A Theory of Public Opinion

By Francis Graham Wilson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Controversy, Tradition, and Culture

I

At this point in our inquiry, it is appropriate to study public opinion in a series of widening contexts. Is public opinion concerned only with controversial issues? Is it related to customary modes of thought which have a far greater stability than the changing boundaries of public controversy, or, indeed, can tradition be regarded as a mode of expression of public opinion at all? Beyond this, one encounters the cultural pattern, its interpretation by social scientists, and the question arises concerning the relation of public opinion to the encasement or the envelope of culture which must surround any particular expression of opinion. The material then in this chapter relates primarily to sociological questions, though behind sociological analysis one is certainly touching upon a philosophical anthropology. We are dealing with the social context of the expression of the mind of man, and with some of the contours of his freedom. Thus it must be asked whether public opinion is permanent, as is the force of tradition, or whether it is fluid, as all controversy is fluid. The obvious answer is that it is both. But the modern attempt to broaden the public into the interactive social process, combined with the insistence that opinion must be narrowed to the immediate system of controversy, requires further discussion.*

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*
It is necessary to observe that any definition of opinion as an "atti-

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