The General Public

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"The general public" is an abstract concept which is hard to define in precise terms, but this is where democracy actually takes place. What the concept basically means is that citizens are free to meet and debate with each other, and that there are media through which the debate is presented and publicised. One definition of "the general public" is that it is the sum of the possibilities for citizens to share opinions and knowledge.

Another definition is that the general public is the totality of citizens. When, for instance, a politician addresses "the general public", this refers to all citizens. The media and the free exchange of opinions are then prerequisites and facilitators.

A third definition is that the general public encompasses all the situations in which people can meet that are neither the family, the workplace, nor other private groups.

A prerequisite for the existence of the general public is that all citizens are equal and free. The general public is a way of meeting that is apart from the private sphere.

That which is not the general public

The general public can be illustrated by pointing out its antithesis.

Traditional societies which build on family relations do not have a general public. Here, people's roles are defined by how tradition defines the role of each family member, and not by the opinions and choices of each individual person. The only person in the family who is allowed to hold an individual opinion, and who can participate in decision making outside the home, is the head of the family.

Also religious societies do not have a general public. The only place where people can meet in large numbers is in the church, the temple, or the mosque, and in those places many of the ways in which a person should behave are narrowly defined. There is no opportunity for free expression, nor for individual opinions. In these settings people are not equal, because the religious leaders have a special right to decide what is right and what is wrong. It is also usually only the religious leaders who are allowed to speak to everybody at once.

The general public is for everyone

Characteristic for the general public is that everyone has equal access to be a part of it, and that everyone has equal rights and opportunities for participation in it.


Next chapter: Open Administration