Necessary Moral Bases for Communication in a Democracy (1956)
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Necessary Moral Bases for Communication in a Democracy (1956) 66 From Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Volume 11: Published Essays, 1953– 1965, ed. Ellis Sandoz (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000), 47–59. [Voegelin opens this essay, originally a lecture delivered at Marquette University in 1956, by identifying three types of communication : the substantive, the pragmatic, and the intoxicant. In his amplification of how these three types of communication manifest themselves in the democracy of the United States, he surveys the last four and a half centuries of political developments in Western society, and then reflects upon the dominant modes of communication in American “pluralistic” society.—Eds.] Communication between human beings is the modus procedendi through which a society exists. The fact that the “Moral Bases for Communication in a Democracy” are in question at all, and with good reason can be made the topic of a lecture, indicates the graveness of moral confusion in our time. For if we feel the urge to discuss communications in contemporary democracy, we betray our awareness that something is problematic about our procedures of communication. Moreover, with regard to the substance of society, it is supposed to be always moral. And if we raise the question of morality in connection with our democracy, we betray the awareness that something is wrong with the moral substance that flows through the channels of communication. If, finally, we connect the two problems of moral substance and procedure of communication, as the title of this lecture does, we suggest that certain procedures of communication in our time are unfit for the achievement of moral purpose, or even destructive of morality. 67 necessary moral bases for communication in a democracy The area of problems opened by these initial reflections is large—­ much too large to be covered in so brief a form. I shall attempt no more than passing glances at some of the great topics. We may begin with the distinction of three meanings in which the term communication is used in the debate on the subject. One can, first, distinguish communication in the substantive sense, that is, communication that has its purpose in the unfolding and building of personality. In a second usage, communication is a technique for inducing people to behave in such a manner that their behavior will agree with the communicator’s purposes, as for instance political or commercial purposes. This second type may be called pragmatic communication. A third meaning appears when the term is used in connection with media of mass communication, such as film, radio, or television. While such media are very energetically used for the advancement of pragmatic purposes, and while occasionally a valiant attempt is made to use them for the substantive building of personality, their primary function, on the fulfillment of which rests their mass use, is that of an intoxicant. We shall speak, therefore, of the substantive, pragmatic, and intoxicant functions of communication. A few words of elaboration will suggest the relevance of the three types of communication to our topic: (1) Communication in the substantive sense is one of the great problems of the philosophia perennis. In the dialogues of Plato it is the pervasive problem of education through persuasion. You will remember the “follow my persuasion” as the standard formula by which Socrates tries to induce other men to enter into his orbit of the love of the sophon, to restore the order of their souls by entering into the paradigmatic order of the Socratic soul, to establish the existential community with Socrates by sharing in common with him his desire for the divine Agathon. Communication in this sense is the process in which the substantive order of a community is created and maintained. To suggest the permanence of the problem it will be sufficient to recall the central position that it has in our own time in the philosophy of Karl Jaspers. Among the contemporary philosophers he has done perhaps more than anybody else to clarify the relevance of existential communication for the order of man and society. It will not be necessary to supplement the instances 68 part two | the philosophical science of politics of classic and modern philosophy with Christian examples—­ you know better than I do what the cure of souls through the Spirit means for the order of a Christian community. (2) Communication in the pragmatic sense has the purpose of inducing in the human target a state of mind that will result in behavior in conformity with the...