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IlanaFeldman

HST245
TheCoffeeHouseandtheRiseofthePublicSphere
In1962GermanphilosopherandsociologistJrgenHabermaspublishedhismagnum
opus,TheStructuralTransformationofthePublicSphere.Within,hedefinedtheconceptofthe
publicsphereasanarenaofuncensoreddiscoursewheremembersofthepubliccouldfreely
critiquethestate.AccordingtoHabermas,thebourgeoispublicspherethatdevelopedoverthe
courseoftheEnlightenmentsignifiedanincreasinglyliterateandpoliticallyinterestedpublic.
Participantsinthepublicspherereliedoninstitutionssuchascoffeehousesandsalonsin
ordertoprovideforumsfordiscussionanddebate.Coffeehouseculturewasespeciallypervasive
inEngland,wherethereinstatementoftheStuartmonarchyhadcreatedanatmosphereof
residualpoliticalandeconomicdiscontent.Theexplosionofwritingdesignedtoengage
audiencesacrosslevelsofsocietymeantthatnoentitywassafefrompublicscrutiny,including
coffeehousesthemselves.In1673twoanonymouspamphletswerepublishedexaminingthe
coffeehouseasafixtureofEnglishsociety.Onecondemnedthemasbedsofviceandignorance
whiletheotherdefendedthemascentersofproductivediscourse.ThedialoguebetweenThe
CharacterofaCoffeeHouseandCoffeeHousesVindicateddemonstratesthat,despite
increasedliteracy,participationinthepublicspherewasstillasociallystratifiedphenomenon.
TheCharacterofaCoffeeHousepresentsitsargumentasasatire.Theauthors
depictionsofthefourmaincharactersareintendedtodiscreditthenotionofcoffeehousesas
forumsforinformeddebate.TheownerofthecoffeehouseisdescribedasagossipandaTurk
whospinshalfbakedpoliticalintrigues.Byassociation,coffeeisaforeignHellbroththat

facilitatesdeceptionandmisinformationamongthecoffeehousepatrons.CaptainAllmansiris
ablusteringmanofmouthwhogreatlyexaggerateshisworldlinessandtakeswordsbythe
soundwithoutexaminingtheirsense.TheTownwitisadisgracednoblemanwho,despitehis
positionofsocialprivilege,thinksGovernmentandReligionfitobjectsforhisidleandfantastic
Buffoonry.Whilethecoffeehouseappearstobeaplaceforintelligentconversation,the
overwhelmingignoranceofthepatronscreatesaHotHousetofluxinforaclapt,corrupted
understandingoftheworld.
CoffeeHousesVindicatedanswersTheCharacterofaCoffeeHousebyprovidinga
selfproclaimedstraighforwardaccountoftheUseandVertuesofCoffee.Toreplywith
Drollery,accordingtothenarrator,wouldbeanimpertinentwasteofthereaderstime.
Instead,CoffeeHousesVindicatedliststhehealthandeconomicadvantagesofcoffeeover
liquorandnotesthegrowingpopularityofcoffeehouses.Itgoesontoinvokethescholarly
traditionolderthanAristotleofphilosophicaldiscoursethatoccurs,Here,amongstsucha
varietyofHumoursCoffeeHousesVindicatedconcludesbyreasoningthattheauthorof
CharacterofaCoffeeHousemusthaveformedhisopinionsofcoffeehousesbysequestering
himselfindarkcorners,observingthoseofequallystaleHumours.Regardless,vain
pratingslikethoseexpressedinCharacterofaCoffeeHousearenaturallyoverbalancedby
thesageandsolidReasoningsoffrequentcoffeehousepatrons.
Thestrengthandwitofbothargumentsliesintongueincheekreferencestocurrent
events,culturalphenomenaandliteraturethatwouldhavebeenknowntootherseventeenth
centuryreaders.TheCharacterofaCoffeeHouserepeatedlyalludestotheGunpowderPlotof
1605,statingthatcoffeescaldsyourthroat,asifyouhadswallowedtheGunpowderTreason.

Theimplicationbeingthatcoffeehousesbreeddangerouspoliticalmalcontentonthebasisof
misinformationandgossip.TheCharacterofaCoffeeHousealsoincludesnumerouspassages
inLatin,morespecificallyreferencestotheRomanpoetOvid.CoffeeHousesVindicated
answerstheseloftyallusionsinkind.Inordertocounterthecomparisonofcoffeetogunpowder
aswellaspointouttheCharactermakerstediousandImpertinentQuotation,Coffee
HousesVindicatedincludesalinefromVirgilsEcloguesthattranslates, Whiteprivetsfall,
darkhyacinthsareculled.Innocence,orratherignorance,losesitsappeal.Meanwhilecoffee,
despiteitsStygianassociation,isactivelysoughtoutbecauseitgoeshandinhandwiththe
acquisitionknowledge.
Thatisnottosaythatknowledgeisaneasycommodity.AlthoughCoffeeHouses
Vindicatedmakesacasefortheeconomyofcoffeeoverthecostofaneveningspentatthepub,
patronizingacoffeehousestillrequireddisposableincomeaswellasleisuretime.Theclassical
referencescontainedinbothpamphletsshowthattheywerecomposedbyeducatedindividuals
whointendedfortheirwritingstobeunderstoodbyreadersofsimilarbackgrounds.Inaddition,
CoffeeHousesVindicateddoesntseektocountertheclaiminTheCharacterofaCoffee
Housethattheinterminglingofsocialclassesthatoccursincoffeehousesispotentially
dangerous.Rather,CoffeeHousesVindicatedstatesthatthemostsageandsolidReasonings
tobeheardcomefromExperiencedGentlemen.ThemostIntelligentSocietycanonlybe
comprisedofmenwhoholdpositionsaslawyers,physicians,merchants,orwhoareblessedwith
anelevatedunderstanding.Liketheclassicalthinkersreferencedbybothauthors,true
philosophical,socialandpoliticaltheoriescanlogicallyonlyarisefromtheeducatedupper
classes.

Theironyofbothworksisthattheywereintendedtobereadanddebatedwithinthevery
forumtheycritique.TheCharacterofaCoffeeHouseandCoffeeHousesVindicatedreveals
thatparticipationwithinthepublicsphereofthecoffeehousewashardlyintendedtobe
universal.

References
TheCharacterofaCoffeehouseWhereinIsContainedaDescriptionofthePersonsUsually
FrequentingIt,withTheirDiscourseandHumors,asAlsotheAdmirableVertuesof
Coffee.1673.
CoffeehousesVindicatedinAnsvvertotheLatePublishedCharacterofaCoffeehouse
AssertingfromReason,Experience,andGoodAuthours,theExcellentUseandPhysical
VertuesofThatLiquor:WiththeGrandConveniencyofSuchCivilPlacesofResort.S.l.:
PrintedbyJ.LockforJ.Clarke,1673.
Habermas,Jrgen,andThomasBurger.TheStructuralTransformationofthePublicSphere:An
InquiryintoaCategoryofBourgeoisSociety.Cambridge,Mass.:MITPress,1989.
http://pages.uoregon.edu/koopman/courses_readings/phil123
net/publicness/habermas_structural_trans_pub_sphere.pdf