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The Vitality of Critical Theory
 0857247972, 9780857247971

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CURRENT PERSPECTIVES IN SOCIAL THEORY Series Editor: Harry F. Dahms Recent Volumes: Volume 1: Volume 2: Volume 3: Volume 4: Volume 5: Volume 6: Volume 7: Volume 8: Volume 9: Volume 10: Volume 11: Volume 12: Volume 13: Volume 14: Supplement 1: Volume Volume Volume Volume Volume Volume Volume

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1980, Edited by Scott G. McNall and Garry N. Howe 1981, Edited by Scott G. McNall and Garry N. Howe 1982, Edited by Scott G. McNall 1983, Edited by Scott G. McNall 1984, Edited by Scott G. McNall 1985, Edited by Scott G. McNall 1986, Edited by John Wilson 1987, Edited by John Wilson 1989, Edited by John Wilson 1990, Edited by John Wilson 1991, Edited by Ben Agger 1992, Edited by Ben Agger 1993, Edited by Ben Agger 1994, Edited by Ben Agger Recent Developments in the Theory of Social Structure, 1994, Edited by J. David Knottnerus and Christopher Prendergast 1995, Edited by Ben Agger 1996, Edited by Jennifer M. Lehmann 1997, Edited by Jennifer M. Lehmann 1998, Edited by Jennifer M. Lehmann 1999, Edited by Jennifer M. Lehmann 2000, Edited by Jennifer M. Lehmann Bringing Capitalism Back for Critique by Social Theory, 2002, Edited by Jennifer M. Lehmann Critical Theory: Diverse Objects, Diverse Subjects, 2003, Edited by Jennifer M. Lehmann Social Theory as Politics in Knowledge, 2005, Edited by Jennifer M. Lehmann Globalization Between the Cold War and Neo-Imperialism, 2006, Edited by Jennifer M. Lehmann and Harry F. Dahms No Social Science without Critical Theory, 2008, Edited by Harry F. Dahms Nature, Knowledge and Negation, 2009, Edited by Harry F. Dahms Theorizing the Dynamics of Social Processes, 2010, Edited by Harry F. Dahms and Lawrence Hazelrigg



HARRY F. DAHMS Department of Sociology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, USA

United Kingdom – North America – Japan India – Malaysia – China

Emerald Group Publishing Limited Howard House, Wagon Lane, Bingley BD16 1WA, UK First edition 2011 Copyright r 2011 Emerald Group Publishing Limited Reprints and permission service Contact: [email protected] No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without either the prior written permission of the publisher or a licence permitting restricted copying issued in the UK by The Copyright Licensing Agency and in the USA by The Copyright Clearance Center. No responsibility is accepted for the accuracy of information contained in the text, illustrations or advertisements. The opinions expressed in these chapters are not necessarily those of the Editor or the publisher. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN: 978-0-85724-797-1 ISSN: 0278-1204 (Series)

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FOREWORD For a scholar so young to have such a large coherent collection of papers that merit republication as a set – a first volume of The Collected Papers of y – is hardly ordinary. But Harry Dahms is hardly ordinary. Perhaps part of this latter fact can be attributed to ‘‘externalities’’ – for instance, that he is of two societies and two cultures, Germany and the United States; that he is also, if not so literally, of two eras, the present era and another much older, in developmental if not calendar time; that his own discipline reaches across departments of the university to incorporate topics of the historian, the philosopher, the sociologist, the political scientist, the institutional economist, the film critic, and more. No doubt real, those external factors have considerable impact as context and condition in the formation of the scholar’s interests. The external comes to fruition in and as a person in various ways, however, and for Professor Dahms the hallmark of that personal process has been and continues to be a passion to discern that which has escaped attention, that which is concealed by the usual processes of conscious attention, perception, and evaluation. This is the passion of wonder – that sudden apprehension of the extraordinary in the ordinary, the ineffable in the confidence of an experience, the question in the comfort of an answer, the ludic in the sobriety of commonplace, the wound beneath the scab. It is wonder that puts in such peculiar relief the routines on which it depends for backdrop, even as routines (perhaps especially those of formal education) can stifle capacities for wonder. Dahms has somehow evaded that cost far better than most others I have known: while evidently a creature of higher education in the formal institutional sense, he parses in turn both wonderments and routinizations to which too many of us are insensitive. These capacities and actions are manifest in his writings, though one must listen carefully across carefully composed, often long, lines of syntax in which word selections leave traces of his agreement with Mark Twain and Ludwig Wittgenstein about choosing the correct word. Better yet, listen to his oral commentaries during a screening of a film by, say, Andrei Tarkovsky, or a pop-culture movie such as The Matrix. Whatever his venue, Dahms discriminates among inconsistency, contrariety, and contradiction. There is nothing unusual about that, of course, vii



except that these categories are prone to conflation in circuits of rhetoric and its referrals. At least since Aristotle, in western traditions distinctions have been maintained among inconsistency, contrariety, and contradiction, at least in outline, by most thinkers. Among the last of those, also at least since Aristotle in western traditions, distinctions are usually maintained among contradictions that are psychological (i.e., contradictory beliefs held by ostensibly the self-same individual or other identity fixture), those that are logical (i.e., of propositions), and those that are ontological (i.e., of ontic ‘‘things’’), although after Hume and then Kant it has been very much harder to pin down the bounds and explain ‘‘here’’ rather than ‘‘there’’ (thus spurring a continual scramble for authority to speak for a thing-in-itselfness, an unmoved mover, a god, or some other nonhuman warrant for a ‘‘merely’’ human belief, proposition, and/or thing or phenomenon). Dahms focuses most on contradiction, as in the summary phrase, ‘‘the contradictions of modern society.’’ Of the three – inconsistency, contrariety, and contradiction – it seems that contradiction most easily evades reflexive consciousness in the impressions and exhibitions of ‘‘lived experience.’’ The cultivation of false consciousness, bad faith, and the like, under the selfocculting cover of different names and relations has perhaps always been in the interest of a few, relative to the many; but never before have entire industries, employing millions, now billions, of workers, taken their ‘‘reason for being’’ in the innovations and applications of such instruments. As lines differentiating ‘‘copy’’ from ‘‘original’’ have faded away, the occultation has become easier to perform, at times even unnecessary, and the cultivation an unremarked, perhaps unremarkable, ‘‘ordinary everyday behavior.’’ Here, then, subsists what Dahms refers to as a disconnect between ‘‘US society as most of its inhabitants consciously experience it’’ and ‘‘actually existing US society.’’ The modal conscious experience, at least the parts that are conveyed verbally and sometimes in other behaviors or actions, is a texture of political and religious creeds (often not distinguished from one another), civic legends, emotive and affective expressions that seldom have lasting (if any) cathartic effect, and occasionally some efforts of reasoned dialogue that genuinely seek answers though too often ultimately under the sign of comforting self-delusion. For modal conscious experience there is no disconnect – or none that is translated from visceral awareness as frustration, demoralization, or raging aggression to an open, critically selfreflective discourse. Dahms bridges an earlier era, exemplified by Ju¨rgen Habermas who genuinely and profoundly endorsed the Enlightenment’s principle of hope as realized in the premise of speech and thus realizable in



human actions generally, and the present era, in which Habermas’ entire project seems from the standpoint of modal conscious experience utterly naive. Dahms is one of a diminishing few who discern that difference – by living it – and rejuvenate hope. The papers of this collection are morning windows onto the horizons of a young scholar’s multidimensional project. Some of us, having produced such a collection, would be successfully tempted to rest on the laurels of it, while others of us are still hoping for something substantial enough to rest on, laurelled or not. Harry Dahms is rarely at rest. The horizons of his project remain freshly expansive, opening more or less equally new futures and their new pasts. More windows are being built. Morning has matured, but morning still it is. Lawrence Hazelrigg Professor Emeritus, College of Social Sciences Florida State University and Associate Editor, Current Perspectives in Social Theory

INTRODUCTION The chapters included in this volume appeared over the course of 11 years, between 1997 and 2008. They reflect two central concerns. The first concern was whether the trajectory that had guided the development of critical theory since the linguistic turn of the early 1970s was as conducive to addressing the most important issues of the late twentieth century as the works of the first generation had been for their time, from the 1930s to the late 1960s. The second concern was how to confront the challenge of reconceiving the thrust and agenda of critical theory as a practically relevant analytical program, in light of societal conditions and trends in the early twenty-first century. The chapters in Part I were driven by the need to provide an accounting of the state of affairs in critical theory that took as its vantage point the program of the early Frankfurt School, rather than the communication-theoretical rendering Habermas has engendered. The chapters in Part II were inspired by the desire to circumscribe the kind of contributions critical theory should and can make to illuminating dilemmas and roadblocks in the social sciences and in social policy in the early twenty-first century that are contributing to a peculiar state of civilizational stasis – dilemmas and roadblocks that most of us have come to take for granted and internalized as integral elements of the fabric of societal life, and which obstruct creative theorizing beyond the social, political, and economic status quo. Max Horkheimer ([1937] 1986) had formulated both the concept and the agenda of ‘‘critical theory’’ in the United States during the 1930s, as a critique of modes of theorizing that had been able neither to predict nor to grasp the significance of National Socialism, and it was the combined catastrophes of World War II and the Holocaust that inspired Horkheimer to coauthor with Theodor W. Adorno, his indispensable and very active collaborator, the work that remains the most important text of the early Frankfurt School and, arguably, of critical theory as a whole, Dialectic of Enlightenment ([1947] 2002).1 Yet, contrary to appearances, the end of the War, the victory over totalitarianism, and the liberation of concentration camps did not render unnecessary the theoretical agenda that had taken shape during the decade prior. Most ‘‘traditional’’ (i.e., noncritical – in the sense outlined by Horkheimer) social theorists hurried to return to business as usual, to worry, in the name of advancing sociological theory, about how xi



to devise and pursue an agenda of high-quality research in sociology, and how to formulate pertinent and guiding questions that would provide the discipline with a high degree of unity and internal consistency, and corresponding respectability within the academia and beyond. By contrast, critical theory – at least in sociology – continued to be concerned with issues that most members of the discipline ignored, the deficits that characterize much social research, and the challenges that must be taken on, even and especially when doing so causes major discomfort and cognitive dissonance among theorists, sociologists, and audiences alike. Whereas the formation of critical theory was influenced directly, though not exclusively, by the rise of National Socialism in Germany and the concurrent need for the members of the Institute of Social Research in Frankfurt to leave their native country and to settle in the United States, the sociohistorical conditions that provided the context for the linguistic turn during the early 1970s seemed to be of a different quality entirely. The issues and the audiences Ju¨rgen Habermas – as the main representative of the second generation of critical theorists – had in mind when he advocated (and executed) the linguistic turn were rather different from those of the early critical theorists, especially Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, and Theodor W. Adorno. Still, despite the continuously growing discrepancy between Habermas’s rendering of critical theory and theirs, commonalities remained. Among the differences that kept deepening was Habermas’s lack of familiarity with – and interest in – economic issues, a deficit that applied to second generation critical theorists more generally, though to differing degrees (see, e.g., Oskar Negt, Claus Offe, Alfred Schmidt, Albrecht Wellmer, among others). It is one of the distinguishing features of the first generation of critical theorists that they grew ever more concerned with the ways in which successive transmutations of the economic process and forms of economic organization in the age of corporate capitalism influenced and shaped social, political, and cultural forms of life and coexistence, in ways that were beyond the reach of most of those affected, including many social scientists. Yet the degree of sophistication of the early Frankfurt School’s analyses of the inner workings of ‘‘postliberal capitalism’’ left a lot to be desired. As one of the earliest members of the Institute of Social Research (even prior to 1930, when Horkheimer was chosen to become its new director), the ‘‘resident economist’’ at the Institute, Friedrich Pollock, was not as theoretically refined, nor as broadly educated in philosophy, sociology and the arts, as the other, more well-known members. Yet within the disciplinary division of labor at the Institute, Pollock was in charge of providing the



empirical underpinning for analyzing the link between the nature and logic of the capitalist process, and corresponding societal changes, during the second quarter of the twentieth century. In light of the fact that the scholars at the Frankfurt Institute saw themselves squarely in the tradition of Marxian critical theorizing, the relative lack of theoretical sophistication on the part of Pollock constituted a conspicuous deficit. Chapter 1 traces the origins of the theory of the economy at the basis of early Frankfurt School critical theory, its relationship to Horkheimer’s concept of instrumental reason, and his and Adorno’s related, more fully developed critique of reason in human civilization, in Dialectic of Enlightenment ([1947] 2002). In its first incarnation, this chapter was a paper presented in 1997, at a conference organized by the Hannover Institute of Philosophical Research in Germany. My ‘‘assignment’’ was to relate the economic theory of the early Frankfurt School to ‘‘the theory of capitalism in the German economic tradition,’’ that is, the German Historical School, as it was represented in the works of Gustav von Schmoller, Max Weber, and Werner Sombart. Starting out from an assessment of the influence that Rudolf Hilferding’s Finance Capitalism ([1910] 1981) and Luka´cs’s History and Class Consciousness ([1923] 1971) had exerted on theoretical debates in Leftist circles in Germany after World War I, I traced the economic theory of the Frankfurt School as developed by Pollock to the rather different and more compelling writings of Franz Neumann, and concluded with a brief discussion of Postone’s ‘‘reinterpretation of Marx’s critical theory’’ (1993).2 Both in terms of theoretical heritage and theoretical logic, the most important sources of the tradition of critical theory are the writings of Karl Marx and Max Weber, as they are centered on issues pertaining to the logic of economic processes in capitalism, and related patterns of rationalization. In addition, the philosophical works of G. W. F. Hegel and the psychoanalytical writings of Sigmund Freud played key roles in the tradition’s formation. Still, for efforts to theorize the nature of the relationship between economy, society, culture, and political institutions in modern societies, Marx and Weber are most central, and usually can be interpreted as emphasizing either one or the other. Critical theory placed greater emphasis on Marx, and its writings and tools can be understood as contributions to Weberian Marxism. Though less well-known than Western Marxism, Weberian Marxism has been concerned with the need to scrutinize the affinities and concurrence of processes of capital accumulation and rationalization, and how both together energized the shift from feudal to modern society, in the process molding in new ways what used to be regarded as inherently human qualities theorized in the liberal political tradition as human nature. Weberian Marxists understand



such dimensions of social life as forms of solidarity, modes of communication, and types of labor as both artifacts of the transition from feudal to modern society, and as opportunities to access and make discernible the underlying forces driving ongoing societal changes in the modern age. Luka´cs was one of the founders of Western Marxism, and with his introduction of the concept of reification, a most important influence in the development of Weberian Marxism. Taking as the jumping-off point Habermas’s repeated assertions from the 1960s to the early 1980s, regarding the close affinity between his own theoretical endeavors and those of Luka´cs and the early Frankfurt School, and the influence their writings exerted on his, Chapter 2 traces Habermas’s claims regarding the importance of Luka´cs’s thought on his own. Though Luka´cs was not a member of the Frankfurt School, and rather critical of its intellectual ventures and the political stances most of its members took, the influence he exerted on the tradition’s development was so major that it would be difficult to imagine how the latter would have emerged without the contributions of the former. As it turns out, the range of Luka´cs’s contributions that played a role in the formulation (and formation) of Habermas’s critical theory was surprisingly narrow. Still, there are undeniable affinities between their respective versions of Weberian Marxism, and Habermas’s claims at the time that his project retains strong related ties is convincing to a certain degree. Interestingly, though, it also is quite apparent that while Luka´cs was a Weberian Marxist, Habermas is better understood as a Weberian Marxian. With the linguistic turn in critical theory, the earlier focal points of critical analysis from Marx to Adorno – alienation, commodity fetishism, reification, instrumental reason, and identity thinking – receded into the background, or disappeared entirely. By the time Habermas had turned his attention of matters of deliberative democracy (Habermas, [1992] 1996), reification had come to be regarded as little more than a contribution to the critical history of ideas that had become outdated. Chapter 3 (completed a few months before the publication of Chapter 2) traces the history of the concept of reification from Luka´cs to Adorno, and the relatively major loss of both critical and theoretical impetus in the context of Habermas’s theory of communicative action, which at the time contained the last instance of the concept being discussed prominently in the tradition. This chapter contains the first instance, both in this volume and in my writing more generally, of issues of ‘‘space’’ acquiring a theoretical significance comparable to ‘‘time.’’ My research interests (and intellectual identity) had been driven from early on by an awareness of and a concern with the gravity specific sociohistorical contexts exert on the



appearance and development of concepts, projects, and major contributions in theory.3 Yet the primary emphasis had been on the importance of historical context. Now, societal context began to receive focused attention as well. As a consequence, the chapter contains a section on ‘‘Reification in America,’’ and an initial attempt to circumscribe a comparative approach to theory. Thus, the grounding of my interest in critical theory in German society and academia, combined with the intention to take steps toward the explicit reconceptualization of the tradition as a ‘‘German-American co-production’’ (as it were), since the program of critical theory had been formulated and refined, not in Germany, but in the United States. In the chapter’s final section, I proposed that efforts to ‘‘overcome reification’’ may necessitate consideration of practically oriented strategies that do not fall squarely into the roster of reform versus revolution, but instead must be understood as attempts at radical reform – and that such strategies are more consistent with the practical thrust of critical theorizing than either reformist or revolutionary conceptions of qualitative social change. Chapter 4 — the first of Part II — picks up where the previous one on reification left off. It is the first chapter that makes explicit reference to globalization as the larger sociohistorical context and the most effective category to capture the contradictory thrust and direction of societal change in the early twenty-first century. At the chapter’s core is the concept of traditional Marxism as Moishe Postone introduced it into critical theory discourse. In the first three chapters, the concept provided a foil for illustrating the kind of theoretical challenge critical theory will abandon at its own peril. In all the chapters included in this book, Postone’s efforts (especially 1993) to reinterpret and apply Marx’s critique of political economy as the first critical theory function as an indispensable road sign and indicator of future efforts to be made. In this chapter, traditional Marxism serves as a means to assess the compatibility with critical theory of arguments for basic income and related analyses and conceptualizations. Although Philippe van Parijs, the leading theorist of universal basic income, had never acknowledged in writing Postone’s works, just as the latter had not discussed the writings of the former (or the idea of basic income), my endeavor was directed at illuminating areas of overlap and convergence, which turned out to be striking indeed. In the effort to delineate a critical theory of social policies, this chapter provides my first explicit discussion of alienation as a theoretical category whose analytical power continues to be astonishing – quite contrary to the view commonly held during the 1990s that, as with reification, alienation had exhausted its usefulness, in a world that had moved far beyond the conditions that necessitated such concepts.



Rather than accepting the view that the focal points of critical theory, from alienation and commodity fetishism in Marx, via Luka´cs’s concept of reification and Horkheimer’s instrumental reason, to Adorno’s identitythinking, and even Habermas’s functionalist reason, had become outdated in light of subsequent social changes, my work is informed by the hypothetical stance that these critiques continue to be relevant, that in fact they are more relevant than ever, and that they continue to become compounded even further as time goes by. Chapter 5 identifies the critique of alienation, in all of its compounded and multidimensional forms, as the overriding problem of critical theory – the problem independently of which it is not possible to demarcate the distinguishing contributions critical theory was devised to make. As the editors of the collection in which the chapter first appeared described the chapter’s thrust, Alienation y is a consequence of the dialectical contradictions within the structure of capitalist political economy, in which a society based on the ownership of private property by one class makes certain adverse consequences inevitable for other classes. y [A]lienation is the expression of fundamental systematic contradictions. But y Marx’s project went beyond that logic y [and] developed a theory of modernity to explain the nature and causes of alienation, to illuminate how the totality of modern society is an expression of alienation, and to propose a means to overcome it. Interpretations of Marx that disregard this central concern neglect to draw attention to the fact that the tools we employ as social scientists to study the link between modern society and alienation are likely, in turn, to be expressions of the link they are supposed to illuminate. In order to enable full disclosure of the nature of contemporary alienation that exists in seemingly autonomous realms of subjectivity, interaction, or culture, Dahms calls for an invigorated, interdisciplinary, critical theory of society. (Langman & Kalekin-Fishman, 2006, pp. 4–5)

The dangers that the research efforts of social scientists might perpetuate or aggravate further features of social structure and societal life they were meant to scrutinize, make accessible, render tolerable or alleviate, are the themes of Chapter 6. In the interest of clarifying how the contributions that critical theory can and must continue to make to the social sciences in the twenty-first century are entirely indispensable to their mission (and, perhaps, their continued social relevance), the most problematic feature of mainstream approaches is presented as their inability – relative or absolute – to recognize how exactly – in time and space – their agenda and the tools they employ are socially situated and conditioned. Rather than presupposing a conventional understanding of ‘‘mainstream,’’ my ‘‘programmatic introduction’’ to the first volume for which I was responsible as Series-Editor highlights the impossibility to positively identify the character and perimeter of mainstream social



science work, and instead proposes a conception of mainstream as the absence of a specific type of reflexivity that is crucial for the pertinence, and the success (however it may be conceived, on its own terms) of the insights gathered or produced by social scientists. As I put it at the beginning of the chapter’s closing paragraph, ‘‘identifying the perimeter of ‘mainstream’ approaches is both a necessary precondition for effective and pertinent social research, and a possible venue for illuminating the functioning and constitutional logic of modern societies’’ (p. 295, in this volume). The chapters included in this volume differ from the versions originally published only insofar as errors have been removed, and references updated and synchronized. A final word may be due about the title of the book. ‘‘Vitality’’ refers to two meanings of the root term, ‘‘vital,’’ above all. The first and obvious meaning is that critical theory is vital, in the sense of alive and well. The second, equally important meaning is that the practice of critical theory it vital to – the study of modern society and, in fact, modern society itself, and the future of human civilization. It is critical theory in the sense of persistent and indispensable practice. This practice is informed and inspired by the need to anticipate and prepare forms of praxis whose vanishing point is the prospect of facts and norms becoming increasingly reconciled, in ways that advance both, and thus, the condition of life on this planet. I would like to thank two individuals, in particular. As Emerald’s former Commissioning Editor for the social sciences, Claire Ferres shepherded Current Perspectives in Social Theory since I became series editor in 2007, and did a masterful job at that. It was her suggestion and strong encouragement to expand the portfolio of Current Perspectives to include single-authored volumes and monographs, to further solidify the place of the series in social theory, both in the English-speaking world, and beyond. This is the first such volume. I owe her a large amount of debt. The second person I would like to thank is Lawrence Hazelrigg, the most active and supportive Associate Editor of Current Perspectives in recent years. I am grateful for his willingness to write the foreword for this volume, and for all the help, advice, and persistent encouragement he has been providing so generously. Finally, I also want to express my gratitude to Assistant Commissioning Editor Gemma Halder and the hard work she has been putting into the success and quality of the series, and acknowledge the new Commissioning Editor, Andrew Smith. I am looking forward to continuing to pursue this venture, in years to come.



NOTES 1. All told, Adorno is the member of the Frankfurt School who influenced my thinking more than any other. See Dahms (2011). 2. A shorter version of this chapter appeared in volume 19 of Current Perspectives in Social Theory (Dahms, 1999) and focused on the role the unique environment of the Institute of Social Research provided in the formation of critical theory. Chapter 1, in the form included here, first appeared the following year, in a volume of essays based on the papers presented at the above-mentioned conference. Also note the similarity in argument and outlook between this chapter and Postone and Brick (1993) – a contribution I was not aware of while conceiving and writing my chapter. However, their emphasis was on the profound pessimism at the core of the early Frankfurt School’s perspective, and focused strictly on the Pollock–Horkheimer dynamic. 3. Thus my interest in dynamic processes. See Vol. 27 of Current Perspectives in Social Theory: ‘‘Theorizing the Dynamics of Social Processes.’’ See also Dahms (2002, 2009).

