GV4F7      Half Unit
The Political Theory of Jurgen Habermas

This information is for the 2015/16 session.

Teacher responsible

Professor Peter Niesen


This course is available on the MSc in Political Theory. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

This course is capped at 1 group. The deadline for receipt of applications on LSE for You will be between Friday 24 September and Friday 9 October 2015, depending on the course. The exact deadline for applications, and further details on how to make an application, will be confirmed at your programme induction.


An advanced undergraduate course in the History of Political Thought or Political Philosophy, or following consultation with the course teacher.

Course content

A philosophical and thematic introduction to and critical assessment of the political theory of Jürgen Habermas. Jürgen Habermas is commonly ranked alongside John Rawls as one of two paradigms of how to do contemporary political philosophy. Like Rawls, Habermas articulates a systematic philosophical theory of the liberal-democratic constitutional state that seeks to reconcile the values of liberty, equality and democracy. Unlike Rawls, Habermas has based this approach on a distinctive philosophy of language, a general moral philosophy, and a foundational social theory. The focus of the course is on Habermas’s political theory set out in Between Facts and Norms and subsequently developed to fit problems of international politics and international law. The course is divided into three parts. The first part investigates Habermas’s moral philosophy and speech act theory, and how they are developed into an account of democratic law-making in Facts and Norms. The first part will be centrally concerned with Habermas’ claim to use a single distinctive method, rational reconstruction, for the various areas of knowledge. The second part assesses the several attempts Habermas has made at an international or cosmopolitan transformation of his account of democratic legitimacy, focussing on his works on the constitutionalisation of international law and of the European Union. The third part looks at Habermas as an active and influential intellectual, starting with his most recent interventions on the fate of the EU in the financial crisis, but also looking at two earlier high-profile domestic and international controversies, the “Historikerstreit” (historians’ struggle) over the public role of historiography and the NATO bombings in the Kosovo crisis. Again, one central concern is the methodological question as to whether his interventions “apply” theoretical insights to political conflicts.


20 hours of seminars in the LT.

There will be a reading week in week 6 of the LT for private study and formative/summative assessment preparation.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to submit two formative essays of no more than 2000 words.

Indicative reading

James Gordon Finlayson, Habermas: A Very Short Introduction.

Jürgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action.

Jürgen Habermas, Between Facts and Norms. Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy.

Jürgen Habermas, The Divided West.

Jürgen Habermas, The Crisis of the European Union. A Response.


Essay (100%, 5000 words).

Student performance results

(2011/12 - 2013/14 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 14.3
Merit 50
Pass 21.4
Fail 14.3

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2014/15: Unavailable

Average class size 2014/15: Unavailable

Controlled access 2014/15: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills