Perceptions of public opinion. British foreign policy decisions about Nazi Germany, 1933-1938
This thesis examines the historical problem of determining the relationship between a government's perception of public opinion and the decisions it takes. We introduce evidence for the social habits of the Cabinet in order to suggest new formulations of 'élite' and 'mass' public opinion. We argue that parliamentary opinion was generally more important in decision-making for the Cabinet, except at moments of extreme crisis when a conception of 'mass' opinion became equally significant. These characterization of mass opinion were drawn from a set of stereotypes about public opinion which academic and political theorization had produced. It is argued that this theorization was stimulated by ongoing debates about mass communication, the importance of the ordinary man in democracy and the outbreak of the first world war during the inter-war period. The thesis begins with an introduction to the methodological problems involved, followed by one chapter on theorization about public opinion in the inter-war period. Three diplomatic crises are considered in the case study chapters: the withdrawal of Germany from the Disarmament Conference in 1933, the German reoccuption of the Rhineland in 1936 and the threat of invasion of the Sudetenland in 1938. Two further chapters examine the role of public opinion in protests to Germany about the treatment of the Jews in 1933 and in 1938. It is argued that perceptions of public opinion played a much more important role in decision-making than has hiterto been thought. The most significant argument posits that perceptions of public opinion were equally as important as military considerations in the decision to refuse the Godesberg terms in 1938. More generally, the way in which politicians used public opinion rhetorically is described and the limits of the usefulness of the term for historians are suggested.