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Who's Who: Walter Lippmann
Nacido en Nueva York, de origen alemán, estudió lengua y filosofía
en la Universidad de Harvard, donde tuvo por compañeros de clase a
T. S. Eliot y
John Reed. Militante socialista, en la Universidad
creó el el Havard Socialist Club.
En 1912 trabajó en la campaña de
Theodore Roosevelt y el Partido Progresista en las elecciones
presidenciales de los
Unidos. En 1913 publica su primer
libro -A Preface to Politics-, con una crítica a los
prejuicios populares, y participa en la creación del semanario
liberal New Republic, donde escribió hasta 1920. En 1916,
tras abandonar el socialismo, se une a Woodrow Wilson y el
Partido Demócrata. Miembro de la comisión norteamericana en la Conferencia
de la Paz de París (1919), participó en la creación de la
En 1920 comienza a trabajar en el New York World, del que
llegará a ser director (1929-1931), donde hace célebres sus columnas
de opinión. Al tiempo, publica algunos de sus libros sobre la
opinión pública, la propaganda y la vida democrática en los
Unidos: Public Opinion (1922) y The Phantom Public
(1925). En 1931 entra en el New York Herald Tribune, donde
su opinión, reproducida por más de 200 diarios locales, fluctuó en
el apoyo a distintos candidatos republicanos y demócratas. Crítico
del comunismo soviética, Lippmann se mostró partidario de una
alianza atlántica anglo-norteamericana y fue objeto de espionaje por
parte de su secretaria, Mary Wolfe Price, que pasaba la información
de sus fuentes a Moscú. En 1962, sus columnas comenzaron a editarse
en el Washington Post. Fue considerado en vida el
columnista más influyente de los
Unidos y conocido como el
'decano del periodismo norteamericano'. Ganador de dos Premios Pulitzer (1958 y 1962), fue 'honoris causa' por 19 universidades.
Defendió la naturaleza universitaria de los estudios de Periodismo
y, en 1965, en la asamblea general del International Press Institute
(IPI), celebrada en Londres, reclamó un estatuto académico superior
para la formación de los periodistas.
Entre sus libros: A Preface to Politics (1913), Public
Opinion (1922), The Phantom Public (1925), A
Preface to Morals (1929), The Good Society (1937),
U.S. War Aims (1944), The Cold War (1947),
Isolation and Alliances: An American Speaks to the British
(1952), Essays in the Public Philosophy (1955), Western
Unity and the Common Market (1962), etc.
En España han sido editados: Crisis de la democracia occidental,
Hispano Europea, Barcelona, 1957; La opinión pública,
Cuadernos de Langre, San Lorenzo del Escorial, Madrid, 2003.
Sobre Lippmann, entre otros estudios, los de John Luskin,
Lippmann, Liberty, and the Press (1972), John Morton Blum (ed.),
Selected Letters of Public Philosopher Walter Lippmann
(1985) y Ronald Steel, Walter Lippmann and the American Century
Su teoría acerca de los medios y la democracia -Public Opinion-
hace especial referencia a la formación de la opinión pública.
Influenciado por el psicoanálisis de
Sigmund Freud, pensó que la
sociedad, mal informada y con una visión parcial, puede ser víctima
de impulsos irracionales como la violencia. El periodismo contribuye
a construir el consenso mediante la 'revolución' que suponen para la
democracia el papel orientador de los medios masivos, que
contribuyen a la defensa de los intereses comunes y a la formación
de la identidad nacional. Contrapone el periodismo libre a la
propaganda política, porque esa es la forma de acortar las
diferencias entre el mundo real y lo que el público percibe del
mundo como real. En una sociedad compleja, donde deben tomarse
decisiones rápidas y con un alto grado de especialización, la
opinión popular no conduce, según Lippmann, a la mejor de las
soluciones, por lo que debe ser acompaña o guiada.
Si bien había mostrado inicialmente un relativo optimismo sobre las
posibilidades de influir en la cultura democrática del pueblo
americano, tras la
Segunda Guerra Mundial reaccionó hacia
planteamientos muy conservadores, con agudos recelos sobre la
autonomía de la opinión pública y la capacidad de una población que,
a su juicio, debía ser conducida por las fortalezas de la sociedad
pensante, por los intelectuales -las 'specialized class'-, motivo
por el cual reclamaba el 'manufacturing consent', término que
utilizó Noam Chomsky
como título de uno de sus libros, pese a que Lippmann pasaría por
ser, para algunos analistas, el contrapunto intelectual de Chomsky.
Su creencia acerca de la incapacidad popular para la toma de las
mejores decisiones de la gobernación acentuó una visión escéptica y
elitista de la vida política, orientada hacia soluciones de
democracia corporatista. Herbert Aptheker ve aquí la influencia de
Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) y Gaetano Mosca (1958-1941) y de las
ideas precursoras del fascismo italiano, como las que definen, desde
una visión elitista, el concepto de clase política como clase
dirigente, la responsabilidad social del intelectual y la utopía de
la democracia. Lippmann denunció la pérdida de las 'tradiciones de
la civilización' y la degradación del concepto de autoridad, por lo
que desconfía de la eficacia del sistema democrático en una sociedad
que se hace más compleja y cree en las virtudes del 'sentido
comercial occidental'. En uno de sus libros de posguerra, Essays
in the Public Philosophy, promueve una 'defensa de la
civilización'. Fue crítico con la intervención norteamericana en la
guerra de Corea y, más tarde, a la de Vietnam.
Who's Who: Walter Lippmann - Updated - Wednesday,
12 December, 2001
Walter Lippmann (1889-1974), the noted
liberal journalist, was among the first moderate liberals to sign-up to
President Wilson's policy of 'limited preparedness' in 1916, and was
influential in encouraging support from similar quarters.
Born in New York on 23
September 1889 to German-Jewish parents, Lippmann studied at Harvard
where he developed socialist beliefs and there co-founded the Harvard
Socialist Club, simultaneously editing the Harvard Monthly.
