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Immanent and Context Transcending Habermas

Dhananjay Rai

Edited by Tom Bailey
Routledge, New Delhi, 2013, pp. x 248, Rs. 795.00


Jürgen Habermas has been a sine qua non social theorist of contemporary times. Habermasian political theory is one of the critical/crucial defences of moder­nity in the era of absolute subjectivism and sheer positivism. Habermas defies time and space. His ‘universal’ is eternal and location free. His ‘self-emancipation of people from domination’ (Held, 1995: 250) project re­places class-struggle for ‘communicative ac­tion’ while retaining ‘allusive’ vitality of Marxism to exhibit dichotomy between lifeworlds and systemworlds wherein the former is being eclipsed by the latter under the Capitalist mode of production. The new vista of ‘emancipation’ is also updated by him concerning the ‘Frankfurt School’ wherein ‘enlightenment’ is the pejorative epithet (Horkheimer & Adorno, 2002). For Habermas, ‘the defects of the enlightenment can only be made good by further enlight­enment’ (McCarthy, 1990: xvii). The modernity of Habermas generates after-effects in the form of meta-categories like public sphere, communicative action and rationality, international cosmopolitanism and postnational consensus and seculariza­tion thesis. Due to the richness of his con­tribution, Habermas also confronts three, inter alia, challenges or queries. Firstly, how far has he been true to his genealogical philo­sophical premise which goes to Marxism/ Frankfurt School? Secondly, is his political theory required in ‘subjectivist/individuated era’? Thirdly, is Habermasian political theory really a universal theory? The book under review explores the third query. It plainly elevates his concerns to a global level by way of deprovincialization i.e., turning it ‘universally inclusive’ in place ‘uni­versally given’. Interestingly, Habermas starts a similar query through Max Weber in The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity. Max Weber while conserving modernity peculiar ‘to the occident’, wonders its absence out­side Europe. ‘For Weber, the intrinsic … re­lationship between modernity and what he called “occidental rationalism” was still self-evident. He described as “rational” the pro­cess of disenchantment which led in Europe to a disintegration of religious world views that issued in a secular culture. With the modern empirical sciences, autono­mous arts, and theories of moral­ity and law grounded on principles, cultural spheres of value took shape which made possible learning processes in accord with the respective inner logics of theoretical, aesthetic, and moral-practical problems’ (Habermas, 1990: 1). The present volume encompasses ten chapters asking the ‘Weberian’ question to Habermas i.e., how is the Habermasian framework relevant outside the Europe? Habermas faces several challenges due to sweeping claims of universality or ‘Grand Theory’. As Quentin Skinner ...

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