,
Frenchmen, and Germans lived. No cable reaches that island, and the
British mail steamer comes but once in sixty days. In September it had
not yet come, and the islanders were still talking about the latest
newspaper which told about the approaching trial of Madame Caillaux
for the shooting of Gaston Calmette. It was, therefore, with more than
usual eagerness that the whole colony assembled at the quay on a day
in mid-September to hear from the captain what the verdict had been.
They learned that for over six weeks now those of them who were
English and those of them who were French had been fighting in behalf
of the sanctity of treaties against those of them who were Germans.
For six strange weeks they had acted as if they were friends, when in
fact they were enemies.

But their plight was not so different from that of most of the
population of Europe. They had been mistaken for six weeks, on the
continent the interval may have been only six days or six hours. There
was an interval. There was a moment when the picture of Europe on
which men were conducting their business as usual, did not in any way
correspond to the Europe which was about to make a jumble of their
lives. There was a time for each man when he was still adjusted to an
environment that no longer existed. All over the world as late as July
25th men were making goods that they would not be able to ship, buying
goods they would not be able to import, careers were being planned,
enterprises contemplated, hopes and expectations entertained, all in
the belief that the world as known was the world as it was. Men were
writing books describing that world. They trusted the picture in their
heads. And then over four years later, on a Thursday morning, came the
news of an armistice, and people gave vent to their unutterable relief
that the slaughter was over. Yet in the five days before the real
armistice came, though the end of the war had been celebrated, several
thousand young men died on the battlefields.

Looking back we can see how indirectly we know the environment in
which nevertheless we live. We can see that the news of it comes to us
now fast, now slowly; but that whatever we believe to be a true
picture, we treat as if it were the environment itself. It is harder
to remember that about the beliefs upon which we are now acting, but
in respect to other peoples and other ages we flatter ourselves that
it is easy to see when they were in deadly earnest about ludicrous
pictures of the world. We insist, because of our superior hindsight,
that the world as they needed to know it, and the world as they did
know it, were often two quite contradictory things. We can see, too,
that while they governed and fought, traded and reformed in the world
as they imagined it to be, they produced results, or failed to produce
any, in the world as it was. They started for the Indies and found
America. They diagnosed evil and hanged old women. They thought they
could grow rich by always selling and never buying. A caliph, obeying
what he conceived to be the Will of Allah, burned the library at

Writing about the year 389, St. Ambrose stated the case for the
prisoner in Plato’s cave who resolutely declines to turn his head. “To
discuss the nature and position of the earth does not help us in our
hope of the life to come. It is enough to know what Scripture states.
‘That He hung up the earth upon nothing’ (Job xxvi. 7). Why then argue
whether He hung it up in air or upon the water, and raise a
controversy as to how the thin air could sustain the earth; or why, if
upon the waters, the earth does not go crashing down to the bottom?…
Not because the earth is in the middle, as if suspended on even
balance, but because the majesty of God constrains it by the law of
His will, does it endure stable upon the unstable and the void.”
[Footnote: Hexaemeron, i. cap 6, quoted in _The Mediæval Mind_,
by Henry Osborn Taylor, Vol. i, p. 73.]

It does not help us in our hope of the life to come. It is enough to
know what Scripture states. Why then argue? But a century and a half
after St. Ambrose, opinion was still troubled, on this occasion by the
problem of the antipodes. A monk named Cosmas, famous for his
scientific attainments, was therefore deputed to write a Christian
Topography, or “Christian Opinion concerning the World.” [Footnote:
Lecky, _Rationalism in Europe_, Vol. I, pp. 276-8.] It is clear
that he knew exactly what was expected of him, for he based all his
conclusions on the Scriptures as he read them. It appears, then, that
the world is a flat parallelogram, twice as broad from east to west as
it is long from north to south., In the center is the earth surrounded
by ocean, which is in turn surrounded by another earth, where men
lived before the deluge. This other earth was Noah’s port of
embarkation. In the north is a high conical mountain around which
revolve the sun and moon. When the sun is behind the mountain it is
night. The sky is glued to the edges of the outer earth. It consists
of four high walls which meet in a concave roof, so that the earth is
the floor of the universe. There is an ocean on the other side of the
sky, constituting the “waters that are above the firmament.” The space
between the celestial ocean and the ultimate roof of the universe
belongs to the blest. The space between the earth and sky is inhabited
by the angels. Finally, since St. Paul said that all men are made to
live upon the “face of the earth” how could they live on the back
where the Antipodes are supposed to be? With such a passage before
his eyes, a Christian, we are told, should not ‘even speak of the
Antipodes.'” [Footnote: _Id._]

