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The Making of a Common Will

Toward a Critique of Public Opinion


ow, in the language of democratic theory, do great numbers of people, each feeling privately about so abstract a picture of the world as they carry about in their heads, develop any common will? How does a simple and constant idea emerge from this complex of variables? How are those things known as the "will of the people" or "the national purpose" or "public opinion" crystallized out of such fleeting and casual imagery?

That there is a real difficulty here was shown by an angry tilt in the spring of 1921 between the American ambassador to England and a very large number of other Americans. Mr. Harvey, speaking at a British dinner-table, had assured the world without the least sign of hesitancy what were the motives of Americans in 1917. As he described them, they were not the motives which President Wilson had insisted upon when he enunciated the American mind. Now, of course, neither Mr. Harvey nor Mr. Wilson nor the critics and friends of either nor any one else can know quantitatively and qualitatively what went on in thirty or forty million adult minds. But what everybody knows is that a war was fought and won by a multitude of efforts, stimulated, no one knows in what proportion, by the motives of Wilson and the

motives of Harvey and all kinds of hybrids of the two. People enlisted and fought, worked, paid taxes, sacrificed to a common end, and yet no one can begin to say exactly what moved each person to do each thing that he did. It is no use, then, for Mr. Harvey to tell a soldier who thought this was a war to end war that the soldier did not think any such thing. The soldier who thought that thought that. And Mr. Harvey, who thought something else, thought something else.

In the same speech Mr. Harvey formulated with equal clarity what the voters of 1920 had in their minds. That is a rash thing to do, and if you simply assume that all who voted your ticket voted as you did, then it is a disingenuous thing to do. The count shows that sixteen millions voted Republican, and nine millions Democratic. They voted, says Mr. Harvey, for and against the League of Nations, and in support to this claim he can point to Mr. Wilson's request for a referendum and to the undeniable fact that the Democratic party and Mr. Cox insisted that the league was the issue. But, then, saying that the league was the issue did not make the league the issue, and by counting the votes on election day you do not know the real division of opinion about the league. There were, for example,

This is the third of a series of papers on public opinion culled from Mr. Lippmann's forthcoming book on "Public Opinion." The occasional transition paragraphs in brackets are not Mr. Lippmann's, but are inserted by the editor.-THE EDITOR.

nine million Democrats. Are you entitled to believe that all of them are stanch supporters of the league? Certainly you are not. For your knowledge of American politics tells you that many of the millions voted, as they always do, to maintain the existing social system in the South, and that whatever their views on the league, they did not vote to express their views. Those of them who Those of them who

wanted the league were no doubt pleased that the Democratic party wanted it, too. Those who disliked the league may have held their noses as they voted. But both groups of Southerners voted the same ticket.

Were the Republicans more unanimous? Anybody can pick out of his circle of friends enough Republican voters to cover the whole gamut of opinion from the irreconcilability of Senator Johnson to the advocacy of Secretary Hoover and Chief-Justice Taft. No one can say definitely how many people felt in any particular way about the league, or how many people let their feelings on that subject determine their vote. When there are only two ways of expressing a hundred varieties of feeling, there is no certain way of knowing what the decisive combination was. Senator Borah found in the Republican ticket a reason for voting Republican, but so did President Lowell. The Republican majority was composed of men and women who thought a Republican victory would kill the league, plus those who thought it the most practical way to secure the league, plus those who thought it the surest way offered to obtain an amended league. All these voters were inextricably entangled with their own desire, or the desire of other voters to improve

business, put labor in its place, punish the Democrats for going to war, punish them for not having gone sooner, get rid of Mr. Burleson, improve the price of wheat, lower taxes, stop Mr. Daniels from outbuilding the world, or help Mr. Harding to do the same thing.

And yet a sort of decision emerged; Mr. Harding moved into the White House. For the least common denominator of all the votes was that the Democrats should go and the Republicans come in. That was the only factor remaining after all the contradictions had canceled one another. But that factor was enough to alter policy for four years. The precise reasons why change was desired on that November day in 1920 are not recorded, not even in the memories of the individual voters. The reasons are not fixed. They grow and change and melt into other reasons, so that the public opinions Mr. Harding has to deal with are not the opinions that elected him. That there is no inevitable connection between an assortment of opinions and a particular line of action every one saw in 1916. Elected, apparently, on the cry that he kept us out of war, Mr. Wilson within five months led the country into war.

The working of the popular will, therefore, has always called for explanation. Those who have been most impressed by its erratic working have found a prophet in M. LeBon, and have welcomed generalizations about what Sir Robert Peel called "that great compound of folly, weakness, prejudice, wrong feeling, right feeling, obstinacy, and newspaper paragraphs which is called public opinion." Others have concluded that since out of drift and incoherence settled

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But the facts can, I think, be explained more convincingly without the help of the over-soul in any of its manifestations. After all, the art of inducing all sorts of people who think differently to vote alike is practised in every political campaign. In 1916, for example, the Republican candidate had to produce Republican votes out of many different kinds of Republicans. Let us look at Mr. Hughes's first speech after accepting the nomination.

Mr. Hughes knew the occasion was momentous, and he had carefully prepared his manuscript. In a box sat Theodore Roosevelt, just back from Missouri. All over the house sat the veterans of Armageddon in various stages of doubt and dismay. On the platform and in the other boxes the ex-whited sepulchers and ex-secondstory men of 1912 were to be seen, obviously in the best of health and in a melting mood. Out beyond the hall there were powerful pro-Germans and powerful pro-Allies; a war party in the East and in the big cities; a peace party in the Middle and Far West. There was strong feeling about Mexico. Mr. Hughes had to form a major

ity against the Democrats out of people divided into all sorts of combinations on Taft versus Roosevelt, proGermans versus pro-Allies, war versus neutrality, Mexican intervention versus non-intervention.

About the morality or the wisdom of the affair we are, of course, not concerned here. Our only interest is in the method by which a leader of heterogeneous opinion goes about the business of securing a homogeneous vote.

This representative gathering is a happy augury. It means the strength of reunion. It means that the party of Lincoln is restored.

The italicized words are binders: Lincoln in such a speech has, of course, no relation to Abraham Lincoln. It is merely a stereotype by which the piety which surrounds that name can be transferred to the Republican candidate who now stands in his shoes. Lincoln reminds the Republicans, Bull Moose and Old Guard, that before the schism they had a common history. About the schism no one can afford to speak; but it is there, as yet unhealed.

The speaker must heal it. Now, the schism of 1912 had arisen over domestic questions; the reunion of 1916 was, as Mr. Roosevelt had declared, to be based on a common indignation against Mr. Wilson's conduct of international affairs. But international affairs were also a dangerous source of conflict. It was necessary to find an opening subject which would not only ignore 1912, but would also avoid the explosive conflicts of 1916. The speaker skilfully selected the spoils system in diplomatic appointments. "Deserving Democrats" was

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