Walter Lippmann has defined "the public interest" as follows: "The public interest may be presumed to be what men would choose if they saw clearly, thought rationally, acted disinterestedly and bennevolently." There are other more complicated definitions; but this will serve. Obviously, there never has been a society in which the public interest ruled supreme; equally obviously, so long as men are not angels, there never will be. But it is also true that there has never been a society which was not, in some way, and to some extent, guided by this ideal . . . no matter how perverse its application, in our eyes.We feel that a democratic society, with its particular encouragement to individual ambition, private appetite, and personal concerns has a greater need than any other to keep the idea of the public interest before it. Democracy, after all, is government by public opinion. And, as one of the earliest writers on the subject pointed out, for public opinion genuinely to exist, it must be (a) opinion, not fancy or prejudice, and (b) public - i.e., directed toward the common good rather than to private benefits. It is such a public opinion that THE PUBLIC INTEREST seeks to serve.
Daniel Bell; Irving Kristol - What is the Public Interest?