Introduction: Law in Habermas’s Theory of Communicative Action

Mathieu Deflem
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This is a copy of the introductory chapter in Habermas, Modernity and Law, edited by Mathieu Deflem. London: Sage Publications, 1996.

An updated version was published in Vniversitas (116):267-285, 2008 [PDF].

Please cite as: Deflem, Mathieu. 1996. “Introduction: Law in Habermas’s Theory of Communicative Action.” Pp. 1-20 in Habermas, Modernity and Law, edited by Mathieu Deflem. London: Sage Publications.

The papers in this collection present themes of discussion pertinent to law and legal processes raised by the perspective of Jürgen Habermas’s theory of communicative action. Habermas’s writings are widely acclaimed among the major contributions to the theoretical understanding of contemporary society, and specifically his legal theory has since recent years become a topic of growing scholarly attention. However, to date, the debate on Habermas and law has largely been confined to a predominantly European audience of specialists in the tradition of Critical Theory, and most discussions have taken place in moral and legal philosophy rather than in empirically oriented studies of law.1 Given the growing concern in the field of legal studies to interconnect broad philosophical and theoretical perspectives with empirically based research on specific social issues — an aspiration which is in fact central to Habermas’s work — the contributions in this book hope to fulfill a twofold purpose.

First, this collection seeks to acquaint legal scholars, in the broadest sense of the term, who are as yet not familiar with Habermas’s perspective, with an innovative contribution to the study of modern societies, specifically concerning issues and problems of law. This volume hopes to provide insights that clarify Habermas’s theory of society and its approach to law, discuss some of its values and limitations, and suggest ways in which Habermas’s work may contribute to the theoretical understanding as well as the empirical investigation of law and law-related processes.

Second, the papers in this book represent a range of different scientific disciplines, bringing forth a varied set of concerns and positions. The diversity of perspectives and discussion themes will hopefully enable readers to gain access not only to the broad scope that characterizes Habermas’s writings, but also to some current approaches to law which are inspired by his work. In this respect, the papers present several avenues and issues of interest to the legal scholarship, including discussions of Habermas’s work from its initial formulation up to its most recent developments.

To ease comprehension of the overall theoretical framework which the papers build on, I will in this introduction briefly outline the main tenets of Habermas’s theory of communicative action. I limit this presentation of Habermas’s approach to law and society to the formulation in The Theory of Communicative Action and its developments until the publication of Faktizität und Geltung.

With his two-volume work The Theory of Communicative Action (1984, 1987a), Habermas has undoubtedly formulated an innovative and influential theory of society, but the book (as are most of Habermas’s writings) is by all standards not easy to read. In particular, the structure of argumentation, which seeks to develop a social theory on the basis of detailed, meta -theoretical discussions of a wide range of classical and contemporary social theories, may initially discourage potential readers from a thorough investigation of the work.2 A brief presentation of Habermas’s general theoretical framework, therefore, may help to clarify his approach to law as well as some of the criticisms which have thus far been suggested in the literature. This review will also situate the discussions of Habermas’s legal theory presented in the papers in this book.

I - The theory of communicative action: concepts and theses

Habermas’s theory of communicative action fundamentally rests on a distinction between two concepts of rationality that shape knowledge to guide action (Habermas, 1984: 8-22, 168-85). First, cognitive-instrumental rationality conducts action that alms at the successful realization of privately defined goals. These action types are either instrumental, when they are directed at efficient interventions in a state of affairs in the world (e.g. through labor), or strategic, when they guide attempts to successfully influence the decisions of other actors (e.g. in relations of domination). Second, communicative rationality underlies action that is aimed at mutual understanding, conceived as a process of reaching agreement between speaking subjects to harmonize their interpretations of the world.

