Democratic solidarity in a secular age? Habermas and the “linguistification of the sacred”

Charles H.T. Lesch*

*Corresponding author for this work

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5 Scopus citations


Secularization, according to Max Weber’s classic theory, shatters social cohesion. But if this is so, what are the prospects for democratic solidarity in a secular age? In this article, I examine the response given by one of democracy’s leading intellectual architects, Jürgen Habermas. Whereas Weber thought that rational modernity enfeebles solidarity, Habermas believes that rational discourse itself inherits religion’s moral-aesthetic power, a process that he calls the “linguistification of the sacred.” Habermas’s stress on language, I argue, is partly justified. Yet as I show by tracing linguistification’s roots to Émile Durkheim’s sociology of religion and Walter Benjamin’s theory of language, Habermas’s program for solidarity falls short in one crucial respect. While shared discourse cultivates a basic interpersonal tolerance, it lacks the power to transport us beyond our narrow interests. Nonrational and prelinguistic aspects of our psychology remain decisive. Consequently, democratic solidarity in a secular age remains an unfinished project.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)862-877
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Politics
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

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© 2019 by the Southern Political Science Association. All rights reserved.


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