U.S., A CaptivenNationnby John C. VinsonnThe Captive PubHc by BenjaminnGinsberg, New York: Basic Books;n$18.95.nBenjamin Ginsberg’s The CaptivenPublic is a breath of fresh cynicism.nWith insight and illustration, it arguesnthat mass opinion and majority willnare not necessarily the nemesis of BignBrother. In modern society, Ginsbergnargues, the Orwellian state can adaptnand even mold them for its purposes.nNor is this a new development.nGinsberg maintains that the emergencenof public opinion as a politicalnforce was not so much a concessionnfrom the powers that be as a device tongive their ruler greater legitimacy. Beforenthe Industrial Revolution, his argumentnruns, authorities had littlenincentive to dwell on popular discontent.nPoor communications andnisolation tended to keep upheaval fromnspreading, and feudal economies, fillingnthe royal coffers, continued tonfunction despite localized troubles.nBut with the machine age, communications,nand interdependence, rulersnrealized that discontent could costnthem commerce, taxes, and possiblyntheir lives.nGonsequendy, they sought to neutralizenopposition, while appearing tonyield to it, by extending free speechnand elections. Ginsberg holds that freenspeech was not a great danger to thenthen rising bourgeois classes becausenthey owned printing presses whichncould dominate discourse. Rathernthan fearing mass literacy, they promotednit, assuming a larger audiencento read their ideas. This strategy of rulenhas application in our own day, fornscarcely does a Gommunist revolutionnpass before the new regime boasts ofnincreasing literacy, In the case of elections,nthe bourgeois strategy was tonlimit genuine options, while, persuadingnthe populace that ballots werenbetter than bullets.nNineteenth-century rulers generallynsought to divert popular opinion intondesired channels. They lacked thentechniques and technology to donmuch more. Twentieth-century governmentsnoperate under less con­nstraint. Their aim is to manufacturenopinion from the start, then claimnobedience to the popular will. Effectiventools of the trade are advertisingnand public relations. Authentic publicnsentiments certainly persist, butnwould-be rulers, both liberal and conservative,nsays Ginsberg, are adept atnmolding them to fit personal and partisannagendas. “Put not your trust innPrinces” should be the watchword ofnconservatives.nAnother tool of control is the publicnopinion poll. Ginsberg endorses thenrepeated charge that polling is more anreflection of polling method and questionsnthan genuine popular opinion.nToo often, as well, polls can minimizenthe intensity of minority viewpoints byncomparing them with opposing,nthough highly apathetic, majorities. IfnKing George had had polls, he mightnhave persuaded the American patriotsnthat their cause was doomed for lack ofnsupport.nAn even more sinister use of polls isnthat of political intelligence. By gainingnadequate knowledge of public attitudes,nrulers can take steps to thwartngenuinely popular movements. Ginsbergnreports that a number of Gommunistnstates have used polling for thisnpurpose.nThe final tool is refinement of thenelection to provide the illusion ofnchoice. An example is the one partyn”election” in the Soviet Union whichnwe Americans properly deride. Andnyet our own elections frequentiy offernonly slightly different versions of Tweedledeesnand dums.nGinsberg concludes by raising, butnnot answering, the question: Will BignBrother eventually assimilate all opinion?nA question the author might havenasked, but didn’t: Is democracy itselfnsacrosanct, or possibly just anotherntool for rule?nPerhaps Ginsberg couldn’t bringnhimself to squeeze the trigger on sonsacred a cow as this. Few people todayncan. But it is instructive that the nation’snFounders saw private and publicnvirtue rather than majorities as thenbulwark of liberty—a view rooted innclassical antiquity and Ghristian sensibilities.n(It was a majority, after all,nthat voted for the Crucifixion.)nJohn C. Vinson writes from Athens,nGeorgia.nnnMistress of Deceitnby Ronald BermannShakespeare by Germaine Greer,nNew York: Oxford University Press;n$13.95.nOxford University Press advertises itsnPast Master series (of which this booknis one) as being “a noble encyclopaedianof the history of ideas” in whichn”lucid and authoritative” modern criticsnintroduce us to the best of what hasnbeen thought and written. Oxfordnseems to have dropped a brick on thisnone. Lucid? Here are some passagesnwhich may help the reader decide:nThe public duty of thenplaywright was to bring thencaviare of his angelicnintellectual exercise within thengrasp of those savagenhordes. . . .nThe godlike power of thencreators of illusory worlds, thenirresistible tendency of man tondebauchery rather thannimprovement, the blindnessnand self-indulgence ofnintellectuals, has cropped out,nas the defrocked hierophantnbegs our intercession to save hisnsoul.nThe language ranges from Victoriannprissy to the imitation of—i.e., “thenunsynthesized manifold of everydaynlife”—a kind of Minimalism.nAuthoritative? When Greer talksnabout Desiderius Erasmus, she identifiesnhim as one of the “schoolmen”nand explains that they were philosophicalnantagonists of Shakespeare. Thengreatest “schoolmen” had been safelyndead for more than a century beforenErasmus’ birth. And by no stretch ofnthe imagination was Erasmus a medieval.nWhen she analyzes the winternsong in Love’s Labours Lost—nWhen all aloud the wind dothnblow.nAnd coughing drowns thenparson’s saw,nAnd birds sit brooding in thensnow,nAnd Marion’s nose looks rednand raw,nWhen roasted crabs hiss in thenbowl.nAPRIL 1987/31n