Lippmann was befriended
in 1911 by Lincoln Steffens, the campaigning journalist. Steffens (and
subsequently Lippmann) supported Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive Party
in the 1912 presidential election. The following year, 1913, Lippmann
published the well-received A Preface to Politics.
He co-founded in 1914
(with Herbert Croly) the New Republic magazine of political
criticism, and which was part-intended as an antidote to what he
regarded as the 'muck-raking' format of political press coverage of the
Lippmann came to reject
his earlier embracing of socialism in Drift and Mastery (1916),
while retaining liberal progressive tendencies. Lippmann used the
New Republic to champion Wilson's re-election campaign in 1916,
which brought him into subsequent contact with Wilson's closest advisor,
With war underway
Lippmann, a prominent pacifist, was persuaded (initially by Colonel
House) to back a policy of limited military preparedness for war in
1916. With Lippmann's backing, who envisaged the war as a vehicle for
liberal values, other moderate liberals were encouraged to come forward
approved the U.S. government's increasing participation in social and
economic management during wartime. Perhaps as importantly, Lippmann
believed in Wilson, and was confident that the president would
ultimately prove able to impose a liberal form of peace upon the warring
nations of Europe.
In 1917 Lippmann
accepted an appointment as assistant to
Newton Baker, Wilson's Secretary of War.
Wilson established a
wartime 'Inquiry' body, in effect a secret investigation into world
affairs with the aim of producing a programme for world peace. Boasting
some 125 researchers, Lippmann acted as its co-ordinator. Its final
report, The War Aims and Peace Terms It Suggests, sent to
Congress on 22 December 1917, formed the basis for Wilson's subsequent
Fourteen Points declaration of January 1918.
Disappointed with the
results of the peace thrashed out at the Paris Peace Conference, which
he attended as a U.S. delegate, and appalled at the severity of the
treatment meted out to Germany, Lippmann distanced himself from Wilson
during the summer of 1919. In consequence Lippmann used the New
Republic to urge public opposition to the Versailles treaty and to
U.S. participation in the proposed
League of Nations.
With the collapse of
the so-called 'Progressive' policies most associated with Wilson (and
the re-election of the Republicans first to control of the Senate and
then to the presidency), Lippmann's influence declined in tandem.
In 1920 Lippmann left
the New Republic to join the New York World. He published
two controversial works in the 1920s, Public Opinion (1922) and
The Phantom Public (1925), which expressed doubts as to the
practical feasibility of establishing a true democracy in modern society.
Rising to edit the
New York World in 1929, Lippmann moved to the Herald Tribune
with the closure of the former newspaper in 1931. For the following 30
years Lippmann edited the nationally syndicated column 'Today and
Tomorrow', during the course of which he shifted his political stance.
Taking a rather more pragmatic approach to current events, Lippmann came
out in support of seven Democratic presidential nominees and six
In the wake of the
Second World War Lippmann apparently returned to his former liberal
values. He subsequently opposed the Korean War, upsetting both major
parties at once.
Walter Lippmann died in
New York on 14 December 1974 at the age of 85.
and Democracy by
History and Reality [New York, Cameron Associates, 1955]
in a section on Polemics on the “New Conservatism” pp. 49-72.)
Back in 1933, the editors of The Nation, in introducing a
series of four articles devoted to Walter Lippmann, remarked that he was
"probably the most influential [American] journalist of our time." A
similar estimate is true for our own day both in terms of the extensive
audience reached by his columns (they appear in about 140 U.S.
newspapers, 17 Latin American, 9 Canadian, and in Australian, Greek,
Japanese and other papers throughout the world) and in terms of the
special seriousness with which so much of his audience studies his
This year there has appeared Mr. Lippmann's twentieth book, Essays in
The Public Philosophy, (Little, Brown) which for weeks has been
among the nation's best-sellers, and reached additional thousands
through nearly complete re-publication in a single issue of the
reactionary organ, United States News & World Report, and in
several issues of the liberal Atlantic Monthly. This offers a
good occasion for a critical evaluation of the work of Mr. Lippmann.
In the extensive literature about Walter Lippmann a recurrent theme is
his alleged ambiguity. One repeatedly finds such questions as those
posed a generation ago by Amos Pinchot: "Has he the liberal and
democratic view, or . . . is he the prophet . . . of big-business
fascism?" The simultaneous publication of extracts from his latest book
in the Atlantic on the one hand and U. S. News on the other, indicates
the same quality, as do the book's reviews by two writers in the New
Republic who find opposite lessons.
The same duality appears in Max Freedman's review of The Public
Philosophy in The Nation. He begins by saying: "Few things
would be easier than to caricature this book and make out that Walter
Lippmann is an enemy of the democratic tradition." Easier or not, Mr.
Freedman feels it best "to take Mr. Lippmann at his own evaluation" and
for this he quotes Lippmann as saying, early in the volume: "I am a
liberal democrat. . . ." Yet, before Mr. Freedman is half through with
his own review, he is discussing Lippmann's "condemnation of the
democratic process"—peculiar conduct for a liberal democrat who is a
friend of the democratic tradition.
Related to this apparent duality is another striking feature of the
literature concerning Lippmann. Since the day, over thirty years ago,
that Mr. Lippmann left the then very young
to join the editorial staff of the New York World to the day of the
appearance of his latest volume, writers have commented upon what they
described as Lippmann's change in what had been liberal or even radical
views. Mr. Lippmann is forever the "former liberal."
A generation ago, his
colleague, Herbert Croly reported a Lippmann shift and attributed it to
"unpardonable opportunism"; and just the other day, R. H. S. Crossman
headed his piece on The Public Philosophy, "Mr. Lippmann Loses
Faith." In this case the Lippmann shift was attributed to the "snapping
of his patience" after years of "throwing the pearls of his expertise
before the swine of a vast syndicated readership" (New Statesman &
Nation, June 11, 1955). Others, including Carl Friedrich, Heinz-Eulau
and Max Lerner, have offered varying explanations": for what they have
viewed at different times as sharp changes in Lippmann's position.
