புதன், ஜூன் 13, 2012

JURGEN HABERMAS - ஜே. ஹேபர்மாஸ்

Modernity—An Incomplete Project

JURGEN HABERMAS                                                                                  

In                                                                                                                                                                          1980, architects were admitted to the Biennial in Venice, following painters and ilmmakers. The note sounded at this first Architecture Biennial was one of disappointment. I would describe it by saying that those who exhibited in Venice formed an avant-garde of reversed fronts. I mean that they sacrificed the tradition of modernity in order to make room for a new historicism. Upon this occasion, a critic of the German newspaper, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, advanced a thesis whose significance reaches beyond this particular event; it is a diagnosis of our times: "Postmodernity deinitely presents itself as Antimodernity." This state¬ ment describes an emotional current of our times which has penetrated all spheres of intellectual life. It has placed on the agenda theories of postenlightenment, postmodernity, even of posthistory.
From history we know the phrase, "The Ancients and the Moderns." Let me begin by deining these concepts. The term "modern" has a long history, one which has been investigated by Hans Robert Jauss.1 The word "modern" in its Latin form "modernus" was used for the irst time in the late 5th century in order to distinguish the present, which had become oficially Christian, from the Roman and pagan past. With varying content, the term "modern" again and again expresses the consciousness of an epoch that relates itself to the past of antiquity, in order to view itself as the result of a transition from the old to the new.
Some writers restrict this concept of "modernity" to the Renaissance, but this is historically too narrow. People considered themselves modern during

This essay was originally delivered as a talk in September 1980 when Habermas was awarded the Theodor W. Adorno prize by the city of Frankfurt. It was subsequently delivered as a James Lecture of the New York Institute for the Humanities at New York University in March 1981 and published under the title "Modernity Versus Postmodernity" in New German Critique 22 (Winter, 1981). It is reprinted here by permission of the author and the publisher.

                 4   The Anti-Aesthetic

the period of Charles the Great in the 12th century, as well as in France of the

late 17th century at the time of the famous "Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes." That is to say, the term "modern" appeared and reappeared exactly during those periods in Europe when the consciousness of a new epoch formed itself through a renewed relationship to the ancients—when¬ ever, moreover, antiquity was considered a model to be recovered through some kind of imitation.
The spell which the classics of the ancient world cast upon the spirit of
later times was irst dissolved with the ideals of the French Enlightenment.
Speciically, the idea of being "modern" by looking back to the ancients
changed with the belief, inspired by modern science, in the ininite progress
of knowledge and in the ininite advance towards social and moral
betterment. Another form of modernist consciousness was formed in the
wake of this change. The romantic modernist sought to oppose the antique
ideals of the classicists; he looked for a new historical epoch and found it in
the idealized Middle Ages. However, this new ideal age, established early in
the 19th century, did not remain a ixed ideal. In the course of the 19th
century, there emerged out of this romantic spirit that radicalized conscious¬
ness of modernity which freed itself from all speciic historical ties. This
most recent modernism simply makes an abstract opposition between
tradition and the present; and we are, in a way, still the contemporaries of
that kind of aesthetic modernity which irst appeared in the midst of the 19th
century. Since then, the distinguishing mark of works which count as
modern is "the new" which will be overcome and made obsolete through
the novelty of the next style. But, while that which is merely "stylish" will
soon become outmoded, that which is modern preserves a secret tie to the
classical. Of course, whatever can survive time has always been considered
to be a classic. But the emphatically modern document no longer borrows
this power of being a classic from the authority of a past epoch; instead, a
modern work becomes a classic because it has once been authentically
modern. Our sense of modernity creates its own self-enclosed canons of
being classic. In this sense we speak, e.g., in view of the history of modern
art, of classical modernity. The relation between "modern" and "classi¬
cal" has deinitely lost a ixed historical reference.

