POLITICAL LEADERS supply much of the dynamism that operates and changes political institutions. But leaders by no means act in isolation; they are themselves mirrors of the people in many ways, and their actions are modified at every step of the political process by the energy, reactions and demands of the less active and less authoritative citizenry.
If we reconsider the conditions from which leaders emerge, we can see how utterly important it is to know something about people as a whole. Leaders may emerge because they possess unusual psychological and physical traits-often acquired from the culture rather than inherited. Leaders may emerge from certain occupations, certain social classes, certain power-commanding environments (public offices), and from fulfilling certain balancing roles in and among their various groups. As we attempted to explain more and more of the conditions that produced leaders, we came to see that the people themselves must be taken into account, and we are now compelled to seek other concepts that can cope with the people as a whole.
This chapter is devoted to concepts for studying the political behavior of the people as a whole. It seeks to explore the general social foundations of politics and of the politists. Therefore it treats several large and diffuse social groupings: the community and public, less general interests of an economic or other social character, public opinion, and the majority. Later chapters will discuss the more tightly structured political groupings-electoral constituencies, political parties, and pressure groups. Both kinds of groupings are the bases upon which the politists rest and function.
If men were all alike and society were static, how easy our analysis would be! We could define the several major concepts of this chapter as follows and little would be left to explain. We would say that the state (territory, population, officers, independence) is the same as the community. The people of the community are the public; the political beliefs shared by everyone in the community are consensus; the opinions they hold are public opinion; and public opinion is divisible into a majority and minority opinion.
All of these statements are often true, but more often are not true enough. In order to use the several concepts more exactly and with greater realism, we must define them more carefully and-more important-use them carefully. For the state is not always the community, and the community does not always have consensus, and several communities and publics may be found among the same people, and the several publics do not always have public opinions, and there may be several public opinions in the same public, and, finally, a majority is not always to be discovered. The redefinition of these concepts is therefore in order.
A community exists to the extent that a people is knit together by mutual intercourse and mutual belief. Hence a community is defined as a people who have many habitual relations or communications with one another. To find the community, one observes the relations and communications among a population and judges that they are so many and all-embracing as to give the people a culture or character.
A public exists to the extent to which the people of a community have political relations with one another. Hence the public is defined as the political part of the community, that is, the people with respect to their political relations and communications.
A consensus exists when the people almost universally agree upon a basic set of beliefs about right and wrong in politics and about the organization of the state. Hence, consensus is defined as a basic agreement of the public upon the general method of organizing and conducting the political process.
Public opinion exists whenever members of the public are divided over the proper solution of an issue that is relevant to the state. Hence, public opinion is defined as a belief held by a number of people regarding a political issue.
If more than half of any given group are in agreement upon an issue, they are what we call a majority. Thus initially we see that consensus implies a heavy majority of the community agreeing upon a number of interrelated basic issues. We also see that many majorities may exist without there being a consensus. Thus one majority can agree that Smith is a better politician than Jones, another majority, that high tariffs are better than low.
Thus far, we have only set the frame for understanding these concepts. The concepts will become clearer and more useful as we examine them in detail and with respect to one another.
First of all a state may not be a single community. Take the case of England, Scotland, and Southern Ireland in the nineteenth century. All three were united in the same state. They constituted a population inclosed within a territory, governed by public officers (the government) not subject to higher authority. Yet to some extent Scotland and certainly Southern Ireland contained peoples apart from the English in many important respects, including dialect, customs, and religion. The differences among the three included many important political differences, less marked in Scotland than in Ireland. Hence three general publics existed. Not the least of the differences that made Ireland and England different communities and publics was the presence of a consensus in England with respect to English political government and politics and the absence of the same consensus in Ireland with respect to English rule over Ireland. Thence came the great dissatisfaction in Ireland, the attempted revolts, and the demands for Irish independence. The legitimacy of English rule was stoutly contested. Yet on particular political issues that came up from time to time, there can be little doubt that segments of Irish and English opinion coalesced and agreed. And there may have been occasions when a majority of Irishmen and Englishmen agreed on some political viewpoint or principle.
The community differs from other social groups in that it embraces all the physical and psychological connections among people necessary to give a person an over-all way of life. For example, being born and raised in Shanghai or Peiping usually suffices to make a man or woman Chinese. He is a member of Chinese culture and shares many customs and beliefs with his fellow Chinese. Being a carpenter or farmer influences a great deal of one's life, customs, and outlook, but not nearly so much as membership in the greater community. The first affiliation is to a community, the second to a social group, perhaps occupational. A man ordinarily can change his occupation without becoming a different kind of person, but hardly his community.
Where do we place individuals whose lives are complicated by universal claims and attachments stemming from more than one source? What happens to a South Carolinian who feels the claims of two community systems, regional and national; to an Italian who has dedicated himself to the priesthood of the Catholic Church? We can only say that such men belong to two communities, each with all-embracing cultures that he must hope will never make conflicting demands upon his loyalties.
By the community, therefore, we mean a people who maintain a considerable number of habitual relations or communications. The community includes such important relationships among people as their co-operation and competition, their mutual dependence, the interconnections among their special group affiliations, and their shared beliefs and impulses. A community may be visualized as a giant spider web. The outer limit of the community is that area under observation where the number of communications diminishes in extent to a tiny amount and in duration to temporary and sporadic contacts. Thus, the United States and Soviet Russia form different communities. In one sense there is no inner limit to the community; that is, all relations contribute to determining the nature of the community. But where those communications are intensified according to some special criteria-such as religion, occupation, or (especially) locality - we see social groups; and when such a special group (the locality is most frequently met with) affects markedly most aspects of the lives of many people, it too may be called a community.
The study of a great community reveals patterns of relationships among the community members.
Modern American society, for example, can be described physically as a community in which over 180,000,000 people depend upon one another through an exceedingly complex division of labor that clothes Californians in New England's textiles and feeds New Englanders with California fruit. People across the continent read the same news, compete with each other in business, fight the same wars together, and travel to each other's resorts and schools. Yet local communities persist in abundance, for a great number of one's social relations are made locally. Two hundred years ago, the separate colonial communities were of even greater importance to their respective members because the American colonists had not nearly so much to do with one another as Americans today.
The political scientist must not overestimate certain types of connections in the network of the community. For example, it was often stated before the last two wars that the existence of certain international agencies, such as the International Postal Union, meant that a community of nations existed. However, the mere fact that nations communicated with each other did not mean that they were in ideological agreement. Ideological ties are among the most meaningful of community ties, but because they are intangible and hard to measure, they are often ignored.
Out of the myriad human contacts in the community there evolve various modes of thought and moral beliefs. A community teaches its members to do things in certain ways through its mores, customs, folkways, and fashions. Not all of these patterns of behavior are given equal significance by the community, and their strength may best be judged by the penalties for nonconformance. While a man will only receive frowns for not wearing a tie on certain occasions, he will be treated very harshly for betraying his country, killing his children, or walking the streets naked. Sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists have collected much material on the way the community regulates the conduct of its members.
The community can command conformity and obedience from most of its members, be they humble or great, without using formal procedures. Most persons follow community rules without the intervention of laws, courts, police, or discipline. One need only name the community sanctions in order to prove that most men are made acutely aware of their existence at one time or another in their lives. The first sanction is habit. Most men never know much of what is "wrong" because they encounter little but what is "right." Their habits, the repeated performance of certain social obligations in learned ways, tend to exclude the learning of other ways of doing them.
