Lippmann and Democracy
by Herbert Aptheker
(From History and Reality [New York, Cameron Associates, 1955]
in a section on Polemics on the “New Conservatism” pp. 49-72.)
Back in 1933, the editors of The Nation, in introducing a series of four articles devoted to Walter Lippmann, remarked that he was "probably the most influential [American] journalist of our time." A similar estimate is true for our own day both in terms of the extensive audience reached by his columns (they appear in about 140 U.S. newspapers, 17 Latin American, 9 Canadian, and in Australian, Greek, Japanese and other papers throughout the world) and in terms of the special seriousness with which so much of his audience studies his opinions.
This year there has appeared Mr. Lippmann's twentieth book, Essays in The Public Philosophy, (Little, Brown) which for weeks has been among the nation's best-sellers, and reached additional thousands through nearly complete re-publication in a single issue of the reactionary organ, United States News & World Report, and in several issues of the liberal Atlantic Monthly. This offers a good occasion for a critical evaluation of the work of Mr. Lippmann.
In the extensive literature about Walter Lippmann a recurrent theme is his alleged ambiguity. One repeatedly finds such questions as those posed a generation ago by Amos Pinchot: "Has he the liberal and democratic view, or . . . is he the prophet . . . of big-business fascism?" The simultaneous publication of extracts from his latest book in the Atlantic on the one hand and U. S. News on the other, indicates the same quality, as do the book's reviews by two writers in the New Republic who find opposite lessons.
The same duality appears in Max Freedman's review of The Public Philosophy in The Nation. He begins by saying: "Few things would be easier than to caricature this book and make out that Walter Lippmann is an enemy of the democratic tradition." Easier or not, Mr. Freedman feels it best "to take Mr. Lippmann at his own evaluation" and for this he quotes Lippmann as saying, early in the volume: "I am a liberal democrat. . . ." Yet, before Mr. Freedman is half through with his own review, he is discussing Lippmann's "condemnation of the democratic process"—peculiar conduct for a liberal democrat who is a friend of the democratic tradition.
Related to this apparent duality is another striking feature of the literature concerning Lippmann. Since the day, over thirty years ago, that Mr. Lippmann left the then very young
A generation ago, his
Lippmann's biographer devotes a rather sharp sentence to this problem: "The subtle [?] influences of a lifetime of, middle-class comfort and a growing ambition to achieve wealth and fame helped to refashion Lippmann's convictions." (David E. Weingast, Walter Lippmann (Rutgers Univ. Press, 1949) p.13.)
We shall not enter into the game of guessing Mr. Lippmann's motivations because we do not know him or them; because we are interested in his ideas, not his psyche; and because, therefore, his personal motivations are irrelevant to our inquiry.
We have, however, indicated the prevalence and range of the guessing to show the nearly unanimous assumption that notable inconsistency has marked Mr. Lippmann's career. This, we think, is wrong. Mr. Lippmann, with the exception of his extreme youth, has always been anti-democratic; his latest book confirms and sharpens his anti-democratic outlook. (This point is made in the discerning review of The Public Philosophy by Prof. H.H. Wilson, in I.F. Stone’s Weekly, June 27, 1955.) This is said despite Lippmann's insistence in the book that he is "a liberal democrat" and despite Mr. Freedman's warning that such a characterization as I have offered is actually a caricature of the man's views. It is not a caricature. Mr. Lippmann is, and has been for at least thirty years, a systematic opponent of democracy because he has been a principled proponent of monopoly capitalism.
It is true, of course, that Lippmann's banner has fluttered with the breeze—and nearly bowed to an occasional storm but the heart of the matter is that even his semantically most liberal works contain an anti-democratic essence. For the past generation and more this essence has been scantily disguised; with The Public Philosophy, issued in the midst of a "New Conservatism" upsurge, the essence is distilled and boldly presented.
There are, however, certain attributes special to Mr. Lippmann which explain his mountain-top position. These account for so astute an observer as Henry Steele Commager declaring Lippmann to be "the most sagacious of American publicists" (The American Mind, Yale Univ. Press, 1950, P. 221).
