In his books Public Opinion and The Phantom Public, Walter Lippmann argued that policy leaders should deny the public a significant role in policy-making. Public opinion, he argued, would inevitably be ill-informed, self-interested and readily manipulated. In The Public and its Problems, Dewey countered Lippmann by arguing that the problem of the public was neither self-interest nor misinformation, but lack of community. He proposed a theory of public ideas - new public social science and a new journalism that gave social investigations the “potency of art” as a means for community formation. Dewey added nothing in The Public and its Problems to explain just how literary art could weld individuals into a community. In this paper I draw on the Dewey corpus to flesh out that crucial phase of his argument. The "double merger" account I offer also illuminates hidden connections between the ‘Great Community’ (chapter 5) and the necessity of local exchanges in ‘The Problem of Method’ (chapter 6) of The Public and its Problems. Dewey’s account is that (1) works of social inquiry presented with the “potency of art” (e.g., works of investigative creative non-fiction) provide broad audiences with immersive common experiences, and (2) local exchanges stemming from these immersive experiences can lead to a blurring of personal, ego-centric identities in a common citizen identity that supports effective common action.
Project Muse URL
Waks, Leonard J.
"Literary Art in the Formation of the Great Community: John Dewey’s Theory of Public Ideas in The Public and Its Problems,"
Education and Culture:
2, Article 4.
Available at: http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/eandc/vol30/iss2/art4