CHAPTER 1 THE EARLY FRANKFURT SCHOOL CRITIQUE OF CAPITALISM: CRITICAL THEORY BETWEEN POLLOCK’S ‘‘STATE CAPITALISM’’ AND THE CRITIQUE OF INSTRUMENTAL REASON$ INTRODUCTION: THE FRANKFURT SCHOOL AND THE GERMAN HISTORICAL SCHOOL Despite profound differences, both the German Historical School and the critical theory of the Frankfurt School have in common a theoretical and cultural heritage in Central European traditions of social thought and philosophy. Although both schools often are perceived as quintessentially German traditions of economic and social research, their methodological presuppositions and critical intent diverge strongly. Since the objective of the Frankfurt School was to carry the theoretical critique initiated by Marx into the twentieth century, and since its members did so on a highly abstract level of theoretical criticism, the suggestion may be surprising that in terms of their respective research agendas, there was a common denominator between the German Historical School and the Frankfurt School critical theory. To be sure, as will become apparent, the common ground was rather tenuous and indirect. We must ask, then: in what respects did their theoretical and $

I presented the first version of this chapter at the Fifth Annual Studies on Economic Ethics and Philosophy Conference, Hannover Institute of Philosophical Research, entitled: ‘‘Economic Ethics and the Theory of Capitalism in the German Tradition of Economics – Historism as a Challenge to the Social Sciences,’’ Marienrode Monastery, Hildesheim, Germany, October/November 1997.




analytical foundations and orientations overlap? How did the German Historical School, as a nineteenth-century tradition of economic thinking, influence the development of the Frankfurt School? During its early phase, the German Historical School distinguished itself as a compelling alternative to the conflicting modes of analyzing the modern economy and the capitalist production process put forth by classical and neoclassical economic theory, on the one hand, and Karl Marx’s critique of political economy, on the other. As a tradition with theoretical intent, the German Historical School was concerned with the actual inner workings of the capitalist market economy, and its embeddedness in social, political, religious, and cultural traditions and structures. Accordingly, this tradition emphasized on data collection and historical accuracy rather than theoretical abstractness. It was not oriented toward designing a highly formalistic model for determining the nature of the relationships between different factors and dimensions of economic production and distribution, as in neoclassical economic theory. Neither was the German Historical School concerned with assessing the effects of the capitalist market economy on politics, culture, and society in bourgeois societies, as had been the motive force behind Marx’s critique of political economy. By contrast, Frankfurt School critical theory emerged as the project of reconstructing Marx’s critique of bourgeois society and the liberal-capitalist mode of production, as applied to the socioeconomic formation that emerged during the early decades of the twentieth century.1 Toward this end, the members of the Frankfurt School – Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, Friedrich Pollock, and Leo Lowenthal from the beginning, later to be joined by Theodor W. Adorno – combined Hegel’s dialectical philosophy, Marx’s critique of political economy, Weber’s theory of rationalization, Luka´cs’s critique of reification, and Freud’s psychoanalysis, to formulate a systematically critical theory of capitalist society. In fact, the Frankfurt theorists were determined to establish the foundations for the most theoretically sophisticated and complex critique of the advanced capitalist society that emerged during the early twentieth century. To assess the specific nature of the influence the German Historical School exerted on the Frankfurt School critical theorists, we must first recognize the most distinctive feature of the latter as their attempt to reformulate and apply Marx’s critique to a qualitatively later stage of capitalist development. To do so, the members of the Frankfurt School rendered a reconstruction of Marx’s critique of political economy that drew on the emerging social sciences, especially sociology, and on advances in the analysis of the capitalist process made since Marx. In this critical-theoretical reconstruction of Marx’s critique

The Early Frankfurt School Critique of Capitalism


for purposes of analyzing the advanced capitalist mode of production in relation to its social organization since the late nineteenth century, the works of one member of the German Historical School featured especially prominently: the analyses of Max Weber. Among Weber’s various scholarly contributions, his attempt to determine why modern capitalism emerged only in the West was especially important, along with his answer to this question on the basis of the ‘‘Protestant ethic’’ thesis (Weber, [1905] 2002). It is Weber’s related theory of rationalization as the underlying principle of the rise of capitalism, and his concurrent critique of bureaucracy that constitute the link between the German Historical School and the Frankfurt School. The Frankfurt School critical theory of society is mostly known for its culturalist critique of capitalist society, in terms of a critique of instrumental reason. This critique was generalized to theorize the patterns of human civilization as a whole as they culminated in the contradictions of modern society. Yet, like Marx’s own critical theory of capitalist society, including all Marxist theories centering around the concepts of alienation and commodity fetishism, the Frankfurt School culturalist critique of capitalist society must rest on the foundations of the critique of political economy. And indeed, the Frankfurt School’s culturalist critique of capitalism is based on its own critique of political economy. Yet while the critical theorists placed themselves squarely in the tradition of Marx’s radical critique of capitalism, their analysis of capitalism was not focused on a comparable critique of political economy modulated to discern the specifics of the mode of production in postliberal capitalism. Instead, they contended, the importance of the critique of political economy had been superseded by the need for a critique of the cultural manifestations and forms of coexistence that emerged in postliberal capitalism, in terms of a radical critique of ideology. We must ask, then: How did the Frankfurt School theorists revise and update Marx’s critique of political economy to apply to conditions of postliberal capitalism? As will become apparent, it is both in relation to the Frankfurt School’s political–economic analysis of advanced capitalism and the culturalist critique of modern society (with the former serving as the foundation for the latter) that the influence of the German Historical School is most important. In relation to the critique of political economy, it is the newly emerging centrality of bureaucracy to advanced capitalist organization (drawing on Weber’s theory of bureaucratization); in relation to the culturalist critique of capitalism, it is the ‘‘reifying’’ effects of organized capitalist production on all aspects of society (drawing on Weber’s theory of rationalization). The political–economic analysis of advanced capitalism is the far less wellknown aspect of critical theory, and the more neglected in the recent revival of



interest in this theoretical tradition, as it centers on the critique of the pernicious effects of the capitalist mode of production on politics, culture, and society.2 Incidentally, the scholars at the Institute who were responsible for the analysis of concrete economic and political organizations and institutions, including political economy and constitutional issues, also remain less wellknown, most notably Pollock, Franz Neumann, and Otto Kirchheimer. Yet the Frankfurt School’s cultural critique of capitalism neither can be fully appreciated without familiarity with the underlying political–economic analysis nor would the former have been possible without the latter. In concentrating on this political–economic dimension, the Frankfurt School project appears in relation to both Marx and Weber, whose respective works were the two most important sources for the development of critical theory, as far as its economic analysis of capitalism is concerned. To situate this project among the social sciences of the time, the Frankfurt agenda is relevant most as a step in the development of the tradition of ‘‘Weberian Marxism,’’ pointing toward a social-scientifically sophisticated critical theory of postliberal capitalism.3 Within the Institute’s division of labor, the task of analyzing the concrete forms of capitalist organization was delegated to one of its members: Friedrich Pollock was responsible for ‘‘updating’’ Marx’s critique of political economy for the new stage of capitalist production and organization reached during the 1930s. Based on his research, the Institute’s members started out from the assumption that during the 1930s, large corporations became the dominant form of economic organization in advanced capitalism, setting the stage for close cooperation between economic corporations and the state, in ‘‘state capitalism,’’ pointing toward what the theorists later would call a ‘‘totally administered world.’’ With this emerging cooperation, the stage of liberal capitalism had passed its climax – for all practical purposes. Once Max Horkheimer, the Institute’s director, had arrived at this conclusion, the Frankfurt theorists all but abandoned concern with the specificity and ‘‘inner logic’’ of the economic process in advanced capitalism, rudimentary as it had been to begin with. They turned their attention toward the nature of the effects of capitalist production under conditions of postliberalism on all aspects of society, in terms of the critique of instrumental reason. As will become apparent, however, in the end the specific political–economic analysis that informed the development and orientation of the Frankfurt School critical theory of society during the 1930s and 1940s, which was integral to its general critique of capitalism as the culmination of human civilization, rested on a flawed diagnosis. Yet, since all theories are likely to be in need of revision and flawed in one way or

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other, my purpose here is not to show that the early Frankfurt School critique of capitalism was deficient, but how its deficiencies reverberate both in the general perspective and in the details of the early critical theory of society, and how it warped the culturalist critique of western civilization for which the Frankfurt School is best known. Finally, why is it that the Frankfurt School’s critique of political economy has remained so relatively unknown, while their culturalist critique continues to attract attention? How compelling is Pollock’s conclusion today, that the new arrangement between the economy and the state taking shape during the 1930s was best described in terms of ‘‘state capitalism’’? How did he characterize this new arrangement, and how did his analysis influence the Institute’s research agenda? To address these questions, it will be necessary to turn to the two major early-twentieth-century analyses that combined motives of Marx’s critique of political economy and of Weber’s theory of rationalization, and which prepared the Frankfurt School: Rudolf Hilferding’s Finance Capital ([1910] 1981) and Georg Luka´cs’s History and Class Consciousness ([1923] 1971). These works were attempts to apply Marx’s critique to a later stage in the development of capitalist society, considering transformations Weber tried to grasp in terms of his theory of rationalization. Situating the specific agenda of the Institute of Social Research in Frankfurt among related attempts to revise Marx’s critique of capitalist society by employing Weber, it will become apparent how Pollock’s version of the critique of political economy culminated in the concept of ‘‘state capitalism.’’ How did it compare to Neumann’s ‘‘totalitarian monopoly capitalism’’ – developed in the context of his comprehensive analysis of National Socialism – as an alternative to Pollock’s concept? How did Pollock’s writings influence the development of critical theory during the 1940s, specifically Horkheimer’s concept of the ‘‘authoritarian state,’’ and the critique of instrumental reason developed by Horkheimer and Adorno in Dialectic of Enlightenment ([1947] 2002)?

FROM MARX AND WEBER TO ‘‘WEBERIAN MARXISM’’: LUKA´CS AND HILFERDING PREPARE THE CRITICAL SOCIAL THEORY OF THE FRANKFURT SCHOOL The critique of capitalism developed during the 1930s and the 1940s by the Frankfurt School critical theorists constitutes the third wave of attempts



during the early decades of this century to develop a critical theory of advanced capitalism. In 1910, the economist Rudolf Hilferding had published Finance Capital, a work Karl Kautsky regarded as the fourth volume of Marx’s Das Kapital (see Glaser, 1981, p. 214). Though Hilferding had concentrated on developing the analysis of the latest stage of capitalist development, imperialism, his work was the first sustained analysis of the emerging stage of organized capitalism. During the years following World War I, the philosophers Georg Luka´cs and Karl Korsch published works – History and Class Consciousness and Marxism and Philosophy, respectively – that today are regarded as the founding texts of Western Marxism (along with Antonio Gramsci’s more politically oriented writings).4 The works of this second wave explicitly reflected on the fact that the proletarian revolution had occurred not in one of the advanced capitalist societies, as according to Marx’s theory, but in economically and politically backward Russia. Independently of each other, Luka´cs and Korsch responded by working toward a reformulation of Marx’s critique designed to facilitate the socialist transformation of advanced western capitalism. The objective was to formulate an updated critique of political economy which, by taking into consideration advances made in the social sciences since Marx, would analyze and reflect on changes that had occurred in the most developed capitalist economies and their social organization during the decades following Marx’s death in 1883. Like their predecessors, the Frankfurt School theorists during the 1930s tried to meet this challenge by developing an analysis of advanced capitalism that combined Karl Marx’s critique of political economy with motives Max Weber systematized in his theory of rationalization. The purpose of Marx’s critique of political economy had been to discern the general relationship between the mode of production characteristic of a specific stage of societal evolution and the corresponding relations of production – the structure of inequality in society, especially as far as the ownership of the means of production was concerned, and conditions of political, social, and cultural life. Before we can elucidate the nature of the relationship between the cultural and the economic-structural critiques of capitalism in the Frankfurt School’s critique of capitalism, we need to recall Marx’s approach to the problem. Marx did not start out as the critic of political economy. Indeed, the vanishing point of his early writings was a critique of alienation. Yet he soon realized that his ‘‘culturalist,’’ philosophical critique of bourgeois society (centered on the concept of ‘‘alienation,’’ and applied first to political philosophy as represented by Hegel, and then to classical political economy

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as represented by Adam Smith) was not sufficient. On the basis of a critique of alienation, it would not be possible to lay the critical-theoretical foundation for an effective practice of societal transformation. The critique of political economy became necessary to remedy this problem. The centrality of political economy to Marx’s theory is expressive of the fact that the underpinning of all things social, political and cultural, are economic in nature. But Marx did not claim that the nature of the former can be grasped fully on the basis of an understanding of the economy. Rather, without an understanding of how the organization of society represents a response to the economic challenge of material production and reproduction, there cannot be any critical and systematic understanding of politics, culture, and society. Accordingly, before we can conceive of a truly socially transformative practice, we need to understand the economic foundations of the social and political order. Marx wanted to determine the necessary conditions for identifying, and seizing upon, the potential for emancipatory social transformation in capitalist society. As he developed his critique of political economy, Marx realized that neither alienation nor political economy as such were sufficient. Instead, the concept of ‘‘commodity fetishism’’ replaced the former ‘‘alienation’’: commodity fetishism is the ‘‘basic’’ economic mode of mediation that determined the nature of the superstructure – patterns of political, social, and cultural reproduction – in capitalism (Marx, [1967] 1977, pp. 163–177). By contrast, Max Weber had set out to analyze the underlying dynamic of the development of capitalism, to discern whether the logic of capitalist development described by Marx was the source of social transformations in modern society, or instead the manifestation of a more fundamental process shaping all the spheres in western capitalist societies. The most important structural change that is related to the most significant analytical change, as far as the role of Marx’s theory in the social sciences is concerned, was the rise of modern bureaucracy within the economy, and its theoretization by Max Weber in terms of his theory of rationalization. On the basis of his studies of the religious foundations of the spirit of capitalism in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (Weber, [1905] 2002), The Social Psychology of World Religions (Weber, 1946), and his various contributions to the comparative sociology of religion in general, Weber concluded that in the rise of the modern economy, in the emergence of the administrative nation state, and in other spheres of society, including religion itself, a more fundamental process of rationalization was at play that determined the path of modernization in western societies, and increasingly, of every individual social value sphere as well. As a result,



large, rationally organized bureaucratic structures replaced traditional power relations across society. While Marx had described and critiqued capitalism at the competitive stage, though arguing already at the time that large-scale production would be the necessary outcome of industrial capitalism, Weber developed his theory of rationalization during the period when big businesses, large corporations, and trusts and concerns emerged as the predominant form of economic organization. When he visited the United States at the beginning of the century, Weber was able to observe the beginnings of what was to transform the organization of the capitalist production process: the managerial revolution. Following the example of Marx, Hilferding was most concerned with how to reformulate Marx’s critique of political economy in a manner that grasped the nature of organized, ‘‘finance capitalism,’’ as an important dimension of nineteenth-century liberal capitalism. He did not conceive of his analysis of finance capitalism as an application of Marx’s categories and critique to a qualitatively later stage of capitalism.5 In the preface to Finance Capital, Hilferding had written: In the following pages an attempt will be made to arrive at a scientific understanding of the economic characteristics of the latest phase of capitalist development. y The most characteristic features of ‘‘modern’’ capitalism are those processes of concentration which, on the one hand, ‘‘eliminate free competition’’ through the formation of cartels and trusts, and on the other, bring bank and industrial capital into an ever more intimate relationship. Through this relationship y capitalism assumes the form of finance capital, its supreme and most abstract expression. (Hilferding, [1910] 1981, p. 22)

Instead, Finance Capital was an attempt to complete the final step in the critique of political economy Marx had identified as essential in the Grundrisse, but had not been able to engage himself.6 To achieve this objective, Hilferding applied a perspective that is highly compatible with Weber’s analyses of the increasing bureaucratization of the world, including the economy, though Hilferding did not acknowledge that Weber influenced his own analysis. Whether Weber’s studies on rationalization enabled Hilferding to analyze monopoly capitalism as a more differentiated and rationalized organization of the capitalist process or not, there is a fundamental affinity in their motives: that the capitalist process is becoming ever more complex, integrated, and large scale.7 It was only during the years immediately following after World War I that the next systematic attempt to ‘‘update’’ Marx was undertaken. In this case, Max Weber’s writings on rationalization set the stage for reformulating Marx’s philosophically sophisticated critique of capitalism. Georg Luka´cs

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combined Marx’s critique of commodity fetishism and Max Weber’s theory of rationalization to reconstruct Marx’s early philosophical critique of alienation as a critical theory of reification. ‘‘Reification’’ expresses the effects of the capitalist mode of production on human beings and society as second nature – at a later stage of capitalist development: advanced, monopolistic capitalism. Luka´cs did not engage in a critique of political economy a` la Marx himself, however, nor did he rely on any sources that would have provided him with a thorough Marxian analysis of the advanced capitalist mode of production. In his attempt to reconstruct the core of Marx’s critique of political economy, Luka´cs did not explicitly take into consideration changes that had occurred in the organization of capitalism. In fact, Luka´cs arrived at his critique of reification as the defining effect of capitalist production at the beginning of the early twentieth century, by default. Still, the foundations for the Hegelian brand of Weberian Marxism were laid. Luka´cs combined Marx the critic of alienation and of commodity fetishism, with Weber the theorist of rationalization and the critic of bureaucracy. Luka´cs’s History and Class Consciousness was one of the main inspirations for the founders of the Institute of Social Research. Though Luka´cs was not explicitly concerned with the challenge of analyzing specifically early-twentieth-century capitalism, he considered Weber’s theory of rationalization essential to complete the Marxian critique of alienation and commodity fetishism. By combining these elements, Luka´cs could formulate his own critique of capitalism in terms of a critique of reification as the defining effect of the capitalist mode of production on all aspects of social life. As a result, Luka´cs theorized the early-twentieth-century mode of capitalist production without explicitly setting out to do so, since at the time when Marx worked out his critique of political economy, the state of affairs in Britain and Germany, the two societies with which Marx had extensive primary experience, had not reached the point where it was possible to discern the bureaucratizing tendency overtaking capitalism – yet. In the 1880s, the managerial revolution that would fundamentally change the face of modern capitalism, and whose theoretical and analytical implications social scientists only began to recognize around the beginning of the second quarter of this century, was just about to begin in the United States. One year after the Russian Revolution, during the months following the German Revolution at the end of World War I, Luka´cs ‘‘decided’’ to become a communist as he was driven by the determination to reformulate Marx’s critique of capitalism so as to enable the proletariat in the West to engage what had happened in the East, but should have happened in the



advanced West: a socialist revolution. In ‘‘Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat,’’ the main essay in History and Class Consciousness, Luka´cs took Weber’s analysis of the increasing entwinement of state and economy at the stage of large-scale capitalist enterprises, along with their need for highly organized bureaucracies, as a given: [C]apitalism has created a form of the state and a system of law corresponding to its needs and harmonizing with its own structure. The structural similarity is so great that no truly perceptive historian of modern capitalism could fail to notice it. Max Weber, for instance, gives this description of the basic lines of this development: Both are, rather, quite similar in their fundamental nature. Viewed sociologically, a ‘‘business-concern’’ is the modern state; the same holds good for a factory: and this, precisely, is what is specific to it historically. (Luka´cs, [1923] 1971, p. 95)

While Luka´cs was familiar with Hilferding’s writings, in History and Class Consciousness he barely acknowledged any influence. Clearly, in his critical analysis of the consequences of the advanced mode of capitalist production, he did not follow Marx’s critique of political economy. The concrete forms of economic organization remain in the background. Luka´cs formulated his critique of reification, drawing on his reading of Marx’s critique of commodity fetishism, on Weber’s theory of rationalization, and on Simmel’s Philosophy of Money ([1907] 1990) – in the process reconstructing Marx’s early critique of alienation, since the Economic–Philosophical Manuscripts had not been rediscovered at the time. Indeed, Luka´cs did not systematically consider the level of economic organization.8 Yet his reinterpretation indirectly reflected the changes that had occurred in the organization of capitalism.9 Between Hilferding’s and Luka´cs’s respective reformulations of Marx’s critique of political economy, we can see for the first time, and to the fullest extent, the separation of the analysis of the concrete organizational forms of the capitalist mode of production, and the analysis of its implications for forms of social life. As we will see, following Hilferding, the Frankfurt School critical theorists regarded monopoly capitalism as the most decisive developmental tendency of advanced capitalism. It inspired their attempt to further refine Luka´cs’s theory of reification, one decade after its initial formulation, with reification as the category for analyzing the most consequential effect of the capitalist mode of production on society. Though Hilferding’s Finance Capital and Luka´cs’s critique of reification are important examples for analyses inspired by the theories of Marx and Weber, they constitute rather implicit attempts to reformulate and apply Marx’s critique to a later stage in the development of capitalism, by considering Weber’s theory of rationalization. In Hilferding, it is more the

The Early Frankfurt School Critique of Capitalism


spirit of Weber’s theory of rationalization, emphasizing the growing importance of bureaucracies and expanding control of organizations over every aspect of society that is combined with Marx’s critique; in Luka´cs (and the Frankfurt School), the simultaneous presence of Marx and Weber is more central, though barely acknowledged. Still, there can be no doubt that Weber’s critical analyses of Marxian issues, particularly the origins of capitalism in terms of a process of continually expanding rationalization, had a profound impact on Central European social scientists during the first decades of this century.10 While Luka´cs has long been recognized as a ‘‘founder’’ of the tradition of Western Marxism, more specifically in the sense of Weberian Marxism, Hilferding is usually not considered a contributor to Western Marxism. Instead, Hilferding is counted among the Austro-Marxists, who, as Ben Agger put it, ‘‘divided Marxian science and Marxian ethics,’’ adhering to ‘‘a Weberian type of Marxism [that] split between empirical causality and ethical optimism and values, y avoid[ing Rosa] Luxemburg’s activism while remaining faithful to Marx, combining socialist ‘values’ and Marxian ‘science’’’ (Agger, 1979, p. 83). Though both the contributions of Hilferding and Luka´cs were influenced more or less directly by the works of both Marx and Weber, there are important differences in their respective readings of these classics. During the 1920s, Luka´cs and Hilferding went in opposite directions. Hilferding, who had belonged to the more radical Independent Social Democrats during World War I, played an important role in their reconciliation with the Majority Social Democrats. He was finance secretary twice during the Weimar Republic. By contrast, Luka´cs recanted his analyses and conclusions in History and Class Consciousness after being forced to do so at the Fifth Comintern in 1925. The further the decade progressed, the more ardently communist Luka´cs became. The pattern of their differences is most conspicuous with regard to their respective attitudes toward the subject of history: to Luka´cs, it had to be the proletariat, while to Hilferding the rise of socialism had to entail a transformation of society as a whole, before the socialist revolution. As Luka´cs put it in his essay on ‘‘What is Orthodox Marxism?’’: [T]he essence of the method of historical materialism is inseparable from the ‘‘practical and critical’’ activity of the proletariat: both are aspects of the same process of social evolution. So, too, the knowledge of reality provided by the dialectical method is likewise inseparable from the class standpoint of the proletariat. (Luka´cs, [1923] 1971, p. 21)



With implicit reference to Hilferding’s Finance Capital ([1910] 1981),11 he continued: The question raised by the Austrian Marxists of the methodological separation of the ‘‘pure’’ science of Marxism from socialism is a pseudo-problem. For, the Marxist method, the dialectical materialist knowledge of reality, can arise only from the point of view of a class, from the point of view of the struggle of the proletariat. To abandon this point of view is to move away from historical materialism, just as to adopt it leads directly into the thick of the struggle of the proletariat. (Luka´cs, [1923] 1971, p. 21)

In terms of the high-standard characteristic of Marx’s philosophicaltheoretical foundations of his critique of political economy, his contributions were not followed by any prominent attempts to apply his perspective to the stage of capitalist production emerging in the late 1800s in the United States and – with some delay – in Germany. Developments in the political economy of Germany, foreordained during the first two decades of the century, came to full bearing in the Weimar Republic, during the 1920s. These developments were analyzed by social scientists like Hilferding, Lederer, Heimann, Schumpeter, and others. Yet Hilferding’s Finance Capital and Luka´cs’s History of Class Consciousness foreshadowed the two dimensions of Weberian Marxism as a social-theoretical research program designed to trace the changing relationship between the evolving capitalist mode of production and its effects in society. In the German-speaking world, Weber’s theoretical contributions on rationalization and bureaucratization greatly influenced early-twentieth-century reinterpretations and applications of Marx’s theory both in Austro-Marxism and in Hegelian Marxism, engendering a major qualitative and theoretical transformation of Marxian theory. This transformation was related, more or less visibly, to Weber’s idea of the ‘‘inner logic of value spheres’’ – his insight that we must carefully identify the developmental logic of all the different spheres in society and their empirical constellation, before we can consider the feasibility of changing that constellation.12 These value spheres are centered around the diverse values that are being generated and regenerated in order for an advanced capitalistic society to function. To grasp the nature and unique features of modern societies, we must be willing to concede that each value sphere – the economy, the administrative state, the legal system, the education system, etc. – is related to a function that is essential to these societies’ survival. Further, each value sphere must be demarcated, at least to some degree, by a developmental ‘‘inner logic’’ of most rationally solving the type of problems specific to the value sphere at hand. Along these lines, and for the purpose of

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this chapter, Weberian Marxism is oriented toward the development of a ‘‘critical theory of the inner logic of value spheres.’’ Though the Frankfurt School did not succeed fully, as will become apparent, it represents an important step in the right direction (see Dahms, 1999).

