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The poverty of Critical Theory in International Relations: Habermas, Linklater and the failings of cosmopolitan critique

Schmid, Davide (2017) The poverty of Critical Theory in International Relations: Habermas, Linklater and the failings of cosmopolitan critique. European Journal of International Relations, 24 (1). pp. 198-220. ISSN 1354-0661

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Abstract

Within and outside of the discipline of International Relations, Frankfurt School Critical Theory faces a ‘crisis of critique’ that is affecting its ability to generate analyses and political interventions that are relevant to the present world-historical conjuncture. This article seeks to identify the theoretical origins of this predicament by investigating the meta-theoretical architecture of the prevailing Habermasian framework of critique. I contend that the binary ontology and methodology of society that lies at the heart of the Habermasian paradigm has effected an uncoupling of normative critique from substantive social and political analysis and resulted in a severe weakening of both Critical Theory’s ‘explanatory-diagnostic’ and ‘anticipatory-utopian’ capabilities. Thereafter, I discuss the determinate ways in which these issues have manifested in critical theoretical interventions on international politics by exploring both Habermas’s own writings on the post-national constellation and Andrew Linklater’s theory of cosmopolitanism and the sociology of global morals. Both projects, it is argued, rely on a reductive, functionalist analysis of global political dynamics and express a political perspective that lacks a definite critical content. Ultimately, the article contends that a revitalisation of Critical Theory in International Relations must necessarily involve a clarification of its fundamental categories of analysis and a recovery of the orientation towards totalising critique.

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