Far less should he go to the Antipodes; nor should any Christian
prince give him a ship to try; nor would any pious mariner wish to
try. For Cosmas there was nothing in the least absurd about his map.
Only by remembering his absolute conviction that this was the map of
the universe can we begin to understand how he would have dreaded
Magellan or Peary or the aviator who risked a collision with the
angels and the vault of heaven by flying seven miles up in the air. In
the same way we can best understand the furies of war and politics by
remembering that almost the whole of each party believes absolutely in
its picture of the opposition, that it takes as fact, not what is, but
what it supposes to be the fact. And that therefore, like Hamlet, it
will stab Polonius behind the rustling curtain, thinking him the king,
and perhaps like Hamlet add:

“Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell!
I took thee for thy better; take thy fortune.”


Great men, even during their lifetime, are usually known to the public
only through a fictitious personality. Hence the modicum of truth in
the old saying that no man is a hero to his valet. There is only a
modicum of truth, for the valet, and the private secretary, are often
immersed in the fiction themselves. Royal personages are, of course,
constructed personalities. Whether they themselves believe in their
public character, or whether they merely permit the chamberlain to
stage-manage it, there are at least two distinct selves, the public
and regal self, the private and human. The biographies of great people
fall more or less readily into the histories of these two selves. The
official biographer reproduces the public life, the revealing memoir
the other. The Charnwood Lincoln, for example, is a noble portrait,
not of an actual human being, but of an epic figure, replete with
significance, who moves on much the same level of reality as Aeneas or
St. George. Oliver’s Hamilton is a majestic abstraction, the sculpture
of an idea, “an essay” as Mr. Oliver himself calls it, “on American
union.” It is a formal monument to the state-craft of federalism,
hardly the biography of a person. Sometimes people create their own
facade when they think they are revealing the interior scene. The
Repington diaries and Margot Asquith’s are a species of
self-portraiture in which the intimate detail is most revealing as an
index of how the authors like to think about themselves.

But the most interesting kind of portraiture is that which arises
spontaneously in people’s minds. When Victoria came to the throne,
says Mr. Strachey, [Footnote: Lytton Strachey, _Queen Victoria_,
p. 72.] “among the outside public there was a great wave of
enthusiasm. Sentiment and romance were coming into fashion; and the
spectacle of the little girl-queen, innocent, modest, with fair hair
and pink cheeks, driving through her capital, filled the hearts of the
beholders with raptures of affectionate loyalty. What, above all,
struck everybody with overwhelming force was the contrast between
Queen Victoria and her uncles. The nasty old men, debauched and
selfish, pigheaded and ridiculous, with their perpetual burden of
debts, confusions, and disreputabilities–they had vanished like the
snows of winter and here at last, crowned and radiant, was the

M. Jean de Pierrefeu [Footnote: Jean de Pierrefeu, _G. Q. G. Trois
ans au Grand Quartier General_, pp 94-95.] saw hero-worship at
first hand, for he was an officer on Joffre’s staff at the moment of
that soldier’s greatest fame:

“For two years, the entire world paid an almost divine homage to the
victor of the Maine. The baggage-master literally bent under the
weight of the boxes, of the packages and letters which unknown people
sent him with a frantic testimonial of their admiration. I think that
outside of General Joffre, no commander in the war has been able to
realize a comparable idea of what glory is. They sent him boxes of
candy from all the great confectioners of the world, boxes of
champagne, fine wines of every vintage, fruits, game, ornaments and
utensils, clothes, smoking materials, inkstands, paperweights. Every
territory sent its specialty. The painter sent his picture, the
sculptor his statuette, the dear old lady a comforter or socks, the
shepherd in his hut carved a pipe for his sake. All the manufacturers
of the world who were hostile to Germany shipped their products,
Havana its cigars, Portugal its port wine. I have known a hairdresser
who had nothing better to do than to make a portrait of the General
out of hair belonging to persons who were dear to him; a professional
penman had the same idea, but the features were composed of thousands
of little phrases in tiny characters which sang the praise of the
General. As to letters, he had them in all scripts, from all
countries, written in every dialect, affectionate letters, grateful,
overflowing with love, filled with adoration. They called him Savior
of the World, Father of his Country, Agent of God, Benefactor of
Humanity, etc…. And not only Frenchmen, but Americans, Argentinians,
Australians, etc. etc…. Thousands of little children, without their
parents’ knowledge, took pen in hand and wrote to tell him their love:
most of them called him Our Father. And there was poignancy about
their effusions, their adoration, these sighs of deliverance that
escaped from thousands of hearts at the defeat of barbarism. To all
these naif little souls, Joffre seemed like St. George crushing the
dragon. Certainly he incarnated for the conscience of mankind the
victory of good over evil, of light over darkness.

