Walter Lippmann

The (ongoing) idea here is to list Walter Lippmann’s main works and to add some notes on each one in the form of quotes or abstracts, or my own thoughts, and provide some longer essays and so on in the form of links.  Most of the titles link to the on-line versions of Lippmann’s books themselves.

A Preface to Politics (1913)

The most incisive comment on politics to-day is indifference. When men and women begin to feel that elections and legislatures do not matter very much, that politics is a rather distant and unimportant exercise, the reformer might as well put to himself a few searching doubts. Indifference is a criticism that cuts beneath oppositions and wranglings by calling the political method itself into question. Leaders in public affairs recognize this. They know that no attack is so disastrous as silence, that no invective is so blasting as the wise and indulgent smile of the people who do not care. Eager to believe that all the world is as interested as they are, there comes a time when even the reformer is compelled to face the fairly widespread suspicion of the average man that politics is an exhibition in which there is much ado about nothing. But such moments of illumination are rare. They appear in writers who realize how large is the public that doesn’t read their books, in reformers who venture to compare the membership list of their league with the census of the United States. Whoever has been granted such a moment of insight knows how exquisitely painful it is. To conquer it men turn generally to their ancient comforter, self-deception: they complain about the stolid, inert masses and the apathy of the people. In a more confidential tone they will tell you that the ordinary citizen is a “hopelessly private person.”

Drift and Mastery (1914)

The explicit argument of Drift and Mastery is simply stated. The contemporary epoch was an age of transition like no other, for the terms on which human life was to proceed had been altered with unprecedented completeness and finality by “scientific invention and blind social currents”, and by “iconoclasts” who responded to modernizing forces by subjecting the inherited moral ideas to a destructive critique. Hence a new generation, confronted with circumstances infinitely more complex than those experienced by all previous generations, was obliged to fight against the “chaos” of freedom. The problem was no longer the oppressive strength of Tradition, but the appalling vacuum left after the Rock of Ages had been smashed. The danger was that people would merely drift, that they would bury their heads in the sands of outmoded, formalistic philosophies incapable of addressing and influencing the swirling realities of the new age. In political affairs, for example, a salient instance of pathetically antiquated thinking was Woodrow Wilson’s “New Freedom,” with its naive emphasis on small entrepreneurs. Still, as one cast about for hints of understanding and stability, one could discern the first promptings of a hearty and truly sophisticated civilization. The centralization urged by Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalism, the craftsmanship and efficiency of the new ostensibly non-profiteering managerial class, and the increasing application of “the scientific spirit to daily life” all implied that modern America might indeed master its own complicated fate. In any case, whatever vitality the new generation possessed would “fritter itself away” unless it came “under the scientific discipline”.

Implicit throughout the execution of this argument was a definite vision of the healthy and the good—a set of positive values—that informed Lippmann’s disdain for the dying civilization, his critique of contemporary thinkers, and his sketch of the new, “scientific” order. If Lippmann insisted in an abstract idiom that external authority be replaced by authoritative human choice, that “purpose” be substituted for tradition, he was at the same time committed to choices and purposes of certain kinds, particularly those guided by “frank worldliness” and by enthusiasm for the “variety of life”. Lippmann scorned asceticism and parochialism as marks of weakness and psychological immaturity; he challenged his readers to “love variety” and “rejoice in change,” and to thereby prove their own “strength” and “health”. Dogmatic religions and non-democratic governments may have provided humanity with a measure of stability, but they inhibited the fulfillment of man’s spiritual and social potential; the Catholic Church represented what was most hateful in the past, for it had “tried to make weakness permanent” by fostering the false virtues of “poverty, chastity, [and] obedience”.

A close analysis of the text of Drift and Mastery discourages emphasis on the more or less timeless, highly abstract ideals that may dominate a society’s imagination; what matters is not whether “order” or “liberty,” for example, define the spirit of an age. Nor it is enough to grant that “formalism” and “anti-formalism” always exist in a state of tension, and to chart the shifting strengths of each. Instead, our attention is demanded by the precise mechanisms that embody and reconcile these abstractions, and that create historically specific intellectual phenomena. One such mechanism is the concept of scientific method, as formulated and applied by Drift and Mastery; and one such phenomenon is the effort, toward which this book was a signal contribution, to revise the public culture of the United States in keeping with what participants in the effort took to be the implications of science. To insist on this measure of concreteness in a signing historical significance to texts is neither to forsake breadth of generalization nor to abandon the degree of abstraction needed to facilitate comparisons between particular phenomena. It is, however, to seek the most authentic points of contact between a text and the historical moments that produced and absorbed it. (David A. Hollinger (1977) American Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 5.)

The Stakes of Diplomacy (1915)

With an introduction by Anne Pierce, The Stakes of Diplomacy came about because of Lippmann’s appointment by the Secretary of War to a project to studying possible terms of peace and potential ways to influence the world in a liberal-democratic manner. As the slaughter in the trenches commenced, the book ends both with Lippmann expressing admiration for the peaceful nature of democracies and calling for their further influence in the world, arguing that democratic influence depends partly upon physical might and geopolitical collaboration. But, with a warning: “Unless the people who are humane and sympathetic, the people who wish to live and let live, are masters of the situation, the world faces an indefinite vista of conquest and terror.”

“We wrap ourselves around our money-making, and transfigure it […] It is then identified with all that is most precious. The export of bicycles or steel rails is no longer the cold-blooded thing it looks like in statistical reports of commerce. It is integrated with our passion. It is wife and children being respected. So when trade is attacked, we are attacked.” (p. 75-76, quoted from The Ambiguous Legacy: U.S. Foreign Relations in the “American Century” (1999) Michael J. Hogan).

The biographical information on Lippmann’s archive of letters at Yale states that in 1917 and 1918 Lippmann served as secretary to a secret organization created by President Wilson, known as “The Inquiry,” to prepare data for the Paris Peace Conference. This organization prepared eight of the Fourteen Points – points dealing with concrete territorial and political issues. It was not involved with the other six general points dealing with freedom of the seas and the League of Nations. Material on “The Inquiry” in the Lippmann Papers is sparse and incomplete.  After this he was commissioned as a Captain, Military Intelligence, and assigned to the staff of General Pershing and sent to France: he prepared propaganda leaflets for dropping behind the German lines and interrogated prisoners.  Still working with House, he then interpreted President Wilson’s Fourteen Points to the British and Italians (see the points made by Quigley below).  The archive has nothing on Lippmann’s involvement with the Mont Pelerin Society.

Sidney Blumenthal stated in an afterword for a reissue of Lippman’s ‘Liberty and the News:’

Lippmann had ferried from the offices of The New Republic, located in New York, to the White House, where he helped work on speeches for Woodrow Wilson. After the entry of the United States in the world war in 1917, Lippmann enthusiastically accepted an appointment as the U.S. representative on the Inter-Allied Propaganda Board, with the rank of captain. But Captain Lippmann soon crossed swords with George Creel, chief of the Committee on Public Information, an official federal government agency that whipped up war support through jingoism. When Lippmann submitted a blistering report in 1918 on how the committee manipulated news to foster national hysteria, Creel sought his dismissal — and Lippmann quit his post to assist the U.S. delegation at the Versailles peace conference. The year following the war, 1919, began with Wilson greeted as a messiah and ended with him politically broken and physically paralyzed. His collapse personified the wreckage of Progressive idealism. Lippmann focused his attention on the part played by the press.

For other writers it was the “Inquiry’s’ betrayal that destroyed Wilson.  The argument here is that the Inquiry, was the first central intelligence agency (although I think the CIC is another contender here). Lippmann was the Inquiry’s secretary and he became the chief propaganda and intelligence specialist, and then its director.  For some authors this is the beginning of the Council on Foreign Relations: some Inquiry members, got together with a select group of the English elite, to concur on the need for an organization that would “continue the inquiry” after the war. The plan for a joint Anglo-American enterprise miscarried:

…but the project was revived, and the scholars joined forces with a parallel undertaking of financiers and international lawyers. The council incorporated itself on July 29, 1921, with the first issue of its flagship journal, Foreign Affairs, rolling off the presses in September 1922. Its mission was not only to “inform” but also to “guide” American public opinion.