To avoid misunderstanding, it is important to note that Habermas’s concept of communicative action does not assume that subjects can aim at mutual understanding only through speech-acts (i.e. language as it is used in interaction between at least two actors), or that agreement would, as an innocent prefiguration in thought, be the necessary outcome of all communicative processes. Several forms of action that are not linguistic (signs, symbols) can also be oriented to understanding, but only if they can be transferred into interactions mediated through language. Also, communicative actors’ orientation to agreement does not exclude the possibility of dissent as the result of distorted or unresolved communication. Habermas maintains that it is only through language, under conditions of rational argumentation, that social actors can coordinate their actions in terms of an orientation to mutual understanding.

Habermas analyzes the conditions of rational argumentation in communicative action on the basis of a distinction between different validity claims that are implicitly or explicitly raised in speech-acts. He distinguishes the following validity claims: comprehensible and wellformed speech-acts make an objective claim to truth, a normative claim to rightness, and expressive and evaluative claims to authenticity and sincerity (Habermas, 1984: 319-28). Different types of discourse serve to explicitly address these claims: theoretical discourse on truth; moral-practical discourse on normative rightness; and aesthetic and therapeutic critique on authenticity and sincerity (Habermas, 1984: 22-42). On the basis of this theory of argumentation, Habermas develops the two-level approach of lifeworld and system.

The claims of communicative actions in everyday social life, Habermas argues, are often not questioned or criticized because they are raised within the contours of an undisputed, shared lifeworld (Habermas, 1987a: 119-52). The lifeworld offers the commonly accepted background knowledge within which action can be coordinated. Characteristic for the rationalization of occidental societies is that the lifeworld has differentiated along the lines of the validity claims of speech-acts. Thus, a differentiation into three performative attitudes in communicative action has been brought about: an objectivating attitude towards the outer world of events and circumstances, a normative attitude towards the social world of a community of people, and an expressive attitude towards the inner world of the subjectivity of the individual. Habermas’s concept of the lifeworld is therefore not limited to the cultural tradition (the shared interpretations of the world) of a particular community. Next to providing a set of cultural values, the lifeworld also secures that social actors abide by the normative standards of their society (for the solidarity of social groupings), and that social actors are enabled to act as competent personalities in harmony with their social environment (identity formation).

Three structural components of the lifeworld correspond to these functions: culture, society and personality. At the level of culture, cultural reproduction relates to the transmission of interpretation schemes consensually shared by the members of a lifeworld. At the level of social interaction, social integration refers to the legitimate ordering of interpersonal relations through the coordination of actions via intersubjectively shared norms. Finally, at the level of personality, socialization processes seek to ensure that personalities with interactive capabilities are formed. Culture, society and personality are the structural components of the rationalized lifeworld. Thereby, the process of societal rationalization entails a differentiation of a once unified lifeworld into different structural domains and specialized social institutions. The lifeworld, then, has a twofold meaning: on the one hand, the horizon-forming contexts of culture, society and personality within which communicative action takes place, and, on the other hand, the resources of possibilities from which participants in communicative action can transmit and renew cultural knowledge, establish solidarity and build social identity.

Habermas’s theory of social evolution takes an important turn when he argues that the action-oriented approach of the lifeworld cannot account for all the complexities of modern societies. The process of rationalization should be understood not only as a differentiation of the lifeworld as a symbolically reproduced communicative order, but also in terms of the ‘material substratum’ of society (Habermas, 1987a: 23S-82). This twofold perspective indicates that societies have to secure the transmission of cultural values, legitimate norms and socialization processes, and, in addition, they also have to efficiently manipulate and control their environment in terms of successful interventions. Habermas therefore supplements the perspective of the lifeworld with a systems theory, specifically paying attention to the economic and the political system (Habermas, 1987a: 338-43).

These systems have in the course of history split off, or ‘uncoupled’, from the lifeworld to function independently, no longer on the basis of communicative action aimed at understanding, but in terms of the functionality of the steering of media, money and power. Actions coordinated through these steering media relieve communicative action from difficulties in reaching consensus in complex societies characterized by a range of action alternatives and, therefore, a constant threat of dissent. Actions coordinated by the steering media of money and power differ from communicative action in that they aim at the successful (cognitive-instrumental) organization of the production and exchange of goods on the basis of monetary profit (economy) and the formation of government to reach binding decisions in terms of bureaucratic efficiency (politics).