Style is not unimportant, and Mr. Lippmann's literary craftsmanship is great. Essentially it adds up to a tone of authoritative consideration, so that even his remarks which in content may be extremely tentative in impact seem to close debate. Lippmann's learning is formidable (though his scholarship is careless) and the nature of his experiences are extraordinary (before he was thirty, to go no further, Mr. Lippmann had been secretary for the Socialist mayor of Schenectady, assistant to Lincoln Steffens, an editor of The New Republic, and confidant of President Wilson).
Perhaps of greatest consequence are the concentration and sobriety that Mr. Lippmann has brought to his work. Apparently his powers of self-discipline are unusual and he has bent these single-mindedly for several decades to the study and elucidation of central political and social questions confronting the American ruling class. Early in his career Lippmann commented that "the price of respectability is a muffled soul bent on the trivial and the mediocre." He must answer for the condition of his own soul, but the fact is that he has concentrated on the vital and the significant, and this gives to his indubitable respectability a special consequence. Always his point of departure has been that of the American ruling class, and his origins, contacts, friendships have been almost entirely limited to that class, or to comparable elements abroad.
The basic features of our historical epoch—the moribund nature of imperialism and the inevitability of its replacement by Socialism—have been apprehended, partially and in distorted form, by Walter Lippmann. It is the impact of this process of decay and the challenge of this process of growth which his writings mirror, and since his viewpoint is that of the doomed, his prose is filled with foreboding. Thus, in 1914, in his second book (Drift and Mastery): "We have lost authority ... We drift ... All weakness comes to the surface. We are homeless in a jungle of machines and untamed powers that haunt and lure the imagination." In 1939: "The American people have no vision of their own future . . . they are seized by deep uncertainty . . . [are] making themselves sick with nervous indecision" (Life Magazine, June 5). Today, in his latest book, referring to "Western society": " What we have seen is not only decay—though much of the old structure was dissolving—but something which can be called an historic catastrophe."
Something of the problem that has been harassing Lippmann was posed in the early days of American imperialism by the leader of that "New Freedom" which was to appear attractive to the young Lippmann. Woodrow Wilson, speaking before the Virginia Bar Association in 1897 on the subject, "Leaderless Government," said: "This is not a day of revolution; but it is a day of change, and of such change as may breed revolution, should we fail to guide and moderate it."
To the effort at guiding and moderating—and thwarting—Lippmann has devoted his life. The result is not heartening—the powers of 1914 are still untamed and now greatly enhanced; the deep uncertainty of 1939 is deeper, the nervous indecision is greater; the past fifty years sum themselves up for Lippmann as an historic catastrophe.
Tracing the remarkable intellectual career of Lippmann will afford a panoramic view of the path of the best thought of which
Lippmann begins, as quite a few do at the same period, by thinking of himself as a Socialist, and is, indeed, president of the Harvard Socialist Club. His first published article, in the Harvard Illustrated Magazine, for 1909, held Socialism to be "the coming thing," deplored the ignorance of so many students concerning "this supremely important subject," and urged its inclusion in college curricula.
Until 1912 he holds to this allegiance and his few writings of the period identify him with the Left-wing of the Socialist movement. Indeed, he resigned his post, on May Day, 1912, as secretary for the Socialist Mayor of
With that, however, Lippmann's fling was over. Despite these early espousals of radicalism Lippmann seems to have spoken truly when he told his biographer, in 1949, that he was "never a Marxist" and that "he had never accepted the idea of the class struggle."
Certainly, from 1913 on, Lippmann has conducted a vigorous and lucrative campaign to vindicate his youthful change of mind and heart. (His biographer writes: "He is believed by friends to be a thrifty person who has made good investments. Time on one occasion [
All of his political activities and intellectual endeavors since then have been directed towards preserving monopoly capitalism by bringing to the rich responsible thinking geared to their interests, by urging upon them a "reasonable" approach, and by attacking democratic concepts and practices.
It is not often that one can catch some Lippmann prose that is not leather-bound and vacuum-packed. This makes the exceptions all the more valuable. An outstanding exception is the speech he delivered at the Annual Meeting of the Association of National Advertisers, held in November, 1945, and published by the Association in pamphlet form "for circulation among business executives." Speaking on "The Need for Enlightened Business Leadership" to fellow professional servitors, Mr. Lippmann was strikingly direct and simple.
