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This article contrasts the recent communicative and epistemological conceptualizations of Jürgen Habermas with those provided by earlier critical theorists such as Walter Benjamin, Max Horkheimer, and Theodor Adorno. I argue that Habermas's “argumentative turn” breaks sharply with certain basic assumptions about language, discourse and knowledge common to his predecessors. While the earlier theorists were operating with assumptions derived from the “declarative” rhetorical lineage of German early romanticism and Hegelian Marxism, Habermas has returned to the hegemonic assumptions of Western “demonstrative” rhetoric. His prioritizing of oral argumentative discourse over written forms of nonargumentative “indirect communication” leaves little space for the kind of “constellational” cognition and “combinational” articulation considered essential by the earlier theorists. Some of the theoretical and political implications of Habermas's argumentative turn away from declarative critical theory are then discussed.