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Jurgen Habermas & Frankfurt School

Cultural Marxism from Jurgen Habermas of the Frankfurt School

Born on the 18th of June, 1929 in Gummersbach, Rhine Province, Prussia, Germany, Jurgen Habermas is a German sociologist and philosopher. Although popular for various reasons, Habermas is most famous for his theories on communicative rationality.

While Habermas is generally regarded by a lot of people to be a deep thinker, he attributes this ability to a deformity. Habermas was born with a cleft palate which made him have a deformity when speaking. Due to this congenital issue, Habermas underwent corrective surgery two times when he was a child. Although a lot of people do not see the relationship between having a speech deformity and being a deep thinker, Habermas made it known that being born with a speech disability made him see communication from a different perspective from a lot of people.

Jurgen Habermas’ Early Life and Education

The Second World War took place while Habermas was a teenager and it had a major effect on him. Habermas’ father was a Nazi sympathizer and Habermas himself worked as a Jungvolkfuhrer.

Habermas grandfather was the director of the seminary located in Gummersbach. Due to this, he was trained under a strict Protestant milieu.

After graduating from gymnasium, Habermas went on to attend the University of Göttingen between 1949 and 1950, the University of Zurich between 1950 and 1951, and the University of Bonn between 1951 and 1954. After this fairly long period of obtaining education on different levels, Habermas earned a doctorate degree from the University of Bonn.

After his doctorate degree from Bonn, Habermas went on to study philosophy and sociology. He did this at the Institute of Social Research in Goethe University Frankfurt under the tutelage of Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer who were famous critical theorists at the time. Although Habermas began at the Institute of Social Research in Goethe University Frankfurt, he did not complete his studies there. He completed his studies at the University of Marburg under the tutelage of Wolfgang Abendroth. The reasons for this were Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno had a disagreement about his dissertation. Also, Habermas was of the opinion that political sexism, as well as a disrespect for modern culture,  had affected the school, in Frankfurt.

After completing his studies at the University of Marburg, he went on to become a Privatdozent in the same city. Not long afterward, the academic scene in Germany offered Habermas an unusual position. This position was that of ‘extraordinary professor’ of Philosophy at the University of Heidelberg. It simply meant a professor without chair. This event took place in 1962. Not long afterward, Habermas became a prominent figure nationally. This occurred because of the public release of his habilitation. Two years after becoming a professor, with support from Adorno, Habermas made his way back to Frankfurt where he took over Hoekheimer’s chair. He became a professor of Philosophy and sociology with Albrecht Wellmer as his assistant.

In 1970, Habermas became the director of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of the Scientific-Technical World in Starnberg. He held this position between 1971 and 1983. He left this position in 1984 when he became a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Science.

Habermas retired from Frankfurt a decade after he left the position of the Director of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of the Scientific-Technical World in Starnberg. Habermas has been retired for over two decades and has spent a lot of time as a publisher since retiring.

Ten years after his retirement, Habermas got an award as The Prince of Asturias in Social Sciences. One year after he got this award, he became a recipient of the Kyoto Laureate in the Arts and Philosophy section. He did not stop at that. A year after his award as the Kyoto Laureate in the Arts and Philosophy section, Habermas became a recipient of the 2005 Holberg International Memorial Prize. This was followed by his inclusion on the list of the most cited authors in humanity in 2007 he was the seventh person on this list. Also on this list were Erving Goffman and Max Weber who were placed in positions below Habermas’s

Habermas as a Teacher and Mentor

Habermas is not just a philosopher, he is also a mentor and a teacher to lots of people. Although he has lots of prominent students, some of his most prominent students are the Zoran Ðinđic, assassinated prime minister of Serbia, Jeremy J. Shapiro, the co-founder of mindful inquiry in social research, Thomas McCarthy, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, an anarcho-capitalist philosopher that later began picking flaws in lots of Habermas’s thoughts, Konrad Ott, an environmental ethicist, David Rasmussen, the chief editor of a journal known as philosophy and Social Criticisms, Axel Honneth, a social philosopher and director of the Institute of Social Research, Klaus Eder, Hans Joas, a sociological theorist and a professor at the University of Chicago and the University of Erfurt, Hans-Herbert Kögler, a social philosopher and Chair of Philosophy at the University of North Florida, Johann Arnason, a social philosopher ad professor at La Tribe University, Clause Offe, professor at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin and political sociologist, and Herbert Schnädelbach, a theorist of discourse distinction and rationality and a pragmatic philosopher.

Philosophy and Sociology

In the course of his lifetime, Habermas has been able to construct an in-depth structure of philosophy and social theory. He has been able to do this by depending on some already existing intellectual traditions. Some of these traditions are;

  • The Neo-Kantian thought
  • The Sociologist social systems theory of Talcott Parsons and Niklas Luhmann
  • The American pragmatist tradition of John Dewey and Charles Sanders Peirce
  • The developmental psychology of Lawrence Kohlberg and Jean Piaget
  • The linguistic philosophy and speech act theories of Ludwig Eittgenstein, J.L. Austin, P.F. Strawson. Stephen Toulmin and John Searle.
  • The sociological theories of Max Weber, George Herbert Mead, and Emile Durkheim.