The story of the Inquiry is also touched in the CFR’s website with typical lack of modesty:

The vision that stirred the Inquiry became the work of the Council on Foreign Relations over the better part of a century: a program of systematic study by groups of knowledgeable specialists of differing ideological inclinations would stimulate a variety of papers and reports to guide the statecraft of policymakers. What began as an intellectual response to a juncture of history grew into an institution that would thrive through all the diplomacy of America’s twentieth century. Perpetually renewing its membership and its mission, reaching out beyond an elite circle to help educate the entire public, the Council grew into a model that is now emulated by a host of newer research centers, in the United States and abroad. Their common challenge is to stimulate concerned citizens in their thinking about power and politics among nations.

The Political Scene: an essay on the victory of 1918 (1919)

“The art of befuddlement engages able men and draws large appropriations. There are in practically all countries Ministries of befuddlement generally …”

Liberty and the News (1920)

Here Lippmann reprinted some of the previous essays.  In the preface he makes something of a dedication to the Guardian editor C. P. Scott.  Lippmann had seen how the “manufacture of consent” had had such a deleterious effect on democracy. But he did not hold those in government solely responsible. This is what a lot of people from a supposedly left-wing perspective pounce on Lippmann without, in my experience, any real knowledge of his work.  Foe example, in Lippmann’s conception of “The Cold War,” the criticism of US policy was as a “strategic monstrosity” leading to the “recruiting, subsidizing and supporting a heterogeneous array of satellites, clients, dependents and puppets,” that forced the US into either disowning “our puppets, which would be tantamount to appeasement and defeat and the loss of face,” or else defend them “at an incalculable cost on an unintended, unforeseen and perhaps undesirable issue.”

Chapter one of this is titled ‘Journalism and the Higher Laws’and goes back to the first American newspaper to be published in Boston in 1690, ‘Publick Occurrences,’ quickly suppressed by the Governor and Council. Benjamin Harris, the editor, had written:

 That something may be done toward the Curing, or at least the Charming of that Spirit of Lying, which prevails amongst us, wherefore nothing shall be entered, but what we have reason to believe is true, repairing to the best fountains for our Information. And when there appears any material mistake in anything that is collected, it shall be corrected in the next. Moreover, the Publisher of these Occurrences is willing to engage, that whereas, there are many False Reports, maliciously made, and spread among us, if any well-minded person will be at the pains to trace any such false Report, so far as to find out and Convict the First Raiser of it, he will in this Paper (unless just Advice be given to the contrary) expose the Name of such Person, as A malicious Raiser of a false Report. It is suppos’d that none will dislike this Proposal, but such as intend to be guilty of so villainous a Crime.

Lippmann wanted to raise consciousness about questions that ‘church or school’ prepare us to understand.  The facts are not ‘quickly and steadily’ available and again Lippmann returns to to question over whether ‘government by consent can survive in a time when the manufacture of consent is an unregulated private enterprise’. For Lippmann, the crisis of western democracy was a crisis in journalism. The sole cause is said not to be corruption.

Since the war, especially, editors have come to believe that their highest duty is not to report but to instruct, not to print news but to save civilization, not to publish what Benjamin Harris calls “the Circumstances of Publique Affairs, both abroad and at home,” but to keep the nation on the straight and narrow path. Like the Kings of England, they have elected themselves Defenders of the Faith. “For five years,” says Mr. Cobb of the New York World, “there has been no free play of public opinion in the world. Confronted by the inexorable necessities of war, governments conscripted public opinion. . . . They goose-stepped it. They taught it to stand at attention and salute. . . . It sometimes seems that after the armistice was signed, millions of Americans must have taken a vow that they would never again do any thinking for themselves. They were willing to die for their country, but not willing to think for it.” That minority, which is proudly prepared to think for it, and not only prepared, but cocksure that it alone knows how to think for it, has adopted the theory that the public should know what is good for it.

So for Lippmann the work of reporters had become confused with the work of ‘preachers, revivalists, prophets and agitators. […] Judged simply by their product, men like Mr. Ochs or Viscount Northcliffe believe that their respective nations will perish and civilization decay unless their idea of what is patriotic is permitted to temper the curiosity of their readers.”

They believe that edification is more important than veracity. They believe it profoundly, violently, relentlessly. They preen themselves upon it. To patriotism, as they define it from day to day, all other considerations must yield. That is their pride. And yet what is this but one more among myriad examples of the doctrine that the end justifies the means. A more insidiously misleading rule of conduct was, I believe, never devised among men. It was a plausible rule as long as men believed that an omniscient and benevolent Providence taught them what end to seek. But now that men are critically aware of how their purposes are special to their age, their locality, their interests, and their limited knowledge, it is blazing arrogance to sacrifice hard-won standards of credibility to some special purpose. It is nothing but the doctrine that I want what I want when I want it. Its monuments are the Inquisition and the invasion of Belgium. It is the reason given for almost every act of unreason, the law invoked whenever lawlessness justifies itself. At bottom it is nothing but the anarchical nature of man imperiously hacking its way through.

For Lippmann the most immoral act was the immorality of a government, so the most destructive form of untruth was “sophistry and propaganda by those whose profession it is to report the news.” The news columns were the common carriers:

When those who control them arrogate to themselves the right to determine by their own consciences what shall be reported and for what purpose, democracy is unworkable. Public opinion is blockaded. For when a people can no longer confidently repair ‘to the best fountains for their information,’ then anyone’s guess and anyone’s rumor, each man’s hope and each man’s whim becomes the basis of government. All that the sharpest critics of democracy have alleged is true, if there is no steady supply of trustworthy and relevant news. Incompetence and aimlessness, corruption and disloyalty, panic and ultimate disaster, must come to any people which is denied an assured access to the facts. No one can manage anything on pap. Neither can a people.

Statesmen may devise policies; they will end in futility, as so many have recently ended, if the propagandists and censors can put a painted screen where there should be a window to the world. Few episodes in recent history are more poignant than that of the British Prime Minister, sitting at the breakfast table with that morning’s paper before him protesting that he cannot do the sensible thing in regard to Russia because a powerful newspaper proprietor has drugged the public. That incident is a photograph of the supreme danger which confronts popular government. All other dangers are contingent upon it, for the news is the chief source of the opinion by which government now proceeds. So long as there is interposed between the ordinary citizen and the facts a news organization determining by entirely private and unexamined standards, no matter how lofty, what he shall know, and hence what he shall believe, no one will be able to say that the substance of democratic government is secure. The theory of our constitution, says Mr. Justice Holmes, is that truth is the only ground upon which men’s wishes safely can be carried out. In so far as those who purvey the news make of their own beliefs a higher law than truth, they are attacking the foundations of our constitutional system. There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and shame the devil.

Lippmann stated that he had few illusions as to the difficulty of truthful reporting. It was neither a matter of sincerity nor solely a question of the newspaperman’s morals. It was the intricate result of a civilization too extensive for any man’s personal observation that once more absorbed him: “As the problem is manifold, so must be the remedy. There is no panacea.” Nevertheless there was, and still is, a problem of the news which he thought of ‘absolutely basic importance to the survival of popular government,’ and that was that the importance of the problem was not vividly realized nor sufficiently considered.  He predicted (wrongly) that:

In a few generations it will seem ludicrous to historians that a people professing government by the will of the people should have made no serious effort to guarantee the news without which a governing opinion cannot exist. “Is it possible,” they will ask, “that at the beginning of the Twentieth Century nations calling themselves democracies were content to act on what happened to drift across their doorsteps; that apart from a few sporadic exposures and outcries they made no plans to bring these common carriers under social control; that they provided no genuine training schools for the men upon whose sagacity they were dependent; above all that their political scientists went on year after year writing and lecturing about government without producing one, one single, significant study of the process of public opinion?” And then they will recall the centuries in which the Church enjoyed immunity from criticism, and perhaps they will insist that the news structure of secular society was not seriously examined for analogous reasons.

Lippmann could have no idea that the post-war period would make the 1920s seem like Athens in the Golden Age of Pericles.  But Lippmann insisted with his prediction that:

When they search into the personal records they will find that among journalists, as among the clergy, institutionalism had induced the usual prudence. I have made no criticism in this book which is not the shoptalk of reporters and editors. But only rarely do newspapermen take the general public into their confidence. They will have to sooner or later. It is not enough for them to struggle against great odds, as many of them are doing, wearing out their souls to do a particular assignment well. The philosophy of the work itself needs to be discussed; the news about the news needs to be told. For the news about the government of the news structure touches the center of all modern government.

