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Habermas and the Relevance of Politics and Legitimation

Habermas and the Relevance of Politics and Legitimation

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Published by Joel Sagut

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Published by: Joel Sagut on Dec 04, 2009
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 Thomas McCarthy, when translating Habermas’
Legitimation Crisis
gave thefollowing remarks in the
: “Habermas can be quite difficult to read… itmakes unusual demands on the reader, assuming some familiarity with a wide range of disciplines (from economics to ethics), authors (from Kant to Parsons), and approaches(from systems theory to phenomenology).”
Habermas’ critical theory surely takes intoconsideration several great writers before him, most noted are Marx and Weber. In twoof his early publications, Habermas concentrated on the issues of politics andlegitimation. Among Habermas’ first concerns were to criticize the rise of positivism andits tendencies for domination.Habermas remarked that self-reflection happens when the ego makes itself transparentto itself as action that returns into itself. He argues that this self-reflection is absent inpositivism. Positivism limits man’s capacity for self-reflection and this makes positivismmore dangerous rather than productive. Positivism proposes dogmatism whicheventually hinders the growth of the society.With this then, Habermas encourages the realization of a society that allows the birthand practice of discourse. Partly he agrees with Dilthey on this end saying that therehas to be an attempt to describe the “intersubjectivity of mutual understanding withinwhose horizon reality can first appear as something.”
The concept of intersubjectivitywould later develop to become the communicative action, which for Habermas isessential in establishing the truth. Truth is no longer propositional for Habermas. Heceases to believe in the transhistorical, transcultural and eternal truths of metaphysics. Truth is rather established by the community. Truth must be utilizable as a norm thatcan be used to direct the life of a certain community.Along this line, Habermas espouses the theory of communicative competence
 whichprovides him the critical standard for looking at modern society. Habermas was criticalof positivism not because of its desire for rigorous search for the truth, but ratherbecause of the growing dogmatism of science. Habermas believes that theories are not just meant to be translatable into practice, but more so, they should gain their basis and
grounding from the praxis. Theories must have their normative value in the society.Hence, Habermas found it alarming to see the naivety that that is slowly forming in theUniversities of the 1960’s. He warns against the danger whereby theories becometechnical powers that robs the human person of his personality. The technocrats are nolonger after their interaction with people but rather only with the mastery of their craftand technology. He was alarmed by the growing tendency of people to do away withinteraction within a community of human beings.
 In bringing about the reflection on the important events in the society, Habermasproposes for the practice of engaging the people into public discussions aboutcontemporary events. Habermas laments over the fact that the people have alreadybecome depoliticized. He observes that with the rise of the new brand of capitalism thatcompromises the antagonism of classes, the people have also become compromisingand a breed of apolitical citizens is beginning to be formed. He said, “with the decline of the open class antagonism, the contradiction has changed its form: it now appears asthe depoliticization of the masses...”
 Habermas worries over the fact that the people are depoliticized because the means of manipulation will proliferate if the people would cease to be critical about what is goingon in the community. Hence, Habermas argues in the first essay of his book,
Towards aRational Society 
, about the role of the Universities to stir up people, especially thestudents, into politics. Habermas sees the students as the hope in invigorating onceagain the political discussion about things so that things would be properly legitimatedbefore they can be accepted as norms. He even argues that the public has alreadybecome corrupted because they have already become uncritical. The public is no longerpolitical but it has been relegated to mean the people’s mere
of what hasbeen handed down. The mass media was blamed by Habermas for this. For him, themass media was utilized as a tool for manipulating the thinking of the people. Theminds of the people are in a sense colonized by the values introduced by the media. The public loses its capacity to scrutinize. Rather, the public is reduced to the merenumber of people who uncritically receives anything introduced on them. The passivityof the kind of public that was evolving was described by Habermas as the people“whose receptiveness is public but uncritical.”
Pondering on the possible contribution of the Universities, he believes that theUniversity can be a good ground for reflection about current events. He warns theuniversities against the thinking that “research and instruction… have to do only withthe production and transmission of technologically exploitable knowledge.”
He eveninquires on whether we should restrict education only to those things which are sociallyfunctional and useful. Even years after the time Habermas, it seems that manyuniversities are doing the same. The sciences (natural sciences) and engineering reignsupreme while the rest of the disciplines dwindle. Habermas was particularly alarmedagainst this tendency and gave a strong remark against it: "Can and should theuniversity today restrict itself to what appears to be the only socially necessary functionand at best institutionalize what remains of traditional cultivation of personality as aseparate educational subject divorced from the enterprise of knowledge?”
He howevergave an immediate reply: “I should like to argue against this suggestive illusion andadvance the thesis that under no circumstances can the universities dispense with thethree tasks I have mentioned.”
These three tasks are:a.the university has the responsibility of ensuring that its graduates are equipped,no matter how indirectly, with a minimum of qualifications in the area of extra-functional abilities.b.The university needs to transmit, interpret, and develop the cultural tradition of the society.c.The university has also to form the political consciousness of its students.Habermas seems to argue that the third task of the university started to emerge afterthe Second World War. In the past, the teachings in the University were mostlyapolitical. The instructions were mostly content-based, and are oftentimes taken forgranted. Even in positivism, it can be seen that the dogmatism of the sciences simplyreduces the university-experience into learning the contents of the disciplines. But afterthe Second World War, a kind of political consciousness was starting to form. This time,Habermas describes, “student governments were occupied with current political issuesand student political organization were welcomed and promoted.”
 With these newdevelopments, the culture of the universities was also changed. The professorsthemselves, especially those who would like to preserve the tradition are even alsoconfronted with an alternative.

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