Habermas’ Classical Theory and its Applicability in Public Opinion, Policy, and Discussion

Habermas’ Classical Theory and its Applicability in Public Opinion, Policy, and Discussion


The basic and essential rationale for classifying efforts at the formation of public views and the legitimization of state and democracy in postwar Western cultures is Jürgen Habermas’ idea of a public sphere. Widely, scholars and individuals alike believe that the public sphere is a social interaction space in which the general public may form opinions (Habermas, 1991). According to Habermas, the public domain requires a number of distinct aspects. It is fundamentally open to anyone and grows with each meeting between members of a public who have joined forces. To establish a public realm, citizens behave as private individuals who are not operating on behalf of a corporation or commercial interests. Instead, the citizen deals with topics of public concern. This is related to the citizen’s obligation to contribute to the creation of a public space. People in the public arena are free to gather and collaborate in order to express their opinions without fear of intimidation from any intimidating power. A political public sphere is defined as a venue in which members of the public may participate in open dialogue about politics and governance. Although Habermas (1991) considers the state and its coercive practices and powers to be “public power,” which is validated by the people in elections, they are not an intrinsic element of a public sphere where views are formed; rather, they are a counterpart of a public sphere. As a result, the people must utilize both informal elections and formal dialogues to manage the state and the power it wields (Susen, 2011). The establishment of a public sphere, which, in an ideal circumstance, enables democratic scrutiny of governmental actions, is the most fundamental necessity for mediating between the state and society. It is critical that a record of state-related acts and legal processes be made available to the general public in order to stimulate discourse and the formation of public opinion.

Validity and Relevance of Habermas’ Classical Theory in The Structural Transformational of the Public Sphere

In this age of digital technology, the debate over the public sphere has become more essential than ever before, but it has also become more difficult. Both of these trends may be directly traced to the internet’s proliferation. Despite the fact that it is difficult to argue about the validity and importance of postmodern critique to Habermas’ (1991) notion of the public sphere, both the idea of a public sphere and Habermas’ thought of critical publicity are still very important in today’s media theory (Staab & Thiel, 2022). Others argue that the public domain is on its way out as a consequence of the changes it is now experiencing (Susen, 2011; Beyes, 2022). People now speak with one another through computers, therefore there are no longer any coffee shop disagreements. However, concerns such as who controls the media and efforts to profit from information are very harmful to the free flow of information and the freedom to freely express oneself on the World Wide Web (Schlesinger, 2020). As such, Habermas’ (1991) Classical Theory is more of a philosophical than a physical depiction of society, one that is valid and still relevant to the modern society.

Habermas’ critical study and analysis centered on the public realm in the framework of civil society. He analyzes the move from individual to public opinion, as well as the social and structural alterations that have happened within public opinion. The growth of the mass press, according to Habermas (1991), may be connected to the fact that people’s participation in the public sphere has become a commodity. As a result, the “expanded” public sphere’s major focus is now less on politics and more on commerce and entertainment, while politics was previously its core focus. This transition might be traced, at least in part, to the press, which is often recognized as the most important institution in the public sphere. According to Habermas (1991), the parallels between journalism and literature are growing in contrast to how they were before due to the mass media’s response to the expansion of a consumerist society. Furthermore, he thinks that convergence is making things less clear. Electronic mass media have exacerbated the problem due to the way they contribute to public conversation. The method in which the news is written and presented is intended to create the idea that they are telling a story. As a consequence, the sharp line that distinguishes truth from fiction is increasingly being ignored (Baynes, 1994). At the same time, they wield more power than conventional print media did before. However, the approach they use makes it impossible for people to speak with one another and removes any potential of dissent. As a result, Habermas came to the conclusion that the mass media shape our society and that the public sphere in which we assume we live is an illusion.

Because of changes in the nature of the communications environment, the public sphere is increasingly being regarded an arena for advertising and a way to manipulate consumption and, by extension, a capitalist society. Today, public relations professionals have a stake in the public arena. As such, they can be considered a separate category of public actors from those who work in traditional marketing (Schlesinger, 2020). Public relations are not the same as advertising, which is sometimes nothing more than a sales pitch for a product or service. It enters itself into the process by which people acquire their opinions by purposefully generating or influencing news events with the objective of gaining attention to itself (Dahlberg, 2005). The organization’s major goal is to force individuals’ agreement, which leads in the creation of “public opinion” and the popular notion that members of the public, who are essentially carbon copies of private persons, contribute to public opinion in a critical and responsible way. Habermas highlights the gap between the liberal public sphere’s enumeration of “basic human rights” and the fact that these rights only apply to a subset of males in general (Susen, 2011). The public sphere is narrowing at an alarming pace, and instead of functioning as meeting places where people may engage with one another, the media are increasingly being used to build and govern consensus, as well as to perpetuate capitalist culture. This was the initial reason for the establishment of the media in the first place. Arguments become symbols, and people can no longer respond to them by disputing; instead, they must identify themselves in order to do so. A prepared presentation serves as publicity, which is a big duty, and raises the possibility that the audience would be duped.

