It is hardly surprising that Immanuel Kant plays a prominent role in Habermas’s discussion of the vicissitudes of what — for reasons that I’ve discussed in a previous post — might best be termed “bourgeois publicity.” As Habermas notes at the outset of the section on Kant in Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit, Kant’s elaboration of the “principle of Publizität” represented the elevation of the “idea of bourgeois publicity” to “its theoretically mature form.”
The discussion of Kant plays a pivotal role in Habermas’s exploration of the way in which bourgeois publicity functions both as “ideology and more than ideology.” Perhaps that is why the discussion begins with a stock-taking of Habermas’s position vis a vis a few rival accounts. What I’d like to do in this post is to focus on a series of statements that unfold over the course of the second paragraph of the section. Quite a bit happens in a rather short space.
The paragraph begins with a quick summary of the process that Kant was attempting to comprehend:
The critical process that private people engaged in rational-political debate brought to bear on absolutist rule interpreted itself as unpolitical: public opinion aimed at rationalizing politics in the name of morality.
From here, Habermas goes on to offer a brief characterization of the transformation that he sees as having taken place in eighteenth-century discussions of political philosophy:
In the eighteenth century the Aristotelian tradition of a philosophy of politics was reduced in a telling matter to moral philosophy, whereby the “moral” (in any event thought as one with “nature” and “reason”) also encompassed the emerging sphere of the “social,” its connotation overlapping those of the word “social” given such peculiar emphasis at the time.
The paragraph closes with a brief summary of Kant’s argument in Perpetual Peace:
The juridical relationships, their authority grown absolute, originated in practical reason and were conceived as the possibility of a mutual constraint that, on the basis of general laws, harmonized with the freedom of every single person — the most extreme counterposition to the principle auctoritas non veritas facit legem.
Though it may not be immediately clear to the reader, besides offering a sketch of where the argument of Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit stands, each of these statements carries an echo of the work of other thinkers.
At the risk of belaboring the obvious, let’s spell out where these arguments are originating. The first quote is a rather straightforward summary of the basic argument of Reinhart Koselleck’s Critique and Crisis. The second alludes, first of all, to Wilhelm Hennis’s exploration (noted at the Habermas’s Preface to Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit) of the status of the “traditional science of ‘politics’” within the broader domain of “practical philosophy.” But, looking beyond the immediate context of Hennis’s work, Habermas is concerned, in particular, with the challenge posed to this tradition with the “emergence” of the category of “society” over the course of the eighteenth century. And this, of course, was a concern that loomed large in Hannah Arendt’s Human Condition, a work whose importance for the argument Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit has yet to be fully explored. Finally, the last extract closes with a passage from the Latin translation of what is probably the greatest piece of political philosophy written in English: Hobbes’s Leviathan. But, more importantly for the matter at hand, this phrase had long served as a sort of talisman for the evil genius behind Critique and Crisis: Carl Schmitt.
Arendt and the Concept of Society
The influence of Arendt’s Human Condition on the argument of Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit is pervasive, but also somewhat elusive. Taken as whole, it is hard to read Habermas’s project as anything other than a critique of Arendt’s account of the implications of the triumph of “society” for the traditional understanding of politics. For Arendt, the concept of “society” served as a marker for the intrusion of concerns that the tradition descending from Aristotle had regarded as affairs of the household into what Arendt understood as the “public sphere.” The result was a blurring of “the old borderline between private and political” that altered the meaning of the distinction between the private and the political “almost beyond recognition.”
In The Human Condition, “society” marked the domain in which “the fact of mutual dependence for the sake of life and nothing else assumes public significance.” For Arendt, the entry of such concerns into the public sphere marked a fundamental break: the activities that had once been the concern of the household now flooded into a domain that — in her idealized account of the Greek public sphere — had previously been the site of activities that transcended the household’s concern with the production and preservation of physical life. In the wake of the invasion of the public realm by “the social,” the classical understanding of the meaning of politics had been lost and, with it, the distinction between “action” — which, following Aristotle, she saw as possible only within a public space that was free from those concerns that now constituted “the social” — and what she termed “behavior.” Because she held that “action” was distinguished by its unique capacity to bring something novel into the world, the displacement of “action” by “behavior” had far-reaching implications. Among other things, it meant that any success that the social sciences might have in framing generalizations that satisfied the standards of the natural science represented a confirmation of the degree to which authentic (political) “action” had been replaced by predictable patterns of (social) “behavior.”
