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''The Phantom Public'' is a book published in 1925 by journalist
Walter Lippmann Walter Lippmann (September 23, 1889 – December 14, 1974) was an American writer, reporter and political commentator. With a career spanning 60 years he is famous for being among the first to introduce the concept of Cold War, coining the ter ...
in which he expresses his lack of faith in the
democratic system Democracy ( gr, δημοκρατία, ''dēmokratiā'', from ''dēmos'' 'people' and ''kratos'' 'rule') is a form of government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a state S ...
by arguing that the public exists merely as an illusion, myth, and inevitably a phantom. As
Carl BybeeCarl may refer to: *Carl, Georgia, city in USA *Carl, West Virginia, an unincorporated community *Carl (name), includes info about the name, variations of the name, and a list of people with the name *Carl², a TV series * "Carl", List of Aqua Teen H ...
wrote, "For Lippmann the public was a theoretical fiction and government was primarily an administrative problem to be solved as efficiently as possible, so that people could get on with their own
individualistic Individualism is the Ethics, moral stance, political philosophy, ideology and social outlook that emphasizes the intrinsic worth of the individual. Individualists promote the exercise of one's goals and desires and to value independence and self ...
pursuits". Bybee, 1999, p.48


Context

''The Phantom Public'' was published in 1925 following Lippmann's experiences observing the manipulation of
public opinion Public opinion is the collective opinion on a specific topic or voting intention relevant to a society. Etymology The term "public opinion" was derived from the French ', which was first used in 1588 by Michel de Montaigne Image:ArmoiriesM ...
during
World War I World War I, often abbreviated as WWI or WW1, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war A world war is "a war engaged in by all or most of the principal nations of the world". The term is usually reserved for ...

World War I
and the rise of
fascism Fascism () is a form of far-right, authoritarian ultranationalism characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, and strong regimentation of society and the economy that rose to prominence in early 20th-century Europ ...

fascism
in
Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini
's
Italy Italy ( it, Italia ), officially the Italian Republic ( it, Repubblica Italiana, links=no ), is a country consisting of a peninsula delimited by the Alps The Alps ; german: Alpen ; it, Alpi ; rm, Alps; sl, Alpe ) are the highest ...
. It followed his better-known work ''
Public Opinion Public opinion is the collective opinion on a specific topic or voting intention relevant to a society. Etymology The term "public opinion" was derived from the French ', which was first used in 1588 by Michel de Montaigne Image:ArmoiriesM ...
'' (1922) and moves further toward disillusionment with democratic politics. The book provoked a response from philosopher
John Dewey John Dewey (; October 20, 1859 – June 1, 1952) was an American philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, Meta ...
, who argued in ''
The Public and its Problems ''The Public and its Problems'' is a 1927 book by American philosopher John Dewey John Dewey (; October 20, 1859 – June 1, 1952) was an American philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ...
'' (1927) that the public was not a phantom but merely "in eclipse" and that robust democratic politics are possible. Today, the exchange between Lippmann and Dewey continues to be important for the critique of contemporary journalism, and press critics such as
New York University New York University (NYU) is a private Private or privates may refer to: Music * "In Private "In Private" was the third single in a row to be a charting success for United Kingdom, British singer Dusty Springfield, after an absence of ne ...
's
Jay Rosen Jay Rosen (born May 5, 1956) is a writer, and a professor of journalism at New York University. Rosen is a contributor to ''De Correspondent'' and a member of the George Foster Peabody Awards board of directors. Biography Rosen has been on th ...

Jay Rosen
invoke it to support moves toward
civic journalism Civic journalism (also known as ''public journalism'') is the idea of integrating journalism into the democratic process. The media not only informs the public, but it also works towards engaging citizens and creating public debate. The civic jou ...
.


Synopsis

Lippmann’s book is a forceful critique of what he takes to be mistaken conceptions of "the public" found in
democratic theory Democracy ( gr, δημοκρατία, ''dēmokratiā'', from ''dēmos'' 'people' and ''kratos'' 'rule') is a form of government in which people, the people have the authority to deliberate and decide legislation ("direct democracy"), or to cho ...
like that it is made up of
sovereign Sovereign is a title which can be applied to the highest leader in various categories. The word is borrowed from Old French ''souverain'', which is ultimately derived from the Latin word ''superānus'', meaning "above". The roles of a sovereign v ...
and omnicompetent
citizen Citizenship is a relationship between an individual and a state to which the individual owes allegiance and in turn is entitled to its protection. Each state determines the conditions under which it will recognize persons as its citizens, and t ...

citizen
s (21); "the people" are a sort of superindividual with one will and one mind (160) or an "organism with an organic unity of which the individual is a cell" (147); the public directs the course of events (77); it is a knowable body with fixed membership (110); it embodies cosmopolitan, universal, disinterested intuition (168-9); and it is a dispenser of law or morals (106). Lippmann counters that the public is none of those things but a "mere phantom," an abstraction (77) embedded in a "false philosophy" (200) that depends on a "mystical notion of society" (147). Democratic theories, he argues, vaguely assert that the public can act competently to direct public affairs and that the functioning of government is the will of the people, but Lippmann dismisses such notions of the capacities of the public as a fiction. Against the idealizations and obfuscations, Lippmann posits that society is made up of two types of people: agents and bystanders (also referred to as insiders and outsiders). The agent is someone who can act "executively" on the basis of his own opinions to address the substance of an issue, and the bystander is the public, merely a spectator of action. Only those familiar enough with the substance of a problem are able to then analyze it and propose solutions, to take "executive action." No one is of executive capacity at all times, the myth of the omnicompetent sovereign democratic citizen. Instead, individuals move in and out of these capacities: "The actors in one affair are the spectators of another, and men are continually passing back and forth between the field where they are executives and the field where they are members of a public. The distinction between agents and bystanders... is not an absolute one" (110). Most of the time, however, the public is just a "deaf spectator in the back row"(13) because, for the most part, individuals are more interested in their private affairs and their individual relations than in those matters that govern society, the public questions about which they know very little. According to Lippmann, however, the public has one specific role and one particular capacity, to intervene during a moment of social disturbance or "a crisis of maladjustment.... It is the function of public opinion to check the use of force" (74) by using its own force. Public opinion responds to failures in the administration of government by deciding, through voting, whether to throw one party out in favor or another. The public, however, moves to such action not by its own volition but by being led there by the insiders who can identify and assess the situation for them. The public is incapable of deciding rationally about whether there is a crisis: "Public opinion is not a Rationality, rational force.... It does not reason, investigate, invent, persuade, bargain or settle" (69). It can exert force upon those capable of direct action only by making a judgment as to which group is better able to address the problem at hand: "When men take a position in respect to the purposes of others they are acting as a public" (198). That check on arbitrary force is the most that can be expected of the public. It is the highly circumscribed but "special purpose" of public opinion.


Quotes


See also

*Social influence *Types of democracy **Liberal democracy **Procedural democracy *Neoliberalism *post-factual


References

* * *


External links

* {{DEFAULTSORT:Phantom Public 1925 non-fiction books Political science books Books by Walter Lippmann