Habermas does not conceive the ‘uncoupling’ of system and lifeworld as problematic in itself. The coordination of action in systems can best be secured by steering media because they manage to relieve communicative actions from the possibility of dissent, and they can do so with a high level of productivity and efficiency. However, systems also have the capacity to penetrate back into the lifeworld. Coordination mechanisms oriented to success thereby enter into the domains of the lifeworld (culture, society and personality) that should be secured through communicative action oriented to mutual understanding if they are to remain free from disturbances and crisis manifestations (Habermas, 1987a: 318-31). This process Habermas refers to as the colonization of the lifeworld: the communicative potentials aimed at understanding in the lifeworld are eroded in terms of the systemic imperatives of monetary and bureaucratic systems interventions.

II - Lifeworld, system, and the rationalization of law

In The Theory of Communicative Action, Habermas develops an approach to law based on a discussion of two important developments in the process of societal rationalization. First, the separation of law from morality is crucial for the differentiation of system and lifeworld, and, second, legal processes help explain current manifestations of the systems colonization of the lifeworld in western societies.

1. Law and the differentiation of system and lifeworld

Habermas attributes to law the important role of normatively ,anchoring’ or institutionalizing the independent functioning of the steering media of money and power. The legal norming of money and power is central in bringing about the uncoupling of the economic and political systems from the lifeworld (Habermas, 1987a: 164-97, 264-82). Historically, the differentiation of the political system first occurred when political authority crystallized around judicial positions holding the means of force. Further processes of separation between political offices increased the complexity of political organization which fully matured in the modern state. In the framework of societies organized around the state, markets arose that were steered by the medium of money. Relieved from the indeterminacy of communicative action, the political system of the modern state set collective goals reached through binding decisions in terms of power, while the economy secured the production and distribution of goods in terms of monetary productivity. These systems are ‘formally organized domains of action ... that —in the final analysis— are no longer integrated through the mechanism of mutual understanding, that sheer off from lifeworld contexts and congeal into a kind of norm-free sociality’ (Habermas, 1987a: 307).

To bring about this uncoupling of system and lifeworld, Habermas argues, law has to institutionalize the independence of economy and state from lifeworld structures (Habermas, 1987a: 164-79). Law is the institution that establishes the normative ‘anchoring’ of the steering media of money and power in the lifeworld. In other words, systems can operate independently from the lifeworld only when they are recoupled to the lifeworld through the legalization of their respective media. In the case of the money medium, exchange relations have to be regulated in property and contract laws, while the power medium of the political system needs to be normatively anchored by institutionalizing the organization of official positions in bureaucracies. Therefore, the differentiation of systems requires a sufficient level of rationalization of the lifeworld through a separation of law and morality, and of private and public law. The separation of law and morality is achieved at the post-conventional level of social evolution, i.e. when legal and moral representations are based on abstract principles that can be criticized, rather than on specific values that are directly tied up to concrete ethical traditions. Morality then becomes a personal matter of concrete but subjective moral-practical concerns, while law, as a social institution with external force, materializes abstract normative standards for the whole of society. The separation of private and public law corresponds to the independent functioning of the economy (e.g. contract law) and politics (e.g. tax law).

The underlying viewpoint of Habermas’s discussion of law as the normative legalization of the independent functioning of systems is that law can formally be conceived as an institutionalization of practical discourse on social norms (Habermas, 1984:243-71). Habermas acknowledges (with Weber) that modern law in western societies is positive (expressing the will of a sovereign lawgiver), legalistic (applying to deviations from norms) and formal (what is not legally forbidden is allowed). In this sense, modern law is positivized into a functional, technical system that seems to have suspended any need for moral deliberation. However (and contrary to Weber’s view), Habermas argues that law at the post-conventional level of social evolution is still based on moral principles which remain open to discussion: ‘The particular accomplishment of the positivization of the legal order consists in displacing problems of justification, that is, in relieving the technical administration of the law of such problems over broad expanses —but not in doing away with them’ (Habermas, 1984: 261). Modern law as a whole remains in need of justification, and can be criticized, precisely in order to unveil its systemic nature, under the abstract conditions of universalistic validity claims on normative rightness.