It is possible that a Verfallgeschichte of this sort might have had a lingering appeal to Habermas. After all, as he later observed, he had begun his philosophical career as a “thoroughgoing Heideggerian”. But it is hard to see how a history of this sort could have been accepted by the author of Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit. This, however, is not to say that it is an argument that Habermas seems to have had much interest in criticizing: the closest he came to a critique occurs in initial reference to Arendt’s work, which describes it as the most recent example of a tradition, reaching back to the Renaissance, that interpreted ancient forms of publicity through a “stylized Greek self-interpretation.” He observes (somewhat laconically) that, like “everything else considered ‘classical’,” this model of publicity has retained “a peculiarly normative power” (4). But it is not the intent of Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit to use the image of the polis as the norm against which later manifestations of the public life were to be measured. At this point in his career, such a norm would have to be extracted from the unfulfilled promise of bourgeois publicity, which — as he tells us time and again — was both “ideology and more than ideology.”
Habermas was considerably more attracted to the idea that something had been lost with the demise of what he would call “the classical doctrine of politics” in the lecture that he delivered in December 1961 as the final step in his protracted Habilitation process. But, in contrast Hennis, Arendt, Gadamer, and any number of others for whom Aristotelean practical philosophy seemed to offer an alternative to modern political science, he disavowed any interest in recovering a lost science of politics: the approaches on which “social philosophy” relied were, of necessity, broader than those of the traditional humanities. Habermas’s attempt to clarify the peculiar relationship of critical social theory to the “hermeneutic” disciplines on the one hand and the “empirical analytic” sciences on the other would remain a sort of work in progress for the next several decades.
Koselleck and the Hypocritical Enlightenment
If the relationship of Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit to The Human Condition is somewhat ambiguous, its stance towards Reinhart Koselleck’s Critique and Crisis is, at least at first glance, much simpler: Koselleck’s argument divereged markedly from Habermas. But, as had been the case with its treatment of Arendt, Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit went about its business with little in the way of an acknowledgement that the account it was developing stood in starkest possible contrast to the one provided in Critique and Crises. The book’s explicit discussions of Koselleck are few and far between. Habermas began with a footnote expressing his indebtedness to Koselleck’s “exceptional investigation” for “many references” (see p. 267, footnote 2). A few footnotes later he noted a “characteristic passage” from Turgot that Koselleck had cited (p. 269, footnote 25). And finally, a few pages later, in the course of an account of the way in which Kant sought to bring about the reconciliation of politics and morality in the absence of the achievement of a “juridical condition” [Rechtszustand], Habermas observes that Kant
did not believe that he should expect any other beginning of the juridical condition than one achieved by political force. The indirect assumption of power by private individuals assembled to constitute a public, however, was not seen as itself political; …. (108).
At the end of this passage Habermas places a footnote directing readers to the discussion of Kant in the section of Critique and Crisis that discusses “The Process of Critique.” It may be worth noting that the German — “Prozess der Kritik” — has juridical overtones (recall Kafka) that Koselleck cashes in by the end of the discussion:
With this the pro and con of criticism, which had followed its non-political course within the Republic of Letters, turned into a trial between the Règne de la Critique and the rule of the State. In this trial the critic was simultaneously prosecutor, supreme judge and interested party (113).
Passages like this remind the reader that, whatever faults Koslleck’s book may have, a lack of style was not one of them — it is packed with zingers that must have made Carl Schmitt smile.