But the fear of isolation and frustration also impels men to conform. To act in uncommon ways usually means that one acts alone and is prevented from gaining valued responses. To most men, especially in political activities, which are social to begin with, such a condition is not pleasant. They would rather conform than lose the companionship of their fellows and the respect and rewards of the community. Jobs, appointments, election, privileges, and other tokens of social esteem can be denied an offender by general community consent. Thus, custom imposes its own sanctions without invoking the formal, legal sanctions of the criminal law - the compulsion of force.
In rare instances, an allegedly flagrant violation of community mores is met by mob violence, vigilantism, political assassination, and other sporadic manifestations of disapproval. Such "crowd" behavior, however, should never be considered by the political analyst even as prima facie evidence that a "community spirit" has been thoroughly aroused. Too many "spontaneous" crowds of protest, vengeance, and "righteousness" have been found by historians to be aroused, organized, led, and manipulated by a few directing agitators towards goals having little to do with the members of the crowd themselves. As we shall see in the concluding section of this chapter, the community is too diffuse a grouping to act directly in the political process. It must always be transformed by other groups before it can effect its desires.
The public consists of the people's political relationships in a community-the politically specialized part of all the communications that exist among community members. Essentially, as we shall see shortly, this specialized part is what we commonly call public affairs, and those people some part of whose relationships to the community concerns public affairs have opinions the special sum of which constitutes public opinion. When some people are entirely excluded from political affairs by law and tradition, as has happened in many states, they are not to be considered part of the public.
There are as many publics as there are communities. The number of both is not fixed for all time by an immutable law. As both terms have been defined, the key criteria for distinguishing one community and public from another are the scope, number, duration, and intensity of their human bonds. Certainly the Athenians were a community to themselves, separate from the Spartans and the Corinthians. Their attachments to the great Greek cultural community were not so numerous and strong as their local attachments. The big nation-state of today would not be a meaningful community to most ancient Greeks. Many people predict that the modern nation, as the most important community, is to be replaced by a community of mankind.
Furthermore, some men may acquire stronger over-all loyalties to their unions, localities, or states than to the nation as a whole; they may possess less relations with the great community. For them there exist two communities and two publics, perhaps even more. Political scientists therefore must describe, enumerate, compare, and analyze all the human contacts in each situation that they study in order to determine whether there are one or more communities present.
Enough has been said to demonstrate that a community and its public are closely related. What happens to the basic customs of a community must transform the nature of a public. Changes in characteristic social sanctions mean changes in, political sanctions. If a community rejects the use of force, public opinion will evidence this feeling. If community standards place a high value on material things, politics will be generally materialistic.
We must always be aware that politics operates within such a framework of community custom with its penalties for deviation. The preparation, enactment, and administration of laws are only the baldest points of contact between community beliefs and habits and the political process. Few men are so naive as to insist that the law could command and the community would knuckle down. To the innocent query: "What is the limit of the power of the English Parliament if it is supreme?" Leslie Stephen gave the sensible answer:
It is, of course, omnipotent in the sense that it can make whatever laws it pleases, inasmuch as a law means any rule which has been made by the legislature. But from the scientific point of view, the power of the legislature is, of course, strictly limited. It is limited, so to speak, from within and from without; from within, because the legislature is a product of a certain social condition, and determined by whatever determines the society; and from without, because the power of imposing laws is dependent upon the instinct of subordination, which is itself limited. If the legislature decided that all blue-eyed babies should be murdered, the preservation of blue-eyed babies would be illegal, but legislators must go mad before they could pass such a law, and subjects be idiotic before they could submit to it. Even apparently "lawless" politicians, who by-pass or violate established formal procedures for making political decisions, are acting either in accord with the tacit understanding of the community or at least are not flagrantly disregarding the limits of toleration set by the community.
Different communities and the same community at different times vary in the sort of conduct they expect and demand from politicians. It is apparent in reading about the RomanCarthaginian wars, the Spanish-American War, the Texan war of liberation, and the Korean War of 1950 that the parties operated according to widely differing standards of humaneness. Notions of "chivalry" and "humaneness" varied widely in the different conflicts.
Other examples of changing standards that affect both the community as a whole and politics specifically may be cited.
The English penal law of the seventeenth century would not be tolerated in England today. Chronic corruption was accepted by the people of certain modern American localities like New York City until relatively recently. Today, propaganda is used much more extensively as a political technique than it was in medieval cities; the "re-education" of criminals is a common form of "punishment"; and "laws of war" are generally able to give some protection to belligerents. The power of the English King to appoint his choice for Prime Minister has given way to the power of the victorious party to dictate the choice. Community belief has so changed in this respect that an independent appointment would be received with horror and anger. Similarly, the power of popularly chosen Electors to name the President of the United States has been transmuted into a delegated function of electing the man the electorate voted for. Although violations of this tradition have occurred, the culpable Electors have been subjected to considerable popular resentment.
Since a community is intimately associated with its public, disorders of the community are quickly communicated to public affairs and become political problems that affect the state. A rutted, broken road, for example, may incite discontent, may lead the discontented community to engage in public controversy, and may finally bring a political reaction against the government.
The community problem usually regarded as gravest of all is of a different order. It results from overlapping community identifications. As we have suggested previously, a person may feel himself part of two communities-one local, the other national, or perhaps less frequently, one a social class and the other a local or national community. In modern Western society, the national community is a strong contender for one's total affiliations, but one's social class in a European country, or one's locality or occupation in America, may claim an equal or greater loyalty. If the two loyalties conflict, the individual becomes disloyal to one or the other, or withdraws from the conflict by becoming apathetic towards both. Both disloyalty and apathy produce personal anxiety. What is more, they produce anxiety in others who are affected by the behavior and attitudes of the individual in question. A kind of rootlessness and rulelessness grows and spreads. Consensus is weakened. Yet there is no neat method by which such individual dilemmas may be solved, the anxieties reduced, and consensus fostered.
Practically all writers on the subject of the community and the public have asserted that the vast technical changes of modern times complicate the individual's role in the great community. Science, technology, rapid physical communications, movements of population, and many other factors have built a physical community in which many men feel ill at ease. Physically, they may be more comfortable than their ancestors; psychologically, they often feel little sympathy with the larger community. Furthermore, they lack any effective control over their environment. Great economic, physical, and political changes take place, vastly important political decisions are made, and they can only applaud or condemn or escape. Their work life is transformed, their cities grow like weeds, they are automatically made members of a "United Nations."
To make their lot even more difficult this loss of active power has come at a time when men everywhere have learned to demand democratic practices. Men are supposed to be active in decision making at a time when the decisions to be made concern matters completely beyond the ken of individuals. Americans, for example, are told from childhood that they should control government policy; but how can they conceivably control the delicate, shifty, secret maneuvers of the so-called cold war? Englishmen are told that a socialist government is a people's government, rather than the government of a few. Yet how can the British worker actively participate in the intricate plans of the socialist government or in the decisions of the government to co-operate or not to cooperate in the Schuman Plan to integrate western European industrial facilities?
To tell the citizens of various countries today that they are responsible for events in their new enlarged communities and that they must participate in molding the direction of those events may be flattering to their beliefs about democracy, but such directives have also proved terribly embarrassing to many people and to their governments as well. For in trying to exercise the controls to which they are entitled by the beliefs of the times, people make impossible demands of their governments. The governments themselves, in reconciling their decisions with democratic theories, trip and stumble in trying to keep in line with the shifting, jerking moods of the various groupings of the people.
