This began as a response to 3NT's post regarding Lyotard's definition of state.
I took Lyotard here to be referencing the same phenomenon Habermas expounds in greater detail in his third essay on the Public and Private, the one in which the public and private intermesh to such a degree that it becomes impossible to distinguish one from the other. According to Habermas, under the pressures of early capitalism â€“ long distance trade and mercantilist state policies â€“ public (as in state) policies are forced to take greater account of private (as in the private, family-centered production of goods, labor), and just as public (state) policies affect the markets in which these (private) goods are sold, the private sphere takes greater notice of public policy, detaching from itself and forming a "public sphere of civil society", a public (both an audience and forum for debate made up of 'private' individuals) prepared to debate and criticize public (state) policies (23).
As economic pressure and state-policy dedicated to the growth of national industry and the employment of citizens increases, private (this time in our understanding of 'pivate enterprise') business become increasingly organized until they begin to take on the roles of the state â€“ the welfare and education of their employees, the building of orphanages and public works (Hab 154). I think it's interesting to note here that Habermas quotes this phenomenon as "industrial feudalism", feudalism being a time in which no properly private sphere was distinguishable.
From this point on Habermas only mentions public and private in illustrate the degree to which such distinctions no longer hold: the public (as in state) sphere now make use of the same private legal apparatuses as private corporations and, to the degree the system permits, private individuals. Already, although not in the pure informational way Lyotard writes about, the state is merely one user among others.
By the time Lyotard wraps up his history, the private and public sphere are no longer clearly defined enough to know where a state restrictions over the private sphere would begin to hold â€“ one penetrates and hollows out the other. In light of the difficulties now being faced in the legal debate over data-mining â€“ companies offering services to the state in return for access to the state's databases, which they then plug in to their own highly advanced information-managing systems and remarket to other companies and to the state itself â€“ Lyotard's economics of information, and the reduction of the state to one user among many, seem less farfetched. Nor is it a simple matter of the good state v. the evil businesses or the private sector's influence over the public.
My question is over Lyotard's comment: "The ideology of communication "transparency," which goes hand in hand with the commercialization of knowledge, will begin to perceive the State as a factor of opacity and "noise." It is from this point of view that the problem of the relationship between economic and State powers threatens to arise with a new urgency" (5). I wasn't sure what to make of this. Part of the consolidation of private companies into pseudo-public institutions which Habermas traces and I don't think Lyotard objects to, includes the institutions of discourse itself â€“ the salons and news brokers become media corporations, and either because of their immensity or the uni-directional nature of their mediums (television, news, I think Habermas describes them as "don't talk back" media) they no longer permit the egalitarian, audience-participatory form of public debate, but this phenomenon seems to give rise to equal opacity in regards to both 'public' and 'private' spheres. Anyway, it seems to me that the public (state) sphere has vestigial expectations of transparency left over from the days when it was the subject of a new rationally debating public concerned with the role it had come to play in their lives that the private (as in economic) sphere never had. Following the logic that engendered the first forums of public debate, it would seem to me that the private, economic sphere would by continually held up to public examination. Does it derive some sort of benefit from its 'private' origins despite the manifestly public role it plays today? Is it the result of absorption of the forums for discussion into the private sphere itself? In any case, I'm not sure that I understand Lyotard's statement that it is the public sphere that is most opaque, unless maybe this opacity derives from the expectation of transparency, an expectation to which the new private sphere is for some reason immune.
Another question could be whether this condition was inevitable given the pressures which gave birth to rational-critical public debate to begin with. Is Habermas nostalgic for a phase in the development of public discourse and to what extent is a return to it feasible?