They need not be much concerned if leathery-minded individuals ask What is Truth of all who plead for the effort of truth in modern journalism. Jesting Pilate asked the same question, and he also would not stay for an answer. No doubt an organon of news reporting must wait upon the development of psychology and political science. But resistance to the inertias of the profession, heresy to the institution, and the willingness to be fired rather than write what you do not believe, these wait on nothing but personal courage. And without the assistance which they will bring from within the profession itself, democracy through it will deal with the problem somehow, will deal with it badly.

The essays put forward in the collection were said to be an attempt to describe the character of the problem, and to ‘indicate headings under which it may be found useful to look for remedies

Public Opinion (1922)

INDEED, AFTER MORE than thirty years, Lippmann’s Public Opinion remains the remarkable book that it was at the time of its appearance. On reading it today, and in seeking to account for its durability, one is struck, above all, by Lippmann’s uncanny ability to anticipate later developments in the study of public opinion and mass communications. This is the more astounding because in writing the book Lippmann had ventured into virgin territory—a jungle of theories in which Freud’s “libido,” James’ “social self,” Trotter’s “herd instinct,” McDougall’s “group mind,” Giddings’ “consciousness of mind” and other fetishes were struggling for a place in the sun. All of these theories, Lippmann observed in an article in 1920, “are presumably aimed at about the same target, but where these terms coincide and where they diverge it is not easy to discover by reading the books. When we have learned the mechanisms by which grouped individuals interact upon each other we shall begin to know something.” At least one reason, therefore, why Public Opinion is still so very contemporary today, was Lippmann’s success in clearing away the underbrush in the uncharted forest of social psychology. (Heinz Eulau)

The Phantom Public (1925)

The Phantom Public was published in 1925 after Lippmann’s experience of the manipulation of ‘public opinion’ after World War I and the rise of fascism with Mussolini in Italy. The book provoked a response from John Dewey, who argued that the public was not a phantom, but merely “in eclipse,” and that democratic politics was possible. This “debate” between Lippmann and Dewey is for some writers over-stated but has fed into the critique of contemporary journalism building on Lippmann’s critique in ‘Public Opinion.’  For Lippmann, the public does have a particular capacity: to intervene during a moment of social disturbance, the: “a crisis of maladjustment,” where in such a crisis: “It is the function of public opinion to check the use of force” by using its own force.

Walter Lippmann and the Phantom Public by Stephen Bender

The astounding success enjoyed by the Wilson administration in swinging public opinion behind the United States’ entry into the First World War in 1917 had revolutionary implications for the course and development of democracy in our country. It was the most dramatic shift in public opinion ever recorded in American history to that time – and it was manufactured by propaganda.

An isolationist and pacifist public was mobilized behind massive military intervention, an eventuality Wilson had pledged to avoid mere months earlier during his reelection campaign. In this effort, the Wilson administration established an official propaganda agency called the Committee on Public Information, headed up by the progressive journalist George Creel. It employed the leading social scientists of the day – among them a young Edward Bernays, Freud’s nephew, who would become the father of the American public relations industry a few years later.

The previous decade had seen the rapid emergence and growth of the anarcho-syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World – their successful strike in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1912 really frightened respectable types. Then there was also the continuing agitation of Eugene V. Debs’ Socialist Party – they reached their high water mark in the amazing election of 1912 when Debs pulled nearly 7% of the national vote running against Taft, Roosevelt and Wilson – the ultimate winner. In addition, there were also progressives like Senator Robert LaFollette working the inside, along with the suffragette movement and muckraking, melting-pot-stirring to boot.

In the years following the war, state repression – via the Sedition Act, and Palmer raids (named for Wilson’s Attorney General) and deportations – destroyed the more radical elements and intimidated many of the reformers. Nonetheless, leading lights in the public square and private sector realized that repression alone wasn’t necessarily the most effective, and hence desirable, course of action. Drawing on lessons learned from the extraordinary triumph of war propaganda, along with the early accomplishments of the advertising industry, social scientists embarked on the comprehensive application of these social psychology techniques to politics. They’ve never stopped since.

Men of Destiny (1927)

This was Lippmann’s biographical essays on leading figures of the day, such as Calvin Coolidge, William Jennings Bryan, H.L. Mencken (a review of his ‘Notes on Democracy,’ Sinclair Lewis, Warren Harding, Andrew Mellon, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, mostly focussing on the post-World War I period and the development of US imperialism:

“All the world thinks of the United States today as an empire, except the people of the United States.”

It also contains his essay on the doomed League of Nations, here. ironically, Lippmann appeals to: “time and a sense of reality.”  Chapters include ‘The Causes of Political Indifference Today,’ ‘The Kellog Doctrine: Vested Rights and Nationalism in Latin America,’ ‘The Nature of The Battle Over Censorship,’ the latter notes:

It is not the idea as such which the censor attacks, whether it be heresy or radicalism or obscenity. He attacks the circulation of the idea among the classes which in his judgment are not to be trusted with the idea.

Lippmann’s generalization was that censorship: “is actually applied in proportion to the vividness, the directness, and the intelligibility of the medium which circulates the subversive idea.”  Films tend to be more censored than the theatre, which is more censored than newspapers and magazines and so on.  So we have the idea that “the essence of censorship,” for Lippmann, is “not to suppress subversive ideas as such, but to withhold them from those who are young or unprivileged or otherwise undependable.

American Inquisitors: A commentary on Dayton and Chicago (1928)

As one whose business it is to write about public affairs, I have often been made to feel like a man at the theatre who forgets where he is and shouts at the hero to beware of the villain.  For of late it has been our mood in politics to regard ourselves as the spectators at a show rather than as participants in real events.  At a show well bred people do not hiss the villain.  They enjoy the perfection of his villainy and recognize that he is necessary to the show.

The introduction states that Lippmann stated that the book was: “…the most convincing demonstration I could make of the inadequacy of scientific spirit…”  In a sense the book is about democracy’s battle with fundamentalism, whether it takes the form of religious, patriotic or scientific fundamentalism.   Lippmann’s ‘Dialogue on Mount Olympus’ takes the form of a debate between Thomas Jefferson and William Jennings Bryan, moderated by Socrates, commencing with the Jeffersonian ideal of “eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

However, Lippmann’s statements such as:

The advancement of human liberty has as a matter of practical politics consisted in building up centers of resistance against the absolutism of the reigning sovereigns. Whoever the sovereign, the program of liberty is to deprive him of arbitrary and absolute power. In our age the power of majorities tends to become arbitrary and absolute.

Were pounced on by Marxist critics such as Walter Aptheker, who apropos of this, stated in his (1955) History & Reality:

Again observe how the myth of Power—divorced from class origins and functions—serves to bolster the power of the ruling class. This, too, serves to obscure the fact that “the advancement of human liberty” has come as the result of mass struggle against reactionary ruling classes, something which Lippmann avoids in all his earlier writings, and denies in his later work. Further, it hides the fact that this advancement has come with and has meant the enhancement of the rights and powers of more and more of the people, reaching its highest point, in theory, in the conception of sovereignty as inhering in the people. This idea of the sovereign people negates, of course, the original idea of sovereignty—that is, the omnipotence of the Sovereign over the people.

But Aptheker ignores that his grand vision of ‘mass struggle’ against a reactionary ruling classes had its leader, many of whom became as equally reactionary as any Sovereign.  Aptheker identifies a mechanical behaviorist tendency in Lippmann’s work that I just do not see, although it was (and still is in the remnants) present in the drone-like Marxist view of the population.  Aptheker identifies, but avoids the implications of Lippmann’s view, which he characterises as Lippmann reducing: “the “reality” of democracy to the manipulation of the “herd’s” mind by the propagandistic conditioning conducted by the elite.”

César García (2010) in ‘Rethinking Walter Lippmann’s legacy in the history of public relations,’ probably swings to the opposite pole in asserting that:

Lippmann’s contribution to the field of public relations has tended to be overlooked because, unlike often-cited figures such as Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays, he did not implement public relations campaigns. However, an analysis of Lippmann’s political theory reveals that his view of society emphasised the importance of communication management by government. Indeed, Lippmann provided a rationale that shaped the development of public relations practice in the life of organisations as a hegemonic practice to control publics. Moreover, this public relations perspective transferred to the broader communication field as Lippmann’s paradigm for the study of communication was adopted. This paper looks at how Lippmann’s political ideas framed and guided the development of the public relations profession and its influence beyond its own field.