2. Law, juridification and the colonization of the lifeworld

The second important role Habermas assigns to law from the perspective of the theory of communicative action concerns the thesis of the internal colonization of the lifeworld (Habermas, 1987a: 35673). Habermas develops this thesis in a discussion of the processes of juridification in the course of (European) history. The concept of juridification generally refers to an increase in formal law in the following ways: the expansion of positive law, i.e. more social relations become legally regulated; and the densification of law, i.e. legal regulations become more detailed. Habermas identifies four waves of juridification in the specific context of European welfare states.

The first wave of juridification took place during the formation of the absolutist bourgeois state in Europe. The sovereign’s monopoly over force, and the contractual rights and obligations of private persons, were regulated to legitimize the coexistence of a strong monarchical state and a market of free enterprise. Second, the bourgeois constitutional state of the 19th century gradually regulated individual rights against the political authority of the monarch: life, liberty and property of private subjects were constitutionally guaranteed. Next, with the creation of the democratic constitutional state in the wake of the French Revolution, citizens’ social rights to participate in the formation of the political order were regulated to democratize the power of the state. Finally, with the rise of the social welfare state of the 20th century, the economic system of capitalism was for the first time bridled through legislation securing individual freedoms and social rights over and against the imperatives of the free market.

The three last juridification tendencies, Habermas argues, indicate how lifeworld demands attempt to resist the autonomous workings of state and economy. This is achieved first by claiming individual rights against the sovereign, then by democratizing the political order, and finally by guaranteeing freedoms and rights against the economic system. Habermas claims that the present form of juridification in welfare states is nevertheless markedly ambivalent because each freedom guaranteed at once means a freedom taken away. Habermas discusses four central problems of social-welfare laws that explain this ambivalence: (1) the formal restructuring of legal interventions in the lifeworld entails an individualization of legal claims; (2) the conditions under which social laws apply are formally specified; (3) legal entitlements relate to social problems but are bureaucratically implemented through centralized and computerized impersonal organizations; and (4) social-welfare claims are often settled in the form of monetary compensations (the consumerist redefinition). The demands of the lifeworld, then, are thereby transformed into imperatives of bureaucratic and monetary organizations, so that law comes to intervene in a systemic way into the social relations of everyday life. When legal regulations are observed to conform to the imperatives of state and economy, the lifeworld is also colonized, internally, by the law as medium.

Habermas claims that the law as medium remains bound up to the law as the institutionalized domain of practical discourse. The law as medium applies to the legal organization of economy and state, as well as to the interventions of welfare policy regulations in the informal structures of the lifeworld. As instances of the latter case, Habermas mentions school and family laws that manage to convert contexts of social integration over to the medium of law in terms of bureaucratic and monetary controls. These laws do not need any substantive justification but are simply a matter of functional procedure. Law as an institution, on the other hand, retains an intimate connection with morality. Legal institutions, such as constitutional and criminal law, refer to regulations that have to be normatively evaluated, and that remain in need of justification in terms of moral-practical discourse.

III - Some problems and prospects of Habermas’s legal theory

Habermas’s observations on law have inspired theory and research on law and legal processes, leading to some interesting insights on the theoretical and empirical strengths and limitations of Habermas’s approach. I will briefly review the main issues that these critical discussions and applications have dealt with, and specifically address some of the topics that are debated in this volume’s papers.