Lunatics, simpletons, the half-crazy and the crazy turned their
darkened brains toward him as toward reason itself. I have read the
letter of a person living in Sydney, who begged the General to save
him from his enemies; another, a New Zealander, requested him to send
some soldiers to the house of a gentleman who owed him ten pounds and
would not pay.

Finally, some hundreds of young girls, overcoming the timidity of
their sex, asked for engagements, their families not to know about it;
others wished only to serve him.”

This ideal Joffre was compounded out of the victory won by him, his
staff and his troops, the despair of the war, the personal sorrows,
and the hope of future victory. But beside hero-worship there is the
exorcism of devils. By the same mechanism through which heroes are
incarnated, devils are made. If everything good was to come from
Joffre, Foch, Wilson, or Roosevelt, everything evil originated in the
Kaiser Wilhelm, Lenin and Trotsky. They were as omnipotent for evil as
the heroes were omnipotent for good. To many simple and frightened
minds there was no political reverse, no strike, no obstruction, no
mysterious death or mysterious conflagration anywhere in the world of
which the causes did not wind back to these personal sources of evil.


Worldwide concentration of this kind on a symbolic personality is rare
enough to be clearly remarkable, and every author has a weakness for
the striking and irrefutable example. The vivisection of war reveals
such examples, but it does not make them out of nothing. In a more
normal public life, symbolic pictures are no less governant of
behavior, but each symbol is far less inclusive because there are so
many competing ones. Not only is each symbol charged with less feeling
because at most it represents only a part of the population, but even
within that part there is infinitely less suppression of individual
difference. The symbols of public opinion, in times of moderate
security, are subject to check and comparison and argument. They come
and go, coalesce and are forgotten, never organizing perfectly the
emotion of the whole group. There is, after all, just one human
activity left in which whole populations accomplish the union sacrée.
It occurs in those middle phases of a war when fear, pugnacity, and
hatred have secured complete dominion of the spirit, either to crush
every other instinct or to enlist it, and before weariness is felt.

At almost all other times, and even in war when it is deadlocked, a
sufficiently greater range of feelings is aroused to establish
conflict, choice, hesitation, and compromise. The symbolism of public
opinion usually bears, as we shall see, [Footnote: Part V.] the marks
of this balancing of interest. Think, for example, of how rapidly,
after the armistice, the precarious and by no means successfully
established symbol of Allied Unity disappeared, how it was followed
almost immediately by the breakdown of each nation’s symbolic picture
of the other: Britain the Defender of Public Law, France watching at
the Frontier of Freedom, America the Crusader. And think then of how
within each nation the symbolic picture of itself frayed out, as party
and class conflict and personal ambition began to stir postponed
issues. And then of how the symbolic pictures of the leaders gave way,
as one by one, Wilson, Clemenceau, Lloyd George, ceased to be the
incarnation of human hope, and became merely the negotiators and
administrators for a disillusioned world.

Whether we regret this as one of the soft evils of peace or applaud it
as a return to sanity is obviously no matter here. Our first concern
with fictions and symbols is to forget their value to the existing
social order, and to think of them simply as an important part of the
machinery of human communication. Now in any society that is not
completely self-contained in its interests and so small that everyone
can know all about everything that happens, ideas deal with events
that are out of sight and hard to grasp. Miss Sherwin of Gopher
Prairie, [Footnote: See Sinclair Lewis, _Main Street_.] is aware
that a war is raging in France and tries to conceive it. She has never
been to France, and certainly she has never been along what is now the

Pictures of French and German soldiers she has seen, but it is
impossible for her to imagine three million men. No one, in fact, can
imagine them, and the professionals do not try. They think of them as,
say, two hundred divisions. But Miss Sherwin has no access to the
order of battle maps, and so if she is to think about the war, she
fastens upon Joffre and the Kaiser as if they were engaged in a
personal duel. Perhaps if you could see what she sees with her mind’s
eye, the image in its composition might be not unlike an Eighteenth
Century engraving of a great soldier. He stands there boldly unruffled
and more than life size, with a shadowy army of tiny little figures
winding off into the landscape behind. Nor it seems are great men
oblivious to these expectations. M. de Pierrefeu tells of a
photographer’s visit to Joffre. The General was in his “middle class
office, before the worktable without papers, where he sat down to
write his signature. Suddenly it was noticed that there were no maps
on the walls. But since according to popular ideas it is not possible
to think of a general without maps, a few were placed in position for
the picture, and removed soon afterwards.” [Footnote: _Op. cit._,
p. 99.]

