Difference between revisions of "Walter Lippmann"

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Revision as of 23:10, 2 January 2013

Walter Lippmann[1] (1889 - 1974), was an influential[2] American journalist and commentator.

Lippmann was a prominent socialist from his youth, becoming president of the Harvard Socialist Club and a member of the Executive Committee of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society. He graduated from Harvard in 1910, but took his socialism with him into his journalism, joining the Socialist Party and the Socialist Press Club.[3] More than 20 years later, with the election of President Franklin Roosevelt, Lippmann apparently lost faith in the Constitution, telling FDR, "The situation is critical, Franklin. You may have no alternative but to assume dictatorial powers";[4] in his column, Lippmann added that the use of "'dictatorial powers,' if that is the name for it—is essential."[5]

Lippmann retained his socialist sympathies even in the midst of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, when "WJL" [Walter J. Lippmann] wrote to "ECC" [Edward C. Carter]—head of the Communist-front "American Russian Institute" and Institute of Pacific Relations ("a vehicle used by the Communists to orientate American far eastern policies toward Communist objectives," according to a unanimous report of the bipartisan Senate Judiciary Committee)[6]—urging "cooperation with the European revolutionaries and the Soviet Union in their attempt to build a socialist Europe as a nucleus for a world socialist order, with the obvious corollary of the establishment of socialism in this country."[7]

Until 1943, Lippmann's secretary was Mary Price, a Soviet agent.[8] Lippmann himself was a Soviet intelligence source as late as 1944.[9] According to Eric Alterman, a columnist and blogger for The Nation, Lippmann "offered much more useful information to the Soviets than [I.F.] Stone ever did."

Time magazine Mar. 30, 1931read the cover story


Lippmann attended Harvard College, where he studied with the leading philosophers of the day, including George Santayana, William James, and Graham Wallas. His first job was helping muckraker Lincoln Steffens on Everybody's Magazine. He became active in the Socialist party and was one of the founding editors of The New Republic magazine in 1913.

He agreed with Theodore Roosevelt that the purpose of diplomacy was not to attempt the impossible but to deal realistically with the existing balance of power. During World War I he was a staff assistant to Secretary of War Newton D. Baker, and a special adviser to Colonel House, President Woodrow Wilson’s top foreign policy advisor. Lippmann helped draft Wilson’s Fourteen Points in 1918, which became the basis for ending the war and restructuring world affairs at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, where he was advisor to House. In the 1920s he was editorial page editor of the influential Democratic newspaper the New York World, and sharply criticized the foreign policy of Harding and Coolidge for ignoring the League of Nations. When the World closed in 1931 he started his newspaper column Today and Tomorrow for the Republican paper the New York Herald Tribune. It was syndicated to 200 dailies across the country and continued until 1967.

Public Opinion

In the 1920s philosopher John Dewey (1859-1952) engaged in a major debate with Lippmann on the impact of the technology on democracy. Both agreed that the communications revolution had created a large and more complex world, that political and social institutions had not kept pace with the changes wrought by technology, that the masses were more susceptible to propaganda, and that modernity threatened democracy. Their critiques diverge on solutions, especially whether or not democracy could be saved. While Lippmann saw the public as unredeemable and subject to mass manipulation, Dewey thought that more public involvement in socio-political affairs was needed and that tools of mass communication could be used to this end.[10]


In 1937 Lippmann attacked President Franklin D. Roosevelt's plan to reorganize the Supreme Court, which reflected Lippmann's growing criticism of the New Deal. Although he originally supported Roosevelt's policies, Lippmann felt that the president was placing the American constitutional system in danger by setting illegal precedents.[11]

Cold War

Lippmann is accredited with popularizing the phrase "Cold War" to describe the breakdown of the World War II Allied Powers alliance and the growing post-war tensions. Although he opposed Communism[12] he adopted a "realist" position in foreign policy in the 1940s and opposed idealistic goals such as Wilsonianism-- even though he had been a leading advocate of idealism in 1917-1918. He was distrustful of globalism or excessive involvements around the world. In the 1960s he was an articulate opponent on the War in Vietnam, saying it weakened America's ability to fight the true Soviet adversary.[13]


Starting as a Socialist, Lippmann moved right through most of his life, becoming a conservative in the 1930s and an advocate of Natural Law[14].

