However, modern public opinion is something of a fiction. It is needed to legitimate the power of governments, but it cannot be accurately described or analyzed. The various approaches to it seem to be flawed. One can either claim that a critical public exists, surrounded by an uneducated, uncritical mass public, as Mill and Tocqueville argued, or claim that public opinion exists in state and social institutions. This removes some of the critical functions of the public, and confuses it with the institutions that surround it. Whatever MPs may claim, the British Parliament is not the center of public opinion.

Habemas's assessment of social-psychological approaches to public opinion is almost a vindication of his own work. Unlike social psychologists, Habermas believes that the science of group behavior cannot explain such a complex phenomenon as public opinion. The only real approach is to consider its structures and their transformation. The extent to which the proper form of public opinion exists in a democratic state is shown by the conflict between Habermas's "good" and "bad" publicity.

Ultimately, Habermas comes closer to the idea that public opinion is represented in institutions than he admits. Although large-scale public institutions are a dubious feature of modern society, they can do useful publicity work if they have an "internal" public sphere that communicates with the public sphere of the press and those of other organizations. This is a long way from public opinion in its original form, but it does offer some possibilities for rational-critical debate. Habermas ends by arguing that the best chance we have of regulating power and domination in the modern world is the proper operation of the public sphere.

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