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By Gary D. Rawnsley (auth.)

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Sample text

Dicey echoed the Greeks when he suggested that democracy was for the educated classes only. Public opinion, he intimated, is formed from ‘the wishes and ideas on legislation of those citizens who have … taken an effective role in public life’. This is similar to Plato’s distinction between the ‘navigator’ of a ship (the minority who possess the skill and knowledge to steer the ship) and the ‘crew’ (the majority who, not blessed with the virtues of the elite act on impulse). The political elite have the wisdom of political judgement to guide the ‘crew’, the majority, who do not.

For it is to me exclusively that the legislative power belongs. … The whole public order emanates from me since I am its supreme guardian. … Guarding Against the ‘Deep Slumber of a Decided Opinion’ 33 The rights and interests of the nation … are necessarily united with my own and can only rest in my hands (quoted in Schama, 1989:104). It is also important to note that, on the whole, this was a Catholic absolutism. The liberalism that emerged to challenge absolutism coincided with the Protestant reformation, a movement that not only questioned Papal authority, but also raised important political and philosophical questions about the position of the individual in relation to the state, and to whom or to what he was obliged to be obedient.

W. Russell Neuman’s argument (1991) that we are witnessing the death of ‘mass’ media and the birth of niche or narrowcasting seems a perfectly sensible idea. To reverse Marshall McLuhan’s famous phrase, today the message is the medium because of the technological possibilities for the decentralisation, diversification and customisation of media formats. Besides, why should people be forced to watch coverage of politics on their televisions if they are not interested? It is far too easy to subscribe to the liberal view that political apathy can only be overcome by political education; more exposure – however passive – will somehow mean more interest and participation.

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