U.S., A Captive Nation

Benjamin Ginsberg's The Captive Public is a breath of fresh cynicism. With insight and illustration, it argues that mass opinion and majority will are not necessarily the nemesis of Big Brother. In modern society, Ginsberg argues, the Orwellian state can adapt and even mold them for its purposes.

Nor is this a new development. Ginsberg maintains that the emergence of public opinion as a political force was not so much a concession from the powers that be as a device to give their ruler greater legitimacy. Before the Industrial Revolution, his argument runs, authorities had little incentive to dwell on popular discontent. Poor communications and isolation tended to keep upheaval from spreading, and feudal economies, filling the royal coffers, continued to function despite localized troubles. But with the machine age, communications, and interdependence, rulers realized that discontent could cost them commerce, taxes, and possibly their lives.

Consequently, they sought to neutralize opposition, while appearing to yield to it, by extending free speech and elections. Ginsberg holds that free speech was not a great danger to the then rising bourgeois classes because they owned printing presses which could dominate discourse. Rather than fearing mass literacy, they promoted it, assuming a larger audience to read their ideas. This strategy of rule has application in our own day, for scarcely does a Communist revolution...

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