WHERE TO FIND NEW LEADERSHIP By Ralph L. Lynn How is public opinion formed? Is it true that the momentumof established public opinion constitutes a kind of briar patch jungle in which each succeeding generation is trapped? Can our democratic society hope to find and follow leaderscomparable to the Founding Fathers who might insure its happy continuation? Since we have no intention of submitting to doom in the formof our cancerous population growth, the greenhouse effect, or anyother of the looming potential catastrophes we must ask were we might find the leadership for changing our foolish ways. Probably most of us acquire our orientation in private andpublic affairs from our parents. But so to state is of littlehelp; we must ask the sources of our parents’ views. And it islikely that most parents get their views from preachers and politicians. We could hardly pick poorer guides. Since preachers andpoliticians are always running for office they must cater to the mindsets of their constituents. In the Old Testament the false prophets were called “court”prophets because they hung around the court and catered to theestablishment. In our democratic society, the court is publicopinion. But the prophets we honor were not court prophets.Since they spoke truth to power the prophets we honor were luckyto escape death either at the hands of the establishment or of mobs inspired by the establishment. True prophets then and now call for radical changes in publicopinion and in public procedures. But as Noah and all hissuccessors have discovered, people would rather drown in the floodthan change. Mankind’s tragedy is that we wish always to be saved but never to change. Without a doubt, every generation is caught in the trapformed by the momentum of traditional public opinion. Probably the clearest examples in our history stem from our race problem. Long before the Civil War all thoughtful observers feareddiscussion of the race problem as Thomas Jefferson in his lovelyMonticello “feared a firebell in the night.” Yet, neither in theNorth nor in the South did any significant leadership appear savethat which guaranteed what came to be called “the impending conflict.” Similarly, in our post World War II period all sensiblepeople understood that we must move to accord full civil rightsand full human dignity to all our black citizens. Yet, once moreand for much too long, the only outspoken leadership was in defense of ancient wrongs sanctified by public opinion. The preachers and the politicians in general either spoke indefense of the ancient wrongs or they kept silent. I have manymemories of vitriolic sermons against the demon rum and againstgambling but no memory of a single forthright sermon against racial prejudice. Where can we turn for saving leadership? Probably the best we can do is to look to the best of ourjournalists and university professors. Only they are capable of creating an informed public opinion. The best of the journalists, like the professors, areprofessional students. Therefore they understand our problemsmore clearly than non-students. Their training demands loyalty tothe facts and forthright reporting of the facts. Any journalist or professor who fudges the facts will promptly lose his position. Because they are professional students their views, moreoften than not, fly in the face of ignorant public opinion. Butmost fortunately, our journalists and our professors are protectedphysically and financially by the constitutional guarantees offreedom of the press and by the concept of academic freedom.Needless to say, preachers and politicians often inflame public opinion against these protections. Therefore it is not at all clear that a democratic societycan find and follow a saving leadership such as the fledging United States was blessed with in its aristocratic infancy. Most of the Founding Fathers were scholarly aristocrats who,wonder of wonders, welcomed to their councils people like BenjaminFranklin who had no advantages of birth but who was a civilized, brainy intellectual. Can a democratic society which fears the superior person andexalts mediocrity in public life hope to find leaders of similar qualities? Probably our long established, complex division of labor hasproceeded so far that neither journalists nor professors shouldactually hold office. But is it too much to hope that theirablest students who are active in business and the professionsmight form a generation as devoted to public affairs and as courageous as the Founding Fathers were? Ralph Lynn is Professor Emeritus of History at Baylor University. BERNARD RAP OP 0 RT American Income Life Insurance Company Chairman of the Board and Executive Offices: P.O. Box 2608, Waco, Texas 76797, 817-772-3050 Chief Executive Officer THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13
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