Theories such as Habermas’ discourse ethics correspond well with our conception of the function of public discourse in democratic societies. However, many fail to recognise the theory’s normative character. It was never presented as a theory of what once was, is, or could ever become a reality. In this presentation, Alicia Fjällhed from Lund University presents the issues arising from this misconception, addressing the empirical limits of the ideal. This also helps explain the crisis of liberal democracies, starting with discussions about foreign interference in the 2016 US election, since then an ongoing concern pending democratic elections in Europe, and most recently tied to a critical discussion about foreign interference in public discourses around Africa. As an alternative, Alicia suggests an empirical theory resting on contemporary research from moral psychology that better accounts for the strategic nature of moral communication. Through theoretical and empirical examples, Alicia will argue that Habermas’ theory and actors assuming his ideal as their normative stance will inevitably fall into patterns described in this new theory—that they engage in the very communicative behaviour they would characterise as immoral.
Alicia Fjällhed is a PhD-student at the Department of Strategic Communication at Lund University, Sweden. She has published academically in various fora on issues related to the moral dilemmas arising from the new communication landscape. In parallel, Alicia has been engaged in a series of initiatives to develop practical handbooks, organise training and scenario exercises, provide process and policy support, and either moderate, participate, or comment on discussions for local, regional, government, and international organisations worldwide including Swedish government authorities, the EU’s EEAS, and UK’s GCS.