Drift and Mastery
An Attempt to Diagnose the Current Unrest
“No man who wishes seriously to study our present social, industrial, and political life can afford not to read it through and through and ponder and digest it.”
In 1914, a brilliant young political journalist published a book arguing that the United States had entered a period of “drift”—a lack of control over rapidly changing forces in society. He highlighted the tensions between expansion and consolidation, traditionalism and progressivism, and emotion and rationality. He wrote to convince readers that they could balance these tensions: they could be organized, efficient, and functional without sacrificing impulse, choice, or liberty. Mastery over drift is attainable, Walter Lippmann argued, through diligent attention to facts and making active choices. Democracy, Lippman wrote, is “a use of freedom, an embrace of opportunity.”
Lippman’s Drift and Mastery became one of the most important and influential documents of the Progressive Movement. It remains a valuable text for understanding the political thought of early twentieth-century America and a lucid exploration of timeless themes in American government and politics. Distinguished historian Walter Leuchtenberg’s 1986 introduction and notes are retained in this edition.
Ganesh Sitaraman, who has provided a foreword for this centennial edition, suggests that Lippmann’s classic still has much to say to twenty-first-century progressives. The underlying solutions for our time, he believes, are similar to those of Lippman’s era. Sitaraman contends that American society can regain mastery over drift by reforming finance and reducing inequality, by rethinking the relationship between corporations and workers, and by embracing changes in social life.
“Impressively well written . . . this new Centennial Edition of a timeless classic 20th-century political science treatise is now available to a whole new generation of appreciative readers. . . . Very strongly recommended for community and academic library collections in political science, American history, and journalism.”
—Midwest Book Review
“For readers who are interested in the history of ideas and in twentieth-century politics, Drift and Mastery will make fascinating reading. It is brief and easy to read, and yet it has depth of thought. Lippmann’s masterful writing style and the pungent statements he uses to define the issues of his time are remarkable for a young man in his early twenties.”
—The Social Science Journal
“Devilishly well-written . . . altogether a delightful fresh piece of writing and thinking.”
—Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
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