It is frequently said that there has been and 'aestheticisation of democracy and participation'. People today, so the argument goes, are more prone to become politically active through issues surrounding 'lifestyle' and 'identity' politics.The Aesthetics of Free Speech: Rethinking the Public Sphere challenges this one-dimensional view. It does so by focusing upon a crucial relationship within democratic theory, namely the relationship between free speech and the public sphere. The author, John Michael Roberts, argues that far from being a recent phenomenon, a contradictory aesthetic of public discussion and free speech has been at the heart of capitalist social relations since its inception. By drawing upon Marxism, including the discourse theory of the Bakhtin Circle, John Michael Roberts demonstrates how liberal theorists frequently constuct an abstract aesthetic of 'rational', 'cultivated' and 'competent' discussion which then serves as a norm through which certain utterances can be humiliated and excluded from participating fully within the public sphere. However, the author also shows how excluded utterances develop their own aesthetic of free speech and how this aesthetic comes back to haunt the bourgeois public sphere. The Aesthetics of Free Speech is essential reading for anyone interested in radical and socialist approaches to democratic theory.

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