In Jurgen Habermas’, Legitimation Crisis, Western society is examined through a sociological lens to determine whether society is just. In his work, Habermas argues that advanced capitalism in Western societies leads to a legitimation crisis. Advanced capitalism displaces crisis tendencies, by means of state action, from the economic sphere into the socio-cultural sphere. Therefore, the legitimacy provided by the cultural sphere is threatened, resulting in a loss of legitimacy in society. Habermas addresses the legitimation crisis rationally, by calling for a free society that creates the conditions for real human form. Rationality, according to Habermas, is human emancipation. Through the creation of open, substantive speech the legitimation crisis can be overcome. Endemic to our age, human emancipation may be precipitated through a legitimation crisis. Only through a legitimation crisis can a rational society, which fulfills human needs be erected.
Jurgen Habermas examines the legitimation crisis through a systems theory, which argues that society is a system composed of different elements that function separately to maintain the overall operation. Habermas applies the systems theory to advanced capitalism by breaking down advanced capitalist society into three entities: the political system, which lies in the center of the advanced capitalist structure and consists of the state and government, legally having a monopoly on the use of state power; the economic system, which appropriates the products of nature through labor and work for the purposes of survival and the socio-cultural sphere, which is civil society. The economic system provides a fiscal skim off through taxes, the money resources that pay for its services. This creates a transfer between the political and economic systems: the economic system transfers its resources to the political system, in the form of monetary support or tax revenue and in turn the political ensures economic security through growth rates and optimal performance of the economy. Also, the state limits its involvement in the economy by not imposing harsh regulatory policies, which would restrain investment and create capital flight, ultimately injuring the economy. Together, a symbiotic relationship is created between the political and economic system to ensure equilibrium. The third component is the socio-cultural system, which is civil society that is accountable for the internal nature of capitalism. In the socio-cultural sphere, the internal nature of civilians is steered toward being loyal to society, permitting society to be perceived as legitimate. The socio-cultural sphere socializes the young to act in accordance with societies values. The systematic stability of society is dependent upon loyalty from the socio-cultural sphere. The socio-cultural sphere provides popular legitimacy to the other two spheres through the mass loyalty of the public. Mass loyalty ensures the stability of society as culture and the public’s identification with the culture in turn legitimize the political and economic spheres. When these components function accordingly this holds the system together.
Crises occur through the organizational principles of society that dictate how functions are carried out and account for how society has emerged “the guidance of social evolution-is, however, first established by its principles of organizations.” Crises arise due to steering problems, specifically, when problems are not steered toward solutions. While Marx contended that economic crises in capitalism would lead to its demise, Habermas holds that economic crisis are characteristic of liberal capitalist societies and that advanced capitalist societies have developed safeguards to prevent crisis in the economic sphere. The economic sphere is no longer threatened as crisis transferred over to the socio-cultural sphere. Habermas examines the crisis of a social system and how new social formations arise. A society’s organizational principles dictate how that society functions, when those principles are not adhered to crisis sets in causing new organizing principles to form. Three social formations are distinguished through their principles of organization: primitive society, organized through kinship relations; traditional societies, organized through political class domination; and liberal-capitalist societies organized through un-political class rule where class domination is not overtly political but economical. Primitive society was the first to attain organizational principles centered on age, sex and mainly males. Primitive societies go into crisis when an external force undermines its organizing principles for example, war, imperialism, and trade led to the demise of primitive societies and led to the formation of another society. Liberal capitalism is composed of capitalism, the means of production, and liberalism, the laws that guide capitalism. It is organized by the relationship between wage labor and capital under a system of law. Liberal capitalism is organized according to the principles of un-political class rule, when elite class rule is administered indirectly through the economy. Contradictions occur in liberal capitalist societies when the economy takes precedence over the state and one class of people assert rule, through the economy, over another class of people. In this arrangement, the rule of the rich is legitimated through law. It produces a society with inequality, however, that inequality is legitimized. Rationality crisis is caused by a market failures and state inaction, which lead to economic crises such as the Great Depression. A crisis of rationality undermines a liberal capitalist society’s organizational principles leading to the formation of advanced capitalist societies. Habermas claims that liberal capitalism existed more during the time of Karl Marx. The end of liberal capitalism was marked by the supplementation and partial replacement of the market mechanism by state intervention. Organized or advanced capitalist societies were formed to regulate the fluctuations of the marketplace.
