A Theory of Public Opinion

By Francis Graham Wilson | Go to book overview

A PREFACE AND AN EXPLANATION

This volume is a study of some of the important aspects of the history and present situation of the idea, or concept, of public opinion. It is not a study of the history of public opinion itself, or of the changing content of the public mind. Except as incidental to the main interest of the study, the actual state of a public opinion at a particular moment is not directly discussed. In this sense, the volume is a phase of intellectual history, and a study of one of the many problems of political philosophy. It encroaches on philosophy itself to the extent that political speculation usually does.

The study of public opinion is more burdened than most social studies with diversity in the definition of terms and ambiguity in the modes of expression concerning the public mind. A theory of public opinion, as viewed here, is not necessarily associated with any particular form of government, such as political democracy. Whatever the form of government, there is certain to be, either explicitly or implicitly, some relation between what the masses of the people think and what the government does. The lasting tension between governor and subject is the matrix of the concept of public opinion. In principle, this volume is just as interested in ideas of public opinion in monarchical, aristocratic, or totalitarian systems of government, as in public opinion in the

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