According to many of his critics, Habermas is so preoccupied with `old normative maps' that he cannot really help us chart our options in a fast globalizing world. The following article contests aspects of this familiar critique. The argument is developed in three stages. First, some misapprehensions are targeted. No unreconstructed liberal, Habermas is shown to offer a discriminating interpretation of learning processes that need to guide political democracy in a global context. The far-reaching agenda of Habermas's programme for a globalized and democratized welfare project is underlined. Next, Habermas's attempt to bring forward the normative resources of liberal democratic histories is contrasted with Ulrich Beck's normative avant-gardism. This latter is shown to be a mere semblance of radicalism that serves to legitimate the triumph of one particular axis within modernization processes. Finally, the article explores a dilemma that faces Habermas's attempt to use the potentials of a particular cultural tradition as the normative grounds for a globally extended democracy. Habermas wants to avoid reducing critical theory to the mere affirmation of certain parochial cultural choices and so tries to find grounds for establishing the universal resonance of these normative contents. The last section looks into the ideological character of this attempt and considers an alternative way in which the inter-cultural significance of democratic Enlightenment commitments might be tested.