Sunday, September 11, 2016

Habermas Biography by Stefan Müller-Doohm

Habermas: A Biography

by Stefan Müller-Doohm

(Polity Press, 2016)

598 pages


Jürgen Habermas’, wrote the American philosopher Ronald Dworkin on the occasion of the great European thinker’s eightieth birthday, "is not only the world’s most famous living philosopher. Even his fame is famous." Now, after many years of intensive research and in-depth conversations with contemporaries, colleagues and Habermas himself, Stefan Müller-Doohm presents the first comprehensive biography of one of the most important public intellectuals of our time. From his political and philosophical awakening in West Germany to the formative relationships with Adorno and Horkheimer, Müller-Doohm masterfully traces the major forces that shaped Habermas’s intellectual development. He shows how Habermas’s life and work were conditioned by the possibilities offered to his generation in the unique circumstances of regained freedom that characterized postwar Germany. And yet Habermas’s career is fascinating precisely because it amounts to more than a corpus of scholarly work, however original and influential that may be. For here is someone who continually left the protective space of the university in order to assume the role of a participant in controversial public debates - from the significance of the Holocaust to the future of Europe - and in this way sought to influence the development of social and political life in an arena much broader than the academy. The significance and virtuosity of Habermas’s many writings over the years are also fully and expertly documented, ranging from his early work on the public sphere to his more recent writings on communicative action, cosmopolitanism and the postnational condition. What emerges from this biography is a vivid portrait of one of the great public intellectuals of our time - a unique thinker who has made an immense and lasting philosophical contribution but who, when he perceives that society is not living up to its potential for creating free and just conditions for all, becomes one of its most rigorous and persistent critics.

Contents  [pre-view]

Prologue: The Other among his Peers

Part I: Catastrophe and Emancipation
1. Disaster Years as Normality. Childhood and Youth in Gummersbach
2. At University in Göttingen, Zurich and Bonn

Part II: Politics and Critique
3. Education intellectuelle in Café Marx
4. Under the Aegis of Conflicting Personalities: Abendroth and Gadamer
5. Back in Frankfurt. Torn between Academic Work and Political Practice
6. In the Ivory Tower of Social Scientific Research

Part III: Science and Commitment
7. Genius Loci: In Frankfurt for the Third Time
8. New Projects
9. Battles over the Politics of Ideas
10. Against Germanomania and Nationalism

Part IV: Cosmopolitan Society and Justice
11. Critique as a Vocation. The Transition into the Third Millennium
12. The Taming of Capitalism and the Democratization of Europe
13. Philosophy in the Age of Postmetaphysical Modernity
14. Books at an Exhibition

Epilogue: The Inner Compass

Bibliography of Works by Jürgen Habermas

Stefan Müller-Doohm is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Oldenburg. His other works include "Adorno: A Biography" (Polity Press, 2005). 

The German version of the biography was published by Suhrkamp Verlag in 2014. See my links to reviews of the book.

Four reviews of the English edition [Updated, April 2017]:

* "A Lion in Winter" by Peter E. Gordon (The Nation)

* "From Hitler Youth to Famed Philosopher" by Stuart Jeffries (The Guardian)

* "Habermas and the Fate of Democracy" by William E. Scheuerman (Boston Review)

* "The Headquarters of Neo-Marxism" by Samuel Freeman (New York Review of Books)

Two interviews with Stefan Müller-Doohm on his book:

* "Spuren eines Lebens" [pdf]

* "Ein Leben mit Brüchen"

The biography will also be translated into Spanish, French and Chinese.

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