The Discipline of Aesthetic Modernity

The spirit and discipline of aesthetic modernity assumed clear contours in
the work of Baudelaire. Modernity then unfolded in various avant-garde
movements and inally reached its climax in the Cafe Voltaire of the dadaists
and in surrealism. Aesthetic modernity is characterized by attitudes which
ind a common focus in a changed consciousness of time. This time
consciousness expresses itself through metaphors of the vanguard and the
avant-garde. The avant-garde understands itself as invading unknown
territory, exposing itself to the dangers of sudden, shocking encounters,
conquering an as yet unoccupied future. The avant-garde must ind a
direction in a landscape into which no one seems to have yet ventured.
But these forward gropings, this anticipation of an undeined future and
the cult of the new mean in fact the exaltation of the present. The new time
consciousness, which enters philosophy in the writings of Bergson, does
more than express the experience of mobility in society, of acceleration in
history, of discontinuity in everyday life. The new value placed on the
transitory, the elusive and the ephemeral, the very celebration of dynamism,
discloses a longing for an undeiled, immaculate and stable present.
This explains the rather abstract language in which the modernist temper has spoken of the "past." Individual epochs lose their distinct forces. Historical memory is replaced by the heroic afinity of the present with the extremes of history—a sense of time wherein decadence immediately recognizes itself in the barbaric, the wild and the primitive. We observe the anarchistic intention of blowing up the continuum of history, and we can account for it in terms of the subversive force of this new aesthetic consciousness. Modernity revolts against the normalizing functions of tradition; modernity lives on the experience of rebelling against all that is normative. This revolt is one way to neutralize the standards of both morality and utility. This aesthetic consciousness continuously stages a dialectical play between secrecy and public scandal; it is addicted to a fascination with that horror which accompanies the act of profaning, and yet is always in light from the trivial results of profanation.
On the other hand, the time consciousness articulated in avant-garde art is
not simply ahistorical; it is directed against what might be called a false
normativity in history. The modern, avant-garde spirit has sought to use the
past in a different way; it disposes those pasts which have been made
available by the objectifying scholarship of historicism, but it opposes at the
same time a neutralized history which is locked up in the museum of
Drawing upon the spirit of surrealism, Walter Benjamin constructs the
relationship of modernity to history in what I would call a posthistoricist

6   The Anti-Aesthetic

attitude. He reminds us of the self-understanding of the French Revolution: "The Revolution cited ancient Rome, just as fashion cites an antiquated dress. Fashion has a scent for what is current, whenever this moves within the thicket of what was once." This is Benjamin's concept of the Jetztzeit, of the present as a moment of revelation; a time in which splinters of a messianic presence are enmeshed. In this sense, for Robespierre, the antique Rome was a past laden with momentary revelations.8
Now, this spirit of aesthetic modernity has recently begun to age. It has
been recited once more in the 1960s; after the 1970s, however, we must
admit to ourselves that this modernism arouses a much fainter response
today than it did ifteen years ago. Octavio Paz, a fellow-traveller of
modernity, noted already in the middle of the 1960s that "the avant-garde of
1967 repeats the deeds and gestures of those of 1917. We are experiencing the
end of the idea of modern art." The work of Peter Burger has since taught us
to speak of "post-avant-garde" art; this term is chosen to indicate the failure
of the surrealist rebellion.3 But what is the meaning of this failure? Does it
signal a farewell to modernity? Thinking more generally, does the existence
of a post-avant-garde mean there is a transition to that broader phenomenon
called postmodernity?
This is in fact how Daniel Bell, the most brilliant of the American
neoconservatives, interprets matters. In his book, The Cultural Contradic¬
tions of Capitalism, Bell argues that the crises of the developed societies of
the West are to be traced back to a split between culture and society.
Modernist culture has come to penetrate the values of everyday life; the life-
world is infected by modernism. Because of the forces of modernism, the
principle of unlimited self-realization, the demand for authentic self-
experience and the subjectivism of a hyperstimulated sensitivity have come
to be dominant. This temperament unleashes hedonistic motives irreconcil¬
able with the discipline of professional life in society, Bell says. Moreover,
modernist culture is altogether incompatible with the moral basis of a
purposive, rational conduct of life. In this manner, Bell places the burden of
responsibility for the dissolution of the Protestant ethic (a phenomenon
which had already disturbed Max Weber) on the "adversary culture."
Culture in its modern form stirs up hatred against the conventions and virtues
of everyday life, which has become rationalized under the pressures of
economic and administrative imperatives.
I would call your attention to a complex wrinkle in this view. The impulse
of modernity, we are told on the other hand, is exhausted; anyone who
considers himself avant-garde can read his own death warrant. Although the
avant-garde is still considered to be expanding, it is supposedly no longer
creative. Modernism is dominant but dead. For the neoconservative the
question then arises: how can norms arise in society which will limit
libertinism, reestablish the ethic of discipline and work? What new norms

