PRINT December 2010


WHEN WALTER LIPPMANN (1889–1974) wrote his masterpiece The Phantom Public eighty-five years ago, he vividly demonstrated that democratic ideals were at risk. The reason lay in what we would now call globalization, a geopolitical shift that was already rendering old procedures of local and even national government obsolete. According to Lippmann, there could be no such thing as an “omniscient citizen,” that great hope of traditional democratic theory: No individual could possibly be fully informed of all the issues he—at the time, it was still very much a “he”—was supposed to tackle. And even if citizens could be well informed, they could do nothing more than meddle from the outside in the complex affairs of those who were in charge. Globalization made impossible the very idea of democratic action, of the people taking their affairs into their own hands, as had been imagined before by the

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