The only feeling that anyone can have about an event he does not
experience is the feeling aroused by his mental image of that event.
That is why until we know what others think they know, we cannot truly
understand their acts. I have seen a young girl, brought up in a
Pennsylvania mining town, plunged suddenly from entire cheerfulness
into a paroxysm of grief when a gust of wind cracked the kitchen
window-pane. For hours she was inconsolable, and to me incomprehensible.
But when she was able to talk, it transpired that if a window-pane
broke it meant that a close relative had died. She was, therefore,
mourning for her father, who had frightened her into running away
from home. The father was, of course, quite thoroughly alive as a
telegraphic inquiry soon proved. But until the telegram came, the
cracked glass was an authentic message to that girl. Why it was
authentic only a prolonged investigation by a skilled psychiatrist
could show. But even the most casual observer could see that the girl,
enormously upset by her family troubles, had hallucinated a complete
fiction out of one external fact, a remembered superstition, and a
turmoil of remorse, and fear and love for her father.

Abnormality in these instances is only a matter of degree. When an
Attorney-General, who has been frightened by a bomb exploded on his
doorstep, convinces himself by the reading of revolutionary literature
that a revolution is to happen on the first of May 1920, we recognize
that much the same mechanism is at work. The war, of course, furnished
many examples of this pattern: the casual fact, the creative
imagination, the will to believe, and out of these three elements, a
counterfeit of reality to which there was a violent instinctive
response. For it is clear enough that under certain conditions men
respond as powerfully to fictions as they do to realities, and that in
many cases they help to create the very fictions to which they
respond. Let him cast the first stone who did not believe in the
Russian army that passed through England in August, 1914, did not
accept any tale of atrocities without direct proof, and never saw a
plot, a traitor, or a spy where there was none. Let him cast a stone
who never passed on as the real inside truth what he had heard someone
say who knew no more than he did.

In all these instances we must note particularly one common factor. It
is the insertion between man and his environment of a pseudo-environment.
To that pseudo-environment his behavior is a response. But because it
_is_ behavior, the consequences, if they are acts, operate not in
the pseudo-environment where the behavior is stimulated, but in the
real environment where action eventuates. If the behavior is not a
practical act, but what we call roughly thought and emotion, it may
be a long time before there is any noticeable break in the texture of
the fictitious world. But when the stimulus of the pseudo-fact results
in action on things or other people, contradiction soon develops.
Then comes the sensation of butting one’s head against a stone wall,
of learning by experience, and witnessing Herbert Spencer’s tragedy
of the murder of a Beautiful Theory by a Gang of Brutal Facts, the
discomfort in short of a maladjustment. For certainly, at the level of
social life, what is called the adjustment of man to his environment
takes place through the medium of fictions.

By fictions I do not mean lies. I mean a representation of the
environment which is in lesser or greater degree made by man himself.
The range of fiction extends all the way from complete hallucination
to the scientists’ perfectly self-conscious use of a schematic model,
or his decision that for his particular problem accuracy beyond a
certain number of decimal places is not important. A work of fiction
may have almost any degree of fidelity, and so long as the degree of
fidelity can be taken into account, fiction is not misleading. In
fact, human culture is very largely the selection, the rearrangement,
the tracing of patterns upon, and the stylizing of, what William James
called “the random irradiations and resettlements of our
ideas.” [Footnote: James, _Principles of Psychology_, Vol. II, p.
638] The alternative to the use of fictions is direct exposure to the
ebb and flow of sensation. That is not a real alternative, for however
refreshing it is to see at times with a perfectly innocent eye,
innocence itself is not wisdom, though a source and corrective of
wisdom. For the real environment is altogether too big, too complex,
and too fleeting for direct acquaintance. We are not equipped to deal
with so much subtlety, so much variety, so many permutations and
combinations. And although we have to act in that environment, we have
to reconstruct it on a simpler model before we can manage with it. To
traverse the world men must have maps of the world. Their persistent
difficulty is to secure maps on which their own need, or someone
else’s need, has not sketched in the coast of Bohemia.


The analyst of public opinion must begin then, by recognizing the
triangular relationship between the scene of action, the human picture
of that scene, and the human response to that picture working itself
out upon the scene of action. It is like a play suggested to the
actors by their own experience, in which the plot is transacted in the
real lives of the actors, and not merely in their stage parts. The
moving picture often emphasizes with great skill this double drama of
interior motive and external behavior. Two men are quarreling,
ostensibly about some money, but their passion is inexplicable. Then
the picture fades out and what one or the other of the two men sees
with his mind’s eye is reënacted. Across the table they were
quarreling about money. In memory they are back in their youth when
the girl jilted him for the other man. The exterior drama is
explained: the hero is not greedy; the hero is in love.

