In this thesis I explicate and assess the second phase of Jürgen Habermas's programme to reconstruct the normative conditions of possibility for undertaking a critical theory of society. The publication, in 1981, of Habermas's The Theory of Communicative Action (Habermas, 1995) signals the transition from the first phase of his reconstruction of Critical Theory that commenced in the 1960s with his critical theory of cognitive interests to the second phase of his project. I include Habermas's Between Facts and Norms (1996) in the second phase of his reconstructive programme for it represents, I contend, the third and completing volume of The Theory of Communicative Action.
I argue that an informed assessment of Habermas's reconstruction of Critical Theory can only proceed once the domains of application for his project are clarified. I position Habermas's project first within the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School, and second, within the more general tradition of Western Marxism. Clarifying the socio-historical and discursive background to Habermas's project also indicates the practical objectives of the second phase of his reconstructed Critical Theory. For, in contrast to conventional Marxian approaches, I argue that Habermas intends his reconstructed Critical Theory to intervene practically at the site of discourse. I locate the critical practice of Habermas's project in his response not only to Max Horkheimer's and Theodor Adomo's critique of instrumental reason, but also to the re-emergent influence of Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy, via the French post-structuralist school, in the West German discursive milieu during the 1970s and 1980s. My thesis is that the practical or applied moment of Habermas's critical theory of communicative action is discernible in his undertaking to sustain the persuasive signifier of "reason" in the adversarial socio-philosophical discourse of modernity taking place in the West German polity of that period. His critical theory of society responds to the threat posed by these critiques of reason to the very fabric of the Occidental social order in general, and the continued viability of the West German political, moral and cultural traditions, in particular. Habermas's strategy here, I suggest, indicates his normative appropriation of Emile Durkheim's theses on the integrating function of collective ideals in the consolidation of a social order.
In assessing Habermas's project I argue that on a formal level his reconstruction of Critical Theory effectively theorizes a viable space for a "positive" critical social theory that resists Horkheimer and Adomo's totalizing critique of instrumental reason. On the substantive level, however, I argue Habermas's Critical Theory is an under compelling alternative to the critique of instrumental reason that Horkheimer and Adomo detail in their later Critical Theory. The strong thesis I develop in Chapter Seven is that Habermas's project is unable to overcome convincingly the aporetic pathos of pessimism that is generated by Horkheimer and Adomo's thesis on the dialectic of enlightenment. Furthermore, I make the case that the social systems model of participation in the critical-emancipatory project Habermas outlines, especially in Between Facts and Norms, ironically risks generating its own aporetic pathos of pessimism. His depiction of the near-inevitable contribution communicatively-empowered social movements make to the maintenance and reproduction of an existing social order, I suggest, compromises the emancipatory aspirations of these social movements. It is on this basis I conclude that the second phase of Habermas's reconstruction of Critical Theory remains problematic.