DIVIDING THE LABOR OF CRITICIZING POSTLIBERAL CAPITALISM: FRIEDRICH POLLOCK AT THE INSTITUTE OF SOCIAL RESEARCH In 1924, the Institute of Social Research was founded under the leadership of Carl Gru¨nberg, a German ‘‘socialist of the chair’’ (Kathedersozialist). The Institute, with an explicit orientation toward the systematic analysis of society, was designed to revise Marx’s critique of capitalism and bourgeois society, and to utilize social research toward that end in the process. When the Institute opened in 1924, the general sense that led to its establishment was that Marxian theory was in need of rejuvenation; during the preceding year, Luka´cs’s History and Class Consciousness ([1923] 1971) as well as Karl Korsch’s Marxism and Philosophy ([1923] 1970) had appeared, giving the desire for a reconstruction of Marx’s theory, using social-scientific theories and techniques, a strong impetus. During the early years, before the formulation of the project of a critical theory of society and the program of the Frankfurt School, the research conducted at the Institute was geared toward providing a theoretical alternative to both social democracy with its real-political orientation and a western alternative to the theory that informed the Soviet experiment. The objective was to create the context for developing a systematic analysis oriented toward identifying the necessary social, political, and cultural preconditions for a successful proletarian revolution. Under the leadership of its first director, Carl Gru¨nberg, the research conducted at the Institute was directed toward the condition of the working class and the labor movement. It was not the Institute’s purpose to develop a distinct critique of capitalism within the tradition of Marx’s critique of political economy. While during its early years the activities and successes at the Institute were not especially noteworthy, the circumstances changed profoundly when Max Horkheimer, a professional philosopher, was chosen as the new director of the Institute in late 1930. With Max Horkheimer at the helm, the definition of the Institute’s purpose underwent a major transformation. Horkheimer brought a new



impulse to the work conducted at the Institute, and pursued a new program that shaped the research agenda for decades to come. To Horkheimer, the research objective was precisely to update Marx’s critique to considerably altered sociohistorical conditions: the issue was no longer the critique of political economy in the sense of the accumulation process and its intricacies, but the critique of political economy – the relationship between the state and the economy. To develop a sophisticated and systematic critical theory of advanced capitalism as postliberal capitalism, two necessary steps had to be taken. First, the problems and promise of this socioeconomic formation needed to be examined in terms of how the underlying contradictions of capitalism had changed, and how new opportunities for societal transformation had arisen since Marx had developed his theory. And second, in the process of analyzing postliberal capitalism, the question had to be answered: does the critical analysis of this new formation, on the basis of Marx’s critique of political economy, reveal flaws in Marx’s theory itself? To analyze this new social formation in the most rigorous fashion, Horkheimer regarded it as essential to draw on advances that had been made since Marx’s death, in the theoretical and social-scientific understanding of capitalist society. To be as social-scientific as possible, and, heeding the increasing division of labor, to integrate Marx’s unsurpassed critique, directed at overcoming capitalism’s contradictions, needed to be integrated with contributions made by the social sciences – as an explicitly collaborative effort. This critique of political economy was to be the foundation for the more important cultural critique of capitalism: a social-scientifically more refined version of Luka´cs’s critique of reification that would consider the actual sociohistorical circumstances and the potential for social transformation it entailed. In other words, what appeared in Marx as critiques of alienation, political economy, and commodity fetishism – and what had been intrinsically entwined in Marx’s own theoretical work – reappears in the Frankfurt School in a different constellation, to be understood in terms of the division of labor. In a sense, the Frankfurt School critical theorists followed the pattern of Hilferding and Luka´cs, where the critique of political economy and of alienation/commodity fetishism had fallen apart: different members of the Institute were responsible for analyzing different dimensions of postliberal capitalism. At the next stage, the pieces were to be recombined by Horkheimer and his colleagues, to address as Horkheimer put it in his inaugural lecture at the University of Frankfurt,

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[O]ne question which is not just of current relevance, but which is indeed the contemporary version of the oldest and most important set of philosophical problems: namely, the question of the connection between the economic life of society, the psychical development of individuals, and the changes in the realm of culture in the narrower sense (to which belong not only the so-called intellectual elements, such as science, art, and religion, but also law, customs, fashion, public opinion, sports, leisure activities, lifestyle, etc.). The project of investigating the relations between these three processes is nothing but a reformulation – on the basis of the new problem constellation, consistent with the methods at our disposal and with the level of our knowledge – of the old question concerning the connection of particular existence and universal Reason, of reality and Idea, of life and Spirit. (Horkheimer, [1931] 1993, pp. 11–12)

In terms of the objective of developing a systematic critique of advanced capitalism – not one comprehensive systematic theory, though, but to engage in a collaborative project, working towards an open-ended critique of capitalist society – the main theoretical impulses came from the works of Marx and Weber. Although the contributions of other predecessors, especially Hegel and Freud, played important roles as well, for the trajectory of Frankfurt School critical theory, Marx and Weber were most central. Despite basic similarities between Hilferding’s analyses, the Luka´cs of History and Class Consciousness, and an array of works attempting to grasp the transformation of capitalism underway during the 1920s and 1930s, the specific critique put forth and developed further by the Frankfurt theorists is unique. Though they saw their theoretical project in the tradition of Western Marxism, their simultaneous embrace of social-scientific standards in general, and their rejection of some specific standards in particular, constitutes this critique’s most distinguishing feature. The theories of capitalism presented by Hilferding, Luka´cs, and the Frankfurt School theorists can all be compared in terms of their relationship to the theories of Marx and Weber. The appeal of Hilferding’s structural analysis, and even more so, of Luka´cs’s critique of reification, was expressive of the promise derived from linking Marx’s theory of historical materialism, emphasizing the challenge of analyzing the changing mode of capitalist production, with Weber’s writings on rationalization. While the Frankfurt School theorists’ interest in Hilferding’s analysis of finance capitalism remained rudimentary, Luka´cs’s reformulation of Marx’s critique of alienation and commodity fetishism in terms of reification, which corresponded to conditions of advanced capitalism fostering commodity fetishism as ‘‘second nature,’’ provided a major impetus for their own development of a critical theory of capitalism during the Great Depression. Hilferding’s economically oriented analysis of finance capitalism seemed to



have fewer implications for the kind of cultural criticism that guided most Western Marxists, including the Frankfurt School theorists. While recognizing, in principle, Hilferding’s importance for a Marxist analysis of earlytwentieth-century capitalism, they did not regard his approach as central to their analyses. In addition, Horkheimer and his colleagues started out from the assumption that since our understanding of society is itself shaped by society, there is a special need for a critical theory that does not reproduce the patterns of the social formation it is designed to elucidate. To achieve this objective, critical theorists must first identify the conditions that would have to be fulfilled for discerning an understanding of advanced capitalism that opens up, rather than closes off, future possibilities of qualitative social transformation. The vanishing point for such a critical theory would have to be a qualitatively different critique of political economy – because the state– economy relationship had changed, because the analytical and research tools had become more varied and more refined, and because the historical goal may have changed. Along the lines of this strong emphasis on an Institute organized on the basis of social-scientific principles, Horkheimer posed his agenda in terms of an overall division of labor. For Marx, the critique of political economy was, and had to be, central to an integrated endeavor, where one element attained primary significance in relation to all the other elements; and where analysis and critique, theory, and practice were parts of an integrated whole. By contrast, in Horkheimer’s vision of the Frankfurt Institute of Social Research, the analysis of different dimensions of modern capitalist society was to be the responsibility of individual researchers, within the Institute’s division of labor, while it was the responsibility of the entire staff to facilitate the most powerful understanding of advanced capitalism. The members of the Institute of Social Research engaged in the critique of capitalism on two levels. On the first level, they saw the need to revitalize the later Marx’s critique of political economy, to be applied to the stage of capitalist development reached at the end of the first third of the twentieth century. Heeding the continuous division of labor in the social sciences, Horkheimer determined that the members and affiliates of the Institute be responsible for specific tasks (e.g., for sociology, psychology, economics, or law). Since each of the social sciences pursues a specific analytical and theoretical agenda, Horkheimer argued, the critical theorists had to presume the relative autonomy (‘‘inner logic’’ in Weber) of the social sciences’ respective tasks, and of the dimensions of social life (‘‘value spheres’’ in Weber) these sciences are designed to analyze. Only on this basis would it be

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possible, in a later step, to critically relate the different inner logic to the prevailing patterns of how these tasks are fulfilled in actually existing societies. Along these lines, the task of providing an updated diagnosis of the state of political–economic affairs along Marxian lines fell to Friedrich Pollock, while the overall purpose of the Institute was to generate a highly sophisticated, systematic critique of postliberal capitalism and its effects on political, social, and cultural dimensions of life. As Seyla Benhabib has pointed out, the research program at the Institute of Social Research evolved in three phases from the 1930s to the mid-1940s, from the explicitly collaborative beginnings oriented toward the integration of philosophy and science, via a ‘‘philosophical critique of the epistemological bases of the sciences’’ (Benhabib, 1986, p. 152), to the culturalist critique of western civilization. The initial phase of ‘‘interdisciplinary materialism’’ (1932–1937) was followed by the phase of ‘‘critical theory’’ proper (1937–1940) to culminate in the ‘‘critique of instrumental reason’’ (1940–1945) (Benhabib, 1986, pp. 149–150).13 The middle phase of ‘‘critical theory’’ in the more narrow sense began with the publication of Horkheimer’s essay, ‘‘Traditional and Critical Theory’’ (Horkheimer, [1937] 1986). As Benhabib put it, Horkheimer argued in this article that the findings of the specialized sciences cannot be integrated with philosophy without the latter exercising a critique of the foundations upon which the sciences are based. Both the specialized sciences and those philosophical theories which consider their achievements to be the only valid model of knowledge perpetuate an epistemological illusion: the object of cognition is presented as a ready-made, a historical reality, and the relationship of the knowing subject to this object is presented as one of passive cognition or limited experimentation. y Traditional theories question neither the historical constitution of their own object, nor the purposes to which the knowledge they produce is put in society. (Benhabib, 1986, p. 152)

This distinction between traditional and critical theory is especially pertinent with respect to economic theory. The critique of political economy in the Marxian sense entails a ‘‘philosophical’’ dimension facilitating three types of insights: first, the core concepts of economic theory are self-contradictory (in terms of their logical implication, they are not capable of explaining the capitalist mode of production); second, the critique of political economy emphasizes the fact that capitalist society is not ‘‘an objective, law-governed, nature-like sphere,’’ but ‘‘socially constituted’’; and third, the critique of political economy ‘‘exposes the internal contradictions and dysfunctionalities of the system in order to show how and why these give rise to oppositional demands and struggles which cannot be satisfied by the present’’ (Benhabib, 1986, pp. 154–155).



To put it differently, the logic of the social sciences in capitalism is itself a manifestation of the effects of capitalism: the theories of capitalism are epiphenomena of capitalism, not theories of it; they are reflections of capitalism, not reflections on it. The ‘‘traditional’’ theories of capitalism from Smith to twentieth-century neoclassical economics are not also critiques of it – capitalism shapes the way we think to such a degree that we cannot help but reproduce its defining features and core patterns even in our theories of it. In this context, Weberian Marxism is the project of analyzing the logic of capitalist production and development, which leads from liberal capitalism to various forms of postliberal capitalism: bureaucratic capitalism, managerial capitalism, finance capitalism, and beyond – to a totally administered world. In the process, the contingencies of an increasingly complex sociohistorical reality are reduced to means-ends relations. Critical theorists were interested in the relationship between the inner logic of capitalist production at the stage of postliberal capitalism reached during the 1920s and the early 1930s and the different logics of other spheres of life in society, which become increasingly oppressed, enslaved, or altogether eliminated – by increasingly sophisticated capitalist organizations, for which there is no match in society. Under such circumstances, the need for a systematic critical theory (as opposed to ‘‘traditional’’ neoclassical economic theory) of economic organizations as well as their relationship to the state in postliberal capitalist society became all the more urgent, since anything but a systematic critique was bound to merely reflect, rather than reflect on, this society and its corresponding mode of capitalist production. In essence, Pollock’s task was to accomplish for the 1930s what Hilferding had achieved in 1910, namely to provide ‘‘a study of the latest phase of capitalist development,’’ as Hilferding had subtitled Finance Capital. However, while the latter had not claimed to have presented the analysis of a later stage of capitalist development that constituted a qualitatively different politico-economic and socioeconomic arrangement, Horkheimer and Pollock started out from the assumption that the political economy that emerged during the 1920s, and especially during the 1930s, called for a different type of critique. On the second level, which turned out to become the core concern of the critical theorists, the critique of capitalism took the shape of a socialphilosophical critique of western civilization in the spirit of Marx’s critiques of alienation and commodity fetishism. Luka´cs’s reconstruction of Marx’s critique of alienation within the framework of Marx’s later critique commodity fetishism, in terms of reification, prepared the Frankfurt theorists’ critique of capitalism, in terms of their critique of instrumental reason.

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POLLOCK’S CONCEPT OF ‘‘STATE CAPITALISM’’ In 1930, at the very end of the final volume of the so-called Gru¨nberg Archive, Pollock published an extended review of five books on socialism, progress, competition, and the end of capitalism (Pollock, 1930).14 In this review, Pollock raised an issue that was novel at the time, but whose importance has become increasingly apparent as the century progressed: Can we adequately analyze the logic of economic decision-making processes in society, if we employ theoretical and analytical categories as the basis for the analysis that derive from, and are designed for, microeconomic problems and conditions? How realistic are such micro-based analyses once the predominant form of economic organization shaping economic decisionmaking processes are no longer based on individual utility considerations and the reference frame of small- to medium-sized firms, but are shaped by large-scale, complex, and monopolistic corporations? Pollock raised this issue in his discussion of two of the books, Gustav Cassel’s Sozialismus oder Fortschritt (1929) and Georg Halm’s Die Konkurrenz (1929). Cassel had praised the model of free competition as remaining the prime mechanism by which to solve the economic problems of the early twentieth century, a view whose validity Pollock questioned. In his discussion of Halm’s book, Pollock returned to this issue. Halm had claimed that ‘‘despite all weaknesses, the free, capitalist economy of competition [is] the best of all possible constitutions of the economy’’ (Pollock, 1930, p. 468; my translation). Implying that the industrialized economies of Continental Europe had ceased to be free-market economies (if they ever had been ‘‘free’’ to begin with), Pollock formulated the challenge for a systematic analysis of the economic affairs of the time: ‘‘the question of whether a system of monopoly capitalism has replaced the competitive system today [1930] y can only be resolved y by means of an unprejudiced analysis of the economic facts from the second half of the previous century to the present’’ (Pollock, 1930, p. 468). Given Pollock’s contention, he himself might have taken up the challenge of engaging in such a systematic study. Since the members of the Frankfurt School placed themselves squarely in the tradition initiated by Marx’s critique of political economy, the rigorous analysis of the developmental stage of the capitalist economy reached at the time might have been of central importance to the Institute’s agenda. However, as it turned out, neither did Pollock pursue this line of research nor was the emerging research orientation at the Institute conducive to a critically systematic analysis of yet another ‘‘latest’’ stage of capitalist development (in Hilferding’s sense).



Instead, such focus on the economy as most central aspect of modern western societies, following Marx, was replaced by an interest in the emerging relationship between the economy and the administrative state. After Horkheimer became the director of the Institute of Social Research in 1931, Pollock continued to function as codirector. Since 1927, Pollock had been the chief administrator, as the deputy director of Horkheimer’s predecessor, Carl Gru¨nberg, and in charge of day-to-day operations. With Horkheimer as the Institute’s leading theorist, and Pollock in charge of administrative matters, his academic work remained secondary to his administrative responsibilities. In concrete terms, this meant that as the only person explicitly in charge of engaging a structural analysis of advanced capitalism within the Institute’s overall division of labor, Pollock was not in the position to make a full-time commitment to that task (Wiggershaus, [1986] 1994, p. 64).15 It is not surprising then that compared to the research, and the publications produced, by the Institute’s other core members during the 1930s, Pollock’s output was rather scarce. According to Wiggershaus ([1986] 1994, pp. 750–751), Pollock published altogether three books and nine articles. The first book addressed Sombart’s purported repudiation of Marxism and the second examined the attempts in the Soviet Union to establish a planned economy during the decade following the Russian Revolution; both books appeared as publications of the Institute of Social Research (Pollock, 1926, 1929).16 He published six articles during the time period covered in this chapter, all in the Institute’s official outlets.17 During the 1920s, Pollock had placed high hopes in the success of the Soviet experiment. He had visited the Soviet Union in 1927, and returned with a most favorable assessment of the ‘‘particularly unfavorable conditions which the Russian revolutionaries had faced at the outset, their tremendous, continuing difficulties, the often glaring mistakes they had made, and their constant changes of direction and frequent reorganizations,’’ as Wiggershaus ([1986] 1994, p. 61) put it. In Pollock’s (1929) related book, based on his experiences, he expressed his confidence that he had proven that a socialist planned economy could work. As he was mostly concerned with whether a planned economy in general could work, rather than a socialist economy in particular, he left open the possibility that a nonsocialist, authoritarian-type of planned economy might work as well. He did not assert, however, that the Soviet experiment as such led to any necessary conclusions about the viability of a planned economy since, according to Marx’s theory, a successful socialist takeover of the economy by the state was contingent on a high level of development, which had not

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been reached in Russia in 1917. For this reason, as far as Pollock was concerned, the Soviet case had no bearing on the possibility of a socialist planned economy as projected by Marx. Pollock’s perspective on capitalism in the 1930s and the 1940s is laid out best in the articles, ‘‘Die gegenwa¨rtige Lage des Kapitalismus und die Aussichten einer planwirtschaftlichen Neordnung’’ (The Present Situation of Capitalism and the Prospects of the New Order of a Planned Economy; 1932a) and ‘‘State Capitalism’’ (1941a). Pollock’s theory of advanced capitalism was clearly influenced by Hilferding’s writings, and developed in its early version under the impression of the Great Depression and before the rise of National Socialism in Germany. His study on ‘‘the present situation of capitalism’’ (1932a), published during the year before Hitler’s ascension to power, circumscribed the condition of capitalism as monopoly capitalism, a view that was immediately embraced by the Institute; at this time, his interpretation of capitalism was not exposed to further critical scrutiny. Pollock posited as fact the overall tendency of capitalism to facilitate the formation of ever larger units of economic organization, and to force an ever greater role for the state in economic matters. In his view, this entailed the progressive suspension of markets. Important economic decisions were being made at ever higher levels of economic and administrative organization, ranging from ‘‘monopolistic’’ corporations to the administrative state. Under such circumstances, planning increasingly subverted markets, and brought about the end of liberal-competitive capitalism, and the advent of ‘‘state capitalism.’’ The urgency of developing a theory of advanced capitalism was heightened when Hitler and the National Socialists took control of the German government in early 1933, inducing the members of the Institute to leave Germany; they arrived in New York in 1934, after ‘‘stop-overs’’ in Geneva and Paris. The Institute’s analysis of the specific meaning of the capitalist mode of production thus continued under exceptionally pressing circumstances that called for research oriented toward analyzing the transformations of the economy underway at the time. As the 1930s progressed, the political and the economic success of the National Socialist regime became ever more apparent. Pollock’s immediate response was that developments in Italy under Mussolini, in Germany under Hitler, and in the United States under Roosevelt were indicative of a qualitatively new stage of political economy in capitalism, to which he referred as ‘‘state capitalist intervention’’ (Pollock, 1933). He assessed the prospects of capitalist planning as viable and promising. Horkheimer initially had considered this new development a temporary return to an authoritarian form of government. By 1940, however,



Horkheimer agreed that the rise of authoritarian regimes like National Socialism was not an aberration in the logic of capitalist development, but a necessary consequence under conditions where capitalist production had created its own potential nemesis, the Great Depression. Accordingly, the rise of authoritarian regimes had to be theorized in terms of capitalist categories. As Wiggershaus put it, ‘‘Horkheimer held that the epoch of liberal capitalism must be conceived as a process which made a spiral of lasting despotism possible by atomizing human beings and producing large-scale companies and gigantic organizations’’ (Wiggershaus, [1986] 1994, p. 280). In the controversial article Pollock published in 1941, entitled ‘‘State Capitalism: Its Possibilities and Limitations’’ (1941a), he drew out the implications of this analysis. Theoretically speaking, Pollock identified as the Archimedean point for analyzing capitalism the ideal-typical concept of ‘‘state capitalism.’’ He asserted that state capitalism had constituted the vanishing point for analyzing advanced capitalism for some time, reaching its peak in National Socialism (see Pollock, 1941b), though a trend in this direction could be observed elsewhere as well. The most central feature of state capitalism was the suspension of the market mechanism in economies dominated by large corporations: in state capitalist societies, the primacy of the economy characteristic of liberal capitalism had been replaced by the primacy of the state. Pollock introduced a set of crucial distinctions. First, there are four aspects of the new economy that are better explained in terms of ‘‘state capitalism’’ than of designations that presume the primacy and relative autonomy of the economic sphere, such as ‘‘‘[s]tate organized private property monopoly capitalism,’ ‘Managerial society,’ ‘administrative capitalism,’ ‘bureaucratic collectivism,’’’ and others. The four aspects are: ‘‘state capitalism is the successor of private capitalism y the state assumes important functions of the private capitalist y profit interests still play a significant role, and y it is not socialism’’ (Pollock, 1941a, p. 201). The main features of Pollock’s article thus are related to the question of how private capitalism had been succeeded by a nonprivate, ‘‘public,’’ form of capitalism. Since the medium-sized businesses that had dominated the industrial economies of the later nineteenth century had been replaced by ‘‘monopolistic’’ enterprises during the early decades of the twentieth century, the categories developed for analyzing nineteenth-century political economy, as well as its Marxian critique, had become outdated for the political economy emergent during the early twentieth century. As a result, the very pertinence of such core categories and distinctions of economic theory as market versus planning, private versus public, itself had to be questioned. Pollock did not provide a clear economic argument as to why

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the larger size of businesses mattered independently of its implications for the market/planning and private/public distinction; but he did argue that with the rise of ‘‘monopolistic’’ economic organizations, the administrative state had become a central economic player. State capitalism can appear in two forms: totalitarian and democratic.18 Depending on which form of government is in place and which social groups control it, the nature of state capitalism can vary greatly. Since the economic process has become fully manageable, the important question is, toward what end will it be put, what is the capitalist economy being administered for, and who administers it and distributes its product – for what end. Since Pollock’s and Horkheimer’s emphasis was on the politics of advanced capitalism, they did not directly address how exactly it is that managerial capitalism produces economic growth and development, nor how it mediates people’s conceptions and perceptions of the world. Though the innerorganizational dimension of the economy is touched upon, it is only peripherally addressed in its relationship to culture. After all, reaching a new stage of capitalism, if it was indeed the case, would have important implications for the theory of capitalism and modern society, for the possibility and direction of social change, and for our understanding of society and the basic concepts we employ to organize society meaningfully, such as freedom, self, individual, and emancipation. In the context of his depiction of the ‘‘new set of rules,’’ Pollock did draw a definite distinction between market capitalism as an economy where ‘‘men meet y as agents of the exchange process, as buyers or sellers,’’ as opposed to state capitalism as a system where ‘‘men meet y as commander or commanded’’ (Pollock, 1941a, p. 207), as will apply in particular to the working population in general. But again he skirts the issue of the inner logic of economic production as well as distribution, by asserting that in state capitalism, the profit motive is replaced by the power motive. Though Pollock should have considered whether and under what circumstances the levels of productivity achieved during the early twentieth century in the most advanced industrial societies could be maintained once large corporations were subject to state supervision and regulation in state capitalism, he did not do so. Instead, he presumed that once those high levels of industrial production had been reached, they would not be negatively affected by a shift of society’s economic planning function from monopolistic corporations to the state. The above mentioned five new rules are as follows: (1) ‘‘a general plan gives the direction for production, consumption, saving, and investment’’; (2) ‘‘[p]rices are no longer allowed to behave as masters of the economic process but are administered in all important sections of it’’;