Both are imputing a bit too much to Lippmann, they are blaming the messenger in some respects, positioning Lippmann within certain fields he criticised. Indeed García writes of contemporary criticism that views him as inherently conservative, an elitist personality using a veneer of objectivity in his analyses “while acting as an interested propagandist for thesocial elite to which he aspired to belong.”  While other authors considered Lippmann’s democratic ideals as a “cynical and utilitarian outlooks.”  This is an ad hominemtendency and reflects quite subjective standpoints; and also that Lippmann is all things to all men in a somewhat utilitarian mode: for García (based in the Department of Communication at a university) Lippmann is the first social thinker to place communication management as a deliberate effort in the life of organisations: Aptheker a Marxist on the hunt for revisionists.

A Preface to Morals (1929)

John Patrick Diggens’ introduction to the book notes that, at the time of its publication, it was compared to the work of T. S. Eliot, and that both writer’s had much in common: the ‘lost generation of the 1920s,’ and the literature of disillusionment — asking what had been corroded by the ‘acid of modernity.’  Published 6 months before the stock market crash of 1929, this is   Lippmann’s investigation of how or why or if religion would remain a credible doctrine and a viable institution in society; and on a wider level, how can authority have a moral foundation.  Diggens also relates this to Lippmann’s synthesis of James and Santayana in a search for enduring principles:

…Santayana’s aesthetic theory was far more elitist than Jame’s democratic egalitarianism.  In so far as the masses lack aesthetic sensibility, authority may have to reside in the decisions of carefully trained and personally disinterested administrators who would serve society out of a duty to their vocation.

For Diggens A Preface to Morals was a turning point in Lippmann’s career, a focus on existence and essence that seemed to distil and question his earlier influences: Henri Bergson’s elan vital, Dewey’s pragmatism in terms of its analysis of the assumption that authority depends upon eternal and universal truth.

Often cited as one of Lippmann’s greatest book, and drawn on for numerous epigrammatic, gnomic statements such as: “He has honor if he holds himself to an ideal of conduct though it is inconvenient, unprofitable, or dangerous to do so,” or: “It requires wisdom to understand wisdom: the music is nothing if the audience is deaf,” or longer quotes such as:

When we think offhand of a politician, we think of a man who works for a partial interest. At the worst it is his own pocket. At the best it may be his party, his class, or an institution with which he is identified. We never feel that he can or will take into account all the interests concerned, and because bias and partisanship are the qualities of his conduct, we feel, unless we are naively afflicted with the same bias, that he is not to be trusted too far. Now the word “statesman,” when it is not mere pomposity, connotes a man whose mind is elevated sufficiently above the conflict of contending parties to enable him to adopt a course of action which takes into account a greater number of interests in the perspective of a longer period of time.


If we ask ourselves what is this wisdom which experience forces upon us, the answer must be that we discover the world is not constituted as we had supposed it to be. It is not that we learn more about its physical elements, or its geography, or the variety of its inhabitants, or the ways in which human society is governed. Knowledge of this sort can be taught to a child without in any way disturbing his childishness. In fact, all of us are aware that we once knew a great many things which we have since forgotten. The essential discovery of maturity has little if anything to do with information about the names, the locations, and the sequence of facts; it is the acquiring of a different sense of life, a different kind of intuition about the nature of things.

Interpretations 1931-1932 (1932)

With the essays selected and edited by Allan Nevins, Lippmann’s focus here was the causes of the depression in the US and how Hoover dealt with it.  This is expanded to include the efforts of the US Congress and the effect of the war debts, European depression, the crisis in the Far East, American policy in Europe.

The Method of Freedom (1934)

This is broken down into three sections:  (1) revolutions in the great society, (2) the chief alternative in the economic order and (3) government in a regime of liberty.  Lippmann described it as a “tract for the times” that “ventured… to state the general principles… which show the greatest promise of restoring and maintaining order in a regime of liberty,” in some way a reflection of the anxiety of the depression, the mood of protectionism, the end of the gold standard and the gathering storm clouds in Europe:

Plots, massacres, assassinations, seem to some people a trivial price for obtaining a revolution. A cheap, bloodless reformation, a guiltless liberty, appear flat and vapid to their taste. There must be a great change of scene ; there must be a magnificent stage effect; there must be a grand spectacle to rouse the imagination, grown torpid with the lazy enjoyment of sixty years security, and the still unanimating repose of public prosperity.‎ (p. 7)

Lippmann and John Maynard Keynes (who were friends) helped to (privately) draft the official explanation of the Roosevelt administration’s policy; Keynes influence is said, by John Morton Blum, in the introduction, to permeate ‘The Method of freedom,’ Keynes was then writing his (1936) ‘General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money,’ wherein he took against Marx and laissez-faire government in advocating the ‘compensatory state’ which would save capitalism from the destructive nature of the business cycle.  Lippmann too, contrasted ‘free collectivism’ with the ‘absolute collectivism’ of the authoritarian state:

Lippmann called on the state to prevent fraud between buyer and seller, to equalize “the bargaining power of the consumer and the employee,” to regulate public utilities and set wage, hours and conditions of work.  The state was also to break up monopolies and restrict speculation.

This is Lippmann writing to expose the myths of market economics: Laissez-faire made no sense because only governments could prevent the destructive social costs it created.  Based on lectures given in May 1934 at Harvard University, again the book is drawn on for its aphoristic qualities:

Man cannot be made free by laws unless they are in fact free because no man can buy and no one can coerce them. That is why the Englishman’s belief that his home is his castle and that the King cannot enter it, like the American’s convictions that he must be able to look any man in the eye and tell him to go to hell, are the very essence of the free man’s way of life.

The lectures were also given at Cambridge in May 1934.

The New Imperative (1935)

Based on a lecture given at Harvard, this documented the shift in political thought brought by the Great Depression and the New Dea.  At this point Lippmann favours the project, giving it a chance to develop:

It has, I think, been clearly established that government must henceforth hold itself consciously responsible for the maintenance of the standard of life prevailing among the people. This is, I believe, a new imperative which takes its place alongside the older imperatives to defend the nation against attack and to preserve domestic peace. If this is true, it is important. If it is true, it is desirable to grasp it as a general idea apart from the bewildering details of the particular measures in which for the moment it happens to be embodied. Thus, for example, opinions differ about the immediate objectives of foreign policy and even more about such instruments of policy as treaties, battleships, cruisers and submarines. But all debate about these matters starts from the common premise that it is a duty of government to defend the safety of the nation. In respect to domestic peace there is no dispute that government must maintain law and order however much men may differ about particular laws or about how to organize the police and the judiciary. But in this new and unexplored realm the basic idea has not yet been accepted into the tradition of government. It is entangled with superficial differences about highly debatable particular measures. Yet experience in the post-war era has shown, I am convinced, that the ability to protect the popular standard of life is an indispensable condition of the survival of political institutions.

However, Lippmann was to change his opinion.  The reason for this will be debated but Frederic Crome puts it down to Roosevelt’s attempts to manipulate the Supreme Court


Interpretations 1933-1935 (1936)

The Good Society (1937)

U.S. Foreign Policy: Shield of the Republic (1943)

U.S. War Aims (1944)

The Cold War (1947)

Essays in the Public Philosophy (1955)

Here Lippmann proposed a political philosophy which he called “The Public Philosophy,” arguing that nothing less than “thoughts that breathe and words that burn” could reverse “the Decline of the West.”  To add to this we also had “The Paralysis of Governments,” an incapacity in foreign affairs, described as a predicament where government was unable to “wage war for rational ends” or “make a peace which would be observed or could be enforced.”  The cause of this incoherency arose in part from the wartime relationship between government and people. Governments, in order to command the sacrifices necessary for war, present the enemy in the image of “evil incarnate, as absolute and congenital wickedness.” This creates a mood antithetical to peace negotiations.

A distinction is made between “The People” defined “as a community of the entire population, with their predecessors and successors,” and the people as voters. Lippmann warns that the people “as the corporate nation” and the people as an electoral body are not identical.  The people can elect the government, they can remove it, they can approve or disapprove its performance: but they cannot administer the government.  The effect of  mass opinion, although unable to exercise the power of government, does dominate the government, and this leads to “a morbid derangement of the true functions of power.” The inability of “the people” to govern arises not from the mechanism of representation but from an inability to discriminate the public interest, the “public interest may be presumed to be what men would choose if they saw clearly, thought rationally, acted disinterestedly and benevolently.”