Lippmann's biographer devotes a rather sharp sentence to this problem:
"The subtle [?] influences of a lifetime of, middle-class comfort and a
growing ambition to achieve wealth and fame helped to refashion
Lippmann's convictions." (David E. Weingast, Walter Lippmann (Rutgers
Univ. Press, 1949) p.13.)
We shall not enter into the game of guessing Mr. Lippmann's motivations
because we do not know him or them; because we are interested in his
ideas, not his psyche; and because, therefore, his personal motivations
are irrelevant to our inquiry.
We have, however, indicated the prevalence and range of the guessing to
show the nearly unanimous assumption that notable inconsistency has
marked Mr. Lippmann's career. This, we think, is wrong. Mr. Lippmann,
with the exception of his extreme youth, has always been anti-democratic;
his latest book confirms and sharpens his anti-democratic outlook. (This
point is made in the discerning review of The Public Philosophy
by Prof. H.H. Wilson, in I.F. Stone’s Weekly, June 27, 1955.)
This is said despite Lippmann's insistence in the book that he is "a
liberal democrat" and despite Mr. Freedman's warning that such a
characterization as I have offered is actually a caricature of the man's
views. It is not a caricature. Mr. Lippmann is, and has been for at
least thirty years, a systematic opponent of democracy because he has
been a principled proponent of monopoly capitalism.
It is true, of course, that Lippmann's banner has fluttered with the
breeze—and nearly bowed to an occasional storm but the heart of the
matter is that even his semantically most liberal works contain an
anti-democratic essence. For the past generation and more this essence
has been scantily disguised; with The Public Philosophy, issued in the
midst of a "New Conservatism" upsurge, the essence is distilled and
There are, however, certain attributes special to Mr. Lippmann which
explain his mountain-top position. These account for so astute an
observer as Henry Steele Commager declaring Lippmann to be "the most
sagacious of American publicists" (The American Mind, Yale Univ.
Press, 1950, P. 221).
Style is not unimportant, and Mr. Lippmann's literary craftsmanship is
great. Essentially it adds up to a tone of authoritative consideration,
so that even his remarks which in content may be extremely tentative in
impact seem to close debate. Lippmann's learning is formidable (though
his scholarship is careless) and the nature of his experiences are
extraordinary (before he was thirty, to go no further, Mr. Lippmann had
been secretary for the Socialist mayor of Schenectady, assistant to
Lincoln Steffens, an editor of The New Republic, and confidant of
Perhaps of greatest consequence are the concentration and sobriety that
Mr. Lippmann has brought to his work. Apparently his powers of
self-discipline are unusual and he has bent these single-mindedly for
several decades to the study and elucidation of central political and
social questions confronting the American ruling class. Early in his
career Lippmann commented that "the price of respectability is a muffled
soul bent on the trivial and the mediocre." He must answer for the
condition of his own soul, but the fact is that he has concentrated on
the vital and the significant, and this gives to his indubitable
respectability a special consequence. Always his point of departure has
been that of the American ruling class, and his origins, contacts,
friendships have been almost entirely limited to that class, or to
comparable elements abroad.
The basic features of our historical epoch—the moribund nature of
imperialism and the inevitability of its replacement by Socialism—have
been apprehended, partially and in distorted form, by Walter Lippmann.
It is the impact of this process of decay and the challenge of this
process of growth which his writings mirror, and since his viewpoint is
that of the doomed, his prose is filled with foreboding. Thus, in 1914,
in his second book (Drift and Mastery): "We have lost authority ... We
drift ... All weakness comes to the surface. We are homeless in a jungle
of machines and untamed powers that haunt and lure the imagination." In
1939: "The American people have no vision of their own future . . . they
are seized by deep uncertainty . . . [are] making themselves sick with
nervous indecision" (Life Magazine, June 5). Today, in his latest
book, referring to "Western society": " What we have seen is not only
decay—though much of the old structure was dissolving—but something
which can be called an historic catastrophe."
Something of the problem that has been harassing Lippmann was posed in
the early days of American imperialism by the leader of that "New
Freedom" which was to appear attractive to the young Lippmann. Woodrow
Wilson, speaking before the Virginia Bar Association in 1897 on the
subject, "Leaderless Government," said: "This is not a day of
revolution; but it is a day of change, and of such change as may breed
revolution, should we fail to guide and moderate it."
To the effort at guiding and moderating—and thwarting—Lippmann has
devoted his life. The result is not heartening—the powers of 1914 are
still untamed and now greatly enhanced; the deep uncertainty of 1939 is
deeper, the nervous indecision is greater; the past fifty years sum
themselves up for Lippmann as an historic catastrophe.
Tracing the remarkable intellectual career of Lippmann will afford a
panoramic view of the path of the best thought of which
imperialism has been capable, and will help explain the nature of its
Lippmann begins, as quite a few do at the same period, by thinking of
himself as a Socialist, and is, indeed, president of the Harvard
Socialist Club. His first published article, in the Harvard Illustrated
Magazine, for 1909, held Socialism to be "the coming thing," deplored
the ignorance of so many students concerning "this supremely important
subject," and urged its inclusion in college curricula.
Until 1912 he holds to this allegiance and his few writings of the
period identify him with the Left-wing of the Socialist movement.
Indeed, he resigned his post, on May Day, 1912, as secretary for the
Socialist Mayor of
because he said the Mayor was, more reformist than Socialist. In April,
1912, he had anticipated this action by declaring in The Masses that a
bold Socialist program was needed and that it was necessary to keep
Socialism distinct from reformism, otherwise "the movement would be
impregnated with half-baked people who don't understand Socialism." In
The Call of
June 1, 1912
, he returned to the theme of the need to make of the Socialist Party
not a reformist organization, but "a party of genuine radicals."
With that, however, Lippmann's fling was over. Despite these early
espousals of radicalism Lippmann seems to have spoken truly when he told
his biographer, in 1949, that he was "never a Marxist" and that "he had
never accepted the idea of the class struggle."
