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Revolution or legality? Confronting the spectre of Marx in Habermas’s legal philosophy

Abstract

As early as 1962, Jürgen Habermas was convinced that Karl Marx’s theoretical attempt to ‘turn Hegel the right side up’ had resulted in a one-sided embrace of revolution and a perilous rejection of legality and rights. Habermas would restate these remarks thirty years later in Between Facts and Norms, noting that the collapse of state socialism, with its characteristic disdain for legality and rights, culminated in the discrediting of revolutionary Marxism. This article revisits Habermas’s theoretical dichotomy between revolution and legality in view of his ambivalent relationship to ‘Marx’s spectre’ and shows its significance for Habermas’s ongoing debate with Wolfgang Streeck concerning the tension between democracy and capitalism. Using textual evidence from Marx’s neglected journalistic writings before, during, and after the 1848 revolutions, the article offers a competing perspective of Marx’s views on legality and rights at a time when their respective fates were critically at stake. A careful reconsideration of Marx’s reflections and a confrontation with his spectre offers Habermas fruitful resources for responding to Streeck’s critique and for reviving the project of ‘radical reformism’ at a time when the liberal constitutional order finds itself under attack.

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Acknowledgements

I am grateful to Simone Chambers, Terrell Carver, Richard Day, Rainer Forst, and two anonymous reviewers for their comments and criticisms on earlier drafts.

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Correspondence to Igor Shoikhedbrod.

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Shoikhedbrod, I. Revolution or legality? Confronting the spectre of Marx in Habermas’s legal philosophy. Contemp Polit Theory 20, 72–95 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41296-020-00385-6

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Keywords

  • revolution
  • legality
  • radical reformism
  • Marx
  • Habermas
  • Streeck
  • democratically-enacted law
  • capitalism