[Marxism] Thesis on Habermas

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Nov 10 07:57:01 MST 2004

Dear Louis,

I've uploaded my (recently awarded) doctoral thesis to the net. I hope 
it may be of some interest to Marxist/F.S/Habermas thinkers.


Once you have access to the list please click on the files link. I have 
uploaded the thesis in two parts of about 200 pp each. The abstract is 
as follows:


In this thesis I explicate and assess the second phase of Jürgen 
Habermas’s programme to reconstruct the normative conditions of 
possibility for undertaking a critical theory of society. The 
publication, in 1981, of Habermas’s The Theory of Communicative Action 
(Habermas, 1995) signals the transition from the first phase of his 
reconstruction of Critical Theory that commenced in the 1960s with his 
critical theory of cognitive interests to the second phase of his 
project. I include Habermas’s Between Facts and Norms (1996) in the 
second phase of his reconstructive programme for it represents, I 
contend, the third and completing volume of The Theory of Communicative 

I argue that an informed assessment of Habermas’s reconstruction of 
Critical Theory can only proceed once the domains of application for his 
project are clarified. I position Habermas’s project first within the 
Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School, and second, within the more 
general tradition of Western Marxism. Clarifying the socio-historical 
and discursive background to Habermas’s project also indicates the 
practical objectives of the second phase of his reconstructed Critical 
Theory. For, in contrast to conventional Marxian approaches, I argue 
that Habermas intends his reconstructed Critical Theory to intervene 
practically at the site of discourse. I locate the critical practice of 
Habermas’s project in his response not only to Max Horkheimer’s and 
Theodor Adorno’s critique of instrumental reason, but also to the 
re-emergent influence of Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy, via the 
French post-structuralist school, in the West German discursive milieu 
during the 1970s and 1980s. My thesis is that the practical or applied 
moment of Habermas’s critical theory of communicative action is 
discernible in his undertaking to sustain the persuasive signifier of 
“reason” in the adversarial socio-philosophical discourse of modernity 
taking place in the West German polity of that period. His critical 
theory of society responds to the threat posed by these critiques of 
reason to the very fabric of the Occidental social order in general, and 
the continued viability of the West German political, moral and cultural 
traditions, in particular. Habermas’s strategy here, I suggest, 
indicates his normative appropriation of Emile Durkheim’s theses on the 
integrating function of collective ideals in the consolidation of a 
social order.

In assessing Habermas’s project I argue that on a formal level his 
reconstruction of Critical Theory effectively theorizes a viable space 
for a “positive” critical social theory that resists Horkheimer and 
Adorno’s totalizing critique of instrumental reason. On the substantive 
level, however, I argue Habermas’s Critical Theory is an under 
compelling alternative to the critique of instrumental reason that 
Horkheimer and Adorno detail in their later Critical Theory. The strong 
thesis I develop in Chapter Seven is that Habermas’s project is unable 
to overcome convincingly the aporetic pathos of pessimism that is 
generated by Horkheimer and Adorno’s thesis on the dialectic of 
enlightenment. Furthermore, I make the case that the social systems 
model of participation in the critical-emancipatory project Habermas 
outlines, especially in Between Facts and Norms, ironically risks 
generating its own aporetic pathos of pessimism. His depiction of the 
near-inevitable contribution communicatively-empowered social movements 
make to the maintenance and reproduction of an existing social order, I 
suggest, compromises the emancipatory aspirations of these social 
movements. It is on this basis I conclude that the second phase of 
Habermas’s reconstruction of Critical Theory remains problematic.

Matthew Piscioneri


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