Habermas generation

Habermas generation

Image: wolfram huke/ cc by-sa 3.0

The world spirit of starnberg: no other thinker has influenced the federal republic of germany like jurgen habermas

Jurgen habermas turned 90 last week – he is the theorist against fear, the philosopher of civilization after barbarism and the intellectual, political conscience of the federal republic of germany.

Habermas, born in rhineland, is considered a difficult thinker, but in fact there are few who think as openly and diversely as he does: the philosopher’s most important keywords are the "unity of reason in the multiplicity of its voices", the "structural change of the public", in their "new obscurity" itself "the casual constraint of the better argument" could assert. At the end "verfang patriotism" and the "urbanization of the province".

Raising awareness of the dull topicality

40 years ago, in 1979, jurgen habermas made his 50th birthday. The frankfurt suhrkamp publishing house gave a birthday present to one of its most important authors, even at that time. On 1. October, a good three months late, saw the publication of the brick-red double volume of edition suhrkamp, with the relational number 1000, under the ironic (?!) title "keywords for the ‘spiritual situation of the times", published by the philosopher who was doing research in starnberg at the time.

The educated remembered: the title was an open allusion to the bestseller by karl jaspers, published almost 50 years earlier. In his most successful book, the liberal existentialist formulated an unspoken counter-program to his intellectual partner heidegger and his catholic-based fundamental ontology. But jaspers followed heidegger’s pattern of the master thinker who, from behind a desk, explains the world from one perspective.

"It’s all become obsolete", habermas formulates in his still very readable introduction: "what has not become obsolete is the task of intellectuals to react to leaps, developmental tendencies, dangers to critical moments with partisanship and objectivity, with sensitivity and incorruptibility. It is the business of intellectuals to make the dull topicality conscious. We should not leave it to people for whom ‘intellectual’ is a dirty word."

Habermas focused on team-building, cooperation and pluralism, in some sense cultural-historical social partnership – the cardinal virtues of the early federal republic.

The double volume was a rallying movement of left liberals and the rough appearance of the habermas generation. It counterattacked against the neoconservative banner carriers of the "tendenzwende", who had just completed the steel helmet for the "militarized democracy … On the semantic civil war front" had strapped on.

She did this in the form of "keywords", which was by no means as modest a claim as it seemed and was also perceived by some with the soupcon of intellectual thoroughness. For one presented oneself self-confidently as the "as a keyword giver". And in the pluralism of the appearance there was also the idea of an intellectual avant-garde, which "marching separately, striking together" the unity of reason in the multiplicity of its voices, marks ruptures that exceed the intensity of those of 1989.

Habermas then fought the second and decisive battle against the tendenzwende generation in the "historikerstreit" since 1985. This was a political watershed for west germans, now about 50 years old, who had come to terms with the experience of "1968" and "1977" marks ruptures that exceed the intensity of the year 1989.

Alert critique of the colonization of the lifeworld

Until today habermas is awake. Early on he recognizes "conflicts and upheavals indicating a shift in deep-seated structures". His contemporary symptomatic uneasiness, which he shared with jaspers, made him sensitive enough to recognize as early as 1979 the "colonization of the living environment" and to diagnose the "impoverishment of the possibilities of expression and communication in complex societies" to recognize.

Habermas’ remarks in this regard and his cues – "the instrumentalization of professional work, the mobilization at the workplace, an intensification of competition and prere to perform even in elementary school, the monetarization of services, relationships and lifetimes, the consumerist redefinition of the personal sphere of life … The bureaucratization and juridification of private informal spheres of activity, above all the political administrative capture of school, family, education, and cultural reproduction in general" – is still relevant after 40 years and four digital "revolutions" little of substance to add.

Structural change of the public sphere

"Communication" is the central concept in the work of habermas. N all the developments, changes, and at times ruptures in the now more than 60-year history of his work, the 18-year-old habermas has not added much of substance. The most important living german philosopher, who was born in dusseldorf on june 1929, is still interested in the idea of a "universal understanding" recorded. And at least for his own work he has achieved this ideal.

Today habermas is read in china and by the spd, his work is respected and appreciated on the banks of the seine in paris, whose postmodern master thinkers he fought against with verve, as well as on the campus of harvard, to whose philosophy of language he developed the european counter-model.

Habermas, who now lives in starnberg, is as much an interlocutor for arch-conservative roman cardinals as he is for the civil rights activists of the whole world. It is only logical that such a person was awarded the peace prize of the german book trade in 2001, four weeks after 9/11.

This picture seems almost too harmonious, and one doubts that habermas is entirely comfortable with it. For he has never avoided controversy; in his view, understanding and consensus can only exist where there is also controversy. But the way of arguing is decisive.

It began with a bang: over 50 years ago, in the summer of 1953, the then young unknown doctoral student reviewed the new volume of lectures by martin heidegger, who had just shaken off the accusations of his nazi involvement and had settled comfortably into the young republic. Authoritative in tone, perceptive in substance, habermas disrupted this conviviality so effectively that neither he nor his arguments have since been forgotten.

By raising the question of the responsibility of thought and applying it to the immediate past, habermas made himself a spokesman for the young generation of postwar academics who were not willing to put up with the false rewards of the older generation. Here, the first contours of the philosophical-political profile that characterized his work and about which he wrote in relation to others, ideological friends as well as enemies, appeared in many of his books.

Whoever deals with the work and impact of habermas cannot separate the two from the year of his birth. 1929, shortly before the outbreak of the great depression, in an epoch that we now remember as the years of a short-lived, failing republic and "interwar period" know.

An astonishing historical change of tides, which is overprinted by this life: the "the grace of late birth" saved habermas from the war effort, but his entire conscious childhood was shaped by the experience of the nazi dictatorship. His father was not a resister, but an adapted opportunist, he later reported.

The experience of dictatorship, of germany destroyed both materially and morally, the hopes and opportunities of the "zero hour", the positively experienced westernization of germany, jazz music, hollywood movies, free press and the eventual emergence of a democratic germany of its own right and will shaped the coming of age of this generation. And from it habermas’ work may be understood until today.

I myself am a product of reeducation, and i hope not an overly negative one. I would like to say that we have learned that the bourgeois constitutional state in its french or american or english form is a historical achievement.

Jurgen habermas

From the first years of the federal republic, when he studied in gottingen, zurich and bonn and published his first texts in the feuilleton of the faz, this philosopher has accompanied his society, seeing himself as its contemporary and benevolent critic. That is why habermas, even in the 1960s, beyond his work that was influential from the beginning, was a public figure and one of the leading intellectuals of our country.

Habermas’ willingness to argue openly about politics, law and morality clearly separates him from many others. The rather bourgeois-conservative education in gottingen and bonn was supplemented by the years in frankfurt.

Here he worked for the renowned "institute for social research" as an assistant to the returning emigres max horkheimer and th. W. Adorno. His closest friend and colleague at the institute was the liberal ralf dahrendorf. "This is when philosophical and political matters first began to meet," he later wrote.

One had to think about this for a long time: about the reconciliation of the classical german intellectual traditions with the new sciences, which, in habermas’ case, perhaps also lead to an existential liberalism. It should not be overlooked that horkheimer was also a schopenhauer reader, adorno also a nietzsche reader. How much jaspers, arendt and sartre did habermas read?? Only once, at the sartre congress in 1987, habermas’ ex-assistant axel honneth hinted at these undescribed parallels.

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