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New Left Review I/115, May-June 1979

Jürgen Habermas

Conservatism and Capitalist Crisis

There is much discussion today of the nature and causes of the crisis racking the advanced capitalist countries. How should we define its structural characteristics and draw up an initial balance sheet?

In general we can say that the economic crisis has got steadily worse. By now everyone knows that we are not dealing with a short recession, and that unemployment will be a problem well into the 1980s. This is an obvious fact. What we should explore is the impact of the slump on the consciousness of the working class. In Germany the crisis is having a disciplinary effect. That is, within the framework—or more accurately on the basis of—legally guaranteed social security, it has proved possible to nip protest movements in the bud. Although not entirely unexpected, this process demands some explanation. The constraining pressure of the crisis has not only prevented any electoral turbulence, it has evoked deep conservative sentiments amongst the population, which have found a cultural echo amongst intellectuals and in the rhetoric of political parties. This neo-conservative current, which first emerged in the early 1970s, has been enormously strengthened in the new economic environment.

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Jurgen Habermas, ‘Conservatism and Capitalist Crisis’, NLR I/115: £3

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