Seeming solutions of the problems of democratic leadership often are suggested. For instance, officials are sometimes tempted to transform the theory of political democracy into a theory of social engineering; that is, many officials feel that the only way to escape from the intolerable fickleness of popular pressures is to control those pressures by propaganda. The people are assured that they are being consulted, that their wishes are being followed, and that popular controls are real controls.
Unless such a policy is carried out with ruthless efficiency, as it appears to be done in Russia today, it tends to make many people more suspicious of the intentions of their rulers. They feel that control is being stripped from them by unscrupulous politicians. They turn to "sincere" men, ones who, they believe, voice truly the needs and aspirations of the masses. They are willing to confide their active interests to such men to rid themselves of the "plague of self-interested politicians" who are supposed to exist.
The danger of another kind of dictatorship appears at this stage of community anxiety. The charismatic leader finds the political environment in which he may prosper. The Mussolinis and the Hitlers appear to many people, not as destroyers of democracy, but as the only true democrats, the restorers or builders of the new great community in which such people can recapture their sense of control or understanding of events.
The despair over controls felt by many citizens of modern democracy has not gone unnoticed among political writers. We can name Walter Bagehot, tmile Durkheim, Gaetano Mosca, Max Weber, Roberto Michels, Ortega y Gasset, T. S. Eliot, Elton Mayo, and John Dewey as writers who have concerned themselves with the tensions of modern great communities and with the political consequences for democracy that such tensions possess. In general their argument parallels William James's theory that individual self-esteem is the ratio of success to pretensions: when one wants much more than he can possibly get he is miserable. So the people of modern societies, clamoring for the immediate direction of their vast and complex governments, may well lose faith in the institutions of representative democracy and thus contribute to democracy's ruin.
Such a loss of faith would mean that there was no longer a community consensus, that the vast majority no longer agreed with the body of basic principles that originally held them together. According to Walter Bagehot, consensus is the essential feature of a well-organized community; a country cannot be happily governed unless the people are generally agreed as to what is right and wrong in politics. When governmental or social institutions are not in harmony with consensus, or where there is no consensus, a society is in for a bad time. The people are apathetic or frightened into desperate measures to establish some new order of community relationships.
By contrast, according to John Dewey, the healthy community would be one in which the individual is neither boss over others nor bullied by others. The individual would feel that he controlled the destiny of the community in co-operation with the other members, all sharing similar aspirations and responsibilities-an adaptation of Jefferson's idea of local community self-rule. Dewey's ideal community is
a society in which the ever-expanding and intricately ramifying consequences of associated activities shall be known in the full sense of that word, so that an organized, articulate Public comes into being. The highest and most difficult kind of inquiry and a subtle, delicate, vivid and responsive art of communication must take possession of the physical machinery of transmission and circulation and breathe life into it. When the machine age has thus perfected its machinery, it will be a means of life and not its despotic master. Democracy will come into its own, for democracy is a name for a life of free and enriching communion.
But Dewey's formula is most difficult to apply to the great community. The self-governing and tightly knit localities of Jefferson's day are gone.
The modern age can derive inspiration from the past, but it requires a host of new techniques and beliefs if it is to achieve the necessary minimum of integration. Often its subgroups are so unrelated, separate, and mutually hostile that politics operate solely by means of temporary compromises, expedients, and stopgaps, while group conflicts are emphasized and total community sentiment means little. Often there is such widespread apathy in the community, so little attention to public affairs, so little active communication among the members that the government becomes disconnected from the public and works to impede rather than to encourage the development of consensus.
Nothing less than a wholesale transformation of individual viewpoints can make the community recognize and appreciate the bonds that unite them solidly, and bring them into accord on fundamental issues. They would have to agree on matters most important to political behavior - on what constitutes legitimacy, on basic religious matters, on the extent to which individuals should be competitive or co-operative, on the use or nonuse of violence and propaganda, on the main opportunities an individual should be allowed in his lifetime, on the limits of public restraint and private indulgence. These items of agreement would form the consensus of the political community. They would not be seriously challenged, and change would be gradual.
Although rudiments of these common beliefs are present in some great national communities, they are scarcely even visible in relation to the world as a whole. Several national and many local societies have a profound consensus whereas others have an abbreviated consensus. Most leaders of contemporary national or local governments can hardly feel that their power rests upon an unshakeable foundation of unquestioned popular belief.
The last section affirmed that community ties and sentiments, based on both physical and psychological bonds, exist and influence political behavior. For example, everyone living in a community is usually required to be loyal to it, be it a tribe, city, or nation. When, as often happens, a person belongs to more than one community and public, his deep loyalties must be divided among his plural communities. Usually there is no grave conflict; a man can be quite loyal to his city and the nation at the same time.
A man is more than a citizen of a community, however. He is most often also a member of special separate groupings within the community. He possesses special interests that drive him to act differently in politics from the way he would act if he tried only to consider his all-embracing community obligations. Besides owing great services to his communities, a man is likely to behave "selfishly" on behalf of other groupings into which he may fall, voluntarily or involuntarily. He is likely to possess a special occupation, income, religion, and attachment to locality that mark him off from other members of his community and cause his political behavior and attitudes to be different from theirs.
In addition, he may belong to organized groups that correspond to his special interests-a church, a club, a fraternity, a trade union, a manufacturers' association, or the like. As a member of such a group he becomes active in politics in a manner that is quite different in effect from the manner in which the totally unaffiliated person is active. Perhaps 50 per cent of all Americans belong to one or more such associations, although the extent of such participation abroad is much less.
These three types of belonging-the community, the separatist grouping, and the organized group-complicate a person's political behavior. Figure 4 serves to show how involved a person's connections may be.
We must conclude that a political theory that speaks only of the community of interests is inadequate. Political theory must also study the separatism of interests in order later to show how the various interests become organized in the political process and obtain a favorable place in the structure of the government.
The several social sciences offer us various routes by which we may investigate the special interests of individuals. Social philosophy, economics, anthropology, psychology, sociology, and special fields such as industrial relations and public administration are all deeply concerned with problems that arise from conflicting and co-operative groups and have their own ways of solving such problems. Political science has a traditional way of addressing such problems too; it pursues the study of the community and separatist interests of men through the study of voting behavior in order later to understand the nature of representation, political parties, pressure groups, and the institutions of government. We shall follow the route of political science, emphasizing, because of the introductory nature of this work, only the major concerns of political scientists.
Voting behavior is a common subject of political study. Among the human differences that express themselves in different ways of casting ballots are traditions, localisms, economic motivations, religious beliefs, nationalities, races, and sex. We will discuss them in turn.
As an individual, one may have a combination of personal and political motives directed at increasing the power, wealth, respect, health, education, and so on of himself and of those men, few or many, with whom he identifies himself. His identifications are often shown by his affiliations and he accomplishes his goals through them.
|TYPE OF AFFILIATION||A PERSON WITH SIMPLE INVOLVEMENTS||A PERSON WITH COMPLEX INVOLVEMENTS|
|Only tied to immediate family||Many relatives tightly bound together|
|National community is exclusive||May be heavily involved in national community, home city, and religion (or trade union)|
|III.||Behavioral Grouping |
|Possesses a religion, an occupation, and a neighborhood - each influencing his voting behavior and political attitudes||Possesses a religion, occupation, neighborhood, nationalistic leanings towards second country, and investments in business other than his own occupation.|
|IV.||Association or Group|
|Belongs to a church||Belongs to a church, a political party, social club, trade union, civil defense organization, foreign affairs study group (or other similar groups)|
Social separatism emerges from IIc, IIIb, IIIc, IVb and IVc in most cases. Conflict among one's affiliations is not always present, but frequently results from contrary directives of two affiliations. For instance, a worker who tries to be a Catholic and a Communist at the same time undergoes great emotional stress that may be reflected in apathy and apparent withdrawal from political concerns.
