Jürgen the great


Jürgen Habermas ranks today as the single most important public intellectual in all of Continental Europe. But he is also a formidable philosopher whose major contributions to social and political theory, constitutional law, historical sociology, the history of philosophy, and the philosophy of language (to name only the fields he revisits with greatest frequency) are pitched at such air-gasping heights of difficulty and place such merciless demands upon the reader as to turn away all but the most fearless. This twofold persona—technical philosopher and public controversialist—does not strike most Europeans as unfamiliar. Sartre was such a creature, too. But in the Anglophone world it is a species that remains exotic. John Rawls, to whom Habermas is often compared, is justly remembered as the major Anglophone political philosopher of the twentieth century, but beyond the university walls his public presence was minimal. You have to go back to the early twentieth century—maybe to Bertrand Russell—to find a philosopher who achieved a similar prestige for both his technical philosophical achievements and his interventions on the public stage.

more from Peter Gordon at TNR here.