Notes on and quotations from Jürgen Habermas

1961: Students and Politics

1962: The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere

1981 The Theory of Communicative Action

An extract from "Habermas, the Public Sphere, and Democracy: A Critical Intervention" by Douglas Kellner about Students and Politics. A sociological study of the political consciousness of Frankfurt students by Jürgen Habermas, Ludwig von Friedeburg, Christoph Oehler, and Friedrich Weltz, published in Berlin in 1961.

Habermas's initial works with the Institute for Social Research concerned studies of the political opinions and potential of students. In an examination of Student und Politik (published in 1961), Habermas and two empirically oriented members of the Institute carried out "a sociological investigation of the political consciousness of Frankfurt students" (13ff.). The study was similar to the Institute's earlier Gruppenexperiment which had attempted to discern the democratic and anti- democratic potential in wide sectors of German society after World War Two through survey analysis and in-depth interviews (Pollock 1955). Just as earlier Institute studies of the German working class and post-World War Two German citizens disclosed a high degree of political apathy and authoritarian-conservative dispositions (see Fromm 1989), so too did the surveys of German students disclose an extremely low percentage (4%) of "genuinely democratic" students contrasted with 6% rigid authoritarians. Similarly, only 9% exhibited what the authors considered a "definite democratic potential," while 16% exhibited a "definite authoritarian potential" (Habermas, et. al, 1961: 234). And within the more apathetic and contradictory attitudes and tendencies of the majority, a larger number were inclined more toward authoritarian than democratic orientations.

Habermas wrote the introduction to the study, "On the Concept of Political Participation," which provided the conception of an authentically democratic political participation that was used as a norm to measure student attitudes, views, and behavior. As he was later to do in his studies of the public sphere, Habermas sketched out various conceptions of democracy ranging from Greek democracy to the forms of bourgeois democracy to current notions of democracy in welfare state capitalism. In particular, he contrasted the participatory democracy of the Greeks and radical democratic movements with the representative, parliamentary bourgeois democracy of the 19th century and the current attempts at reducing citizen participation in the welfare state. Habermas defended the earlier "radical sense of democracy" in which the people themselves would be sovereign in both the political and the economic realms against current forms of parliamentary democracy. Hence, Habermas aligns himself with the current of "strong democracy" associated with Rousseau, Marx, and Dewey.

The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere

Quotations originally assembled by Laura Mandell

Chapter 1 Introduction - Preliminary demarcation of a type of Bourgeois Public Sphere:

Section 1: The initial question

Section 2: Remarks on the type representative publicness

"During the Middle Ages in Europe the contrast drawn in Roman law between publicus and privatus was familiar but had no standard usage. The precarious attempt to apply it to the legal conditions of the feudal system of domination based on fiefs and manorial authority (Grundherrschaft) unintentionally provides evidence that an opposition between the public and private spheres on the ancient (or the modern) model did not exist." (Habermas, J. 1962/1989 p.7)

"Sociologically, that is to say by reference to institutional criteria, a public sphere in the sense of a separate realm distinguished from the private sphere cannot be shown to have existed in the feudal society of the High Middle Ages. Nevertheless it was no accident that the attributes of lordship, such as the ducal seal, were called "public"; not by accident did the English king enjoy "publicness" - for lordship was something publicly represented. This publicness (or publicity) of representation was was not constituted as a social realm, that is, as a public sphere; rather, it was something like a status attribute, if this term may be permitted. In itself the status of manorial lord, on whatever level, was neutral in relation to the criteria of "public" and "private"; but its incumbent represented it publicly. He displayed himself,presented himself as an embodiment of some sort of `higher' power.
For representation pretended to make something invisible visible through the public presence of the person of the lord..
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" (Habermas, J. 1962/1989 p.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).

"The representation of courtly-knightly publicity attained its ultimate pure form at the French and Burgundian courts in the fifteenth century."