The theme which has inspired most debate in relation to Habermas’s conception of law is his formulation of the ethics of discourse.3 With this moral-philosophical proposition, Habermas has explicated how the procedural conception of morality can be conceived. In The Theory of Communicative Action, Habermas argues that modern law, rather than having rationalized into a completely functional entity, remains in need of moral justification in terms of a practical discourse on the rightness of norms. The question, then, is how this discourse can be conceived to assure rational argumentation? Habermas argues that from a post-metaphysical perspective, philosophy can no longer pretend to offer undisputed, rationally justified, right moral norms (as the substantive foundation of legal norms). Rather, philosophical investigations can at best outline the rational conditions of the procedure under which norms can, and should, be grounded by people in the context of their lifeworlds. The principle of the ethics of discourse therefore states: ‘Only those norms can claim to be valid that meet (or could meet) with the approval of all affected in their capacity as participants in a practical discourse’ (Habermas, 1990a: 66). While Habermas realizes that any such discourse on norms can only unfold within the boundaries of specific ethical lifeforms, he nevertheless maintains that the suggested principle is strictly procedural and in this sense universally applicable.

Discussions on Habermas’s ethics of discourse have mostly concerned its procedural status, rather than its association with law. Some authors, for instance, have argued that Habermas’s moral philosophy does in fact contain substantive values.4 Notions of democracy, autonomy and equality are taken up in Habermas’s theory, but only implicitly, which may have led him to underestimate the possibly distorting influence of concrete lifeforms in which practical discourse can take place. On the other hand, it has also been suggested that Habermas does not develop a true moral theory, and that his formalistic proposition is normatively ‘empty’.5 The ethics of discourse, it is argued, is an indecisive methodology that does not provide any substantive moral principles and falls to formulate the road to an ideal society. A meaningful application of the discourse principle can at best be achieved through implementing and investigating procedural requirements inasmuch as they fulfill the realization of substantive principles of human rights, solidarity, care, freedom, or justice.

The proposition that Habermas’s procedural ethics of discourse should be expanded with substantive norms has also been taken up in some legal research inspired by the theory of communicative action. Notably the German legal theorist Robert Alexy (1989a; 1989b; 1990) has applied Habermas’s discourse theory to an analysis of law, and suggested that an application of the model of practical discourse to legal discourse is in any case contextualized by the concrete norms that are already present in any given legal structure. Thus, law always constitutes a substantive ethics to which analyses in terms of the discourse model are subordinate. Legal research on the basis of the ethics of discourse, therefore, should take into account principles that are more fundamental than, and can serve as a standard to confront, normative claims in courts of law. This would permit the laying bare, and criticizing, of the underlying normative principles that guide legal processes of, for instance, constitutional law and legal procedure. Finally, in line with the critique of the indecisive nature of the ethics of discourse, it has been advanced that legal research in terms of Habermas’s discourse ethics only makes sense if law is subjected to a critique in terms of procedural requirements inasmuch as they meet, or fall to meet, substantive normative principles. Particularly, human rights, far from being taken for granted, should be confronted with legal procedures.

The relevance of the procedural notion of morality has also been of concern in the debate between Habermas and the Critical Legal Studies (CLS) movement.6 While analyses from the CLS perspective share with Habermas the view that law and morality are closely related, CLS scholars have generally argued against the possibility of rationally reconstructing law’s moral grounding in terms of a universal procedure of discourse. The moral justification of law is denied in favor of a demystification of legal morality and decision-making as an arbitrary ‘patchwork quilt’. Habermas has responded to this position by arguing that, while CLS scholars perform a valuable task in criticizing the functions of law in terms of its own aspirations, they fail to offer any justification or rational basis for their criticism. They thereby confront the paradox of implicitly presupposing a rational standard to substantiate their own moral position, at the same time questioning the possibility of its existence in law.7

The question of the moral foundations of law (or the extent of differentiation of law from morality) is also the central issue that sets Habermas’s work most clearly against the legal theory of Niklas Luhmann.8 Luhmann suggests that societal evolution has reached such a high level of differentiation in modern societies that law is an autopoietic system which no longer needs any justification in terms of normative points of view. The autopoietic perspective of law implies that the legal system is operationally closed so that it functions only in terms of its own binary code (lawful/unlawful) set in its own programs (laws). Other social systems, including morality, are in like manner closed, and while exchange of information between different systems is possible, the intransparency between systems prevents interference of any one system in the autonomous operation of another. Hence Luhmann argues that law cannot and does not need to be morally grounded to secure its internal functionality.

