Your Question: Habermas and Factions

30 June 2017
We know the vast majority of our listeners don't get to hear the live broadcast of our show, which is usually Sunday mornings from the studios of KALW in San Francisco. Even listeners in the Bay Area often hear the KALW rebroadcast, Tuesdays at noon. But we know you often have questions about what you're hearing, so we decided to start a series called "Your Question" here on the blog. If you have a question after the live broadcast, you can still participate in the conversation. 
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 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.
If you're listening to a show and have a question you'd like answered, send us an email at We might just publish Your Question here, along with an answer from one of our in-house philosophers, or from the guest on the show.

Comments (3)

Kant's picture


Saturday, July 1, 2017 -- 9:22 AM

Personally, I preferer

Personally, I preferer Rational Theology of Kant, since it can study all civilizations, not just our roman one. Here I am starting a web site about it:
Meaning, we can discuss in broader terms than our current system.'s picture


Tuesday, December 3, 2019 -- 1:19 PM

One counter argument on the

One counter argument on the program was how can we get humans to communicate in an equalized way? Mathew Specter didn't seem to have an answer citing the internet as a step forward but also managed unequally. I think I have an answer that is more than a dream. I call it One Human(e) Society, the (e) echoing the November program on non-human animal rights. Here is the abstract.
One Human(e) Society

By Martin MacIntyre


Existing models of governance have not, and cannot, resolve global risks.

Required Criteria for the “New Shape” Model of Governance Competition
• Nations will individually or collectively change their models of governance to give up some sovereignty to allow enforceable decisions on global risks.
• The solution must be implemented in the foreseeable future and be sustainable.
• Physical force must not be used to create or maintain the new governance model.

Models of Governance
All secular governments are tribal in character with leaders (authority/belief imperative) and nation-states (territorial imperative). Religious governance has no territorial boundaries but doesn’t countenance competing authority/beliefs.

There have been many models of governance including: patriarchy/matriarchy, the clan, village/town meeting (democracy), aristocracy, theocracy, oligarchy, representative democracy (republic), autocracy (monarchy, military rule, dictatorship), government of governments (league, confederation) and combinations (e.g., Puerto Rico – domestic self-rule with USA for foreign policy).

Methods of Change
Methods used to change the type of governance range from assassination/genocide to referendum/plebiscite (vote to create a new government).

Until recently, there has been no global method for individuals to independently and voluntarily subscribe to: a governance model; basic human principles, rights and values (moral imperative); or a way to voice their views on global issues.

Failures of Governance Models and Methods of Change
All models of governance and methods of change have failed to prevent war, which now has the potential of annihilating life, as we know it. The failures are most likely due to human nature, which embodies a natural territorial imperative (ownership of land/water/air) and often a sole source of authority (one true belief or a supreme leader). With few exceptions, if any, governments aren’t based on acceptance by a super-majority of citizens or representatives (e.g. 66+%).

How can humanity control the territorial/ownership and authority/belief imperatives that are the current foundations of governance and human nature, while at the same time they are the sources of governance failure?

Proposed Solution
One Human(e) Society (OHS) adds a moral imperative (pure moral suasion) to counterbalance the territorial/ownership and authority/belief imperatives.

Individuals will voluntarily join OHS, a free Web organization based on shared principles, rights and values, and each member will agree to minimal - but mandatory - participation.

OHS will provide the existing governments with real, timely, transparent and continuing knowledge of the global views held by its members. Although OHS votes can’t force compliance by the decision-makers of countries or religions, it would be hard for them to ignore the wishes of a representative super-majority of humankind.

Formation of One Human(e) Society
The trustees will be drawn from a pool of individuals who answer a worldwide call to fulfill this important, but short-term, task (about one year). Organizations, like the Nobel Prize Committee and the United Nations, will select the twenty-one founding OHS trustees ensuring that they represent the various geographic regions, religions, ethnicities, generations, socio-economic and genetic groups. The founding Board of Trustees will select and then oversee the technical personnel who will create the OHS website and pretest it on populations representing diverse countries, cultures and governance models.

Functioning of One Human(e) Society
Communication with the membership and to the public will be in all recognized languages, both written and spoken. The OHS website will maintain the membership rolls. Data will be displayed to demonstrate the level of diversity and representation in comparison with the global population. When the enrollment reaches a critical mass in size and diversity, the members will be asked to vote on a list of human principles, rights and values (PRV). The PRVs shared by a super-majority of members will be published and re-voted bi-annually.