A scene not so different was played in the United States Senate. At
breakfast on the morning of September 29, 1919, some of the Senators
read a news dispatch in the _Washington Post_ about the landing
of American marines on the Dalmatian coast. The newspaper said:


“The following important facts appear already _established_. The
orders to Rear Admiral Andrews commanding the American naval forces in
the Adriatic, came from the British Admiralty via the War Council and
Rear Admiral Knapps in London. The approval or disapproval of the
American Navy Department was not asked….


“Mr. Daniels was admittedly placed in a peculiar position when cables
reached here stating that the forces over which he is presumed to have
exclusive control were carrying on what amounted to naval warfare
without his knowledge. It was fully realized that the _British
Admiralty might desire to issue orders to Rear Admiral Andrews_ to
act on behalf of Great Britain and her Allies, because the situation
required sacrifice on the part of some nation if D’Annunzio’s
followers were to be held in check.

“It was further realized that _under the new league of nations plan
foreigners would be in a position to direct American Naval forces in
emergencies_ with or without the consent of the American Navy
Department….” etc. (Italics mine).

The first Senator to comment is Mr. Knox of Pennsylvania. Indignantly
he demands investigation. In Mr. Brandegee of Connecticut, who spoke
next, indignation has already stimulated credulity. Where Mr. Knox
indignantly wishes to know if the report is true, Mr. Brandegee, a
half a minute later, would like to know what would have happened if
marines had been killed. Mr. Knox, interested in the question, forgets
that he asked for an inquiry, and replies. If American marines had
been killed, it would be war. The mood of the debate is still
conditional. Debate proceeds. Mr. McCormick of Illinois reminds the
Senate that the Wilson administration is prone to the waging of small
unauthorized wars. He repeats Theodore Roosevelt’s quip about “waging
peace.” More debate. Mr. Brandegee notes that the marines acted “under
orders of a Supreme Council sitting somewhere,” but he cannot recall
who represents the United States on that body. The Supreme Council is
unknown to the Constitution of the United States. Therefore Mr. New of
Indiana submits a resolution calling for the facts.

So far the Senators still recognize vaguely that they are discussing a
rumor. Being lawyers they still remember some of the forms of
evidence. But as red-blooded men they already experience all the
indignation which is appropriate to the fact that American marines
have been ordered into war by a foreign government and without the
consent of Congress. Emotionally they want to believe it, because they
are Republicans fighting the League of Nations. This arouses the
Democratic leader, Mr. Hitchcock of Nebraska. He defends the Supreme
Council: it was acting under the war powers. Peace has not yet been
concluded because the Republicans are delaying it. Therefore the
action was necessary and legal. Both sides now assume that the report
is true, and the conclusions they draw are the conclusions of their
partisanship. Yet this extraordinary assumption is in a debate over a
resolution to investigate the truth of the assumption. It reveals how
difficult it is, even for trained lawyers, to suspend response until
the returns are in. The response is instantaneous. The fiction is
taken for truth because the fiction is badly needed.

A few days later an official report showed that the marines were not
landed by order of the British Government or of the Supreme Council.
They had not been fighting the Italians. They had been landed at the
request of the Italian Government to protect Italians, and the
American commander had been officially thanked by the Italian
authorities. The marines were not at war with Italy. They had acted
according to an established international practice which had nothing
to do with the League of Nations.

The scene of action was the Adriatic. The picture of that scene in the
Senators’ heads at Washington was furnished, in this case probably
with intent to deceive, by a man who cared nothing about the Adriatic,
but much about defeating the League. To this picture the Senate
responded by a strengthening of its partisan differences over the


Whether in this particular case the Senate was above or below its
normal standard, it is not necessary to decide. Nor whether the Senate
compares favorably with the House, or with other parliaments. At the
moment, I should like to think only about the world-wide spectacle of
men acting upon their environment, moved by stimuli from their
pseudo-environments. For when full allowance has been made for
deliberate fraud, political science has still to account for such
facts as two nations attacking one another, each convinced that it is
acting in self-defense, or two classes at war each certain that it
speaks for the common interest. They live, we are likely to say, in
different worlds. More accurately, they live in the same world, but
they think and feel in different ones.

It is to these special worlds, it is to these private or group, or
class, or provincial, or occupational, or national, or sectarian
artifacts, that the political adjustment of mankind in the Great
Society takes place. Their variety and complication are impossible to
describe. Yet these fictions determine a very great part of men’s
political behavior. We must think of perhaps fifty sovereign
parliaments consisting of at least a hundred legislative bodies. With
them belong at least fifty hierarchies of provincial and municipal
assemblies, which with their executive, administrative and legislative
organs, constitute formal authority on earth. But that does not begin
to reveal the complexity of political life. For in each of these
innumerable centers of authority there are parties, and these parties
are themselves hierarchies with their roots in classes, sections,
cliques and clans; and within these are the individual politicians,
each the personal center of a web of connection and memory and fear
and hope.

