Crisis and critique in Jürgen Habermas’s social theory

Rodrigo Cordero

At a time when ideas of crisis and critique are at the forefront of public discourse, this article seeks to understand moments of crisis vis-a`-vis critique as a key feature of critical social theory. It addresses Ju¨rgen Habermas’s strong claim that this relationship accounts for a ‘model of analysis’ concerned with grasping the ‘diremptions’ of social life. To elaborate this reading, the article pays attention to the main problems Habermas identifies in conventional ways of understanding the concepts of ‘crisis’ and ‘critique’ in social theory. The aim is to examine the mode in which he reconsiders each of these terms and then reasserts the dialectical link between them. I reconstruct this relationship by taking as cases two of his most substantive works of social theorizing: The Theory of Communicative Action, and Between Facts and Norms. Based on this interpretation, I suggest that though Habermas contributes to resituating the practice of critique as a communicative translation of objective crisis, he does not adequately account for another key movement: when critique actually initiates, enacts and furthers the moment of crisis.