ON their birthdays, to ward off the demons that abound, the Twi-speaking peoples of West Africa smear their bodies with eggs. In other lands, where clothing is more complete, expression more verbal and eggs dearer, other customs prevail; it is not unknown for the birthday boy, among his friends, to say a few words about what's on his mind. TIME, the Weekly Newsmagazine, is 30 years old this week. TIME's birthday theses:
¶ That despite the "complexities" of the day, democratic public opinion can know enough to make the right decisionsprovided that the press and the intellectuals do their job.
¶ That public opinion is now hampered by a crisis among the intellectuals over the possibility and meaning of progress.
¶ That if this crisis is solvedand there are signs that it will bean opportunity for great progress lies ahead, especially in the fields of law, government, economics and international relations.
CONFUSION UNDER THE MULBERRIES
In 1953, as always, a lot of conversation goes 'round the news. Some of 1953's mulberry bushes:
The cold warhow to wage it. The Korean warhow to "end" it.
The American Propositionnot so clear at home or abroad as it used to be.
The American scenechanging fast, perhaps faster than the eye follows.
McCarthydoes he menace freedom of thought? Does it matter? What about thought? Does thought get you anywhere? Or is the irrational element in man too strong, as the Freudians suggest? Or are the "forces" of economic history too strong, as the Marxists say?
What about the "eggheads," a term that bobbed up in last fall's campaign and caught on so thoroughly that Adlai Stevenson the other day referred to some of his mail as expressing "the customary egghead ecstasy"? If an egghead is candled, what shows up?
Any of these subjects could serve for birthday reflections. TIME chooses to write about intellectuality, its condition and prospects, because this subject cuts across all the others and directly affects TIME's business: serving public opinion by reporting the news.
Fifty years ago James Bryce, who knew the U.S. as well as any man, raised the question whether democratic public opinion can know enough to do its job. Bryce concluded: "The masses cannot have either the leisure or the capacity for investigating the underlying principles of policy or for mastering the details of legislation. Yet they may . . . attain to a sound perception of the main and broad issues of national and international policy, especially in their moral aspects, a perception sufficient to enable them to keep the nation's action upon right lines."
"Especially in their moral aspects." That assumes a certain agreement on moral standards, a framework of philosophy about man, the world, and the truth in which facts relevant to the news can be assembled, tests applied, and a rational debate carried on. Speaking of the British public, Arthur Balfour said: "Our whole political machinery presupposes a people so fundamentally at one that they can safely afford to bicker." Perhaps "bicker" is too narrow a word for the vast areas of disagreement and debate that a people who are fundamentally at one can fruitfully enjoy.