Public Opinion

Public Opinion

Public Opinion

Public Opinion

Excerpt

The discussion of public opinion and of the opinion process offers many difficulties. There is the tangled, matted field of opinion theory. It is a field cluttered with the stumps of the once mighty theoretical particularisms, a field in which a dense underbrush has grown, in which there are confusing brambles of terminological disputation and an infinite thicket of psychological descriptions. It is not to be readily cleared by the beavering tactics of a petty scholarship or by little brush pickers or small, controversial conflagration makers. It calls for a master synthesizer, who, stoutly implemented with tools of original keenness, can cut a clear path to the other side. While awaiting such a man, perhaps we can beaver a little.

For the most part I have used simple, nontechnical terms in this discussion. But not in all cases. At the present time, no one can write on the field of public opinion in terms satisfactory to all his readers. If an author uses simple terms, satisfactory to the general reader, he ignores the pyramid of language hastily thrown up in recent years by the specialist in this field. These special terms are invented ostensibly to provide an exact definitive terminology of non-emotion-arousing words suitable for use among scientists. The absence of most of these terms would provide the basis for an indictment of the author as an outsider, an outlander, a stranger to the code of the jousts. As language is truly a bond of unity, he might be expelled into the outer darkness. On the other hand, if the author bandies about this esoteric jargon too freely, there is no doubt as to where the general reader would willingly consign him. Therefore, I have attempted to use certain of the special terms, developed in recent years, where such words seemed to make for clarity and objectivity. Elsewhere I have eschewed such terms and striven for relative simplicity.

There is one phrase that I would define briefly at this point. Throughout this book I have referred to the "common man." I mean the unintellectual man -- unaware of intellectual traditions and the history of thought. As Harvey Fergusson has written, "By the common man I mean the man who is so absorbed in the immediate and personal ends of living that he cannot view his destiny with any intellectual detachment. Such a man is capable of receiving doctrines upon authority and accepting them, but he is typically not capable of making hypotheses on his own account. . . ."

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