How liberals lost the public: Walter Lippmann, John Dewey, and the critique of “traditional democratic theory”

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Since the 1990s, rhetorical and communication studies have taken a strong turn toward multiplicity in publics scholarship. This turn has generally been understood as representing both a political and theoretical advancement. Yet, in an age of hyperpolarization and social fragmentation it may be time to at least note the ironies entailed in rhetorical theory’s multiplying publics and ask what might be lost in the gains. The great irony, I argue, is that multiplicity has been the dominant liberal commitment in the United States for over a century now, and an important precondition for the advent of neoliberalism as a discrete political-economic ideology. As I detail in this historical study, in the 1920s and 1930s a severe critique of “the public” would take hold of U.S. elites under the auspices of liberalism. Two central figures in this repudiation were Walter Lippmann and John Dewey. In this article, I offer a detailed historical study of the Lippmann-Dewey critique of “the public” to query what is undercut in the turn toward multiplicity in publics scholarship, then and now.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalQuarterly Journal of Speech
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

Keywords

  • democratic theory
  • John Dewey
  • liberalism
  • publics
  • Walter Lippmann

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education

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