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Benjamin’s Concept of Democracy Against Bennett’s Propositions on News and Democracy Essay

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Introduction

Democracy is one of the most contentious issues facing the world today; its meaning has been interpreted dissimilarly by different people. In most cases, it relates to a system of government and how it is governed. Most of the global governments are said to be democratically governed, this may be the case but in some cases, they vary in their systems, though slightly. Nonetheless, in comparing Democracy with all the other systems of government, it is the least distorted and can be relied on since it involves the rule of the majority who at times may not be necessarily right in their choice.

However, what seems good to many seems to work better and much more acceptable, from this point of view it is fair to reiterate Churchill’s pronouncement that, the present democracy is the best of all the other systems of government. Democracy comes with agreements of many regarding certain beliefs or promises, in this regard these people always communicate, through media among other forms of communication.

News, which compliments communication, is vital in informing the public of their surrounding events and society. Since it plays a big role in adding to what people know, it has a big influence on their decision-making. However, sometimes news misleads them to make wrong ‘democratic’ decisions. This paper will try to compare and contrast Benjamin’s concept of democracy with Bennett’s propositions on links between news and democracy as well as show how they contrast (Bale, 2000, par. 1).

Democracy is an ancient word that was used by the Greeks and the Romans first in their ancient governments; they had wanted to fully liberate their citizen, thus arriving in this form of government. It can be defined as the form of a government system where political decisions are made by every citizen and this is ensured by the votes of the majority of the subjects. News is information that is conveyed from one person to another.

Democracy is divided into three main forms namely, Representative democracy, direct democracy, and constitutional democracy. Representative democracy is one in which the right to make political decisions are given to representatives of the citizens who are elected by them, Constitutional democracy is one in which the right of the citizens to make political decisions are contained in the constitution to ensure political responsibility. The other one, direct democracy involves every individual in the decision-making where the majority of the individuals take the judgment (Bale, 2000, par. 2-5).

Benjamin’s Concept of Democracy

Walter Benjamin, a philosopher who never considered himself so, but rather as a man of letters was born in Berlin to a mixed-race family, a German and a Jew, His career was very short, spanning just 10 years, but his writings are still dominant in the contemporary world. He had fled to Paris when the Nazis took power but continued his work as a writer with the Frankfurt-based institute for social research (Adorno, 1938, pp. 270-300).

It is here that he came into the limelight with some of the most influential essays on capitalism, history, arts among others. With the situation becoming tighter for him when the Nazis were closing on Paris, he tried to escape through Spain into the United States since his German citizenship had been revoked, and he now seemed stateless. Benjamin was later to be found dead, with reports suggesting he committed suicide after a drug overdose.

It is still unclear how he died as some suggest cardiac complications, but it remains a fact that this shortened his otherwise fabulous career. Much has been debated on his thoughts and philosophies have given how secretive he was, but has been difficult to clearly state his lines of thoughts and philosophies. Though short-lived, Benjamin’s philosophies have had relevance to contemporary society and have been of great influence in communication technology and arts among others. His theories that tried to draw from metaphysics raised rigorous debates on their relevance.

Benjamin believed in each individual having his own decision, in his theories he talks of each one having his history as opposed to one history setting for all, in this regard he implied that everyone has his right to decide, and was unique to his functions. In most of his writings, Benjamin used metaphors, to relate the stories in his theories to real-life situations. His interest was much related to the events of his period as well as the imagination of an afterlife. In one of his most influential essays, he talks of the move from the traditional ways of reproduction of arts like filming and photography which according to him would impact on great masses.

He believed that art produced in its original state was unique to its creator and further reproduction would distort its originality. Besides, the audience, in this case, is only participative and views the art in its presentability. He used this to refer to the political parties at the time like the fascists on stopping aestheticized politics since according to him it would have only led to war. He wrote about many democratic assertions on the mass media culture. In his famous sayings, he implied that opinions are private to each individual while the public would only be interested in judgment. This quote can give us his concepts on democracy which according to him depended on each individual’s instinct, in the case of the public then for a democratic society the majority would decide the judgment; this is more like, direct democracy, as explained earlier.

Where each individual is given his right to decide on an issue, then they share the collective repercussions from the results, since the majority win. In another quote, Benjamin clearly states that the media has an important role in the lives of the public. He says that the media deliberately generate public opinion to influence the public’s judgment on issues and insinuates them into irresponsible people and remote or uninformed (Brainy Quotes, 2010, pp. 1).

In this quote Benjamin conveys the media as an imposer in people’s attitude, their democratic rights are incapacitated, and decisions made by them are compromised based on the media. Even things that they know tend to change and with time come to depend on media wholly for every decision. This has a great effect on their independence and democratic right as a whole and thus does not portray a democratic society (Benjamin, 1935, pp. 211-244).