Although there are many statements of this public philosophy, Lippmann states that the “fundamental principle common to all of them” was Cicero’s assertion that law is the bond of civil society: “that all men, governors and the governed, are always under, are never above, laws; that these laws can be developed and refined by rational discussion, and that the highest laws are those upon which all rational men of good will, when fully informed, will tend to agree.”‘

Another example of the public philosophy is the right of freedom of speech. Here Socrates, Milton, and J. S. Mill are all cited as examples: “The borderline between sedition and radical reform is between the denial and the acceptance … of the public philosophy; that we live in a rational order in which by sincere inquiry and rational debate we can distinguish the true and the false, the right and the wrong.” (I’ve drawn on Reginald D. Lang (1956) The University of Chicago Law Review, Vol. 23, No. 2 here)

Walter Lippmann and Democracy by Herbert Aptheker

The promise of expertise: Walter Lippmann and the policy sciences by Craufurd D. Goodwin

Abstract. Walter Lippman addressed over his lifetime many of the questions raised still in the policy sciences about the proper role for the social scientist in the policy process, the potential contributions of various disciplines to an understanding of the issues, the kinds of circumstances most likely to nurture excellent policy analysis and the means whereby both a narrow elite and a wider public can be well informed about critical subjects and policy options. This article examines Lippmann’s intellectual formation to deal with these questions and his reflections on institutions designed to foster policy analysis as well as the proper training of a policy expert. The article concludes with an examination of Lippmann’s career as a practitioner in the policy world, and especially as a bridge between different communities.

Carroll Quigley ‘Tragedy & Hope’, p. 938-939 (Quigley goes into a bit more detail in the following pages).

In spite of the great influence of this “Wall Street” alignment, an influence great enough to merit the name of the “American Establishment,” this group could not control the Federal government and, in consequence, had to adjust to a good many government actions thoroughly distasteful to the group. The chief of these were in taxation law, beginning with the graduated income tax in 1913, but culminating, above all else, in the inheritance tax. These tax laws drove the great private fortunes dominated by Wall Street into tax-exempt foundations, which became a major link in the Establishment network between Wall Street, the Ivy League, and the Federal government. Dean Rusk, Secretary of State after 1961, formerly president of the Rockefeller Foundation and Rhodes Scholar at Oxford (1931-1933), is as much a member of this nexus as Alger Hiss, the Dulles brothers, Jerome Greene, James T. Shotwell, John W. Davis, Elihu Root, or Philip Jessup.

More than fifty years ago the Morgan firm decided to infiltrate the Left-wing political movements in the United States. This was relatively easy to do, since these groups were starved for funds and eager for a voice to reach the people. Wall Street supplied both. The purpose was not to destroy, dominate, or take over but was really threefold: (I) to keep informed about the thinking of Left-wing or liberal groups; (2) to provide them with a mouthpiece so that they could “blow off steam,” and (3) to have a final veto on their publicity and possibly on their actions, if they ever went “radical.” There was nothing really new about this decision, since other financiers had talked about it and even attempted it earlier. What made it decisively important this time was the combination of its adoption by the dominant Wall Street financier, at a time when tax policy was driving all financiers to seek tax-exempt refuges for their fortunes, and at a time when the ultimate in Left-wing radicalism was about to appear under the banner of the Third International.

The best example of this alliance of Wall Street and Left-wing publication was The New Republic, a magazine founded by Willard Straight, using Payne Whitney money, in 1914. Straight, who had been assistant to Sir Robert Hart (Director of the Chinese Imperial Customs Service and the head of the European imperialist penetration of China) and had remained in the Far East from 1901 to 1912, became a Morgan partner and the firm’s chief expert on the Far East. He married Dorothy Payne Whitney whose names indicate the family alliance of two of. America’s greatest fortunes. She was the daughter of William C. Whitney, New York utility millionaire and the sister and co-heiress of Oliver Payne, of the Standard Oil “trust.” One of her brothers married Gertrude Vanderbilt, while the other, Payne Whitney, married the daughter of Secretary of State John Hay, who enunciated the American policy of the “Open Door” in China. In the next generation, three first cousins, John Hay (“Jock”) Whitney, Cornelius Vanderbilt (“Sonny”) Whitney, and Michael Whitney (“Mike”) Straight, were allied in numerous public policy enterprises of a propagandist nature, and all three served in varied roles in the late New Deal and Truman administrations. In these they were closely allied with other “Wall Street liberals,” such as Nelson Rockefeller. The New Republic was founded by Willard and Dorothy Straight, using her money, in 1914, and continued to be supported by her financial contributions until March 23, 1953. The original purpose for establishing the paper was to provide an outlet for the progressive Left and to guide it quietly in an Anglophile direction. This latter task was entrusted to a young man, only four years out of Harvard, but already a member of the mysterious Round Table group, which has played a major role in directing England’s foreign policy since its formal establishment in 1909. This new recruit, Walter Lippmann, has been, from 1914 to the present, the authentic spokesman in American journalism for the Establishments on both sides of the Atlantic in international affairs. His biweekly columns, which appear in hundreds of American papers, are copyrighted by the New York Herald Tribune which is now owned by J. H. Whitney. It was these connections, as a link between Wall Street and the Round Table Group, which gave Lippmann the opportunity in 1918, while still in his twenties, to be the official interpreter of the meaning of Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points to the British government. Willard Straight, like many Morgan agents, was present at the Paris Peace Conference but died there of pneumonia before it began. Six years later, in 1925, when his widow married a second time and became Lady Elmhirst of Dartington Hall, she took her three small children from America to England, where they were brought up as English.’ She herself renounced her American citizenship in 1935. Shortly afterward her younger son, “Mike,” unsuccessfully “stood” for Parliament on the Labour Party ticket for the constituency of Cambridge University, an act which required, under the law, that he be a British subject. This proved no obstacle, in 1938, when Mike, age twenty-two, returned to the United States, after thirteen years in England, and was at once appointed to the State Department as Adviser on International Economic Affairs. In 1937, apparently in preparation for her son’s return to America, Lady Elmhirst, sole owner of The New Republic, shifted this ownership to Westrim, Ltd., a dummy corporation created for the purpose in Montreal, Canada, and set up in New York, with a grant of $1.5 million, the William C. Whitney Foundation…

Man Against Himself: Walter Lippmann ‘s Years of Doubt, HEINZ EULAU (1952) American Quarterly, Vol. 4, No. 4

THE time is 1914 to 1917, the years between the outbreak of the war in Europe and America’s entry into it, years of doubt for the nation as well as for American liberals. Among those of his generation who had welcomed the second decade as promises, perhaps none had been more hopeful than Walter Lippmann. But before the prospects of 1912 could be realized, war had broken out in Europe, and American liberals had to reconsider their course. And by the end of the decade their disillusionment would be complete. Walter Lippmann’s personal development in those years was probably an accurate reflection of the changing state of American liberalism in general. He was as sensitive a barometer of the period’s intellectual and emotional atmosphere as can be found.

The place is largely the New York offices of the New Republic, an insurgent journal of opinion, one of whose editors Lippmann had become at the age of twenty-five. Like other critics—Huneker, Mencken, Frank, Brooks or Bourne—Lippmann was at war with the prevailing possessive impulses of American society and boldly questioned the assumptions of American life. “It is not easy to recall the intellectual stage-setting of those days, for everything was shortly to undergo such a violent disorientation,” Harold Stearns would write in his memoirs, The Street I Know; “it was still the era of optimism and hope, that is, hope in an orderly, democratic, peaceable, inevitable progress towards a richer civilization.” And if the liberals gradually  came to recognize the emptiness of Theodore Roosevelt’s thunder, they yet tried to formulate a more realistic theory of American politics.

The clue is a “footnote,” as Lippmann called it, to a comment by John Dewey, that “every living thought represents a gesture made toward the world.” Amplified young Walter Lippmann: “. . . the gesture can represent a compensation for a bitter reality, an aspiration unfulfilled, a habit sanctified. In this sense philosophies are truly revealing. They are the very soul of the philosopher projected, and to the disconcerting critic they may tell more about him than he knows about himself. In this sense the man’s philosophy is his autobiography; you may read in it the story of his conflict with life. From almost all philosophies you can learn more about the men who made them than about the world which they strove to interpret.”

When Lippmann joined the staff of the New Republic in 1914, he had already behind him an amazing career for one so young. He had finished his Harvard course in three years. He had been an assistant of Lincoln Steffens. He had been a secretary of the Socialist mayor of Schenectady, New York. And he had published, in 1913, a lively Preface to Politics. If he was not a socialist any longer, he was still in the forefront of those whom Mabel Dodge Luhan would call “movers and shakers.”

