The subject and politics in Habermas and post-structuralism
In this thesis I undertake a critical examination of the work Hirgen Habermas and the poststructuralist
thinkers William Connolly, Ernesto Laclau, and Chantal Mouffe and I compare their
respective notions of the 'subject' and politics. The objective of my thesis is to use the conceptual
distinction between contradictions, dialectical oppositions, and paradoxes to demonstrate three
central hypotheses. First, I show that Habermas's charge of 'performative contradiction' levelled
against the post-structuralists' supposedly 'totalising' critiques of reason does not hold up to
scrutiny, because the post-structuralists acknowledge the paradoxical nature of their ontological
foundations. Second, I demonstrate that a simple dichotomy cannot be drawn between the work
of Habermas and post-structuralism with him on one side as a rationalist and them on the other as
'anti-rationalists' or 'relativists'. Instead, what I elaborate in this thesis is a complex map of
similarities and differences between Habermas and the post-structuralists. For example, I show
that on a more straightforwardly political level Habermas shares a number of distinct similarities
with the post-structuralist theorists and especially with Mouffe. Indeed, I make the case that
Habermas's work cannot be reduced to a form of 'Kantian proceduralism' as it is often said to be.
There are in fact distinctly 'Hegelian' elements in Habermas's conception of 'reason' and
'rationality'. Habermas's conception of rationality shares important parallels with the work of
Michael Oakeshott, who is a significant influence on Mouffe. Third, I make the case that
Habermas's founding principles - despite his claims to contrary - appear to be masking a paradox.
I argue that paradoxes have an important place in the in the history of Western
philosophy. I show that the acknowledgement of paradoxes has existed alongside the law of noncontradiction,
and reconciliation since the ancient Greeks. I conclude the thesis with the
suggestion that an 'agonistic' style of democracy is especially conducive to the idea of paradox
because it is predicated upon the idea that there is no objective ontological truth or 'complete'
identity. Finally, I suggest that it is essential to maintain the distinction between a performative
contradiction, a reconciliatory logic, and a paradox, because it is potentially an injustice when a
paradox is 'declared' to be resolved and beyond argumentation or contestation.