Somehow or other, for reasons often necessarily obscure, as the result
of domination or compromise or a logroll, there emerge from these
political bodies commands, which set armies in motion or make peace,
conscript life, tax, exile, imprison, protect property or confiscate
it, encourage one kind of enterprise and discourage another,
facilitate immigration or obstruct it, improve communication or censor
it, establish schools, build navies, proclaim “policies,” and
“destiny,” raise economic barriers, make property or unmake it, bring
one people under the rule of another, or favor one class as against
another. For each of these decisions some view of the facts is taken
to be conclusive, some view of the circumstances is accepted as the
basis of inference and as the stimulus of feeling. What view of the
facts, and why that one?

And yet even this does not begin to exhaust the real complexity. The
formal political structure exists in a social environment, where there
are innumerable large and small corporations and institutions,
voluntary and semi-voluntary associations, national, provincial, urban
and neighborhood groupings, which often as not make the decision that
the political body registers. On what are these decisions based?

“Modern society,” says Mr. Chesterton, “is intrinsically insecure
because it is based on the notion that all men will do the same thing
for different reasons…. And as within the head of any convict may be
the hell of a quite solitary crime, so in the house or under the hat
of any suburban clerk may be the limbo of a quite separate philosophy.
The first man may be a complete Materialist and feel his own body as a
horrible machine manufacturing his own mind. He may listen to his
thoughts as to the dull ticking of a clock. The man next door may be a
Christian Scientist and regard his own body as somehow rather less
substantial than his own shadow. He may come almost to regard his own
arms and legs as delusions like moving serpents in the dream of
delirium tremens. The third man in the street may not be a Christian
Scientist but, on the contrary, a Christian. He may live in a fairy
tale as his neighbors would say; a secret but solid fairy tale full of
the faces and presences of unearthly friends. The fourth man may be a
theosophist, and only too probably a vegetarian; and I do not see why
I should not gratify myself with the fancy that the fifth man is a
devil worshiper…. Now whether or not this sort of variety is
valuable, this sort of unity is shaky. To expect that all men for all
time will go on thinking different things, and yet doing the same
things, is a doubtful speculation. It is not founding society on a
communion, or even on a convention, but rather on a coincidence. Four
men may meet under the same lamp post; one to paint it pea green as
part of a great municipal reform; one to read his breviary in the
light of it; one to embrace it with accidental ardour in a fit of
alcoholic enthusiasm; and the last merely because the pea green post
is a conspicuous point of rendezvous with his young lady. But to
expect this to happen night after night is unwise….” [Footnote: G.
K. Chesterton, “The Mad Hatter and the Sane Householder,” _Vanity
Fair_, January, 1921, p. 54]

For the four men at the lamp post substitute the governments, the
parties, the corporations, the societies, the social sets, the trades
and professions, universities, sects, and nationalities of the world.
Think of the legislator voting a statute that will affect distant
peoples, a statesman coming to a decision. Think of the Peace
Conference reconstituting the frontiers of Europe, an ambassador in a
foreign country trying to discern the intentions of his own government
and of the foreign government, a promoter working a concession in a
backward country, an editor demanding a war, a clergyman calling on
the police to regulate amusement, a club lounging-room making up its
mind about a strike, a sewing circle preparing to regulate the
schools, nine judges deciding whether a legislature in Oregon may fix
the working hours of women, a cabinet meeting to decide on the
recognition of a government, a party convention choosing a candidate
and writing a platform, twenty-seven million voters casting their
ballots, an Irishman in Cork thinking about an Irishman in Belfast, a
Third International planning to reconstruct the whole of human
society, a board of directors confronted with a set of their
employees’ demands, a boy choosing a career, a merchant estimating
supply and demand for the coming season, a speculator predicting the
course of the market, a banker deciding whether to put credit behind a
new enterprise, the advertiser, the reader of advertisments…. Think
of the different sorts of Americans thinking about their notions of
“The British Empire” or “France” or “Russia” or “Mexico.” It is not so
different from Mr. Chesterton’s four men at the pea green lamp post.


And so before we involve ourselves in the jungle of obscurities about
the innate differences of men, we shall do well to fix our attention
upon the extraordinary differences in what men know of the world.
[Footnote: _Cf_. Wallas, _Our Social Heritage_, pp. 77 _et seq_.] I do not doubt that there are important biological differences. Since
man is an animal it would be strange if there were not. But as
rational beings it is worse than shallow to generalize at all
about comparative behavior until there is a measurable similarity
between the environments to which behavior is a response.

