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New Left Review 12, November-December 2001


To what extent do liberal democracies rest on the will of their citizens? Deborah Cook assesses how far Jürgen Habermas’s attempt to bridge the gap between their nominal pretensions and actual workings provides a convincing account of the way Western societies live now.

DEBORAH COOK

THE TALKING CURE IN HABERMAS' REPUBLIC

The ‘talking cure’ that Jürgen Habermas has proposed for the West’s ailing democracies may seem irredeemably idealistic. Only in a far more genuinely democratic system than our own would all citizens really have the opportunity to debate, freely and at length, the issues that affect them in their daily lives. Only in such a society would the media really fulfil its role as fourth estate—soliciting the opinions of experts to provide citizens with up-to-date, detailed and accurate information on every issue of public concern. Channels of communication between the public sphere and the political system would not only be regularized but open and accessible to anyone chosing to make use of them. Citizens’ influence on public policy would not be restricted to political issues but would have an impact on economic developments, too—on investment strategies, foreign aid, price-setting, interest rates, the allocation and preservation of natural resources and so on. Democratic government would no longer, paternalistically, be for the people; it would finally approach the republican ideal of government by the people.

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Deborah Cook, ‘The Talking Cure in Habermas's Republic’, NLR 12: £3
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