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Habermas’s Public Sphere

A Critique

Michael Hofmann

Habermas’s Public Sphere: A Critique analyzes the evolution of Juergen Habermas’s social and political theory from the 1950s to the present by focusing on the explicit and on the tacit changes in his thinking about The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, his global academic bestseller, which has been translated into 30 languages. Integrating “public sphere,” “discourse,” and “reason,” the three categories at the center of his lifelong work as a scholar and as a public intellectual, Habermas’s classic public sphere concept has deeply influenced an unusually high number of disciplines in the social sciences and in the humanities. In the process, its complex methodology, whose sources are not always identified, can be perplexing and therefore lead to misunderstandings.

While Habermas’s “Further Reflections on the Public Sphere” (1992) contain several far-reaching clarifications, they still do not identify a number of the most important sources for his methodology, above all Herbert Marcuse and Ernst Bloch. Hence, a key purpose of this study is to thoroughly analyze the Marxist critique of ideology that Habermas uses in dialectical fashion for his theory reconstruction of Immanuel Kant’s liberal ideal of a rational-critical public as the organizational principle of the constitutional state
and as the method of Enlightenment. Such dialectical thinking allows him to appropriate the structure of Reinhart Koselleck’s Critique and Crisis and of Carl Schmitt’s writings on the modern state while simultaneously upending their conservative critique of Liberalism and of the Enlightenment. However, this strategy restricts the application of his concept to his stylizations of the French Revolution and of his British “model case.”

This critique reinvigorates Habermas’s 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. At the same time, it identifies the crises of seventeenth-century England and the Dutch Republic as the origins of the new channels of public communication used to constantly evaluate the role of state power as political facilitator and regulator of an increasingly complex, dynamic, and crisis-prone market economy.
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University Press Copublishing Division / Fairleigh Dickinson University Press
Pages: 286Size: 6 x 9
978-1-61147-988-1 • Hardback • May 2017 • $110.00 • (£75.00)
978-1-61147-989-8 • eBook • June 2017 • $109.99 • (£75.00) (coming soon)
Michael Hofmann teaches multimedia studies at Florida Atlantic University.
1Introduction: Reassessing Habermas’s Public Sphere Concept
1.1. After Fifty Years: The Public Sphere, Reason, and Democracy
1.2. The Concept’s Lasting Contribution to Critical Theory and Practice
1.3. The Concept’s Key Challenge
1.4. The Concept’s Contradictory Sources
1.5. The Concept’s Interdisciplinary Structure
2Public Reason and Popular Sovereignty: Habermas’s Stylization of the French Revolution
2.1. Revolutionary Dialectic: Synthesizing Rousseau and the Physiocrats?
2.2. Revolutionary Philosophy: Uncoerced or Predetermined Opinion Publique?
2.3. Revolutionary Mythology: Conservative / Liberal Uses of de Tocqueville’s Ambivalence as an “Aristocratic Liberal” in The Old Regime and the Revolution
2.4. Revolutionary Romantic: From Moral Theater to Aesthetic Utopia (Schiller)
3The Third Estate, the Two Nations, and the Sovereignty of Reason: Kant’s Public & Say’s Law After the French Revolution
3.1. Establishing the Third Estate as the Nation in England in 1832: Transcending History through a Unique Critique of Ideology?
3.2. The English Century: One Nation under Say’s Law and a Vast Secular Boom?
3.3. Early Challenges to the Bourgeois Public: Hegel on Class Antagonism, Ricardo on Victims of Machinery, and Carlyle on the Callous “Cash Nexus”
3.4. Property and Reform in Parliament: The Dialectics of Corn & Factory Legislation
4From the Dutch Republic to the Fiscal-Military State of the Modern Whigs: Bourgeois Morality and Moral Censure of the Political Public Sphere Before the French Revolution
4. 1. Crisis and Critique: The Origins of Political Economy in the Political Public Sphere of the Seventeenth Century
4.2. The Fiscal-Military State of the Modern Whigs and its Critique in the Political Public Sphere
4.3. The Moral Public Sphere and the Rise of Civilized Barbarism
4.4. Moral Censure of the Political Public Sphere in the Eighteenth Century
Selected Bibliography
About the Author