The "need," he said, was acute because the challenge was grave. The businessmen's future, he warned, "is certain to be dark, turbulent, and tragic if they are not strongly led by men who take seriously, and take regularly, honest and wise advice on the world they are living in, the character of the age to which they belong. He went on to remind his listeners
that whereas 50 years ago, even 25 years ago, the system which we call free enterprise was universal among all economically developed countries, today the United States is the only big industrial country now committed to the perpetuation of free enterprise.
Lippmann kept hammering away at the need for "an enlightened public policy"; he insisted that nothing could be "settled by saying the hell with the New Deal, the hell with labor unions, the hell with the Russians." Of course, was the dear implication, we would all like to see these monsters consigned to hell, but wishing for it would not accomplish it; they were not goblins to be dissolved by imprecations, but were real forces requiring "enlightened public policy."
If businessmen ignore the enlightenment they will be "acting exactly like all other governing classes who throughout history were on their way down and on their way out." They must not follow the model of the French aristocrats who "clung so grimly and stupidly to their privileges that they lost their power"; no, the model is the British rulers who change form with splendid elasticity and retain substance with notable tenacity. Lippmann said there was "nothing so pertinent to the peculiar position of American businessmen in the years that lie ahead" as this French-British contrast. With that came the noble exhortation that no doubt quickened the sensitive hearts of the assembled advertising executives: "Let the captains of industry be captains indeed, and go forward unafraid into the days to come."
It is not unfair to suggest that when Lippmann told these advertising tycoons of the businessmen's critical need of "honest and wise advice", he and his audience assumed that the man addressing them was a shining example of such a counselor.
This advice has had perhaps half a dozen central threads that weave in and out of Lippmann's work, to reappear as a finished pattern in his most recent volume. These main themes will now receive our attention.
Lippmann has always insisted on the overwhelming importance from the imperialists' viewpoint—of crushing Socialism. A considerable section of his very early book, Drift and Mastery (1914) is devoted to demonstrating "the inadequacy of Marx for the present age." As befitted the time, this demonstration was enveloped in compliments concerning Marx' great vision. But the garlands were distributed in order to camouflage the knife-thrust: "Marxians are out of touch with the latent forces of this age"; they are, in fact, "largely sterile". The substance of Lippmann's arguments as to this point need not detain us here. It is due him to say, however, that they contain all the arguments advanced by him or by anyone else in the course of the subsequent forty years' campaign to show bow outmoded Marxism really is.
When the Bolshevik Revolution demonstrated Marxism's "sterility," Lippmann applied himself to the noble task of "choking the infant in its cradle." In this behalf he was a chief author of
At the Paris Peace Council, where Lippmann played a role, he felt the United States was the barrier against the Bolshevizing of Europe. He reported early in 1919 that "Lenin and Liebknecht sit in the Council at
At the negotiations of the victorious imperialist powers Lippmann was troubled by the squabbles and differences amongst themselves and their vindictiveness towards the defeated nations, for he felt that everything should be subordinated to a united coalition—a sort of premature NATO—to destroy Bolshevism. It was the failure to solidify this as firmly as he wished that caused Lippmann to resign his services and return to the
In The Political Scene, published in 1919, Lippmann warned:
The reason why Lenin may succeed is that the victors do not take seriously enough what he represents. They are frightened to be sure, they are even panicky, but they are not serious enough about the menace to be willing to subordinate every other consideration to the creation of a
Lippmann called for "not a sanitary cordon, but a sanitary
(It is in the context of this opposition to military intervention that one is to read the magnificent editorial in The New Republic of January 28, 1920, denouncing the lies about Soviet Russia in the New York Times and other commercial papers as "the father of lies." These were deceits promulgated to bolster an impossible and stupid program, doomed to failure—an irresponsible blunder which to Lippmann, then and now, is inexcusable.)
From that time to the present Lippmann has sought incessantly and conscientiously to devise a foreign policy that would destroy the
The relationship of Socialism and democracy is, as Lenin has said, organic; the most determined enemies of both have also recognized, in their own distorted fashion, this relationship. This is, indeed, a main theme of Hitler's Mein Kampf. Hence, there it is written:
Democracy of the West today is the forerunner of Marxism, which would be inconceivable without it. It is democracy alone which furnishes this universal plague with the soil in which it spreads.