The pragmatic value of this idea is that it introduces a much needed
refinement into the ancient controversy about nature and nurture,
innate quality and environment. For the pseudo-environment is a hybrid
compounded of “human nature” and “conditions.” To my mind it shows the
uselessness of pontificating about what man is and always will be from
what we observe man to be doing, or about what are the necessary
conditions of society. For we do not know how men would behave in
response to the facts of the Great Society. All that we really know is
how they behave in response to what can fairly be called a most
inadequate picture of the Great Society. No conclusion about man or
the Great Society can honestly be made on evidence like that.

This, then, will be the clue to our inquiry. We shall assume that what
each man does is based not on direct and certain knowledge, but on
pictures made by himself or given to him. If his atlas tells him that
the world is flat he will not sail near what he believes to be the
edge of our planet for fear of falling off. If his maps include a
fountain of eternal youth, a Ponce de Leon will go in quest of it. If
someone digs up yellow dirt that looks like gold, he will for a time
act exactly as if he had found gold. The way in which the world is
imagined determines at any particular moment what men will do. It does
not determine what they will achieve. It determines their effort,
their feelings, their hopes, not their accomplishments and results.
The very men who most loudly proclaim their “materialism” and their
contempt for “ideologues,” the Marxian communists, place their entire
hope on what? On the formation by propaganda of a class-conscious
group. But what is propaganda, if not the effort to alter the picture
to which men respond, to substitute one social pattern for another?
What is class consciousness but a way of realizing the world? National
consciousness but another way? And Professor Giddings’ consciousness
of kind, but a process of believing that we recognize among the
multitude certain ones marked as our kind?

Try to explain social life as the pursuit of pleasure and the
avoidance of pain. You will soon be saying that the hedonist begs the
question, for even supposing that man does pursue these ends, the
crucial problem of why he thinks one course rather than another likely
to produce pleasure, is untouched. Does the guidance of man’s
conscience explain? How then does he happen to have the particular
conscience which he has? The theory of economic self-interest? But how
do men come to conceive their interest in one way rather than another?
The desire for security, or prestige, or domination, or what is
vaguely called self-realization? How do men conceive their security,
what do they consider prestige, how do they figure out the means of
domination, or what is the notion of self which they wish to realize?
Pleasure, pain, conscience, acquisition, protection, enhancement,
mastery, are undoubtedly names for some of the ways people act. There
may be instinctive dispositions which work toward such ends. But no
statement of the end, or any description of the tendencies to seek it,
can explain the behavior which results. The very fact that men
theorize at all is proof that their pseudo-environments, their
interior representations of the world, are a determining element in
thought, feeling, and action. For if the connection between reality
and human response were direct and immediate, rather than indirect and
inferred, indecision and failure would be unknown, and (if each of us
fitted as snugly into the world as the child in the womb), Mr. Bernard
Shaw would not have been able to say that except for the first nine
months of its existence no human being manages its affairs as well as
a plant.

The chief difficulty in adapting the psychoanalytic scheme to
political thought arises in this connection. The Freudians are
concerned with the maladjustment of distinct individuals to other
individuals and to concrete circumstances. They have assumed that if
internal derangements could be straightened out, there would be little
or no confusion about what is the obviously normal relationship. But
public opinion deals with indirect, unseen, and puzzling facts, and
there is nothing obvious about them. The situations to which public
opinions refer are known only as opinions. The psychoanalyst, on the
other hand, almost always assumes that the environment is knowable,
and if not knowable then at least bearable, to any unclouded
intelligence. This assumption of his is the problem of public opinion.
Instead of taking for granted an environment that is readily known,
the social analyst is most concerned in studying how the larger
political environment is conceived, and how it can be conceived more
successfully. The psychoanalyst examines the adjustment to an X,
called by him the environment; the social analyst examines the X,
called by him the pseudo-environment.

He is, of course, permanently and constantly in debt to the new
psychology, not only because when rightly applied it so greatly helps
people to stand on their own feet, come what may, but because the
study of dreams, fantasy and rationalization has thrown light on how
the pseudo-environment is put together. But he cannot assume as his
criterion either what is called a “normal biological career”
[Footnote: Edward J. Kempf, _Psychopathology_, p. 116.] within
the existing social order, or a career “freed from religious
suppression and dogmatic conventions” outside. [Footnote: _Id_.,
p. 151.] What for a sociologist is a normal social career? Or one
freed from suppressions and conventions? Conservative critics do, to
be sure, assume the first, and romantic ones the second. But in
assuming them they are taking the whole world for granted. They are
saying in effect either that society is the sort of thing which
corresponds to their idea of what is normal, or the sort of thing
which corresponds to their idea of what is free. Both ideas are merely
public opinions, and while the psychoanalyst as physician may perhaps
assume them, the sociologist may not take the products of existing
public opinion as criteria by which to study public opinion.