When the New Republic was founded, Lippmann has related, it was assumed that “we were enlisted as loyal, though we hoped critical, members of the Progressive movement. We thought that movement was established. We thought that Roosevelt would continue to lead it.” Actually, the future soon showed that the New Republic’s social outlook, as Charles Beard pointed out on the occasion of the magazine’s twenty-fifth anniversary, “was broader than that of the Progressive platform or of Roosevelt in his most expansive moments.” It explains, in part at least, why the editors of the New Republic and Roosevelt finally came to a parting of the ways. For the New Republic sounded a new note in intellectual liberalism which Roosevelt could hardly understand. It provided “a haven and a mouthpiece for a group of intellectuals who looked upon themselves as leaders of a liberal-even, at times, a daringly radical-crusade.” Compared with the New Republic’s style and format alone, the Nation, then still edited by Harold DeWolfe Fuller, seemed absurdly stodgy and old- fashioned.

This newer liberalism, of which Lippmann was perhaps the most articulate spokesman, was considerably more sophisticated than the run-of-the-mill Progressive politician was ready to underwrite. The Progressives had fought for such mechanical reforms as proportional  representation, initiative and referendum, short ballot and recall. But in Lippmann’s view, valuable as these devices might be, they were only gadgets that should facilitate the political expression of group interests and aid in breaking up the “herd-politics” of the two-party system. For this system, he believed, “ignores issues without settling them, dulls and wastes the energies of active groups, and chokes off the protests which should find a civilized expression in public life.”

If Lippmann’s first book had all the earmarks of having been written in the heat of the presidential election campaign of 1912, his second book, Drift and Mastery (1914), reflected the liberals’ dissatisfaction with the older Progressivism. That Progressivism, it now seemed, had failed to sense the basic changes in American industrial life which the trust movement had brought about. It had failed to take proper account of the fact that the huge corporation, the integrated industry, production for the world market, the network of combinations, pools, and agreements had destroyed the old commercialism with its emphasis on profit as the incentive of industrial activity. A revolution had taken place, Lippmann believed, which was “sucking the life out of private property.”

Industry, it seemed to Lippmann, was no longer controlled by the “old-fashioned, chop-whiskered merchants,” but by a hierarchy of managers who are divorced from ownership—a notion that did not achieve general acknowledgment until the publication of Berle and Means’ The Modern Corporation and Private Property almost twenty years later. The new managers, said Lippmann, do brutal and stupid things, but they “have found an interest in the actual work they are doing. The work itself is in a measure its own reward. The instincts of workmanship, of control over brute things, the desire for order, the satisfaction of services rendered and uses created, the civilizing passions are given a chance to temper the primal desire to have and to hold and to conquer.”

There is, of course, an element of crass romanticism in this description of the new management class which stands in sharp contrast with Lippmann’s utterly realistic understanding of the increasing separation of management from ownership. But it also is, as will be seen, characteristic of Lippmann’s admiration of strength and power. And that the stockholders control their property, he emphasized, is a notion “as fantastic as anything that ever issued from the brain of a lazy moralist.” If stockholders charge radicals with undermining the sanctity of private property, they are as foolish as the amateur socialists who propose the abolition of private property. Yet, his ridiculing of lazy moralists and amateur socialists—men without power—did not  prevent Lippmann himself from misjudging the future course of events. For he believed that the control of industry is challenged now “not by the decadent stockholders, but by those most interested in the methods of industry: the consumer, the worker, and the citizen at large.” Here Lippmann altogether failed to assess correctly the com- plexity of the industrial power problem.

On his friend John Reed’s urging, Lippmann went to Paterson, New Jersey, to observe at close range the great IWW strike in the silk mills. Though his experience confirmed his view that direct-action methods are wasteful and futile because they arouse only a small minority of workers to bitter revolt, he still believed that “class interests are the driving forces which keep public life centered upon essentials. They become dangerous to a nation when it denies them, thwarts them and represses them so long that they burst out and become dominant.” The choice, he wrote, “lies between thwarting movements until they master us, and domesticating them until they are answered.”

Views such as these, Charles Beard has commented, had they been adopted by the Progressive convention in 1912, “would have driven a large proportion of the Onward Marching Christians back into the good old Republican camp” (where, in fact, they ended up in due time). But Lippmann still believed that Roosevelt had performed the task of a real leader—a task “which has essentially two dimensions. By becoming part of the dynamics of unrest he gathered a power of effectiveness: by formulating a program for insurgency he translated it into terms of public service.” Without too much care for evidence, Lippmann apparently read into Roosevelt his own notions of what a good statesman should be. There was in his early writings no word of the multiplicity of Roosevelt’s motives, of his frequent opportunism in action. He was clearly impressed by the Rough Rider’s success in attracting a passionate following, in terrifying the complacent and in throwing his weight around. At the same time, Lippmann did not spare in the use of ungenerous references to William Jennings Bryan and Woodrow Wilson. Bryan and Wilson, he believed, would mean drift. Roosevelt meant mastery.

Actually, Wilson, during his first two years in office, had pushed through Congress a legislative program which in most respects resembled the Progressive platform of 1942. Indeed, it was so similar to it that William Allen White, himself a Progressive, thought that somewhere between “the New Nationalism and the New Freedom was that fantastic imaginary gulf that always exists between tweedle- dum and tweedledee.” Yet, the New Republic held the Democratic President up as its chief enemy. Wilson, Lippmann wrote, “is thinking always about somebody’s chance to build up a profitable business; he likes the idea that somebody can beat somebody else, and the small businessman takes on the virtues of David in a battle with Goliath.” The New Freedom, he continued, “is a freedom for the little profiteer, but no freedom for the nation from the narrowness, the poor incentives, the limited vision of small competitors,—no freedom from clamorous advertisements, from wasteful selling, from duplication of plants, from unnecessary enterprise, from the chaos, the welter, the strategy of industrial war.” Trust-busting, in particular, was anathema to Lippmann. If the anti-trusters had their way, he feared, they “would be breaking up the beginning of collective organization, thwarting the possibility of cooperation. . . They would make impossible any deliberate and constructive use of our natural resources, they would thwart any effort to form the great industries into coordinated services.” Moreover, the trusts have survived—”the battered makeshifts of a trampled promise.”

Roosevelt was of course delighted with the New Republic’s position, and in the first few weeks after beginning publication, its editors saw a good deal of him. But then they had a falling out with Roosevelt when he charged Wilson with having failed to avert certain atrocities committed in Mexico. “It seemed to us a brutally unfair attack,” Lippmann recalled later on, “and though we disliked Wilson’s Mexican policy, we criticized Roosevelt sharply. He reproached us bitterly and never forgave us.”

But their split with Roosevelt did not mean that the New Republic was climbing on the Wilson bandwagon. As late as December 15, 1915, Lippmann charged Wilson with not understanding that “the enuncition of a great purpose is the only way to avoid that clashing of emotions from which we suffer. . . . From the outbreak of the war the President has never said anything to which the nation might rally. He has been pushed and goaded. He has never led.” The article aroused attention. “What you say,” Dwight Morrow wrote Lippmann, “is exactly right. It will do much good.”

And two months later, in February 1916, Lippmann once more, but also for the last time, paid homage to the man who had so much excited his imagination, and who for so long had been the very human embodiment of his own political aspirations. Roosevelt, he wrote, “is the only national leader” who represents the insight of what may be called an “Integrated America”: “That is the political meaning of his rich and abounding personality. That is why he survives every defeat, why the springs of his energy are constantly renewed. That is why we cannot stop talking about him. He is forever tantalizing us with the hope that we have in him a leader equal to our needs.”

But, already, the New Republic had formulated ideal terms of peace, and though Lippmann would praise the successful unifiers of nations—Hamilton, Cavour, and Bismarck who had proposed schemes “which worked not because of their intrinsic merit as intellectual arrangements, but because of their capacity to enlist the backing of powerful social and economic interests”— in their hearts the editors of the New Republic knew that Woodrow Wilson sensed the feeling of the country far better than Theodore Roosevelt did. Lippmann, who now visited Washington frequently and reported on the state of the nation in a column called “Washington Notes,” admitted that much in a tortured article in the middle of January 1916. Though still critical of Wilson as “a conservative and traditional American, loyal to the habit of isolation and irresponsibility,” there was a note of sympathy in the criticism when he wrote that “if ever a statesman had to set himself conjuring rabbits out of a hat, it was Mr. Wilson interpreting America.”

