System and lifeworld in Habermas' theory of democracy

Philosophy and Social Criticism 40 (2):205-214 (2014)
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In this article I challenge two arguments central to Hugh Baxter's critical interpretation of Habermas in his recent book, Habermas: The Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy (2011). Both arguments focus on whether Habermas’ system -lifeworld model of society can successfully make space for democratic politics. Baxter highlights problems with both Habermas’ The Theory of Communicative Action [hereafter cited as TCA] and Habermas’ attempts to fix those problems in Between Facts and Norms [hereafter cited as BFN]. Thus, engaging Baxter on these issues provides an opportunity to think about how to read two of Habermas’ most significant texts in relation to each other. Baxter stresses discontinuities but I draw attention to important continuities. The first discontinuity highlighted by Baxter is between TCA's functionalism and BFN's normative approach. By contrast, in section I my article stresses elements of TCA that have been under-appreciated in general and by Baxter in particular, challenging us to rethink aspects of the standard reading of functionalist versus normative moments in the trajectory of Habermas’ thought. More specifically, in the second discontinuity Baxter identifies in BFN a significant shift in Habermas’ understanding of the nature of a ‘system’. I challenge this interpretation in section II and provide what I think is a superior reconstruction of the model presented in BFN



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Jeffrey Flynn
Fordham University

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