ever public record of the state’s finances, the C
Three thousands copies weresold on the first day. Most historians say he failed to give a true picture of how deeply thecrown was in debt, and that he hid the cost of borrowing. But simply by publishing the
Necker helped to raise the curtain on a new idea: public confidence requiredtransparency. Public opinion could not be ignored. There was a public "out there," and evenprinces had to appeal to it.So what happened between 1764 and 1781? The answer to that is complex and worth abook in itself. Fortunately wehave one: Jurgen Habermas’s
Structural Transformation of thePublic Sphere.
Here I will simply list some of the factors responsible for the shift:* The growth and spread of printing, which was bound up with the market for printed books.This meant, for example, that what was illegal to print or sell in France could be publishedin Holland and smuggled in.* The rise of the periodical press. Newspapers and pamphlets—some legal andrestrained, some clandestine and unrestrained in their rhetoric—spread the concept of public discussion of public affairs. This was difficult to contain.* Closely related to that were the literary salons in which discussion of what was readbecame normal, providing a template for public opinion as commentary on what is in thepress. (In England this role was played by taverns and coffee houses.)* The emergence of international capitalism, which created what Habermas called the“carrier class” for the public sphere, the literate bourgeoise: merchants, traders andbusinessman who were not impressed by “publicity staged for show or manipulation,” butwho might buy French debt if they were persuaded that the government could repay it ontime. Necker no doubt had these people in mind when he published his record of statefinances, and when he called public opinion “an invisible power that, without treasury,guard, or army, gives its laws to the city, the court, and even the palace of kings.”* The spread of enlightenment ideas, in which reason was supposed to be sovereign, notthe king and his court. Public opinion, when it was praised by people like Necker, meantreasoned, settled opinion, not the violent swings in mood that frightened so manyaristocrats.* The search for other sources of authority beyond divine right and despotism. Necker worked for the King of France. He was trying to find a way to reform and legitimate thecontinued authority of the crown as it came under increasing attack in the last decades of the
. That is why he called public opinion a “tribunal,” and said “princesthemselves [must] respect it.”This complex shift from one constellation of ideas to another wasput into wordsby thehistorian Keith Michael Baker: “From the public person of the sovereign to the sovereignperson of the public.” Something like that has to happen before journalism can even beconceived. In fact the rise of the periodical press, the emergence of the public as an actor inpolitics, and the power of public opinion such that even princes have to respect it, are not somuch parallel developments as three aspects of the same event. Together, they mademodern journalism thinkable.
The people out of doors
In England during the same period, a similar event occurs. If we could listen in onParliament in 1750 we might hear a phrase in common use then, “the people indoors.” Itreferred to the members of Parliament themselves when they were gathered in session. Inwhat way did this small and elite group represent “the” people of England? Not throughpopular election; that didn’t really happen until the next century. Parliament thought of itself as the people because the King had to consult with Parliament and when he did he wasconsulting with the whole nation.This was a fiction, of course, but it was the ruling fiction at the time. “The people indoors”were quite aware that they were not representative of the whole population. That is why theyalso referred to the people “out of doors,” another phrase in use at the time. This meanteverybody else. The king didn’t have to consult with them. Nor did the people out of doors
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