An Incomplete Project  7

will put a brake on the levelling caused by the social welfare state so that the virtues of individual competition for achievement can again dominate? Bell sees a religious revival to be the only solution. Religious faith tied to a faith in tradition will provide individuals with clearly deined identities and existential security.

Cultural Modernity and Societal Modernization

One can certainly not conjure up by magic the compelling beliefs which command authority. Analyses like Bell's, therefore, only result in an atti¬ tude which is spreading in Germany no less than in the States: an intellectual and political confrontation with the carriers of cultural modernity. I cite Peter Steinfels, an observer of the new style which the neoconservatives have imposed upon the intellectual scene in the 1970s:
The struggle takes the form of exposing every manifestation of what could be
considered an oppositionist mentality and tracing its "logic" so as to link it to
various forms of extremism: drawing the connection between modernism and
nihilism... between government regulation and totalitarianism, between
criticism of arms expenditures and subservience to communism, between
Women's liberation or homosexual rights and the destruction of the family...
between the Left generally and terrorism, anti-semitism, and fascism.. .4
The ad hominem approach and the bitterness of these intellectual accusa¬
tions have also been trumpeted loudly in Germany. They should not be
explained so much in terms of the psychology of neoconservative writers;
rather, they are rooted in the analytical weaknesses of neoconservative
doctrine itself.
Neoconservatism shifts onto cultural modernism the uncomfortable
burdens of a more or less successful capitalist modernization of the economy
and society. The neoconservative doctrine blurs the relationship between the
welcomed process of societal modernization on the one hand, and the
lamented cultural development on the other. The neoconservative does not
uncover the economic and social causes for the altered attitudes towards
work, consumption, achievement and leisure. Consequently, he attributes
all of the following—hedonism, the lack of social identiication, the lack
of obedience, narcissism, the withdrawal from status and achievement
competition—to the domain of "culture." In fact, however, culture is
intervening in the creation of all these problems in only a very indirect and
mediated fashion.
In the neoconservative view, those intellectuals who still feel themselves
committed to the project of modernity are then presented as taking the place

8   The Anti-Aesthetic

of those unanalyzed causes. The mood which feeds neoconservatism today
in no way originates from discontent about the antinomian consequences of
a culture breaking from the museums into the stream of ordinary life. This
discontent has not been called into life by modernist intellectuals. It is rooted
in deep-seated reactions against the process of societal modernization.
Under the pressures of the dynamics of economic growth and the organiza¬
tional accomplishments of the state, this social modernization penetrates
deeper and deeper into previous forms of human existence. I would describe
this subordination of the life-worlds under the system's imperatives as a
matter of disturbing the communicative infrastructure of everyday life.
Thus, for example, neopopulist protests only express in pointed fashion a
widespread fear regarding the destruction of the urban and natural
environment and of forms of human sociability. There is a certain irony
about these protests in terms of neoconservatism. The tasks of passing
on a cultural tradition, of social integration and of socialization require
adherence to what I call communicative rationality. But the occasions for
protest and discontent originate precisely when spheres of communicative
action, centered on the reproduction and transmission of values and norms,
are penetrated by a form of modernization guided by standards of economic
and administrative rationality—in other words, by standards of rationaliza¬
tion quite different from those of communicative rationality on which those
spheres depend. But neoconservative doctrines turn our attention precisely
away from such societal processes: they project the causes, which they do
not bring to light, onto the plane of a subversive culture and its advocates.
To be sure, cultural modernity generates its own aporias as well.
Independently from the consequences of societal modernization and within
the perspective of cultural development itself, there originate motives for
doubting the project of modernity. Having dealt with a feeble kind of
criticism of modernity—that of neoconservatism—let me now move our
discussion of modernity and its discontents into a different domain that
touches on these aporias of cultural modernity—issues that often serve only
as a pretense for those positions which either call for a postmodernity,
recommend a return to some form of premodernity, or throw modernity
radically overboard.

