Habermas: The Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy

By Hugh Baxter | Go to book overview

Introduction

The work you have in front of you is a critical analysis of the complex theory of law and democracy developed by celebrated German philosopher and sociologist, Jürgen Habermas (1929–). It presumes no prior familiarity with Habermas’s work and is designed to be understood by those with little prior acquaintance with law and legal theory. As with other volumes in the “Jurists” series, I begin with a brief biographical sketch of my chosen figure,1 which I integrate with a brief outline of the book’s plan and central arguments.

Habermas was born on June 18, 1929, in the German town of Gummersbach, located in North Rhine-Westphalia about forty miles from Düsseldorf. His grandfather was a Protestant minister and seminary director, and his father served as a district director of the Bureau of Trade and Industry.2 Habermas describes his father as having been a “passive sympathizer” with the Nazi regime.3 According to Habermas’s recollection, “The political climate in our family home was probably not unusual for the time,… marked by a bourgeois adaptation to a political situation with which one did not fully identify but which one didn’t seriously criticize either.”4 Near the end of the war, Habermas joined Hitler Youth, and he soon was sent, with other boys apparently as young as twelve, to “man the Western defenses.”5 Habermas recalls that, at the end of the war, when he was just short of sixteen years old, “the radio was reporting the Nuremberg trials, movie theatres were showing the first documentary films, the concentration camp films…. All at once we saw that we had been living in a politically criminal system. I had never imagined that before.”6 The experience was shattering for Habermas, and undoubtedly it was fundamental in

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