Bennett’s Propositions on News and Democracy

Bennett, a professor in political science, has had virtually the whole of his life in political science and communication. Being the founder of a center that deals with civic engagement and communication, he has had a vast knowledge in this area. In his center, he has been able to help the public relate more or understand their humanity and has also helped them to be engaged actively in the politics of their region, social life, and even the global interaction.

His focus has been on the impact of media in the lives of people, for example, the civil life of a person about the news and media. Among the research he has made on communication about the life of citizens include the digital media’s impact on the youth among others. In his life as a philosopher, he has authored many books among which are those on illusion by politics. It is here that he relates the link between the news and democracy (Department of communication, 2010, pp. 1).

Bennett argues that the mega–media corporations that are currently witnessed are posing a great impact on the governments; it does this in different ways: it may depend on the political, cultural, or economic status of the particular country. He continues that, for example in the United States, media has had a great influence on the political information that is given to the public and how they respond in exercising their democracy. The way news is given off to the public determines how they respond to their environment, like there, where most people are cynical of the society, and this is mainly because the media portrays the society in the negative aspect.

This is deemed to impact their decisions in making democratic political rights. In Bennett’s thoughts the freedom and democracy are compromised with time, and media is playing a major role in this, the stronger they grow, the more influential they become and the more imposing on both the government and the public. He thinks that it will reach a time when it will greatly negate democracy. In the end, democracy could be compromised as people will not be able to make informed decisions based on reliable sources, but on manipulations by the media, and even become more cynical of the society (Bennet, 2007, pp. 9).

Similarity

Benjamin and Bennett were both influential philosophers who dedicated their theories to their contemporary experiences. In their theories they suggest that the media has sufficient power over the public’s attitude. This is brought out when Benjamin claims, he media denies public the opportunity to stand for themselves, the same case is with Bennett who claims that media infiltrates the public thereby disillusioning their decision making ability.

Regarding democracy, like in Benjamin’s concept of democracy he believes that every individual should have an opportunity to decide, this is because as illustrated in his artistic example, every one is unique as his art, the producers may most likely misinterpret the artist’s message. This is similar with media production in which Bennett says it impacts negatively on the society as people are made cynical of it and therefore lives dependent on them and not really on the reality at hand. The theory is reiterated by Benjamin again when he implies in one of his numerous quotes that the media intentionally, using public opinion, denies the citizens an opportunity to decide on issues. The two philosophers share sentiments on that.

Contrast

As much as the two philosophers share sentiments, they greatly differ in many ways, some of which regards the setting, career, political climate, theories and relevance of their theories. While, Benjamin who is Bennett’s senior having been born in the early 1890s had to adhere with the prospect of death at the hands of German’s new Chancellor at the time, Bennett had a much more conducive and advanced level for his career. In these secretive and complex periods in Benjamin’s life, he made the most of it. The two philosopher’s careers are a disparity in themselves, one having celebrated long career with experience as a lecturer in the University of Washington for over 35 years, while the other, a very short time for his career.

Bennett also thinks that the future is very bleak for democracy with the mega-media corporations, edging closes and closer in defining the government in place. This conveys a form of dictatorship, through assimilation since the citizens are compromised without their clear knowledge.

Conclusion

Both Benjamin and Bennett have made great contributions to the understanding of the contemporary democracy and its relation to the media. They have both criticized the media for unfairly cling on the mind of the public by illusions and manipulations. In their worlds they imagine of having democracy where each individual has the right to decide the political and cultural decisions based on the majority, and bases the authenticity of such a democracy and the media playing a rather participatory role, in ensuring the public are not compromised by their impression which may not be true(Wheeler, 1995, pp. 23).

They do however contrast on the detailed issues on how can be achieved by the public, their philosophical principles on link between media and democracy. But one thing is certain, achieving their ideal democracy is a challenge, with Bennett proposing a change for he imagines the future is bleak for the world of democracy with media delineation.

Reference List

Adorno, T, W., [1938] “On the Fetish Character in Music and the Regression of Listening” in A. Arato and E. Gebhardt, (Eds) 1978, The Essential Frankfurt School Reader, BasilBlackwell: Oxford, pp. 270-300.

Bale R. 2000. Concepts of Democracy. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Web.

Benjamin, W., [1935], “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction in H. Arendt(Ed), 1992, Illuminations, Fontana: London, pp. 211-244.

Bennett, W.L., 2007, News: the politics of illusion, New York: Pearson Longman, Chapterr 1.

BrainyQuotes. 2010. Benjamin’squotes. Brainymedia. Web.

Departmentofcommunication. 2010. Bennett, Lance. University of Washington. Web.

TheEuropeanGraduateSchool.2010.WalterBenjamin. Web.

Wheeler, M. 1995, “Democracy and the Information Superhighways” in Wheeler, M. (ed)Politics and the Mass Media, South Melbourne, Macmillan.

Taylor, L. and Willis, A., 1999, Media Studies: texts, institutions, and audiences, Malden,Blackwell.

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