Habermas idea of democratizing the welfare state

¶ … Habermas’ idea of democratizing the welfare state unrealistic? If so, does this make it any less valuable for us to think about?

Do we need utopian thinking?

What kind of conception of democracy does Habermas have in mind here?

What does Habermas mean by a two-tiered public sphere?

What do you think Habermas meant when he entitled his book Between Facts and Norms

Habermas idea of democratizing the welfare state is the following: The public sphere must actively deal with problems, dramatize and vocalize them so that they are taken up by official sources and dealt with. The ability of the public sphere to tackle problems on their own is limited. The public sphere however (namely society) must ascertain that such and similar problems do not arise again and that they are dealt with as effectively and speedily as possible.

This idea is certainly not unrealistic and, actually is something that has become increasingly current in America in general and in many parts of the world in particular — at least wherever democracy has become an attempted way of life.

Utopian thinking is generally deemed unrealistic and impossible to obtain. Habermas’ conception is however realistic since it is loaded with the constraints and inbuilt limitations of the public sphere / citizenry.

This public sphere — best defined as a network that communicates and transmits information – is categorized into two tiers:

a. Systems like religion, education, and the family that transmit information; they acculturate and socialize.

b. Systems like science, morality, and art that approach a topic from various facets and discuss rather than moralize.

This may be the connotation of Habermas book Between Facts and Norms — facts refer to the opinions and conclusions of the second tier (science, morality, and art) whilst norms refer to the value system of the first tier.

6. What is being said here? (What is the author saying in the two readings?).

7. Why does what is being said matter to a course concerned with the public sphere? (Why was this reading set for this course?)

8. What do I think about this connection between the reading and the public sphere?

In Habermas (2001), Habermas insists that the groundwork for a secure and stable world order (a utopia) does not proceed from a government bodies but rather from the mass of people themselves.

These ties in with Habermas (1996) observation that society can be responsible for change by making themselves aware of social problems and by publicizing these problems as well as making sure that they are addressed by the legal system and by government bodies.

Habermas’ injunction is of grave importance to our course, since the course has been one of the value and significance of society. Society is one that shapes, and is shaped, by its governing bodies. It creates its rulers and norms as well as being shaped by those norms. Society is no passive entity and should — as Habermas urges — be no passive entity. Technology may have institutionalized (or rationalized) us; dictatorial governments and other monstrosities of the last century may have cowered us. Governments such as the Third Reich and Stalinism (amongst us) may seem to rob us of ability to create our future. Nonetheless, Habermas says that the public sphere makes the government and can be stronger than it. This, too, is the connection between the reading and the public sphere; both essays place the onus of responsibility on the public sphere and make this public sphere the crux of possible democracy.

1. What does Cox see participation as the key to, and what does she mean?

2. What are the two main kinds of social capital identified by Putnam and what is the difference between them? How does Cox’ understanding of social capital differ from Putnam’s? Do you think a developed sense of group identity is necessary for bridging to occur?

3. How does Cox define the process of making connections between the individual, the local and wider society? Is this metaphor helpful? Does it have any advantages over Habermas’ representation? Where and what is the center of Cox’s conception? Why does she think society needs this kind of center? Where does voluntarism fit in?

4. An example of the kind of ‘contract’ which Cox critiques can be seen in Mr. Howard’s promotion of ‘work for the dole’ in his Federation Address (1999):

‘…it is fair and reasonable to ask unemployed people to participate in an activity which both helps to improve employability and makes a contribution to the community in return for payments of unemployment benefits.’

Why does Cox think there is something wrong with this seemingly reasonable idea?

5. Latham and others claim Cox relies too much on the capacity of government in her account of the task of rescuing the ‘truly civil society Why does Cox think we need to look (in the final analysis) to the state to rescue the truly civil society?

6. What is the relationship between ‘social capital’ and the public sphere?

7. What is the role of trust in Cox?

8. What does Cox mean when she describes her book in terms of ‘politics with a small ‘p” (Cox 1995: 4)?

Cox thinks active involvement (i.e. ‘socail capital — the mass of forces) in the community crucial for this owudl eventuate in poroductive interplay of stae and community that would help a tryly civil society comes about. Cox also sees ‘social connection’ an s the “sum of our connections and bonds” (27) and we need to draw on this social connection for “cooperative and mutually satisfying interactions” (ibid.). To do that, Cox advocates improving morality in communities and increasing the power of families. Families and relationships can make or break a community. The community is held by trust; this is the social cohesion that binds. On the other hand, they also limit us by making us narrow-minded and sequestered (judging people outside our group as the other).