The parliamentary principle of decision by majority, by denying the authority of the person and placing in its stead the number of the crowd in question, sins against the aristocratic basic idea of nature.
Dozens of such quotations may be culled from Hitler. The idea in them is central to the thinking of other fascists or precursors of fascism, as the Italians, Pareto and Mosca. Indeed, the latter's very influential work, The Ruling Class, first published in 1923, should be read with Lippmann's latest opus to see how strikingly similar they are.
Mosca stated in so many words that his system of elitism was offered as a refutation of democracy, without which refutation there was no escaping the inexorable logic of Socialism.
Socialism will be arrested only [he wrote] ... if the discovery and demonstration of the great laws that manifest themselves in all human societies [i.e., Mosca's elitism] succeed in making visible to the eye the impossibility of realizing the democratic ideal. On this condition, and on this condition only, will the intellectual classes escape the influence, a of social democracy and form an invincible barrier to it. (Gaetano Mosca, The Ruling Class (N.Y., 1989), p. 827, italics added. See the very valuable study by Raymond Barkley. "The Theory of the Elite and the Mythology of Power" in Science & Society, Spring. 1955.)
Lippmann has been insisting for over—a generation that the source of the difficulties of I our era lies in attachment to the erroneous idea of democracy, which has necessarily resulted in disastrous efforts at its implementation.
In an essay published in 1922, Lippmann announced "the absence of a really friendly and drastic criticism of democratic ideas." His writings have been filling this alleged void, with the emphasis on drastic, not friendly. Indeed, his book published that same year—Public Opinion—is such a criticism. For its theme is that democracy assumes the existence of an informed and rational public opinion, while in fact the assumption is quite false. As a result, the truth is that any community which is large and has heterogeneous interests will have to be governed and is really governed "only by a specialized class whose personal interests reach beyond the locality."
(Implicit here is a valid insight, explicit in
Moreover, he went on, "this class is irresponsible" and that is how it must be. The origin of power is of no consequence, only the use of power matters, he maintained. And, though Lippmann did not say this, his position clearly assumes that there is no relationship between the source of power and the use to which it is put. Here, then, the mythical entity of Power serves to destroy class and make questions like democracy or autocracy or oligarchy unreal catch-phrases for election time or bed-time. Present, too, in this classlessness that so well serves Lippmann's anti-democracy, is another idealist construction that runs through all his political writing. Not only is Power divorced from any social reality, but also the State is quite divorced from any class definition, that is, has no relationship with any real State that has ever existed.
Lippmann has attacked, in books going back to the 'twenties—like Men of Destiny and American Inquisitors what he calls "the dogma of majority rule" from another angle—that of so-called "liberalism". In the name of liberty, democracy is assaulted. Here is an example of this approach taken from the latter book named above (1928):
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.
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.
Of course, in origin, liberty to the bourgeoisie meant the liberty of accumulating property and inequality in property ownership was a hallmark of such "liberty". Lippmann, advocate par excellence of the bourgeoisie, repeats this word for word a century and a half after its progressive potential, relative to feudalism, has been squeezed dry: "Private property," he wrote in The Method of Freedom (1934), "was the original source of freedom" and "it is still its main bulwark."
What is bothering Mr. Lippmann is that of which the Founding Fathers already had a sharp premonition when creating our Constitution.
In framing a system which we wish to last for ages, we should not lose sight of the changes which ages will produce. An increase of population will of necessity increase the proportion of those who will labor under all the hardships of life, and secretly sigh for a more equal distribution of its blessings. These may in time outnumber those who are placed above the feelings of indigence. According to the equal laws of suffrage, the power will slide into the hands of the former. No agrarian attempts have yet been made in this country, but symptoms of a leveling spirit, as we have understood, have sufficiently appeared in certain quarters to give notice of the future danger.
These are the deeper meanings of the cries of the Convention delegates concerning the need to check "democracy," of democracy's "horrors" and "dangers." To this is to be added the fact that even advanced 18th century political scientists—like Paine, Madison, Alfieri, etc.—thought of the "People" in almost as limited a sense as some individuals now think of "Society," i.e., as the "400."
