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Jürgen Habermas: Between Democratic Deliberation and Deliberative Democracy

Susen, S. (2018). Jürgen Habermas: Between Democratic Deliberation and Deliberative Democracy. In: Wodak, R. & Forchtner, B. (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Language and Politics. (pp. 43-66). Abingdon, UK: Routledge.


It is widely acknowledged that Jürgen Habermas is an advocate of a deliberative model of democracy.1 In essence, Habermas’s discourse ethics constitutes a systematic attempt to locate the normative grounds of deliberative democracy in the rational foundations of language. From a Habermasian point of view, every time we engage in the co-existential exercise ofseeking mutual understanding (Verständigung), we anticipate that we are capable of reaching agreements (Einverständnisse). Put differently, our communicative ability to understand one another equips us with the deliberative capacity to reach agreements with one another. Thus, the emancipatory potential of communicative action manifests itself not only in our ‘weak’ orientation towards intelligibility (Verständlichkeit) but also in our ‘strong’ orientation towards consensus-formation (Konsensbildung). Language use, irrespective of its quasi-transcendental features, is embedded in the pragmatics of interaction. Symbolic forms emerge in relation to spatio-temporally contingent modes of existence, whose political constitution is reflected in the socio-ontological significance of discursively motivated practices, which are vital to the construction of democracy. This chapter aims to demonstrate that Habermas’s concern with democracy is inseparably linked to his interest in language. More specifically, it seeks to illustrate that the following ten elements are central to Habermas’s multifaceted account of democracy: (1) deliberation, (2) reciprocity, (3) self-determination, (4) citizenship, (5) the state, (6) sovereignty, (7) communicative rationality, (8) regulation, (9) will-formation and (10) constitutional law. The chapter concludes by addressing a number of issues that arise when confronted with the task of assessing both the validity and the usefulness of Habermas’s communication-theoretic account of democracy.

Publication Type: Book Section
Additional Information: This is an Accepted Manuscript of a book chapter published by Routledge in The Routledge Handbook of Language and Politics on 22 August 2017, available online:
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > Sociology & Criminology
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