(3) ‘‘the profit interests of both individuals and groups as well as all other special interests are to be strictly subordinated to the general plan or whatever stands in its place’’; (4) ‘‘[i]n all spheres of state activity (and under state capitalism that means in all spheres of social life as a whole) guesswork and improvization give place to the principles of scientific management’’; and finally (5) ‘‘[performance of the plan is enforced by state power so that nothing is left to the functioning of laws of the market or other economic ‘laws’’’ (Pollock, 1941a, pp. 204–207). Pollock further elaborated the implications of these new rules in sections on the control of production and distribution, respectively. Again he asserted that in state capitalism, there no longer will be a need to heed the inner logic of the economic process: the entrepreneurial and capitalist functions are being ‘‘interfered with or taken over’’ by the management and the government (Pollock, 1941a, p. 210). Though production and distribution facilities will continue to be privately owned, control of the cartelized industries and its enterprises will be with the government. Pollock also presented arguments for why there can be an adequate incentive structure for a state capitalist system; why the separation of price and production will not hurt the latter; why the state capitalist system does not need to suffer from the kind of wastefulness and inefficiency characteristic of market capitalism; and why economics as a social science will lose its object (Pollock, 1941a, p. 203, 210, 215, 217). Who will control the state in state capitalism? There will be a new ruling class of ‘‘key bureaucrats in the business, state and party allied with the remaining vested interests’’ (Pollock, 1941a, p. 221). The ‘‘capitalists’’ of old will lose any necessary social function. Instead, the free professions and those owning small and medium-sized businesses will play a role. The majority – salaried employees – ‘‘are subject to the leader principle of command and obedience’’ (p. 222). The new state will appear as what it is: the embodiment of power and the instrument of the ruling class. Finally, Pollock asked whether a nontotalitarian, democratic form of state capitalism can function. ‘‘If our thesis [about state capitalism] proves to be correct,’’ he wrote, ‘‘society on its present level can overcome the handicaps of the market system by economic planning. Some of the best brains of this country [United States] are studying the problem how such planning can be done in a democratic way, but a great amount of theoretical work will have to be performed before answers to every question will be forthcoming’’ (Pollock, 1941a, p. 225). Economics as a social science becomes superfluous. Pollock was so convinced of the empirical superiority of his ‘‘model’’ over market capitalism that he did not contemplate viable or desirable alternatives nor the relationship between the existing contradictions

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in capitalism and the potential for qualitative social transformation. Since state capitalism was capable of covering up and domesticating class conflict and social inequality by means of full employment, this nonprogressive forms of social, political, and economic organization even were capable of managing the danger of social and political eruptions resulting from its underlying economic contradictions. For this reason, as well as its economic superiority, Pollock regarded state capitalism as a social formation that, once in place, could continue to exist for a long period of time. While the earlier article (Pollock, 1932a) had been an example for the kind of work conducted at the Institute during the initial, ‘‘interdisciplinary materialist’’ phase, the latter article was published at the turn from the ‘‘critical theory’’ phase to the period that brought about the more pessimistic critique of instrumental reason. It is important to note that during the intermediary phase, when the Frankfurt School spelled out the differences between ‘‘critical theory’’ and ‘‘traditional theory,’’ they did not consider the implications of their new perspective for the conflict within mainstream economics waged during the second half of the 1930s. The ‘‘traditional’’ neoclassical economic theory based on the marginal utility paradigm that had been prevalent up until then experienced its first major challenge from the new paradigm for economic theory proposed by John Maynard Keynes in his General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936). Keynes called for an explicit and direct role for the state in economic policy toward sustaining (or generating) the conditions for continued economic growth, especially under the conditions of worldwide economic crisis, the Great Depression. Though Pollock’s analysis was closely related to the analyses of the stage of capitalist development characteristic of what has been referred to in the literature variously as managerial capitalism, corporate capitalism, organized capitalism, monopoly capitalism and, more generally, postliberal capitalism, he did not expend much energy on the rigorous critical analysis of political economy in the sense of an analysis of the intricacies of corporate capitalism.19 In his view, the logic of capital accumulation of the latter followed closely the patterns characteristic of liberal capitalism, and thus did not call for a thorough revision of the mode of analysis in Marx’s critique of political economy – nor whether and to what degree the categories of classical economic theory Marx had criticized still were viable. As a result, Pollock’s analysis was not a critique of political economy in the Marxian sense. On the one hand, Marx’s critique of political economy was presumed to continue to apply (despite the fundamental transformation of entrepreneurial capitalism into managerial capitalism that had occurred since the late



nineteenth century), even though Marx’s theory did not provide the means for the systematic analysis of the latter. On the other hand, as the Frankfurt School theorists, including Pollock, were not in the position to systematically analyze managerial capitalism on the basis of a radical revision of Marx’s critique of liberal capitalism designed for postliberal conditions, they were concerned rather with the indirect manifestations deriving from the shift from one organization of the capitalist production process to another. Since for the Frankfurt theorists the ‘‘traditional’’ classical economic theory had been proven wrong by Marx, they did not see any need to relate its 1930s version to the challenge of developing a critical economic theory of managerial capitalism. Nor did they consider the implications deriving from the historical coincidence of the ‘‘managerial revolution’’ that began during the early century and the Great Depression of the 1930s for the development of a critical economic theory, and how it had eroded the empirical adequacy of classical economic theory regarding the inner logic of the functioning of the market mechanism under conditions of organized capitalist production. Further, they did not consider how Keynes’ statist response bore on the theoretical understanding necessary for grasping the inner logic of managerial capitalism, and for political, social, and cultural forms of life in modern society. Instead, the critical economic theory of capitalism developed by Pollock and appropriated by his colleagues abandoned the notion that the inner logic of the economic process needed to be theorized positively in order for the specific nature of its negative consequences (and their historical situatedness and significance) to be identified adequately. The theoretical critique they developed moved beyond the challenge of systematic economic analysis altogether, and posited that in postliberal capitalism it was not the inner logic of the capitalist production process that warranted attention but the relationship between the economy and the state – hence the need to develop a critical theory specifically designed for identifying the nature of this relationship and its effects on all aspects of society. In the experience of the Frankfurt theorists, with the entrenchment of National Socialism in Germany and of the New Deal in the United States, the urgency of analyzing emerging ‘‘state capitalism’’ as a qualitatively different system of political economy no longer could be ignored. To be sure, given the relative lack of an infrastructure conducive for focused economic analysis at the Institute, Pollock was in a poor position to take on the challenge of updating Marx’s critique of political economy for postliberal capitalism on his own. Yet already when Pollock’s manuscript on state capitalism circulated at the Institute, one of the other members examining macro-institutional change, Franz Neumann, a reformist theorist

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of monopoly capitalism, entered the fray on whether, and in what sense, National Socialism could indeed be regarded as the closest approximation of state capitalism, as Pollock had claimed. In his major work, Behemoth, the first comprehensive study of National Socialism, Neumann rejected Pollock’s analysis, and proposed instead the concept of ‘‘Totalitarian Monopoly Capitalism’’ (Neumann, 1942, p. 261).20 Despite significant similarities between their respective diagnoses pertaining to increasing bureaucratization and organization, there were profound differences as well. In particular, Neumann insisted that the market process had not been suspended in National Socialism; that instead, the market process exposed the Nazi government to tremendous economic and financial pressure. Neumann argued that the capitalist mode of production continued unabated, albeit in a highly organized, integrated, and state-coordinated fashion. He wrote that the antagonisms of capitalism are operating in Germany on a higher and, therefore, a more dangerous level, even if these antagonisms are covered up by a bureaucratic apparatus and by the ideology of the people’s community y Does the economic theory of National Socialism coincide with the y ‘‘state-capitalistic’’ doctrines? The answer is no. There is no National Socialist economic theory except the slogan that general welfare is more important than self-interest, a slogan y used to cloak almost every economic decision. y [W]e can find as many economic theories as there are groups within the National Socialist society y [T]he National Socialist economic system does not follow any blue print, is not based on any consistent doctrine, be it neo-mercantilism, any guild or ‘‘Estate’’ theory, or liberal or socialist dogma. The organization of the economic system is pragmatic. It is directed entirely by the need of the highest possible efficiency and productivity required for the conducting of war. (Neumann, 1942, pp. 227–228)

At the time, in a letter to Horkheimer, Neumann wrote, ‘‘For a whole year I have been doing nothing but studying economic processes in Germany, and I have up till now not found a shred of evidence to show that Germany is in a situation remotely resembling state capitalism’’ (Wiggershaus, [1986] 1994, p. 285). Similar concerns were voiced by Adorno, who rejected the affirmative tone of Pollock’s depiction of state capitalism.21 Even Horkheimer himself had reservations, despite his decision to support the publication of Pollock’s article on state capitalism (Wiggershaus, [1986] 1994, pp. 280–291). The difference between the ‘‘state capitalism’’ and the ‘‘totalitarian monopoly capitalism’’ (which, for the argument’s sake, I will refer to as ‘‘authoritarian capitalism,’’ even though Neumann does not seem to have used the term) is more than nomenclature. Pollock’s term places greater emphasis on the state than Neumann, as far as the inner logic of the economy is concerned. To the former, state capitalism signifies a qualitative transformation expressing the shift of society’s economic planning function



from the economy to the state. In Neumann, by contrast, the economic planning function continues to be held by large corporations in Germany during the Nazi period, many of which actively supported the Nazi regime, for example, using politics to secure favorable business conditions. Moreover, he asserted that Pollock’s vision entailed nothing less than the end of history, and the destruction of any prospect for future qualitative societal transformation. State capitalism and authoritarian capitalism both constitute more openly cooperative forms of business–government relations. In this respect, the difference is mainly one of emphasis, especially if we consider that Pollock’s concept of state capitalism had to be understood as an ideal-typical model: state capitalism places greater emphasis on the state, authoritarian capitalism on the economy. The more important difference, however, relates to the theoretization of the inner logic of the economic process itself. According to Pollock, the inner logic of capitalist production is secondary to understanding the politics of state capitalism. According to Neumann, the inner logic of capitalist production and its understanding remain central. The nature of authoritarian capitalism cannot be discerned without a sophisticated grip on the inner logic of the economic process under changing conditions, and its relative independence from the state. Yet the Institute members, most of all Horkheimer, were more interested in the general similarities between Pollock’s and Neumann’s respective diagnoses. In the end, Pollock’s analysis carried more weight than Neumann’s, and in terms of its theoretical implications, largely was accepted by Horkheimer and his colleagues. As a result, the foundations were laid for the reformulation of Marx’s critique of political economy, into the critique of instrumental reason. The specifics of capitalism’s presumably inherent tendency toward ever greater organizational units controlling production and distribution, and toward the suspension of the market mechanism in favor of the allegedly less wasteful and more efficient planned allocation of resources and the means of production – pointing toward the state as the ultimate capitalist working in concert with large, ‘‘monopolistic’’ corporations – was no longer of any concern. State capitalism would be far more stable, and even in economic terms, far superior to private capitalism. What Pollock theorized in Marxian terms as the rise of state capitalism needed to be carefully examined, in terms of whether the organizational foundations of the economic dynamics of corporate capitalism indeed prepare the inauguration of the allpowerful state. As we shall see, however, in the final analysis, the problem with Pollock’s analysis was not that it was flawed, but that it provided the Frankfurt School from the 1940s on with a reference frame that tilted all their

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subsequent analyses, especially as far as economic matters were concerned. By deciding the Weberian question of how the inner logics of the economy and the administrative state relate to each other, in favor of the latter, Pollock engendered a major misunderstanding of the nature of economic processes in large-scale capitalism, its relationship to the administrative state, and the corresponding limitations of and possibilities for social, political, and cultural transformation.

THE DIALECTIC OF ENLIGHTENMENT AND THE CRITIQUE OF INSTRUMENTAL REASON During the 1930s, the need for developing a forceful yet constructive critique of capitalist society with concrete practical implications continually had been heightened by the National Socialists’ consolidation of power in Germany, the perversion of the Soviet experiment with socialism into Stalinism, and the proliferation of corporate planning in the United States. For all practical purposes, by the early 1940s Horkheimer and the other noneconomists at the Institute regarded it as of minor consequence whether the ‘‘latest stage’’ of capitalist development in Germany and elsewhere in the Western world was described more aptly in terms of state capitalism or in terms of authoritarian capitalism. It was more important to accept that the category ‘‘liberal’’ no longer sufficed to describe the nature of twentiethcentury capitalism, and that the realms of politics, administration, and economy grew ever closer together. Although the attempt to diagnose the nature and logic of advanced capitalism by applying the critique of political economy to the specific mode of capitalist production reached in the 1920s prepared the way for the critique of instrumental reason, significantly more energy went toward the development of a systematic critique of the effects of the latest mode of capitalist production. Despite reservations, Horkheimer had accepted Pollock’s concept of ‘‘state capitalism’’ well before the article was published in 1941. In 1940, in his own essay, entitled ‘‘The Authoritarian State,’’ Horkheimer had written that ‘‘state capitalism is the authoritarian state of the present,’’ and that ‘‘state capitalism does away with the market and hypostatizes the crisis for the duration of eternal Germany’’ (Horkheimer, [1942] 1982, pp. 96–97). Ironically, it appears as if in substance (though not literally in form), Horkheimer tried to reconcile the insights and respective analyses of Pollock and Neumann, by combining the qualifiers of Pollock’s and Neumann’s



respective concepts, omitting their common noun: state capitalism and authoritarian capitalism (i.e., ‘‘totalitarian monopoly capitalism’’) turned into the ‘‘authoritarian state.’’ To Horkheimer, this concept more clearly signified the primacy of the political than either Pollock’s or Neumann’s. In the early Frankfurt School critique of capitalism, this shift from Pollock’s and Neumann’s respective analyses of the ‘‘latest stage’’ of capitalism, whether with regard to industrial society, as in Pollock, or in National Socialist Germany, as in Neumann, constituted nothing less than the submergence of economic concerns altogether. Considering that the Frankfurt School critical theory had begun by claiming to continue the Marxian project under qualitatively changed sociohistorical circumstances, this shift away from economic matters was particularly remarkable. What had been the primacy of the economy in Marx had turned into the primacy of the political. As a result, the focused economic analysis of capitalism had lost its significance, and was no longer essential to the systematic critique of twentieth-century society. Instead, the analysis of capitalism was replaced by a critical analysis of the various mediations of the economic basis in politics, culture, and society. In other words, Horkheimer combined Pollock’s and Neumann’s analyses in a manner that eliminated, rather than emphasized, the economic dimension. For critical-theoretical purposes, the inner logic of the economic process in the ‘‘latest stage’’ of capitalism had become irrelevant and inconsequential for purposes of critiquing the nature of twentieth-century capitalism. Paradoxically, the vanishing point of the early Frankfurt School’s critical theory had been a postliberal society in the postcapitalist, socialist sense. Yet in National Socialism, and in their experience, to a lesser degree even in the United States, the rise of ‘‘postcapitalist’’ society as a ‘‘postliberal’’ society constituted the inversion of the former, as it was based on a kind of planning that enabled the new ruling classes to manage society more effectively in their own interest, rather than enhancing society’s capacity to more rationally solve its problems.22 The planning of postliberal capitalist society utilizes and manipulates the multifaceted interests of society for private political and economic purposes. Considering the ensuing neglect of economic matters, it would have been consequential for the Frankfurt theorists to shift their attention to the nature of politics in the twentieth century; however, this did not occur. Within the Institute, the systematic analyses of political institutions, as those conducted by reformists such as Neumann, Otto Kirchheimer, and others, remained peripheral because their critique of postliberal society was not considered sufficiently radical. This neglect by the Institute’s core members of the political dimension of modern society constituted yet another move

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away from institutional analysis of the structural conditions of capitalism, toward a preoccupation with culture.23 In the most important work of the early Frankfurt School, Dialectic of Enlightenment, written by Horkheimer and Adorno during the first half of the 1940s, the concept of critique is driven far beyond its scope in Marx’s theory (Horkheimer & Adorno, [1947] 2002).24 In very broad terms, Horkheimer and Adorno investigated whether the focus on economics in critical theory constituted a deflection from more fundamental categories and issues, that is, whether the Marxian focus on the critique of political economy was directed at an epiphenomenon rather than at the final cause of the defining problems of modern society. This orientation resembles the more narrow interest Weber pursued in his work, why modern capitalism only emerged in the West, as well as his answer: that we cannot explain the rise of modern capitalism solely in economic terms, but as the result of the more fundamental process of rationalization. As Ben Agger aptly formulated, Horkheimer and Adorno contended that positivism, when generalized from a metatheoretic principle of scientific investigation into a lived principle of culture and ideology, becomes a powerful force of domination. The dialectic of enlightenment refers to the recurring alternation between preindustrial mythology and ‘‘rational’’ science. In this regard, the Frankfurt critics were concerned to confront the problem of enlightenment and rationalization in a more dialectical way than Weber had done y They suggest that, under the rule of positivism, we fetishize immediacy and factuality and thus reinforce a false consciousness that prevents us from recognizing dialectical possibilities of liberation concealed in the present. (Agger, 1979, pp. 135–136)

To address the question of whether postliberal capitalism can be analyzed properly in terms of the critique of political economy, however refined, the authors developed the concept of instrumental reason, to theorize the central thesis of the contradictory nature of the enlightenment, and all enlightenment processes. As Seyla Benhabib put it, the history of humanity’s relation to nature does not unfold an emancipatory dynamic, as Marx would have us believe. The development of the forces of production, humanity’s increased mastery over nature, is not accompanied by a diminishing of interpersonal domination; to the contrary, the more rationalized the domination of nature, the more sophisticated and hard to recognize does societal domination become. Laboring activity, the act in which man uses nature for his ends by acting as a force of nature (Marx), is indeed an in stance of human cunning. y [the] effort to master nature by becoming like it is paid for by the internalization of sacrifice. Labor is indeed the sublimation of desire; but the act of objectification in which desire is transformed into a product is not an act of self-actualization, but an act of fear which leads to control over nature within oneself. Objectification is not self-actualization but self-denial disguised as self-affirmation. (Benhabib, 1986, p. 167)



On the basis of this insight, Horkheimer and Adorno formulate the critique of instrumental reason as a radical critique of western civilization. All of human history is marred by countless attempts to achieve the impossible: control over nature and self, without assimilating the self to that which is being controlled and dominated. With the transformation of Marx’s critique of political economy, the Frankfurt School’s ‘‘interdisciplinary materialist’’ critique of postliberal capitalism, followed by the critique of traditional theories as reflections of social reality that do not self-critically reflect upon the larger context of their production and application, into the critique of instrumental reason – there is no basis left for assuming that positive attempts at bettering society are at all likely to be successful. Though Dialectic of Enlightenment is far too intricate a work to provide an adequate portrayal here, as far as the critique of economic reason is concerned, the work’s main point is immediately apparent: capitalism is but the culmination of an essential feature of human coexistence and a trend in human civilization that can be traced to the beginning of intelligent life, shaping all forms of economic life rather than being shaped by the latter. Once Horkheimer and Adorno had arrived at this conclusion, that capitalism is but the highest form, to date, of the imperative to confront and utilize nature in the interest of selfpreservation, the centrality of any focused critique of political economy beyond Marx had become inadequate. Once Horkheimer and Adorno understood the history of human civilization as the continual refinement of techniques to subjugate the world ever more effectively, their presumption that a good society was possible on the basis of the vast productive powers achieved in industrial society had lost its ground. The radically modernist, Marxist optimism of the 1930s turned into its opposite: a deeply rooted, culturally oriented pessimism about the prospects of advanced western civilization as a whole.25 Since on the basis of their critique of instrumental reason, Horkheimer and Adorno could no longer conceive of any social movement or any other kind of collective agent that would be able to step into the void left by the increasingly ineffective and accommodating labor movements in industrial societies, the concern with practice that had inspired the first two phases of Frankfurt School critical theory during the 1930s – the interdisciplinary materialist and critique-of-traditional-theory phases – all but vanished. The Frankfurt School’s loss of the ‘‘subject of history’’ as represented by the industrial proletariat induced Horkheimer and Adorno to turn more directly toward philosophical matters, the project of a culturalist critique of postWorld War II society, and the social research in a more narrow sense. Peculiarly, however, they were not concerned with questions that related

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directly to the link between analyzing society philosophically, sociologically, and culturally, and the growing importance of specific economic, political, and social organizations as the context where politics, culture, and society are shaped and modeled. After all, how powerful is an analysis of the culture of capitalism that abstains from a sophisticated, careful analysis of the structural and the organizational foundations of cultural production and reproduction in mass society? Ironically, one of the essays included in Dialectic of Enlightenment, ‘‘The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception’’ ([1947] 2002, pp. 94–136), could have provided a strong foundation for such an analysis of the constellation of social structure, economic organization, and culture. Consequently, the Frankfurt theorists diminished their ability to develop practically viable, constructive responses to concrete economic conditions. At a time when capitalism’s productive capacities were employed at an accelerating pace for the creation of destructive powers, the Frankfurt School theorists perceived the progressive integration of the state and the economy as an overwhelming and inescapable system of power in emergence. The more differentiated the economic system became, and the more economic functions the state fulfilled, the fewer opportunities they saw for modifying their organization; instead, the political–economic system forced all value spheres in society to assimilate to the logic of organized capitalist production and reproduction. Still, by radically thinking through the price western societies had to pay for continuous productivity and increasing economic wealth, the Frankfurt School theorists provided the means for rigorously examining how conditions in postliberal capitalist society, oriented toward sustaining profit opportunities, made the move toward a society governed by the emancipatory enlightenment principles of liberty, equality, and solidarity ever more doubtful.

ANTINOMIES OF ‘‘TRADITIONAL MARXISM’’ IN THE EARLY FRANKFURT SCHOOL CRITIQUE OF CAPITALISM During the early 1930s, Frankfurt School critical theory emerged as an programmatically interdisciplinary project to reconstruct Marx’s materialist critique of political economy under changed historical conditions, with the support of the emerging social sciences, and with clear practical intent. By the time it reconstituted itself as the critique of instrumental reason during



the early 1940s, it had lost virtually all practical relevance. In light of the preceding analysis, the early Frankfurt theorists’ presupposition that political–economic analysis no longer could serve as the foundation for the systematic critique of capitalism was highly problematic. Since the critique of political economy became one of several research projects – without being central – the Frankfurt theorists were able to turn their attention away from the organizational foundations upon which politics, culture, and society in capitalism are built. In addition, the shift of the focus of the critique from political economy to political economy suggested by Pollock provided Horkheimer and the others with a rationale for concentrating on the critical analysis of the cultural dimensions of advanced capitalism, more conducive to their interests to begin with, while abstaining from applying a similarly critical attitude to analyzing the economy, the production process, and its form of organization. At this point, we should ask how the early Frankfurt School’s critiques of capitalism, in its ‘‘state capitalist,’’ ‘‘authoritarian capitalist,’’ and ‘‘critique of instrumental reason’’ variants, appear in light of developments that have occurred since the 1940s, in the constellation between the economy, the state, and the society. Since it would not possible to answer this question in due detail here, suffice it to address it by introducing the most compelling recent ‘‘reinterpretation of Marx’s critical theory,’’ Moishe Postone’s Time, Labor, and Social Domination (1993). Though much broader in scope, this work contains the most systematic reevaluation of Pollock’s contribution, in relation to the evolution of Frankfurt School critical theory. While the latter is among the more sophisticated and theoretically ambitious traditions of Marxist thinking, Postone points out that it carried with it, from the start, some of the baggage of the less refined variants of Marxist theory. The purpose of Postone’s work is to show how the initial intent of Marx’s theory, the ‘‘spirit’’ in which it must be read, got lost over the course of the century that followed his death. Before we can reconstruct this initial intent, in light of more recent theoretical developments that pertain to the specific types of challenges for which the multiplicity of social theories as well as critical theories were designed and formulated, we must carefully and systematically identify the specific reasons responsible for the supposed practical as well as the analytical failure of Marx’s theory, inferred so frequently in recent years. Toward this end, Postone pursues above all a theoretical objective: how do we need to read Marx’s critical theory today, considering that he devised it for a capitalist society at an earlier stage of socioeconomic and industrial development, for purposes that cannot be conceived of without a clear sense of the basic features and orientations of

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his theory, within the context of liberal capitalism in nineteenth-century Europe. Accordingly, Postone’s purpose is twofold: ‘‘to provide as coherent and powerful a reinterpretation of the categorical foundations of the Marxian theory as possible, distinguishing it from traditional Marxism, and suggesting that it may be able to provide the foundation for an adequate critical analysis of the contemporary world’’ (Postone, 1993, p. 394). In the closing section of this chapter, it is not the subtleties of Postone’s brilliant reinterpretation of Marx’s theory that are of primary interest here, but his critique of the basic patterns of ‘‘traditional Marxism.’’ How does this critique apply to Pollock’s analysis of state capitalism and to the extent that it carried through to the more culturalist studies of the other members of the Frankfurt School – especially Horkheimer and Adorno? In the process, Postone also provides an explanation of the above-mentioned pessimism of the Frankfurt School, as it derived from Pollock’s economic analysis. Postone draws mostly on Grundrisse (Marx, [1857–1858] 1973), ‘‘since [Marx’s] analysis there of the essential core of capitalism and of the nature of its historical overcoming has contemporary significance; it casts doubt on interpretations of his theory that centre on considerations of the market and class domination and exploitation’’ (Postone, 1993, p. 21). His reinterpretation leads Postone to three major insights about how Marx’s theory must be read to do it justice with regard to his own intentions, as well as to his theory’s current relevance. As social theories, most versions of traditional Marxism do not distinguish between elements of Marx’s theory that he designed to analyze the mode of capitalist production in force at the time when he developed his critiques of political economy, and components that are intended as transhistorical categories with universal validity. More specifically, during the twentieth century, many theorists and political actors attempting to interpret or apply Marx’s perspective to a variety of social, political, economic, and cultural issues chose a specific element of his theory as the Archimedean point for their analysis. Marx’s theories of exploitation, surplus value, immiseration, social class, class struggle, or of bourgeois society – to name just a few – frequently served this purpose. As a result, both Marx’s theory and the social reality or phenomenon to be analyzed, criticized, or overcome were being interpreted in terms of the specific theory serving as the supposed core of Marx’s concerns. Yet determining the ‘‘core’’ of Marx’s concerns and theory constitutes a far more daunting challenge than most Marxist theorists and practitioners were aware of. When viewed from a historically sensitive vantage point, Postone argues convincingly, even the most comprehensive of Marx’s individual theories,



the theory of surplus value, appears to have been designed specifically for purposes of critically analyzing liberal capitalism during the nineteenth century. Once we become aware of this distinction between elements of his theory that are historically specific, and components that carry a greater claim for universality – such as Marx’s theories of alienation, species-being, mode of production, relations of production, and forces of production – we need to confront the challenge of determining what an updated version of Marx’s critical theory for the present stage of the capitalist mode of production would have to look like. Postone describes the core of Marx’s theoretical concern as follows: Marx’s theory of the centrality of labor to social life in capitalism y is a theory of the specific nature of the form of social mediation in this society – one that is constituted by labor and has a quasi-objective character – rather than a theory of the necessary social primacy of the labor-mediated interactions of humans with nature. This focus on social mediation, rather than on ‘‘labor’’ (or class), means that Marx’s social theory of knowledge, relating labor and consciousness, should be understood as one that grasps forms of social mediation (constituted by structured forms of practice) and forms of subjectivity as intrinsically related. Such a theory has nothing in common with a reflection theory of knowledge or with the notion that thought is ‘‘superstructural.’’ It also contravenes the common identification of a ‘‘materialist’’ theory of subjectivity with a theory of interests alone. (Postone, 1993, p. 386).