The solution for the 18th century bourgeoisie—seeking victory over feudalism and/or colonialism, and needing mass support—was to contrive a government which protected private property and its unequal distribution while maintaining the republican form—that is, their solution, then, was bourgeois-democracy. The contradiction already sensed by leading bourgeois-democrats in the 18th century and already very much limiting the "democracy" established, becomes overwhelming to imperialist theoreticians of the 20th century including Walter Lippmann. Their resolution of the contradiction is to deny democracy altogether the better to preserve the now aged bourgeoisie.
Another facet of the attack upon democracy is to deny the people's capacity to govern. Organic to the idea of popular sovereignty is popular capacity, and if the latter can be attacked successfully then the former falls.
Again, Mr. Lippmann has anticipated, in his earlier writing, the vast current outpouring relative to the inherent evil of humanity, its irrationalism and its rottenness making resignation the only responsible attitude and contrition the only moral posture.
Adherents of democracy, he wrote back in 1925, "encourage the people to attempt the impossible"—that is, to exercise sovereignty, and this can only result in their "interfering outrageously with the productive activities of the individual." This must at all costs be avoided "so that each of us may live free of the trampling and the roar of a bewildered herd." Even earlier, in his Public Opinion, Lippmann seized on the behaviorism of J. B. Watson (his book, Psychology from the Standpoint of a Behaviorist appeared in 1919) to bulwark his attack on democracy. For the mechanical behaviorist view of thinking as pure stimulus and response of the human brain as a mere switchboard—was the source for Lippmann's invention of the concept of mental "stereotypes." With this, Lippmann reduced the "reality" of democracy to the manipulation of the "herd's" mind by the propagandistic conditioning conducted by the elite. Similarly, psychoanalysis and pragmatism appealed to Lippmann—as did eugenics for a time—as scientific demonstrations of the irrational and amoral nature of man, as clinchers that the masses, in Mencken's phrase, were the "booboisie."
In his Preface to Morals (1929) Lippmann announced men to be at last "free" and therefore corrupt. "There are," he proclaimed, "no conventions, no rebus, no gods, no priests, princes, fathers, or revelations which they must accept. . . . The prison door is wide open. They stagger out into trackless space under a blinding sun." The freedom is intolerable, for the free are incapable and so the liberated one "put on manacles to keep his hands from trembling." It is these members of the bewildered herd who "drug themselves with pleasure . . . who have made the moving pictures and the popular newspapers what they are."
The unrestrained language reflects the emotion of an offended and frightened snob, but more consequential is the never-never land that Lippmann must construct to make reasonable his vicious attack on the masses. "The prison door is wide open", indeed—"Free to make their own lives", indeed. Such travesties are beneath refutation. They are indulged in lest the prison doors really be opened. They are part of Lippmann's systematic slander of the masses—the reverse side of his theory of the elite.
We suffer, wrote Lippmann in his attack on the New Deal disguised under the title, Inquiry into the Principles of the Good Society (1937), from "The Illusion of Control" which must have been news to the thirteen million then unemployed. The fact is, at any rate, he insisted, that "there is no possibility that men can understand the whole process of social existence." Forgetting "the limitations of men" has been our central error. Men cannot plan their future for "they are unable to imagine it" and they cannot manage a civilization, for "they are unable to understand it." To think otherwise, to dare to believe that the people can and should govern themselves, that they can and should forge social systems and governments enhancing the pursuit of their happiness here on earth—this is "the gigantic heresy of an apostate generation."
Hence, Lippmann's Principles of a Good Society came down, after all the elevated language, to the "rugged individualism" spelled out by its personification, Herbert Hoover, in his The Challenge to Liberty
That Lippmann believes in the incapacity of the mass and the heretical nature of the movement to make democracy fully meaningful does not mean that he doses his eyes to the urgent reality of that movement. This is why, as we have seen, Lippmann views Socialism as a central question of our day and has labored to make the bourgeoisie comprehend the fullness of its challenge.
Thus, another important aspect of Lippmann's thinking is his correct insistence that the modern world is marked by a decisive change as compared with previous epochs. That decisive change lies in the fact that capitalism has created a technology capable of freeing men of want, poverty, illiteracy and even, very largely, of disease. It has also produced the working class which can transform the social order so that the technical possibilities of developed capitalism may be fully realized and—with Socialism—infinitely enhanced. The elimination of exploitation, oppression, poverty and war becomes, then, in our era, for the first time, a practical possibility and, indeed, the process of the elimination of the old and the creation of the new is the characteristic of that era.