Certainly, from 1913 on, Lippmann has conducted a vigorous and lucrative
campaign to vindicate his youthful change of mind and heart. (His
biographer writes: "He is believed by friends to be a thrifty person who
has made good investments. Time on one occasion [
Sept. 27, 1937
] said that his yearly income was $54,329. Others have placed the figure
very much higher.")
All of his political activities and intellectual endeavors since then
have been directed towards preserving monopoly capitalism by bringing to
the rich responsible thinking geared to their interests, by urging upon
them a "reasonable" approach, and by attacking democratic concepts and
It is not often that one can catch some Lippmann prose that is not
leather-bound and vacuum-packed. This makes the exceptions all the more
valuable. An outstanding exception is the speech he delivered at the
Annual Meeting of the Association of National Advertisers, held in
November, 1945, and published by the Association in pamphlet form "for
circulation among business executives." Speaking on "The Need for
Enlightened Business Leadership" to fellow professional servitors, Mr.
Lippmann was strikingly direct and simple.
The "need," he said, was acute because the challenge was grave. The
businessmen's future, he warned, "is certain to be dark, turbulent, and
tragic if they are not strongly led by men who take seriously, and take
regularly, honest and wise advice on the world they are living in, the
character of the age to which they belong. He went on to remind his
that whereas 50 years ago, even 25 years ago, the system which we call
free enterprise was universal among all economically developed
countries, today the United States is the only big industrial country
now committed to the perpetuation of free enterprise.
Lippmann kept hammering away at the need for "an enlightened public
policy"; he insisted that nothing could be "settled by saying the hell
with the New Deal, the hell with labor unions, the hell with the
Russians." Of course, was the dear implication, we would all like to see
these monsters consigned to hell, but wishing for it would not
accomplish it; they were not goblins to be dissolved by imprecations,
but were real forces requiring "enlightened public policy."
If businessmen ignore the enlightenment they will be "acting exactly
like all other governing classes who throughout history were on their
way down and on their way out." They must not follow the model of the
French aristocrats who "clung so grimly and stupidly to their privileges
that they lost their power"; no, the model is the British rulers who
change form with splendid elasticity and retain substance with notable
tenacity. Lippmann said there was "nothing so pertinent to the peculiar
position of American businessmen in the years that lie ahead" as this
French-British contrast. With that came the noble exhortation that no
doubt quickened the sensitive hearts of the assembled advertising
executives: "Let the captains of industry be captains indeed, and go
forward unafraid into the days to come."
It is not unfair to suggest that when Lippmann told these advertising
tycoons of the businessmen's critical need of "honest and wise advice",
he and his audience assumed that the man addressing them was a shining
example of such a counselor.
This advice has had perhaps half a dozen central threads that weave in
and out of Lippmann's work, to reappear as a finished pattern in his
most recent volume. These main themes will now receive our attention.
Lippmann has always insisted on the overwhelming importance from the
imperialists' viewpoint—of crushing Socialism. A considerable section of
his very early book, Drift and Mastery (1914) is devoted to
demonstrating "the inadequacy of Marx for the present age." As befitted
the time, this demonstration was enveloped in compliments concerning
Marx' great vision. But the garlands were distributed in order to
camouflage the knife-thrust: "Marxians are out of touch with the latent
forces of this age"; they are, in fact, "largely sterile". The substance
of Lippmann's arguments as to this point need not detain us here. It is
due him to say, however, that they contain all the arguments advanced by
him or by anyone else in the course of the subsequent forty years'
campaign to show bow outmoded Marxism really is.
When the Bolshevik Revolution demonstrated Marxism's "sterility,"
Lippmann applied himself to the noble task of "choking the infant in its
cradle." In this behalf he was a chief author of
Wilson's Fourteen Points, issued in January, 1918. This was
an effort to offset the impact of that Revolution and the public release
by the Bolsheviks of the terms of the secret treaties which were the
reality behind the imperialists' slogan of "Peace Without Victory"—also
coined by Lippmann. In this connection, too, did he view the conception
League of Nations
At the Paris Peace Council, where Lippmann played a role, he felt the
was the barrier against the Bolshevizing of Europe. He reported early in
1919 that "Lenin and Liebknecht sit in the Council at
, and that their voices are heard in ever), discussion." Lippmann
insisted that, "it is with them the world is negotiating today for its
own preservation", thus very early consigning Soviet Russia to some
At the negotiations of the victorious imperialist powers Lippmann was
troubled by the squabbles and differences amongst themselves and their
vindictiveness towards the defeated nations, for he felt that everything
should be subordinated to a united coalition—a sort of premature NATO—to
destroy Bolshevism. It was the failure to solidify this as firmly as he
wished that caused Lippmann to resign his services and return to the
In The Political Scene, published in 1919, Lippmann warned:
The reason why Lenin may succeed is that the victors do not take
seriously enough what he represents. They are frightened to be sure,
they are even panicky, but they are not serious enough about the menace
to be willing to subordinate every other consideration to the creation
which will be sterile to Bolshevism.
Lippmann called for "not a sanitary cordon, but a sanitary
," including a revived
, and this sanitary
, "under the aegis of the League is preliminary to the final problem of
dealing with Lenin." He thought such a program—plus internationalizing
the European and Pacific ports of
—rather than armed intervention, with all its risks, might end
Bolshevism. He glimpsed something of the mass release that Bolshevism
represented and called it "primitive, formless." Hence he held that
conventional military repression would fail, for the conquest of
Bolshevism was an altogether different kind of a problem from that of
"occupying a capital and a few strategic points."
(It is in the context of this opposition to military intervention that
one is to read the magnificent editorial in The New Republic of
January 28, 1920, denouncing the lies about Soviet Russia in the New
York Times and other commercial papers as "the father of lies."
These were deceits promulgated to bolster an impossible and stupid
program, doomed to failure—an irresponsible blunder which to Lippmann,
then and now, is inexcusable.)
From that time to the present Lippmann has sought incessantly and
conscientiously to devise a foreign policy that would destroy the
. And, to the same end, he has tried to discover some magical device
that would tear out of capitalism the roots of its replacement by
Socialism. Fabianism, Fordism, Keynesism have beguiled him in turn—the
latter with lasting impact—but these he has viewed as more or less
useful tactical devices. The main enemy was Democracy itself, the
sovereignty of the people, and against this idea as being at the nub of
the challenge to "free enterprise," Lippmann has waged a many—sided
assault, culminating in the all—out attack in his—latest volume.
