Vox Popili, Vox Dei?

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The government has become a good deal more popular of late, which raises some interesting questions for the sociology of knowledge.

According to a New York Times/CBS poll as reported by the Times (Nov. 3), 55% of the respondents trust the government 1/ to do what is right most of the time,” up from just 33% expressing such trust prior to the Sept. 11 attacks.

According to a recent Washington Post poll, 53% of Americans think the government 1/ is run for the benefit of all the people,” up from just 35% likewise deluded shortly before the attacks.

Let’s see if I understand what’s happened. Not long ago, most people expressed little trust in the government, and believed it was run primarily for the benefit of the political in-crowd. Then, hijackers commandeered four airliners, crashing three of them into large, symbolic buildings in New York and Virginia, with great loss of life. Subsequently, people believed the government to be trustworthy and devoted to the broad public interest.

I would feel better about this seemingly nutty sequence of events if I thought the people being polled in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks were simply more afraid of the government and therefore more inclined to express positive opinions about it, lest somehow they get themselves in trouble with the authorities. Unfortunately, I cannot credit that interpretation. Instead, I attribute the public’s newfound confidence in government to a species of frightened- herd mentality all too manifest in a variety of other forms months. Desperately wanting to trust their presumptive governmental saviors, many people have resigned themselves to – nay, rushed pell-mell to embrace – pure wishful thinking.

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