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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Public Opinion

I am currently wading through "A History of Modern Political Thought" by Iain Hampsher-Monk. The sub-title, "Major Political Thinkers from Hobbes to Marx" took my attention in the public library and my intellectual stubbornness has got me through the tough sections.

What interested me recently was the following passage. The chapter in question concerns the thought of John Stuart Mill who advanced and developed his father's utilitarian philosophy. It concerns America but it struck me that it could also equally apply to England and Australia in the 21st century. Mill was writing in the 19th century.

"America was the country where, if anywhere, tradition, inherited authority and the past generally counted for nothing, and yet, strangely, 'in no country does there exist less independence of thought'.

Hampsher-Monk goes on to quote Tocqueville, "For whereas 'older societies have found (it) in the traditions of antiquity, or in the dogmas of priest or philosophers, the Americans find (it) in the opinions of each other."

"...the Americans endowed their own collective opinion with the aura and authority Europeans gave to their royalty, nobility, popes, academics and national myths."

" in public opinion, becomes in such countries a species of religion and the majority is its prophet." (Italics mine).

It struck me, reading this, that although England has looked back on its historical traditions as the 21st century moves on it is becoming more generically like America and Australia, i.e. "the West".

The quote in italics gives food for thought in light of the change in opinion sharing with the prevalence of the internet to disseminate ideas. As much as people like to think that we are all individuals with our private religion it seems to me that "public opinion...(has become)...a species of religion and the majority is its prophet."


Christopher said...

Hi Les, As an American I find the whole public opinion thing gets old. The Majority might be the prophet, but it often seems that the media is trying to create that prophet on its own. Is public opinion based of misinformation a false prophet?

How are you doing? I just finished Moltmann's The Coming of God.

Les said...

Hi mate. I am going well. Your question is a good one because it also raises the question of what aspects of the "news" is good and not so good information.

I still keep wading through "Theology of Hope" because I continue to go back to pieces that interest me and then I go off on a tangent and then return.

Good to see you here again.

Christopher said...

I am also wading through the Theology of Hope. It is just slow going for me. I finished The Spirit of Life and The Coming of God since I started ToH.

Learning to Fly (but I ain't got wings) said...

I apologize, as this comment is entirely unrelated to this post and this blog. I tried to leave a comment at the other version of Child of the Wind, but it was flagged.

Please check out my blog at
and do you know how I can find other Christians dealing with mental illness/emotional disorders who have blogs, other than googling search terms that turn up a lot of junk?

Also, do you know how to delete an account from I don't find it particularly user-friendly. Thank you for any help you can give, and I hope that you are doing well. Enjoyed reading.

Learning to Fly (but I ain't got wings)