The Man in the Street: The Impact of American Public Opinion on Foreign Policy

By Thomas A. Bailey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN
CONCLUSIONS

WHEN Emerson said that the Man in the Street does not know a star in the sky, he uttered a profound truth. But it is comforting to realize that our ignorance of the firmament can in no way affect the movements of the heavenly bodies. The same reassuring thought unfortunately cannot be used to excuse our ignorance of public affairs.

Enough has been said to demonstrate that every American citizen is a sovereign, whether he chooses to exercise his sovereignty or not. The question is whether we shall be good or bad sovereigns, alert or apathetic ones, intelligent or stupid ones. "The problem of democracy is not the problem of getting rid of kings," wrote F. C. Morehouse. "It is the problem of clothing the whole people with the elements of kingship."

Many Americans, through sheer indifference or incapacity, have abdicated their kingship. We have set up a representative government, and then all too often have failed to indicate in what way we wish to be represented. In 1776 we needed the consent of the governed; today we need direction from the governed.

One of the most encouraging aspects of American public opinion is that in the last quarter of a century or so we have developed much greater maturity in our approach to international relations. But the increasing complexity of world affairs makes it imperative that we rise more effectively to our responsibilities. With this end in view, and by way of summary and conclusion, the following suggestions are offered.

We should attract our best brains into government service. Leadership of the highest quality is urgently needed.

We should exercise extreme care in the election of our public servants, and in particular give thought to their capacity for a broad approach to foreign affairs. It is much better to vote for the right senator than later to write to the wrong senator.

We should delegate more responsibility to our public officials, after we have gone to pains to select the ablest ones. In a sense we have neither a representative nor a delegate government: not representative, because too many of us are inarticulate; not delegate, because too many of us delegate authority by default.

We should educate for statesmanship at the same time we are educating for citizenship. If we pick out our ablest men, train them from the beginning, and delegate more authority to them, we shall get a relatively quick return on our investment. But even this is only a partial answer.

We should, above all, undertake the Gargantuan task of raising the educational and apperceptive level of our entire population. Elihu Root once said that when foreign affairs were handled by despots, the danger was in

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