Habermas: a reasonable Utopian?

Pauline Johnson

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Already by the mid-1980s, Habermas supposed that our utopian energies had been used up. Today, when a neoliberal 'realism' seems to be a virtually dominant ideology, the climate appears, if anything, yet more hostile to radical hopes. Even while he recognises the obstacles and is clear that we might never succeed in breaking through the 'Gordian knot', Habermas is not prepared to surrender to a proclaimed 'end of politics'. This paper traces some of the ways in which his recent works theorise and attempt to balance twin legacies of a critical theory tradition. Habermas wants to mediate the radicalness of vision required by a critical theory with the perceived reasonableness of its standpoint that is also necessary if theory is to engage concrete actors. Many of his critics suppose that Habermas has not achieved the right balance and that his interest in the self-reforming potentials of liberal democracies weights reasonableness too highly. The following paper sets out to defend Habermas from some of these charges. However, ultimately it finds that his theory has identified the needs for autonomy that it seeks to critically connect up with too narrowly. This means that, to some extent, Habermas' critical theory continues to 'miss its mark'.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101-118
Number of pages18
JournalCritical Horizons
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • Habermas
  • Critical Theory
  • Utopianism
  • Enlightenment
  • Romanticism


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