The Reluctant Postmodernism of JÜrgen Habermas: Reevaluating Habermas’s Debates with Foucault and Derrida
(2022) Review of Politics, 84 (3), pp. 397-421.
Politicians and scholars alike have blamed postmodernism – and the identity politics that have emerged in its wake – for the pathologies of the early twenty-first century. Despite his limited defense of the Enlightenment and his disputes with his French contemporaries, I argue that Habermas’s philosophy displays many postmodern characteristics that are often overlooked. These include its decentering of the autonomous subject, its skepticism towards metaphysics, and its rejection of stadial philosophies of history. In light of the fact that Habermas adopts weaker versions of many postmodern commitments, I reconsider his disputes with Foucault and Derrida regarding the legacy of the Enlightenment. I conclude that rather than interpreting Habermas as a conservative critic of his more radical counterparts in France, we should instead see these three thinkers as part of a shared attempt to come to terms with the problems of postwar Europe in a public, discursive manner.