One of the most striking facts in the field of voting behavior is the tendency of people to support repeatedly the same parties .3 Changes in conditions, in rival candidates, or in party platforms do not seem to change the attachment of many people to their favorite party. This phenomenon has been often seen to perpetuate itself through generations; many men vote as did their grandfathers. Only about one quarter of the American voting population regard themselves as independent of party affiliation, according to several surveys. Professional men, businessmen, white collar workers, and skilled workers tend to be more "independent" according to the party criterion of independence.
"Traditional voting," however, is difficult to define and hence difficult to study. There are, in fact, two useful meanings of the term. First, voting may be called traditional when a study of the motivation of a voter reveals that he identified himself with ancestral behavior in preference to other interests he may have in casting his ballot.
For example, if a certain congressional district is composed mainly of dairy farmers who vote time after time for a party that tries to ban the sale of oleomargarine, they are not traditional voters in this sense because economic motives might be assumed to be more important here than any identification with their forebears. If, however, the party switches to support the sale of oleomargarine on equal terms with butter and the congressional district still continues its support at the polls, then we may suspect that certain traditional influences are at work. Traditional voting in this sense implies that all conceivable current reasons for a person to support a party, candidate, or issue are disregarded and that he continues his support of the party because he feels identified with his own past conduct or with the habits of his forebears.
A second useful meaning of the term can be distinguished from the first. Voting may also be called traditional when a study of the voting habits of an individual or a group over a period of time reveals a persistent support of the same party. Thus, in the example of the dairy farming district cited above, the mere fact that the voting behavior of the district is repetitive allows us to call the behavior "traditional voting" in the second sense of the term.
"Traditional voting" in this sense has no psychological
meaning, but it is an analytically useful index
of trends employed, for example, by Ralph and Mildred Fletcher in their
article: "Consistency in Party Voting from 1896 to 1932."
Here they tabulated party votes by counties for the various election years. Assuming that each county had one chance to change party affiliation at the next election, they added up a total of 26,151 "chances to change." If the counties switched 26,151 times, this would be 100 per cent nonconsistency. In fact, nonconsistency was observed in only 29.2 per cent of the cases. It was found that 591 counties voted consistently for one party over the whole period. They thus would have a nonconsistency of 0 per cent or a traditionalism of 100 per cent. Of course, as with all statistical problems of this kind, the behavior of each county might register no change as a whole, even though many nonconsistent individuals may have crossed from one party to the other. Gosnell similarly found consistency very strong in Chicago voting even during the great political changes of the depression years of the thirties and the New Deal.
Now let us take the example of the American South. On the whole, the South votes in election after election for the Democratic candidates for President. Statistically speaking, that is, in the second sense of the term, the South is dominated by traditional voting. But is the South traditional in our first sense of the term, that is, in the sense that Southerners identify themselves with ancestral behavior in preference to other interests in casting their ballots? The answer here too is "yes," but "yes" only in part. Many Southerners are still "fighting the Civil War" or following their grandfathers' advice. Many others, however, who do not care for their ancestors' behavior, have current reasons for voting Democratic. They vote Democratic because they can get what they want via the Democratic Party; they do not need nor care to establish another party. Such men as these are traditional in the statistical sense, not in the psychological sense.
Frequently, men speak of traditional voting in the psychological sense as being "irrational." They say, for example, that those Southerners who vote Democratic, even though they agree far more with the national policies of the Republican Party than with those of the Democratic Party, are "irrational." One can define "rational" as he pleases, of course; but objective political science cannot say that identification with one's ancestors is morally inferior to favoring some kind of economic self-betterment. It is not for political science to tell a man that he ought to prefer wealth to honor or a tariff to his father's habits. Objectively we can only say that a person or a group that wants mutually contradictory values -for example, both Republican policies anal agreement with ancestral behavior-is going to have a conflict of conscience and will act differently than other people in certain ways.
Localism is as universal as traditionalism in affecting people's political behavior. By localism is meant a strong sentiment favoring one's neighborhood, town, city, or regional interests over the broader geographical community. In many cases localism is so strong a force that the only community a man belongs to is a local one. In most cases, however, localism is a partial bias, a separatist emotion, rather than a total community involvement. In Chapter 6, we shall mention the strong local character of American party politics. When we discuss legislatures in Volume II, we shall again mention the play of local interests in the behavior of representatives. In dealings with local institutions in Volume II, we shall treat at some length the limited horizons that politics has for many people. And in the chapter on federalism, local interests such as states' rights come into play. Thus, localism affects much political behavior and many political institutions. For the moment, to indicate its pervasiveness as a motive is enough. Many studies of election returns or of opinion polls discover that localism is a potent contributor to political behavior and attitudes.
Men often act politically according to their occupation and income level. The most extreme proponent of economic motivation was Karl Marx. He would say the voter acts according to his relation to the means of production. An "exploited worker" votes for revolutionary candidates; an owner of a business votes for a "capitalist." Voting figures, being records of real happenings, show no such pure behavior. Rather, economic motives are tied up with all the others that influence the way a vote is cast, and they are often subordinate to ideological, political, and social forces. What studies of voting behavior do show, and polls of opinion in general corroborate, is that there does exist a measurable tendency for people in like economic circumstances to vote alike on economic issues.
Sometimes we may find a poor man backing candidates who use slogans that appeal to the economic interests of the poor, and a rich man supporting a candidate using opposite slogans. Sometimes there is no apparent economic factor, but the rich men cast their votes differently from the poor men. The first event gives some support to the Marxian hypothesis. The second, however, shows no strong motive of economic classinterest in political affairs at all. We are merely using an economic index to show political differences between social groups. Very often only an economic index may be available, and when we find a positive correlation, we have the illusion that only the economic force separating the two groups is being measured.
Here is an example of how the use of an economic index may give an exaggerated impression of the strength of economic motivation: Let us suppose that a certain Englishman is a faithful supporter of the policies of the established Church of England. Let us suppose that he votes for a candidate who also supports this church. It is likely that the economic views of both the voter and the candidate will also for the most part coincide. Therefore, if we use a set of economic views as an index, and apply it to the two men, they will be seen to be alike in their views. However, this does not mean that these views are economically determined or economically self-interested. It only means that the economic index is associated with whatever does determine their behavior. The economic viewpoint is the only thing that is being measured, and not the total personality and its motivations.
In Europe, the tendency for people of one social category to vote differently from those in other categories is more distinct than in America. Giving the vote to the poorer classes brought notable changes in the growth of new political parties and the composition of the political class. For example, after the Act of 1918 had given the vote to all adult English males, the Labour Party advanced to power rapidly; and before that, the Reform Act of 1832 had increased notably the representation of the merchants and manufacturers in the House of Commons. The abolition of the three-class Prussian representation system after World War I brought an immediate change in the party composition of the Landtag in favor of the liberal-socialist parties of the left. All other countries saw an intensification of political groupings of voters according to economic features they shared in common. The workers became strongly organized into leftist parties.
|RANK ORDER OF RELIGIOUS GROUPINGS|
|RELIGIOUS GROUP||In Desiering More Power for Workers||In Giving High Importance to Guaranteed Security||% in Group that voted for Roosevelt|
* Central Department of Research and Education:
Information Service, Vol. 27, no. 20, part 2 (May 15, 1948).