Annually, members will have the opportunity to vote on at least three issues of global significance and be obligated to vote on two of them. The results will be widely publicized to guide the policies and actions of governments. Individuals will be able to compare their government’s PRV against OHS’s PRV list.

The OHS system will be simple, transparent and secure to maximize participation and engender trust in the voting results. Ruling “powers that be” should find it difficult to reject the views of a super-majority of their country’s citizens and global citizens (pure moral suasion). To be successful, OHS must have high participation, a guaranteed secret ballot and no fake memberships/votes.

Ten-Year Measurable Objectives (examples)
• 30% of the world’s population with web access will be OHS members.
• 10% fewer individuals in war zones.
• 10% fewer political refugees.
• 10% fewer economic migrants.
• 25% reduction in human trafficking and slavery.
• 90% reduction in arrest/death of government opponents.
• Deceleration of the gap between rich and poor.

An endowment will be created by crowd-funding. The major capital costs will be the web server(s) and maintenance cost the computer security and translation services. A sample estimated initial six-year budget and maintenance budget are at the end of this document.

Assessment Criteria
• High probability of acceptance by individuals in the global community
• Low-cost (both initial and maintenance)
• Easily tested
• Universal participation
• Free participation except web access is required
• Feasible (immediate implementation)
• Existing technology
• Flexible
• Simple
• Transparent
• Meaningful
• Trustworthy
• Practical
• Scalable
• Sustainable
• Objective measurements of success
• Accountable
• Non-commercial (no advertisements or listing of donors)
• Secure
• Effective *not proven until tested against objectives
• No veto with minimal delay and possibly a more efficient decision process
• Moral suasion replaces coercive enforcement of decisions
• No approval required from existing governments or organizations
• No structural change in existing governments or organizations

The “New Shape” Global Challenge competition required virtually all countries to accept a common improved model of governance based on rational/moral arguments with enforceable laws in common and diminished sovereignty. Ala Brexit, it is beyond reason and contrary to human experience to expect this to occur in the foreseeable future without human kind facing a common risk that is far greater and more imminent than the monumental risks we already face OR there are fundamental changes in the nature of humankind.

Therefore, rather than expecting the impossible and/or changing the existing models of governance, OHS cloaks them in an extra-national, uniting and balancing force - moral persuasion (moral suasion). Moral suasion was a major force in eliminating atmospheric nuclear testing, in ending South Africa’s apartheid and in resolving other national issues e.g., women’s suffrage. The World-Wide-Web can now be used to allow individuals to voice their views on significant current global issues based on shared principles, rights and values – One Human(e) Society (OHS).

1. Current governance models are based primarily on territorial/ownership and belief/authority imperatives that have not resolved global problems and have even exacerbated them.
2. It is highly unlikely that the existing nation-states will cede a significant amount of their sovereignty to the United Nations or another global authority.
3. A moral imperative is needed to balance the territorial/ownership and authority/belief imperatives that are the present foundations of governance but also the source of their failure to resolve global problems.
4. Global citizens should have an opportunity and obligation to express their views.
5. OHS fulfills the need for a countervailing foundational imperative – moral suasion – against which the “powers that be” can be held accountable.
6. OHS fulfills the following criteria.
a. Core Values:
1) upholds the common good of humankind.
2) is non-violent and non-coercive.
b. Decision-making capacity: adds timely global moral suasion.
c. Feasible: pilot implementation possible within one year.
d. Resource: existing technology.
e. Financing: low-cost, crowd-funding, anonymous donors.
f. Trust and Insight: transparent, participatory, considers existing realities.
g. Flexibility: trial run, regular revision.
h. Prevents Abuse: constant vigilance and multiple back-up systems.
i. Accountability: independent, rotating management, nonpartisan.
7. Doesn’t require a change in current governments or sovereignty.
8. Measurable objectives.'s picture


Tuesday, December 3, 2019 -- 2:26 PM

My blog referenced governance

My blog referenced governance vs. communication but accepts two requirements: equal communication and the fact that some who communicate may be better at it via education and ability. One Human Society (OHS) doesn't require communication but rather participation in accepting shared rights, principles and values plus the availability of subject matter in writing and speech in all languages. At the minimum, it would allow a voice in current issues and hopefully prevent lives being lost when protesters feel they need to congregate in public while their government is willing to kill them for protesting.