“High, Low, and Modern,” Encounter, August 1960.
It is often said that “mass culture” is the price we pay for democracy. That all depends, of course, on what we mean by democracy. If we mean by democracy nothing more than government which is freely consented to by the people, then this may well be so. In that case, one can either deny that “mass culture” poses any problem at all, and attribute our unease to the influence of “pre-democratic” standards of taste and culture upon our laggard imaginations; or one can seek reassurance in the belief that “mass culture” is only a passing phase of democratic evolution, and that in due course of time the level of popular taste and judgment will rise to nobler heights. Both alternatives involve an act of faith in The People, resting on the premise that what emerges from them is necessarily good and/or necessarily self-correcting.