chapter  15
19 Pages

The modern state and new meanings of the public

Many of the ideas in this chapter owe much to Geoff Mulgan's paper The public service ethos and public libraries. The apparently simple idea of a public is in fact beset by contradictions. Perhaps the most basic contradiction in our notion of the public arises from the sociological and political divide that accompanied the birth of the modern state and civil society. This was well described by Daniel Bell, who wrote that the distinctive feature of the modern market economy, in sociological terms, is that "It has been a bourgeois economy. This has meant two things: first that the ends of production are not common but individual; and second, that the motives for the acquisition of goods are not needs but wants."1 The wants and desires of individuals are thus put centre stage.