When seen via Habermas’s prism, it is clear that the mass media have resulted in the formation of monopolistic and capitalist institutions. In recent years, their role in public discourse has moved from conveying factually true information to influencing public opinion, a case that has ed to populist governments and political movement sin the USA and European nations. Habermas (1991) believes that there should be a place for critical publicity that is not controlled by the government or business. When it comes to something as important as public relations, a varied variety of organizations is required to represent the many public opinion and interest groups (Baynes, 1994). The objective of the aforementioned obligation is to act as a check on progress and as an important, crucial, or necessary component of necessity for pluralistic democratic discourse in an open society not dominated by the mainstream media.

Usefulness of Habermas’ Classical Theory

The liberal public sphere paradigm created by Habermas makes a normative claim. This implies that it addresses a wide range of concerns in an idealistic manner, expanding on what a perfect public sphere would look like. As a result, it simply does not exist in contemporary industrialized democracies that are set up as a social-welfare state and where big groups of people are intended to gather together as a public such as in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. It is a democratic paradigm inspired by ideals and sensitive to social transformations that have changed our perception of the public domain. Even Habermas had to confess that his bourgeois early-nineteenth-century conditions-based paradigm could not guarantee the participation or inclusion of women or minorities (Susen, 2011). The concept may seem strange, yet it is very beneficial to anybody who works with public opinion and politics. This group includes everyone from journalists and public relations professionals to politicians and corporate leaders to community activists and everyday people.

It is critical to remember this historical notion if you wish to grasp the Structural Transformation. The government-business relationship is complicated and ever-changing. According to Habermas (1991), both ideas may be traced back to the Greeks. He journeys further into a society founded on tight hierarchy in the Middle Ages, when the public and private realms were linked. It wasn’t until the establishment of a modern state and economy that the divide between public and private started to take on the familiar shape we’re used to seeing. Private power and institutions such as the economy, society, and the family are contrasted with public power and the state (Beyes, 2022). The law and other institutional processes create and maintain the boundaries between the public and private worlds. The public and private spheres have various roles that distinguish them. The public sphere may be thought of as a piece of the private world that has made its way into the public view. Many causes have contributed to the blurring of the line between the two in contemporary societies such as what has been evidenced within Europe and the USA in terms of public opinion on matters relating to inclusion and tolerance (Brinkmann, Heiland, & Seeliger, 2022). Groups with vested interests in both the public and private realms often collaborate to achieve their objectives. We now have one big “societal” complex that mixes public and private sectors into something that resembles the feudal system of the Middle Ages in many respects. When this occurs, the concept of a typical public square will be rendered obsolete.

The phrase “structural change” refers to the erosion of the public sphere as a site of rational-critical debate, as well as its function within the constitution and society. This adjustment was clearly caused by the structural change. According to Habermas (1991), this transition is simply the result of structural changes in both form and function. This refers to the political, economic, and social systems that he is addressing. Some instances may be found in business, such as cafés and hair salons, as well as in economic systems and types of government. On a global scale, one of the most important structures to reform is the distinction between the public and private spheres. Despite the historical roots in his work, Habermas’ focus on structures rather than people owes much to the sociological approach to society. This is very visible in his work. He justifies his method in following chapters, demonstrating that he feels examining the dynamic character of institutions is critical to comprehending the public realm.

Many of Habermas’ (1991) observations on the current state of contemporary politics are negative, yet very applicable to modern society settings. He draws an unflattering analogy between the current system and the eighteenth-century public domain. Political discourse in the contemporary period takes place in a deteriorating public sphere as a result of the electorate’s growth and the operation of the “culture business” (Kellner, 2000). When large-scale political parties, as well as the infrastructure of thought management and political marketing, are involved, public relations tend to be more manipulative than critical. If there is a “public” that these technologies can serve, it is generally for a specific goal that does not need reasonable debate. To explain this, Habermas (1991) references the West German administration attempt to influence voters by promising a stronger social safety net, something that has recently emerged in Western Europe and in the USA in the form of right-wing populist opinion. He attempts to imply that politics is a dishonest process due to a lack of honest exposure (Staab & Thiel, 2022). Modern politics professes to be democratic in nature, with authority justified by argument, yet this is not the case.