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America, New York, New York.
See also, Wesley and Beverly Allinsmith: "Religious Affiliation and Politico-Economic Attitude,"
The Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol.12 (1948), p. 377.
Note than an economic factor is obviously operating here. Most of the named religious groupings hold rankings corresponding to the average income status of their members. Thus, the average Congregationalist is somewhat better off than the average Baptist or Catholic and the "conservatism" of the Congregationalists is partially explainable by that fact. On the other hand, this study and others (such as a forthcoming study of a New York town) show that Jewish and Catholic views and affiliations are not completely explained when the economic factor is taken into account. Cultural and religious influences seem to be operating also.
The effect of religion upon voting behavior, like the effect of economic conditions, is often indirect. If one examines the programs of religious parties of Europe, one finds many nonreligious appeals, especially conservative economic appeals. Obviously, therefore, religion and economic measures are tied together. In America, we find no religious parties, but we find religion at work in politics, nevertheless. We find Democratic sentiment more common among Catholics and Jews, but again indices of economic conditions, urban residence, national origin, and so on overlap with the religious index.
An analysis of four opinion polls of a sample of the American population in 1945 and 1946 presents the American pattern of religious influence in voting. It agrees substantially with other studies. We give the rank order of the religious denominations on three questions. The questions were:
(1) "Would you agree that everybody would be happier, more secure and more prosperous if working people were given more power and influence in government, or would you say we would all be better off if the working people had no more power than they have now?"
(2) "Which of these statements do you most agree with?
The most important job for government is to make certain that there are good opportunities for each person to get ahead on his own.
The most important job for the government is to guarantee every person a decent and steady job and standard of living."
Other studies also find consistently that Catholicism is related positively to Democratic affiliation. The anti-Catholicism of segments of American opinion was manifested during the 1928 election, when Alfred E. Smith, a Catholic, ran for the Presidency on the Democratic ticket and lost the support of several Southern states previously staunchly Democratic. Smith, however, also favored repeal of the prohibition amendment, and the South was strongly against its repeal. Furthermore, Gosnell pointed out that if Smith had run in 1932, he would have been elected on economic grounds despite his religious affiliations. Religious affiliations, like economic ones, become more important in voting behavior whenever religious issues are raised in the campaign (as they were in the elections of 1928 and 1960).
Just as with religious and economic motivation, the most extreme examples of voting motivated by nationality or racial differences occur when the differences become political issues. European democratic politics have seen many a case of electoral differences over nationality. The Austro-Hungarian Empire, Czechoslovakia, Spain, Italy, and England have all had experience with electoral movements that arose from the demands of constituent nationalities. Canada faces similar difficulties with its voters of British and French origin.
These experiences make all the more remarkable the ability of the American political system to repress overt divisions along lines of national origins. Differences are known to exist -between "Cajuns" and hill folk in Louisiana, old immigrants and new immigrants in the North, Irish elements against Polish elements in several Northern cities, and so on. But no compact organization of voters on the basis of nationality persists for any length of time. Typically, in country and city, national blocs dwindle with each added year of settlement in America, until finally they cannot be manipulated at all as cohesive and integrated electoral forces.
Persons of groups that have settled recently in Americathe Irish, Poles, Italians, Czechs, and other groups-tend to be Democratic more often than do persons of groups that have settled less recently-English, Scotch-Irish, Irish, Scandinavians, and others. The latter tend to be Republicans. There are, however, notable exceptions, and nationality here again is perhaps mostly a reinforcing influence on other economic, social, and historical factors. The Negroes in the United States, originally heavily Republican, have, during the period of the New Deal, become about equally Democratic and Republican outside the South. This change, in fact, has been one of the most significant to emerge in the area of voting behavior in the last fifty years.
We might imagine that the women, having achieved the vote at a late date, might differ from men in their subsequent use of it. On the whole, this is not so. There exist only small differences between the political affiliations of women and of men, and these differences have little to do with when the vote was achieved. Rather they seem to relate to more basic differences in the upbringing of men and of women. Studies by Tingsten and others in Europe and America indicate that women tend to vote somewhat more for conservative and religious center parties than do men and are less inclined toward extreme reaction or radicalism. They incline, at least in Britain and America, to support pacifist ideas more than men. And they tend to be more rigid on moral issues, supporting more strongly movements such as that for the prohibition of the sale of alcoholic beverages.
We have already declared, in studying communities and personal interests, that people gain opinions from their various affiliations. If two communities and publics overlap one another, engaging the affiliations of some of the same people, or of different people living side by side, we should still have public opinion about issues of concern to one or both publics. In fact, these differences in degree and kind of affiliations are a common source of disputed opinions. For instance, some American states' rightists wish to recapture for their state communities certain powers from the national government and find their opinions opposed by nationalists who have no sympathy for the state as a community. And when we consider also that individuals belonging to the same public may belong to different subgroups-religious, national, professional, neighborhood-we can perceive another important source of contested opinions. For instance, South Carolina states' rightists owning textile mills may oppose the C.I.O., whereas South Carolina states' rightists working in such mills may favor a union.
We may ask now about the nature of public opinion and look into its several dimensions. Public opinion is not to be confused with consensus. Consensus is not present in every community or public; it requires a high cohesiveness that such groupings may not possess. Consensus may not be present in a public wherein public opinion is abundantly displayed.
Conversely, when consensus does exist, those beliefs that compose it are beyond dispute and hence beyond the scope of public opinion. The English monarchy is favored as part of the English consensus; it is too important and agreeable to most Englishmen to be debated in the forum of public opinion. Hence it is most useful to think of consensus as the unquestioned moral principles about politics and government that may be held by a public. By contrast, public opinion may be perceived as arising over any controversy, whether or not the controversy is framed within an existing consensus or develops in the absence of any consensus at all. Without proving finally here that a great consensus exists in the United States, we can say that one belief that would form part of such a consensus is that the President must be elected. Whether Truman or Taft or Eisenhower or someone else should be elected is a matter of public opinion.
If these relationships between public opinion and other concepts are clear, there need be little difficulty with the precise definition of public opinion. Public opinion is a belief held by a number of people regarding a political issue. By a belief is meant a delineated, definable feeling about the rightness or wrongness of a projected course of action. By a number of people is meant all those holding to one or more of the projected resolutions of the belief. By a political issue is meant any problem for the solution of which people turn to the government.
Public opinion has no real existence apart from the people who form it. It is a concept, a way of referring to parts of people's psychological activities, useful for analytic and statistical purposes and for predicting behavior. Once posited, we can give its dimensions and show how to assess or measure it. The important dimensions are as follows:
1. The number of alternative opinions that exist on an issue.
2. The distribution of social groups according to their adherence to one or more of the alternatives.
3. The intensity with which the beliefs are held.
4. The number of people adhering to the various alternative opinions.
5. The degree of organization of and critical political controls held by the opinion groups.
6. The rate of opinion change over time periods.
Once these data are collected on a particular issue, we have a reliable basis for analyzing and predicting the behavior of the public on that issue.
