Walter Lippmann's The Public Philosophy

Walter Lippmann's The Public Philosophy
Walter Lippmann begins his The Public Philosophy by expressing his concern for the state of the Western Liberal Democracies. The West, he writes, suffers from ?a disorder from within.? This disorder has its roots in the long peace between 1812 and 1914, and was further exascurbated by the great population increase of that era and the coinciding industrial revolution. The latter changed the nature of armed struggle, which in turn intensified the ?democratic malady.? The situation Lippmann describes is the ?paralysis of governments,? the inability of the state to make difficult and unpopular decisions.
This paralysis is the product of both the long peace and the great war. The period extending from Waterloo to 1914 lulled the West into believing that the age of Man?s aggression had passed. Because the ?hard decisions? of taxation, prohibition, and war were not often faced in these years, the Jacobin concept of the desirability of weak government was instilled in the West. When the first world war did come about, the West was unable to deal effectively with its costs. The new technologies spawned by the industrial revolution, as well as the greater populations involved, had made war infinitely more costly than in the past. Consequently, the executive aspects of Western governments were forced to ?democratize? the appropriation of men and money by handing their power to the representative assemblies. The assemblies too were forced to cede their power to ?the People,? who channeled them to media powers and party leaders. The result was ?Disastrous and revolutionary. The democracies became incapacitated to wage war for rational ends or to make a peace which would be enforced.?

Lippmann holds that the major malfunction of the West is this acquisition of executive and representative powers by the masses. This is a fundamental distortion of the rights of the governed. Lippmann contends that the People have but two natural rights: to decide whether or not to by governed, and to choose who shall govern them. ?This breakdown of the constitutional order is the cause of the precipitate and the catastrophic decline of Western society.?

Why then, cannot a mass govern effectively? Lippmann holds that a large group of people is intrinsically unable to keep up with changing events. More dangerous, says the author, is the ease with which the media can sway public opinion. Because the masses have neither the political experience nor the time required to form informed opinions, they are subject to oversimplified and volatile opinions. This has a severe effect on the kinds of leaders elected in a popular democracy. Because the statesmen in this situation must appease the public opinion, successful politicians

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