PRINT April 1991


the Management of Consent

SINCE GEORGE WASHINGTON STRUGGLED to keep the fledgling republic neutral in the British-led war to crush the French Revolution, presidents have believed that they could protect the nation only by insulating foreign policy from public passion or by mobilizing public passion. Presidents see what Walter Lippman called “the manufacture of consent” as absolutely essential to the conduct of diplomacy. Thus national security is exempt from the sort of political scrutiny to which domestic policy is normally subject. In the matter of war and peace presidents ask to be trusted, and by and large they are.

The view of public opinion that has prevailed within the foreign-policy establishment during the 20th century is that because Americans are so woefully ignorant of history and geography, foreign-policy issues, as former Secretary of State Dean Acheson once put it, must be made “clearer than truth.”

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