The Project of Enlightenment

The idea of modernity is intimately tied to the development of European art,
but what I call "the project of modernity" comes only into focus when we
dispense with the usual concentration upon art. Let me start a different

An Incomplete Project  9

analysis by recalling an idea from Max Weber. He characterized cultural
modernity as the separation of the substantive reason expressed in religion
and metaphysics into three autonomous spheres. They are: science, morality
and art. These came to be differentiated because the uniied world-views of
religion and metaphysics fell apart. Since the 18th century, the problems
inherited from these older world-views could be arranged so as to fall under
speciic aspects of validity: truth, normative Tightness, authenticity and
beauty. They could then be handled as questions of knowledge, or of justice
and morality, or of taste. Scientiic discourse, theories of morality,
jurisprudence, and the production and criticism of art could in turn be
institutionalized. Each domain of culture could be made to correspond to
cultural professions in which problems could be dealt with as the concern of
special experts. This professionalized treatment of the cultural tradition
brings to the fore the intrinsic structures of each of the three dimensions of
culture. There appear the structures of cognitive-instrumental, of moral-
practical and of aesthetic-expressive rationality, each of these under the
control of specialists who seem more adept at being logical in these
particular ways than other people are. As a result, the distance grows
between the culture of the experts and that of the larger public. What accrues
to culture through specialized treatment and relection does not immediately
and necessarily become the property of everyday praxis. With cultural
rationalization of this sort, the threat increases that the life-world, whose
traditional substance has already been devalued, will become more and
more impoverished.
The project of modernity formulated in the  18th century by the philosophers of the Enlightenment consisted in their efforts to develop objective science, universal morality and law, and autonomous art accord¬ ing to their inner logic. At the same time, this project intended to release the cognitive potentials of each of these domains from their esoteric forms. The Enlightenment philosophers wanted to utilize this accumulation of specialized culture for the enrichment of everyday life—that is to say, for the rational organization of everyday social life.
Enlightenment thinkers of the cast of mind of Condorcet still had the
extravagant expectation that the arts and sciences would promote not only
the control of natural forces but also understanding of the world and of the
self, moral progress, the justice of institutions and even the happiness
of human beings. The 20th century has shattered this optimism. The
differentiation of science, morality and art has come to mean the autonomy
of the segments treated by the specialist and their separation from the
hermeneutics of everyday communication. This splitting off is the problem
that has given rise to efforts to "negate" the culture of expertise. But the
problem won't go away: should we try to hold on to the intentions of the
Enlightenment, feeble as they may be, or should we declare the entire

10   The Anti-Aesthetic

project of modernity a lost cause? I now want to return to the problem of artistic culture, having explained why, historically, aesthetic modernity is only a part of cultural modernity in general.

The False Programs of the Negation of Culture

Greatly oversimplifying, I would say that in the history of modern art one
can detect a trend towards ever greater autonomy in the deinition and
practice of art. The category of "beauty" and the domain of beautiful
objects were irst constituted in the Renaissance. In the course of the 18th
century, literature, the ine arts and music were institutionalized as activities
independent from sacred and courtly life. Finally, around the middle of the
19th century an aestheticist conception of art emerged, which encouraged
the artist to produce his work according to the distinct consciousness of art
for art's sake. The autonomy of the aesthetic sphere could then become a
deliberate project: the talented artist could lend authentic expression to those
experiences he had in encountering his own de-centered subjectivity,
detached from the constraints of routinized cognition and everyday action.
In the mid-19th century, in painting and literature, a movement began
which Octavio Paz inds epitomized already in the art criticism of
Baudelaire. Color, lines, sounds and movement ceased to serve primarily
the cause of representation; the media of expression and the techniques of
production themselves became the aesthetic object. Theodor W. Adorno
could therefore begin his Aesthetic Theory with the following sentence: "It
is now taken for granted that nothing which concerns art can be taken for
granted any more: neither art itself, nor art in its relationship to the whole,
nor even the right of art to exist." And this is what surrealism then denied:
das Existenzrecht der Kunst als Kunst. To be sure, surrealism would not
have challenged the right of art to exist, if modern art no longer had
advanced a promise of happiness concerning its own relationship "to the
whole" of life. For Schiller, such a promise was delivered by aesthetic
intuition, but not fulilled by it. Schiller's Letters on the Aesthetic Education
ofMan speaks to us of a Utopia reaching beyond art itself. But by the time of
Baudelaire, who repeated this promesse de bonheur via art, the Utopia of
reconciliation with society had gone sour. A relation of opposites had come
into being; art had become a critical mirror, showing the irreconcilable
nature of the aesthetic and the social worlds. This modernist transformation
was all the more painfully realized, the more art alienated itself from life
and withdrew into the untouchableness of complete autonomy. Out of such
emotional currents inally gathered those explosive energies which un¬