Within the context of this reinterpretation of Marx’s theory, as a theory of the socially constituted nature of economic reality, Postone introduces two categorical distinctions that played a key role in the self-inflicted derailment of Marx’s theory in traditional Marxism. First, while traditional Marxists understood Marx’s theory as arguing the need to critique capitalist society from the point of view of labor, Postone argues that, in fact, Marx provided a theory that criticizes the specific organization of the labor process in capitalism. Second, traditional Marxists criticized capitalism from the point of view of distributing the wealth produced in the economic process, presuming the productivity and efficient organization of the capitalist mode of production and process as given; they were concerned with how to distribute the wealth generated, not how to produce it. To put it differently, traditional Marxists were not concerned with the imperatives of the economic process in the sense of grasping its inner logic; they were not concerned about the possibility that once a socialist state would be in control of the means of production, an economy that had been reliably efficient up to the point of takeover, might not continue to produce at the same level, speed, and quality. By contrast, Postone argues that the vantage point of Marx’s theory is not the distribution process, but eminently the production process: how can

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the achievements of a highly efficient capitalist industrial economy be secured beyond the point (or period, depending on whether one applies a short-term or a long-term perspective to Marx’s related writings) of revolutionary transformation. Marx’s argument, that the socialist transformation of capitalism can only occur when the time is ripe, that is, when the forces of production can no longer develop any further without a transformation of the relations of production (i.e., the social structure, especially with regard to the ownership of the means of production), presumes the existence of a highly productive and efficient industrial economy. In the chapter on the ‘‘limits of traditional Marxism and the pessimistic turn of critical theory,’’ Postone shows that contrary to the presumption that Frankfurt School critical theory with its high level of theoretical refinement was better positioned to fend off the temptations of reducing Marx’s theory to a caricature of itself. Postone singles out Pollock as having played a key role in preventing the other critical theorists from moving beyond the traditional understanding of Marx’s theory. Because Pollock’s analysis suffers from both the above-mentioned flaws of traditional Marxism – criticizing capitalism from the point of view of labor, and especially concentrating on the distribution side of the economic equation while ignoring the production side altogether – the Frankfurt School’s adoption of his analysis had a profound effect on its further development, partly explaining its pessimism. Postone points out that contrary to his intentions, Pollock’s line of reasoning indicated that the very basic categories of economics, such as market and private property, must be reconsidered. Yet despite the thrust of his analysis, Pollock remained tied to these very categories shared by both the traditional economic theory and the traditional Marxism. Though Pollock’s analysis of state capitalism showed that a planned economy is not necessarily emancipatory, his critique thereof remains inadequate: ‘‘Pollock’s break with the traditional theory does not really overcome its basic assumptions regarding the nature of labor in capitalism’’ (Postone, 1993, p. 103). As a result, critical theory loses as it refers the possibility of qualitative transformation: the contradictions of capitalism remain in state capitalism, but they are too shackled to engender any kind of revolutionary change. Postone concludes that The frequently described shift of Critical Theory from the analysis of political economy to a critique of instrumental reason does not y signify that the theorists of the Frankfurt School simply abandoned the former in favor of the latter. Rather, that shift followed from, and was based upon, a particular analysis of political economy, more specifically, a traditional understanding of Marx’s critique of political economy. Pollock’s and


THE VITALITY OF CRITICAL THEORY Horkheimer’s analysis of the social totality as both non-contradictory – that is, onedimensional – and antagonistic and repressive implies that history has come to a standstill y [I]t indicates, instead, the limits of any critical theory resting on the notion of ‘‘labor.’’ The critical pessimism, so strongly expressed in Dialectic of Enlightenment y cannot be understood only with reference to its historical context. It also must be seen as expressing awareness of the limits of traditional Marxism in the absence of a fundamental reconstitution of the dialectical critique of what, despite significant transformations, remains a dialectical social totality. (Postone, 1993, pp. 119–120)

CONCLUSION It is one of the many ironies of the process of theoretical production that flawed foundations can lead to profound insights with far-reaching implications. In the case of the early Frankfurt School, the choice in favor of Pollock’s ‘‘uncritical theory’’ of state capitalism precluded the possibility to consider an array of observations and questions relating to the nature and logic of capitalism in the twentieth century. The Institute of Social Research might have provided an excellent context for contrasting implications to be derived from Pollock’s state capitalism and Neumann’s authoritarian capitalism (in the sense of ‘‘totalitarian monopoly capitalism’’), provoking a highly productive debate about the specific nature of postliberal capitalism in relation to its cultural manifestations. Yet on the other hand, it appears that precisely because they favored Pollock’s highly problematic analysis, the Frankfurt School critical theorists were in the position to formulate one of the most powerful theories of the nature of the effects of the twentiethcentury mode of capitalist production on all aspects of social life: the critique of instrumental reason. At this historical juncture, however, as advanced capitalism is undergoing yet another major transformation with unforeseeable social, political, and cultural consequences, critical theorists once again must turn their attention to the challenge of developing a sophisticated critique of political economy. The lack of theoretical sophistication characteristic of many attempts to examine processes of globalization, the rise of network-based, decentralized transnational corporations, and the dissipating autonomy of the administrative nation state in all advanced societies are causes for great concern. There can be no doubt that Pollock’s concept of state capitalism in the narrow sense was proven wrong by subsequent developments and the evolution of capitalism in the West. Yet today, in the face of increasing international competition, individual nation states have no choice but to ally themselves ever more closely with the economic interests of national and

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transnational corporations, in order to survive. In the end, critical theorists may be well advised to take a closer look at Neumann’s analysis of authoritarian capitalism, even though his framework was geared toward analyzing National Socialism.26 Clearly, the flaws of traditional Marxism identified by Postone are far less manifest in Neumann’s thinking and work than in Pollock’s. Neumann did, after all, analyze capitalism from both the distribution and the production side. His reformist perspective on the critique of political economy was also more complex than the critique of capitalism ‘‘from the point of view of labor’’ would have allowed for. In this sense, too, Neumann was more of a Weberian Marxist than Pollock. Since Neumann insisted that critical theorists must confront the nature of the relationship between the economy and the state as an empirical question, instead of precluding its scrupulous examination on the basis of theoretical prejudice, his perspective may be of great value for the development of a critical theory of the inner logic of social value spheres.

NOTES 1. For general introductions and overviews, see Jay (1973) and Dubiel ([1978] 1985). The most comprehensive study of the Frankfurt School is Wiggershaus ([1986] 1994). 2. For a systematic discussion of this aspect of the Frankfurt School, see Postone (1993, pp. 84–120). 3. See Lo¨wy (1996); also Dahms (1997), which describes the thrust of Weberian Marxism ‘‘as a critique of capitalism that employed elements of both Marxist and non-Marxist social theories y to facilitate the most sophisticated, critical understanding of the nature of capitalist society in the early twentieth century. Weberian Marxism in this sense emerged as a combination of three related theoretical and practical projects: first, to identify reification as the defining feature of advanced capitalist society within the context of large-scale social, economic, political, and cultural transformations; second, to expound the nature of reification as the dominant principle of processes ‘mediating social, economic, political, and cultural production, reproduction, and exchange; and third, to formulate a strategy for proletarian practice geared toward overcoming the reifying capitalist order’’ (p. 183). 4. Luka´cs ([1923] 1971); Korsch ([1923] 1970). On the beginnings of Western Marxism, see Agger (1979); Anderson (1976). 5. As Marx had written, ‘‘all forms of society there is one specific kind of production which predominates over the rest, whose relations thus assign rank and influence to the others. It is a general illumination which bathes all the other colours and modifies their particularity. It is a particular ether which determines the specific gravity of every being which has materialized within it. y Agriculture more and more becomes merely a branch of industry, and is entirely dominated by capital. Ground rent likewise. y Capital is the all-dominating economic power of bourgeois



society. y It would therefore be unfeasible and wrong to let the economic categories follow one another in the same sequence as that in which they were historically decisive. Their sequence is determined, rather, by their relation to one another in bourgeois society, which is precisely the opposite of that which seems to be their natural order or which corresponds to historical development. The point is not the historic position of the economic relations in the succession of different forms of society. y Rather, their order within modern bourgeois society’’ Marx ([1857–58] 1973, pp. 106–107). 6. Baran and Sweezy wrote that the ‘‘first to [incorporate monopoly into the body of Marxian economic theory] was y Rudolf Hilferding y But for all his emphasis on monopoly, [he] did not treat it as a qualitatively new element in the capitalist economy; rather, he saw it as effecting essentially quantitative modifications of the basic Marxian laws of capitalism Baran and Sweezy (1966, p. 5). 7. On some similarities between Hilferding’s and Weber’s analyses, see Jacoby (1973, pp. 79–80, 82). 8. For perhaps the best example for such a linking of forms of theorizing to prevailing forms of organization at different stages of social development, see Schumpeter’s early theory of the entrepreneur, and his later thesis of entrepreneurial decline: Schumpeter (1912), ([1926] 1934), (1942). For an initial systematic examination of this shift from Schumpeter’s ‘‘positive’’ theory of entrepreneur to its ‘‘negative’’ reformulation, see Dahms (1995, pp. 1–13). 9. It has been stated repeatedly that Hilferding’s Finance Capital ([1910] 1981) is of greater descriptive value for Germany and Austria in the early twentieth century than perhaps for any other advanced capitalist society. Accordingly, the organizational scales reached in Germany were considered ‘‘normal.’’ Yet when Marx had written his main works from the second half of the 1840s to the 1860s, the managerial revolution had not occurred anywhere. England, the most developed industrialcapitalist society of the time, was very much organized on the basis of individual ownership. Germany had barely entered industrialization. Accordingly, whether it was because of their primary experience of the organizational levels of capitalist enterprise on the continent, or as a result of the influence of Weber’s studies describing and reflecting these developments in theoretical terms, both Hilferding and Luka´cs effectively theorized capitalism at the brink to corporate capitalism. Along these lines, Luka´cs’s critique of the effects of the prevailing capitalist mode of production on politics, culture, and society in terms of reification as second-order commodity fetishism was already a critique of political economy at a later stage than Marx’s writings had theorized. 10. An excellent case in point is Weber’s influence on Schumpeter, which is barely acknowledged in the latter’s writings; see Schumpeter ([1920] 1991, 1954, especially pp. 814–819). 11. In a footnote, Luka´cs singled out chapters VIII and IX of that work as examples for such a perspective (p. 26). 12. In the German original of Weber’s Economy and Society ([1922] 1972), the term Eigengesetzlichkeit, as one of the basic concepts of his theory of rationalization, is applied above all to the market process and the development of law, but it also includes forms that are not economic in nature, such as artistic production. In the translated version (Weber, [1922] 1978), Eigengesetzlichkeit was not translated consistently, but as ‘‘independence’’ (p. 650), ‘‘their own laws’’ (p. 1309), and ‘‘own autonomous

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tendencies’’ (p. 636). The latter expression is instructive regarding the concept’s substance: ‘‘Where the market is allowed to follow its own autonomous tendencies, its participants do not look toward the persons of each other but only toward the commodity; there are no obligations of brotherliness or reverence, and none of those spontaneous human relations that are sustained by personal unions. They all would just obstruct the free development of the bare market relationship, and its specific interests serve, in their turn, to weaken the sentiments on which these obstructions rest.’’ 13. To be sure, Frankfurt School critical theory never was a unified body of thought: there are more or less profound differences between the orientations, interests, and specific contributions of all the members of the Institute of Social Research. However, in their self-understanding, they were engaged in the common project of developing a highly complex theory of advanced capitalism, a theory of the kind that only can be achieved in an explicitly interdisciplinary research environment with continuous exchange and critical debate. 14. The review appeared in Archiv fur die Geschichte des Sozialismus und der Arbeiterbewegung, also referred to as the ‘‘Gru¨nberg Archive,’’ named after the Director of the Institute of Social Research from 1924 to 1931. The Archive was the precursor of the Zeitschrift fu¨r Sozialforschung, the journal the Institute started to publish in 1931, under Horkheimer’s editorship. 15. ‘‘Horkheimer was the more talented and ambitious of the two, while Pollock was submissive, satisfied with his role as an administrator and economist. It was this which led to Horkheimer’s becoming director of the Institute instead of Pollock, although Pollock was Gru¨nberg’s deputy y and had been a member of the Institute’s staff from the start. Pollock’s publications and administrative abilities, which were anything but inspiring, meant that there were no protests against this development, or at least none worth mentioning. By the beginning of the 1930s Pollock was thus firmly established in his role as an administrative director and financial officer of the Institute, and as chairman of the Society for Social Research.’’ 16. His third book, on automation (1956), appeared as a publication of the rebuilt Institute (in German), and was published in English translation the following year (Pollock [1956] 1957). 17. Chronologically, they include four articles in German in Institute publications (Pollock, 1927, 1932a, 1932b, 1933), and two articles in English, in the last issue of the Institute’s journal (Pollock 1941a, 1941b). 18. Pollock (1941a, p. 201) wrote, ‘‘We define ‘state capitalism’ in its two most typical varieties, its totalitarian and its democratic form, as a social order differing on the following points from ‘private capitalism’ from which it stems historically: (1) The market is deposed from its controlling function to coordinate production and distribution. This function has been taken over by a system of direct controls. Freedom of trade, enterprise, and labor are subject to governmental interference to such a degree that they are practically abolished. With the autonomous market the so-called economic laws disappear. (2) These controls are vested in the state which uses a combination of old and new devices, including a pseudo-market, for regulating and expanding production and coordinating it with consumption. Full employment of all resources is claimed as the main achievement in die economic field. The state transgresses all the limits drawn for peacetime state activities.


THE VITALITY OF CRITICAL THEORY (3) Under a totalitarian form of state capitalism the state is the power instrument of a new ruling group, which has resulted from the merger of the most powerful vested interests, the top ranking personnel in industrial and business management, the higher strata of the state bureaucracy (including the military) and the leading figures of the victorious party’s bureaucracy. Everybody who does not belong to this group is a mere object of domination.’’

19. See Dahms (2000) for a collection of contributions by twentieth-century political economists and economic sociologists that exemplify this kind of analysis. 20. For his critique of ‘‘state capitalism, see pp. 221–234. 21. In a letter to Horkheimer, Adorno expressed his reaction to Pollock’s article, as follows: ‘‘I can best sum up my views on this article by saying that it represents a reversal of Kafka. Kafka represented the bureaucratic hierarchy as a hell. In this article, hell is transformed into a bureaucratic hierarchy. In addition, it is all formulated so axiomatically and condescendingly y that it lacks all urgency, quite a` part from the undialectical assumption that a non-antagonistic economy might be possible in an antagonistic society.’’ (Wiggershaus [1986] 1994, p. 282) 22. Referring to the type of critique characteristic of the early critical theorists, Albrecht Wellmer ([1969] 1971, p. 135) characterized their central motif and basic theoretical reference frame as follows: ‘‘Critical social theory lives by the anticipation of a ‘total social subject’; only on the basis of this anticipation is it able to conceive the apparent forms of a social disorder or ‘unnatural essence’ of society; the validity of its findings is bound up with the efficacy of a liberating interest in cognition-in knowing.’’ 23. See the section on ‘‘Franz Neumann and Otto Kirchheimer: unexploited opportunities for intensive interdisciplinary research,’’ Wiggershaus ([1986] 1994, pp. 223–236). 24. Incidentally, the book was dedicated to Friedrich Pollock. 25. Horkheimer and Adorno completed the manuscript of Dialectic of Enlightenment in Spring 1944, during what may have been the darkest period of the twentieth century. As Ju¨rgen Habermas ([1985] 1987, p. 106) wrote, ‘‘In their blackest book, Dialectic of Enlightenment, Horkheimer and Adorno y conceptualize[d] the Enlightenment’s process of self-destruction. On their analysis, it is no longer possible to place hope in the liberating force of enlightenment. Inspired by [Walter] Benjamin’s now ironic hope of the hopeless, they still did not want to relinquish the now paradoxical labor of conceptualization.’’ On the Frankfurt School’s pessimism, see also Postone (1993, pp. 84–120); Postone and Brick (1982, pp. 617–658). 26. Surprisingly, in Postone (1993), Neumann is not mentioned, nor are any of this works cited.

CHAPTER 2 THEORY IN WEBERIAN MARXISM: PATTERNS OF CRITICAL SOCIAL THEORY IN LUKA´CS AND HABERMAS$ ABSTRACT For Weberian Marxists, the social theories of Max Weber and Karl Marx are complementary contributions to the analysis of modern capitalist society. Combining Weber’s theory of rationalization with Marx’s critique of commodity fetishism to develop his own critique of reification, Georg Luka´cs contended that the combination of Marx’s and Weber’s social theories is essential to envisioning socially transformative modes of praxis in advanced capitalist society. By comparing Luka´cs’s theory of reification with Habermas’s theory of communicative action as two theories in the tradition of Weberian Marxism, I show how the prevailing mode of ‘‘doing theory’’ has shifted from Marx’s critique of economic determinism to Weber’s idea of the inner logic of social value spheres. Today, Weberian Marxism can make an important contribution to theoretical sociology by reconstituting itself as a framework for critically examining prevailing societal definitions of the rationalization imperatives specific to purposive-rational social value spheres (the economy, the administrative state, etc.). In a second step, Weberian Marxists would explore how these value spheres relate to each other and to value spheres that are open to the type of communicative rationalization characteristic of the lifeworld level of social organization.


I presented early versions of this chapter at the workshop, ‘‘Retooling Social Theory: Theorizing Late Capitalism and Postmodernism,’’ Florida State University, Tallahassee, April 1995; and at the 91st Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association in New York City, August 1996, in the regular session on critical theory.




INTRODUCTION Since the early 1920s, the function of theory in Western Marxism has undergone a major transformation.1 So far manifesting itself as an increased willingness and ability in modernist critical social theories to confront societal complexity, this change points toward a qualitatively different way of relating diverse social-theoretical projects to each other. Western Marxism is uniquely positioned to furnish a mechanism to bridge the rifts between various theoretical positions and camps, as between modernists and postmodernists, constructivists and deconstructionists, and across many other divides within social theory. By reducing the proliferation of intended and unintended misunderstandings that characterize the field of social theory across many divides, this qualitative change also promises to enhance our understanding of the social world.2 To identify the nature of this change within a context both specific enough to facilitate a pointed diagnosis and sufficiently general to allow for meaningful conclusions, I will limit my discussion to Weberian Marxism (see Lo¨wy, 1996). During the twentieth century, Marx’s theory and Marxism fulfilled a variety of functions and needs, in many instances serving purposes not directly related to scientific endeavors. Marx designed his theory to systematically and critically examine the relationship between the ‘‘laws of motion’’ of nineteenth-century political economy and the necessary conditions for actualizing the avowed principles of bourgeois society (such as individual self-realization, collectively political decision-making, world peace, and so on). During Marx’s lifetime, however, this theoretical core had already faded behind seemingly more concrete and practically relevant dimensions of his critique of political economy – his theories of revolution, class struggle and exploitation, surplus value, and other aspects of the capitalist mode of production and bourgeois society. Depending on their theoretical and practical purposes, both proponents and opponents reduced Marx’s theory to distinct components of his work; as a result, awareness of his overarching systematic interest decreased.3 While claims that Marxian theories have outlived their social, political, and historic relevance are often presented in an unqualified manner, the picture becomes more complicated when we differentiate between particular versions of Marxian theory and specific problems they were (and are) designed to elucidate. Among the various social-theoretical traditions within Marxism, Western Marxism is one of the more widely recognized research programs, for reasons that are not all that surprising. The historical experience sparking Western Marxism was the realization, painful to many,

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that the first socialist revolution did not occur in the economically and politically advanced West, but in underdeveloped Russia. Also, to enhance the analysis of modern society, Western Marxists from Georg Luka´cs, via the critical theorists of the Frankfurt School, to Ju¨rgen Habermas have been willing to confront and integrate non-Marxist contributions to social theory into their frameworks. Finally, Western Marxists are willing to advocate and promote their critical analyses of the nature and logic of societal development in capitalism in scholarly debate. As Habermas put it, Western Marxists like Luka´cs, Ernst Bloch, and Antonio Gramsci re-Hegelianized Marxist thinking, ‘‘by leading it from political economy back to philosophical reflection y [making] their way through human and social-scientific disciplines before the seed of speculative thought grows in the bed of social theory’’ ([1988] 1992, p. 5). These characterizations are especially pertinent with respect to Weberian Marxism. To identify its theoretical core, I will differentiate Western Marxism as a social-scientific reference frame and as a program for radical societal transformation, concentrating on the ‘‘inner logic’’ of specific theoretical and practical challenges.4 To limit the scope of this inquiry, I contrast the work of one of the earliest theorists in the tradition of Weberian Marxism, Georg Luka´cs, with that of Ju¨rgen Habermas as one of its latest, though not entirely unambivalent, representatives. My appraisal of the transformation that has occurred in this tradition centers around three themes: (1) how to combine Marx’s critique of political economy and Weber’s theory of rationalization for purposes of developing a systematic concept of ‘‘reification’’; (2) how to frame the problem of overcoming reification; and (3) how to mediate theory and practice toward overcoming reification in society.5 Luka´cs did not establish Weberian Marxism single-handedly, and Habermas may not be its most authentic representative today. Yet, for purposes of the argument, the comparison of Luka´cs’s and Habermas’s approaches to the problem of overcoming reification illustrates most distinctly the transformation of the function of theory in Western Marxism. What many perceive as the current predicament of this tradition may be of minor consequence when compared with the lessons we can learn by examining how contemporary Weberian Marxist theory is different from its earliest incarnation about how to ‘‘do theory’’ and how to relate different theoretical projects in sociology to each other. By releasing the process of theoretical production from political objectives and practical imperatives, while retaining its historical and normative presuppositions without abandoning the link to practical issues altogether, Weberian Marxism



inadvertently may have opened the door to recognizing how social theory is not only an activity about the social but also a highly social activity in its own right.

