File spoon-archives/habermas.archive/habermas_2000/habermas.0004, message 18

Date: Tue, 11 Apr 2000 13:23:29 -0700
Subject: Re: HAB: sluices and channels

Martin, I've just run across your "sluices" posting.  You might be
interested in taking a look at the "two-track model" discussion that ran on
this list from July 7-11, 1999.  One thing I'm particularly thinking of is
my own posting there, were I talked about the move from the "besieged
fortress" model to sluices, channels, etc. -- very much along the lines of
your own message.  In case you don't have the messages archived, I'll paste
it below (admittedly out of context without the interlocutors to whom I was

Best, Kevin

>From 9 July 99:

Habermas's talk of transmission belts, step-up transformers, [sluices,
channels, etc.] and sensors-in-the-lifeworld is poetically suggestive, but
it says little about the actual processes through which the content of
inchoate, colloquially articulated public opinion can be "taken up" and
translated into binding law.

In this context, it's instructive to look at the much more Luhmannian view
that Habermas started with in 1988, but dropped from BFN by 1992.  In
"Popular Sovereignty as Procedure" (1988, reprinted in FuG and BFN), he
describes the connection between popular sovereignty and representation in
more strictly systems-theoretic terms.  Here there is a communicative
disjunction between formal and informal deliberation. The public
articulates its wants and needs largely in the sub-spheres of voluntary
associations.  These associations then "lay siege" to the "besieged
fortress" [belagerte Festung] of the legislature or parliament (BFN 486-7,
FuG 626).  The law-making body is legally forced to respond, and it deals
with the "input" of popular sovereignty instrumentally, just as it would
any other information-transmitting signal from its environment.  In other
words, information is transmitted by destabilizing the environment of the
political-legislative system; that system codes such information into
binding law as a way of pacifying the public and thus restoring its own
(internal) equilibrium.

It seems to me that what changes in BFN is that Habermas expects more from
law-making bodies.  He retreats somewhat from the pessimism of TCA.  We the
public don't need to stand outside banging on the door; such bodies can be
constitutionally prevented from closing themselves off as systems.  In BFN
information passes from weak to strong publics as reasons, not threats.  In
other words, the character of the interaction is communicative; opinions
formed in dispersed, decentered and unregulated processes of communication
"find their way" (in a subjectless sense) into procedurally-regulated
strong publics.  What is different there is first, the exclusion of reasons
that cannot be universalized; second, the need to arrive at decisions in a
finite amount of time; and third, the legally binding character of those
decisions.  The situationally-appropriate, "existential language" (BFN 365)
of the public is translated into universalizeable reasons for laws that are
backed by threat of force.  Thus I imagine that legislators must be able to
accomplish some feat of translation: they must be able to reconceptualize
and translate the content of "popular" reasons into something that will
pass univeralization tests.  (I think this responds to Ken's first point:
the public needn't do this itself.)  E.g., from "I don't want a nuclear
power plant in my backyard" into "nuclear energy poses risks that are
statistically unacceptable to the population as a whole."  That's why we
like our representatives to have a foot in each world.

It seems to me that this is a partial answer to the question that Charlie
posed, and also rectifies some of the looseness of asking how "Luhmannian"
Habermas's democratic theory is.  Habermas seems to have given up the
Luhmannian character of his initial account of the legislative process as
besieging a closed system; but as Joe points out, his view of the nature of
popular sovereignty owes much more to Luhmann than to Rousseau's notion of
a "public assembled in face-to-face deliberation."  In this view (I think),
opinions are free-floating cultural entities; they are most creatively
generated in the unregulated cracks of everyday life, but from there they
just sort of wind up in procedurally-regulated public dialogue.  In this
sense, I take "transmission belts," [sluices...] etc., as metaphors for the
constitutional/legal requirement that the legislature must listen, that it
*cannot* be communicatively closed off like a besieged fortress.  Once that
requirement is met, the lack of barriers between different kinds of public
will allow the free passage of ideas and reasons.  The public generates
ideas and the legislature determines whether they are rationally
convincing; they "find their own way" from one to the other.  So the
decentered (aka "Luhmannian") character of public reason and the
barrier-free nature of communication would, in this interpretation, be what
yokes the people and its representatives together.

Martin's original message:

>A while ago, in a virtual world far away, someone (?), on this list,
>said that it would be nice to know of every passages where Habermas
>discusses of the sluice model in BFN. I myself agreed silently, since
>I find this metaphor quite intriguing. And we know that indexes, even
>carefully builded, can be incomplete. Well, recently I had to re-read
>the whole book (what an experience) for a seminar, and I paid
>attention to any manifestation of sluices. Since I re-read BFN in
>french, I had to find an english translation to transpose my
>"research" (so there might be other passages in the english version
>that the french translator wrote otherwise). The english version I
>found is the W. Rehg translation, 1996.
>So here goes, to that anonymous inquiry, every bits and bites you can
>find about sluices in BFN:
>- "sluices": p. 170 (line 3); p. 300 (line 14); p. 327 (line 21).
>- "channels": pp. 264 (line 30); p. 442 (line 33).
>- the most important passage is pp. 354 - 358, where Habermas
>discusses and criticizes Bernhard Peters' version of sluices
>(center-periphery democratic theory).
>- At page 440, line 26, Habermas criticizes his own and antecedent
>image of the formal administration as a "besieged fortress" by the
>ongoing informal public sphere. Funny thing, he doesn't say a word
>there about the sluice model, but he does say that procedural law
>acts as a kind of (two-way) "legitimation filter", which is basically
>the same idea. The fortress image alluded to is in the appendix I,
>pp. 486 -487.
>If anybody would like to discuss the sluice model, we've got all the
>references now (at least in BFN). For my part, I think it has the
>advantages of taking account the *process* of democratic changes, and
>to put weight on the fact that the administration concentrates
>rationality and power behind quasi-closed doors, in such a way though
>that it can't close the doors (without risking a profound
>legitimation crisis). But what I didn't yet inquire, is how and in
>what situation Habermas uses the sluice argument. On first hand,
>without going back to the passages, I'd venture that it's mostly to
>rebut the idea that communication power awaits to invade
>administration - the besieged fortress model. Or maybe to instill a
>grain of rationality in administration?
>So that's it. Apologies for my english syntax.
>Martin Blanchard
>University of Montreal
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