Symbols of Democracy

Symbols of Democracy

Symbols of Democracy

Symbols of Democracy


Among the comparatively new scientific tools available to social science, content analysis (i. e., the statistical tabulation, analysis, and interpretation of what has been said orally or in print) is one of the most promising. In the hands of the unsophisticated or immature, however, it can be dangerous. The danger arises from faulty inferences as to the function of communication in human society and its relation to other forms of behavior.

It may be true that "actions speak louder than words," and it is certainly true that people who use symbols of communication (and who does not?) often neither mean what they say nor say what they mean.

The correlation between verbal statements (oral or written) and human behavior may be very low. There may even be an inverse relation between them as when the Russian Communists talk most loudly and frequently about democracy at the very time the dictatorship becomes more rigid and all-embracing. Hence, it would be hazardous to base forecasts or predictions of future behavior solely on the verbal statements of individuals.

In seeking to establish correlations between verbal statements and behavior, it is important to remember that "communication" is itself a significant form of behavior. Clarence Day's charming essay, This Simian World, helps to emphasize that "talking" is an essential attribute of human nature. As such, it requires no more justification than eating, sleeping, or making love. Communication thus serves not only to denote objects, places, or relations in the world outside, but to connote "feelings" or attitudes that enter into the structure of personality.

But the relation between beliefs (or attitudes) and verbal statements about controversial issues is by no means clear. What a man says he believes may correspond not at all with what he really believes if his real belief is to be measured by his behavior or even his "feelings." Hence it is, as one cynic has observed, that many Christians "profess the Cross but practice the double cross."

The gap between the verbal promise and actual performance of political parties, politicians, advertisers, and motion picture promoters, to mention but a few symbol specialists in our society, is notorious. Even the courts recognize that advertising claims are not in the nature of legal warranties but are to be discounted by a varying and indeterminate element of "puff."

It would, of course, be almost equally hazardous to infer beliefs or attitudes from merely observing overt behavior. People often act in ways sharply at odds with their central attitudes, as when mortal enemies behave "as gentlemen" toward one another under circumstances where the amenities require this circumspect behavior.

Uncritical reliance upon analyses of "symbol flow" to interpret atti-

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.