THE CAPTIVE PUBLIC: How Mass Opinion Promotes State Power by Benjamin Ginsberg

THE CAPTIVE PUBLIC: How Mass Opinion Promotes State Power

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One of the most time-honored pieties about western, especially American, democracy is that the state is responsive to the will of the people. Well, yes and no, says the author of this powerful, and pessimistic, book. Ginsberg (government/Cornell) argues that the apparent responsiveness of western democracies has contributed to the enormous growth of the state. Throughout history, he says, people regarded the state more often as enemy than friend. But with the growth of democracy in the last two centuries, people began to lose their skepticism: if the government does what we want, why then its growth benefits us. While Ginsberg agrees that democratic governments have done much for their people, he believes that the influence of public opinion is not nearly as simple as it would appear. Ginsberg argues that the stathas learned how to manipulate public opinion so that in doing what it wants to do it appears to be responding to popular will. He argues, too, that ""a successful regime caters more to the interests of its elites and more to the emotions of its masses. ""Like most liberals, Ginsberg is extremely dubious of American television, asserting that it is used by the upper classes to convince the rest of society to adopt what is against its best interests. He says, too, that the daunting cost of file technology of persuasion--TV, computers, direct mail, etc.--gives to the American right a great and growing advantage. Ginsberg closes by suggesting that what the public thinks are the reins of government in its hands may really be the ends of its chains. Liberal pessimism powerfully and subtly argued but the repetition is cloying.

Pub Date: Sept. 25th, 1986
Publisher: Basic Books