Jürgen Habermas (b. 1929) has for decades been recognized as a leading European philosopher and public intellectual. But his global visibility has obscured his rootedness in German political culture and debate. The most successful historical accounts of the transformation of political culture in West Germany have turned on the concept of German statism and its decline. Viewing Habermas through this lens, I treat Habermas as a radical critic of German statism and an innovative theorist of democratic constitutionalism. Based on personal interviews with Habermas and his German colleagues, and by setting the major work alongside his occasion-specific political writings from 1984 to 1996, I interpret Habermas's political thought as an evolving response to two distinct moments in German history: first, the mid-1980s, and second, the revolutions of 1989 and German reunification in 1990. This essay challenges the dominant interpretations of Habermas's mature statement of his political theory. Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Democracy (1992), which have described it as marking a distinct break with, and reversal of, the commitments of his earlier work. By contrast, I describe the work as an intellectual summa, consistent with Habermas's previous thought and career, and containing remarkable historical interpretations of two intertwined phenomena: the intellectual and institutional dimensions of the Bonn Republic and Habermas's own biography.
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