Emotion, Disagreement, and Conflict: Ambiguities in Jürgen Habermas’ Democratic Thought

by Lysaker, Odyn, Professor at Aarhus University

Chantal Mouffe criticizes Jürgen Habermas for not reflecting upon the role of emotion, disagreement, and conflict regards to active citizenship. In this paper, therefore, I investigate the Mouffe/Habermas controversy, and I do so by adopting a middle position. On the one hand, I take the Mouffian critique to correctly observe that individuals’ rational argumentation regards to universal moral claims is at center in Habermas’ approach. On the other, I argue, contrary to Mouffe, that her critique is based upon misreading and straw man fallacy. As a result, she ignores the many ways in which the Habermasian picture covers exactly the aspects that Mouffe holds that it lacks, namely collective action motivated by emotions as well as defining disagreement, or agonism, as a crucial aspect of the political. Thus, Habermas’ philosophical project, initiated more than 60 years ago, is reduced to something else and therefore less relevant regarding active citizenship than what is actually the case. In the paper, then, I reconstruct his democratic thought based on the assumption that it involves what I term as political ambiguities. By this notion, what I have in mind is how emotion, disagreement, and conflict are at play in within the Habermasian framing of democracy. To do so, I shall structure the paper around Mouffe’s main points concerning individualism, rationalism, universalism, and consensus. Here, I adopt an alternative route throughout Habermas’ oeuvre by holding that the above mentioned political ambiguities are evident throughout his whole authorship, and is grounded in Habermas’ term lifeworld. By doing so, the paper’s aim is to present a more nuanced picture regarding where Habermas and Mouffe actually touch shoulders rather than standing back to back when in their approaches to active citizenship within current complex democracies.


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