Let us take a hypothetical case to illustrate how it is possible to analyze and speak and think more exactly about public opinion. Given political issue X, we find five major subcategories of beliefs regarding X. Let these be called A, B, C, D, and E.. The relationship of the subcategories to X may be diagrammed as a Figure 6.
(1) G. C. Thompson, in Public Opinion and Lord Beaconsfield, 1875-1880 (2 vols., 1886), gives us a splendid account of the relations of English opinion and political leadership on the issue of British policy towards Turkey and Russia over a five-year period, ending in the electoral defeat of the ministry of Lord Beaconsfield (Disraeli). Mr. Thompson describes four major variants of belief on the issue: supporters of Turkey and haters of Russia; advocates of isolation and avoidance of war; believers in international order and legalism; and advocates of anti-Turkism and emancipation of Christians from the Turks. These major views dominated opinion over several years.
(2) Morton Grodzins, in Americans Betrayed (1949), presents a remarkable full-scale study of the evacuation of persons of Japanese ancestry from the West coast of the United States in the months following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, with particular reference to the opinions and pressures shaping the policy. The major beliefs regarding the issue were: advocacy of evacuation and stringent control of all persons of Japanese race to prevent treason; advocacy of the same with respect to Japanese aliens; and advocacy of individual treatment of all persons on the basis of specific violations of the law.
If we examine the persons holding to the subcategories of belief, we find that many of the people holding, for example, to variant A will belong to certain social groups, those holding to D to other social groups. Figure 7 adds these social groupings (indicated by arabic numerals) to the diagram as given in Figure 6.
(1) Thompson's analysis shows that English opinion on the Near East was reflected in associational activity. The character of English government and society at the time resulted in a loose pattern of social groupings with reference to the subbeliefs. The main groups were in Parliament, with the Conservatives under Beaconsfield and the Liberals under Gladstone. In the Foreign Office "the right of Public Opinion to be sovereign was most explicitly challenged." Outside the government, we note the role of the press, petitions of occupational groups, many letters, a variety of meetings of organized and informal groups, the participation of Catholic and Jewish view-points along with those of the Anglican clergy, and even the presence of spokesmen for foreign nations like Russia, Turkey, Germany, and Hungary. The social groupings, we note, are not formal save in a few instances.
(2) Grodzins' analysis of American opinion on the evacuation of Japanese shows greater formal group participation. Here, too, we have government opinion-that of the War Department, the Department of Justice, and Congress-that must be differentiated from outside opinion. However, since this issue is internal and local political influence potent in America, we find the West coast Congressmen as a group veering towards the evacuation and carrying along the whole Congress, and we observe how active are the state and local politicians. Outside the government the American Legion, Lions clubs, vegetable growers, and chambers of commerce are working hard to achieve evacuation. Contrariwise, the Civil Liberties Union, the League for Industrial Democracy, the Japanese American Citizens League, and other groups fought evacuation or at least tried to confine it to "enemy aliens" alone. Writes Grodzins: "Not all organizations, by any means, were calling for evacuation. But opposition groups were far outnumbered and almost unpublicized."
It is impossible to determine the exact extent to which opinion is formed by groups and policy is made by groups (see Chapter Seven). Issues of the nineteenth century did not seem to be surrounded by group activity as do contemporary issues, especially in America. The precise position of a single group is difficult to ascertain also. Thus the Liberal Party of Gladstone never had a precise position. Nor could the Western Growers Protective Association, which urged evacuation, be pinned down to one subbelief. All that we learned about leadership in Chapter Three and that we shall learn about pressure groups in Chapter Seven should warn us against taking any group as a unanimous mass of opinion.
An issue may mean more to some people than to others, and this fact, so important in the political process, should be somehow considered. To visualize it, we may widen the lines in our diagram to represent strength of pull or intensity; the thicker the line from X to the subbelief, the greater the average intensity of belief held by those holding the subbelief. Assuming that the intensity of conviction of the members of A is on the average three times that of the holders of B and C and twice that of D and E, the new version of the lines of belief would be as in Figure 8.
(1) Thompson's study reveals much about the intensity of opinion on the Eastern question indirectly. The common usage implying intensity is a statement of consequence, to wit: "If belief A is followed, we will do Y" (Y being vote against you, agitate more strongly, lose faith in England, decline to co-operate, stop reading your newspaper, never pay you honor, or inflict other sanctions within our command). In addition, Thompson speaks variously of "serious misgivings," "extraordinary manifestations of opinion," "the Crusading Spirit," a "certain hostility" or a "universal hostility," "dread," "panic," "the fever" that "had long been rising," and other expressions of greater or lesser emotion.
(2) Grodzins is more conscious of the need to assess intensity closely. He counts the number of favorable and unfavorable editorials, letters to the editors and to public officials, and space given to stories about resident Japanese. He calculates the news space devoted to demands for evacuation and otherwise tries to indicate precisely the lengths to which people will go in supporting their opinions. He also takes care to describe how terrible was the fear among some people for the safety of the Pacific coast. He uses crime records to indicate the extent of vigilantism against Japanese, and reports speeches that make allegations about "hysterical people taking matters into their own hands."
The intensity of conviction may be countered to some extent by the number of adherents to each subbelief category. Let us say that A has twice as many adherents as C, D, and E but only half as many as B. We have shown these relationships in size by rectangles in Figure 8.
(1) Thompson attempts only briefly to analyze election returns as an indication of the support given Disraeli's policies. He judges or leaves the reader to judge the extent of popular support for any viewpoint by reporting countless news articles, meetings, Parliamentary votes, and individual opinions of participants and observers. He as much as admits that there was needed "some machinery beyond mere guess-work for ascertaining how far Public Opinion responds." He is in the position of an experienced night watchman at the zoo who tries from the outside to judge the sources, sides, and number of participants in a pandemonium coming from the monkey house. (2) Even though his techniques for studying the flow of communications are superior to those used by Thompson, Grodzins is up against the same problems. He judges the number of adherents to a belief from meetings, from letters to the press and to officials, and from the guesses of the press, public officials, and journalists. But he can find only one, poorly conducted, "honest" poll, and that disagrees sharply with a high official's declaration that "the American citizens of California, with hardly a dissenting voice say that the Japanese, both alien and American-born, must go."
Finally, the social groups (1 to 15), involved in the opinion configuration, do not all have the same degree of efficiency in organization or the same amount of critical political controls (that is, number of offices held, wealth, social prestige, propaganda media). Let us assume that they could be rated as follows on a scale of 1 to 5:
|COMMAND OF |
In Figure 8 we have given equal length to each point on the 1 to 5 scale. Thus, for example, group 1 is drawn twice as long as group 3, since it equals 5 -1- 5, whereas group 3 equals 1 + 4. Our operation here distorts reality, for we cannot measure organizations so neatly. Nevertheless, even such rough evaluations of the potential political energy of the groups involved in a particular issue may aid our insight.
(1) Conclusions about the strength and strategy of the groups involved in the Eastern question depend upon indirect evidence on the character of the participants. Outside the government, one gets the impression of formlessness-committees are formed, and later dissolved; few are continuous and staffed by professionals. These loose groups are judged by the "big shots" in them. Thus the first meeting to support the rebels against Turkish rule was described by the Times as "not a crowded one and which certainly could not boast the presence of any distinguished person. " Also "it was said that the Queen was significantly displaying marks of favour towards Lord Beaconsfield."