Further reading

  • Blum, D. Steven. Walter Lippmann: Cosmopolitanism in the Century of Total War. (1984). 205 pp.
  • Riccio, Barry D. Walter Lippmann - Odyssey of a Liberal. (1994). 240 pp.
  • Steele, Ronald. Walter Lippmann and the American Century (1980), 599pp; the standard biography
  • Wright, Benjamin F. Five Public Philosophies of Walter Lippmann. (1973). 171 pp.

Primary sources

  • Lippmann, Walter. Public Philosopher: Selected Letters of Walter Lippmann, edited by John Morton Blum (1985)
  • Lippmann, Walter. The essential Lippmann: a political philosophy for liberal democracy‎ ed by Clinton Rossiter (1963) excerpt and text search, selection of conservative essays and excerpts
  • Lippmann, Walter. Early Writings ed. by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (1970), liberal essays from New Republic down to 1920; reprinted as Force and Ideas: The Early Writings
  • Lippmann, Walter. Drift and mastery: an attempt to diagnose the current unrest‎ (1914) full text online
  • Lippmann, Walter. A preface to politics‎ (1914) 318 pages online edition
  • Lippmann, Walter. Drift and mastery: an attempt to diagnose the current unrest‎ (1917) 334 pages online edition
  • Lippmann, Walter. Public Opinion‎ (1922) 427 pages online edition
  • Lippmann, Walter. Men of Destiny (1927)
  • Lippmann, Walter. Interpretations: 1931-32 (1932), newspaper columns; still a liberal
  • Lippmann, Walter. Interpretations: 1933-35 (1935), newspaper columns, still a liberal
  • Lippmann, Walter. The Good Society (1937), his statement of conservative values excerpt
  • online books by and about Lippmann
  • books by Lippmann

See also


  1. His name is often misspelled with only one 'N'--as for example the Time cover shown here.
  2. Lippmann is widely regarded as “the most influential journalist in American history.” Jacqueline Foertsch, American Culture in the 1940s (Edinburgh University Press, 2008) ISBN 0748624139, p. 56
  3. "Joined the Harvard Socialist Club and later became president... Elected to Executive Committee, Intercollegiate Socialist Society... Joined the Socialist Party, New York County, and the Socialist Press Club of New York City." (2003) Twentieth-Century American Politics and Diplomacy, Series 1, The Walter Lippmann Papers, Part 4: Early Papers, 1904-1920 (Manuscript and Archives Division, Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut), pp. 8-9
  4. Thomas Griffith, “NEWSWATCH: Comrade of the Powerful,” Time, September 15, 1980
  5. Russell Baker, “A Revolutionary President, The New York Review of Books, Vol. 56, No. 2 (February 12, 2009)
  6. S. Rpt. 2050, 82d Cong., 2d sess., Serial 11574, Report of the Committee on the Judiciary Pursuant to S. Res. 366, 1952, p. 225 (PDF p. 233)
  7. Walter Lippmann to Edward C. Carter, June 10, 1940, p. 5 (PDF p. 100), FBI file: Institute of Pacific Relations, Section 54, Part 11, pp. 96-101
  8. 588 New York to Moscow, 29 April 1944; cf. Institute of Pacific Relations Hearings, Part 2, Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws, Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, 82d Cong., 1st Sess. (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1951), p. 406 (PDF p. 62); Romerstein, Breindel 2001: 439 and Haynes, Klehr 1999: 99
  9. 1289 KGB New York to Moscow, 9 September 1944
  10. Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion (1922) and The Phantom Public (1925); John Dewey, The Public and Its Problems (1927)
  11. Frederic Krome, "From Liberal Philosophy to Conservative Ideology? Walter Lippmann's Opposition to the New Deal" Journal of American Culture 1987 10(1): 57-64. 0191-1813
  12. The Golos spy ring used Mary Price, his secretary, to garner information on items Lippmann chose not to write about or names of Lippmann's sources, often not carried in stories, but of use to the MGB.
  13. Fredrik Logevall, "First Among Critics: Walter Lippmann and the Vietnam War." Journal of American-East Asian Relations 1995 4 (4): 351-375.
  14. Religion, Politics, and the Higher Learning, Morton White, Harvard University Press, 1959 p.112