From Total War to Total Diplomacy: The Advertising Council and the Construction of the Cold War Consensus

By Daniel L. Lykins | Go to book overview

Preface

Democratic theory insists that the public has a powerful impact on the formulation of government policy. Even if one approaches that assertion as a matter of faith rather than with the skepticism that scholarly investigation requires, discovering some empirical support for the proposition beyond periodic elections is, at best, problematic. This area of inquiry inevitably leads to the concept of public opinion for that is, according to most views, how the public either directly or potentially exercises its control of the government. Unfortunately, quagmires quickly develop for anyone looking beyond their own philosophical perspectives on public opinion.

In his 1994 article, “Is Domestic Politics Being Slighted as an Interpretive Framework?, ” Ralph B. Levering observed that a better understanding of foreign policy would result from a consideration of its domestic motivations and consequences. 1 Levering appreciated the deceptive simplicity of this truism. He saw that pursuing the understanding he spoke of made the question of whether public opinion is determined by elites or independently by the voters making up their own minds a primary one. Levering rejected the idea that the public's beliefs were subject to elite manipulation because, he argued, that view requires such a broad definition of elites that the concept became meaningless as an analytical tool. Yet, the views of America's numerous opinion leadership elites are themselves subject to manipulation by those the elites look to for informed opinion and leadership. This perspective, flowing from the advertising industry's programs to direct the nation's public opinion via the manipulation of elite leadership opinion, reduces the cacophony of elite voices to a manageable level. From this a clearer view of the domestic motives and consequences of American foreign policy emerges.

This work is a brief study of how some defined, discovered, and directed public opinion from 1940 to 1950; who pursued public opinion, how they pursued it, and to what purpose. It is my modest hope that what I have found will add to our understanding of ourselves and the world during World War II, the Cold War, and

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