Habermas’ Discovery of Reconstructive Science

As a philosopher, Habermas has made a lot of discoveries and has been able to put some theories in place. One of his many discoveries is the concept of reconstructive sciences. According to him, reconstructive science has two purposes. The first purpose is to put the “general theory of society” in a position between social science and philosophy. The second is to re-instate the bone of contention between the ‘empirical research” and the “great theorization”

Habermas’ Thoughts on the Public Sphere

According to Habermas, before the advent of the 18th century, the ‘representation culture’ a type of culture in which a party looked for ways of representing itself on its assembly by overpowering its subjects was the dominant culture in Europe. To further buttress his point, Habermas claimed that the Palace of Versailles of Louis XIV served the primary purpose of portraying The French state, as well as its king as being great in the mind of those that visited the palace. Habermas said representational culture corresponded to the antique level of growth based on the Marxist theory of cultural marxism. He further argued that the beginning of the public sphere was symbolized by the arrival of the capitalist phase of growth.

Habermas is of the opinion that the public sphere began replacing representational culture very gradually as the relevance of journals, newspapers, Masonic lodges, reading clubs, and coffees houses grew in the 18th century. According to Habermas’ argument, the critical nature of the public sphere was one of its most obvious features. In the public sphere, dialogue had a glorified position. It is very much unlike representational culture in which a party was passive and another active. In the representational culture, one party was absolutely dependent on the decision of the other and had no role except in adhering to already made decisions. In the public sphere, individuals took part in active conversations. They also made their views known through newspapers. According to Habermas, the public sphere culture must have started out in Britain in 1700 because it was regarded as the most liberal nation in the whole of Europe. After the arrival of public sphere culture in Britain around 1700, it became a movement in other countries in Europe in the 18th century. Habermas is of the opinion that one of the major driving forces for the French revolution was the breakdown of representational culture.

While public sphere was generally regarded as being more profitable to the average person by most people, it underwent some level of decay. Although the exact cause of the decay experienced by the public sphere culture cannot be explicitly stated, there were lots of factors that played a major role in this decay. One of the major factors was the steady rise of mass media on a commercial scale. This steady rise in the development of mass media on a commercial scale converted members of the public from being critical to being passive.

Although Habermas released a lot of work as an active author, none of them is as prominent as the Theory of Communicative Action which he released in 1981. Through this work, Habermas made it known that one of the tools which bring about modernization is criticism. In this work, Habermas made it clear that the life of the average person on a daily basis is affected by formal systems. He also gave reasons why this occurrence takes place.

Although the public sphere is not what it used to be, Habermas is optimistic that there could be a revival in this sphere. He is expectant of a future in which nations that rely on representative democracy replace this system with a system that is reliant on deliberative democracy. A system which is concerned about its citizens having equal rights.


While Habermas’s thought about public spheres have been widely accepted by people, it has also been widely criticized. Famous among those that have criticized Habermas notion on public sphere is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Cambridge known as John B. Thompson. According to John B. Thompson, Habermas’ view on public sphere is outdated because of mass-media communications.

John b. Thompson is not the only one that has openly criticized Habermas’ notion of public sphere. One other person that has done this is Michael Schudson of the University of California, San Diego. In his argument, he stated clearly that a public sphere never really existed as an institution of absolutely logical self-reliant debate.

Habermas and postmodernists

In 1981, Habermas released an essay which he titled ‘modernity vs postmodernity’. This essay has enjoyed a good and broad level of negotiation since its release. Habermas sheds light on the failures that took place in the twentieth century and asks if it was necessary to stick to Enlightenment’s feeble intentions or look at postmodernity as an extinct tenet.

The fact that this essay was widespread means it was noticed by people that bought into his view, as well as those that were totally against his view. Some of Habermas’ criticism of postmodernism include;

He is of the opinion that postmodernists have totalized a failed perspective to clarify the differences between practices that take place in a modern society ad phenomena.

The things such things as everyday life which should be the center of attention have been ignored by postmodernists.

Jurgen Habermas and Derrida

 Between the early 1980s and the late 1990s, Jurgen Habermas and Derrida took part in a series of debates which can best be described as arguments. While these many debates started out as disputes, they led to a friendship which came to an end after Jacques Derrida passed on in 2004. The first time Habermas and Derrida had physical contact was when Derrida was invited as a guest speaker to the University of Frankfurt School. This took place in 1984. A year after this meeting, Habermas released a book which he titled ‘Beyond a Temporalized Philosophy of Origins: Derrida’. In this work, he argued that the method used by Derrida could not serve as a foundation for social critique. Although this dispute lasted a while, it ended in the late 1990s when Habermas met with Derrida in a University in the United States where they were both lecturers. Afterward, they had dinner in Paris and took part in a series of projects.

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