A Preface to Morals Critical Overview
by Walter Lippmann

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Critical Overview

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Lippmann’s Influence
Walter Lippmann is generally considered to be the most important, most popular, and most widely influential political journalist of the twentieth century.

Clinton Rossiter and James Lare, in The Essential Lippmann, consider him ‘‘perhaps the most important American political thinker of the twentieth century’’ and ‘‘a major contributor to the American way of life and thought.’’ D. Steven Blum, in Walter Lippmann, asserts that Lippmann is ‘‘the century’s foremost political journalist’’ and ‘‘the preeminent chronicler of the political events of the age.’’ Ronald Steel, in Walter Lippmann and the American Century, asserts that Lippmann ‘‘was without a doubt the nation’s greatest journalist.’’

In addition to his critical acclaim, Lippmann’s books of political philosophy and regular newspaper and magazine columns were extraordinarily popular. Marquis Childs, in Walter Lippmann and His Times, describes Lippmann as ‘‘a critic who, more than any other American today, has achieved through his pen a worldwide audience.’’ Lare and Rossiter concur, ‘‘his audience has been the largest and most insatiable ever to pay the homage of thoughtful attention to a serious-minded American writer.’’ Larry L. Adams, in Walter Lippmann, states that Lippmann was ‘‘beyond question the most widely read American social thinker of the twentieth century and one of the most respected.’’ David Elliott Weingast, in Walter Lippmann, likewise declares that Lippmann’s influence ‘‘has helped to determine the opinions of the American people on many urgent issues.’’

While popular among a worldwide audience of readers, Lippmann remained, throughout his career, extremely influential among major political figures in the United States and abroad. As quoted in Walter Lippmann and the American Century, when Lippmann was only twenty-five, Theodore Roosevelt dubbed him the ‘‘‘most brilliant young man of his age in all the United States.’’’ Steel goes on to describe the scope of Lippmann’s political influence, noting, ‘‘Influence was Lippmann’s stock-intrade ... what made him a powerful public figure.’’

He commanded no divisions, but he did have enormous power over public opinion. This in turn gave him a power over Presidents, politicians and policymakers. They did not, by any means, always do what Lippmann advised. But they listened to him and sought his support—and they learned not to take his opposition lightly. Lippmann commanded a loyal and powerful constituency, some ten million of the most politically active and articulate people in America. Many of these people literally did not know what they ought to think about the issues of the day until they read what Walter Lippmann had said about them. A politician could ignore that kind of power only at his own risk.

Lare and Rossiter further describe Lippmann’s high-ranking political influence:

in most of the great political and moral dialogues of modern America, Walter Lippmann has been a leading participant. In his own style, at his own pace, and largely on his own terms, he has spoken out on the issues of the age—and spoken with an authority that persuades presidents, premiers, foreign ministers, and perhaps even cardinals and commissars to pause and listen.

Praise for A Preface to Morals
A Preface to Morals, first published in 1929, was an immediate success and remained Lippmann’s most popular book. Within the first year of publica tion, six editions were sold out, and the book was translated into a dozen different languages. A Preface to Morals was soon selected for the extremely popular Book-of-the-Month Club. Several critics have tried to account for the book’s success. Michael Kirkhorn in Dictionary of Literary Biography referring to it as ‘‘one of the most, if not the most, profoundly knowing’’ of Lippmann’s books, observes, ‘‘The book struck a chord for a generation seeking recovery from...

(The entire section is 1,198 words.)