WEBERIAN MARXISM: TOWARD A CRITICAL THEORY OF ADVANCED CAPITALISM Georg Luka´cs is commonly considered the founder of Weberian Marxism, and History and Class Consciousness ([1923] 1971; hereafter HCC) its founding text. In this collection of essays, Luka´cs attempted to update Marx’s critique of bourgeois society to a later stage of social development. To achieve this objective, Luka´cs linked Marx’s critique of political economy with Weber’s theory of rationalization. As a result, he could reconstruct both the philosophical foundations of Marx’s early work (which emphasized the critical importance of the analytical category of alienation) and his later critique of commodity fetishism as a social process as a theory of reification. As he viewed the emerging social sciences as reflections of the reified nature of bourgeois society – and when Marxist theory took an increasingly materialist turn, neglecting its philosophical underpinnings – Luka´cs’s goal was to present a critique of capitalism that yielded a new mediation of theory and practice specifically designed to apply to the economically most advanced societies of the early twentieth century. It is important to note, however, that Luka´cs’s inception of Weberian Marxism did not emerge from an immanent critique of theories of political economy, or from a direct and thorough examination of the capitalist process under conditions of corporate, bureaucratic capitalism. Instead, by combining Marx and Weber, he indirectly reflected the effects of the new mode and organization of capitalist production on society in terms of reification. Weberian Marxism thus emerged as a critique of capitalism that employed elements of both Marxist and non-Marxist social theories. Luka´cs integrated conceptual and theoretical components from Hegel, Marx, Weber, and Georg Simmel to facilitate the most sophisticated, critical understanding of the nature of capitalist society in the early twentieth century. Weberian Marxism in this sense emerged as a combination of three related theoretical and practical projects: first, to identify reification as the defining feature of advanced capitalist society within the context of large-scale social, economic, political, and cultural transformations; second, to expound the nature of reification as the dominant principle of processes ‘‘mediating’’

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social, economic, political, and cultural production, reproduction, and exchange; and third, to formulate a strategy for proletarian practice geared toward overcoming the reifying capitalist order. In the collection’s most well-known essay, ‘‘Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat’’ (HCC, pp. 83–222), Luka´cs identified as the primary problem in modern capitalism the manner in which the capitalist mode of production ‘‘reifies’’ every individual and all aspects of social, political, and cultural life. Reification, as the German Verdinglichung is usually translated, is the process that coerces and conditions individuals to see and treat each other, and the social and natural environment, as ‘‘things’’ to be used for their personal purposes, to treat human beings and social relations in a reified and reifying manner. Human and social relations, qualities, capabilities, capacities, and modes of action are assimilated to the logic of capital accumulation and to the relations between things produced by human beings. In turn, these ‘‘things’’ and the spheres of their production, distribution, and exchange are regarded and experienced by individuals as independent and objective forces that control their lives. In this context, Luka´cs defined as the foremost challenge for the renewal of Marxism the need to provide the proletarian class with a theory about how to engage the successful, lasting proletarian revolution. Without such a theory, setting the stage for tackling and ultimately for overcoming the omnipresent reifying effects of the capitalist economy that permeate all aspects of society would not be possible. As long as this reifying capitalist process is in motion, attempts to reform or reconstruct society along socialist lines, and to create the conditions for the emergence of a society qualitatively superior to capitalism, will be futile. Accordingly, Luka´cs’s criterion for ‘‘success’’ was not just the occurrence of the revolution, but also the practical establishment of a lasting socialist order. While the most famous work in HCC is Luka´cs’s critical theory of reification, the collection also contains elements of a theory of revolution and party organization intended to identify the mechanisms that will enable the party to arrive at the most appropriate practical political strategy. To supplement his critique of reification, Luka´cs developed this Marxist political theory for mediating theory and practice in the essays, ‘‘Class Consciousness’’ and ‘‘Toward a Methodology of Organization’’ (HCC, pp. 46–82, 295–342). Arguing against the dominant, increasingly materialist Marxist doctrine of the time, Luka´cs strove to avoid the pitfalls of dogmatic Marxism and its tendency to become insensitive to changing conditions for action. While Luka´cs formulated his critical theory of reification and his contributions to a Marxist political theory almost simultaneously, they



were linked only indirectly. The theory of reification identifies the problem to overcome in order to set the stage for constructing a truly human society. The theory of revolutionary party organization identifies the mechanism that ‘‘guarantees’’ that the ‘‘best,’’ most powerful theory informs the party leadership to prepare the possibility of such a society. The reification that results from the prevalence of the capitalist mode of production and limits society’s ability to reorganize itself along more human lines is to be overcome by means of a theoretically informed political practice. My criterion for determining whether or not a theorist works in the tradition of Weberian Marxism is whether she or he pursues the three objectives that characterized Weberian Marxism in Luka´cs: combining Marx and Weber, grasping reification, and thematizing the problem of mediating theory and practice in terms of the objective of overcoming reification. These objectives also were formative for the thrust of the critical theory of the Frankfurt School as represented above all by Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, and Herbert Marcuse, and their reformulation of the critique of reification as a critique of instrumental reason (see Feenberg, 1981). These objectives inspired the general direction of Habermas’s version of critical theory as well, and his construction of The Theory of Communicative Action ([1981] 1984, [1981] 1987; hereafter TCA I and TCA II) as a critique of functionalist reason. As he put it, his intentions and fundamental convictions were given their stamp by Western Marxism in the mid-fifties, through a coming to terms with Luka´cs, Korsch and Bloch, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, and of course with Horkheimer, Adorno and Marcuse. Everything else which I have made my own has only acquired its significance in connection with the project of a renewal of the theory of society grounded in this tradition. (Habermas, 1986, pp. 151–152)6

Habermas continues to place his effort in the tradition of Western Marxism; however, he does so within the context of more general theoretical and philosophical concerns. Still, although Habermas ‘‘now rejects’’ historical materialism (including Weberian Marxism and its aporias) ‘‘as a means,’’ as Tom Rockmore put it, ‘‘he continues to accept it as an end, more precisely as a goal of his own rival view’’ (1989, p. 169).7

HABERMAS ON LUKA´CS Ju¨rgen Habermas is currently the most widely read social theorist who draws explicitly on the work of Luka´cs. In his discussions of Luka´cs,

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Habermas is interested in how to reconstruct the theory of reification for purposes of a critical theory of late-twentieth-century society, in the nature of the Western Marxist problem of mediating theory and practice, and in how to reconcile different theoretical approaches for purposes of enhancing our understanding of a social phenomenon or problem. Contrary to Luka´cs, who justified the standards of his critique of capitalist society with the imminence of the proletarian revolution, Habermas’s main work, The Theory of Communicative Action, constitutes ‘‘the beginning of a social theory concerned to validate its own critical standards’’ (TCA I, p. xxxix), independent of specific political considerations, viewpoints, and agendas. As a work addressed to those ‘‘who have a professional interest in the foundations of social theory’’ (TCA I, p. xlii), its primary purpose is to further the theoretical development of sociology as a systematic social science, not to address directly the mediation of theory and practice. At the same time, Habermas’s project remains a critical theory with explicitly practical intent. When asked for his most important intellectual and theoretical influences, in interviews conducted during the 1980s, Habermas (1986) regularly mentioned Georg Luka´cs: ‘‘Around [1953], I read Luka´cs’s [HCC], which excited me a great deal’’ (p. 77); ‘‘I read Luka´cs very early in the course of my studies, although that wasn’t yet a standard thing at the time’’ (p. 95); ‘‘Luka´cs’s [HCC] y made a strong impression on me’’ (p. 150). Luka´cs became relevant for Habermas before his encounter with Horkheimer and Adorno’s critical theory, the tradition that became decisive for his theoretical development: ‘‘I found [HCC] a marvelous book. But it was like a historical document for me – I felt, what a pity one can’t take it up systematically’’ (p. 192). Compared to the impact that Horkheimer and Adorno had on Habermas’ s work, Luka´cs’ s influence was of a more precursory nature. During the early 1950s, when Habermas began to sense that the young Hegelians and the young Marx could be taken up in such a way that a systematic argument could be developed from it y I realized with a certain sadness that it wouldn’t work with Luka´cs. And then y in 1955 I read Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment. What fascinated me right away with those two was that they weren’t engaged in a reception of Marx y they were utilizing him. It was a great experience for me to see that one could relate systematically to the ‘‘Marxist tradition.’’ y [T]hey were working out a theory of the dialectical development of present-day society, and in doing so they were proceeding from a tradition of Marxist thought. That was a tremendous thing for me. Of course I had been prepared for it on the basis of my reading of Luka´cs. At that point philosophical and political things began to come together for the first time. (Habermas, 1986, p. 77)8



While Adorno and Horkheimer were reluctant to concede much weight to ‘‘bourgeois’’ (or mainstream) social science and theory, Habermas demonstrated from early on that he was not a mere extension of the first generation of the critical theorists, but much more open to the traditional mainstream contributions of the social sciences to the theoretical understanding of contemporary society.9 His TCA represents the most developed contemporary social theory that maintains diplomatic relations with Western Marxism, purports to advance its theoretical development, and systematically incorporates at least one element of Luka´cs’s work. However, Habermas is not concerned whether his reading of Luka´cs’s theory is in accordance with, or even recognizes, Luka´cs’s own theoretical intentions. In an interview, Habermas described his approach to using other theorists’ works as follows: ‘‘I think I make foreign tongues my own in a rather brutal manner, from a hermeneutic point of view. Even when I quote a good deal and take over other terminologies I am clearly aware that my use of them often has little to do with the authors’ original meaning’’ (Habermas, 1986, p. 129). How did Habermas make Luka´cs’s tongue his own? Did he do so in a ‘‘brutal manner’’? Can we draw conclusions from Habermas’s critical appropriation of Luka´cs about differences in the logic of theory construction in general, and of critical theory in particular? From the 1950s to the late 1970s Habermas discussed Luka´cs twice, on issues concerning the organization of the proletarian revolution and the theory of communist practice (Habermas, 1957, [1971] 1973). In both instances, his discussion took the form of a ‘‘vehement rejection’’ of Luka´cs’s HCC (Heller, 1982, p. 22). Yet when Habermas published TCA, his tone toward Luka´cs had changed. In the context of his discussion of ‘‘rationalization as reification’’ at the end of the work’s first volume, Habermas remained critical toward Luka´cs, but the firm stance he had taken against him in 1957 and 1971 now turned into a more constructive approach. Habermas’s two earlier discussions of Luka´cs were critiques of two essays in HCC, ‘‘Class Consciousness’’ and ‘‘Towards a Methodology of the Problem of Organization’’ (HCC, pp. 46–82, 295–342). In TCA, Habermas concentrated on the collection’s most well-known essay, ‘‘Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat’’ (pp. 83–222). After his discussion of Luka´cs in TCA, Habermas returned to the pattern most characteristic of his treatment of Luka´cs, alluding to him as the representative of certain ideas, concepts, and claims, and a certain type of doing theory related to his theories of reification, organization, and revolution.10 Habermas thus explicitly discussed Luka´cs three times in his work, focusing on three essays in HCC.11

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In elaborating these issues, I will first sketch Habermas’s early discussions of Luka´cs’s theories of revolution and organization, and then turn to his later appropriation of Luka´cs’s theory of reification, in each case with an emphasis on how Habermas sees the relationship among philosophy, social theory, social science, and practice.

On the Philosophical Discussion of Marx and Marxism (1957) Habermas first discussed Luka´cs in the context of his ‘‘Report on the Literature Concerning the Philosophical Discussion of Marx and Marxism’’ (1957, pp. 387–463), in a section on the relationship between ‘‘materialist dialectic’’ and the social sciences (pp. 443–445).12 The problem with the nondialectical social sciences is that they fail when confronted with the historicity of their subject matter: they are not able to grasp a societal situation in terms of its developmental tendencies toward what it objectively might become. ‘‘The sciences do not have a ‘concept’ [Begriff] of the situation that can be gained from its own contradictions’’ through systematic negation. As a result they lack the necessary measure for critical analysis that would unlock the historical dimension of social reality, in the sense of a ‘‘practical theory.’’ To be sure, the latter depends on the social sciences as the provider of empirical data to be gained by means of objectivating methods, whose results are employed in philosophy (or practical theory) as the material to be interpreted in terms of what is apprehended as the goal of society. Yet this goal, which is to be realized in practice, must be falsifiable: ‘‘The theory remains refutable. In fact, the hiatus between philosophy and [social] science guarantees the continuum of rationality, since rationality takes on a different shape depending on whether it expresses the rationalization of natural objects, or of human beings and their interchange with each other’’ (p. 443). As Rockmore (1989, p. 30) paraphrased Habermas, ‘‘the task of philosophy [is] to sublate the objectification of the nonobjectifiable in a whole in the Hegelian senses of the term ‘sublation.’’’ Turning to the Marxist claim that the ‘‘existing untruth of antagonistic society,’’ alienation, ought to be and indeed can be practically overcome by means of the proletarian revolution, Habermas distinguishes two ways of reading this claim. First, it is correct in terms of social-scientific standards when the objective conditions for the possibility of overcoming alienation can be determined by historical-sociological means. According to philosophical standards, secondly, the claim is true when objective and ‘‘subjective’’ conditions come together and enable the revolutionary movement, after



critical preparation, to practically overcome alienation as an effect of the reifying capitalist mode of production. On the other hand, whether the revolution is objectively impossible can be determined only according to the standards of social science. Central to Habermas’s discussion of Luka´cs’s essay, ‘‘Class Consciousness’’ (HCC, pp. 46–82), is the concept of the ‘‘objective possibility of the revolution.’’13 Habermas is concerned with whether the occurrence of the revolution can be decided beforehand, and whether for the determination of the conditions of ‘‘objective possibility’’ a separation of philosophical and social-scientific aspects is possible when, as in Luka´cs, the occurrence of the revolution as such is treated as if beyond doubt. Habermas concludes that as long as the notion of ‘‘dialectic’’ is synonymous with the knowledge about the course of history, as in the case of Luka´cs, there is no need for differentiating philosophy and social science. Since ‘‘Luka´cs’s category of objective possibility derives from the dialectic of [Hegelian] absolute consciousness, it implies the category of historical necessity.’’ Habermas concludes that A historical failure is at the same time an irreversible verdict against that which [the theory] asserted. A practice that does not occur, or which is even wrong, must not come about, except at the expense of the theory proven to be untrue. Consequently, Luka´cs himself recognized the Soviet practice as the only legitimate practice of the communists, since it was successful. He submitted to [this practice], and still renounced it, for the sake of being consequential in terms of his theory. The innermost intention of his theory only could be satisfied by his recantation of it. (1957, pp. 444–445)

On the Relationship of Theory, Practice, and Organization (1973) Habermas returned to Luka´cs’s work 14 years later, in the ‘‘Introduction to the New Edition’’ of Theory and Practice ([1971] 1973), which includes a section on the organizational implications of Marx’s work as it pertains to the problem of mediating theory and practice. Before directly adumbrating Luka´cs’s treatment of the role of the party organization in the revolutionary process, Habermas contends that in the Marxist tradition, the mediation of theory and practice must be clarified in terms of three functions, which are measured in terms of different criteria: the formation and extension of critical theorems, which can stand up to scientific discourse; the organization of processes of enlightenment, in which such theorems are applied and can be tested in a unique manner by the initiation of processes of reflexion carried on within certain groups toward which these processes have been directed; and the selection of appropriate strategies, the solution of tactical questions, and the conduct of the political struggle. ([1971] 1973, p. 32; italics added)

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These functions correspond to (1) true statements, (2) authentic insights, and (3) prudent decisions, respectively. Since, according to Marxist theory, these three functions had to be fulfilled by, and within, the party organization, their respective logics were conflated. In traditional Marxism, the function of theory was to enlighten its addressees about their actual position and objective interests in an antagonistic society, against the prevailing bourgeois-capitalist ideology. Only when the groups recognize ‘‘themselves in the interpretations offered, do the analytically proposed interpretations become actual consciousness, and does the objectively attributed situation of interests become the real interest of a group capable of action’’ (Habermas, [1971] 1973, p. 32). According to Marx, the emergence of class-consciousness would ensue from theoretically enlightened communists organizing the process of enlightenment in the context of oppressive working conditions. The theory legitimizes the enlightenment activity, and it can be corrected (if not refuted) when communication fails, that is, when the addressees do not recognize themselves in the theory; yet the theory cannot directly legitimize strategic actions that involve potentially serious risks for the actors. Decisions for the political struggle cannot at the outset be justified theoretically and then be carried out organizationally. The sole possible justification at this level is consensus, aimed at in practical discourse, among the participants, who, in the consciousness of their common interests and their knowledge of the circumstances, of the predictable consequences and secondary consequences, are the only ones who can know what risks they are willing to undergo, and with what expectations. There can be no theory which at the outset can assure a world-historical mission in return for the potential sacrifices. (Habermas, [1971] 1973, p. 33)

The members of the bourgeois parties and the ruling class are caught up in ideology, and thus incapable of clarifying practical questions in a rational manner. They act and react compulsively, without taking into consideration the broader implications and ramifications of their actions. By contrast, only a class that constitutes itself through a true self-critique in practical discourse can clarify to itself what it would mean to engage rationally in political action. According to Habermas, Marx should have presented this potential, and this potential only, as the unique promise of a solidaristic proletariat acting in unison. The three functions of developing a theory, organizing the addressees’ enlightenment, and selecting appropriate strategies must be fulfilled according to three clearly distinct principles. Those engaged in social-scientific work must be free to engage in theoretical discourses. Processes of enlightenment must be organized so that those who do the ‘‘enlightenment work’’ are totally



committed to ‘‘the proper precautions’’ and that they ‘‘assure scope for communications on the model of the therapeutic ‘discourses.’’’ Finally, ‘‘the political struggle can only be legitimately conducted under the precondition that all decisions of consequence will depend on the practical discourse of the participants – here too, and especially here, there is no privileged access to truth’’ (Habermas, [1971] 1973, p. 34). Georg Luka´cs, however, not only conflated these three functions, he went well beyond Marx. In his essay, ‘‘Toward a Methodology for the Problem of Organization’’ (HCC, pp. 295–342), he presented a theory of the Party that purported to resolve the problem of mediating theory and practice exclusively in terms of ‘‘the imperatives of the conduct of the political struggle.’’ As Luka´cs put it, ‘‘organization is the form of mediation between theory and practice’’ (HCC, p. 299). Habermas identifies three steps Luka´cs took in the process. First, theory is only to be truly criticized from the point of view of organizational praxis. Without such a practical mediation, ‘‘theory itself can only be criticized with regard to its own internal contradictions’’ (HCC, p. 301). To Luka´cs, the truth of a theory is intrinsically tied to organizational practice, and ‘‘any scope for scientific discourse within the Party is also prohibited’’ (Habermas, [1971] 1973, p. 35). ‘‘Pure theory’’ allows a plurality of diverse views and directions to exist peaceably side by side. Yet questions ‘‘present themselves in the sharpest manner which are mutually exclusive’’ (HCC, p. 301) when they are given an organizational orientation. Theoretical indecision and deviations must be sanctioned immediately (and uncompromisingly).14 Second, the enlightenment of the workers also must be subordinated to the purposes of the Party leadership. Since the workers under capitalism have been conditioned into a state of ‘‘false consciousness,’’ they must be guided into the struggle, and the Party must act as the representative of the masses, independent of their potential for spontaneity. Consequently, in Luka´cs’s third step, ‘‘the theory is withdrawn from confirmation by the agreement of those whom it is to aid in the attainment of self-reflection’’ (Habermas, [1971] 1973, p. 36). To Luka´cs, the correct theory for the Party’s organizational problem must embody the ‘‘highest objective form’’ of working class action, for which ‘‘correct theoretical insight,’’ a function of organizational imperatives, is the ‘‘absolute precondition.’’ Habermas concludes that Organizational questions are not primary things. Between them and an objective philosophy of history Luka´cs has established a direct relationship. Stalinist practice has

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furnished the fatal proof that a Party organization which proceeds instrumentally and a Marxism which has degenerated into a science of apologetics complement each other only too well. ([1971] 1973, p. 36)

To Habermas the Luka´csian conflation of theoretical and practical challenges in the Party organization constitutes one of the most troublesome features of early Weberian Marxism. He argues that a theory can only fulfill specific functions and tasks pertaining to the mediation of theory and practice if its development is allowed to follow the specific ‘‘logic’’ of the task at hand. Relatively speaking, theory is more liberated from ideological and political motives and purposes in Habermas’s version of Weberian Marxism than in Luka´cs’s.

The Theory of Communicative Action, and Rationalization as Reification (1981) Habermas’s final explicit discussion of Luka´cs’s work to date centers on the concept of reification. In the fourth part of TCA, Habermas identifies the influence of Weber on Luka´cs’s critique of reification and the early Frankfurt School’s critique of instrumental reason, in terms of ‘‘rationalization as reification’’ (TCA I, pp. 339–399). Habermas wants to grasp the tension between the ‘‘reifying’’ effects of economic imperatives characteristic of advanced capitalism on social, political, and cultural life, and the lifeworld’s potential for increasing openness to the communicative formation of norms and values that govern the way in which people interact, solve problems, and structure life in society. Weber’s theory of rationalization is a uniquely effective though one-sided means for comprehending the emergence of action systems; though Luka´cs’s critique of reification cannot begin to replace Weber’s theory, it highlights the problematic nature of the latter. In this part of TCA on the utility of ‘‘reification,’’ Habermas introduces Weber as the theorist of social value spheres: ‘‘In Weber’s view y the transition to modernity is characterized by a differentiation of spheres of value and structures of consciousness that makes possible a critical transformation of traditional knowledge in relation to specifically given validity claims’’ (TCA I, p. 340). This transition prepares the institutionalization of the differentiated systems of knowledge and learning processes that corresponds to these value spheres. This includes, first, the ‘‘establishment of a scientific enterprise’’ (empirical-scientific problems are no longer subjected to and confined by theological doctrines as well as moralpractical questions, but addressed according to internal truth standards);



second, ‘‘the institutionalization of an artistic enterprise’’ (artistic production is released from ‘‘cultic-ecclesiastical and courtly-patronal bonds,’’ and oriented toward a general audience and ‘‘mediated through professionalized aesthetic criticism’’); and third, ‘‘the professional intellectual treatment of questions of ethics, political theory, and jurisprudence in schools of law, in the legal system, and in the legal public sphere’’ (TCA I, p. 340). Weber was interested in the rationalization of formally organized action systems like the modern market economy, the administrative state, and the legal system, and in the analysis of purposive rationalization processes. Though Weber provided a differentiated picture of how modern society must be understood as a complex network of diverse, purposively rational social value spheres, he did not distinguish between qualitatively different types of rationalization. More specifically, he did not conceive of the rationalization of everyday practice and communication on the lifeworld level that results from the above-mentioned ‘‘institutionalized production of knowledge y specialized according to cognitive, normative, and aesthetic validity claims.’’ Since knowledge produced in this manner replaces traditional knowledge as the organizing principle of interaction, Habermas argues, ‘‘there is a rationalization of everyday practice that is accessible only from the perspective of action oriented to reaching understanding.’’ In such ‘‘a rationalized lifeworld the need for achieving understanding is met less and less by a reservoir of traditionally certified interpretations immune from criticism; at the level of a completely decentered understanding of the world, the need for consensus must be met more and more frequently by risky, because rationally motivated, agreement’’ ([1981] 1984, p. 340). In late-twentieth-century society, we can no longer presume any overarching theme, purpose, or challenge important enough to take precedence over all other concerns, patterns of solving problems, and institutional arrangements. In the absence of such an overarching principle, the seemingly irreducible simplicity of the capitalist economic system’s self-sustaining impulse, devoid of any quest for meaning and in concert with the economic growth-oriented administrative state, serves to unify the increasingly ‘‘fragmented world of the social’’ (Honneth, [1990] 1995). For this reason, we must differentiate between the respective inner logics of diverse value spheres and dimensions of social life. The category of the inner logic of social value spheres enables us to identify the patterning endemic to spheres that must minimize possibilities for raising issues relating to meaning – the economy, the administrative state (as opposed to the state as the product of a more or less democratic process), and bureaucracies on every level of social organization. In a second step, we can identify spheres whose ability to fulfill

Theory in Weberian Marxism


their function is contingent on the confrontation, and more or less tenuous resolution, of questions of meaning – political parties, universities, and the ‘‘public sphere’’ as thematized by Habermas ([1962] 1989). The economy is just one system that evolves according to imperatives that reduce opportunities to question how, on the societal level, the system should fulfill its function in a modern society. Yet the integrity and vitality of the lifeworld depends on the possibility to address such questions within the social realm. As the domain where the parameters of social life can be determined through a process of more or less successful and unconstrained communicative interaction, the lifeworld’s inner logic points toward the possibility to orient actions, decision-making processes, and forms of social organization toward a form of rationality that cannot be reduced to any one ‘‘inner logic.’’ By contrast, the inner logic of the economy points toward a minimalist form of rationality that narrows the socially accessible options for solving sociopolitical and cultural problems and resolving conflicts to the type of rationality characteristic of the capitalist economic process. For Luka´cs, the powerful economy forces the less powerful lifeworld to assimilate its capacity to resolve socially pressing problems on the basis of communicative interaction to the economy’s mode of ‘‘solving’’ problems: to reduce their complexity by defining them in a ‘‘manageable’’ manner, and then to proceed accordingly. Along the lines of Weber’s concept, Eigengesetzlichkeit applied not only to the economy but also, for instance, to the modern administrative state, which evolves according to a different inner logic.15 Habermas employs Parsons’s systems-theoretic approach to contend that economic rationality substitutes communication with the steering medium of money, while in the administrative state, the medium is power (e.g., TCA I, p. 342). The inner logics endemic to both economic and administrative decision-making processes ‘‘colonize’’ the inner logic of the lifeworld: a progressively rationalized lifeworld is both uncoupled from and made dependent upon increasingly complex, formally organized domains of action y . This dependency, resulting from the mediatization of the lifeworld by systems imperatives [in terms of money and power], assumes the socio-pathological form of an internal colonization when critical disequilibria in material reproduction y can be avoided only at the cost of disturbances in the symbolic reproduction of the lifeworld – that is, of ‘‘subjectively’’ experienced, identity-threatening crises or pathologies. (TCA II, p. 305)

Reification is not of primary importance in terms of constraining social relations in general, but in terms of its restrictive effects on the lifeworld’s capacity to communicatively problematize reifying effects and to tackle these effects and the origins of reification in society.



