Making Democracy Work in a Complex World
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 From pollster Yankelovich (co-author, Starting with the People, 1988; New Rules, 1981, etc.)a blueprint for shaping a broad American consensus on urgent social problems. At sword's point with ``the Culture of Technical Control,'' an elite with a fetish for undigested data, the public has fled voting booths in despair, Yankelovich suggests, while politicians and the media hypocritically rail against seesawing mass sentiment as they're following it at its' superficial worst. The result, he believes, is a weakening of ``the national will to confront the obstacles standing in the way of strengthening the quality of public judgment indispensable to self-governance and consensus building.'' His remedy is to accelerate to process between ``mass opinion'' (people's instant reactions) and ``public judgment'' (a more considered stance derived after full consideration of a policy's consequences). Though sometimes given to phrases repeated like mantras (e.g., ``choicework,'' ``epistemological anxiety''), Yankelovich explains his theories clearly, with careful analyses of his own poll findings, and even of the thinking of heavyweight theorists like Max Weber, Bertrand Russell, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. He is particularly effective in discussing maddeningly contradictory public responses to questions such as AIDS, the competitiveness issue, environmental issues, education, and Soviet-American relations. However, his ten rules for resolution (forming stable, coherent judgments) sometimes sound simplistic (``Give the public the incentive of knowing that someone is listening..and cares''). A deft analysis of what ails the American body politic, but a too elastic outline of how to mold public opinion into an instrument of rational public policy.

Pub Date: May 29th, 1991
ISBN: 0-8156-2515-4
Page count: 312pp
Publisher: Syracuse Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1991