Obviously, Luhmann’s perspective is in marked contrast to Habermas’s conception of law, specifically on the question of the moral justification of law. On the basis of the two-level perspective of system and lifeworld, Habermas interprets processes of juridification as the ambiguous result of lifeworld resistances transformed in terms of the imperatives of the political and the economic system. Whereas monetary and bureaucratic interventions in law can be conceived in terms of purposive functionality, the lifeworld dimensions of law, Habermas maintains, should be analyzed from the perspective of communicative action aimed at mutual understanding. Habermas’s identification of law as an institution, which is still in need of moral justification, and law as a medium, as a system detached from moral-practical concerns, precisely points out the central ‘ambiguity in the rationalization of law’ (Habermas, 1984: 270).

This debate raises a final issue pertinent to explore in relation to Habermas’s legal theory, and to which his most recent works on law have paid much attention. It concerns the relationship between the functionality of law (as a medium) and its continued need for moral justification (as an institution). This problem stems from the fact that in The Theory of Communicative Action, Habermas attributed a crucial, yet somewhat ambivalent, role to law in the evolution of modern societies.9 As an institution, law is linked to morality and as such part of the lifeworld, while as a medium, law is a functional entity just like the political and economic systems. The ambiguity in this formulation is that it seems to rigidly separate two types of law: some laws make a claim to normative rightness and are open to critique, while others are purely a matter of systems imperatives (in terms of efficiency and productivity). In addition, Habermas originally argued that law as a medium remains bound to law as an institution, and yet, they follow quite different paths of rationalization (cognitive-instrumental versus communicative). The thesis of Juridification and internal colonization of the lifeworld, then, seems to neglect the possibility that law as an institutional complex of the lifeworld can be restructured by systems to bring about a colonization of law, rather than that law is itself a colonizing medium. This formulation would allow for a position that retains law’s intimate connection to morality, while not denying the possibility of systems imperatives intervening in law. Indeed, Habermas argues in some of his most recent publications that modern law is situated between lifeworld and system because, and to the extent that, law is rational in terms of the just procedures of law established and secured in democratic constitutional states.10 In other words, modern law, while not free from possible interferences by the formally organized systems of politics and economy, can be morally grounded. Law can be legitimate in terms of moral-practical discourse, not because it incorporates concrete, ethically right values, but because it relies on a procedurally conceived notion of rationality realized by democratic principles in legislation, jurisprudence and legal administration.

IV - An overview of the contributions

The question of the legitimacy of law, with which I ended my review of the debate on Habermas’s legal theory, has occupied center stage in Habermas’s latest writings on law. As I noted, the rigidly drawn distinction between the functionality and the morality of law made it problematic to retain the notion of the internal colonization of the lifeworld while at the same time holding on to the argument that law as a whole remains in need of moral justification. These considerations on the necessity and possibility of the legitimacy of legality led Habermas to the negative conclusion that he ‘cannot maintain the distinction [he] made in the second volume of The Theory of Communicative Action between law as a medium and law as an institution’ (Habermas, 1990b: 130). With the recent publication of Faktizität und Geltung (Habermas, 1992a; forthcoming as Between Facts and Norms), Habermas has thoroughly addressed this theme and elaborately dealt with the legitimacy of law, specifically in the context of democratic constitutional states. In conformity with this perspective, the issue of legitimate or valid law constitutes the unifying theme of the discussions in this book.

In his review of Faktizität und Geltung, David Rasmussen usefully locates the critical themes of Habermas’s most recent explorations in legal theory. Habermas’s Faktizität und Geltung will no doubt spark an extensive debate on the possibility of legitimate law. The fact that within a year of its original publication the book has already enjoyed four German editions testifies to this. Yet the work is of considerable complexity so that a brief review of its main theses may serve as a helpful introduction. Beyond this, Rasmussen with clarity situates Habermas’s central concern with the normative validity of law within the general context of his theory of communicative action, as well as within a wider tradition of legal philosophy and sociology of law. In fact, the differentiation between the philosophy and the sociology of law —or the transformation from Hegel to Weber— serves as a vehicle for the elaboration of Habermas’s treatise on the facticity and validity of law. This crucial duality, Rasmussen argues, in turn exemplifies the uniqueness of Habermas’s perspective, specifically in the context of liberal societies, and its position vis-a-vis other legal traditions, ranging from Rawls, Dworkin and legal hermeneutics, to Critical Legal Studies, legal realism and Luhmann.