Lippmann, of course, does not express the change in these terms, but he senses its quality. This is already present in his pre-World War I book, Drift and Mastery, where he wrote that "men have to substitute purpose for tradition: and that is, I believe, the profoundest change that has ever taken place in human history." Even where he is most contemptuous of the masses, this change is on his mind. Thus, in A Preface to Morals he found, "The peculiarity of our modern situation is that multitudes instead of a few, are compelled to make radical and original adjustments."
As so often happens with Lippmann, the clearest expression of this thought occurs in a speech—this one delivered at the
So, while Lippmann views this as heretical, he sees it as real and potent. He doesn't like it, but he never forgets it.
This reality leads Lippmann to emphasize the need for style, finesse, deftness on the part of the rulers. He wants a refined exploitation. In his first book, A Preface to Politics (1913) he warned:
There is something pathetic in the blindness of powerful people when they face a social crisis. Fighting viciously every readjustment . . . they make their own overthrow inevitable.... When far-sighted men appear in the ruling classes—men who recognize the need of a civilized answer to this increasing restlessness, the rich and the powerful treat them to a scorn and a hatred that are incredibly bitter ... [it] is enough to make an observer believe that the rich of today are as stupid as the nobles of France before the Revolution.
Even in his bitter attack against the New Deal, as formulated in The Good Society, where he explicitly agrees with the Tory thinking of Herbert Spencer, he disagrees with Spencerian tactics. He does not want moss-back reactionary attitudes which may encourage "the common ruin of property." This has been and remains a constant ingredient in Lippmann's thinking, though he limits the area of permissible concession as imperialism grows older.
This leads Lippmann to urge that the bourgeoisie bethink themselves of the usefulness of benevolence, Indeed, Lippmann is a pioneer in propagandizing for the idea of the "industrial statesman" rather than the capitalist, for the idea of the tycoons as "creators of national growth" rather than robber barons. In his earliest book, the independently wealthy young man appealed for businessmen "released from the stupid fixation upon the silly little ideals of accumulating dollars." He went on:
Instead of telling business men not to be greedy, we should tell them to be industrial statesmen, applied scientists, and members of a craft. Politics can aid that revolution in a hundred ways: by advocating it, by furnishing schools that teach, laboratories that demonstrate, by putting business on the same plane of interest as the Health Service.
By his next book, Drift and Mastery, published a year later (1914), Mr. Lippmann announced the realization of his proposal, and anticipated the kernel of Burnham's Managerial Revolution. Wrote Lippmann:
The real news about business, it seems to me, is that it is being administered by men who are not profiteers. The managers are on salary, divorced from ownership and from bargaining. They represent the revolution in business incentives at its very heart. For they conduct gigantic enterprises and they stand outside the higgling of the market . . . The motive of profit is not their personal motive. That is an astounding change.
Astounding—yes, and somewhat prematurely announced. Twenty years later, Mr. Lippmann was writing on "Big Businessmen of Tomorrow" (The American Magazine, April, 1934) which proposed for that "tomorrow" what Mr. Lippmann had found already to be fact in 1914. Still, 1 1934, he felt it was certain for that tomorrow. Then, he was sure, businessmen would see their positions as places of public trust, not as sources of private accumulation. "They will work for honor, distinction, for promotion, for the interest and excitement and satisfaction of the work itself."
The theme recurs in later writings by Lippmann; he has labored hard to get across the "stereotype" of the sacrificial businessman to the thundering herd, but with little success He faces an insurmountable obstacle to which he alluded also in 1934—when he was somewhat impatient with what he thought was the naiveté afflicting some New Dealers. Recovery, he wrote, could come only if the government encouraged large-scale investments by capitalists. And, he bluntly pointed out:
They will not do it to cam a Blue Eagle. They will not do it for patriotism's sake or as an act of public service. They will do it because they see a chance to make money. That is the way it works. (N.Y. Herald Tribune, July 13, 1934).