An Incomplete Project  11

loaded in the surrealist attempt to blow up the autarkical sphere of art and to force a reconciliation of art and life.
But all those attempts to level art and life, iction and praxis, appearance
and reality to one plane; the attempts to remove the distinction between
artifact and object of use, between conscious staging and spontaneous
excitement; the attempts to declare everything to be art and everyone to be an
artist, to retract all criteria and to equate aesthetic judgment with the
expression of subjective experiences—all these undertakings have proved
themselves to be sort of nonsense experiments. These experiments have
served to bring back to life, and to illuminate all the more glaringly, exactly
those structures of art which they were meant to dissolve. They gave a new
legitimacy, as ends in themselves, to appearance as the medium of iction, to
the transcendence of the artwork over society, to the concentrated and
planned character of artistic production as well as to the special cognitive
status of judgments of taste. The radical attempt to negate art has ended up
ironically by giving due exactly to these categories through which Enlight¬
enment aesthetics had circumscribed its object domain. The surrealists
waged the most extreme warfare, but two mistakes in particular destroyed
their revolt. First, when the containers of an autonomously developed
cultural sphere are shattered, the contents get dispersed. Nothing remains
from a desublimated meaning or a destructured form; an emancipatory effect
does not follow.
Their second mistake has more important consequences. In everyday communication, cognitive meanings, moral expectations, subjective expressions and evaluations must relate to one another. Communication processes need a cultural tradition covering all spheres—cognitive, moral-
practical and expressive. A rationalized everyday life, therefore, could hardly be saved from cultural impoverishment through breaking open a single cultural sphere—art—and so providing access to just one of the specialized knowledge complexes. The surrealist revolt would have replaced only one abstraction.
In the spheres of theoretical knowledge and morality, there are parallels to this failed attempt of what we might call the false negation of culture. Only they are less pronounced. Since the days of the \oung Hegelians, there has been talk about the negation of philosophy. Since Marx, the question of the relationship of theory and practice has been posed. However, Marxist intellectuals joined a social movement; and only at its peripheries were there sectarian attempts to carry out a program of the negation of philosophy similar to the surrealist program to negate art. A parallel to the surrealist mistakes becomes visible in these programs when one observes the consequences of dogmatism and of moral rigorism.
A reiied everyday praxis can be cured only by creating unconstrained
interaction of the cognitive with the moral-practical and the aesthetic-

12   The Anti-Aesthetic

expressive elements. Reiication cannot be overcome by forcing just one of
those highly stylized cultural spheres to open up and become more
accessible. Instead, we see under certain circumstances a relationship
emerge between terroristic activities and the over-extension of any one of
these spheres into other domains: examples would be tendencies to
aestheticize politics, or to replace politics by moral rigorism or to submit it to
the dogmatism of a doctrine. These phenomena should not lead us,
however, into denouncing the intentions of the surviving Enlightenment
tradition as intentions rooted in a "terroristic reason."5 Those who lump
together the very project of modernity with the state of consciousness and
the spectacular action of the individual terrorist are no less short-sighted than
those who would claim that the incomparably more persistent and extensive
bureaucratic terror practiced in the dark, in the cellars of the military and
secret police, and in camps and institutions, is the raison d'etre of the modern state, only because this kind of administrative terror makes use of the coercive means of modern bureaucracies.


