CHAPTER 4
Habermas's Reorientation of Critical Theory
Toward Democratic Theory

Despite Max Horkheimer's fear that he was “too left-wing” to inherit the legacy of the Frankfurt School, Jürgen Habermas has modernized the tradition of critical theory just as the original Frankfurters sought to modernize Marxism: by criticizing and thereby reaffirming in his own way the premises from which the founders began. This achievement has not always been understood by his audience, despite a remarkable series of successes, each one crowned by a theoretical work of synthetic breadth and theoretical depth. Typical was the case of the book that was his Habilitationsschrift in 1962, Structural Change of the Public Sphere, 1 which joined American sociological research with German philosophy and Enlightenment politics to create the notion of a “public sphere,” whose emergence, ripening, and potential withering Habermas traced. Although this work has come to be recognized as a fundamental contribution to democratic political theory, Habermas had to leave Frankfurt for Heidelberg in order to receive university recognition for it. Even though he would later modify some of his theoretical claims, he never renounced what he already called the project of enlightenment, in which understanding comes about through engagement in the public space.

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