Simone Chambers - Wrecking the Public Sphere: new-authoritarians and the digital attack on pluralism and truth.

Friday, March 18, 2022 15:30to17:00
Event poster with photo of speaker

Wrecking the Public Sphere: new-authoritarians and the digital attack on pluralism and truth.

By Simone Chambers/University of California, Irvine

This talk is sponsored by Jarislowsky Chair in Human Nature and Technology and the new Research Group on Human Nature and Science in the Digital Age.

Abstract: In this talk, Simone Chambers argues that the dangers to democracy posed by new information technology have more to do with political bad actors intentionally targeting democracy than with either the technology itself or the economic forces driving the developments and expansion of that technology. New authoritarian forces are the bad actors to be worried about. By new authoritarian forces we mean groups, leaders, or parties that seek to promote authoritarian, autocratic, or patrimonial regimes within the framework of constitutional democracy. The proprietors of digital platforms for the most part, understand that they must balance the demands of democracy with the goals of profit. Platforms do not set out to undermine democracy even if some of the design choices they have made for the sake of profit have indeed undermined democracy. New authoritarians, by contrast, do set out to undermine and weaken democracy. It used to be that authoritarian states and would-be authoritarians focused on civil society and the suppression of social movements. Authoritarianism has gone virtual. Now what is important is information and communication– not so much controlling or suppressing that information – (although that too still happens) but rather undermining the very function of information in a democracy. Thus, the second claim defended in the paper is that the internet has opened possibilities for authoritarians and autocrats to flourish and gain power within constitutional democracies because they can effectively wreck the public sphere rather than brutally suppress it.

Bio: Simone Chambers is Professor and Chair of Political Science at the University of California Irvine. She has written and published on such topics as deliberative democracy, referendums, constitutional politics, the public sphere, secularism, rhetoric, civility, and the work of Jürgen Habermas and John Rawls. She is working on two book projects, The State of Contemporary Democratic Theory a critical survey of new developments in democratic theory and a book of collected essays: Deliberation and the Future of Democracy: A realistic but not realist political theory.

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