I think that instead of giving up modernity and its project as a lost cause, we should learn from the mistakes of those extravagant programs which have tried to negate modernity. Perhaps the types of reception of art may offer an example which at least indicates the direction of a way out.
Bourgeois art had two expectations at once from its audiences. On the one hand, the layman who enjoyed art should educate himself to become an expert. On the other hand, he should also behave as a competent consumer who uses art and relates aesthetic experiences to his own life problems. This second, and seemingly harmless, manner of experiencing art has lost its radical implications exactly because it had a confused relation to the attitude of being expert and professional.
To be sure, artistic production would dry up, if it were not carried out in the form of a specialized treatment of autonomous problems and if it were to cease to be the concern of experts who do not pay so much attention to exoteric questions. Both artists and critics accept thereby the fact that such problems fall under the spell of what I earlier called the "inner logic" of a cultural domain. But this sharp delineation, this exclusive concentration on one aspect of validity alone and the exclusion of aspects of truth and justice, break down as soon as aesthetic experience is drawn into an individual life history and is absorbed into ordinary life. The reception of art by the layman, or by the "everyday expert," goes in a rather different direction than the reception of art by the professional critic.

An Incomplete Project 13

Albrecht Wellmer has drawn my attention to one way that an aesthetic
experience which is not framed around the experts' critical judgments of
taste can have its signiicance altered: as soon as such an experience is used
to illuminate a life-historical situation and is related to life problems, it
enters into a language game which is no longer that of the aesthetic critic.
The aesthetic experience then not only renews the interpretation of our needs
in whose light we perceive the world. It permeates as well our cognitive
signiications and our normative expectations and changes the manner in
which all these moments refer to one another. Let me give an example of
this process.
This manner of receiving and relating to art is suggested in the irst
volume of the work The Aesthetics of Resistance by the German-Swedish
writer Peter Weiss. Weiss describes the process of reappropriating art by
presenting a group of politically motivated, knowledge-hungry workers in
1937 in Berlin.6 These were young people who, through an evening high-
school education, acquired the intellectual means to fathom the general and
social history of European art. Out of the resilient ediice of this objective
mind, embodied in works of art which they saw again and again in the
museums in Berlin, they started removing their own chips of stone, which
they gathered together and reassembled in the context of their own milieu.
This milieu was far removed from that of traditional education as well as
from the then existing regime. These young workers went back and forth
between the ediice of European art and their own milieu until they were able
to illuminate both.
In examples like this which illustrate the reappropriation of the expert's
culture from the standpoint of the life-world, we can discern an element
which does justice to the intentions of the hopeless surrealist revolts,
perhaps even more to Brecht's and Benjamin's interests in how art works,
which having lost their aura, could yet be received in illuminating ways. In
sum, the project of modernity has not yet been fulilled. And the reception
of art is only one of at least three of its aspects. The project aims at a
differentiated relinking of modern culture with an everyday praxis that
still depends on vital heritages, but would be impoverished through mere
traditionalism. This new connection, however, can only be established
under the condition that societal modernization will also be steered in a
different direction. The life-world has to become able to develop institutions
out of itself which set limits to the internal dynamics and imperatives of an
almost autonomous economic system and its administrative complements.
If I am not mistaken, the chances for this today are not very good. More or
less in the entire Western world a climate has developed that furthers
capitalist modernization processes as well as trends critical of cultural
modernism. The disillusionment with the very failures of those programs
that called for the negation of art and philosophy has come to serve as a