The way in which Habermas defined bourgeois publicity allowed him to follow Koselleck at least part of the way. The concise definition of “bourgeois publicity” that opened Habermas’s “sketch” of its social structure characterized it as “ the sphere of private people come together as a public” [als die Sphäre der zum Publikum versammelten Privatleute]. The designation “private people” meant, first of all, that those who constituted this new public did not hold public offices and, further, that they were individuals whose concerns were with such previously “private” matters as “commodity exchange and social labor,” matters that had now become a matter for public deliberation. To the extent that this deliberation was taking place in venues that were not the normal location for “political” discussions — e.g., in coffee houses, at the stock exchange, etc. — it was possible to describe it in the ways that Koselleck (following his mentor Carl Schmitt) would habitually describe it: as “non-political” or as “indirectly political.” But this is the step that Habermas could not take: enforcing such a definition of what constitutes “the political” cuts against the broader trajectory of Habermas’s argument.
Koselleck’s argument requires that he employ a distinction between “political” and “nonpolitical” that sticks, relentlessly, to an understanding of politics that, like Schmitt before him, he traced back to Hobbes. This means that Koselleck has to regard those who assembled in coffee houses in precisely the same way as they were viewed during the time when the epithet “coffee-house politician” denoted an unjustified meddling of “private individuals” in what was properly the business of the state. Remaining true to Hobbes means that he is also compelled to view any disavowal of “politics” — e.g., the statement in the Constitutions of the Freemasons that Mason are “Resolved against All Politics” — as a hypocritical rejection of “the political” that sets the stage for a duplicitous pursuit of politics by other means.
Reading such disavowals of “politics” (which, as Margaret Jacob has argued, may amount to less than Koselleck would like us to think) as rejections of “the political” tout court enables Koselleck to see those who engage in such disavowals as guilty of a fundamental hypocrisy: they say they are not engaged in politics while, in fact, they are engaged in “indirect politics” — a power grab that dare not speak the truth about what it is doing. As with Masons, so with the “process of criticism”:
Initially, criticism based itself on this dualism in order to launch its own political process of pro and con against religion. Later, it increasingly involved the state in this process, but at the same time intensified the dualism so as, ostensibly non-politically, to turn into political criticism. Finally, its reach was extended to the State and the legal difference between its own authority of judging and that of the State was negated. … Criticism, via counter-criticism, arrived at super-criticism, before finally declining into hypocrisy. Hypocrisy was the veil which the Enlightenment continued to weave and carry and which it never managed to tear apart. (122)
It is hardly accidental (as they used to say in old German Democratic Republic and in points further east) that Koselleck’s account devotes considerable attention to the Illuminati: their attempt at a long march through the institutions of the Absolutist state serves as a sort of model for what he sees at work everywhere during in the Enlightenment. But if we take away the notion of “indirect politics,” the charge of “hypocrisy” collapses. And if we take away the charge of hypocrisy, Koselleck’s account of the “dialectic of enlightenment” (his choice for the title for his dissertation before he discovered it had been already taken) collapses as well.
In contrast, Habermas’s discussion gave pride of place to coffee houses rather than the Illuminati. In place of secret forces engaged in an indirect power grab we see the bourgeoisie, fueled by caffeine and newspapers, chattering away about public affairs, embodying a sort of rough draft of what in later versions of Habermas’s theory will become the regulative ideal of the ideal speech situation. But though almost everything about the argument of Strukturwandel der Öffenlichkeit pointed in a rather different direction from Critique and Crisis, Habermas was not inclined to point this out, at least not in the formal context of his Habilitation. The settling of accounts would be reserved for a review article in Merkur entitled “Verrufener Fortschritt —Verkanntes Jahrhundert [Disreputable Progress — Misunderstood Century.]
