AHI Senior Fellow Lee Cheek has edited and provided a new critical introduction for a few edition of Francis Graham Wilson’s A Theory of Public Opinion, to be published in early 2011 by Transaction Books at Rutgers University. 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.
According to Cheek, the book “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 study 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 also 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, andConfronting Modernity.