Avoiding authoritarianism: On the problem of justification in contemporary critical social theory

Critical social theories look critically at the ways in which particular social arrangements hinder human flourishing, with a view to bringing about social change for the better. In this they are guided by the idea of a good society in which the identified social impediments to human flourishing would once and for all have been removed. The question of how these guiding ideas of the good life can be justified as valid across socio-cultural contexts and historical epochs is the most fundamental difficulty facing critical social theories today. This problem of justification, which can be traced back to certain key shifts in the modern Western social imaginary, calls on contemporary theories to negotiate the tensions between the idea of context-transcendent validity and their own anti-authoritarian impulses. Habermas makes an important contribution towards resolving the problem, but takes a number of wrong turnings.
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DOI 10.1080/09672550500169182
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