Reading Habermas: Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere dissolves Habermas’s monolithic stylization to precisely access his seminal distinction between the purely political polis of antiquity, which excludes the private economy from the res publica, and the modern public sphere with its rational-critical discourse about commodity exchange and social labor in the political economy. Deconstructing the uniform mold of Structural Transformation’s narrative about a rise and fall of the bourgeois public sphere in modernity also allows to identify and understand the ideology-critical methodologies of Habermas’s theory reconstruction of Kant’s ideal of the liberal public in the context of the French Revolution.
Readers of this guide realize that Habermas’s interpretation of a sociological and political category with the norms of constitutional theory and intellectual history causes the “collapsing of norm and description” he acknowledged in 1989 and thus frequent misunderstandings about the historical validity of Structural Transformation’s ideal-type derived from Condorcet’s absolute rationalism and Kant’s “unofficial” philosophy of history. Specifically, the guide explains that Habermas’s key construct of a “morally pretentious rationality” of the bourgeois public sphere entirely depends on the claim about “natural laws” harmoniously regulating the economy. While neoliberalism still maintains this claim, Hegel “decisively destroyed” it already in 1821.
Michael Hofmann is professor of Communication and Multimedia Studies at Florida Atlantic University.
Preface: The Social Media Transformation of the Public Sphere and the Crisis of Neoliberal Democracy
Introduction: The Unique Significance of Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere for the Theory and Practice of Democratic Deliberation
Chapter 1: Structural Transformation’s Normative Theses about a Dissolution of Domination in the Bourgeois Public Sphere
Chapter 2: Habermas’s Dialectical Use of Ideology Critique to Counterfactually Assert a Moment of Historical Credibility for the Bourgeois Ideal of the Public Sphere
Chapter 3: Structural Transformation’s Cold War Origins: Habermas’s Defense of Kantian Rationality, Human Rights, and the Enlightenment
Chapter 4: Participatory Democracy versus Political Manipulation: The Role of Habermas’s “Celebrated Coffee Houses” (Todd Gitlin) in the Modern Public Sphere
Chapter 5: Understanding Habermas’s Public Sphere Concept by Dissolving its Monolithic Stylization: Structural Transformation’s Interpretation of a Sociological and Political Category with the Norms of Constitutional Theory and Intellectual History
Chapter 6: Structural Transformation’s Tacit Model Case of the Bourgeois Public Sphere: The French Revolution, Kant’s “Unofficial” Philosophy of History, Condorcet Absolute Rationalism, and Schiller’s Expressive Subjectivism
Chapter 7: The Achilles’ Heel of Schiller’s Moral Stage and Structural Transformation’s Moral Politics: A Dependency of Smith’s Political Economy and Kant’s Constitutional Law on Mandeville’s Moral Paradox of Bourgeois Society
Chapter 8: Habermas’s Unexplained Methodology: A Complex “Ideology-Critical Procedure”
Chapter 9: The Result of Structural Transformation’s Dialectical Use of Schmitt’s “Civil War Topos” and Koselleck’s “Process of Criticism:” A Tension between Developmental History and Ideology-Critical Procedure
Conclusion: Renewing the Human Rights Perspective in the Political Public Sphere
This important and timely book brings out the centrality of the public sphere to Habermas's overall project and shows how and why he has recently returned to the topic with ever-growing urgency.
Jürgen Habermas' Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere is undeniably one of the most significant works of political and social analysis written in any language since 1945. And there may be no scholar anywhere who knows more about Habermas' study than Michael Hofmann. Hofmann not only offers a provocative analysis of the strengths and possible weaknesses of Habermas' famous account of the public sphere, but he also creatively suggests why it remains relevant for understanding politics and society.
Hofmann provides a comprehensive study of Habermas’s seminal work on the role of the public sphere in a liberal democracy as well as a deeply informed review of the large critical reception since its publication. This volume will be indispensable for anyone who wishes to understand the importance of the idea of the public sphere not only for Habermas’s entire written corpus but also for any well-functioning democracy.
In his book, Michael Hofmann develops a philosophical reconstruction and historical contextualization of Habermas' Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere that is as fascinating as it is detailed. Hofmann shows how already this early book by Habermas is not only characterized by a liberal ideology, but that hope in the self-healing powers of liberal reason is deceptive.
Michael Hofmann knows Habermas’ Structural Transformation inside/out and top-to-bottom. In this study of the development and context of that classic work, he not only demonstrates his unparalleled knowledge; he also illuminates historical events like the Cuban Missile Crisis and the origins of the New Left through Habermas. For its historical apercus, broad knowledge and lucid writing, Reading Habermas is essential for those interested in public life and Habermas.
- Russell Jacoby, Professor Emeritus, Department of History, UCLA, author of Dialectic of Defeat, The Last Intellectuals, On Diversity and other books.