Academic journal article German Quarterly

Jürgen Habermas: Eine Biographie

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Jürgen Habermas: Eine Biographie

Article excerpt

Müller-Doohm, Stefan. Jürgen Habermas: Eine Biographie. Frankfiirt/Main: Suhrkamp, 2014. 750 pp. euro29,95 (hardcover).

Writing a biography of Jürgen Habermas is not an easy task. For over six decades, Habermas has been the most influential intellectual in Germany, commenting on issues from German rearmament in the 1950s to European integration and religion since the turn of the millennium. His scholarly work has dealt with topics ranging from a dissertation on Schelling to legal theory and ethics. Over more than a half century he has altered or refined his positions considerably. The framework and methodology for his discussion of the public sphere in his Habilitationsschrift differ considerably from his approach in Erkenntnis und Interesse or the two-volume magnum opus Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns or the later consideration of juridical and moral questions in Faktizität und Geltung. And his intellectual allegiances have varied from the time when he was a "true Heideggarian" (76) to his association with Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer and, later, to his preoccupation with the language philosophy of J.L. Austin and John Searle, John Rawls's theories of justice, and Lawrence Kohlberg's psychology of moral development. Despite changes over the years, however, many of his concerns remained fairly constant: his adherence to democracy, for example, nurtured by personal experience of National Socialism, or his conviction that reason is embodied in our linguistic ability span several decades, and we find themes that he treated fairly early in his career recurring in later writings. What to include, what to emphasize, and how to arrange the vast amount of material is a daunting task for a Habermas biographer.

In his biography, Müller-Doohm employs two organizational principles: inclusivity and chronological narration. He appropriately focuses on intellectual matters (eschewing, except for the essentials, personal and intimate details of Habermas's life) and presents them in informed discussions of books, newspaper articles, and talks produced by Habermas over more than 60 years. After a relatively brief overview of his early years and education, Müller-Doohm turns to Habermas's stint as Adorno's assistant in Frankfurt, detailing here and throughout the debates and conflicts in which he was embroiled. Indeed, the strength of this biography is undoubtedly the emphasis on public controversies and Habermas's role as a promoter of public discourse about important philosophical and political issues. Particularly interesting and less acknowledged than these interventions, most ofwhich were occasioned by open letters or newspaper articles, is Habermas's involvement with the Suhrkamp Verlag and its publishing program. Through his influence in the publishing house, Habermas assisted in establishing a high standard for theoretical discourse in Germany from the 1960s until the present. …

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