Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere


The Transformation of the Public Sphere's Political Function

Summary The Transformation of the Public Sphere's Political Function

The industry of political marketing emerges when parties feel obliged to influence voting decisions in this way. Political marketing depends on the empirical techniques of market and opinion research. In the manipulated public sphere it creates, an acclamation-prone mood predominates. Appeals to the public are calculated to give predictable results. Sometimes, however, it is necessary to satisfy the real needs of the voters. But the offers made by advertising psychology form a consensus better suited to the needs of an absolutist regime than a democratic constitutional state. If political decisions are made to manipulate voters in a public sphere created for this purpose, they are removed from the process of rational-critical argument and the possibility of voting against them.

The gap between the functions the public sphere fulfils today, and those it should fill in a democratic state are obvious when the transfer to a social- welfare state is legislated. In the first modern constitutions, subdivisions of basic rights are the image of the liberal public sphere. Liberal basic rights protected "private" areas from state intervention. They also guaranteed equal opportunity and participation in generating wealth and public opinion. The liberal state intended to order the system of coexistence in society as a whole. The social-welfare state continued the tradition of the constitutional state because it too wanted a legal order that comprised state and society. As the state took on social functions, it had to work out how "justice" could be administered through intervention. Almost all western democracies have programmatic statements relating to the adaptation of legal institutions of social welfare. Guarantees of basic rights depend on a separation of private sphere and public sphere operating in the political realm not subject to state intervention. Such guarantees are supplemented by basic social rights because the demarcation of areas of non-intervention by the state are not honored. Only if the state guarantees this can the political order remain faithful to the earlier idea of a public sphere. But liberal rights have to be interpreted as guarantees of participation if they are to fulfil their purpose. A guarantee that the state will not interfere is not enough; it needs to interfere actively to ensure participation. What can no longer be guaranteed in relationships between public and private spheres must be positively granted - a share in social benefits and participation in the institutions of the public sphere.

The political public sphere of the welfare state shows two competing tendencies; staged and manipulative publicity and the critical process of public communication. This criticism conflicts with manipulative publicity. The more committed it is to social rights, the less a state will accept that the public sphere is a reality. The extent to which staged publicity prevails shows how much the exercise of political and social authority is regulated.

The extent to which the public sphere can be realized depends on resolving two problems. 1) The expertise of highly specialized experts is removed from the supervision of rationally debating bodies. 2) Modern society raises the possibility of the mutual satisfaction of needs in an "affluent society". Also, the possibility of global destruction has arisen. Universal interest in ending the state of nature in international relations has emerged.

The outcome of the struggle between critical and staged publicity remains open. Unlike the idea of the bourgeois public sphere in the liberal period, publicity regarding the exercise and balance of political power is not ideology. Rather, it ends ideology.


Habermas treats the press as a case study of the changes that occurred in the public sphere. His treatment of literary journalism shows how the economic and political functions of the press developed together. Making money and shaping or reflecting public opinion were related in complex ways. The history of the press mirrors that of state and society. The press began as a key private institution of rational-critical debate; it provoked and transmitted this debate, but did not shape it. It was protected from state control because it was privately owned. However, the development of advertising changed this situation.

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