22 March 2012

The Bewildered Herd

Media Control by Noam Chomsky, 2002, Excerpts

Walter Lippmann argued that in a properly functioning democracy there are classes of citizens. There is first of all the class of citizens who take an active role in running general affairs. That’s the specialized class. They carry out the executive function; they do the thinking and planning and understand the common interests. They are the people who analyze, execute, make decisions, and run things in the political, economic, and ideological systems. That’s a small percentage of the population.

Those others are what Lippmann called “the bewildered herd.” Their function in a democracy, he said, is to be “spectators,” not participants in action. Occasionally they are allowed to lend their weight to one or another member of the specialized class. That’s called an election. But once they’ve lent their weight to one or another member of the specialized class they’re supposed to sink back and become spectators of action, but not participants.

The compelling moral principle is that the mass of the public are just too stupid to be able to understand things. “The common interests elude public opinion entirely” and can only be understood and managed by a “specialized class of “responsible men” who are smart enough to figure things out. We have to tame the bewildered herd, not allow the bewildered herd to rage and trample and destroy things. So we need something to tame the bewildered herd, and that something is this new revolution in the art of democracy, the “manufacture of consent”.

So we have one kind of educational system directed to the specialized class. They have to be deeply indoctrinated in the values and interests of private power and the state-corporate nexus that represents it. The bewildered herd basically just has to be distracted.

The people with real power are the ones who own the society, which is a pretty narrow group. If the specialized class can serve the owners’ interests, then they’ll be part of the executive group. State propaganda, when supported by the educated classes can have a big effect. It was a lesson learned by Hitler and many others, and it has been pursued to this day.

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