From today's point of view, Lippmann's argument seems unusually prescient. He was troubled by distortions in newspaper journalism, but was also deeply aware of the need to protect a free press. Lippmann believed that toleration of alternative beliefs was essential to maintaining the vitality of democracy.
Liberty and the News is a key transitional work in the corpus of Lippmann's writings. For it is here that he proposes that public opinion is largely a response not to truths but rather to a "pseudo-environment" which exists between people and the external world. Lippmann was worried that if the beliefs that get exchanged between people are hollow, and bear only a purely accidental relationship to the world as it truly is, then the entire case for democracy is in danger of having been built on sand. His concerns remain very much alive and important.
Rejecting both laissez-faire and centrally enforced collectivization, Lippmann described the salutory economic functions of a government with a mandate that rested on the consent of a middle-class constituency, which he termed a "free collectivism." Capitalism, in his view, had become too complex to be regulated by private initiative, and it became the function of government to ensure a compensatory redistribution of income and property in order to make its citizens comfortably secure.
Lippmann recognized that market regulation needed to be safeguarded from political demagoguery and the tyranny of the majority. "The Method of Freedom "calls for the formation of an informed and competent managerial class to direct economic policy within the bounds of legislative consent. Lippmann's effort to balance the competing claims of capitalism and democracy anticipated the New Deal achievements of the 1930s and influenced a generation of American statesmen in their understanding of what constituted a good society. "The Method of Freedom "is a work of enduring interest
A great editorial commentator of the twentieth century, Walter Lippmann, was a major contributor to the central periodicals and journals of the age, including the Atlantic Monthly, Foreign Affairs, Harper's, the New Republic, Saturday Review, and Yale Review. Men of Destiny, a set of biographical essays on leading figures of Lippmann's day, is arguably the best single source for understanding the persons and the policies of the post-World War I period.
In a series of vignettes, the reader is introduced into the lively world of Al Smith, Calvin Coolidge, William Jennings Bryan, H.L. Mencken, Sinclair Lewis, Warren Harding, Andrew Mellon, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. The collection offers a rare glimpse of the first truly modern generation of American politics and society, and also a type of serious, detached writing that presumes a literate audience, but also one not given over to bias and hostility.
The magic of this volume, however, is not in its litany of figures great and small, but Lippmann's comprehensive understanding of the place of America in world affairs. His essay on American imperialism remains a classic: "All the world thinks of the United States today as an empire, except the people of the United States." His advice to Americans is not to continue being evasive and grandiose with the rhetoric of equality, but to recognize the changing conditions and get on with the task of rule in as honorable a state as is possible by a holder of power.
In his perceptive essays on the League of Nations, the efforts to outlaw war through international law, debt and reparations policies, Lippmann appeals to "time and a sense of reality" in examining all matters political. This volume, graced with a new introduction by Paul Roazen, will enable readers now well into the first decade of a new millennium to do just that.
Walter Lippmann authored at least two dozen books on political thought and was America's most distinguished syndicated columnist. This is the tenth work in a continuing effort by Transaction to publish Lippmann's major works.
Paul Roazen is professor emeritus of social and political science at York University in Toronto. He is the author of The Historiography of Psychoanalysis; Freud: Political and Social Thought; Helen Deutsch: A Psychoanalyst's Life, all published by Transaction.
As the country grappled with an impressive influx of European ideas and with the threatening press of European problems, so did Lippmann. Like President Wilson, he came to believe that the condition of the modern world required that America either act or be acted upon. New methods of communication and propaganda meant that ideas contrary to America's would be widely heard. Reformed liberalism and the projection of that liberalism into a troubled world were the best hedge against totalitarian schemes and imperialist aggression. The Stakes of Diplomacy resulted from Lippmann's assignment by Wilson's Secretary of War Baker, to a project for studying possible terms of peace and ways to influence the world in a liberal-democratic direction.
The Stakes of Diplomacy ends both with admiration for the peaceful nature of democracies and a plea for their further influence in the world, and with an understanding that democracy's influence will depend partly upon its physical might and geopolitical collaboration. Lippmann stands as a prominent figure in America's twentieth-century quest for power with honor. He concludes this volume with the warning that there is no safe way and no morally feasible way to turn back from our dangerous mission: "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."