The Public Sphere

Thomas E. Kaiser

in The Oxford Handbook of the Ancien Régime

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199291205
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191744105 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History

 The Public Sphere

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According to Habermas, there were two incarnations of the “public,” or as the English translation renders it “public sphere,” under the Ancien Régime. The first arose during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the royal state gradually absorbed powers and rights previously exercised by semi-public corporations, localities, and individuals. This institutional reshuffling, in Habermas's view, entailed a fresh division between the “public” and “private” realms. “Public,” according to Habermas, came to mean state-related and denoted the sphere occupied by a “bureaucratic apparatus with regulated spheres of jurisdiction” that exerted “a monopoly over the legitimate use of coercion.” “Private,” by contrast, denoted the sphere occupied by those who held no office and were for that reason “excluded from any share in public authority.” Beginning in the late seventeenth century, Habermas argued, a second “public sphere” took shape “within the tension-charged field between state and society” According to Habermas, the social nature of this new “bourgeois public sphere” allowed for the public articulation of previously private bourgeois family values in public settings.

Keywords: Ancien Régime; public sphere; royal state; family values; spheres of jurisdiction; public opinion; public corporation

Article.  10480 words. 

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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