Politics > Determining Political Choice > «The People» in Politics (CL5)

«The People» in Politics (CL5)

The people i.e. the people = everybody en masse = the general public is the immediate context within which political choices are made authoritatively by government. The notion of the people en masse playing a major part in politics is intrinsic to the conventionalist mode.

Public Opinion, Social Mood, Sentiment, Herding

The general public has a role in the political process by virtue of the fact that government is supposed to be working for the public benefit. However, the only way that most people can express their views in society is to let their views blend and merge with others to form a general consensus. This consensus is based on widely held opinions—often fostered by the media. These opinions have variable validity, and often reflect the prevailing social mood rather than any deep understanding.

Mark Twain 1835–1910…Closed Its name is «Public Opinion». It is held in reverence. It settles everything. Some think it is the voice of God.

Abraham Lincoln 1809–1865…Closed Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he who moulds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.

Social Context: «Social» or «Private» or Both?

Addition of the social context of politics: the practical commitments that members of society make and public opinion and sentiment generally.

A purely social aspect of the conventionalist mode can be easily seen in public opinion and sentiment. Pollsters can identify this social phenomenon by questioning a tiny sample. A single person's opinion need have little solidity and can be changed in moment. ClosedOn big issues of the day (e.g. what to do about a polluted river or how to help the mentally ill), a personal opinion has little impact in itself and a person bears no responsibility as a result of their view.

However, when individuals act decisively and commit themselves (even if as part of a herd), it is a private matter with each person needing to take their own circumstances into account and feeling compelled to accept responsibility for their own actions. The result is a range of adaptations to society in regard to practical matters (e.g. where to live, what business to pursue, how to look after children or aged parents).  Multiple similar, even near-identical, practical adaptations cannot be unified but, taken together with firms that emerge to serve the herd, they generate a status quo and a major sunk cost that cannot be easily ignored by governments.

So there are two political Centres:

Which dominates?Closed Public opinion expresses itself more forcibly than the varied practical choices of individuals. Most people find the social mood and herding impulses virtually irresistible—and often get into trouble as a result. So opinion generally shapes commitments (even if there is a reciprocal influence). Public opinion and sentiment is therefore placed on the right side of the Tree.

Originally posted: July 2009; Last updated: 12 June 2014.

All posted material is part of a scientific project and should be regarded as provisional. Visitors are encouraged to think through the topics and propositions for themselves. Copyright © Warren Kinston 2009-2016.
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