In this context, Habermas (TCA I, pp. 355–365) presents his fullest account of Luka´cs’s theoretical contribution to his own work and to social theory in general. His discussion of Luka´cs concentrates on the most important essay in HCC, ‘‘Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat’’; he is interested in the value of Luka´cs’s analysis for understanding the tension between the increasingly differentiated capitalist economy and the administrative state, and the deformation of the lifeworld and the communicative capacity embedded within it. While Luka´cs used the concept of reification to separate ‘‘Weber’s analysis of societal rationalization from its action-theoretic framework and relate it to anonymous processes of capital realization within the economic system’’ (TCA I, p. 354), Habermas employs it to generalize Luka´cs’s critique of anonymous processes of capital realization within the economic system to the rationalization of power in the economy and in the state, as a reification of communicative capacities. In elucidating this issue, Habermas touches upon the relationship between philosophy and theory. Luka´cs’s theory of reification rested on three propositions. First, the totality of the developmental stage of any society finds expression in a specific ‘‘form of objectivity’’ that corresponds to a specific ‘‘form of existence or thought’’ (Dilthey); second, society evolves through a process of continually transforming ‘‘forms of objectivity’’ shaping the existence of human beings; and third, the relationship between human beings, and between human beings and nature, embodies objectified reason – though not always in reasonable form (Hegel). In capitalist society, the prevailing form of objectivity is the commodity form, which ‘‘prejudices the world-relations, the ways in which speaking and acting subjects can relate to things in the objective, the social, and their own subjective worlds.’’ These worlds ‘‘are so lopsidedly coordinated that category mistakes are built into our understanding of interpersonal relationships and subjective experiences; we apprehend them under the form of things, as entities that belong to the objective world, although they are really elements of our common social world or of an individual subjective world’’ (TCA I, pp. 355–356). Once communicative patterns are exposed to such intrinsic misunderstandings, the lifeworld itself becomes reified, thus impeding modern society’s ability to address issues of meaning explicitly and directly. Habermas critically appropriates Luka´cs’s theory of reification in three moves. He first discusses the reifying effect of wage labor on the life of the laboring individual to show that the reification of individuals and social relations in the social labor process is the downside of the rationalization of action systems. He then sketches Luka´cs’s critique of Weber’s concept

Theory in Weberian Marxism


of ‘‘formal rationality’’ and his corresponding assertion that processes of rationalization derive from the specific type of purposive rationality characteristic of the value spheres’ specific functions in and for society. Luka´cs contended that Weber analyzed manifestations of reification independent from their origin in the economic process. Finally, Habermas shows how Luka´cs linked Weber’s concept of formal rationality with the commodity form to revive Hegel’s concept of totality in the context of the theory of knowledge. ‘‘In having recourse to this concept, Luka´cs implicitly denies Weber’s central assertion y that the metaphysically conceived unity of reason had fallen apart once and for all with the separation of cultural value spheres, each with its own inner logic; and that it couldn’t be put back together again’’ (TCA I, p. 357). Drawing on Marx’s analysis of commodity fetishism, Luka´cs’s achievement was to join Marx and Weber so that he could perceive the separation of the ‘‘sphere of social labor from lifeworld contexts simultaneously’’ under reification and rationalization (TCA I, p. 359). Accordingly, Luka´cs regarded Marx’s and Weber’s analyses as closely related and supplementary. Yet there is a decisive difference between Weber’s perspective on rationalization, and Luka´cs’s perspective on reification. To Weber, economic rationalization was merely an instance in the general process of rationalization; to Luka´cs, reification derived from economic rationalization based on exchange, with the commodity form as the corresponding form of objectivity. Consequently, Luka´cs traced all forms of Western rationalization to the reifying economic process. Finally, while Marx argued the imminence of the revolution in terms of his theory of crisis, Luka´cs argued that there are immanent limits to the process of rationalization.16 Anticipating the dialectical critique of positivism, and drawing on Schiller and Hegel, Luka´cs asserted that the Kantian critiques of reason themselves reflect the reified structures of consciousness in capitalism; they do not point beyond it. In Hegel, however, Luka´cs found the idea of a ‘‘totality of life-relations that ‘has inwardly overcome, or is in the process of overcoming, the divisions in theory and practice, reason and sense, form and matter; for which the tendency to give form to itself does not mean an abstract rationality that ignores concrete contents; and for which freedom and necessity come together’’’ (HCC: pp. 136–137; quoted in TCA I, p. 362). Luka´cs presupposed that both theoretical and practical reason can be united conceptually at the level of absolute spirit. By contrast, Weber had seen the paradoxical nature of societal rationalization in the less-thanrational evolution of formal rationality, as it ‘‘is linked with learning processes that exclude a grounded resumption of metaphysical worldviews



no less than they do a dialectical connection with objective reason’’ (TCA I, p. 362). According to Habermas, a return to these perspectives cannot be justified by means of rational argumentation. The concept of objective reason may be justifiable for analytical purposes, but the direct link to practice is not. Luka´cs’s attempt to ground a truly forceful theory of societal transformation might have been more successful had he employed the concept of the ‘‘objective possibility’’ of the proletarian revolution as an analytical category for assessing and strategizing concrete working class action. Luka´cs did not simply intend to restore Hegel’s philosophy, but to give Hegel’s speculative concept of reason a practical turn: Hegel’s attempt to philosophically unify the differentiated moments of reason failed to reach the level of practical action. Luka´cs insisted that only at that level could the critical substance of philosophical insight hold its force. He concurs with Weber’s assertion that objective reason cannot be reconstructed on the level of philosophical thinking, not even in theory. Yet he inverts Weber’s assertion by rejecting the notion that the impossibility of reconstructing a comprehensive understanding of the world implies the incompatibility of the differentiated moments of reason that are embodied in rationalized systems of action. In ‘‘theory,’’ according to Marx, the possibility of reconciliation put forth in the idea of reason remains an illusion. Yet a formal link between the differentiated moments of reason does exist, in terms of ‘‘the procedural unity of argumentative grounding’’: ‘‘What now presents itself merely as a formal connection in ‘theory’ – at the level of cultural interpretive systems – can possibly be reached in ‘practice’ – in the lifeworld. Under the watchword of ‘philosophy becoming practical,’ Marx appropriates the perspective of the Young-Hegelian ‘philosophy of the deed’’’ (TCA I, p. 364). Habermas locates Luka´cs’s most decisive error in his attempt to turn the ‘‘becoming practical’’ onto ‘‘a theoretical plane and [represent] it as a philosophical actualization of philosophy.’’ The theory that was repudiated for not being able to point the way toward reconciliation and reason is thus being reinstituted as the ultimate instance – for precisely that purpose. The burden of proof that results for the ‘‘theory’’ (in Habermas’s use), however, is simply too great. Now, ‘‘philosophy’’ (in Luka´cs’s terminology) must not only think ‘‘the totality that is hypostatized as the world order, but the worldhistorical process as well – the historical development of this totality through the self-conscious practice of those who are enlightened by philosophy about their active role in the self-realization of reason’’ (TCA II, p. 364). To allow for the realization of the unity of the differentiated moments of reason, Luka´cs supplements his theory of reification with a theory of

Theory in Weberian Marxism


class-consciousness. In the end, Luka´cs not only reduced the complex level of understanding modern society achieved by Weber by reverting back to Marx; his philosophical reconstruction of Marxism constituted, in more respects than one, a return to objective idealism.

Luka´cs Deconstructed and Reconstructed To the ‘‘early’’ Habermas the mediation of theory and practice toward ‘‘overcoming alienation’’ (and reification) might have been possible, though only on the basis of a clear distinction between philosophy in the sense of practical theory, and the social sciences based on the principle of empirical falsification; the productive tension between philosophy and social science on the basis of their respective inner logics prepared the possibility of a truly enlightening social theory. To the ‘‘middle’’ Habermas (of, say, the ‘‘New Introduction’’ to Theory and Practice), the mediation of theory and practice, which is no longer directly tied to the issue of overcoming reification, must be further differentiated: the functions of developing an accurate and empowering theory, of enlightening the addressees, and of formulating effective strategies must be distinguished and fulfilled in distinct institutional settings allowing the inner logic of solving the respective problems to take their course. The ‘‘mature’’ Habermas, finally, no longer struggles with or even contemplates the feasibility of projects directed toward a comprehensive mediation of theory and practice, intended to ‘‘overcome’’ the reifying effects of institutionalized systems of formal rationality, which he considers impossible. Habermas tells us that we must first develop a theory of contemporary society that is able to systematically consider the interrelations between different social value spheres and between different levels of societal integration. In his attempt to reconstruct historical materialism, Habermas had already written: ‘‘Among Hegelian Marxists like Luka´cs, Korsch, and Adorno, the concept of social totality excludes a model of levels. [Marx’s] superstructure theorem y posits a kind of concentric dependency of all social appearances on the economic structure, the latter being conceived dialectically as the essence that comes to existence in the observable appearances’’ ([1976] 1979, p. 143; italics added). His discussions of Luka´cs imply that a theory that is up to the challenge of analyzing twentieth-century society must be allowed to evolve according to the ‘‘inner logic’’ of the specific analytic challenge at hand. Any theory that claims to address issues pertaining to society as a whole must avoid monocausal



explanations of social change. In addition, it is imperative for the successful development of a theory of contemporary society that analytical challenges and practical considerations not be conflated. Before we can engage in attempts to mediate theory and practice toward any end, we must insure that each problem has been examined and pursued in terms of its inner logic. This is not to say that theoretical endeavors and practical objectives strictly must be kept apart, but that as long as we are not willing to detach the two tasks from each other (and further considerations and concerns), the likelihood of each individual challenge to be met effectively will be severely impaired. This differentiation does not preclude putting the pieces back together; instead, the latter is contingent on the former. In concrete terms of mediating theory and practice within the reference frame of Weberian Marxism, we must heed the following requisite: Marx’s critical analysis of capitalism must be counterbalanced by the realization, inspired by Weber, that the multitude of tasks to be fulfilled in a highly integrated society cannot be assimilated to imperatives that are incompatible with the inherent requirements of the specific tasks and necessary societal functions at hand. For instance, we must not assume from the outset that the imperatives of efficient economic decision-making can be assimilated directly to the imperatives of democratic decision-making, without a significant loss in economic efficiency, especially if we consider the nature of so-called democratic decision-making in bureaucratized mass society. The ‘‘social subsystem’’ of the administrative state, especially in its welfare state version, and the rationalization processes it engenders on the basis of a different inner logic, further complicates strategies geared toward overcoming reification. Though Habermas contends with Weber and Parsons that the economy and the administrative state evolve according to different inner logics, he cautions that the precise nature and extent of the difference in advanced capitalism is an empirical question. In order to establish how exactly the economy and the state relate in a particular society, which inner logic ‘‘weighs’’ more heavily regarding the manner of societal decision-making processes, and whether more or less far-reaching modifications are within the realm of practical (and viable) possibilities, we must engage in empirical social-scientific research: we cannot determine from the outset, and on the basis of theoretical categories, which of the two types of colonization is more consequential (economic or administrative), how exactly they relate, and how they might relate, under specific sociohistoric circumstances. For this reason, it is not possible to directly infer appropriate remedies to the economy’s colonization of the lifeworld and the reifying effects it exerts on the condition of communication in society. Habermas cautiously

Theory in Weberian Marxism


employs the related term ‘‘decolonization’’ to designate the direction that mediations of theory and practice leading to a socially and politically desirable result might take; in general terms, to be sure, the lifeworld must be decolonized in the sense that the reifying effects of the production and distribution process must be fully recognized, and their control over modern society’s communicative capacity reduced. To give the notion of ‘‘inner logic’’ further substance, I will next examine the theories of Luka´cs and Habermas by distinguishing their respective combinations of Marx and Weber, their proposed resolutions of the problem of mediating theory and practice, and their approaches to overcoming reification. Although Habermas’s discussions of Luka´cs focused on a small set of related issues, they necessitated the identification of the basic patterns of their respective renditions of Weberian Marxism. Since the differences between their versions are of primary concern here in terms of how they constructed their theories, I will examine the manner in which Luka´cs and Habermas developed and presented their arguments, how they linked contributions of earlier theorists, identified critical standards, and legitimated theoretically informed courses of action.

COMBINING MARX AND WEBER: CRITICAL SOCIAL THEORY IN LUKA´CS AND HABERMAS Despite the differences between Marx’s and Weber’s theories, Luka´cs saw a common core in their theoretical projects, and he saw their works as complementary: the analyses of the development of the modern economy as a rational and contradictory system of action characterized by an evolutionary dynamic all its own. Though both theorists provided divergent responses to the question of how to respond to the effects of the modern market economy on society, the importance of their respective contributions for the systematic analysis of the relationship of economy and society remains unmatched. How did Luka´cs and Habermas integrate Marx and Weber? In elucidating this question, I must warn that neither Luka´cs’s nor Habermas’s theoretical projects can be adequately understood exclusively in terms of Weberian Marxism. Though Luka´cs was the founder of Weberian Marxism, he returned to a more traditional form of Marxist theory soon after the publication of HCC. Habermas, in turn, cannot be considered as the proponent of any particular theoretical tradition, including one as broad as Western Marxism, or even critical social theory in the Frankfurt School tradition.



He harbors an ambivalent relationship to all his theoretical sources, and he resists reductions of complexity along the lines of any theoretical tradition preceding his own. The following portrayals of Luka´cs’s and Habermas’s modernist critical theories highlight features that are central to the project of Weberian Marxism and to the challenges the two theorists set out to resolve. The emphasis is not on comprehensive portrayals of Luka´cs’s and Habermas’s respective theories, but on what we can learn about how to do theory today, in a critical-theoretical mode, by identifying the defining features of two central Weberian Marxists.

Luka´cs’s Critique of Reification: A Beginning Luka´cs did not start out as a theorist. In his early writings, he was primarily concerned with the existentialist problem of the ‘‘tragic nature of human existence in modern society’’ – the ‘‘problematic human being’’ – and how it found expression in literature (especially Luka´cs, [1911] 1974). This problem constituted the vantage point for Luka´cs’s perspective on philosophical, theoretical, aesthetic, and political questions, and it played a central role in the writings of the ‘‘young Luka´cs’’ until the mid-1920s (Arato & Breines, 1979, pp. 33–49; Congdon, 1983; Kadarkay, 1991). This period in Luka´cs’s work includes his early Marxist writings. While the predicament of the modern individual was explicit in his earlier writings on art (Luka´cs, [1911] 1974, [1920] 1971, 1974, 1975), it became more submerged in his philosophical-political writings, as his ‘‘romantic anti-capitalism’’ became more manifest (Luka´cs, [1923] 1971, p. x; see also Lo¨wy, 1979, 1989; Feher, 1977). The shift in his interests from problems of artistic production and interpretation, via ethical questions, to the theoretical grounding of practical Communist politics, reflects his successive attempts to resolve the problem of the tragic existence and its place in society. When revisiting Luka´cs’s work, and in examining his role as a theorist, it is necessary to keep in mind that when he wrote HCC, social theories were not yet systematically differentiated. Philosophy, then as today, designated examinations of the nature of knowledge, truth, and meaning – including Marxist philosophy and its contention that philosophy’s concerns are always related to specific, sociohistorical contexts. Sociology was a discipline in formation whose overall orientation, specific research interests, and methodological apparatus were just beginning to take shape. Arato and

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Breines (1979, p. 113) place Luka´cs’s theory of reification in a threedimensional system of coordinates: Within HCC, only the reification chapter y represents a systematic attempt to formulate a dialectical social theory. Luka´cs leads up to this in three steps, producing a unique combination of sociology, philosophy of praxis, and social theory. The sociology attempts the synthesis of Weber’s theory of rationalization and the historical sections of Das Kapital, which Luka´cs transposes into a conceptual movement based on Marx’s fetishism of commodities. The philosophy of praxis y represents Luka´cs’s own reconstruction of the history of German classical philosophy, culminating in a Marxian reformulation of the concept of ‘‘identical-subject object’’ as the social subject of historical practice. The purpose of Luka´cs’s history of philosophy is to derive from the works of Kant, Fichte, and Hegel in particular a ‘‘philosophy of praxis’’ that could become the regulative principle of social theory and could begin to mediate the seemingly frozen immediacy yielded by sociology. As a result, social theory can begin with the results of the sociology, but under the mediation of the concepts of the philosophy of praxis.

Luka´cs was concerned with updating Marx’s theory at a later stage of capitalist social development when capitalist reification had permeated noneconomic realms of society, such as politics and culture, so deeply that Marx’s initial theory was no longer sufficient; it no longer spoke strongly and clearly enough to actors determined to establish a socialist society, partly because it had become dogma. On the basis of combining sociology, philosophy of practice, and social theory, Luka´cs conjectured that the ‘‘reified realm of objectivations’’ would turn into an ‘‘objective spirit’’ pointing toward conditions necessary for the ‘‘release of historical subjectivity.’’ Luka´cs expected the seemingly universalized reification emanating from the capitalist economy to prepare the emergence of a form of intellectual and theoretical understanding of sociohistorical conditions of human existence that had not been reached before in history, and that could not be reached as long as society was not objectified. In order for truly transformative collective action to be possible, social, political, and cultural dimensions of social life had to be homogenized to the point where fully reified social relations both enabled and forced individuals to recognize societal conditions for what they objectively are, and each other as equals. With the self-objectification that reification forced on capitalist society, the structural preconditions for truly human agency and radical societal transformations emerged for the first time. However, at the end of the day, Luka´cs subverted the opportunity to turn his ‘‘systematic attempt’’ into an authentically new theory of society, because he was not able ‘‘to undertake the self-critique required by his own understanding of the concepts of ‘category’ and ‘mediation’’’ (Arato & Breines, 1979, p. 113).



When Luka´cs wrote HCC, he relied most strongly on the writings of Hegel, Marx, and Weber (as well as, to a lesser degree, Lenin and Simmel). To provide some indication as to how Luka´cs’s ‘‘dialectical social theory’’ integrated elements of these different theories, I will briefly examine how he fused the different theories to grasp the nature of reification and the practical function of party organization. Since it will not be possible to do justice to the richness of Luka´cs’s argument here, I will concentrate on the three guiding themes identified at the beginning: combining Marx and Weber, mediating theory and practice, and overcoming reification. The Marxist tradition, as a systematic, critical continuation of Hegel’s dialectic idealism, relies on a concept of universal rationality that is decisive for the possibility of its radical critique of capitalism: the assumption that modern society has the unique potential to resolve its crucial problems in a manner that not only guarantees its survival but also makes it possible to strive toward achieving the greatest good for the largest number of men and women. Marxist theory cannot advance universal rationality as the vanishing point of its theory of societal transformation without a concept of totality (see Jay, 1984b). Although Marx implicitly relied upon Hegel’s concept of totality in the construction of his critique of political economy, it was Luka´cs who first argued that ‘‘totality’’ was essential to Marxist theory. Referring to the early critical theory, Albrecht Wellmer ([1969] 1971, p. 135) characterized this central motif as follows: ‘‘Critical social theory lives by the anticipation of a ‘total social subject’; only on the basis of this anticipation is it able to conceive the apparent forms of a social disorder or ‘unnatural essence’ of society; the validity of its findings is bound up with the efficacy of a liberating interest in cognition – in knowing.’’ While such a reference to a ‘‘total social subject’’ opens up an array of possible critiques based on identifiable propositions, normative standards, and practical intentions, it does not lead directly to one specific type of critique or one strategy of radically transforming society. To Luka´cs, however, critiquing capitalism from the point of view of totality leads directly to a strategy designed to overcome this type of society. Luka´cs was not concerned that Marx’s critique of capitalism was a ‘‘theory,’’ not a philosophy, especially not a philosophy of life (which is not to say that Marx’s theory does not contain elements from, and implications for, the latter). Accordingly, he did not consider the specific theoretical purpose of Marx’s critique – the attempt to identify the necessary theoretical and social conditions for stimulating forms of radical social change that will not revert to previous forms of social, political, and economic organization. Instead, Luka´cs read Marx’s critique as directly pointing toward strategies

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for radical social reconstruction. He did not consider the possibility that the validity of Marx’s standards, claims, and especially his predictions may have been part of a specific reference frame, and that Marx’s ideas had to be interpreted not just in terms of their application to practical endeavors at a specific stage of capitalist development, but also in terms of the more cautious tone he struck in his later writings. As he linked elements of the social theories of Marx and Weber, Luka´cs developed the theory of reification as a tool to criticize capitalist processes of rationalization and structures of domination. Although he designed this theory as an instrument for critically analyzing forms of power, with reification being the product of processes of rationalization in the economic sphere, he did not extend its application to other forms of power generating other forms of ‘‘reification.’’ In capitalism, the process of rationalization typical of the economic sphere must be assumed to be related to processes of rationalization in the political sphere, but Luka´cs neither explicitly addressed this issue nor did he specifically analyze the nature of politics in capitalism. Presumably, he considered bourgeois politics a direct extension of processes of economic rationalization and reification. By contrast, Luka´cs posited that socialist politics follows a pattern of power accumulation different from bourgeois politics; while bourgeois parties squabble and indulge in indecision, the Communist Party organization is uniquely positioned to determine effective strategies for radical societal transformation prepared by objective social conditions.17 His theory certainly must be understood in terms of attaining a ‘‘philosophically’’ superior understanding of historical necessity and the imperatives of political action, rather than in terms of propounding, as a precursor to Habermas, the importance of the category of the inner logic of different value spheres for Western Marxist theory. Still, his manner of integrating different theorists warrants further clarification, as he was profoundly aware of the inner logic of one value sphere. The process of rationalization Weber analyzed is all-embracing; there is no sphere in society that is spared. According to Weber, this is especially true where social domination manifests itself openly and concretely: in the economy and the administrative state. This is not to suggest, however, that the economic system and the political system are entirely distinct, as the formation of the modern political system coincided with the rise of the capitalist market economy. As a result, economic and political forms of power can be distinguished analytically, but the concrete relationships between political and economic power in modern society must be subjected to rigorous scrutiny.



