A Theory of Public Opinion
Francis Graham Wilson
Edited with a new introduction by H. Lee Cheek, Jr.
With extraordinary understanding, this book traces the emergence of
the ideas and institutions that evolved to give people mastery over
their own destiny through the force of public opinion. The Greek
belief in citizen participation is shown as the ground upon which
the idea of public opinion began and upon which it grew. A
fascinating description follows of the gradual development of the
channels necessary before the upward flow of public opinion to those
governing became possible. For Wilson, public opinion is always an
“orderly force,” contributing to social and political life.
Wilson appraises the influence of modern psychology, with its
techniques and ideas, and the slow and at first scarcely recognized
appearance of the methodologies that would enable people not only to
measure the opinions of others, but to mold them as well. He
examines the relation of the theory of public opinion to the
intellectuals, the middle class, and the various revolutionary and
proletarian movements of the modern era. He also considers the
position of ordinary people, and the circumstances in which the
individual may refuse to follow the opinions of the experts are
succinctly and movingly analyzed.
This book is a historical and philosophical evaluation of a concept
that has played a decisive part in history and whose overwhelming
force is today most peculiarly underestimated. The author's
penetrating insight brings an understanding that is invaluable at a
time when public opinion, the very force developed to enable the
ruled to restrain their rulers, has become itself controllable and
attempts to manipulate it are made by those who would impose their
will upon their fellow men
Francis Graham Wilson was an eminent professor of political
science who served as one of the central figures in the revival of
scholarship in American and Latin American political thought during
the middle of the twentieth century. He taught at numerous
universities, including Stanford University, University of
Washington, University of Illinois, and Long Island University. He
is best known for establishing a historical theory of public opinion
as distinct from the methodology. He is the author of numerous
articles and books on public opinion including The American
Political Mind, Order and Legitimacy: Political Thought in
National Spain, and Political Philosophy and Cultural Renewal.
H. Lee Cheek, Jr.
is associate vice president for academic affairs and professor of
political science at Athens State University. He is the author or
editor of numerous works including Order and Legitimacy,
Political Philosophy and Cultural Renewal, Calhoun and
Popular Rule, and Confronting Modernity.
Paper. 340 pp.