It is a widespread popular notion that everybody already knows what is good for the State, and that it is this common knowledge which finds expression in the assembly. Here, in the assembly, are developed virtues, talents, skill, which have to serve as examples. To be sure, the ministers may find these assemblies onerous, for ministers must possess large resources of wit and eloquence to resist the attacks which are hurled against them. Nevertheless, publicity is one of the best means of instruction in the interests of the State generally, for where publicity is found the people manifest an entirely different regard for the State than in those places where there are no assemblies or where they are not public. Only through the publication of every one of their proceedings are the chambers related to the larger public opinion; and it is shown that what one imagines at home with his wife and friends is one thing, and what happens in a great assembly, where one feat of eloquence wrecks another, is quite a different thing.
Public opinion is the unorganized way in which what a people wants and thinks is promulgated. That which is actually effective in the State must be so in an organic fashion. In the constitution this is the case. But at all times public opinion has been a great power, and it is particularly so in our time, when the principle of subjective freedom has such importance and significance. What shall now prevail, prevails no longer through force, little through use and custom, but rather through insight and reasons.
Public opinion contains, therefore, the eternal substantial principles of justice, the true content, and the result of the whole constitution, legislation, and the universal condition in general. The form underlying public opinion is sound common sense, which is a fundamental ethical principle winding its way through everything, in spite of prepossessions. But when this inner character is formulated in the shape of general propositions, partly for their own sake, partly for the purpose of actual reasoning about events, institutions, relations, and the recognized wants of the State, there appears also the whole character of accidental opinion, with its ignorance and perversity, its false knowledge and incorrect judgment.
It is therefore not to be regarded as merely a difference in subjective opinion when it is asserted on the one hand—
“Vox populi, vox dei”;
and on the other (in Ariosto, for instance)—
“Che’l Volgare ignorante ogn’
E parli piue di quel che meno intenda.”