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Public Opinion on War and the Military

The nature and impact of public opinion on foreign and defense policy are among the key issues in debates between realists and liberals. Realists insist that a volatile public opinion, often grounded in ignorance about international realities, provides a poor basis on which to conduct foreign affairs. In his Essays in the Public Philosophy, Walter Lippmann, one of the founding fathers of public opinion research, wrote, “Mass opinion has acquired mounting power in this country. It has shown itself to be a dangerous master of decision when the issues are life and death” (p. 20). Few liberals would assert that public opinion should determine foreign policy, but they argue that in the long run, foreign policy cannot and should not consistently run counter to deeply ...

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