Pierre Guibentif’s paper also, but from a different perspective, addresses the duality of law —philosophical and sociological, or ideal and real. In a bridge-building exercise not uncharacteristic for Habermas’s perspective, Guibentif explores the production of law as an avenue for the cross-fertilization between legal approaches from the standpoint of the elucidation of legal legitimacy, on the one hand, and an interactionist perspective of social forces shaping the reality of law, on the other. He thereby traces the evolution of Habermas’s legal theory from its earlier formulation on the connection between theory and practice, and its ramifications for political and legal philosophy, to the linguistic turn of the theory of communicative action and the centrality of the validity question.

In his essay on human rights and criminal procedure, Peter Bal tackles the problem of the relation between law and morality in confrontation with an application of Habermas’s ethics of discourse to legal procedures. As I noted above, the problem of formalism versus implicit substantivism is arguably the most debated question on Habermas’s moral philosophy, and Bal, from one side of the debate, examines its implications for the field of criminal law. In court cases on criminal matters, the discursive claims to moral rightness occupy a central place, and they offer an important site for an application of Habermas’s theory of argumentation. Yet, Habermas’s procedural model, Bal argues, needs to be elaborated by human rights as the substantive content or ultimate standard by which the legitimacy of legal decisions can be determined.

Bernhard Peters, finally, engages in a reconstructive attempt to trace the duality of law from a confrontation between internal or meaning-oriented approaches and external or systems-theoretical perspectives. Within this confrontation, in which is recognized Habermas’s perspective of lifeworld and system, Peters opts for a reconstructive perspective that analyzes from the participants’ point of view the meaning, aspired and actual, of law. Peters discusses how Habermas recently formulated the possibility of this reconstruction, and argues that the institutional guarantees through a realization of democratic procedures (‘collective freedom’) that Habermas suggests narrowly center on procedural requirements at the expense of substantive appeals made to certain rights and principles. Turning to an empirically founded approach to law, Peters adds that the distinction which Habermas draws between lifeworld and system, and the conflation of normative and empirical theorizing that accompanies it, in fact lead to an unjustifiable reified dualism. Therefore, Peters proposes an analytical approach that seeks to uncover law as a complex involving intentional as well as non-intentional mechanisms and processes.


Earlier versions of the papers here published were first presented at the annual meeting of the Law and Society Association in Philadelphia, May 1992. 1 thank the participants and discussants at the meeting sessions for their stimulating contributions and lively discussions. Thanks are likewise due to Austin Sarat who, as chair of the program committee, assisted with the preparations of the sessions, and to Gary T. Marx, member of the Philadelphia organizing committee, at whose recommendation the sessions were organized. I acknowledge gratitude to Professor Habermas who, though not present at the meeting, kindly agreed to participate in the debate in the form of his ‘Postscript’ to the fourth edition of Faktizität und Geltung (1994), which we here offer in English translation. I am grateful, finally, to Lawrence Cohen, Thomas McCarthy, Heide Natkin, David Rasmussen, William Rehg, and Ros Spry and Jane Makoff at Sage Publications, for their valuable help in preparing this book. I thank Eve Darian-Smith and Gary T. Marx for their comments on a previous version of this introduction.


1 This is not to suggest that Habermas’s theories have not received attention in the field of legal studies outside Europe’s borders. For general introductions and critical reviews of Habermas’s approach to law, for instance, see: Brand (1987); Eder (1988); Haarscher (1986); Murphy (1989); Preuss (1989); Raes (1986); Scheuerman (1993); van der Burg (1990). Habermas’s theory has meanwhile also found its way into empirical research in the American law and society tradition, dealing with such diverse issues as feminist legal thought (Cole, 1985), environmental law (Northey, 1988), legal interpretation (Hoy, 1985; Mootz, 1988), professional roles in the legal community (Dan-Cohen, 1989), and analyses of legislation and constitutional regulations (Feldman, 1993; Felts and Fields, 1988; Leedes, 1991; Solum, 1989). For further references, see the Bibliography in this book.

