The democratic public sphere


  • November 5-7, 2015

About the conference

As a basic principle of the democratic public sphere, political decisions must be able to legitimise themselves in relation to the dialogical opinion formation among free, autonomous citizens. Not only does this principle hold a central position in modern political philosophy, it has furthermore been implemented as the normative foundation of the institutions of democratic nation states.

Today, however, even in well-established democratic societies, the legitimacy of the political system appears to be at risk. A political process in which opportunities of participation are unequal (gender, ethnicity, social class), in which wide-reaching decisions are presented as being “without alternative”, and in which public political communication has been conquered by spin, seems to discourage civic engagement. In some cases, this disengagement and the accompanying erosion of institutional legitimacy results in antidemocratic, populist currents gaining ground. Furthermore, economic, technological and politico-admini­stra­tive relations today transgress the boundaries of the nation state. The associated decision processes are thus taking place beyond the classical, nationally defined public sphere, and a transnational public sphere able to match these developments has not yet evolved.

Reflecting these circumstances, the fundamental research questions of this conference are: How can civic engagement in the public opinion formation of contemporary democratic societies be enhanced? And which institutional innovations are liable to streng­then this line of development and thereby the legitimacy of the political decision-making?