The relationship of Socialism and democracy is, as Lenin has said,
organic; the most determined enemies of both have also recognized, in
their own distorted fashion, this relationship. This is, indeed, a main
theme of Hitler's Mein Kampf. Hence, there it is written:
Democracy of the West today is the forerunner of Marxism, which would
be inconceivable without it. It is democracy alone which furnishes this
universal plague with the soil in which it spreads.
The parliamentary principle of decision by majority, by denying the
authority of the person and placing in its stead the number of the crowd
in question, sins against the aristocratic basic idea of nature.
Dozens of such quotations may be culled from Hitler. The idea in them is
central to the thinking of other fascists or precursors of fascism, as
the Italians, Pareto and Mosca. Indeed, the latter's very influential
work, The Ruling Class, first published in 1923, should be read with
Lippmann's latest opus to see how strikingly similar they are.
Mosca stated in so many words that his system of elitism was offered as
a refutation of democracy, without which refutation there was no
escaping the inexorable logic of Socialism.
Socialism will be arrested only [he wrote] ... if the discovery and
demonstration of the great laws that manifest themselves in all human
societies [i.e., Mosca's elitism] succeed in making visible to the eye
the impossibility of realizing the democratic ideal. On this condition,
and on this condition only, will the intellectual classes escape the
influence, a of social democracy and form an invincible barrier to it.
(Gaetano Mosca, The Ruling Class (N.Y., 1989), p. 827, italics
added. See the very valuable study by Raymond Barkley. "The Theory of
the Elite and the Mythology of Power" in Science & Society,
Lippmann has been insisting for over—a generation that the source of the
difficulties of I our era lies in attachment to the erroneous idea of
democracy, which has necessarily resulted in disastrous efforts at its
In an essay published in 1922, Lippmann announced "the absence of a
really friendly and drastic criticism of democratic ideas." His writings
have been filling this alleged void, with the emphasis on drastic, not
friendly. Indeed, his book published that same year—Public Opinion—is
such a criticism. For its theme is that democracy assumes the existence
of an informed and rational public opinion, while in fact the assumption
is quite false. As a result, the truth is that any community which is
large and has heterogeneous interests will have to be governed and is
really governed "only by a specialized class whose personal interests
reach beyond the locality."
(Implicit here is a valid insight, explicit in
and Calhoun, that only in a homogenous society—one without exploiting
classes—could there be a fully democratic, non-oppressive state.)
Moreover, he went on, "this class is irresponsible" and that is how it
must be. The origin of power is of no consequence, only the use of power
matters, he maintained. And, though Lippmann did not say this, his
position clearly assumes that there is no relationship between the
source of power and the use to which it is put. Here, then, the mythical
entity of Power serves to destroy class and make questions like
democracy or autocracy or oligarchy unreal catch-phrases for election
time or bed-time. Present, too, in this classlessness that so well
serves Lippmann's anti-democracy, is another idealist construction that
runs through all his political writing. Not only is Power divorced from
any social reality, but also the State is quite divorced from any class
definition, that is, has no relationship with any real State that has
Lippmann has attacked, in books going back to the 'twenties—like Men
of Destiny and American Inquisitors what he calls "the dogma
of majority rule" from another angle—that of so-called "liberalism". In
the name of liberty, democracy is assaulted. Here is an example of this
approach taken from the latter book named above (1928):
The advancement of human liberty has as a matter of practical politics
consisted in building up centers of resistance against the absolutism of
the reigning sovereigns. Whoever the sovereign, the program of liberty
is to deprive him of arbitrary and absolute power. In our age the power
of majorities tends to become arbitrary and absolute.
Again observe how the myth of Power—divorced from class origins and
functions—serves to bolster the power of the ruling class. This, too,
serves to obscure the fact that "the advancement of human liberty" has
come as the result of mass struggle against reactionary ruling classes,
something which Lippmann avoids in all his earlier writings, and denies
in his later work. Further, it hides the fact that this advancement has
come with and has meant the enhancement of the rights and powers of more
and more of the people, reaching its highest point, in theory, in the
conception of sovereignty as inhering in the people. This idea of the
sovereign people negates, of course, the original idea of
sovereignty—that is, the omnipotence of the Sovereign over the people.
Of course, in origin, liberty to the bourgeoisie meant the liberty of
accumulating property and inequality in property ownership was a
hallmark of such "liberty". Lippmann, advocate par excellence of the
bourgeoisie, repeats this word for word a century and a half after its
progressive potential, relative to feudalism, has been squeezed dry:
"Private property," he wrote in The Method of Freedom (1934),
"was the original source of freedom" and "it is still its main bulwark."
What is bothering Mr. Lippmann is that of which the Founding Fathers
already had a sharp premonition when creating our Constitution.
Madison, for example, in the Convention,
June 26, 1787, put the matter dearly:
In framing a system which we wish to last for ages, we should not lose
sight of the changes which ages will produce. An increase of population
will of necessity increase the proportion of those who will labor under
all the hardships of life, and secretly sigh for a more equal
distribution of its blessings. These may in time outnumber those who are
placed above the feelings of indigence. According to the equal laws of
suffrage, the power will slide into the hands of the former. No agrarian
attempts have yet been made in this country, but symptoms of a leveling
spirit, as we have understood, have sufficiently appeared in certain
quarters to give notice of the future danger.
These are the deeper meanings of the cries of the Convention delegates
concerning the need to check "democracy," of democracy's "horrors" and
"dangers." To this is to be added the fact that even advanced 18th
century political scientists—like Paine, Madison, Alfieri, etc.—thought
of the "People" in almost as limited a sense as some individuals now
think of "Society," i.e., as the "400."