2 The encyclopedic nature and relative inaccessibility of Habermas’s work, however, have produced an enormous number of introductory essays and books intended to acquaint the readership with the basic elements of his thought. McCarthy’s critical summary of Habermas’s writings is in this regard still the most valuable source, particularly to trace the foundations and intellectual developments of Habermas’s earlier work (McCarthy, 1978). For introductions to Habermas’s more recent work, see Brand (1990); Holub (1991); Ingram (1987); Rasmussen (1990a); Roderick (1986).

3 The ethics of discourse first elaborated by Habermas (1 990a: 43-11 S) has recently been clarified in relation to its critics (Habermas, 1993). For helpful summary statements of Habermas’s moral philosophy, see Ferrara (1986); Heller (1 984-S); Rasmussen (1 990a: S6-74); Tuori (1989). For discussions on the value and limitations of Habermas’s proposals, see the commentaries in Benhabib and Dallmayr (1990); Kelly (1990a); Rasmussen (1990b).

4 The critique that Habermas’s ethics of discourse does contain substantive normative propositions, despite its strictly procedural aspirations, has been suggested by Benhabib (1990); Kelly (1990b); Tuori (1989).

5 The indecisively formalistic nature of, and the difficulties in applying, Habermas’s moral philosophy are discussed by D6bert (1990); Dwars (1992); Günther (1989; 1990); Heller (1984); Pettit (1982). The relevance of this issue for legal studies is well explored in the discussion between Alexy (1992; 1993) and Günther (1993). For a discussion of the human rights perspective in relation to Habermas’s legal theory, see Mullen (1986).

6 For introductions to the perspective of Critical Legal Studies, see, for instance, Fitzpatrick and Hunt (1987); Unger (1986). Habermas has occasionally commented upon the Critical Legal Studies approach to law (e.g. Habermas, 1988; 1992a: 261 ff.), and several commentaries have centered on the relationship between Habermas’s work and Critical Legal Studies (see Belliotti, 1989; Hoy, 198S; Husson, 1986; Ingram, 1990; and Rasmussen, 1988,1990a).

7 The underlying theme of Habermas’s critique is the so-called ‘per formative contradiction’ he argues Critical Legal Studies are subject to. Performative contradiction refers to the fact that the content of an argument contradicts inevitable assumptions of the act of argumentation itself (see Habermas, 1990a: 80-2). Habermas has regularly employed an analogous mode of critique against deconstructionist and postmodern theories (see Habermas, 1987b), and raised similar arguments against the work of Michel Foucault (Habermas, 1987b: 238-93; 1989a: 173-9; seethe discussion in Jay, 1992).

8 The theories of Niklas Luhmann deserve a discussion beyond the scope of this introduction. For an elaboration of Luhmann’s legal theory, see Luhmann (1985; 1992). Habermas has criticized Luhmann’s project from the standpoint of its systems-theoretical foundations (Habermas, 1987b: 368-85) and its repercussions for the study of law (Habermas, 1988: 251-60). The general contrasts between the theories of Habermas and Luhmann are clarified in Holub (1991: 106-32); and their diverging approaches to law are discussed by Eder (1988); Teubner (1983; 1989).

9 These criticisms of Habermas’s approach to law in its original formulation in The Theory of Communicative Action are discussed by Raes (19 86); van der Burg (1990).

10 Habermas explicated this change in his thoughts on law in several papers published after —(the 1981 German original of) The Theory of Communicative Action (see, e.g., Habermas, 1988; 1989b; 1990b; 1990c). See also Habermas’s discussions on civil disobedience which anticipate the reorientation in his legal theory (see Habermas, 198S; 1992b).


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