A Republic of Discussion: Habermas at ninety

Raymond Geuss in The Point:

When I talk with Brexiteers, I certainly do not assume that what Habermas calls the “power of the better argument” will be irresistible. And I am certainly very far from assuming that an indefinite discussion conducted under ideal circumstances would eventually free them from the cognitive and moral distortions from which they suffer, and in the end lead to a consensus between them and me. What makes situations like this difficult is that arguments are relatively ineffectual against appeals to “identity.” In the nineteenth century Kierkegaard was very familiar with this phenomenon, and much of his philosophizing is devoted to trying to make sense of and come to terms with it. “We do not under any circumstances wish to be confused with Europeans because we have nothing but contempt for them.” What is one to say to that? Only real long-term sociopolitical transformations, impinging external events and well-focused, sustained political intervention have any chance of having an effect. In the long run, however, as Keynes so clearly put it, we are all dead.

When, at the beginning of his Minima Moralia, Adorno expressed grave reservations about the “liberal fiction which holds that any and every thought must be universally communicable to anyone whatever,” he was criticizing both political liberalism and the use of “communication” as a fundamental organizing principle in philosophy. This hostility toward both liberalism and the fetish of universal communication, on the other, was not maintained by the members of the so-called Frankfurt School and was abandoned even before the next generation had fully come on the scene. Even as early as the beginning of the 1970s, the unofficial successor of Adorno as head of the school, Jürgen Habermas, who turns ninety this week, began his project of rehabilitating a neo-Kantian version of liberalism.

More here.

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