Safeguarding the Public Sphere

16 Pages Posted: 18 May 2010

See all articles by Pauline C. Westerman

Pauline C. Westerman

University of Groningen, Faculty of Law

Date Written: September 10, 2009


Since the financial crisis in 2008, it is no longer outdated to claim that the state has an important task in safeguarding the public sphere. This rehabilitation of central government as the appropriate level of regulating the public sphere raises the question under which conditions the state can execute its public tasks in a satisfactory way and how it should execute these tasks. In order to answer these questions we should avoid the temptation to identify too easily the public sphere with the official sphere. In this contribution I will argue that in order for states to safeguard different interests - including socio-economic ones - in a reliable and effective way, there need to be a strong public sphere, to be differentiated from both the private and the official domain. The features of such a public sphere will be sketched, in fairly simple terms, as the result of a process of representation and abstraction. On the basis of that rough sketch, I will develop three normative requirements by means of which strong public spheres can be distinguished from weak ones. On the basis of these requirements the question can be addressed to what extent and under which conditions the nation-state is able to maintain a strong public sphere in which not only liberty-rights but also socio-economic rights are safeguarded. After having outlined the weaknesses of the welfare-state in preserving a public sphere, two alternative candidates are examined: lower level institutions and the judiciary. It is argued that all three have difficulties in optimising the three requirements. The paper concludes by proposing some possible remedies.

Keywords: Public sphere, public interest, regulation, government, regulation, representation

Suggested Citation

Westerman, Pauline C., Safeguarding the Public Sphere (September 10, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

Pauline C. Westerman (Contact Author)

University of Groningen, Faculty of Law ( email )

9700 AS Groningen

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