The art of making distinctions is always a difficult and risky undertaking. Distinctions can enlighten as well as cloud an issue. One is always also vulnerable to objections concerning the correct classification of the thought of certain thinkers. This chapter will sidestep questions of historical interpretation and classification in order to delineate three different conceptions of 'public space' that correspond to three main currents of Western political thought. The view of public space common to the 'republican virtue' or (civic virtue' tradition is described as the 'agonistic' one, and the thought of Hannah Arendt will be the main point of reference. The second conception is provided by the liberal tradition, and particularly by those liberals who, beginning with Kant, make the problem of a 'just and stable public order' the centre of their political thinking. This will be named the 'legalistic' model of public space. The final model of public space is the one implicit in Jürgen Habermas's work. This model, which envisages a democraticsocialist restructuring of late-capitalist societies, will be named 'discursive public space'.
By situating the concept of 'public space' in this context, the discussion is restricted from the outset to normative political theory. The larger sense of the term Öffentlichkeit, which would include a literary, artistic and scientific public, will not be of concern here; for whatever other applications and resonances they might have,____________________