Readings in Public Opinion: Its Formation and Control

Readings in Public Opinion: Its Formation and Control

Readings in Public Opinion: Its Formation and Control

Readings in Public Opinion: Its Formation and Control

Excerpt

"The people at large," said Aristotle, "how contemptible soever they may appear when taken individually, are yet, when collectively considered, not, perhaps, unworthy of sovereignty." For, "considered collectively," he argued, "the people form a complex animal, with many feet, with many virtues; each member contributing something, more or less valuable, to the perfection of the whole body. The moral and intellectual excellence of the multitude thus differs from those of a wise and virtuous man, as the beauty of a fine picture from the beauty of individuals."

Moreover, urged Aristotle, the many are collectively superior to the select few, just as "there are some subjects in which the artist himself is not the sole or best judge, viz., all subjects in which the results produced are criticized equally well by persons who are not masters of the art. Thus it is not the builder alone whose function it is to criticize the merits of the house; the person who uses it, that is, the householder, is actually a better judge and similarly the pilot is a better judge of a helm than a carpenter, and one of a company of a dinner than the cook."

This confidence in the ability of the multitude to reach sound decision on public questions pervaded the works of most of the classical political theorists. But the conditions of social life have materially changed since Aristotle's time. We may well consider anew some of the present-day problems associated with the process by which society reaches decisions on important public questions and weigh the place and function of public opinion as a creative process and as a means of social control.

Aristotle knew nothing of a modern newspaper with a millionaire ownership and with employees enough to make a Greek city- state. His times did not know the highly paid publicity agent, and the modern art of propaganda. Education all but universal he knew, but he knew not of the multitudes who can read but don't, He did not have to value the power of the telegraph, the . . .

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