California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: January 12, 1999
Faculty on the Site.
Back to Dear Habermas Home
Co-optation means that a special interest (or privilege) has taken over the authority which controls the entity and makes decisions in the best interest of the privilege of that group. Clearly this could be personal interest, and could be an example of pure greed. It can also be, and often is, the attempt of a special interest group to balance past injustice by recognizing the privilege of some previously NOT privileged group. The special interest could be related to gender, or race and ethnicity, or class, or a group that had suffered "reverse discrimination." In any case, the problem is that the agency or entity no longer makes reasonably impartial decisions, but favors this special interest group.
The implications for legitimacy are powerful. Even when the entity or agency has legitimate authority to, say grant degrees in higher education. What does it mean to the institution and to the society as a whole, if that authority is exercised with a special political respect of a given privilege, any privilege? By what constitutional authority does an agency or an institution empowered by the State gain the right to specially consider any privilege? If the agency does favor a certain privileged group, does it thereby lose its legitimacy? Does that matter? (Recall that not every system values legitimacy, (Rorty is often accused on this issue.) and legitimacy according to which philosophies?
These are the issues of co-optation.