“State and commercial institutions have assumed some of the functions of the public sphere, and political institutions, such as parties, have assumed advocacy roles in support of their patrons.
…. this transformation has led to a refeudalization of the public sphere. Large and powerful organizations such as corporations, labor unions, political parties, professional groups and interest groups bargain with the state and one another — often out of sight or mind of the public — to allocate resoureces, opportunities, and patronage.
These institutions still seek public support and the marks of legitimacy, but they do this through the exercise of publicity or public relations, not necessarily through contributions to rich public discourse.
Siva Vaidhanathan paraphrasing Jurgen Habermas, in the footnotes to chapter 1 of Copyrights and Copywrongs
Based on recent forays into the world of public-interest advocacy, this quote rings true. Advocacy in practice consists of small-group, backroom lobbying, and large-group marketing.
Advocacy pros often react with puzzlement to suggestions about public education. They have the consumer marketing stereotype: people don’t want to think, but will respond to packaged ideas. Which rings false to me, from small-scale first-hand observation. People don’t have infinite time to study issues and form opinions, so they’ll delegate opinion-making to others they trust. But when people care, they learn, and when they learn, they’re more likely to act. (Call me naive, and see if I grow out of it.)
The “lobbying-and-marketing” approach isn’t just an elitist power-grab by special interests. It’s a practical response to a scaling problem. Representative democracy is a solution to the problem of aggregating decision-making power. The “lobbying and marketing” strategy is a solution to aggregating the power to influence decisions. The Sierra Club and the NRA can get hundreds of thousands of people to donate, vote, and contact representatives.
Question of the decade — are there other effective ways to solve the scaling problem?