Notes about Walter Lippmann and democracy

Vladan Lausevic
2 min readApr 8, 2024
Photo via Wikimedia

Walter Lippmann’s famous book, “Public Opinion” offers important insights into the complex relationship between democracy, media, human psychology, and the construction of reality. Lippmann’s exploration is about the mechanisms through which public opinion is shaped, reminding us of the challenges democracy faces in today’s information age and the implications for society’s understanding of truth and perception.

Lippmann argued that public opinion is developed by intentionally released information, which can result in a distorted and false perception of the truth. People often construct inaccurate stories about wars because their surroundings influence them. Lippmann also argued that democracy can, in practice, be false, as only a small group of individuals hold power while most people are passive recipients of information.

Central to Lippmann’s analysis is the “manufacture of consent.” He argues that public perception of reality is not directly shaped by pure information but rather by a curated version presented by the media. This curated version influences individuals’ opinions and actions, highlighting the crucial role of the media as intermediaries between events and public perception.

Lippmann also explained the “mass herd mentality” — individuals within society often operate collectively, influenced by external forces and consensus rather than engaging in independent critical thinking. This collective influence underscores individuals’ susceptibility to media narratives and societal norms, shaping their perceptions of reality.

Moreover, Lippmann introduces the idea of a “pseudo-environment,” a synthesized representation of the world constructed by various sources such as journalists, government agencies, and think tanks. This pseudo-environment influences public opinion and decision-making, highlighting the complexities of understanding reality in an information-saturated society.

In examining democracy’s challenges, Lippmann raises concerns about the vulnerability of democratic processes to media manipulation, propaganda, and misinformation. He emphasized the need for diverse perspectives and critical information evaluation to counteract these influences and promote informed citizenship.

Furthermore, Lippmann’s analysis emphasizes the importance of expertise and knowledge in shaping public opinion and policy formation. Instead of a general representative democracy, Lippman promoted the function of a “specialized class” of experts and intellectuals who played a crucial role in interpreting complex information for the general public. At the same time, Lipmman warned about and wrote against detachment and elitism.

Lippmann advocated for active engagement in the democratic process and a discerning approach to information consumption. He also believed that experts should actively work on policy-making. However, he cautions against the potential pitfalls of detachment and elitism, urging experts to remain connected to broader societal concerns and perspectives and the importance of an informed and engaged citizenry in fostering a vibrant and responsive democratic society.



Vladan Lausevic

I am active as a social and policy entrepreneur. SEEDS ambassador. Motto: I have no identity, I have only identities.