The review included a discussion of both Critique and Crisis and Geschichtsphilosophie und Weltbürgertum, a book written by Koselleck’s friend Hanno Kesting that (as their mutual friend Nichlaus Sombart would later note) articulated, in less guarded form, most of the same concerns that animated Critique and Crisis. (It also dealt, though much more briefly, with Peter Drucker’s Landmarks of Tomorrow (1957), a work that provided Habermas with his first encounter with the notion of “post-modernism”). The review focused on what Habermas had avoided pointing out in Strukturwandel der Öffenlichkeit: the argument of Critique and Crisis presupposed a “political anthropology” that regarded “civil war” [Bürgerkrieg] — rather than international conflict — as the supreme evil that must, at all price, be avoided. It was this assumption, Habermas noted, that had led Koselleck to insist that all efforts to engage in a critique of princely authority inevitably carried with it the “terror of civil war.” But, in the absence of such an anthropology, Koselleck’s thesis that “the power of indirectly political critique necessary culminates in crisis” remains “not entirely convincing,”
Schmitt on Authority and Truth
The anthropology Koselleck required could be found in Hobbes’ Leviathan, especially as was read by Carl Schmitt. This brings us to the third of the passages I quoted at the start of this discussion. In reading Kant as “the most extreme counter-position to the principle auctoritas non veritas facit legem,” Habermas was doing nothing more than reading Kant in the same way as Koselleck, following in the footsteps of Carl Schmitt, had read him. The crucial difference was that Critique and Crisis took Hobbes’ principle as the fixed point of reference from which to trace the collapse of Europe in the catastrophe of the French Revolution and the “global civil war” that would rage on into the twentieth century. while Strukturwandel der Öffenlichkeit took its bearings from Kant.
Koselleck cited the Hobbes quote in the course of his opening sketch of Hobbes’ solution to the problem of how to put an end to religious conflict:
The public interest, about which the sovereign alone has the right to decide, no longer lies in the jurisdiction of conscience. Conscience, which becomes alienated from the State, turns into private morality. Auctoritas, non veritas facit legem — laws are made by authority, not by truth. The prince is above the law and at the same time its source; he is both law-maker and judge. This law, as constitutional law, is no longer substantially tied to social interests and religious hopes; instead, it designates a formal domain of political decisions beyond any Church, estate, or party. This domain can be occupied by this or that power, only providing it has the authority required to protect the various individuals, irrespective of their interest and expectations. The ruler’s political decision takes effect by virtue of that decision. (Critique and Crisis 31)
The line from Hobbes that Koselleck was quoting seems to have had a peculiar hold on Schmitt, who kept returning to it, again and again. In Political Theology (1922) his discussion of it went as follows:
We can perhaps distinguish two types of juristic scientific thought according to whether an awareness of the normative character of the legal decision is or is not present. The classical representative of the decisionist type (if I may be permitted to coin this word) is Thomas Hobbes. The peculiar nature of this type explains why it, and not the other type, discovered the classic formulation of the antithesis: autoritas, non veritas facit legem (33).
In the Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy he explained it this way:
If only those regulations which have come into effect with the cooperation and participation of the popular assembly are called laws, then it is because the popular assembly, that is, the parliament, has taken its decisions according to a parliamentary method, considering arguments and counterarguments. As a consequence its decisions have a logically different character from that of commands which are only based on authority. This is expressed in the biting antitheses of Hobbes’s defInition of law: “Every man seem, that some lawes are addressed to all the subjects in generall, some to particular Provinces; some to particular Vocations; and some to particular Men.” To an absolutist it is obvious “that Law is not Counsell, but Command,” essentially authority and not, as in the rationalist conception of the law in Rechtstaat theories, truth and justice: Auctoritas, non Veritas facit Legem (43).
Finally, in The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes (1938), he took stock of the then current state of the discussion:
Auctoritas (in the sense summa potestas), non veritas. This sentence, often cited since 1922, as expressed by Hobbes, is anything but a slogan of irrational despotism. Nor should the expression be regarded as a kind of Credo quia absurdum, as it has so often been misunderstood. What is significant in the statement is Hobbes’ conclusion that it is no longer valid to distinguish between auctoritas and potestas, making the summa potestas into summa auctoritas. The sentence thus becomes a simple, objective expression of value-and-truth-neutral, positivist-technical thinking that separates the religious and metaphysical standards of truth from standards of command and function and renders them autonomous (44-45).
What was new in the 1938 discussion was the subsequent account — in Chapter VI —of how the great leviathan was “destroyed from within.” The explanation, in brief, was the same as the one that would be offered by Koselleck: “the distinction between inner and outer became for the mortal god a sickness unto death” (65). What had once been “private” now became “social” and
From the duality of state and state-free society arose a social pluralism in which ‘indirect powers’ could celebrate effortless triumphs. ‘Indirect’ used here means not at its own risk but —to cite the pertinent term of Jacob Burkhardt —‘by previously ill-treated and humiliated temporal powers (73-74).
