Radical Democracy and Research Methodology
Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one's understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere Aude! "Have courage to use your own understanding!"--that is the motto of enlightenment.
(Kant, ‘An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment? (1784) – full text at: http://theliterarylink.com/kant.html)
He went on to say "Nothing is required for this enlightenment, however, except freedom; and the freedom in question is the least harmful of all, namely, the freedom to use reason publicly in all matters."
Radical democracy is about freedom. And radical research methods are about contributing to the conditions under which people can "use reason publicly in all matters." This kind of freedom was the principle that underpinned the arguments made in the book Radical Research that Jill Schostak and I published earlier this year.
Since co-writing the book, I've been exploring some of the early literature on democracy and the public domain with a view to looking at its implications for research methodology. Doing this I read Bernays' book called Propaganda and also the BBC documentary called Century of the Self that explored some of the implications of Bernays' ideas for contemporary politics. In chapter 1 of Propaganda, Bernays wrote:
"The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country."
It is a theme repeated throughout the book and later writes:
"Is this government by propaganda? Call it, if you prefer, government by education. But education, in the academic sense of the word, is not sufficient. It must be enlightened by expert propaganda through the creation of circumstances, through the high-spotting of significant events, and the dramatization of important issues. The statesman of the future will thus be enabled to focus the public mind on crucial points of policy and regiment a vast, heterogeneous mass of voters to clear understanding and intelligent action."
(Bernays 1928: 128)
The contrast between Kant and Bernays is stark: a contrast between the freedom to use reason publicly in all matters versus the subtle manipulation of peoples' desires, values, beliefs by a secret government, or put it another way, by public relations in the service of political leaders. Bernays is thought of as the father of Public Relations.
To what extent is research and education simply forms of public relations or the very condition of democratic freedoms?
In her 1993 book - The Return of the Political - Mouffe called democracy the unfinished revolution. That is how I think of research, as an unfinished - and unfinishable - project because there are always new viewpoints to bring into debate. Rather than fashioning the 'public mind' radical approaches to research, it seems to me, are about contributing to the conditions under which multiplicities of views can be brought into the public arena of free debate.