"A new form of the representative publicness, whose source was the culture of the nobility of early capitalist northern Italy, emerged first in Florence, in Paris and London."

"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 honnąte 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, which was built around the grand hall in which the festivities were staged, the castle park permitted a courtly life sealed off from the outside world. However, the basic pattern of the representative publicness not only survived but became more prominent. Mademoiselle de Scudéry reported in her Conversations the stress of the grand festivities; these served not so much the pleasure of the participants as the demonstration of grandeur, that is, the grandeur of the host and guests. The common people, content to look on, had the most fun. Thus even here the people were not completely excluded; they were ever present in the streets. Representation was still dependent on the presence of people before whom it was displayed. Only the banquets of bourgeois notables became exclusive, taking place behind closed doors..
In the etiquette of Louis 14th concentraton of the publicity of representation at the court attained the high point of refinement" (Habermas, J. 1962/1989 pages 8-9)

"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).

"Now for the private and public spheres became separate in a modern sense. Thus the German word privat... can be found only after the middle of the sixteenth century.... "`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" (Habermas, J. 1962/1989 p.11)

"The status of the Church changed as a result of the Reformation; the anchoring in divine authority that it represented -that is, religion- became a private matter. The so-called freedom of religion historically secured the first sphere of private autonomy; the Church itself continued to exist as one corporate body among others under public law. The first visible mark of the analogous polarisation of princely authority was the separation of the public budget from the territorial ruler's private holdings. The bureaucracy, the military (and to some extent also the administration of justice) became independent institutions of public authority separate from the progressively privatized. sphere of the court. 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" (Habermas, J. 1962/1989 pages 11-12)

"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).

Discussion below of passages from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship [published 1795/1796], translated by Thomas Carlyle. vol. 2, bk. 5, ch. 3, pp. 13-15.

" The nobleman was authority inasmuch as he made it present. He displayed it, embodied it in his cultivated personality; thus

"He is a public person, and the more cultivated his movements, the more sonorous his voice, the more staid and measured his whole being is, the more perfect is he... and whatever else there may be in him or about him, capacities, talents, wealth, all seem gifts of supererogation."

Goethe one last time caught the reflection of the representative publicness whose light, of course, was refracted in the French rococo court and refracted yet again in its imitation by the petty German princes. The different hues emerged all the more preciously: the appearance of 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. Goethe again used "public person" in the traditional sense of public representation, although in the language of his age it had already taken on the more recent meaning of a servant of public authority or of a servant of the state. The "person" however, was immediately modified into the "cultured personality." Strictly speaking, the nobleman in the context of this letter preserved as something of a pretext for the thoroughly bourgeois idea of the freely self-actualizing personality that already showed the imprint of the neohumanism of the German classical period. In our context Goethe's observation that the bourgeoisie could no longer represent, that by its very nature it could no longer create for itself a representative publicness, is significant. The nobleman was what he represented; the bourgeois, what he produced:

"If the nobleman, merely by his personal carriage, offers all that can be asked of him, the burgher by his personal carriage offers nothing, and can offer nothing. The former has a right to seem: the latter is compelled to be, and what he aims at seeming becomes ludicrous and tasteless."

The representative bearing that the nouveau riche wanted to assume turned into a comical makebelieve." (Habermas, J. 1962/1989 p. 13)

Section 3: On the genesis of the Bourgois Public Sphere [p.14]

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

"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).

"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).

"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).

"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).