It is worth noting that with, all of Lippmann's verbiage, about the need for elasticity in ruling, his own record is markedly unimaginative and rigid. He was opposed to a minimum wage law, and denounced the Wagner Labor Act. His taxation policy has been about that of Mellon, and he has generally favored a sales tax. He was one of the first to raise the demand for the illegalization of the Communist Party (in 1944 in his book, U.S. War Aims). He has always supported colonialism and repeatedly denounced the idea of self-determination. His foreign policy has generally revolved around the theme of how best to weaken the
Mr. Lippmann's lifelong assault upon democracy is systematized in his recent Essays in the Public Philosophy. Its appearance is a hallmark of the increasing rejection of bourgeois-democracy that characterizes the era of intensified monopoly capitalism. The Morgan partner, Thomas Lamont, in proposing a resolution of gratitude for Lippmann's services, at a dinner held in 1931, offered this ultimate praise: "Big business has always respected Mr. Lippmann's utterances. They have always been constructive."
Mr. Lippmann continues his services in his latest volume by presenting in his most civilized manner and as persuasively as his great talents and experiences permit, a rationale for declaring democracy defunct.
Naturally, at this time in this country, in the press that "matters" his work has been generally hailed. A professor of philosophy finds it "a classical model of diagnosis," the head of a history department in another college says Lippmann "speaks as a wise prophet," the head of a Catholic university hopes "that one hundred years from now it may be recognized as the opening gun of a powerful movement in political philosophy.” Hopeful, however, and a sign of the turn against extremist reaction that has marked the past several months, some professors, notably H.H Wilson of
The enemy, writes Lippmann, is “the Jacobin heresy” and that heresy is the one we have already encountered in his earlier works—i.e., the belief that humanity can and should produce on earth a society of abundance, equality, freedom, and peace. This heresy is common to Jacobinism and to Leninism; it must be excised, else the "civilities" will cease. "The misrule of the people" explains "the decline of the West"; let us stop flattering them and admit to ourselves and convince them that their sovereignty is absurd and unworkable and, indeed, sinful.
Certainly, writes Lippmann, my philosophy "will impose a regime that is hard," but "the results of rational and disciplined government will be good." The emancipated herd is "lonely" (using Reisman) and "proletarianized" (using Toynbee) and actually seeks tradition and stability and order and our philosophy will provide all these. Disfranchisement is not advocated—no crudity, please—but representation should be "virtual", such as existed in 18th century
Popular opinion is and must be opposite to the public interest—this miraculous public interest contrived by Mr. Lippmann, though never really defined. But then Mr. Lippmann being of the elite, knows the public interest when he sees it, and the one thing he is sure of is that his public interest is as public as the rich Englishmen's public school that is to say, it is private. Mr. Lippmann has extended the myth of the classless state of his earlier writings to the myth of a classless public interest which is knowable only to a private, minute elite.
All is geared to the stability of private property. That stability needs flexibility, not rigidity, Lippmann still insists, and it entails duties—governing for instance—as well as rights, such as the wherewithal to live well, as befits the elite. In terms of flexibility, Lippmann rejects the tactical approach of the McCarthyites as being untimely, crude and unnecessary at this juncture of events. He has written, in one of his columns, that "the real trouble with the so-called Right-wing Republicans" is that they do not sufficiently take account of "the modern realities" and that "they are at odds with the history of the times they live in."
When Lippmann becomes specific as to the "errors" that popular sovereignty has produced in the past, he is positively ludicrous, of course. And he is ludicrous for two reasons: 1) The people really did not rule in his Western countries, as he well knows; 2) Policies followed by these Western countries were formulated by monopolists and to the degree that those policies were not modified by concessions to opposing public opinion, to that degree were they fully disastrous. This is true from the "rugged individualist" criminality of the elite Mr. Hoover and his gang to the foreign policy of the Cliveden Set—not to speak of the absolutely undiluted elitism of the Hitler-Mussolini-Hirohito Axis. It is not irrelevant to recall that it was John Foster Dulles—not a Jacobin heretic—who wrote, in 1939: "Only hysteria entertains the idea that
Actually, the full implications of Lippmann's Public Philosophy were spelled out by him in certain columns that he was writing while doing that book. In October, 1954, he was in
The non-Communist parties are in control of the apparatus of the state, of the bureaucracy, the armed forces and the police. They will not, I have been told, surrender their sovereign power to the Communists if they fall behind in the count of heads....
