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Freedom, power and public opinion: J.S. Mill on the public sphere

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Abstract:

Mill contends that the fullest publicity and freedom of discussion is essential for all citizens to share in political freedom. Previous commentators have focused on Mill's strictures against censorship; they have paid little attention to his understanding of how freedom of discussion and political will formation are mediated in the public sphere by the distribution of social power in civil society, particularly control of the means of communication. This article shows that Mill's account of the sociology and political economy of how public opinion forms is central to his understanding of freedom of discussion and democratic political freedom.

Keywords: J.S. Mill; capitalism; democracy; media; newspaper taxes; newspapers; political freedom; power; press freedom; public opinion; public sphere; representative government; social class

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Political Science, Macalester College, 1600 Grand Ave., St Paul, MN 55105.. Email: baum@macalester.edu

Publication date: 2001-03-01

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