Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere

Quotations assembled by Laura Mandell


Representative Publicity:

I. In Feudal society--

The "publicness (or publicity) of representation was not constituted as a social realm, that is, as a public sphere; rather, it was something like a status attribute. . . . [T]he manorial lord . . . . displayed himself, presented himself as an embodiment of some `higher' power. . . . Representation in the sense in which the members of a national assembly represent a nation or a lawyer represents his clients had nothing to do with this publicity of representation inseparable from the lord's concrete existence, that, as an `aura,' surrounded and endowed his authority" (7).

"The staging of the publicity involved in representation was wedded to personal attributes such as insignia (badges and arms), dress (clothing and coiffure), demanor (form of greeting and poise) and rhetoric (form of address and formal discourse in general)--in a word, to a strict code of `noble' conduct" (8).

"For representation pretended to make something invivisble visible through the public presence of the person of the lord: `something that has no life, that is inferior, worthless, or mean, is not representable. It lacks the exalted sort of being suitable to be elevated into public status, that is, into existence. Words like excellence, highness, majesty, fame, dignity, and honor [me: "eminence"] seek to characterize this peculiarity of a being that is capable of representation'" (quoting Carl Schmidt's definitions of "representative publicity" in Verfassungslehre; Habermas 7).

II. In court / Renaissance to Baroque society--

"Under the influence of the Cortegiano the humanistically cultivated courtier replaced the Christian knight. The slightly later notions of the gentleman in Great Britain and the of the honnête homme in France described similar types. Their serene and eloquent sociability was characteristic of the new `society' centered in the court. The independent provincial nobility based in the feudal rights attached to the land lost its power to represent; publicity of representation was concentrated at the prince's court. The upshot of this was the baroque festivity in which all of its element were united one more time, senstationally and magnificently." (9)

"Like the baroque palace itself, . . . in which the festivities were staged, the castle park permitted a courlty life sealed off from the outside world. However, the basic pattern of the representative publicness not only survived but became more prominent. . . . [T]he people were not completely excluded: they were ever present in the streets [looking on at the festitivities.] Representation was still dependent on the presence of the people before whom it was displayed. Only the banquets of bourgeois notables [took] place behind closed doors. . . . In the etiquette of Louis XIV concentraton of the publicity of representation at the court attained the high point of refinement" (9).

III. Change from representative publicity to the public sphere:

"The final form of the representative publicness, reduced to the monarch's court and at the same time receiving greater emphasis, was already an enclave within a society separating itself from the state" (9). "The reduction in the kind of publicity involved in representation that went hand in hand with the elimination of the estate-based authorities by those of the territorial ruler created room for another sphere known as the public sphere in the modern sense of the term: the sphere of public authority. The latter assumed objective existence in a permanent administration and a standing army" (18).

Between the 16th and the 18th c.s, "`Private' designated the exclusion from the sphere of the state apparatus; for `public' referred to the state that in the meantime had developed, under absolutism, into an entity having an objective existence over against the person of the ruler" (11).

"The so-called freedom of religion historically secured the first sphere of private autonomy; the / Church itself contied to exist as one coporate body among others under public law. The first visible mark of the analogous polarization of princely authority was the separation of the public budget from the territorial ruler's private holdings. . . . Out of the estates, finally, the elements of political prerogative developed into organs of public authority: partly into a parliament, and partly into judicial organs" (11-12).

IV. In bourgeois, civil society--

"Only after national and territorial power states had arisen on the basis of the early capitalist commercial economy and shattered the feudal foundations of power could this court nobility develop the framework of a sociability . . . into that peculiarly free-floating / but clearly demarcated sphere of `good society' in the eighteenth century" (10-11).

"The nobleman was authority inasmuch as he made it present. He displayed it, embodied it in his cultivated personality . . . . [As Bourgeois society came into existence,] the `lord' who was `public' by virtue of representation, was stylized into the embodiment of gracefulness, and in this publicity he ceremoniously fashioned an aura around himself. . . . [The traditional concept of] `public person' . . . . was immediately modified into the `cultured personality.' . . . [T]he nobleman . . . served as something of a pretext for the thoroughly bourgeois idea of the freely self-actualizing personality . . . . [T]he bourgeoisie . . . , by its very nature, could no longer create for itself a representative publicness . . . . The nobleman was what he represented; the bourgeois, what he produced: . . . . `The former has a right to seem: the latter is compelled to be, and what he aims at seeming becomes ludicrous and tasteless' [qtg. Goethe]. The representative bearing that the nouveau riche wanted to assume turned into a comical make-believe" (13).

"Now continuous state activity corresponded to the continuity of contact among those trafficking in commodities and news (stock market, press). Public authority was consolidated into a palpable object confronting those who were merely subject to it and who at first were only negatively defined by it. . . . `Public' . . . was synonymous with `state-related'; the attribute no longer referred to the representative `court' of a person endowed with authority but instead to the funcitioning of an apparatus with regulated spheres of jurisdiction and endowed with a monopoly over the legitimate use of coercion. The manorial lord's feudal authority was transformed into the authority to `police'; the private people under it, as the addressees of public authority, formed the public" (18).

The change involves "the objectification of personal relations of domination" (17).

"Civil society came into existence as the corollary of a depersonalized state authority. Activities and dependencies hitherto relegated to the framework of the household economy emerged from this confinement into the public sphere" (18). Elements of the private sphere ("the privatization of the process of economic reproduction") become "publicly relevant" because "The economic activity that had become private had to be oriented toward a commodity market that had expanded under public direction and supervision" (19).

V. Criticism

"Not the notorious dress codes but taxes and duties and, generally, official interventions into the privatized household finally came to constitute the target of a developing critical sphere. . . . Because, on the one hand, the society now confronting the state clearly separated a private domain fromt he public authority and because, on the other hand, it turned the reproduction of life into something transcending the confines of private domestic authority and becoming a subject of public interest, that zone of continuous administrative contact became `critical' also in the sense that it provoked the critical judgment of a public making use of its reason. The public could take on this challenge all the better as it required merely a change in the function of the instrument with whose help the state administration had already turned society into a public affair in a specific sense--the press" (24).

Change in the press:

The Prussian King regulated the Hallenser Intlligenzblatt from 1729 on: "In general `the scholars were to inform the public of useful truths.' In this instance the bourgeois writers still made use of their reason at the behest of the territorial ruler; soon they were to think their own thoughts, directed against the authorities" (25).

the situation early in the 18thc. in France and Great Britain:

"The inhibited judgments [via the dictum that a private person has no right to pass judgment on government] were called `public' in view of a public sphere that without question had counted as a sphere of public authority, but was now casting itself loose as a forum in which the private people, come together to form a public, readied themselves to compel public authority to legitimate itself before public opin- / ion. The publicum developed into the public, the subjectum into the [reasoning] subject, the receiver of regulations from above into the ruling authorities' adversary" (25-26).

VI. Definition of "public sphere":

"The bourgeois public sphere may be conceived above all as the sphere of private people come together as a public; they soon claimed the public sphere regulated from above against the public authorities themselves, to engage them in a debate over the general rules governing relations in the basically privatized but publicly relevant sphere of commodity exchange and social labor. The medium of this political confrontation was peculiar and without historical precedent: people's public use of their reason (öffentliches Räsonnement). In our [German] usage this term (i.e., Räsonnement unmistakable preserves the polemical nuances of both sides: simultaneously the invocation of reason and its disdainful disparagement as merely malcontent griping" (27). [Like the English word, "Reflection" = thought; satire.]

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