Truth and the Public

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Kingsley Martin
(Basil) Kingsley Martin (1897 – 1969)
Sir Gerald Barry
Sir Gerald Barry (1898 – 1968)
Conway Memorial Lecture
Conway Memorial Lecture
Moncure Conway photo by Edward Steichen, 1907. Courtesy of Dickinson College.
Moncure Conway photo by Edward Steichen, 1907. Courtesy of Dickinson College.
Delivered at Conway Hall 17 June 1945. Chaired by Sir Gerald Barry and presented by Kingsley Martin.

World issues are so complex, and a thorough knowledge of them so difficult, that the vast majority of people cannot be expected to have soundly based opinions on them. The hard fact is that Jeremy Bentham and several other early democrats of the 18th and 19th centuries overestimated the public’s passion for truth and its interest in politics. Also, the problem is compounded by the fact that the press, on which so many people rely, is primarily concerned with making a profit, not with rigorously educating its readers.

Hence the most effective way to sustain a modern democracy in which public opinion plays a meaningful role is to create a de-centralised, federal and regional system. Then the majority will be in a position to make sound judgements, because the latter will be on what they know well: their local communities and the issues affecting them. Thus they will exercise a valid form of public opinion.

Amid the enormous diversity of the modern world, democrats should champion tolerance and truth, without which social justice and harmony are impossible. The survival and advancement of democracy and civilisation depend on the growth of a public opinion which is rational and truth based.

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