A Theory of Public Opinion

By Francis Graham Wilson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
The Quality of Opinion

I

Behind the psychological problems presented by public opinion operating in a complicated world, there is an important history of psychological interpretations of human nature and politics. Thomas Hobbes is credited by C. H. Driver with beginning in his Leviathan, in 1651, psychological political speculation in England. He presented a doctrine of the association of ideas to explain both the content of the individual mind and the selfish motives animating political behavior. It was a doctrine of struggle, an evolutionary conception, a kind of natural selection of ideas of an unsocial nature. To suppose that the social contract arose as a catalytic agent which precipitated social impulses from antisocial behavior was indeed a weak hypothesis. How did man really become social if he is in origin a creature in a perpetual war of all against all, as Hobbes pictures him?

Nevertheless, associationist psychology remained a primary thesis. It became the foundation of diverse creeds, all of which held that to change the environment is to change the man. It was, as Driver argued, a doctrine of golden promise, and it filled the nineteenth century with its enthusiasm. It is found in the anarchism of William Godwin, the collectivism of Robert Owen, and the philosophic radicalism of the earlier part of the century. French thinkers like Condillac and Helvetius expanded the doctrine to

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