The Embattled Public Sphere

Hannah Arendt, Juergen Habermas and Beyond

in Theoria
Author: Seyla Benhabib
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In 1927 the American journalist, Walter Lippmann, published The Phantom Public.1Written against the background of growing despair and disillusionment about the viability of representative democracies in Europe and North America, in this work Lippmann decried the ‘ideal of sovereign and omnicompetent citizens’ to be a fiction at best and a phantom at worst. Lippmann’s elitist and pessimistic assessment of the fiction of collective deliberations engaged in by informed citizens, elicited a spirited response from John Dewey in The Public and its Problems.2 Granting that the experience of industrial and urban modern societies undermined ‘the genuine community life’ out of which American democracy had developed, Dewey admitted: ‘The public seems to be lost... If a public exists, it is surely as uncertain about its whereabouts as philosophers since Hume have been about the residence and make-up of the self’.

Theoria

A Journal of Social and Political Theory

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