The solution for the 18th century bourgeoisie—seeking victory over
feudalism and/or colonialism, and needing mass support—was to contrive a
government which protected private property and its unequal distribution
while maintaining the republican form—that is, their solution, then, was
bourgeois-democracy. The contradiction already sensed by leading
bourgeois-democrats in the 18th century and already very much limiting
the "democracy" established, becomes overwhelming to imperialist
theoreticians of the 20th century including Walter Lippmann. Their
resolution of the contradiction is to deny democracy altogether the
better to preserve the now aged bourgeoisie.
Another facet of the attack upon democracy is to deny the people's
capacity to govern. Organic to the idea of popular sovereignty is
popular capacity, and if the latter can be attacked successfully then
the former falls.
Again, Mr. Lippmann has anticipated, in his earlier writing, the vast
current outpouring relative to the inherent evil of humanity, its
irrationalism and its rottenness making resignation the only responsible
attitude and contrition the only moral posture.
Adherents of democracy, he wrote back in 1925, "encourage the people to
attempt the impossible"—that is, to exercise sovereignty, and this can
only result in their "interfering outrageously with the productive
activities of the individual." This must at all costs be avoided "so
that each of us may live free of the trampling and the roar of a
bewildered herd." Even earlier, in his Public Opinion,
Lippmann seized on the behaviorism of J. B. Watson (his book,
Psychology from the Standpoint of a Behaviorist appeared in 1919) to
bulwark his attack on democracy. For the mechanical behaviorist view of
thinking as pure stimulus and response of the human brain as a mere
switchboard—was the source for Lippmann's invention of the concept of
mental "stereotypes." With this, Lippmann reduced the "reality" of
democracy to the manipulation of the "herd's" mind by the propagandistic
conditioning conducted by the elite. Similarly, psychoanalysis and
pragmatism appealed to Lippmann—as did eugenics for a time—as scientific
demonstrations of the irrational and amoral nature of man, as clinchers
that the masses, in Mencken's phrase, were the "booboisie."
In his Preface to Morals (1929) Lippmann announced men to be at
last "free" and therefore corrupt. "There are," he proclaimed, "no
conventions, no rebus, no gods, no priests, princes, fathers, or
revelations which they must accept. . . . The prison door is wide open.
They stagger out into trackless space under a blinding sun." The freedom
is intolerable, for the free are incapable and so the liberated one "put
on manacles to keep his hands from trembling." It is these members of
the bewildered herd who "drug themselves with pleasure . . . who have
made the moving pictures and the popular newspapers what they are."
The unrestrained language reflects the emotion of an offended and
frightened snob, but more consequential is the never-never land that
Lippmann must construct to make reasonable his vicious attack on the
masses. "The prison door is wide open", indeed—"Free to make their own
lives", indeed. Such travesties are beneath refutation. They are
indulged in lest the prison doors really be opened. They are part of
Lippmann's systematic slander of the masses—the reverse side of his
theory of the elite.
We suffer, wrote Lippmann in his attack on the New Deal disguised under
the title, Inquiry into the Principles of the Good Society
(1937), from "The Illusion of Control" which must have been news to the
thirteen million then unemployed. The fact is, at any rate, he insisted,
that "there is no possibility that men can understand the whole process
of social existence." Forgetting "the limitations of men" has been our
central error. Men cannot plan their future for "they are unable to
imagine it" and they cannot manage a civilization, for "they are unable
to understand it." To think otherwise, to dare to believe that the
people can and should govern themselves, that they can and should forge
social systems and governments enhancing the pursuit of their happiness
here on earth—this is "the gigantic heresy of an apostate generation."
Hence, Lippmann's Principles of a Good Society came down, after
all the elevated language, to the "rugged individualism" spelled out by
its personification, Herbert Hoover, in his The Challenge to Liberty
That Lippmann believes in the incapacity of the mass and the heretical
nature of the movement to make democracy fully meaningful does not mean
that he doses his eyes to the urgent reality of that movement. This is
why, as we have seen, Lippmann views Socialism as a central question of
our day and has labored to make the bourgeoisie comprehend the fullness
of its challenge.
Thus, another important aspect of Lippmann's thinking is his correct
insistence that the modern world is marked by a decisive change as
compared with previous epochs. That decisive change lies in the fact
that capitalism has created a technology capable of freeing men of want,
poverty, illiteracy and even, very largely, of disease. It has also
produced the working class which can transform the social order so that
the technical possibilities of developed capitalism may be fully
realized and—with Socialism—infinitely enhanced. The elimination of
exploitation, oppression, poverty and war becomes, then, in our era, for
the first time, a practical possibility and, indeed, the process of the
elimination of the old and the creation of the new is the characteristic
of that era.
Lippmann, of course, does not express the change in these terms, but he
senses its quality. This is already present in his pre-World War I book,
Drift and Mastery, where he wrote that "men have to
substitute purpose for tradition: and that is, I believe, the
profoundest change that has ever taken place in human history." Even
where he is most contemptuous of the masses, this change is on his mind.
Thus, in A Preface to Morals he found, "The peculiarity of our modern
situation is that multitudes instead of a few, are compelled to make
radical and original adjustments."
As so often happens with Lippmann, the clearest expression of this
thought occurs in a speech—this one delivered at the
in March, 1933. The idea, he said, "that a social order can and should
be planned and managed, has taken root among the people themselves and
the sovereign power is in their hands." Hence, "the determining element
of this age," he held, was "the conscious effort by the mass of men to
produce an ordered society."
So, while Lippmann views this as heretical, he sees it as real and
potent. He doesn't like it, but he never forgets it.
This reality leads Lippmann to emphasize the need for style, finesse,
deftness on the part of the rulers. He wants a refined exploitation. In
his first book, A Preface to Politics (1913) he warned:
There is something pathetic in the blindness of powerful people when
they face a social crisis. Fighting viciously every readjustment . . .
they make their own overthrow inevitable.... When far-sighted men appear
in the ruling classes—men who recognize the need of a civilized answer
to this increasing restlessness, the rich and the powerful treat them to
a scorn and a hatred that are incredibly bitter ... [it] is enough to
make an observer believe that the rich of today are as stupid as the
nobles of France before the Revolution.