Advanced capitalist societies since World War II exhibit different crisis tendencies than in the time of Karl Marx. In contrast to Marx, the contradictions in our society appear in a different way: the crisis tendencies moved from the economic sphere to the political sphere. In advanced capitalist societies the state is at the center of society and is organized to avert economic crisis. The state steers and directs the economy to ensure that it operates by regulating the workplace and the market in order to certify that social integration is not destroyed. Relations of production have been re-politicized by the state and as well as activities of the labor units to effect how the economy functions, meaning that there is not a free market as it is regulated by the state, “Re-coupling the economic system to the political –which in a way re-politicizes the relations of production-creates an increased need for legitimaton.” In this form of capitalism crises emerge when the state cannot intervene effectively in the economy, “The legitimation crisis, by contrast, is directly an identity crisis. It does not proceed by way of endangering system integration, but results from the fact that the fulfillment of governmental planning tasks places in question the structure of the depoliticized public realm and, thereby the formally democratic securing of private autonomous disposition by means of production.” State intervention into the economy, through increased work regulations and empowerment zones reflect societies crisis tendencies on the political sphere. Therefore, increased pressure on the state assumes its ability to avert crisis. However, if the state fails then it leads to a rationality crisis over its own role. Additionally, if the state does not act in accordance to society, the socio-cultural sphere, then it enters a legitimation crisis. Habermas emphasizes that a legitimation crisis occurs in the sociocultural sphere, when society no longer perceives the state as legitimate. The stability of the socio-cultural sphere is needed to ensure mass loyalty to society, if the populace is to obey the rules of society. If the legitimation crisis ensues it will become an identity crisis causing the breakdown of the social sphere. Identity crises are prevalent in our age and threaten the norms and meanings that validate the social system. Society then subsequently enters an identification crisis, as it no longer identifies with conventional organizational principles and norms. Crisis tendencies are evidenced in the lack of reliable structures of inter-subjectivity, “Administrative manipulation of cultural matters has the unintended side effect if causing meanings and norms previously fixed by tradition to be publicly thematized…. In this way, the residue of tradition off which the state and the system of social labor lived in liberal capitalism is eaten away.” The meanings, the interpretive structures that are shared by the masses are threatened by the contradictions of our society. However, these are the same meanings that validate society, “There is no administrative production of meaning.” Habermas tracks “the disenchantment of the world” and how it is bound in societal developments. The crisis tendencies, according to Habermas, have origins in the economy but are displaced, which de-legitimates society and causes apathy. Advanced capitalism has extended the business cycle and altered the episodic phases of capital devaluation into an ongoing inflationary crisis. In doing so, advanced capitalism has dispersed the effects of the economy onto unorganized social groups and has corroded the social fabric, “In this way the social identity of classes breaks down and class consciousness is fragmented. The class compromise that has become part of the structure of advanced capitalism makes everyone both a participant and a victim.” The disintegration of the social identity of classes endangers the legitimacy provided by the cultural sphere. Therefore, to prevent crisis the state must intervene legitimately and rationally.
Legitimation takes place when the state attempts to regain legitimacy through formal democracy. People vote for political systems, which ensures the functioning of economic, however, it is formal not substantive. The difference between formal democracy and substantive democracy is that in formal democracy institutions provide us with the form of democracy, which is not direct democracy, “To the extent that the state no longer represents merely the superstructure of an un-political class relationship, the formally democratic means of procuring legitimation prove to be particularly restrictive,” as a result, we do not have a fully rational society. The contradiction in our society is that it is oriented toward the profit motive of some over the need of others. A form of capitalism as administratively socialized wealth does not substantively meet the needs of our society. Habermas argues that in advanced capitalist societies we have the state sponsored creation of wealth for the wealthy, therefore, society is amenable and illegitimated and is democracy in name only. The state is sponsoring and ensuring that this inequality exists through corporate welfare. In today’s society, since World War II, civil and formal vocational privatism manifests itself through the absence of a vibrant public. The young in society avoid politics and are no longer socialized in their societies prosperity. Rather than identifying with their society, they assert their experimental counter-culture through communes and collectives and various other forms of social institutions, as they saw their society as illegitimate. Habermas argues that without substantive democracy the system will be colonized by the interest of a few, it will be illegitimate, making way to a problematic form of legitimation crisis. The solution to this involves taking action to change society and build a post-capitalist society where democracy rather than economy reigns to rationally address human needs. A common humanity with common needs arrived at rationality that valorize reason, is imperative in providing legitimation to society, “ A necessary condition for beginning the construction of normed speech is that the individuals who make this beginning already stand in a common context of speech and action and agree therein through a perform of “practical deliberation” to undertake in common the construction of a well-founded mode of speech,” it is through the organizational principles of reason and verbal discourse that human emancipation will be brought about and a society that fulfills human needs can be created. In order to derive a meaningful sense of the state of affairs common goals as well as rational speech need to be set forth. A paradigm for undistorted communication between rational individuals is necessary for the purpose of arriving at a consensus on truth, “The choices of a concept of rationality is decisive for the structure of a planning theory. Planning theories conceived in decision-theoretic terms are based on a concept of the rationality of action that is taken from the paradigm of purposive-rational choice of alternative means,” Habermas wants the populace to peruse the search for truth through communication ultimately resulting in a “cooperative search for truth,” rather than a competitive one. An ideal setting consists of no overbearing power but an open and free environment where views are articulated in a rational manner to arrive at a substantive meaningful sense of truth that provides us with a legitimate sense of our society. Above all else, Habermas emphasizes human reason to distinguish between true and false. Distorted conditions account for the opposite of ideal communication, our social life, according to Habermas, is dictated by distorted communication. Habermas attempts to address the skepticism of our age and argues that we are needy creatures in need of a more rational society. The fulfillment of human needs in a rational way solves the legitimation crisis. This will occur through open communication, as the concern for truth is inherent in communication: communication is of speaking truth. This interest in truth is prevalent in society as humans take up everyday beliefs and subject it to scrutiny in search of truth. Habermas believes there is an intimate belief between what is and what ought to be, humans are presumed to be rational creatures and rationality is freedom. Only through rationality and reason, the central pivot points of Habermas’ argument, can the emancipation of the species of humanity be brought about.
 Jurgen Habermas. “Legitimation Crisis.” (Boston: Beacon Press, 1975), 17.  Habermas. Legitimation Crisis, 36.
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 Habermas,Legitimation Crisis, 48.
 Habermas, Legitimation Crisis,70.
 Habermas, Legitimation Crisis, 39.
 Habermas, Legitimation Crisis, 58.
 Habermas. Legitimation Crisis. 110.
 Habermas. Legitimation Crisis. 139.