Handbook of Critical International Relations
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Handbook of Critical International Relations

Edited by Steven C. Roach

Comprising a plurality of perspectives, this timely Handbook is an essential resource for understanding past and current challenges to democracy, justice, social and gender equality, identity and freedom. It shows how critical international relations (IR) theory functions as a broad-based and diverse critique of society.
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Chapter 3: Habermas and international relations: testing the critical limits of modernity

Ben Thirkell-White


Habermas is sometimes seen as too close to liberal thought to be a truly critical thinker. This chapter provides a partial defence of Habermasian thought, arguing that we can read his work in more radical ways. The chapter brings Habermasian international relations theory into contact with its critics (realist and post-structural). It argues that Habermas’s modernist hope that ‘reasoned’ persuasion is possible in global politics remains essential if non-violent political transformation is to take place. However, whilst Habermas’s concept of ‘reason’ is much broader than some of his critics realise, his concern to emphasise the possibility of persuasion has sometimes glossed over reason’s difficulty. To uncover a more radical Habermas, we need to: read discourse ethics in conjunction with more agonistic and post-structural accounts of difficult communication across difference; see Habermas’s project as one of long-term transformation; and emphasise his non-liberal view that markets must be kept subservient to democratic communicative power.

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