(2) Grodzins makes sharp comparisons between the organizations advocating and those opposing evacuation, showing the preponderance of wealth, staff, and connections of the former. He shows in a number of instances how the leaders of organizations brought pressure to bear upon the press, public officers, and the opposition, and how the leaders of like-minded organizations co-operated to increase their collective force. He emphasizes the secure political and economic positions held in the community by advocates of evacuation.
The subjects of efficiency of organization and command of critical political controls are at the juncture of the study of public opinion and the study of parties and pressure groups, treated elsewhere in this book. We note, however, that organizations are the means by which public opinion gears into public policies. At this point, informal behavior is becoming transformed into formal behavior. Well located and organized groups can direct terrific pressures of opinion-backed by an array of inducements and sanctions-towards a person making a public policy.
But our charts are static; real opinion is often in flux. If we suppose the lines leading from X to ABCDE in Figure 6 to be directional lines indicating how much in opposition the alternative beliefs are, we can say that at this one point in time A and B, although powerful and mutually opposing, have more in common than they have with C, D, and E. In fact, C appears as if it might be "on the fence" or torn between both constellations, AB and DE. Shifts and changes by C could spell a crisis for either AB or DE. Since AB and DE are almost diametrically opposed on the issue, can we say that "consensus" is broken? No, we cannot, because the primary indicator of consensus is the intensity dimensions of AB and DE, plus the compromising strength of C-the "crucial center" from one point of view. If X were a proposal to close taverns on Sunday, or a money appropriation bill, without hidden meaning, opposite positions would not be intense enough to threaten consensus. But if X were a proposal to declare illegal all trades unions or to confiscate all industrial establishments employing over 1,000 workers, or a declaration of war, then "consensus" would be in some danger of being destroyed, and our intensity scale would have to reflect it.
(1) In the works of Thompson and Grodzins, cited above, the instability of opinion becomes quite clear. Other studies by Gabriel Almond, Hadley Cantril, George Gallup, Robert Merton, and Angus Campbell reveal similar fluctuations. Thompson, for example, discovered an Incubation Period, an Atrocity Period, a Period of Reconciliation of people and government, a Conference Period, a Parliamentary Period, a Period of Conditional Neutrality and of Armed Neutrality. He speaks of gatherings, the tone of which in 1876 was "full of self-confidence" and in 1878 was "downcast and distrustful, distrustful of its own backing in the country, and daunted by the forces with which it had to contend."
(2) Grodzins shows in a chart the progress of front-page newspaper attention to resident Japanese, ranging from 1,000 picas in the period December 8-14, 1941, to almost nothing between January 5-25, 1942, to 9,000 picas in the period January 26-February 1.
It hardly needs saying that one of the most exasperating problems in studying public opinion is the failure of opinion to "stand still long enough to be photographed." If we think of public opinion as being only a man's voting record, we fall into grave misconceptions. A man may vote Republican all his life and have many thousands of opinions.
Having considered the main factors in the public opinion surrounding issue X-namely, subbeliefs or alternative solutions of A; the location of social groups related to the subbelief alternatives; the intensity of conviction and the number of adherents to each subbelief alternative; the degree of organization and number of critical controls possessed by the social groups involved in each alternative, and the fluctuations of opinions over a period of time-we can make a fair guess as to who may win out in the battle of opinion.
The astute politician often judges public opinion according to these several dimensions, though he may not be aware of it. And it is safe to say that any politician-in the United States or in Russia, in elective or in appointive office-who is totally unaware of just one of these dimensions will get into trouble from time to time. One must emphatically dismiss as childish and useless the notion that public opinion is like a self-renewing and massive electric charge that strikes all issues, showing eager leaders exactly what is wanted and what to do.
The majority, as we previously defined it, is the agreement of more than half of any given group upon an issue. If a majority occurred whenever an issue arose, the analysis of public opinion would be enormously simplified. We should merely have to substitute Figure 9 for our bothersome opinion analysis diagrammed in Figure 8. For then there would be only a majority and a minority opinion and presumably the public would be so simple as not to include the many groups that contribute to the complexity of opinions. Only a most primitive and cohesive society might approach such a condition. In our own society only small discussion or committee groups might possess such a simple division of opinion.
On the other hand, the majority principle is used frequently to decide questions at issue. This should not be taken to mean that the public opinion on the question exhibits a majority. Not at all. Public opinion may be vastly complex, with nothing like a majority discernible and with many power groups tugging at the issue from all sides. But some way is needed to stop the tug-of-war in order to get on with some policy and to attend to other matters. The issue must be resolved. Hence, the majority principle is frequently used to resolve issues. Very often, when one examines the reasons behind a majority agreement, be it a majority vote for the Presidency or a congressional majority vote on a bill, he finds that many different and even conflicting opinions contributed to the majority. The majority was simply the technique for creating a decision when the decision had to be made.
In this manner the majority is used as an expedient. As Prime Minister Gladstone of Great Britain once described it: "Decision by majorities is as much an expedient as lighting by gas. In adopting it as a rule, we are not realizing perfection, but bowing to an imperfection. It has the great merit of avoiding, and that by a test perfectly definite, the last resort to violence; and of making force itself the servant instead of the master of authority." Or, as Professor Charles Heinberg asserted: "The majority principle is simply a convenient rule of law, and contains no inherent ethical validity."
Thus we find that the majority principle frequently is used in organizations and governments that are not committed to any general belief in the rightness or wrongness of the majority. The Spartans, not great believers in majority rule, used the principle; some medieval German kings were elected by majority vote of the important vassals; and most corporate bodies use it as a way of getting things done. We must grant that it is convenient and simple to take the desire of 51 per cent as conclusive and decisive, especially when heated matters are not being decided, and when many petty decisions need to be made by people who are agreed on more basic things.
Other principles besides that of the majority may also be employed to resolve issues. Courts and executive officers make many decisions. An assembly may require that issues be decided by unanimity, plurality, majority of members in attendance, majority of members constituting the total assembly, or by two-thirds rule. The unanimity rule, often regarded as ludicrous and unworkable, has worked under circumstances where it is conceded that no one need agree with the group, or where the pressures for the voters or members of an assembly to conform to the group are great and a method of counting is not required. The English House of Lords and other medieval assemblies of the nobles and high clergy worked on the principle of unanimity. In some of the earliest gatherings of the House of Commons, certain members refused to acquiesce in decisions of the body and returned to their constituencies. Medieval kings of Poland were elected by a unanimous vote of the princes of the electoral body. John Calhoun, in the American Senate before the Civil War, argued, with considerable support, that decisions of the federal government affecting the basic nature of the Union could not be made by a mere majority but required a "concurrent majority" of all "parties" (states) to the Union.
Furthermore, in pursuance of more general principles that conflict with the majority principle, such as the principle of checks and balances, a two-thirds or some other high ratio vote may be required of an assembly on certain issues. Treaties prepared by the President of the United States and foreign nations must gain the approval of two thirds of the Senate to be binding and constitutional. The veto is given the executive in practically all American governments; some extraordinary number of votes are required of the assembly if it wishes to override his action. The number is most frequently, as it is in the national government, two thirds.
Thus, a majority may denote (rarely) the condition of opinion and frequently may be used as a principle or technique to foreclose an issue. But beyond its possible status as an opinion or as an expedient, the majority is often a key symbol in a great many political disputes that reaches back a number of centuries. As an agitational symbol, the "majority" is not at all a clear condition or technique. It is a term holding numberless meanings, yearnings, threats, terrors, and promises. It is really in such a complete state of semantic decomposition that the most we can do with it is to extract two general meanings from this third level of usage and describe generally their historical career.
