Front Page Titles (by Subject) Habermas\'s Critical Theory - Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1980, vol. 3, No. 3
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Habermas's Critical Theory - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1980, vol. 3, No. 3 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Habermas's Critical Theory
Review Essay: “‘The Critical Theory of Jörgen Habermas.’ By Thomas McCarthy.” History and Theory 18(1979): 397–417.
The though of Jörgen Habermas has both impressed and confounded social theorists in the Anglo-American tradition, since his theories overlap disciplinary boundaries. A crucial feature of Habermas's work has been the search for rational standards of criticism. With insights from psychoanalysis and hermeneutics, Habermas has produced a continuously evolving theory of rational discourse. His description of the legitimacy crisis afflicting “late capitalism” represents a concrete application of this developing teory of communication.
Habermas, like Freud, believes that selfconscious awareness of the deep roots of our conduct and relationships can contribute to greater coherence and realism in behavior. Freud, however, denied that the individual can bring all ingredients of his unconscious to conscious understanding and control. Even if this were possible, society would lose the many beneficial effects of cultural and individual repressions. Habermas, on the other hand, has not identified any necessary limits to a peson's self-understanding. Indeed, he seemingly wishes to preserve the Kantian notion of the purposefully aware subject, even while drawing upon the insights of Freudian theory. By a selective reading of Freud's writings, Habermas comes to recognize that primary childhood repressions put some basic limits on the ideal of the fully self-aware self. Nonetheless, he does not see this concession as a refutation of the ideal of discourse. After all, Freud himself arrived at the concept of these limits through a process of rational analysis. In Habermas's view, Freud's insight merely shortens the reach of the ideal, while giving to art a significant role in evoking the unconscious aspects of our psychic life.
In addition to Freud, Habermas pays tribute to hermeneutic or interpretive theorists such as Hans Gadamer and Peter Winch. These thinkers scrutinize the concepts and aspirations of those entering into social relations, and, in so doing, they penetrate deeply into the meaning and structure of such relations. An understanding of this intersubjective element in social interaction adds a new depth to the old empiricist notion of legitimacy. Since institutional practices arise partially from shared beliefs, the loss of social participants belief in those values will weaken their performance and even blur their conceptual precision.
Knowing that social beliefs are subject to constant reevaluation, interpretive theorists have denied that the constraints of reason and evidence will ultimately enable us to reduce the number of defensible interpretations of a social order to one. Habermas objects to this view by articulating a theory of communication based on the concept of “ideal speech.” The theory treats as “true” those statements which would gain the assent of all persons under specified conditions of communication which include: symmetrically distributed chances to enter into dialogue, the opportunity for all dialogue participants to question unexamined propositions, and the suspension of all motives except the desire to reach a rational conclusion. Such conditions would eventually result in a “consensual truth” arrived at by the community rather than the solitary seeker.
The practical value of this collective search through dialogue may be seen in the current “crisis of capitalism” in Western society. According to Habermas, the covert disaffection with the society of production, evidenced by deteriorating worker motivation, drug use, high divorce rates, etc., speaks for the adoption of some form of socialism in the West. However, socialist theorists have not convincingly dealt with the problems of freedom and democracy in their system.
In the face of this dilemma, numerous strains of thought from systems theory to Marxist positivism have tended to deny the possibility of an enlightened, self-conscious populace which might collectively elaborate a vision of socialism in freedom. In such an intellectual context, Habermas's ideal speech situation, the center-piece of his system, offers a significant theoretical and practical opportunity for renewing a stangating and inauthentic society.
Politics, War, and Peace
The themes of militarism, tolerance for social and cultural diversity, and the insidious effects of political bureaucracy introduce us, in this group of summaries, to the critical role played by government and politics in determining whether mankind enjoys peace or suffers war. The remaining summaries represent case studies of the relationship between government and a foreign policy of expansionism and imperialism. Earlier treatments of similar issues of foreign policy and militarism are to be found in the October/December, 1979 and the Summer 1980 issues of Literature of Liberty.
An Anatomy of Militarism
“Militarism, its Dimensions and Corollaries: An Attempt at Conceptual Clarification.” Journal of Peace Research 16, No. 3(1979).
The term “militarism” is commonly used both for analytical and propaganda purposes to label and condemn widely differing phenomena. In the liberal tradition of the West, most writers emphasize the notion of excess when discussing militarism, while Marxists link the term directly to imperialsim and monopoly capitalism. Borrowing elements from both traditions, the author suggests that a discussion of the meaning of militarism can be organized along three dimensions: (1) the behavioral, (2) the attitudinal or ideological, and (3) the structural.
From one point of view, behavior is the most crucial dimension of militarism. Militarist social structure and ideology are worrisome mainly because they incite violent behavior. The behavioral dimension grows more complicated when one introduces the distinction between latent and actual use of violence. Brinksmanship and the policy of deterrence involve the skillful “nonuse” of military force. Obviously, both actual and latent use of violence may reach the point of excess. While no consensus has been reached as to the dividing line between appropriate and excessive violent behavior we can identify a number of points along a scale from Gandhian pacifism to genocide which provide a more convenient framework for discussion.
On the attitudinal level, the author stresses that, unlike natural catastrophes, wars result from human decision. Debate has long raged among researchers concerning which factors lead to decisions to resort to organized violence. The school of Konrad Lorenz relates aggression to a psychologically programmed fighting instinct, while Marxists maintain that violent attitudes and ideology derive from the aggression implicit in certain economic relations. Undoubtedly, individual values play a large role in disposing a person and groups of persons toward violent behavior. Studies have detected a high correlation between militarist attitudes and high scores on scales such as pessimism concerning human nature, extraversion (i.e., dependence on the social environment for opinions and motivations), misanthropy, social irresponsibility, lack of empathy, and egoism.
Turning to structural dimension, we observe that nation-states with their near monopoly on the legitimate use of force differ widely in the organizaiton of civilianmilitary relationships (level of military spending, consumption of natural resources, diversion of talent to military uses, control of military by civilian authorities, etc.). At the heart of the military-industrial complex in industrialized countries lies not only the common interests of business and military leaders, but also the political interests of politicians whose electorate depends on high military procurement. In undeveloped nations, a strong military is often considered essential to the maintenance of order and the bolstering of national pride and economic development. Powerful nations have nurtured these seeds of militarism in poorer countries in order to increase their own international influence. Transfer of arms and military technology, as well as the training of local personnel, have thus become tools of the strong for the subjection of the weak.
As a partial antidote to the militarist syndrome, Prof. Skjelsbaek recommends a vigorous educational campaign on the part of anti-militarist groups around the world. Before such an effort can be undertaken, however, a foundation of tolerance and cooperation must be established between groups which see a legitimate, though limited role for the military and those which reject all forms of organized violence regardless of circumstances.