A Theory of Public Opinion

By Francis Graham Wilson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
The Middle Class*

I

Two ancient symbols-public opinion and the middle class-have nearly always been associated in some degree. Public opinion has stood, first of all, for participation in the government of a society. Such participation has raised the issue of the quality of opinion or the quality of the participation in the government of res populi. From the time of the Greeks at least, the middle class has been regarded by certain conservatives, or let us say, Aristotelians, as having moderate, intelligent, and balanced opinion. Though public opinion and the idea of the middle class have been often associated, each has had different and divergent lines of emergence; different theoretical problems have been presented, and some of this development is to be outlined here. Yet at the tense moments of the eighteenth-century revolution, the French Revolution and its children, they were joined together in close doctrinal union at the height of a historical crisis.

The significance of this doctrinal union between public opinion and the middle class is to be found in other ideas associated with it. These ideas will be referred to as "the associated doctrines." These doctrines make the problematic of the two primary ideas clear, and they illustrate the theoretical force which brought

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*
Republished from The Review of Politics, XVII ( October, 1955), 486 ff.

-200-

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