Even in his bitter attack against the New Deal, as formulated in The
Good Society, where he explicitly agrees with the Tory thinking of
Herbert Spencer, he disagrees with Spencerian tactics. He does not want
moss-back reactionary attitudes which may encourage "the common ruin of
property." This has been and remains a constant ingredient in Lippmann's
thinking, though he limits the area of permissible concession as
imperialism grows older.
This leads Lippmann to urge that the bourgeoisie bethink themselves of
the usefulness of benevolence, Indeed, Lippmann is a pioneer in
propagandizing for the idea of the "industrial statesman" rather than
the capitalist, for the idea of the tycoons as "creators of national
growth" rather than robber barons. In his earliest book, the
independently wealthy young man appealed for businessmen "released from
the stupid fixation upon the silly little ideals of accumulating
dollars." He went on:
Instead of telling business men not to be greedy, we should tell them to
be industrial statesmen, applied scientists, and members of a craft.
Politics can aid that revolution in a hundred ways: by advocating it, by
furnishing schools that teach, laboratories that demonstrate, by putting
business on the same plane of interest as the Health Service.
By his next book, Drift and Mastery, published a year later
(1914), Mr. Lippmann announced the realization of his proposal, and
anticipated the kernel of Burnham's Managerial Revolution. Wrote
The real news about business, it seems to me, is that it is being
administered by men who are not profiteers. The managers are on salary,
divorced from ownership and from bargaining. They represent the
revolution in business incentives at its very heart. For they conduct
gigantic enterprises and they stand outside the higgling of the market .
. . The motive of profit is not their personal motive. That is an
Astounding—yes, and somewhat prematurely announced. Twenty years later,
Mr. Lippmann was writing on "Big Businessmen of Tomorrow" (The
American Magazine, April, 1934) which proposed for that "tomorrow"
what Mr. Lippmann had found already to be fact in 1914. Still, 1 1934,
he felt it was certain for that tomorrow. Then, he was sure, businessmen
would see their positions as places of public trust, not as sources of
private accumulation. "They will work for honor, distinction, for
promotion, for the interest and excitement and satisfaction of the work
The theme recurs in later writings by Lippmann; he has labored hard to
get across the "stereotype" of the sacrificial businessman to the
thundering herd, but with little success He faces an insurmountable
obstacle to which he alluded also in 1934—when he was somewhat impatient
with what he thought was the naiveté afflicting some New Dealers.
Recovery, he wrote, could come only if the government encouraged
large-scale investments by capitalists. And, he bluntly pointed out:
They will not do it to cam a Blue Eagle. They will not do it for
patriotism's sake or as an act of public service. They will do it
because they see a chance to make money. That is the way it works. (N.Y.
Herald Tribune, July 13, 1934).
It is worth noting that with, all of Lippmann's verbiage, about the need
for elasticity in ruling, his own record is markedly unimaginative and
rigid. He was opposed to a minimum wage law, and denounced the Wagner
Labor Act. His taxation policy has been about that of Mellon, and he has
generally favored a sales tax. He was one of the first to raise the
demand for the illegalization of the Communist Party (in 1944 in his
book, U.S. War Aims). He has always supported colonialism and repeatedly
denounced the idea of self-determination. His foreign policy has
generally revolved around the theme of how best to weaken the
and achieve the hegemony of
imperialism. It is in connection with these policies that Lippmann
pioneered in proposing an "Atlantic Community" (his phrase)—an idea
basic to the Cold War and one that is rooted in policy he projected, as
we have seen, right after World War I.
Mr. Lippmann's lifelong assault upon democracy is systematized in his
recent Essays in the Public Philosophy. Its appearance is a
hallmark of the increasing rejection of bourgeois-democracy that
characterizes the era of intensified monopoly capitalism. The Morgan
partner, Thomas Lamont, in proposing a resolution of gratitude for
Lippmann's services, at a dinner held in 1931, offered this ultimate
praise: "Big business has always respected Mr. Lippmann's utterances.
They have always been constructive."
Mr. Lippmann continues his services in his latest volume by presenting
in his most civilized manner and as persuasively as his great talents
and experiences permit, a rationale for declaring democracy defunct.
Naturally, at this time in this country, in the press that "matters" his
work has been generally hailed. A professor of philosophy finds it "a
classical model of diagnosis," the head of a history department in
another college says Lippmann "speaks as a wise prophet," the head of a
Catholic university hopes "that one hundred years from now it may be
recognized as the opening gun of a powerful movement in political
philosophy.” Hopeful, however, and a sign of the turn against extremist
reaction that has marked the past several months, some professors,
notably H.H Wilson of
and Oscar Handlin of Harvard, have written strong criticisms of the
The enemy, writes Lippmann, is “the Jacobin heresy” and that heresy is
the one we have already encountered in his earlier works—i.e., the
belief that humanity can and should produce on earth a society of
abundance, equality, freedom, and peace. This heresy is common to
Jacobinism and to Leninism; it must be excised, else the "civilities"
will cease. "The misrule of the people" explains "the decline of the
West"; let us stop flattering them and admit to ourselves and convince
them that their sovereignty is absurd and unworkable and, indeed,
Certainly, writes Lippmann, my philosophy "will impose a regime that is
hard," but "the results of rational and disciplined government will be
good." The emancipated herd is "lonely" (using Reisman) and
"proletarianized" (using Toynbee) and actually seeks tradition and
stability and order and our philosophy will provide all these.
Disfranchisement is not advocated—no crudity, please—but representation
should be "virtual", such as existed in 18th century
(and against which the American colonists rebelled, but of that source
of the "heresy" we will not speak.
Popular opinion is and must be opposite to the public interest—this
miraculous public interest contrived by Mr. Lippmann, though never
really defined. But then Mr. Lippmann being of the elite, knows the
public interest when he sees it, and the one thing he is sure of is that
his public interest is as public as the rich Englishmen's public school
that is to say, it is private. Mr. Lippmann has extended the myth of the
classless state of his earlier writings to the myth of a classless
public interest which is knowable only to a private, minute elite.