And a month later, obviously aware that he was writing in an election year, Lippmann prepared the shift to Wilson. Once more he complained about the aimlessness of American foreign policy and the drift of national life. But no longer was Roosevelt the man to lead the country. Roosevelt’s ideas, he now wrote, “are immersed in a confusion of phrases about honor, patriotism, righteousness, on-the- one-hand-on-the-other-handedness. He had and probably has in mind a revolutionary conception of what America should be. But when he set out to explain it he explained little but his contempt for Mr. Wilson and his command over epithets of scorn.” What Lippmann found most obnoxious was Roosevelt’s advocacy of compulsory con- scription as a means to weld the nation together—”a case of a good vision frustrated by bad technique.” Lippmann, on the other hand, believed that “a really imaginative program of Americanization must include a comprehensive, nation-wide system of health, accident, maternity, old age and unemployment insurance.” It was a position to which he had stuck since December 1914, when, in his first article dealing with the war and entitled “Life is Cheap,” he had sensed the crucial effect of the international catastrophe on the future of Progressivism in America. And as late as February 1916, he insisted that the work of Progressivism must go on in spite of war: “This is the best internal defense against those amongst us who may be dream- ing of aggression. . . . It may be said with justice that the man is dangerous who talks loudly about military preparation and is uninterested in social reform.”

In view of the consistency with which he clung to this approach to the connection between war and social reform, it is all the more surprising that Lippmann’s break with Roosevelt and official Pro- gressivism came as late as it did. But when it came, it was final. Criti- cized that his own reform program lacked soul, Lippmann’s polemics were as caustic as the situation seemed to call for. “Once upon a time,” he replied, “there was a political party known as the Bull Moose. It began life with a very large equipment of soul. It sang, it prayed, it invoked the Lord. It had the breath of life all right, but it lacked the rib which meant so much to Adam. Its creators made it all soul and no bones. . . . The Progressive Party, created almost entirely out of breath, made one brilliant gasp, and died short-winded.”

Attending the Progressive convention of 1916, Lippmann found himself confirmed. The Progressives, he reported in the New Republic, “have no creed, none whatever.” There may have been a good deal of projection in his observation that the Progressives clung to Roosevelt ”as a woman without occupation or external interests will cling to her husband. They clung so hard that they embarrassed him with their infatuation. They loved too much. They loved without self- respect and without privacy.”

And when, in December after Wilson’s reelection, some Progressives like Chester Rowell, Gifford Pinchot, William Allen White and Harold Ickes tried to set up a Republican Executive Committee with substantial Progressive representation on it, Lippmann stuck to his by now Democratic guns. He told these Progressives that they could not hope to make the Republican Party progressive by committing themselves in advance and maneuvering into a position where they must oppose the Democrats in 1920 without being able to create a party of their own. He knew what he was talking about. For he had gone earlier to the Republican convention and found it “the quintessence of all that is commonplace, machine-made and arbitrary in American life.” His description of that convention remains a classic of sensitive political reporting:

I shall not soon forget the nine and a half hours I sat wedded in, listening to the nominating speeches and subsisting on apple pie and logan-berry juice—hours of bellow and rant punctuated by speeches and roars. . . . It was a nightmare, a witches’ dance of idiocy and adult hypocrisy. DuPont for instance, and his wonderful grandfather, and the grand old state of Ohio, and the golden state of Iowa, and the flag, red, white and blue, all its stripes, all its stars, and Americanism till your ear ached, and the slaves and the tariff, and Abraham Lincoln, mauled and dragged about and his name taken in vain and his spirit degraded, prostituted to every insincerity and used as window-dressing for every cheap politician. The incredible sordidness of that convention passes all description. It was a gathering of insanitary callous men, who blasphemed patriotism, made mockery of Republican government and filled the air with sodden and scheming stupidity.

It is probably futile to speculate on what Lippmann’s development might have been if the war had not interfered with the political plans which the editors of the New Republic had hatched in the winter preceding the war. Certainly, however, as Herbert Croly, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, recalled in 1922, the war’s “startling intrusion transformed the nature and emphasis of the little insurrection which its editors wished to start in American public opinion.” And he added, somewhat apologetically in view of the magazine’s stand during the conflict, that the advent of the war “only confirmed the misgivings about the Manifest Destiny of the United States which prompted its foundation. Not America only but the whole civilized world was, it was only too clear, drifting into dangerous waters.”

But having broken his Progressive bridges behind him, Lippmann came out for Woodrow Wilson in October 1916. “I shall vote not for the Wilson who has uttered a few too noble sentiments,” he rationalized, “but for the Wilson who is evolving under experience and is remaking his philosophy in the light of it, for the Wilson who is temporarily at least creating, out of the reactionary, parochial fragments of the Democracy, the only party which at this moment is national in scope, liberal in purpose, and effective in action.” Why, in the name of sanity, Lippmann asked, “should a Progressive object because experience is turning Mr. Wilson into a Progressive?” And he answered: “I can see no virtue in the picture of the strong, obstinate, consistent man who never learns and never forgets.”

Yet, in spite of the apparent consistency of his own logic and de- velopment, Lippmann’s departure into the Wilsonian camp was not an easy step for him to take. All through 1915 he had been visibly affected by the turn of events. Perhaps it was because he was somewhat younger than the other New Republic editors that he took himself more seriously than his colleagues. Herbert Croly was forty-six then, Walter Weyl was forty-two. Lippmann was only twenty-six. Harold Stearns, younger even than Lippmann, giving his impression of the New Republic staff during these days, has recalled that Lippmann “was a little more stuffy and bowed down with the cares of the world,” though “he would unbend occasionally long enough to laugh at one of Alvin Johnson’s wisecracks.”

Lippmann had experienced the outbreak of the European war with a great deal of antagonism, for he sensed, though he did not admit, that it meant the end of his own radical crusade. The requirement of having to contribute his share of words to the New Republic’s editorial section with its emphasis on “realism” probably contributed to his feeling of frustration. His concern over what seemed to be a dismal situation was even reflected in his prose style. In 1915, he has written, “I could contain myself no longer and wrote a book called The Stakes of Diplomacy.” But if he wrote the book as an emotional release and for its possible cathartic effects, there was little trace of it in the presentation of his arguments. It was perhaps more logical and more coherent than his previous two books, and it stated the problems indicated by its title clearly, and it proposed a quite feasible solution—the international supervision, locally, of those backward areas whose control seemed to be the main bone of contention in world politics. But the epigrammatic glow and the youthful flavor of his previous two books were gone.

It was therefore not until the election year of 1916 was ushered in that Lippmann became enthusiastic again. He had come to realize by then that America’s entry into the conflict was only a matter of time. “Some of us,” he wishfully wrote, “would like to have had Mr. Wilson seize the lesson of the war to bring home to Americans the danger and error of their isolation.” Apparently, it had been the conflict between Wilson and Roosevelt that had caused him a great deal of disquiet. For it was precisely between his break with Roosevelt and his attachment to Wilson that Lippmann, having to fall back upon his own inner resources, produced some of the most personalized pieces he has ever written.

Fortunately, his job as an editor of the New Republic permitted Lippmann to discuss, as he was fond of saying, “all human problems.” He had to contribute his share of unsigned pieces to the editorial section, but beyond that he was apparently free to roam as widely as he wished over whatever interested him. In prolific succession he turned out articles or reviews on literature, theatre, art, philosophy, and psychology. They were indicative not only of the range of his knowledge and interests, but they also suggested that their author was ever dependent on continuous self-expression. There is good reason to believe that Lippmann’s miscellaneous writings in fields other than politics offered him, as he once put it, “a compensation for a bitter reality, an aspiration unfulfilled.” They were truly auto- biographical, telling “the story of his conflict with life.” In these incidental pieces Lippmann could examine his doubts more candidly  than in his political articles. “We have to assume,” he wrote, “that we too are making our adjustment to life, and we refrain from taking our ideas at any superhuman valuation.”

Modern man, Lippmann could then write, asks himself: “Why have I come to believe so-and-so?” And he could answer: “He means to ask not only what the external evidence is, but why he should be interested in a particular idea, what there is in his spiritual life which makes him welcome a certain system of ideas, why are certain prin- ciples congenial to him, why does he find these ‘facts’ particularly convincing.” After such self-examination, Lippmann thought, man “is not likely to be in any very grandiloquent mood.” Writing, then, represents “an attempt to make ourselves better at home in the world.” Lippmann, apparently, was keenly aware of his marginal status as an intellectual, and he gave expression to his mood in almost despairing words:

Modern man is not yet settled in his world. It is strange to him, terrifying, alluring, and incomprehensibly big. The evidence is everywhere: the amusements of the big city; the jokes that pass for jokes; the blare that stands for beauty, the folksongs of Broadway, the feeble and apologetic pulpits, the cruel standards of success, raucous purity. We make love to ragtime and we die to it. We are blown hither and thither like litter before the wind. Our days are lumps of undigested experience.

