SOC 203 Week 8 March. 4 2013
Authority and Public Opinion
Authority of opinion w/I society
Approaching reason, the opinions that prevail in society
And the kind of weight opinions should have in politics
o when we refer to enlightenment in historical era we refer to roughly 16hundreds
o a time of increasing skeptism of receiving ides – religious ideas: idea that nobility is
superior to other classes in society
o enlightenment is partly a product of the protestant occupation
o the protestant thinker encouraged the catholic believers to communicate directly t
thru g-d thru the text then relying so much on the church
o protestant reformation can be a anti-institutional reformation
o individualism is seen as leading into the enlightenment
o protestant authority chipped away at catholic church and replaced it with
o movements which placed emphasis on reason on the emancipatory(liberating)
capacity of freedom
o idea to apply reason was to free oneself of superstitions, ignorance etc, but there is
also a societal level.
o an intellectual movement alive today consisting of thinkers who believe reason has
emancipatory potential. That reason can liberate us.
o Enlightenment referred to as a project or process
o Today many are skeptical about this project
o People say they apply reason in the world as exemplified thru industrializations but
look at the consequences for the environment.
o Reason can go overboard and something suffers
o Another idea: irrational organization of work and cooperation’s leads to alienation
that stunts human beings.
o Enlightenment as a process is a contested idea today
2. What is Enlightenment? By Immanuel Kant (1784) (lived: 1724-1804)
In 1784 a newspaper held a competition and the task was to answer this question in an
essay. Kant won this competition and his essay is a key doc in the history of political
o He treats a person who is not enlightened as a child; they are immature.
o Power of being content with letting others do things for us, we don’t do things for
ourselves and do not grow up.
People who pay for everything to be done – book, dietician, dr, priest
o How one in not enlightened has not reached adulthood
o Someone who is not enlightened is subject to the authority of the priest or the ruler o 1 part of the essay he encourages audience to grow up by thinking for themselves,
he goes on to say this is difficult but we must not give up. When you put people in a
group together and get them to express ideas you will find they will start to express
themselves and their ideas.
A public can only attain enlightenment slowly
A revolution can never truly reform a manner of thinking (he gets at thinking)
Nothing is required for enlightenment except freedom
When people allowed to gather together and express their opinion freely reason is bound to
be at best.
Public use of one’s reason must always be free and this can bring about enlightenment
3. Public Opinion
In political philosophy public opinion has very little to do with everyday discourse
o when people in public are able to debate freely. Kant is thinking about a social
process. He talks about the ways of reasonable debate. Where a consensus really
emerges over what is the triumphant idea.
o Newspaper may be vehicles of public opinion the st Lawrence center by st Lawrence
market once amonth has citizens nights (town hall meeting) citizens weigh in their
ideas this is an example of the institution of the public sphere
o Parliament is another important institution.
o Dividing a circle of the city into two parts: the state and civil society
1. The state or the public realm consist of: Gov, police, etc
2. The civil society is also called the private realm consiss of Families,
o Newspapers and town hall meetings are part of civil society
o Institiutions Kant talks about are institutions of civil society
o There is one exception: an institution that straddles the boundry between civil
society and the state. This is PARLIMENT
For the purposed of our discussion 2 imp things happen in parliament
1. Individuals come together and discuss matters of collective interest, the
ideal being that in the end the argument that prevails in parliament is the
best idea. Parliaments are supposed to be the most vital institutions of
2. Parliament is also a place where laws are passed. These are ruled that
define what interactions b/w individuals are appropriate and inappropriate
How does this tie into Kants: you can see Kant attacks/establishes authority (priest. Military, medical
profession) and urges people to think for themselves. Monarchical rule can deviate very far from reason
without there being any checks or controls. A monarch can rule anyway they want. Kant makes an
argument for the substitution of will the will of the rule, by reason.
1. Be ruled by a strong individual who can impose their rule.
2. for civil society, the ruled. To be ruled by reason.
Parliament: thru parliament civil society is able to rule itself in accord with reason. 4. The authority of public opinion
For Kant: the beauty of parliament is that it is a way of giving public opinion political
authority by mediating and connecting up civil society with the state.
When something mediates it comes between
What bugs Kant is that when a king rules the process is top down (he declares his well and
his agents carry it out)
Kant has 2 problems, shouldn’t the will of those ruled matter? And also how are we to be
sure a monarch ruling on their own is proposing rules and sanction that go in accord with
Kant wants to see parliament gaining political authority. This deals with arbitrary rule and is
in accord with reason.
5. Hegel’s antagonism
Fundamental ways Hegel and Marx differ: Mark said that his own approach to history was a
reaction against Hegel problem was Hegel saw history as an unfolding of ideas and Marx
wanting to replace this with materialistic approach that it was the unfolding of material
Other ways the 2 resemble each other: Hegel was skeptical about Kant’s claim that the
public can become wise in the way Kant expects re: enlightenment
Why? if you get a group of people arguing (i.e. parliament arguing about going to war) Kant:
there will be a free discussion and the best most reasonable position will prevail over all
others and gain consent.
Hegel won’t have this he says consider: society is divided into classes with diff interests
Given the diff classes have diff interests it is foolish to believe there will be a consensus.
He believes there is a certain naivetés. He thinks civil society is a realm of prejudice
ignorance, bias, it is not a place where people thinks for themselves very much according to
Kant puts public opinion on a pedestal and Hegel does not do so.
If Hegel is skeptical and believes we have a class divided society and people will never be
able to agree and he agrees civil society is the realm of intellectual backwardness where is
the place for reason in this institutionally? Hegel is not a parliamentarian he is a partisan and
is an advocate for enlightened monarchy. A well-educated king surrounded by well-
educated advisers. Why does he present this as a solution? He cares for the advance in
reason and deployment of reason and advancement of society. He believes that an
enlightened monarchy can transcend and overcome the splits of civil society. Secondly b/c
these individuals are educated they have a fine rational capacity according to Hegel. In the
end Hegel writes that the Prussian state (part of present day Germany) has come closest to