This decision within the governing party means, if it is as firm as it appears to be, that the Communists cannot take over the government without great violence. (
He returned to the same question in his next column. He had spoken, he said, with an eminent Italian about this result question of democracy and Communism. The result this lengthy, but worth full quotation:
We have decided not to surrender the state to the Communists, not to allow them to take power even if circumstances were to give them the legal votes.
We shall use the whole force of the state to prevent their taking power legally. That in the last resort will be our answer to Communist propaganda. But of course the answer will require actions which will in fact put in charge of our affairs soldiers, policemen and men who are temporarily akin to fascists. So we avert the Communist danger but the price may be the loss of our democracy and our liberties.
Lippmann comments that "in principle this is the right decision." And he adds:
With weak democratic government there is a great danger that the democrats would simply be brushed aside, would abdicate their responsibilities, and would leave the dirty work to be done by a minority. If that is so, the great question arises as to whether the basic decision should not now be brought into the open, and publicly declared and its principle openly discussed and vindicated. (Oct. 21, 1954; italics added).
In The Public Philosophy, the language is not quite this explicit—it does not mention "the dirty work", for example—but the same program of the illegalization of "subversion",, of the "heresy", in fact, is offered. It is the program, of course, of Brownell at home and of Dulles abroad, with his "internal aggression" clauses in his Asian and Latin American pacts. It is a program to justify the domination of the world by an ultra-reactionary, coordinated, "sterilized"
There is an additional element in Lippmann's current writing that requires attention. In accordance with his effort, at responsible and sober reportage for his employers, Mr., Lippmann has been emphasizing in recent columns the: reality of the world-wide. mass demand for peace. He has also noted that in most of the world, because of her anti-colonial stand, the U.S.S.R. does "stand forth as the champion of what the peoples want.”
These pronouncements are to be read in the light of Lippmann's anti-democratic convictions and his belief that popular policies are invariably "bad" policies. When read in this light they carry additional weight, for Lippmann, is telling his masters—pro-war and anti-Soviet as they are—to tread lightly and to move cautiously. He is reporting where the overwhelming direction of mass opinion is, and he knows as a practical matter something of what this means in terms of power. He therefore is in fact acknowledging the marvelously salutary influence of that mass opinion which Lippmann professes to despise. This, itself, is a decisive refutation of his Public Philosophy.
Lippmann's view of the masses and of their role is diametrically opposed to that of Marxism, which is the philosophy of the liberation of the masses by themselves. "When it is a question of a complete transformation of the social organization," wrote Engels in his introduction to The Class Struggles in France, "the masses themselves must also be in it, must themselves already have grasped what is at stake, what they are going in for with body and soul ... no lasting victory is possible for them [Socialists] unless they first win the great mass of the people."
And as for these masses, Marxists evaluate their character, too, in a way quite opposite from Lippmann's. "The workers "who work without fuss and peasants," said Stalin in 1933, and noise . . . who create all the good things of life, who feed and clothe the whole world—they are the real heroes and the creators of the new life."
But one does not have to subscribe to Marxism to reject Lippmann's system of reaction. To Lippmann the great heresy is the idea of the masses having the capacity for building and maintaining a healthy social order, but Thomas Jefferson spoke of a different heresy: "the political heresy that man is incapable of self-government." "I am not," said
Abraham Lincoln, too, put the same thought with characteristic simplicity and must be numbered among Lippmann's heretics. Speaking to his friend, Richard Oglesby in 1858,
There is a kinship in the words of Jefferson and Lincoln with those of Engels and Stalin because the liberation of the working class and of all humanity—the victory of Socialism is in direct line with, an extension of, a leap forward from the limited liberating results of bourgeois-democracy. The ideas of Lippmann are akin to those of enemies of democracy from Carlyle to Mosca to Hitler. They are contemptuous of the masses and threaten the interests of the masses. Their defeat in life requires mass unity and activity, defense of democracy, of equality, and of peace.
Scanned, edited and reformatted for
the web by Walter Lippmann, July 2002
Stanford University file photo