The Opinion System

The Opinion System : Impasses of the Public Sphere from Hobbes to Habermas

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This book revises the concept of the public sphere by examining opinion as a foundational concept of modernity. Indispensable to ideas like "public opinion" and "freedom of opinion," opinion-though sometimes held in dubious repute-here assumes a central position in modern philosophy, literature, sociology, and political theory, while being the object of extremely contradictory valuations. Kirk Wetters focuses on interpretative shifts begun in the Enlightenment and cemented by the French Revolution to restore the concept of "opinion" to a central role in our understanding of the political public sphere. Locke's "law of opinion," underwritten by the ancient conceptions of nomos and fama, proved to be inconsistent with the modern ideal of a rational political order. The contemporary dynamics of this problem have been worked out by Jurgen Habermas and Reinhart Koselleck: for Habermas the private law of opinion can be brought under the rational control of public discourse and procedural form, whereas Koselleck views modernity as the period in which irrational potentials were unleashed by a political-conceptual language that only intensified and accelerated the upheavals of history. Modernity risked making opinions into the idols of collective representations, sacrificing opinion to ideology and individualism to totalitarianism. Drawing on an intriguing range of thinkers, some not widely known to American readers today, Kirk Wetters argues that this transformation, though irreversible, is resisted by literary language, which opposes the rigid formalism that compels individuals to identify with their opinions. Rather than forcing thought to bind itself to stable opinions, modern literary forms seek to suspend this moment of closure and representation, so that held opinions do not bring all deliberative processes to a more

Product details

  • Hardback | 256 pages
  • 154.94 x 226.06 x 30.48mm | 272.15g
  • Fordham University Press
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0823229882
  • 9780823229888
  • 781,767

Review quote

"The best book on the public sphere after Habermas' classical study from 1962. Wetters' historical trajectory establishes a thorough theoretical frame for the contextual practice of an advanced critique of literature and the media after New Historicism." -- -Anselm Haverkamp New York University "Fills a gap in English-language scholarship on the history and theory of opinion." -- -Paul Fleming New York University "Explores the intellectual history and philosophy of opinion as a central concept in modernity." -The Chronicle of Higher Education "In theories of democracy public opionion uses to play a central role, whereas our own private opinions most of the time appear as a deficient mode of knowledge. In his highly nuanced and insightful study on both facets of opinion in writers and philosophers around 1800 Kirk Wetters demonstrates that the intricacies of both concepts depend on the extent to which we see them as connected or not connected. German observers of the French Revolution, from Wieland to Fichte, and Lichtenberg to Goethe, had a keen interest in and a subtle take on this point where private and public spheres, shades of knowing and political legitimacy meet and part from each other. Kirk Wetters proves a skilled and fine observer of these observers. " -- -Rudiger Campe Yale University "Opinions - everybody has them, but nobody owns them. In his elegant and resourceful study of the 'opinion system', Wetters probes the historical underpinnings of one of the most fraught yet inescapable categories of political thought. His forays into this tradition yield unexepected insights into the current state and stakes of democracy." -- -Eva Geulen University of Bonn "Learned, well-researched and broadly conceived." -- -Andreas Gailus University of Michiganshow more

About Kirk Wetters

Kirk Wetters is an Assistant Professor of German Literature at Yale more