But he would also quickly recover from the hopelessness of these moods and swing out with vigor against the sordid aspects of a commercialized culture. H. G. Wells, he asserted, had written The Wife of Sir Isaac Harman “with comfortable facility out of the upper layers of his mind,” for he failed to face “the real problem of love and business and politics, which is not one of black villains and of white heroines, but of maundering and confused human beings.” Broadway came in for criticism like this: “We are a good-natured people, and the only thing we fear is priggishness. You must laugh and not criticize or you are a highbrow. You must under no circumstances confess that blatency and cheapness lacerate your soul, for the virtue of Broadway is to be a good Indian.” A report of the National Association of Manufacturers he found “a mass of undigested assertion, unsupported argument, and appeals to prejudice such as one would expect from an illiterate quack. . . . If I were a manufacturer I should either hang my head and blush, or get up and shout from the housetops that these spokesmen of mine were fools who were making a fool of me.”

Lippmann’s spokesmen, of course, were not the ghost writers of the NAM, but the Roosevelt Progressives and the avant-gardists  of the “Younger Generation.” He found their rootlessness increasingly unbearable. The modern imagination, he felt, has a harder task to perform than ever envisaged by the insurgents:

Its work is to abolish the old dualism of fact and fancy in which existence lay inert and unresponsive to the kiss of hope. Vision today will compel no one if the hope is extravagant or the facts distorted; and they see the world most effectively who see reality luminous in cold dry light dissolving into a warm aura of probabilities. It is a limitation against which only the dilettante rebels, he who would rather dream ten dreams than realize one, he who so often mistakes a discussion in a cafe for an artistic movement, or a committee meeting for a social revolution.

No wonder that Lippmann found less and less in common with the kind of people whose company he had enjoyed a few years earlier in Mabel Dodge’s Fifth Avenue salon-people like Max Eastman, Hutchins Hapgood, or Bill Haywood. Not that he suddenly jumped into the “realists’ ” camp. But he was fed up with schemes which, he said, “require an amount of virtue that exists only at the conclusion of orators’ speeches. Difficulties are evaded by calling upon brotherly love, citizenship, patriotism, public spirit, and all the other glowing abstractions which mask an incompleted analysis.” And it was his passionate desire to accomplish things that led him gradually out of the dead-end alley of radicalism, with its futile manifestoes and wasted motion, into the less volatile, if more determined, company of such liberals as Louis Brandeis, Felix Frankfurter, or Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Holmes, in particular, became the counselor of the group of young men who spoke through the New Republic. Their minds were already occupied with the problem of making the war the last of all wars. Holmes was skeptical of their enthusiasm, telling them: “You young men seem to think that if you sit on the world long enough you will hatch something out. But you’re wrong.” And he dubbed their bachelor quarters on Nineteenth Street in Washington “The House of Truth.” But he enjoyed their company. “They were the fastest talkers, the quickest thinkers,” he had met in many a year.

The youngsters were not unaffected. In Holmes’s house on Eye Street, Lippmann acknowledged in his public greeting on the occasion of Holmes’s seventy-fifth birthday, they discovered “the living stream of high romance.” In Holmes, Lippman wrote,

wisdom has lost its austerity and becomes a tumbling succession of imagery and laughter and outrage…. His presence is an incitement to high risks for the sake of its enterprise and its memories…. [Holmes] has lost nothing that young men have, and he has gained what a fine palate can take from the world. If it is true that one generation after another has depended upon its young to equip it with gayety and enthusiasm, it is no less true that each generation of the young depends upon those who have lived to illustrate what can be done with experience. They need to know that not all life withers in bad air. That is why young men feel themselves very close to Justice Holmes. He never fails to tell them what they want to hear, or to show them what they would wish men to be.

Holmes’s intellectual influence on Lippmann readily appears from their respective writings. The constitution, Holmes thought, “is an experiment, as all life is an experiment. Every year if not every day we have to wager our salvation upon some prophecy based upon imperfect knowledge.” And Lippmann would write: “We are compelled to make innumerable estimates on insufficient evidence, and many a fact we cling to may prove to be an aspiration. We are illustrating the assertion that a democracy stakes its salvation on its hypotheses. ”

The years 1914 to 1917 were crucial for American liberalism, and they were crucial for Walter Lippmann. They were years of hope, uncertainty, and even pessimism. In Walter Lippmann these moods often coexisted. His sense of personal ambivalence was profound. On the one hand, he continued to admire power, strength, and success. On the other hand, he was full of fears, doubts, and questions. Both of these sides of his personality help to explain his political attitudes and affiliations.

If Woodrow Wilson gradually replaced Theodore Roosevelt as the incarnation of his political beliefs, it was not until Lippmann had convinced himself that Wilson “became the master of his party” who “used the mastery for ends which are on the whole so undeniably good that Mr. Hughes [the Republican candidate in 1916] has hardly dared to attack them.” But there was something pathetic in Lippmann’s need of attaching himself so completely to what were apparently father symbols—symbols of strength and power, represented by men like Roosevelt and Wilson. Without these attachments, it would seem, he feared the likelihood of being even more insecure than he was in an objectively insecure period—a period which required a great deal of inner strength to be lived and to be conquered.

Indeed, the emotional gap opened up by the estrangement from Roosevelt, slow though it was, had left Lippmann alone and even afraid. It was in these moments of loneliness that he sought to define himself, his world, and his relationships more realistically, if not more  honestly, than when he was under the spell of paternal substitutes. It was, contrary to his expectations and wishes, a period of breaking old ties, a time of drift rather than mastery. Yet Lippmann ultimately failed in genuinely resolving the inner conflicts to which he had given such candid expression. Once more, towards the end of the period, as if driven by an inner necessity over which he had no control, Lippmann transferred his affections to a new master.

It may appear paradoxical that after an interlude of keen self-appraisal Lippmann again became an idealist who embraced an intellectual position whose moral consequences were bound to be disastrous when the war was over, and when Wilsonian idealism had run its course. At least one explanation would suggest that he had to admire mastery, purposeful activity, and ideal ends precisely because without them he could not bear the loneliness and the sense of alienation that were his fate as a representative of modern, marginal man. He had to identify himself with “strong” men because he dreaded to face “the inner history of weakness” of which, in his most frank moments, he seemed to be fully cognizant.

Ultimately, of course, there would emerge, out of the interplay of hopes and fears, dreams and disillusionments, the apparently detached observer of the public scene who writes with an air of finality not matched by many other journalists. Certainly, the later Lippmann is, above all, a scholar whose column, as Richard H. Rovere has said, “in all of American daily journalism … is the one continuous act of cerebration. ”

But there is reason to believe that the very definiteness implicit in both his eloquence of style and the shrewdness of his observations is deceptive. Symptomatic, perhaps, is the difficulty of “classifying” Lippmann in terms of the conventional political labels. Is he a liberal? Or is he a conservative? There are those who are willing to place him in either of these categories. But if he is a conservative, he is certainly not one of the “back-to-twenty-nine” variety whose utopianism-in-reverse is as unrealistic as the naive “wave-of-the-future” attitude of some liberals. And if he is a liberal, he does not belong to those whose innocent commitment to the welfare state is as self-deceptive as the genteel view of free enterprise held by some conservatives.

On the surface, therefore, the difficulty of placing him makes Lippmann’s apparent veneer of certitude all the more baffling. For, if he is an “independent,” independence in public life is rarely the passport of those who are convinced of their infallibility. Clearly there is reason to suspect that underneath the Lippmann of public knowledge there is another Lippmann who is beset by doubt and ambivalence. In order  to get at this Lippmann, one has to turn back to a period in his life— the years from 1914 to 1917—when the conditions of the time as well as his personal circumstances forced and permitted him to write about his innermost feelings with the kind of candor that his later r6le as a public figure apparently made unbeseeming and, in fact, impossible.

A Walter Lippmann Directory

2 Responses to “Walter Lippmann”

  1. […] partenza per la nostra inchiesta sulla immaginazione sociologica è la teoria dello stereotipo di Walter Lippmann. Questa ci introduce nel pensiero riguardo alla percezione e a ciò che influenza e conforma questo […]

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