Habermas' Public Sphere

The claim that the Internet can lead to a greater democratization of society is founded on tenets of unlimited access to information and equal participation in cultural discourse. But will this inundation of texts and voices lead to anarchic, rather than democratic, forms of communication? To put it another way, does discourse on the Internet lead to a completely postmodern world in which multiple centers compete with one another in a debate which can only lead to complete divergence and fragmentation?

Like the postmodernists, Jurgen Habermas hopes to create a dialogue which occurs outside of the realm of government and the economy. But Habermas' public sphere model attempts to thwart postmodern, chaotic dissipation by reinstalling Enlightenment values of reason and freedom into a modern discourse which aims at pragmatic consensus. In the public sphere, Habermas says, discourse becomes democratic through the "non-coercively unifying, consensus building force of a discourse in which participants overcome their at first subjectively biased views in favor of a rationally motivated agreement (Public Discourse 315)." By looking to rationality, he hopes to produce democratic judgements which can have universal application while remaining anchored within the practical realm of discourse among individuals.

Habermas posits that the participants in his political sphere shall share shared assumptions about communicative practice. These assumptions are produced by an Enlightenment notion of reason which is characteristic of democracy- it is this rationality which makes decisions formulated in discourse binding .(Ess 240) In addition, Habermas lists certain criterion of freedom and equality which are necessary for an "ideal speech situation" to occur in a democratic polity.