New Book: Der Sinn von Demokratie. Die Diskurstheorie der Demokratie und die Debatte über die Legitimität der EU

The discourse-theoretical argument on democracy is often criticised for being utopian, in that it provides a blueprint for a just political order and misses institutional reality in actual democracies. In a new book on Campus, Daniel Gaus argues that this criticism is based on a misreading of Habermas’ theory. The author is a member of RECON’s WP 1, which sets out RECON’s theoretical framework and develops indicators to test three different models for reconstituting democracy in Europe. 

Der Sinn von Demokratie. Die Diskurstheorie der Demokratie und die Debatte über die Legitimität der EU

Daniel Gaus, Campus 2009 (in German)


In this book, Daniel Gaus argues that, contrary to some interpretation, discourse theory on democracy and law does not aim to normatively justify a certain model of a democratic society. Instead, it seeks to describe and explain real-world political practice in modern democracies with focus on a specific object of analysis: collective belief systems regarding the legitimacy of political rule. The main hypothesis of discourse theory is that during a socio-historical learning process the concept of the democratic constitutional state has evolved into the normative ideal of political order, or in other words, that within the collective consciousness of modern societies the concepts of democracy, statehood and law cover the necessary conditions for legitimate political rule.

Seen as a contribution to a reconstructive sociology of democracy, Habermas’ discourse theory needs further elaboration in order to substantiate its central hypotheses. Gaus argues that European integration could be seen as a test case in this regard. However, the question would not be whether or how the EU could or should become a constitutional state. Instead, empirical analysis of justificatory practices of political rule would be necessary to answer the question, whether the ideal of the democratic constitutional state actually orients legitimacy judgments – in the political practice of the nation-states as well as in the political practice of the European Union.


See more at the publisher’s website.

Presentation of the book in German:

Soll die Legitimität der EU am Ideal des demokratischen Rechtsstaats gemessen werden? Viele Europaforscher behaupten: Nein! Dagegen argumentiert Daniel Gaus anhand der Diskurstheorie von Jürgen Habermas, dass der Begriff des demokratischen Rechtsstaats nicht beliebig durch andere Vorstellungen von Legitimität ersetzt werden kann. Dieser ist als normatives Ideal legitimer politischer Ordnung im kollektiven Bewusstsein moderner Gesellschaften fest verankert.