1. On the third or ethical level of its meaning, the majority may be a profound belief in the rightness of using the majority principle for deciding issues whenever possible, rather than any other principle. The majority is then not opinion or expediency; it is part of a consensus. Most Americans hold to this meaning of majority as part of their consensus. This may be called majority rule.
This belief in majority rule, so widespread in America, values highly majority opinions and the use of the majority principle for resolving issues. It tends to demand both, but where the first cannot be found, it still insists upon the second. Often people who believe in majority rule erroneously believe that majority opinions always exist, and their thinking suffers sadly as a result. They fail to realize that they have two lines of defense and can fall back from one to the other. A brief history of the belief in majority rule will show its complications and variations.
Early modern western European political theorists, most of them jurists, inherited the majority principle from the practice followed in corporations under the law of the late Roman Empire. In the early modern period close relations still existed between the Catholic Church and the late feudal states, and when the clergy began to employ the majority principle as a means of resolving disputed questions in certain orders and convocations, men in what we now consider the secular, political sphere surmised that the principle might also be useful to them. However, medieval theorists did not allow the majority clear sailing. Marsiglio of Padua, for example, referred, not to the "larger part," but to the "prevailing part" as the voice of the community. That is to say, power, eminence, and worth were to be valued along with numbers. But at least he mentioned numbers. That was his concession to the majority principle, and a radical one it was in those days.
It is noteworthy that most medieval political theorists and their predecessors thought that the values of the community ought to be the objectives of the state. The law was "declared custom." For example, the forerunner of the modern jury was a group of neighbors, a sample of the community, convoked to declare what the common law of the community was in order to inform the King's courts. Both medieval and modern theorists seem to agree that the majority will is at minimum the passive will of the people that sets the boundaries within which the laws are to be made. The majority will, in this sense, is what modern theory calls consensus.
A more modern variety of the belief in majority rule declares that the majority is omnicompetent. It is right and can do what it wills. There is a great reluctance to condemn it on any grounds, and the community is supposed to acquiesce gladly in the majority verdict. This is the extreme democratic notion and is found in the more unguarded utterances of Jefferson, the aggressive politics of Jackson, and beneath the devious subtleties of Karl Marx. Jeremy Bentham, in his exuberant desire for a grand rational principle of legislation, was captured by the majority principle and demanded that the greatest number be the judge of what would bring happiness to the greatest number.
Variations of this idea of the omnipotence of the majority shade off into the idea that the majority ought to be the court of last resort on basic matters affecting a society, and the idea that the majority ought to have some voice in the selection of officers. John Locke, in the second part of his work Of Civil Government, declared that the rights of liberty, property, and revolution must not be taken from the total community. Otherwise, he felt that the legislative body might operate according to its majority will. Modern writers, Lindsay, for example, justify the majority idea with the slogan "only the wearer knows when the shoe pinches." This is a watered-down version of the Locke theory and gives the majority a sort of veto on the actions of government. On the other hand, Edmund Burke would not concede that basic rights were reserved to the people. He would permit the electorate only a modest voice in the selection of representatives.
All these beliefs may be grouped into the first of our two basic attitudes towards the majority, that the majority must be understood and followed. Inherent in these ideas is the attitude that the majority has a sense, a reason, a voice or a capacity for specific activity. The Leveller movement in seventeenth-century England, many leaders of the American and French revolutions, and the greater number of political leaders of the nineteenth century took this attitude.
2. Also on the third or ethical level of its meaning, the majority may be considered to be bad and harmful if allowed to rule. This is anti-majoritarianism. It holds that the majority must either be ignored or coerced. Its history too may be sketched.
The belief that the majority should have nothing to say is an absolutistic, monarchical notion and is also an aristocratic notion that persists to the present time. Examples of this fear of the majority and the hope that it can be politically ignored are found in the writings of Europeans like Rmile Faguet, in his book The Cult of Incompetence, and Ortega y Gasset, in his book Revolt of the Masses. John Adams, James Fenimore Cooper, and Henry Adams were early American exponents of this belief. Among those who argued that the majority cannot rule are writers such as Roberto Michels, Max Weber, Gaetano Mosca, and Vilfredo Pareto-they say the majority is nonrational, cannot act of its own accord, and is generally manipulated through propaganda and violence.
A related view, which does not dislike the idea of majority rule necessarily, asserts however that a majority never exists. Of course, they mean by this that opinion analysis rarely reveals a majority.
Perhaps one of the most complete attempts to banish the majority principle is the complete gild, syndicalist, or corporate-state idea. This idea would have the state governed by organized occupational groups; men would be represented according to occupation rather than according to geographical districts (see Chapters Five and Seven). Each occupation would be autonomous, not governed by central rule or majority rule from above. Gabriele d'Annunzio, fiery poet, passionate novelist, and the dictator of Fiume after World War I, drew up in 1919 a blueprint for the perfect corporate state that influenced the Fascist idea. He modeled his gilds after the nine muses of the ancient Greeks. Nine great corporations were to be named for them-a corporation of salaried workers, technical and administrative employees, commercial employees, all employers, civil servants, professions (2), consumers' co-operatives, and seafarers. The tenth muse of the Greeks was nameless. And so d'Annunzio declared that there would be a tenth nameless corporation that would gather up the loose ends that evaded the other corporations. It was, he said, to direct the mysterious forces inherent in a people in labor and ascendancy. The meaning of the nameless muse and of d'Annunzio's exotic language is startling -that is that the life of the total community could not be neatly divided. There was a sentiment somewhere, an interest that could not be categorized. That interest, we infer, would be the community interest that could never be syllogized out of existence. Perhaps such is the elusive "majority" of Marsiglio, Jefferson, and the others.
At its least, the majority idea adds flexibility to one's view of the structure of society. William James once said that no relationship between two objects or between a person and the outside world ever includes everything or dominates over everything. There is always the word "and" trailing off after every descriptive sentence. So it is with the tenth muse, that gathers no specialized craft, but rather the echoes of the total concept of society.
It is apparent that the adherents of the theories just described see some problem connected with the idea of the majority that goes beyond the mere examination of opinions or the use of the majority principle for getting things done. There is some ethical quality in the idea that appears to some as a great good, to others as a menace. No amount of technical definition can diminish the force that the majority idea has generated. Revolutions have been fought and rivers of blood shed over the principle. Public opinion polls and intensive studies of the dynamics of small groups and of the attitudes of students and of voters have all indicated the strength of the belief, in America at least, that majority agreement is and ought to be the test of truth on matters of opinion, and that the denial of the right of "majority" rule is blasphemy. We see, therefore, in the great struggles of centuries between majority rule and antimajoritarianism a struggle to elevate or depress the degree to which the community is allowed to become a public and to which the public is allowed to make laws. The political community, say the advocates of majority rule, has its customary sanctions, but it needs a new will and way. The community has the only instruments that it can and should justly employ, respond the antimajoritarians. The contest shows no signs of ending. The belief that a community of men, a public, may somehow generate devices for forming and executing decisions persists strongly. And the obstacles before it-mechanical and human-seem insurmountable. The story of representation and elections, and of parties and pressure groups-now to be treated in order-accents our conclusion that the great social groupings are like the ocean surfs: they may gradually wear away the beaches, but in the immediate reckoning they exhaust their force on the many rocks of organized interest that surround public policy.