Habermas: An Intellectual Biography

279 Pages · 2010 · 1.68 MB · English

  • Habermas: An Intellectual Biography

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    Habermas: an Intellectual bIograpHy

    This book follows postwar Germany’s leading philosopher and social

    thinker, Jürgen Habermas, through four decades of political and constitu-

    tional struggle over the shape of liberal democracy in Germany. Habermas’s

    most influential theories – of the public sphere, communicative action,

    and modernity – were decisively shaped by major West German political

    events: the failure to denazify the judiciary, the rise of a powerful consti-

    tutional court, student rebellions in the late 1960s, the changing fortunes

    of the Social Democratic Party, NATO’s decision to station nuclear weap-

    ons in Germany, and the unexpected collapse of East Germany. In turn,

    Habermas’s writings on state, law, and constitution played a critical role

    in reorienting German political thought and culture toward a progressive

    liberal-democratic model. Matthew G. Specter uniquely illuminates the

    interrelationship between the thinker and his culture.

    Matthew G. Specter is Assistant Professor of History at Central

    Connecticut State University. He has published in the journals Modern

    Intellectual History and The European Legacy and has presented his work at

    Harvard’s Center for European Studies, the National Humanities Center,

    the German Historical Institute in Washington, DC, the Birmingham

    Civil Rights Institute, and the American Historical Association, as well as

    to audiences in Vienna, Frankfurt, Berlin, Cortona, and Haifa. Professor

    Specter received a Ph.D. from Duke University, and previously held the

    position of Postdoctoral Fellow at George Mason University. “This is an original work of the first importance both for our understanding

    of Habermas – one of the most important European philosophers and political

    theorists of the twentieth century – and the political-intellectual history of

    the West German republic. In addition, it is an exemplary work of intellectual

    history; it shows convincingly how the disciplinary approach can reveal meanings

    and dimensions of a highly abstract body of thought that a purely conceptual

    interpretation inevitably misses.”

    – Gerald Izenberg, Washington University in St. Louis

    “This is a remarkable piece of work. No other book has situated Habermas’s

    thinking within its intellectual-historical context as deftly and with such

    sophistication. Specter digs widely and deeply into the German-language writings

    of Habermas’s interlocutors (as well as his named and often unnamed adversaries)

    in each of postwar Germany’s periods of crisis. His argument for a continuity

    (traceable through attention to the law) in Habermas’s corpus is courageous and

    convincing.” – John P. McCormick, University of Chicago

    “I have found Matthew Specter’s Habermas: An Intellectual Biography immensely

    rewarding. By showing how deeply Jürgen Habermas was implicated in debates

    over constitutional and legal theory in West Germany from the mid-1950s onward,

    Specter has given me a far clearer understanding than I was previously able to muster

    of a figure who has a strong claim to being the most important political thinker of the

    second half of the twentieth century – and of today as well. This is contextualizing

    intellectual history of the best kind. Specter never treats Habermas’s interventions

    as mere ‘discourse.’ On the contrary, he enters into the substance of the theoretical

    issues that Habermas has addressed. Indeed, his own clear voice can occasionally be

    heard as he enters into a discreet and respectful dialogue with a man who did much

    for the transformation of German public culture in the years since 1945.”

    – Allan Megill, University of Virginia

    “For lawyers, Jürgen Habermas is a political authority. His work symbolizes the

    change from ‘state’ to ‘constitution,’ from the ontological system of values to

    processuality, pluralism, and discourse. Matthew G. Specter pictures the ‘political

    Habermas’ and gives us a fascinating panorama of the intellectual scene in Western

    Germany on its way to ‘normality.’”

    – Michael Stolleis, Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University Frankfurt

    “This book offers an eye-opening and richly historical account of the dominant

    intellectual figure of the Federal Republic. It enriches our understanding of

    Habermas, by placing him as part of the ongoing struggle to create a democratic

    Germany.” – Adam Tooze, Yale University Habermas:

    an Intellectual



    Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore,

    São Paulo, Delhi, Dubai, Tokyo

    Cambridge University Press

    The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 8RU, UK

    Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York


    Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9780521488037

    © Matthew G. Specter 2011

    This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the

    provision of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part

    may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

    First published in print format 2010

    ISBN-13 978-0-511-90799-9 eBook (EBL)

    ISBN-13 978-0-521-48803-7 Hardback

    ISBN-13 978-0-521-73831-6 Paperback

    Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy

    of urls for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication,

    and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain,

    accurate or appropriate. For three great teachers – Tom de Zengotita, Frank Moretti,

    and Roman Zwarycz. contents

    acknowledgments page ix

    Introduction 1

    1 the making of a ‘58er: Habermas’s search for a method 27

    2 Habermas as synthesizer of german constitutional

    theory, 1958–1963 59

    3 1961–1981: From the “great refusal” to the theory of

    communicative action 87

    4 civil Disobedience, constitutional patriotism,

    and modernity: rethinking germany’s link

    to “the West” (Westbindung), 1978–1987 133

    5 learning from the bonn republic: recasting

    Democratic theory, 1984–1996 171

    conclusion 203

    bibliography 213

    Index 249


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