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Public opinion – a religious concept? : on the secularization of political legitimacy: Paper presented at the international conference Crossroads: Writing Conceptual History beyond the Nation-State, the 9th Annual International Conference of the History of Political and Social Concepts Group (HPSCG), Uppsala, Sweden, August 24-26 2006.
Mid Sweden University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Department of Humanities.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-3386-4396
2006 (English)Conference paper, Published paper (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Secularization can be understood as the privatization of religion. In my paper, I analyze this process through the fate of the concept “public opinion”. Specifically, I examine the role this concept played when the Swedish parliament debated freedom of religion during the 19th century. In these debates, liberals drew on epistemology and stressed the unity between public opinion and reason. Conservatives on their hand saw public opinion as something deeply religious, as the soul of a people seeking harmony with God, thus opposing religious reform.As in many other countries, the liberals eventually won this struggle over meaning and definition. Religious freedom was granted and public opinion commonly defined in the liberal sense. At the beginning of the 20th century, the conservative usage survived only in cursory references to the silent or “real” opinion of the people. By then, however, the systematic manipulation of public opinion through press agents and large media conglomerates had weakened the ascribed link between public opinion and reason. Still, this did not challenge the centrality of the concept. Public opinion already was institutionalized as a final and non-negotionable source of political legitimacy, a concept independent of its actual referent. Indeed public opinion shared many traits with the godly will it supposedly replaced. It was a faceless authority, a unitary moral abstraction, in stark contrast to the often mistaken multitude of conflicting human voices.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2006.
National Category
History
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:miun:diva-7758OAI: oai:DiVA.org:miun-7758DiVA: diva2:133181
Available from: 2009-01-08 Created: 2008-12-15 Last updated: 2009-11-18Bibliographically approved

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