'Legitimation crisis' in the later work of Jürgen Habermas

Most political theorists became acquainted with the work of Jürgen Habermas through his 1973 publication of Legitimationsprobleme im Spätkapitalismus (which became available in English two years later as Legitimation Crisis). In this work, Habermas argued that the traditional Marxist analysis of crisis tendencies in the capitalist system was outdated, given the relative success of the welfare-state compromise. He claimed instead that crisis tendencies generated in the economic sphere would be displaced, via state action, into the cultural sphere. This would in turn create problems of social integration, undermining many of the resources that the state requires for its ongoing management of the economy. In particular, it creates the possibility of a large-scale loss of legitimacy for government institutions. Even though this thesis was not especially new, Habermas’s analysis offered the promise of a more rigorous formulation of the mechanism through which these undesirable cultural sideeffects would be generated. However, Habermas billed his discussion in Legitimation Crisis as only a set of “programmatic” suggestions. Despite being provocative, they were in no sense articulated at a satisfactory level of detail. Unfortunately, despite the fact that Habermas has gone on to a considerable refinement of his broadly sociotheoretic views, he has never returned to an explicit treatment of the principal issues raised in Legitimation Crisis. Nevertheless, through a number of brief discussions that appear in his later work, it is possible to piece..
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