Cox writes that Putnam argues that development of trust that metalizes into social capital works best in relatively superficial relationships. Cox thinks that development of trust can also encourage bridging to occur, but it seems to me that this is not necessarily so and that, on the contrary, the more trust an individual, or members of a group may have e, for its community the more they may band together seeing themselves as centric of the universe and others as outsiders, or, a t worst, enemies. This scenario is frequently played out today in the fundamentally religious environment where aggressive worshippers have a strong trust to their community and, rather than bridge, actively seek to alienate or destroy other. Trust, therefore, it seems to me may eventuate in reinforced social bonds, but these may end up as warring satellites within a larger social group with each of these groups having minimal contact within the large social group (namely country) that they are located in.

Cox further urges that workplaces are desensitizing and we must be discouraged form working alone. Onus should be placed on reinforcing social contacts and on building trust in both family and communal settings. In contradistinction to Habermas who placed responsibility of social involvement of public sphere on a larger categorical basis, Cox limits it to the sphere of families and mini-communities. It seems to me that Habermas’ vision may ultimately be more optimistic to development of a healthy society (since it promises union) than that of Cox. On the other hand, Cox’s vision may be more realistic since most individuals tend to cluster within families and sub-groups.

An example of the kind of ‘contract’ which Cox critiques can be seen in Mr. Howard’s promotion of ‘work for the dole’ in his Federation Address (1999):

‘…it is fair and reasonable to ask unemployed people to participate in an activity which both helps to improve employability and makes a contribution to the community in return for payments of unemployment benefits.’

Cox criticizes this on the basis that social capital can best be increased by working together in voluntary egalitarian groups. Accumulated social trusts allows groups and nations to develop the resilience to deal with conflict and this trust comes from voluntary involvement in tasks such as cleaning the streets and other sustainable projects. These increase trust (rather than deplete it as Cox seems to translate Putnam as saying).

Finally, Cox stylizes politics with a small p since she deems the government to be detrimental to the public in that it stifles it and is only censorious of views that may be beneficial for public growth. The government should be much non-interventionist as possible. We need to — she urges — encourage new and dissident ideas that move society rather that stymie it. The public is the dynamo for social good; public is made up of families and communities, and these relationships need to be cemented by social trust and interaction which stimulates social capital.

9 Summaries what is the author is saying in the reading?).

10. How does the readings relate to the public sphere?

11. What do you think the connection between the readings and the public sphere is?

Cox, in other words, says that social capital (i.e. Harmony) is generated by morality being improved in the community and by families being strengthened and power being given to families. This will create a feeling of trust. People should be encouraged to volunteer for their communal good. All of this will eventuate in social capital which means stronger and healthier social interactions and the result will be bridging to other communities. Government should refrain from interfering in communal concerns since they serve merely to discourage and to stunt them. On the contrary, communities should be emboldened to be innovative and vocal. This will result in a strong and unified public sphere that will resemble a utopia. This reading tells us that Cox’s vision of a utopia, therefore, is grounded on a public sphere that is founded on families and communities. Working as tight hubs, these will build social trust and cohesion leading to a greater social whole.

1. De Tocqueville comments favorably on what he calls ‘commerce’ because he thinks that it encourages freedom as well as prevents revolution: ‘Commerce renders men independent of one another, gives them a lofty notion of their personal importance, leads them to seek to conduct their own affairs, and teaches how to conduct them well; it therefore prepares men for freedom, but preserves them from revolutions’ (Vol II: 268). This was a popular argument in the eighteenth century. What might be some of the implications of this argument in a society where the market has such dominance?

2. Have you had experience of being involved in a campaign for something, however small? How did it start? How did you know what to do? Did it involve drawing a distinction between your group and ‘others’? Who was ‘the other’?

3. Can populism be a force for democratic change? Can you provide some examples and speculate on how they have avoided the U.S. And them problem?

4. Who is telling us that we are enfeebled as individuals and in need of therapy? What is their agenda?

Today’s market is epitomized by commerce. We have, some may argue, reached the heights of commercialism. According to De Tocqueville, commerce should prevent a man from revolution since ‘it preserves him for freedom’. Today, however, we see the reverse with America generating populist right movements that are fundamentalist and aggressive — often warring against much of what the nation stands for – and with some of these populist rights, such as the Christian Right, forming the core of the nation, penetrating the wealthiest top society American families and even entering government itself. Some of the most powerful companies belong to this populist Right.

Democracy represents the people as a whole. Preferably, this democracy — or motion of people as a whole — should merge with legalistic trends. Populism, however, is a specific group (however large) that separates themselves from the ‘them’ and obdurately follows their own intentions and groups’ obligations without recourse to the desire of others/. More so, they also foist their own norms

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