The world that we have to deal with politically is out of reach, out
of sight, out of mind. It has to be explored, reported, and imagined.
Man is no Aristotelian god contemplating all existence at one glance.
He is the creature of an evolution who can just about span a
sufficient portion of reality to manage his survival, and snatch what
on the scale of time are but a few moments of insight and happiness.
Yet this same creature has invented ways of seeing what no naked eye
could see, of hearing what no ear could hear, of weighing immense
masses and infinitesimal ones, of counting and separating more items
than he can individually remember. He is learning to see with his mind
vast portions of the world that he could never see, touch, smell,
hear, or remember. Gradually he makes for himself a trustworthy
picture inside his head of the world beyond his reach.

Those features of the world outside which have to do with the behavior
of other human beings, in so far as that behavior crosses ours, is
dependent upon us, or is interesting to us, we call roughly public
affairs. The pictures inside the heads of these human beings, the
pictures of themselves, of others, of their needs, purposes, and
relationship, are their public opinions. Those pictures which are
acted upon by groups of people, or by individuals acting in the name
of groups, are Public Opinion with capital letters. And so in the
chapters which follow we shall inquire first into some of the reasons
why the picture inside so often misleads men in their dealings with
the world outside. Under this heading we shall consider first the
chief factors which limit their access to the facts. They are the
artificial censorships, the limitations of social contact, the
comparatively meager time available in each day for paying attention
to public affairs, the distortion arising because events have to be
compressed into very short messages, the difficulty of making a small
vocabulary express a complicated world, and finally the fear of facing
those facts which would seem to threaten the established routine of
men’s lives.

The analysis then turns from these more or less external limitations
to the question of how this trickle of messages from the outside is
affected by the stored up images, the preconceptions, and prejudices
which interpret, fill them out, and in their turn powerfully direct
the play of our attention, and our vision itself. From this it
proceeds to examine how in the individual person the limited messages
from outside, formed into a pattern of stereotypes, are identified
with his own interests as he feels and conceives them. In the
succeeding sections it examines how opinions are crystallized into
what is called Public Opinion, how a National Will, a Group Mind, a
Social Purpose, or whatever you choose to call it, is formed.

The first five parts constitute the descriptive section of the book.
There follows an analysis of the traditional democratic theory of
public opinion. The substance of the argument is that democracy in its
original form never seriously faced the problem which arises because
the pictures inside people’s heads do not automatically correspond
with the world outside. And then, because the democratic theory is
under criticism by socialist thinkers, there follows an examination of
the most advanced and coherent of these criticisms, as made by the
English Guild Socialists. My purpose here is to find out whether these
reformers take into account the main difficulties of public opinion.
My conclusion is that they ignore the difficulties, as completely as
did the original democrats, because they, too, assume, and in a much
more complicated civilization, that somehow mysteriously there exists
in the hearts of men a knowledge of the world beyond their reach.

I argue that representative government, either in what is ordinarily
called politics, or in industry, cannot be worked successfully, no
matter what the basis of election, unless there is an independent,
expert organization for making the unseen facts intelligible to those
who have to make the decisions. I attempt, therefore, to argue that
the serious acceptance of the principle that personal representation
must be supplemented by representation of the unseen facts would alone
permit a satisfactory decentralization, and allow us to escape from
the intolerable and unworkable fiction that each of us must acquire a
competent opinion about all public affairs. It is argued that the
problem of the press is confused because the critics and the
apologists expect the press to realize this fiction, expect it to make
up for all that was not foreseen in the theory of democracy, and that
the readers expect this miracle to be performed at no cost or trouble
to themselves. The newspapers are regarded by democrats as a panacea
for their own defects, whereas analysis of the nature of news and of
the economic basis of journalism seems to show that the newspapers
necessarily and inevitably reflect, and therefore, in greater or
lesser measure, intensify, the defective organization of public
opinion. My conclusion is that public opinions must be organized for
the press if they are to be sound, not by the press as is the case
today. This organization I conceive to be in the first instance the
task of a political science that has won its proper place as
formulator, in advance of real decision, instead of apologist, critic,
or reporter after the decision has been made. I try to indicate that
the perplexities of government and industry are conspiring to give
political science this enormous opportunity to enrich itself and to
serve the public. And, of course, I hope that these pages will help a
few people to realize that opportunity more vividly, and therefore to
pursue it more consciously.