"A few years before the French Revolution, the conditions in Prussia looked like a static model of a situation that in France and especially in Great Britain had become fluid at the beginning of the century. The inhibited judgments 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 opinion. The publicurn developed into the public, the subjecturn into the [reasoning] subject, the receiver of regulations from above into the ruling authorities' adversary. The history of words preserved traces of this momentous shift. In Great Britain, from the middle of the seventeenth century on, there was talk of "public," whereas until then "world" or "mankind" was usual." (Habermas, J. 1962/1989 pages 25-26)

"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 labour. The medium of this political confrontation was peculiar and without historical precedent: people's public use of their reason" (Habermas, J. 1962/1989 page 27)


Chapter 5 The social-structural transformation of the public sphere

Section 19: The Blurred Blueprint: Developmental Pathways in the Disintegration of the Bourgeois Public Sphere p.175

" Along the path from a public critically reflecting on its culture to one that merely consumes it, the public sphere in the world of letters, which at one point could still be distinguished from that in the political realm, has lost its specific character. For the "culture" propagated by the mass media is a culture of integration. It not only integrates information with critical debate and the journalistic format with the literary forms of the psychological novel into a combination of entertainment and "advice" governed by the principle of "human interest"; at the same time it is flexible enough to assimilate elements of advertising, indeed, to serve itself as a kind of super slogan that, if it did not already exist, could have been invented for the purpose of public relations serving the cause of the status quo. The public sphere assumes advertising functions. The more it can be deployed as a vehicle for political and economic propaganda, the more it becomes unpolitical as a whole and pseudo-privatized.

The model of the bourgeois public sphere presupposed strict [p.176] separation of the public from the private realm in such a way that the public sphere, made up of private people gathered together as a public and articulating the needs of society with the state, was itself considered part of the private realm. To the extent that the public and private became intermeshed realms, this model became inapplicable. That is to say, a repoliticized social sphere originated that could not be subsumed under the categories of public and private from either a sociological or a legal perspective. In this intermediate sphere the sectors of society that had been absorbed by the state and the sectors of the state that had been taken over by society intermeshed without involving any rational-critical political debate on the part of private people. The public was largely relieved of this task by other institutions: on the one hand by associations in which collectively organized private interests directly attempted to take on the form of political agency; on the other hand by parties which, fused with the organs of public authority, established themselves, as it were, above the public whose instruments they once were. The process of the politically relevant exercise and equilibration of power now takes place directly between the private bureaucracies, special-interest associations, parties, and public administration. The public as such is included only sporadically in this circuit of power, and even then it is brought in only to contribute its acclamation. In so far as they are wage or salary earners and entitled to services, private people are forced to have their publicly relevant claims advocated collectively. But the decisions left for them to make individually as consumers and voters come under the influence of economic and political agencies to the same degree that any public relevance can be attributed to them. To the extent that social reproduction still depends on consumption decisions and the exercise of political power on voting decisions made by private citizens there exists an interest in influencing themin the case of the former, with the aim of increasing sales; in the case of the latter, of increasing formally this or that party's share of voters or, informally, to give greater weight to the pressure of specific organizations. The social latitude for private decisions is, of course, predetermined by objective factors like buying power and group membership and by [p.177] socioeconomic status generally." (Habermas, J. 1962/1989 pages 175-177)

The Theory of Communicative Action Book 2: Lifeworld and system: a critique of functionalist reason

6.1 The Concept of the Lifeworld and the Hermeneutic Idealism of Interpretive Sociology

The lifeworld ... is a concept complementary to that of communicative action. Like the phenomenological lifeworld analysis of the late Husserl...

I should like to begin by (A) making clear how the lifeworld is related to those three worlds on which subjects acting with an orientation to mutual understanding base their common definitions of situations. (B ) I will then elaborate upon the concept of the lifeworld present as a context in communicative action and relate it to Durkheim's concept of the collective consciousness . Certainly, it is not a concept that can be put to empirical use without further ado. (C) The concepts of the lifeworld normally employed in interpretive [verstehenden] sociology are linked with everyday concepts that are, to begin with, serviceable only for the narrative presentation of historical events and social circumstances. (D) An investigation of the functions that communicative action takes on in maintaining a structurally differentiated world originates from within this horizon. In connection with these functions, we can clarify the necessary conditions for a rationalization of the lifeworld. (E) This takes us to the limit of theoretical approaches that identify society wit h the lifeworld .

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Feudal public

15th Century


17th Century

public sphere

18th Century

Rococo court

French Revolution