Arnon Grunberg



On a blockhead, or not - Mark Hannam in TLS:

‘“Habermas is a blockhead. It is simply impossible to tell what kind of damage he is still going to cause in the future”, wrote Karl Popper in 1969. The following year he added: “Most of what he says seems to me trivial; the rest seems to me mistaken”.
Five decades later these Popperian conjectures have been roundly refuted. Now in his mid-nineties, Jürgen Habermas is one of the pre-eminent philosophers and public intellectuals of our time. In Germany his generation enjoyed the mercy of being born too late. In 2004, in a speech given on receipt of the Kyoto prize in arts and philosophy, he observed that “we did not have to answer for choosing the wrong side and for political errors and their dire consequences”. He came to maturity in a society that he judged complacent and insufficiently distanced from its recent past. This experience sets the context for his academic work and political interventions.’


‘Habermas’s principal claim is that human reason, appropriately deployed, retains its liberating potential for the species.’


‘Modern democracy, he argued, was increasingly characterized by the technocratic organization of interests, rather than by the open discussion of principles and values.
Habermas then addressed the philosophical question of how we might understand our shared interests, distinguishing between the production of technical knowledge, the development of interpretative understanding and the emancipatory insights achieved through critical theories. In Knowledge and Human Interests(1968), he examined arguments by G. W. F. Hegel, Karl Marx, Auguste Comte, C. S. Peirce, Wilhelm Dilthey and Sigmund Freud, drawing attention to limitations in their approach while borrowing insights that he could repurpose for himself. This strategy – which he called rational reconstruction, but which might best be understood as a process of perpetual upcycling whereby old ideas are improved and reused – became central to his work.’


‘His next major work, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (1985), was a critique of recent French poststructuralist thought. Habermas argued that the work of Michel Foucault implied that the formation of power and the formation of knowledge are inextricably linked, a position that results ineluctably in the flattening of the complexities of social modernization. His book was, in addition, a considered response to Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944), the most pessimistic text produced by the first generation of the Frankfurt School. In reply to his former teachers Habermas defended modernity as “an unfinished project” that, for all its failings and disappointments, retains significant value as the mechanism for the expansion of human freedom and happiness.’


‘A New Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere and Deliberative Politics (published in German in 2022) revisits Habermas’s earlier work on threats to the public sphere. He notes that social media have improved access for a wider range of voices to participate, allowing users to express themselves as authors. That said, he argues that the lack of editorial oversight by social media platforms poses three challenges: first, a weakening of political debate prior to formal decision-making, as public attention is diverted away from consequential issues to trivial matters; second, the tendency of consumers of social media to congregate in like-minded networks, unwilling to engage with those whose interests differ; and third, the erosion of the public sphere itself, as users participate in an “anonymous intimacy” that encourages the expressive sharing of private views without regard for the inclusiveness and engagement that is required by a democratic public sphere.’


‘The capacity of reason to sustain human progress remains unexhausted, yet our ability to learn is matched by a propensity to forget. Jürgen Habermas’s continuing labour of perpetual upcycling provides a salutary reminder that the ideal of a deliberatively democratic society of equals remains worthy of our investment.’

Read the review here.

Popper said more or less the same thing about Hegel, but he did also attack Hegel’s style, probably for good reasons.
It’s not easy to criticize reason, you can praise folly of course and you can accept your own folly, I will sidestep the question whether folly is pure Christianity, but it’s definitely admirable to be still so full of enthusiasm about reason after so many years.

Unfortunately the review didn’t mention the critique of Habermas regarding the ‘Zweitenwende’ of Scholz and the question how much Germany should interfere with the Russian-Ukrainian war. At that time, Habermas was depicted as a Putin-Versteher.
Reason can have its disadvantages.

But fair enough, the hesitations of Habermas seem to be reasonable and realistic.

Realistic is also the other position: we export the weapons and we will give them to you with a steep discount, you do the dying.

Realism and reason do not necessarily overlap.

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