converse - THE NATURE OF BELIEF SYSTEMS IN MASS PUBLICS 207...

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The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics BY PHILIP E. CONVERSE BELIEF SYSTEMS have never surrendered easily to empirical study or quanti- fication. Indeed, they have often served as primary exhibits for the doctrine that what is important to study cannot be measured and that what can be measured is not important to study. In an earlier period, the behaviorist decree that subjective states lie beyond the realm of proper measurement gave Mannheim a justification for turning his back on measurement, for he had an unqualified interest in discussing belief systems.' Even as Mann- heim was writing, however, behaviorism was undergoing stiff challenges, and early studies of attitudes were attaining a degree of measurement reliability that had been deemed impossible. This fragment of history, along with many others, serves to remind us that no intellectual position is likely to become obsolete quite so rapidly as one that takes current empirical capa- bility as the limit of the possible- in a more absolute sense. Nevertheless, . while rapid strides in the measurement of "subiective states" have been achieved-in recent decades, few would claim that the millennium has arrived .or that Mannheim could now find all of the tools that were lacking to him forty years ago. This article makes no pretense of surpassing such limitations. At the same time, our substantive concern forces upon us an unusual concern with measure- ment strategies, not simply because we propose to deal with belief systems or ideologies, but also because of the specific questions that we shall raise about them. Our focus in this article is upon differences in the nature of belief y systems held on the one hand by elite political actors and, on the other, by the masses that appear to be "numbered" within the spheres of influence of these belief systems. It is our thesis that there are important and predictable differences in ideational worlds as we progress downward through such "belief strata" and that these differences, while obvious at one level, are easily over- looked and not infrequently miscalculated. The fact that these ideational worlds differ in character poses problems of adequate representation and measurement. The vertical ordering of actors and beliefs that we wish to plumb bears some loose resemblance to the vertical line that might be pursued downward THE NATURE OF BELIEF SYSTEMS IN MASS PUBLICS 207 through an organization or political movement from the narrow cone of top leadership, through increasing numbers of subordinate officials, and on through I untitled activists to the large base formally represented in membership rolls. I It is this large base that Michels noted, from observations of political gather- l ings, was rarely "there", and analogues to its physical absence do not arise accidentally in dealing with belief systems. On the other hand, there is no I perfect or necessary "fit" between the two orderings, and this fact in itself has some interest.
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converse - THE NATURE OF BELIEF SYSTEMS IN MASS PUBLICS 207...

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