Adequacy and Uses of Habermas’ Account: A Focus on the Public Opinion Setting of the European Populism and Right-Wing Forums

The macro-crises affecting The American as well as European governments and democracies have generated an atmosphere of uncertainty and dread, frequently exacerbating perilous internal conditions. Despite variations throughout the USA and Europe, this setting provides fertile ground for right-wing populism and nationalist movements to gain traction and support from the general public (Wodak & Krzyżanowski, 2017). Despite a general tendency toward border restrictions in the USA and France, exclusivism in Germany, and xenophobia in Greece and Italy, democracy and its values are also embraced and defended (Hays, Lim, & Spoon, 2019). This could lead us to believe that democracy is progressing rather than regressing, a concept that Haberman’s theory has failed to dwell on. To protect and shield “the people” from cultural contaminations and anxieties (Wodak & Krzyżanowski, 2017), illiberal and quasi-authoritarian actions are increasingly seen as acceptable democratic expressions of the will of the people (Stavrakakis et al., 2017). Right-wing populist and nationalist parties throughout Europe and the USA (especially during the concluded presidential elections) embrace these ideas.

Nationalists and right-wing populists are gaining ground in Western politics. This stance has been adopted by right-wing populists like the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, the Republican Party in the USA, Golden Dawn in Greece, and the Alternative for Germany in Germany. In Western Europe, Kende and Krekó (2020) and Kyzym (2019) found that these groups consider migrants as foreign invaders and the European Union as the backer of liberal Islamists. The phrase “defending Europe against the Muslim invasion,” is now attributed to the Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban (Boffey, 2018). A new in-group, “the people,” has been successfully formed and must be protected against both internal and external foes like the European Union, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, “global elites,” and foreign countries. People of many races and ethnicities are among these adversaries.

The electoral rebirth of the Western Countries and their parties did not occur out of the blue but rather within a specific historical epoch marked by changes in the nation’s political climate as well as social and economic conditions influenced by public opinion. These shocks had different effects on different parts of Europe (Boffey, 2018), but they all served to ignite and reveal widespread discontent with political elites on all levels as part of a public opinion shaping on the political arena (Kende and Krekó, 2020). Historically, “wide societal crises” have given birth to populist parties and leaders, whether as a result of power bloc splits or the system’s incapacity to resolve its contradictions or alter itself. Right-wing populism and nationalism are on the increase throughout Europe (Gherghina & Soare, 2021). The refugee crisis, which began to unfold in 2015, and the economic crash of 2008 are both significant contributors (Wodak & Krzyżanowski, 2017). The general reaction to these socioeconomic shocks was a retreat inward, both socially and economically. Exiting the European Union (EU), such as Brexit, growing euroskepticism, economic protectionism and social conservatism, and an increased “tolerance of intolerance” are all instances of this trend (Starkey, Holstein, & Tempest, 2021; Hays, Lim, & Spoon, 2019). Populist right-wing setups in the USA and Western Europe utilize “the terrorist element” as a political weapon to underline the divide between citizens and migrants and to argue for stronger national security measures, therefore dictating the public opinion on matters of relevance.


Throughout the Structural Transformation, the public domain will seem considerably different. After the fall of representative publicity, the literary public sphere evolved into the public realm’s political sector, and it was fully formed in the bourgeois constitutional state as the liberal or bourgeois public sphere. This culture is defined by journals, newspapers, and public spheres such as domestic and international parliaments, as well as a distinct economic and social environment. The public sphere, rather than being a permanent physical location, is more correctly defined as a social realm that has grown within a range of institutional settings. This is evident with the European populism wave influencing local, regional, and global politics in migration, Brexit, and other issues such as support for Ukraine in the ongoing crisis with Russia. The public sphere’s strength and fragility are distinguishing characteristics. Although strong enough to operate as a legitimate check on the state’s authority, its very survival is jeopardized if certain socioeconomic conditions alter. Nonetheless, Habermas is hesitant to foresee a rebirth of this viewpoint in the twenty-first century.


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