Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Review of Matthew Specter's book on Habermas

In "The New Republic", Professor Peter Gordon (Harvard) reviews Matthew Specter's "Habermas, An Intellectual Biography" (Cambridge University Press, 2010):

Up from Zero Hour

"Specter is especially good at discerning how even the more technical facets of Habermas’s thinking took shape in critical dialogue with contemporary political events. This is true most of all for Specter’s account of the genesis of Habermas’s most recent contribution to political and legal theory, Between Facts and Norms, published in Germany in 1992, the work to which Specter devotes deepest attention in his book’s closing chapter, almost as if it were the culmination of Habermas’s career. One of Specter’s major aims is to push back against critics (such as the left-Schmittian Chantal Mouffe) who have read Between Facts and Norms as Habermas’s farewell to his earlier mode of Marxist-inspired critical theory and, more dramatically, as a capitulation to neo-liberalism. More moderate readers have seen the book as setting out on a new path, marking a “legal turn” or “liberal turn” in Habermas’s thought.

Specter, rather boldly, rejects all these interpretations. He insists instead that the work should be read as “a kind of fragmented intellectual biography,” such that we may better discern development where others have identified a volte face. “The thesis of a legal or liberal turn,” Specter claims, “obscures a significant continuity in Habermas’s work” that stretches all the way back to his thesis, in 1962, on the genesis of the bourgeois public sphere. It springs from “Habermas’s lifelong commitment to a radical reform of liberal constitutionalism.”

Peter Gordon is Professor of History at Harvard University.

See my post on Matthew Specter's book here.

(Thanks to Raphael Neves for the pointer!)


See Brian Leiter's post on Peter Gondon's review at "Leiter Reports" and the comments on Leiter's post.

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