In this context,
the appeal to justice and truth does not produce peace but instead leads to war ….Everyone claims, of course, that right and truth is on his side. But the assertion of being in the right does not lead to peace. Instead, it is designed to contravene the decisions of a well-functioning legal force that was created to end strife (45).
Here, in short, was the sketch that Koselleck proceeded to fill out — a task that, to be sure, was not a simple one and one which he executed with considerable flair. But there was, as Habermas noted in the Merkur review but had avoided mentioning in Strukturwandel der Öffenlichkeit, something a bit strange — no matter how well it was done —about such an exercise.
The “grandiose project” in which Koselleck, Kesting, and (at least according to his account) an increasingly skeptical Sombart were engaged was the construction of an Archiv für Weltbürgerkrieg und Raumordnung — an attempt to trace the history of the world-wide civil war had broken out at the close of the eighteenth century in the final death spasms of Hobbes’ mortal god. As conquered Germans they could see themselves as occupying a privileged spot from which to comprehend the new ordering of the world that had emerged in the wake of what they regarded as the latest fragile cease-fire in this war — a cease-fire that had left American and Soviet troops facing each other across the borders of a divided Germany. Even absent the particulars of Koselleck’s war time experiences — which avoiding the siege of Stalingrad only thanks to his foot being crushed by an artillery wagon, being captured late in the war by the Red Army and assigned the task of removing I. G. Farben equipment from Auschwitz for shipment to the Soviet Union, and avoiding the Gulag only through the intervention of a family friend — it is hardly surprising that the “apocalyptic sublime” might have had its appeal as a governing narrative trope. Depending on how one chooses to read Critique and Crisis (and in the various Prefaces he wrote, Koselleck lays out all the possible options) the book could be understood as an attempt to understand the “utopian self-exhaltation” that had given rise to the Third Reich (in other words, the ultimate origins of the “German catastrophe” could be traced to the Enlightenment) or the origins of the unfettered utopian politics that had given birth to the two super-powers (both of them, as Koselleck noted, children of the Enlightenment) that, armed to the teeth against each one another, stood face to face across a divided Europe, incapable of “simply recognizing each other as opponents” (presumably, an airdrop of copies of The Concept of the Political on both sides of the cease-fire line would not have remedied their misunderstanding). Either way, the Enlightenment functioned as “the antechamber to our present epoch” (6).
Towards a “Philosophy of History with a Practical Intent”
Habermas was aware that Kant’s project of subjecting law to the principles of moral philosophy was not without its own presuppositions. But, in contrast to the assumptions that fueled Koselleck’s argument, they were historical and social rather than anthropological. During the period that separated Hobbes from Kant, “private people had … formed themselves into a public and endowed the sphere of their reasoning [Sphäre ihres Räsonnements] — namely, publicity — with the political function of mediating state and society.” The ever-present threat of a war of all and against all had given way to a society in which the public were capable — in the words that Kant put in the mouth of Frederick the Great — of arguing, but still obeying. Tracing how the change had taken place that allowed Kant to assume that the extreme remedy that Hobbes had prescribed was no longer necessary had been the burden of the first half of Strukturwandel der Öffenlichkeit, which is why it was possible to Habermas to draw on a few of Koselleck’s sources, but read them in a radically different way. Habermas’s reading of Kant went on to trace how Kant’s writings on the philosophy of history might be seen as an attempt to grasp, as “principle,” the “structural transformation of publicity” that these opening chapters had sketched. Habermas’s reading of Kant was not without its peculiarities, but their discussion will have to wait for another time. What is perhaps of greater immediate relevance is what Habermas thought he found in Kant’s “Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View.”
