Jürgen Habermas is regarded as one of the last great public intellectuals of Europe and a major contributor to the philosophy of democracy.
Your Question: Habermas and Factions
30 June 2017
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This week's show was on the German philosopher and critical theorist Habermas and his vision of democracy. A longtime listener, John in Berkeley, emailed us at email@example.com with the following question:
Does Habermas believe that factions are good because of the authenticity of their rationally discursive sources but bad because real discourse is limited by interfactional communication prohibition?
Excellent question, John! We had no idea how to answer, so we posed the question to our guest, Matthew Specter, author of Habermas: An Intellectual Biography. Here's his answer to John's question:
"Faction" is not a vocabulary word one finds in Habermas; it is more of an 18th century locution. But the problem of faction can be approached through the treatment of partisanship or hyperpartisanship in Habermas. In his theory, Habermas suggests that artificial distorting barriers to communication were removed we can approximate the ideal of relatively disinterested contemplation of the good of the whole by all those affected by the policies under debate. But in practice, Habermas has himself been a partisan for social policies that he believes are necessary to create the solidarity necessary for a well-functioning public sphere. So in that sense, he is a member of a progressive faction, left of Social Democracy, not identical with any party, but often allied with parties. At the same time, he would be critical of undemocratic party structures or leaders who seem to prize expediency over vision, opportunism over substantive goals. Deliberative democratic theory since Habermas has been more open to finding ways to include the interests of different factions in different goals within an overall deliberative model. The initial idealizations of deliberative theory have been thought to have overreached plausibility.
Thanks, Matthew! Very informative answer.
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