14   The Anti-Aesthetic

pretense for conservative positions. Let me briely distinguish the anti-
modernism of the "young conservatives" from the premodemism of the
"old conservatives" and from the postmodernism of the neoconservatives.
The "young conservatives" recapitulate the basic experience of aesthetic modernity. They claim as their own the revelations of a decentered subjectivity, emancipated from the imperatives of work and usefulness, and with this experience they step outside the modern world. On the basis of modernistic attitudes they justify an irreconcilable antimodernism. They remove into the sphere of the far-away and the archaic the spontaneous powers of imagination, self-experience and emotion. To instrumental reason they juxtapose in Manichean fashion a principle only accessible through evocation, be it the will to power or sovereignty, Being or the Dionysiac force of the poetical. In France this line leads from Georges Bataille via Michel Foucault to Jacques Derrida.
The "old conservatives" do not allow themselves to be contaminated by cultural modernism. They observe the decline of substantive reason, the differentiation of science, morality and art, the modern world view and its merely procedural rationality, with sadness and recommend a withdrawal to a position anterior to modernity. Neo-Aristotelianism, in particular, enjoys a certain success today. In view of the problematic of ecology, it allows itself to call for a cosmological ethic. (As belonging to this school, which originates with Leo Strauss, one can count the interesting works of Hans Jonas and Robert Spaemann.)
Finally, the neoconservatives welcome the development of modern
science, as long as this only goes beyond its sphere to carry forward
technical progress, capitalist growth and rational administration. Moreover,
they recommend a politics of defusing the explosive content of cultural
modernity. According to one thesis, science, when properly understood, has
become irrevocably meaningless for the orientation of the life-world. A
further thesis is that politics must be kept as far aloof as possible from the
demands of moral-practical justification. And a third thesis asserts the pure
immanence of art, disputes that it has a Utopian content, and points to its
illusory character in order to limit the aesthetic experience to privacy. (One
could name here the early Wittgenstein, Carl Schmitt of the middle period,
and Gottfried Benn of the late period.) But with the decisive coninement of
science, morality and art to autonomous spheres separated from the life-
world and administered by experts, what remains from the project of cultural
modernity is only what we would have if we were to give up the project of
modernity altogether. As a replacement one points to traditions which,
however, are held to be immune to demands of (normative) justiication and
This typology is like any other, of course, a simpliication, but it may not
prove totally useless for the analysis of contemporary intellectual and

An Incomplete Project 15

political confrontations. I fear that the ideas of antimodernity, together with
an additional touch of premodernity, are becoming popular in the circles of
alternative culture. When one observes the transformations of consciousness within political parties in Germany, a new ideological shift (Tendenzwende) becomes visible. And this is the alliance of postmodernists with premodern-
ists. It seems to me that there is no party in particular that monopolizes the abuse of intellectuals and the position of neoconservatism. I therefore have good reason to be thankful for the liberal spirit in which the city of Frankfurt offers me a prize bearing the name of Theodor Adorno, a most signiicant son of this city, who as philosopher and writer has stamped the image of the intellectual in our country in incomparable fashion, who, even more, has become the very image of emulation for the intellectual.

Translated by Seyla Ben-Habib


1.     Jauss is a prominent German literary historian and critic involved in "the aesthetics of
reception," a type of criticism related to reader-response criticism in this country. For a
discussion of "modern" see Jauss, Asthetische Normen undgeschichtliche Relexion in der Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes (Munich, 1964). For a reference in English see Jauss, "History of Art and Pragmatic History," Toward an Aesthetic of Reception, trans. Timothy Bahti (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982), pp. 46-8. [Ed.]
2. See Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History," Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn
(New York: Schocken, 1969), p. 261. [Ed.]
3. For Paz on the avant-garde see in particular Children of the Mire: Modern Poetry from
Romanticism to the Avant-Garde (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974), pp. 148-64.
For Burger see Theory of the Avant-Garde (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, Fall 1983). [Ed.]
4. Peter Steinfels, The Neoconservatives (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979), p. 65.
5. The phrase "to aestheticize politics" echoes Benjamin's famous formulation of the false
social program of the fascists in "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Repro¬ duction." Habermas's criticism here of Enlightenment critics seems directed less at Adorno and Max Horkheimer than at the contemporary nouveaux philosophes (Bernard-Henri Levy, etc.) and their German and American counterparts. [Ed.]
6. The reference is to the novel Die Asthetik des Widerstands (1975-8) by the author perhaps
best known here for his 1965 play MaratISade. The work of art "reappropriated" by the
workers is the Pergamon altar, emblem of power, classicism and rationality. [Ed.]