He saw the concept of publicity as playing two different roles in Kant’s philosophy of history. In what Habermas terms the “official” version, a cosmopolitan political order emerges as a result “natural necessity alone”: it is the product of mechanisms that produce the “pathologically compelled agreement” to enter into society. Within such a society, “moral politics amounted to nothing more than legal conduct out of duty under positive laws” and the role of publicity is limited to providing a guarantee that the laws subjects are obligated to obey are ones that these subjects could have given to themselves. Of greater interest for Habermas was the “unofficial” account, which envisions a cosmopolitan order that “issued from both natural necessity and moral politics (115).” In this account, the articulation of the philosophy of history itself plays a role in reconciling natural necessity and moral politics.
As Kant explained in last proposition of his “Idea for a Universal History,” the attempt “to work out universal world history according to a plan of nature that aims at the perfect civil union of the human species” is not only “possible” but, indeed, is also capable of “furthering this aim of nature.” By showing how the vicissitudes of history have nevertheless “always left over a germ of enlightenment that developed further through each revolution and prepared for a following stage of improvement” this account not only explained the past history of the species, but also provided an incentive for carrying this progress forward into the future. For Habermas, this “remarkable self-implication of the philosophy of history” carves out a role for philosophy in facilitating the public’s critical reflections: it becomes “a part of the Enlightenment diagnosed as history’s course (115-6).”
What Habermas found in Kant — or, as more skeptical readers might see it, what he read into him — was a vision of the relationship between theory and practice that had been a sort of guiding thread since his early review essay on literature on Marx and Marxism: the concept of a “philosophy of history with a practical intent.” The pursuit of that goal would ultimately lead him far from the sort of critique of ideology that he was practicing in Strukturwandel der Öffenlichkeit. Eventually, it would lead him to question what sort of purchase a philosophy of history could have in the domain of political and moral philosophy. That it is difficult to find the author of Strukturwandel der Öffenlichkeit in the pages of Faktizität und Geltung is hardly a criticism of the latter book. But those interested in trying the fathom the peculiar ways in which the concepts that have been used to understand the world sometimes help to shape might still find something of value in this peculiar early work of an enormously talented young thinker who was still in the process of figuring out just what sort of thinker he would become.
 See p. 102 of the English translation for a different handling of the passage in question.
 See pp. 102-103 of the English translation.
 On this point, see Arendt, Human Condition, 40, 42-3, 45-46.
 Habermas, Autonomy and Solidarity 147-8, 189. Habermas’s writings prior to the publication of Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit remain terra incognita for most English commentators. A notable, and extraordinarily helpful, exception is Dirk Moses’s discussion in German Intellectuals and the Nazi Past (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).
 Unfortunately, I am not currently in possession of the first edition of Kritik und Krise, nor do the translators of Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere provide a citation to the English translation. But what Habermas seems to have in mind is the account of Kant in Chapter III, section V of the German edition (pp. 81 ff in the Suhrkamp edition), which winds up as Chapter 8 of the English translation (pp. 98 ff).
 See p. 27 of the English version for a different translation.
 For a helpful attempt to work out the implications of Schmitt’s conception of “the political” for the Koselleck’s account, see Timo Pankakoski, “Conflict, Context, Concreteness: Koselleck and Schmitt on Concepts.” Political Theory 38:6 (2010): 749–779.
 For the choice of title (as well as an exhaustive exploration of the political subtext to Critique and Crisis), see the penetrating discussion in Franz Leander Fillafer, “The Enlightenment On Trial: Reinhart Kosselleck’s Interpretation of Aufklärung.” In …..Fillafer, Franz L., and Q. Edward Wang, eds., The Many Faces of Clio: Cross-Cultural Approaches to Historiography, Essays in Honor of Georg G. Iggers, 322–345. Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2007.
 “Verrufener Fortschritt-verkanntes Jahrhundert,” Merkur 14, No. 147 (1960). As I’ve suggested earlier, this is a text that would be worth having in English.
 For Sombart’s account of his relationship of Kesting and Koselleck in postwar Heidelbert, see Rendezvous mit Dem Weltgeist. Heidelberger Reminiszenzen 1945-1951. Fischer Frankfurt, 2000 — a heady dose of insider gossip on goings on in Heidelberg.
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