Rebirth of Reason

War for Men's Minds

Walter Lippmann: chronicler of evil
by Michael E. Marotta

The world has no shortage of wrongful ideas.  It is easy to compile "horror files" from the news media citing silly or dangerous things said by people of greater or lesser social importance.  Professors, presidents, senators and scientists make assailable assertions about politics, economics, metaphysics, and epistemology.  That much is easy -- and easy to ignore.  This book -- The Method of Freedom  by Walter Lippmann -- deserves some attention from advocates of reason.
The Method of Freedom is a little book based on lectures given in May 1934 at Harvard University.  Lippmann was invited by the president and fellows of the college because of his status as an intellectual, a popular writer, a theoretician, and commentator. 
Lippmann was a journalist, a media critic and a philosopher who argued that true democracy is a goal that could not be reached in a complex, industrial world.  ... Walter Lippmann and Charles Merz, in a 1920 study entitled A Test of the News, stated that the New York Times' coverage of the Bolshevik revolution was biased and inaccurate. In addition to his Pulitzer Prize-winning column "Today and Tomorrow," he published several books. Lippmann was the first to bring the phrase "cold war" to common currency in his 1947 book by the same name.
It was Lippmann who first identified the tendency of journalists to generalize about other people based on fixed ideas. He argued that people—including journalists—are more apt to believe "the pictures in their heads" than come to judgment by critical thinking. Humans condense ideas in to symbols, he wrote, and journalism, a force quickly becoming the mass media, is an ineffective method of educating the public.
-- Wikipedia: "Walter Lippmann"

The ideas of those times are with us today.  Even Ronald Reagan wrapped himself in Roosevelt's mantle, just as some Republican hopefuls for the 2008 nomination cloak themselves in Reaganism.  To read from this small book is to understand the origins of the world we live in.

For admirers of Ayn Rand's works, Walter Lippmann is the epitome of what was right and wrong with liberalism.  Lippmann said that President Herbert Hoover enacted measures that were similar to President Roosevelt's but that Hoover's failed for political reasons, whereas Roosevelt carried the day.  Both men, he said, enacted collectivist solutions to the depression.  No one seriously advocated laissez faire -- or if anyone did, they were not taken seriously by serious people.

"The body of laws which regulates enterprise is enormous, and however foolish or unworkable some of these laws may be, no one imagines that all these laws are unnecessary.  In fact, there is every reason to think that if a regime of free transactions is to be preserved, even more searching and comprehensive standards will have to be set for it."

Among those, Lippmann said, is the demand that public corporations no longer be allowed secrecy in bookkeeping.

The Method of Freedom by Walter Lippmann. New York: The MacMillian Company, 1934.
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