All is geared to the stability of private property. That stability needs
flexibility, not rigidity, Lippmann still insists, and it entails
duties—governing for instance—as well as rights, such as the wherewithal
to live well, as befits the elite. In terms of flexibility, Lippmann
rejects the tactical approach of the McCarthyites as being untimely,
crude and unnecessary at this juncture of events. He has written, in one
of his columns, that "the real trouble with the so-called Right-wing
Republicans" is that they do not sufficiently take account of "the
modern realities" and that "they are at odds with the history of the
times they live in."
When Lippmann becomes specific as to the "errors" that popular
sovereignty has produced in the past, he is positively ludicrous, of
course. And he is ludicrous for two reasons: 1) The people really did
not rule in his Western countries, as he well knows; 2) Policies
followed by these Western countries were formulated by monopolists and
to the degree that those policies were not modified by concessions to
opposing public opinion, to that degree were they fully disastrous. This
is true from the "rugged individualist" criminality of the elite Mr.
Hoover and his gang to the foreign policy of the Cliveden Set—not to
speak of the absolutely undiluted elitism of the
Hitler-Mussolini-Hirohito Axis. It is not irrelevant to recall that it
was John Foster Dulles—not a Jacobin heretic—who wrote, in 1939: "Only
hysteria entertains the idea that
contemplates war upon us."
Actually, the full implications of Lippmann's Public Philosophy
were spelled out by him in certain columns that he was writing while
doing that book. In October, 1954, he was in
, and he was appalled by the strength of the Left. He reported the
Communist Party of Italy, "dominates the labor unions, is a growing
power among the villagers in southern
, and it has great support and influence in the middle class." Mr.
The non-Communist parties are in control of the apparatus of the
state, of the bureaucracy, the armed forces and the police. They will
not, I have been told, surrender their sovereign power to the Communists
if they fall behind in the count of heads....
This decision within the governing party means, if it is as firm as it
appears to be, that the Communists cannot take over the government
without great violence. (
October 19, 1954
He returned to the same question in his next column. He had spoken, he
said, with an eminent Italian about this result question of democracy
and Communism. The result this lengthy, but worth full quotation:
We have decided not to surrender the state to the Communists, not to
allow them to take power even if circumstances were to give them the
We shall use the whole force of the state to prevent their taking power
legally. That in the last resort will be our answer to Communist
propaganda. But of course the answer will require actions which will in
fact put in charge of our affairs soldiers, policemen and men who are
temporarily akin to fascists. So we avert the Communist danger but the
price may be the loss of our democracy and our liberties.
Lippmann comments that "in principle this is the right decision." And he
With weak democratic government there is a great danger that the
democrats would simply be brushed aside, would abdicate their
responsibilities, and would leave the dirty work to be done by a
minority. If that is so, the great question arises as to whether the
basic decision should not now be brought into the open, and publicly
declared and its principle openly discussed and vindicated. (Oct. 21,
1954; italics added).
In The Public Philosophy, the language is not quite this
explicit—it does not mention "the dirty work", for example—but the same
program of the illegalization of "subversion",, of the "heresy", in
fact, is offered. It is the program, of course, of Brownell at home and
of Dulles abroad, with his "internal aggression" clauses in his Asian
and Latin American pacts. It is a program to justify the domination of
the world by an ultra-reactionary, coordinated, "sterilized"
There is an additional element in Lippmann's current writing that
requires attention. In accordance with his effort, at responsible and
sober reportage for his employers, Mr., Lippmann has been emphasizing in
recent columns the: reality of the world-wide. mass demand for peace. He
has also noted that in most of the world, because of her anti-colonial
stand, the U.S.S.R. does "stand forth as the champion of what the
These pronouncements are to be read in the light of Lippmann's
anti-democratic convictions and his belief that popular policies are
invariably "bad" policies. When read in this light they carry additional
weight, for Lippmann, is telling his masters—pro-war and anti-Soviet as
they are—to tread lightly and to move cautiously. He is reporting where
the overwhelming direction of mass opinion is, and he knows as a
practical matter something of what this means in terms of power. He
therefore is in fact acknowledging the marvelously salutary influence of
that mass opinion which Lippmann professes to despise. This, itself, is
a decisive refutation of his Public Philosophy.
Lippmann's view of the masses and of their role is diametrically opposed
to that of Marxism, which is the philosophy of the liberation of the
masses by themselves. "When it is a question of a complete
transformation of the social organization," wrote Engels in his
introduction to The Class Struggles in France, "the masses
themselves must also be in it, must themselves already have grasped what
is at stake, what they are going in for with body and soul ... no
lasting victory is possible for them [Socialists] unless they first win
the great mass of the people."
And as for these masses, Marxists evaluate their character, too, in a
way quite opposite from Lippmann's. "The workers "who work without fuss
and peasants," said Stalin in 1933, and noise . . . who create all the
good things of life, who feed and clothe the whole world—they are the
real heroes and the creators of the new life."
But one does not have to subscribe to Marxism to reject Lippmann's
system of reaction. To Lippmann the great heresy is the idea of the
masses having the capacity for building and maintaining a healthy social
order, but Thomas Jefferson spoke of a different heresy: "the political
heresy that man is incapable of self-government." "I am not," said
, "among those who fear the people. They, and not the rich, are the
dependence for continued freedom."
Abraham Lincoln, too, put the same thought with characteristic
simplicity and must be numbered among Lippmann's heretics. Speaking to
his friend, Richard Oglesby in 1858,
said: "Remember, Dick, to keep dose to the people—they are always right
and will mislead no one."
There is a kinship in the words of Jefferson and Lincoln with those of
Engels and Stalin because the liberation of the working class and of all
humanity—the victory of Socialism is in direct line with, an extension
of, a leap forward from the limited liberating results of
bourgeois-democracy. The ideas of Lippmann are akin to those of enemies
of democracy from Carlyle to Mosca to Hitler. They are contemptuous of
the masses and threaten the interests of the masses. Their defeat in
life requires mass unity and activity, defense of democracy, of
equality, and of peace.