Ideals of Public Discourse
Published in modified form in Christine Sistare, ed., CIVILITY AND ITS DISCONTENTS (Kansas Univ. Press, 2004)
14 Pages Posted: 16 Jun 2008 Last revised: 4 Sep 2008
Date Written: 2003
"Public discourse" signifies speeches, publications and other statements made in pursuit of the public good. If (as it is for republicans) the sole aim of government, laws and the state is to serve the common good of the people, then public discourse offers the primary practical technique for finding (or clarifying) what the laws should require. "Public discourse" (in this sense) regards public policy, as distinguished from "private discourse" among citizens seeking to develop their own private friendships and interests. This line between "public" and "private" discourse may be difficult to draw, because it concerns the fundamental division of power within society and the state. Public discourse defines and limits the powers of the government, but also of individuals. That which is not public is private, and vice versa, but it is public discourse itself that must, in the end, decide the boundaries. The standards of behavior that should govern public discourse constitute "civility". Many of these same standards also extend to private discourse, with some exceptions.
Keywords: republicanism, legal theory, theory of law, legal history
JEL Classification: K1,K4
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation