File spoon-archives/habermas.archive/habermas_2000/habermas.0007, message 36

Date: Sun, 30 Jul 2000 11:30:52 -0500 (Central Daylight Time)
Subject: HAB: The practical import of our work

Dear Fellow Habermas list members,

I have been meaning to write this for some time but was prompted
to today when I happened on this passage in Steven Best's _The
Politics of Historical Vision_ (NY:  Guilford Press, 1995), p.226,
noting Steve Seidman's 1991 & 1992 works along the same line:

"In the case of Habermas, despite his numerous political essays,
we see a clear example of how the concern for providing
foundations for critique has overtaken the initial goal of theory,
which was to engage in social critique and political analysis....  
All too often, Habermas's political 'addressee' is not the new
social movements or citizens, but rather fellow academics.  The
Habermas industry has engendered a new form of scholasticism that
rivals medieval Aristotelianism in its arid, obtuse jargon."

I believe this applies to us.  The debates and discussions on this
list seem to me to have gradually drifted away from any practical,
critical, normative commitments.  I grant that this list, if
anywhere, is the place for technical debates over fine points of
H's work and its general concerns.  I cannot and do not point
fingers at any particular person or posting as representing the
above-condemned "scholasticism".  My concern really derives from
the overall tone of our postings, not any one particular.  I would
like it if as we do our work, each of us would ask ourselves what
connection this has to practical political issues.

Let me clarify two things in closing.  First, by "connection to
practical political issues" I don't mean that we should be
printing our works as broadsides and passing them out in the
streets.  I don't ask that we do policy analysis.  I don't intend
to write articles like, "A Habermasian View of Street Light
Placement in Duluth, Minnesota".  I don't demand such a direct
connection.  But I do ask that as we work, we retain a
consciousness of how our work does ultimately connect to practical
political issues.
     Second, I don't mean that any of us has to avoid any specific
topics or change any specific contemplated posting.  My concern is
with our general drift.  If we keep in mind the connection that I
sought in the previous paragraph, we will drift back to our
underlying concern without any of us having to be compulsive about

Best regards,


P.S. By a curious coincidence, I first ran onto Habermas (and the
Marxian / post-modern tradition generally) in a reading group
organized by Steve Seidman back in the early 1980s at New Mexico
State University.

| Stephen Chilton, Associate Professor, Dept of Pol Science 
|    Univ of Minnesota-Duluth / Duluth, MN 55812-2496 / USA 
| 218-726-8162/7534   FAX: 726-6386   Home: 724-6833 (home) 
|    EMAIL: 
| "Socialist papers have often a tendency to become mere annals
|  of complaint about existing conditions.  The exploitation of
|  the laborer in the mine, the factory, the field is related;
|  the misery and sufferings of the workers during strikes are
|  told in vivid pictures;  their helplessness in the struggle
|  against employers is insisted upon;  and that succession of
|  hopeless efforts exercises a most depressing influence on
|  the reader . . . .
|       "I thought, on the contrary, that a revolutionary paper
|  must be, above all, a record of these symptoms which
|  everywhere announce the coming of a new era, the germination
|  of new forms of social life, the growing revolt against
|  antiquated institutions.  These symptoms should be watched,
|  brought together in their intimate connection, and so grouped
|  as to show to the hesitating minds of the greater number the
|  invisible and often unconscious support which advanced ideas
|  find everywhere, when a revival of thought takes place in
|  society . . . .  It is hope, not despair, which makes
|  successful revolutions."
|      -- Peter Kropotkin, Memoirs of a Revolutionist, 1898,
|  quoted in The Catholic Worker (March-April, 1993), p.5.

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