File spoon-archives/habermas.archive/habermas_2000/habermas.0002, message 10

Subject: HAB: RE: Popular Sovereignty as Procedure
Date: Tue, 29 Feb 2000 18:55:48 +0100

Hi Ken

I'm in a bit of a hurry, so please excuse the jumpy argument (if any)...

To the extent - which, to be sure, is less than many would have it, i.e.
less than the direct, but flawed, translation of discourse ethics into a
theory of democracy - to the extent that Habermas' "moral theory of
discourse" is interconnected with his theory of the public sphere/public
discourse and deliberative democracy, the "self-referential reproduction" of
the public sphere and the "desubstantialization of popular sovereignity"
merely refer to the liberal attempt to free public argument of status,
privilege etc. without, as was the problem in The Structural Transformation,
according to Habermas himself, being tied up in Marxian or
subject-philosophical  notions like "The-People". With the Theory of
Communicative action, Habermas gained the tools, viz. the
discourse-theortical concepts, to do this, i.e. to conceive of the public
sphere and of popular sovereignty processually (rather than substantively)
as, yes, a "subjectless", "anonymous", and "fallible" proces of
intersubjective learning.

With BFN, however, the other side (the one missing from TCA) to the
desubstantialization of popular sovereignty is captured in the notion of the
depersonalization of power through positive law and the latter's functional
contribution of stabilizing individual expectations.

Zizek? I don't know. I've benefited a lot from reading Claude Lefort on this
point of desubstantialization. Modernity's " loss of markers of certainty"
(Lefort, Democracy and Political Theory, 1988, p. 19) accounts for the fact
that, in democracy, "the locus of power becomes an empty place" (ibid., p.
17), which, however, is not to remove communicative, even morally charged,
content from public discourse.

According to Lefort, the dual political originality of modern democracy,
lies in its implication of 

"a power which is henceforth involved in a constant search for a basis
because law and knowledge are no longer embodied in the person or persons
who exercise it, and a  society which accepts conflicting opinions and
debates over rights because the markers which once allowed people to situate
themselves in a determinate manner have disappeared". (...) Modern democracy
is the only regime to indicate the gap between the symbolic and the real by
using the notion of a power which no one - no prince and no minority [and
majority, Lefort later acknowledges] - can seize. It has the virtue of
relating society to the experience of its institution. When an empty place
emerges, there can be no possible conjunction between power, law and
knowledge [cp. Habermas on the impossibility of closing the gap between
facticity and validity!], and their foundations cannot possibly be
enunciated. The being of the social vanishes or, more accurately, projects
itself into in an endless series of questions (...). The ultimate markers of
certainty are destroyed, and at the same time there is borne a new awareness
of the unknown element in history, of the gestation of humanity in all the
variety of its forms" (Lefort, Democracy and Political Theory, 1988, 34;

In short, democracy is "the historical society par excellence", "a society
which in its very form welcomes and preserves indeterminacy" (ibid., p. 16).

Kristian Kindtler
-----Original Message-----
Sent: 29. februar 2000 17:45
Subject: HAB: Popular Sovereignty as Procedure

Is there a slight shift in the emphasis of Habermas's moral theory of
to his theory of deliberative democracy?

On pg. 486 of BFN, habermas writes, "The public sphere thus reproduces
*self-referentially* [emphaiss in text], and in doing so reveals the place
which the expectation of a sovereign self-organization of society has 
withdrawn.  The idea of popular sovereignty is thereby *desubstantialized* 
[my emphasis]... Subjectless and anonymous, an intersubjectively dissolved 
popular sovereignty withdraws into democratic procedures and the demanding 
communicative presuppositions of their implementation."

I take this to mean that "popular sovereignty" is an "empty space" - a space

that cannot be filled by any susbtance (above the dissolution of the 
tautology), lest the procedures themselves lose their formal character and
with a given substance.  My immediate reaction is that this has some 
similarities to Zizek's "absent centre of political ontology" but I'm not
interested in purusing that here.  More to point, I'm interested if this
a shift in Habermas's thinking, albeit slight, from his moral theory, which 
doesn't appear to have the same "hole in the middle."


     --- from list ---

     --- from list ---


Driftline Main Page


Display software: ArchTracker © Malgosia Askanas, 2000-2005