Habermas criticized Luka´cs for reducing the complex understanding of modern society that Weber had achieved to a mode of explanation based on one principle: the determination of the logic of societal processes to the logic of one of its spheres, the economy. This reduction of complexity enabled Luka´cs to read the process of rationalization that Weber characterized as allembracing as an all-embracing process of reification, with reification emanating from the economic system to all forms of social, political, and cultural organization and existence. Luka´cs recognized reification, as it is based in the commodity form, as ubiquitous. Yet by concentrating on the specific logic of reification as characteristic of the economic system, he neglected to ask the more fundamental question: What would it take for the communist movement to engage in practical-political action without reproducing the pattern of capitalist reification permeating not only bourgeois political action but also thinking about political action under conditions of bourgeois ideology? How could the communist movement have arrived at a conception of practice that did not reflect and replicate notions of power that were formed under the influence of the capitalist mode of production? Without rigorously distinguishing the nature of political power in capitalism and socialism, Luka´cs appears to have assumed that political power in capitalism is a direct extension of the reifying capitalist mode of production, while in the socialist movement, political power is the means to overcome capitalist reification. Luka´cs neglected Weber’s analyses showing that the bureaucratic political system in capitalism is a sphere characterized by its own specific logic of evolution and reproduction, and endowed with a ‘‘reifying’’ capacity all its own. If political power derives from the economic social system, it is bound to solidify the reifying character of the economic sphere in all spheres of social life, especially if political power is enforced through the nondemocratic mechanism of bureaucratic rules and regulations. On the other hand, given that in modern society political power is based, to a greater or lesser degree, on democratic processes of collective will-formation, the possibility cannot be excluded that political power can turn against the reifying effects of a supposedly self-regulating capitalist market economy. Albrecht Wellmer has pointed out an additional reason for the failure of Luka´cs’s analysis: According to Luka´cs the progressive reification of consciousness reflects the universalization of the commodity form in capitalist society. This universalization of the commodity form, however, corresponds to the internal logic of the capital-labor relationship. Now it seems that at the time at which Luka´cs wrote [HCC] the conception of the autonomously developing economic ‘‘base’’ had already, strictly speaking, become obsolete. Because of the increase in state intervention and the growing interdependence

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of scientific research and technology, the particular constellation of economics and politics that had been characteristic for liberal capitalism had changed. No longer could the relationship between the economic and the political system be simply regarded as that between ‘‘base’’ and ‘‘superstructure.’’ (1976, p. 242)

If Luka´cs had not limited his theory of reification to the kind of problem that was foreordained by his reading of Marx’s analysis and perspective, and had he employed Weber’s critique of the bureaucratization of the modern world in his own approach, he could have avoided some of the ambivalences in his thinking. Viewed in this context, Luka´cs’s theory of reification indeed represents a step back for social theory. As in Marx’s theory, the phenomenon of power and domination is reduced to economic power, and democracy is denounced as a bourgeois ideology.18 However, while Marx’s claims must be understood in terms of his theoretical focus, and while the scope of his claims is ‘‘limited’’ in those terms, Luka´cs’s claims do not seem to be contingent on such a specific focus. Marx’s claim that social power and domination first must be critically examined in terms of economic power does not imply that in terms of empirical validity, it suffices to posit that forms of social power and domination ‘‘are’’ functions of economic power and structure in capitalist society. Luka´cs failed to recognize that even Marx’s critique of political economy was a beginning, not a final product. As a result, he failed to recognize the true scope and application of his theory of reification, which extended to other value spheres in society and their respective potential for treating human beings as objects. In this sense, Luka´cs’s theory would not have been elevated to the level of universalist theories, but its contribution to social-scientific research might have been immense, enabling him to differentiate distinct types of reification emanating from different value spheres. It also might have enabled him to discern reifying effects resulting from ‘‘solutions’’ to social problems that we are not able to fully assess without a more comprehensive theory of reification. The administrative system in society is the most obvious case in point, but not necessarily the only one. In the end, Luka´cs was insensitive, if not indifferent, to the Communist Party’s potential for abuse of power and to radical democracy’s potential for reducing such abuse of power. In attempting to mediate theory and practice, Luka´cs made assumptions about the dynamics between theory and practice – that is, about the relationship between theory and the conditions of practice in society – that he did not subject to scrutiny. Luka´cs assumed that only an organizationally oriented theory of practice would lead to the best possible mediation of theory and practice. In his view, the best outcome was a highly astute theory of the dynamics of social transformation. But Luka´cs’s assumption limited



rather than opened up possibilities for creative social action. To be sure, giving the question of mediating theory and practice an organizational twist was not, as such, a bad idea: it could have opened up a new social context for theoretical discourse leading to greater insight. But Luka´cs went too far by collapsing different functions in mediating theory and practice into one domain. Although he repeatedly paid lip service to the importance of sociology as a social science, and despite the importance of Weber’s (and Simmel’s) works to his early intellectual development (see Liebersohn, 1988, pp. 159–196), Luka´cs rarely questioned the validity of his assumptions about social dynamics in capitalism, and he did not utilize insights of the social sciences, and especially of sociology, that might have weakened his perspective, or strengthened it by forcing him to qualify his underlying theory of social change. Indeed, Luka´cs did not allow for a social-scientific corrective to his social philosophy. A number of Marxian scholars have argued that philosophical, theoretical, and social-scientific components of Marx’s work can be differentiated (Schumpeter, 1942, pp. 1–58; Dahrendorf, 1959, pp. 118–132), and those aspects that are of continued use for social research identified (see especially Postone, 1993; also Sayer, 1987; Murray, 1988; and Hazelrigg, 1993). A similarly systematic differentiation of philosophical, theoretical, and social-scientific components in Luka´cs’s early dialectical social theory, in HCC, is not possible. Marek Siemek (1986) was correct when he concluded his essay on Luka´cs’s version of Marxism as a form of philosophy, by stating that Luka´cs’s interest was not social-scientific. As Bertolt Brecht put it, ‘‘Luka´cs has a tendency to equate the world with the mind, and investigate life in the intellectual sphere.’’ (Kadarkay, 1991, p. 331) It appears that Luka´cs did conceive of the possibility that the process of overcoming reification and revolutionizing society could be furthered in other ways than in terms of his specific reading of Marx (and Lenin). He did recognize that by linking the problem of mediating theory and practice directly to the attainment of the ‘‘correct’’ theory of adequate practice on the basis of an organizational orientation, he deprived those involved of the freedom, autonomy, as well as sensitivity to be responsive of the social, political, and economic demands of the time. He acknowledged the importance of the classics’ modern, emancipatory thought, which enabled him to develop his initial theory of the effects of the capitalist mode of production on all forms of social life. But as he assimilated theory to the ulterior logic of romantic anticapitalism, Luka´cs also deprived his earlier theory of its authenticity.

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Indeed, Luka´cs’s integration of Hegel, Marx, and Weber did not reveal sufficient sensitivity to the fact that their theories cannot be understood literally, but must be read in terms of their specifically designed, respective reference frames. As Moishe Postone points out in his ‘‘reinterpretation of Marx’s critical theory’’ (1993), Luka´cs’s ‘‘materialist appropriation of Hegel’’ is highly problematic: by ‘‘restricting [the] validity of [Hegel’s theory] to social reality,’’ Luka´cs rejected Hegel’s contention that his work was above all a theory of consciousness geared toward attaining ‘‘absolute knowledge’’ philosophically, not practically.19 Postone contends that ‘‘Luka´cs’s attempt to reconceptualize capitalism is deeply inconsistent,’’ and though ‘‘his approach points beyond traditional Marxism, it remains bound to some of its basic theoretical presuppositions’’ (1993, pp. 72–73).20 Luka´cs was neither especially concerned with the compatibility of Hegel’s, Marx’s, and Weber’s respective analytical and research interests and strategies, their stances on the possibility of overcoming capitalist reification and on mediating theory and practice nor with problems associated with any attempt to combine elements of theories that do not belong to the same tradition of thinking. His interest was to employ these theories to advance the ‘‘ulterior’’ objective of the communist world revolution and to support his motives of delegitimizing capitalism, including democratic validity claims and individual rights, while legitimating socialism. By necessity, an array of theoretical inconsistencies resulted (see Kline, 1987; Rockmore, 1987). While Marx’s characterization of the process of revolutionary transformation of capitalism can be interpreted in a number of ways if viewed in a long-term perspective, no such alternative readings of Luka´cs are possible in HCC: as he himself later admitted, he had fallen prey to the ‘‘messianic utopianism’’ of those years (HCC, p. xviii). The illogical ‘‘logic’’ that informed the strategy Luka´cs proposed for arriving at the correct and most apt theory, under the pressures of organizational decision-making, is likely to have had the opposite result to what it was intended to achieve: a theory leading to failure. Ironically, while bourgeois capitalism could not impede the emergence of a theory oriented toward the radical transformation of this society, Luka´cs asserted that in order for socialism to succeed, it had to limit the possibility of creative and unimpeded systematic thinking. He did not consider that releasing theory from practical-political imperatives might have led to qualitatively different, and potentially superior, strategies for mediating theory and practice, as well as for overcoming reification.



Finally, it is necessary to keep in mind that the ‘‘reification’’ essay in HCC, as indeed Luka´cs’s only ‘‘systematic attempt to formulate a dialectical social theory’’ (Arato & Breines 1979, p. 113), also was, after all, just a beginning. The promise this beginning entailed not only was never realized but also was not even developed any further. As Liebersohn put it: Luka´cs was almost immediately dissatisfied with the utopianism of HCC and turned toward resolute acceptance of the limits that fate, in the form of history, sets to human endeavor. His essays of the later twenties and his biography of the young Hegel affirmed the wisdom he himself had condemned just a few years before of learning to live within fixed historical conditions. After embracing one extreme possibility of the sociological tradition, he rediscovered the other. Nor was this the end of his story. To the end of his life, he alternated between loyalty to the Soviet system and messianic belief in the imminence of authentic socialism. (1988, p. 194)

To employ the category of the inner logic for theoretical purposes with respect to Luka´cs: over the long run, his work did not center around discerning the inner logic of any one theoretical or practical problem. In this sense too, Luka´cs was not primarily a theorist. Luka´cs’s earliest writings had been tainted by an intellectual ‘‘uncertainty’’ that accompanied his thinking into old age. When he was forced by the Comintern in 1925 to recant HCC, he apparently submitted willingly; his relationship to Stalinism during its historical epoch and later is another case in point (see Kadarkay, 1991, pp. 310–313, 331–332). This uncertainty appears above all as a lack of theoretical confidence and steadfastness with respect to his own insights, as soon as they came into conflict with the propagated interpretations and political priorities of the Communist Party hierarchy, and it is particularly evident with regard to Luka´cs’s inclination to treat Lenin’s thought as a kind of ‘‘higher authority’’ regarding crucial questions he was reluctant or unable to resolve on his own (see Luka´cs, [1924] 1971). Uncertainty also appears to have been a basic element of Luka´cs’s notorious dogmatism and ‘‘cryptoreligiosity’’ (Grondin, 1988, p. 87). Luka´cs conflated theoretical claims presented by his predecessors with claims about empirical reality and practical possibilities: he read his predecessors in terms of claims that have clear practical implications, even if their claims were designed not to lead to concrete practical conclusions drawn from their diagnoses. Finally, there is a certain irony in that Luka´cs remained oblivious to the fact that, despite profound differences between the theoretical reference frames of Hegel, Marx, and Weber, they have one common denominator. The writings of Hegel and Weber, and even the Marx of Capital and Grundrisse, were directed against the temptation to draw concrete conclusions from social-scientific diagnoses of the nature and logic

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of modern society. To Luka´cs, the distinguishing feature of dialectical theory was that it points toward concrete, practically relevant strategies. On the basis of this misunderstanding, the Luka´cs of HCC deprived himself of the critical self-reflexivity that might have enabled him to develop his analysis further, and to apply it to his own attempt at mediating theory and practice oriented toward overcoming reification.

Habermas’s Critique of Functionalist Reason The central proposition of Habermas’s theoretical work is the assumption that whenever human beings participate in a communicative interaction, they implicitly are engaged in an attempt to reach mutual understanding, for example, of the situation in which they are acting, of a specific problem, or of a socially desirable objective. Habermas’s communicative action paradigm is decisive not because it supplants earlier action paradigms that sociological theory was built upon, but because it enables us to grasp a dimension of social life that no other theory is equipped to identify and assess. It is our communicative capacity that is responsible for our ability, fleeting as it may be in concrete situations, to reshape the social and material foundations of our lives. To follow Habermas’s argument, the earlier action – theoretic foundations of sociological theory-teleological action, normatively regulated action, and dramaturgical action – all fail when it comes to explaining the human effort to cooperatively create truly new conditions of living in society that are not expressions of instrumental rationality; of normatively sanctioned rules, conventions, and regulations; and of dramaturgically pursued objectives. His theory of communicative action presents an action paradigm that enables social scientists to grasp the potential capacity of social actors to redefine, and thus ‘‘recreate,’’ the conditions of their lives through a learning process. It is for this reason that the communicative action paradigm is the first sociological paradigm to analyze forms of action that are socially relevant only in modern society. The preceding three action paradigms describe and analyze social action in modern society (as well as other types of society), not social action that is of modern society. Habermas’s TCA illustrates the kind of theory construction resulting from the assumption that contributions from sociological, social, and critical theories together must be assumed to approximate ‘‘truths’’ about specific social phenomena and dimensions of modern society that individual theories, taken separately and focusing on the inner logic of one specific



value sphere, social problem, or analytical task, cannot apprehend.21 His approach is symptomatic both of the degree of self-reflection that critical social theory has reached during the last quarter of the twentieth century, and of the level of differentiation that the division of labor in theoretical sociology has attained in recent years. For a variety of reasons, individual theories cannot facilitate a comprehensive understanding of any problem or phenomenon – because it was not part of their explicit purpose or design to do so, or because at the time of their formulation, society had not yet evolved to the point where the issue at hand could be identified explicitly in theoretical terms. If we relate diverse social theories to specific problems to be understood in terms of their inner logics, we gain access to a broad array of insights that are buried in social theories developed over the course of the last two centuries by searching for common denominators, for similarities in the way in which social reality is read, interpreted, and analyzed, and for insights which, for a variety of reasons, each individual theory was not able to discern. Toward the end of TCA, Habermas identifies what he regards as the ‘‘tasks of a critical theory of society.’’ The theory of communicative action produces a theory of capitalist modernization that follows the Marxian model and is critical both of the contemporary social sciences and the social reality that constitutes their subject matter: It is critical of the reality of developed societies inasmuch as they do not make full use of the learning potential culturally available to them, but deliver themselves over to an uncontrolled growth of complexity y [T]he theory is also critical of social-scientific approaches that are incapable of deciphering the paradoxes of societal rationalization because they make complex social systems their object only from one or another abstract point of view, without accounting for the historical constitution of their object domain. Critical social theory does not relate to established lines of research as a competitor; starting from its concept of the rise of modern societies, it attempts to explain the specific limitations and the relative rights of those approaches. (TCA I, p. 375)

The project of overcoming reification that had been the guiding principle of Luka´cs’s theory does not constitute the vanishing point of Habermas’s version of Weberian Marxist theory, analytically or practically. The commodity form has become so much a part of modern society, so much ‘‘second nature’’ to us all, that it is no longer possible to seriously consider the possibility of eliminating the reifying effects of the capitalist mode of production on all aspects of society. In Habermas’s view, the ‘‘self-regulating’’ capitalist market economy for now appears to constitute the most efficient, socially viable way of solving the problem of material production and

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reproduction. Therefore, the project of ‘‘overcoming’’ the capitalist economy (by subjugating it to the control of ‘‘the state’’ or ‘‘society,’’ for instance) is not feasible at this time, partly because, in the most advanced societies, such a project does not inspire any powerful social movements. Consequently, the main purpose of critical social theory in the Weberian Marxist tradition poses itself differently in the latter part of the century. To say that reification no longer can be overcome is not to suggest that we must accept uncritically the claims put forth by those benefitting from ‘‘free market’’ capitalism – that the economy best be left alone, and that any regulatory interference will necessarily harm its operation. Instead, the challenge is to hold on to the insight that the current form of the capitalist mode of production is both an expression of the inner logic of a self-regulating market economy and the manifestation of relations of power that are historically and nationally specific. In the face of the seemingly overwhelming stranglehold of reification on modern society, Luka´cs’s social theory must be readjusted so as to thematize the confinement of communicative capacities; to identify alternative ways of thinking about economy, state, and society, rather than the need to overcome capitalism. To put it differently, the challenge is to prevent the current logic of rationalization characteristic of the advanced capitalist mode of production from further assimilating all other spheres in society to its own imperatives; to limit economic rationalization to the economic sphere. Any practice oriented toward overcoming capitalism is likely to fail at thematizing alternative forms of practice (and life) that correspond to the current stage of sociohistorical development. Such alternative forms of practice require a different paradigm of social action and sociological theory, along with a corresponding concept of social rationality and progress: the paradigm of communicative action. Habermas ‘‘combined’’ the theories of Marx and Weber so that he could integrate elements of their works (as well as the works of Durkheim, Mead, Parsons, Schu¨tz, Goffman, and others – along with Luka´cs) without fundamentally contradicting their initial theories. Consistency is of central importance. While Habermas never denied that he does not always use social and sociological theories as they were supposed to be used according to the original theorists, he is also anxious not to distort the main thrust and meaning of their works. By integrating elements of different theories, he intends to uncover deeper insights and truths that go beyond the theories’ initial objectives. Following Weber, Habermas tries to distill an immanent logic that puts his theoretical cast of characters on the same wavelength. Habermas’s use of the idea of the inner logic of value spheres is part of his larger claim that



striving toward universalist validity claims is the hallmark of the modern age, although he does not conceive of it in absolute terms. Rather, he stresses that if we do not strive toward universality – even if we cannot attain it in absolute terms – we will not be able to work together toward attaining socially desirable goals. Once we abandon the idea of universally applicable standards, the proposition that it is desirable and advantageous to aim for mutual understanding will no longer be justifiable. Should we reach that point, social theory will be in danger of turning into a set of discourses comprising a multitude of more or less systematic formulations of viewpoints that extrapolate alternative visions of social change and organization from a set of increasingly particularistic and idiosyncratic propositions. In Habermas’s TCA, elements of social, sociological, and critical theory are, ostensibly, in a balance: the nature, scope, and thrust of the critique reflects the systematic standards and insights about social order and change characteristic of social and sociological theory and necessary for determining the societal importance of the inner logic of communicative action. The main principle of his theory as a variation of his rational-reconstructive method – ‘‘the task of rendering what is a universal competence or implicit know-how into a set of explicit rules’’ (White, 1988, p. 28) – is differentiation and integration. The question of whether a specific ‘‘practice’’ advances a certain goal cannot be decided beforehand, within the context of even the most complex theory. Practice is not set first, determining the nature of theory; instead, theory informs the scope of viable forms of practice, enabling us to address the type(s) of practice likely to succeed given specific conditions of social existence, mode of production, and political system. As a result, theory’s relative liberation from practical political questions appears to imply a more general retreat of social theorists from practical and political issues. Critical theory’s unique claim to fame is that it constitutes the only approach that tries to cut through the veil of ideology, to thematize what would constitute rational action oriented toward a concept of unabridged reason.22 To be sure, Habermas does not posit reason substantively, but formally: it must be achieved procedurally. We have to specify precisely in what reference frame rational action is to be applied, what type of rationality we are referring to, and how it is to be implemented. Other political and theoretical approaches that uphold the notion of rational action, strategy, and solutions, do so within a narrowly defined and circumscribed framework that uses as its central focal point just one concept of rationality (see especially Coleman, 1990). By contrast, in modern society, the possibility of

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rationally resolving social and societal problems must constitute critical theory’s vanishing point. Habermas does not want to set up a theory that can serve as a blueprint for an alternative, future society; his purpose is to elucidate the nature of situations in which people have the choice to redefine the rules and regulations by which they live – wherever, through social interaction, social reality is defined, produced, and reproduced. In order for Habermas’s theory to be understood appropriately, it must not be read with the conventional attitude that a social theory is supposed to project a different type of societal organization to be built in, or for the future. Instead, its purpose is to make explicit a potential that already exists in contemporary society, and which, although it does not entail a new form of social organization, must be seized upon as a mode of more effectively confronting social problems of all kinds, a mode qualitatively superior to both traditional and functional approaches to social problems. In Habermas’s self-understanding, the task of critical theory in the late twentieth century is to theoretically identify the conditions that must be fulfilled for this potential to bear fruit, against conspicuously growing odds. Yet this task cannot be fulfilled by critical theory alone. Critical theory needs the correctives of social theory and sociological theory to make sure that its standards, objectives, and claims about the nature of societal change stand on solid ground.

WEBERIAN MARXISM RECONSIDERED: TOWARD A CRITICAL THEORY OF THE INNER LOGIC OF VALUE SPHERES The purpose of this chapter has been to bring out the increasingly apparent central pattern of theory in Weberian Marxism: to critically analyze the relationship between different social value spheres and their respective inner logics. In order to relate the multiplicity of social theories to each other in a meaningful manner, we must presume that each constitutes a legitimate endeavor to answer a specific set of questions that are closely related to both implicit methodological and political presuppositions, concerns, values, and objectives. That the set of questions may include ulterior concerns is not as such problematic and does not necessarily render the theories ineffective, if the chosen strategy for answering the set of questions is not a direct function of the ulterior motives.



The category of the ‘‘inner logic’’ has important implications for the analytical and practical thrust of Weberian Marxism, as it enables us to examine how the differentiation of social value spheres, of types of theory, and the formation of corresponding expert cultures have altered the ‘‘nature and logic’’ of Western Marxism itself. This applies especially in terms of the respective logics of sociological, social, and critical theories as distinct ‘‘value spheres’’ in their own right. In terms of the three issues central to Habermas’s discussion of Luka´cs’s work, the importance of the category of ‘‘inner logic’’ can be illustrated in terms of the continued importance of critiquing reification to Western Marxism; of the need to formulate viable mediations of theory and practice; and of the imperative to ‘‘overcome’’ (i.e., decrease the extent of) reification. To Luka´cs, reification was the central problem; Marx and Weber were the primary theorists enabling him to determine the nature of reification as a necessary consequence of capitalism, and in turn, its impact on individual as well as social life in advanced capitalist societies. As we have seen, since Luka´cs posits the overcoming of reification as an ‘‘objective possibility,’’ the challenge is to develop the strategy that will enable those social forces intent on overcoming reification to do so. To formulate the theory that identifies the correct course of action, a selection mechanism is needed that facilitates the determination of the correct theory. The political party organization is the locale in society where the conditions for determining such a theory exist: only in the party organization does the search for the theoretically informed, correct strategy attain the serious and inescapable urgency leading to a potentially successful practice. Once the party organization is recognized as the place where the necessary conditions for mediating theory and practice exist, determining the correct strategy for proletarian action is just a matter of time. Reification will not be ‘‘overcome’’ by means of the proletarian revolution alone; but as long as the proletarian revolution has not occurred, it will remain impossible to reduce the grip of reification over society. To Habermas, by contrast, reification is important in terms of the limitations it imposes on modern society’s capacity to cope with its problems in a comprehensively rational manner, and he seizes on the potential for truly productive communicative action. The purpose of Habermas’ TCA is to demonstrate just how much of what Marx’s theory tried to assert in terms of the socially mediated human potential for conscious individual and collective self-determination is the uniquely human capacity to communicatively determine the conditions of our existence. To Habermas, the problem with reification is not that it fosters ‘‘false consciousness,’’23 but

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that the structural and institutional boundaries characteristic of functionally organized social systems confining social life in advanced capitalism impede modern human beings’ ability to engage in undistorted communicative action. For Habermas, there is no ‘‘royal path’’ to mediating theory and practice. Instead, mediations that foster effective strategies are contingent on recognizing that different tasks correspond to different levels of social organization. A truly effective mediation can be achieved only on the basis of separate steps specifically designed to resolve particular challenges linked to the overall objective. In other words, we ought to think of society as a complex network of social value spheres characterized by different ‘‘inner logics.’’ Analogously, when the formation of different types of social theory is assimilated to political and ideological purposes, theory loses the unique power to facilitate greater understanding of the complexity and contradictory nature of modern social reality. This differentiation of tasks and challenges applies to the objective of overcoming reification. In Habermas’s view, reification cannot be reduced directly, partly because once society is permeated by it to the present extent, the capitalist mode of production structurally inhibits our ability to conceive of other ways of solving the ‘‘economic problem,’’ especially as the sociohistoric specificity of capitalist production and distribution becomes ever more difficult to discern. Because the reifying effects of capitalist production are so closely entwined with modern society’s growing inability to separate those elements of the capitalist economic process essential to its continued functioning (and the social costs that go along with it) from those that are not (and social costs that need not necessarily be ‘‘paid’’), reification ‘‘immunizes’’ itself against society’s ability to limit its reach. Accordingly, before reification’s reign can be tackled directly, modern society’s communicative capacity must be liberated from the shackles of reification. In order to achieve this, critical theorists must simultaneously support those forces in society more or less consciously determined to limit the scope of reification, and also develop strategies geared toward improving the conditions under which reification can be reduced – without endangering the very integrity and stability of highly integrated and interrelated social systems. In other words, society’s capacity to express dimensions of social, political, cultural, and economic reality beyond the current economic regime must be forcefully enhanced and continuously fostered. In terms of the ‘‘inner logic,’’ the difference between Luka´cs and Habermas appears in a striking, though not necessarily irreconcilable, light. To prepare the possibility of ‘‘overcoming reification,’’ the entire reference



frame of thinking about the relationship between theory and practice must be readjusted. To Luka´cs’s theoretization of capitalism and its overcoming, reification constitutes the central problem. To Habermas, we must first acknowledge the nature of reification with respect to communication before its grip on society can be altercated. In Luka´cs’s theory, reification appears as the consequence of the primacy of one specific logic – the logic of capitalist accumulation and decision-making processes, and its compulsion to suppress all that might impede its expansion. By contrast, Habermas’s theory points toward the recognition of the multiplicity of logics that correspond to different spheres of life: we cannot reasonably draw conclusions about any viable course of collective action as long as we try to explain ‘‘the world with one thesis’’ (Habermas, [1993] 1994, p. 113). To assess the problems of critical social theory today, we must recognize that the inner logics of social and sociological theory progressively have become more important; that social, sociological, and critical-theoretical elements of theory must be distinguished; and that insights gained in theoretical sociology about social, political, cultural, and economic processes and conditions of existence in advanced capitalist society circumscribe how Western Marxists like Habermas conceive of the scope of effective political action. As the twentieth century aged, non-Marxist social theories began to play an increasingly important role in the determination of the general scope and specific goals of socialist political action, as well as in the analytical reference frame of Western Marxism – both with respect to the foundations of its critique of capitalism and to the kind of questions Western Marxist theorists considered essential. A reversal thus occurred in the relationship between critical and social and sociological theory in Habermas’s version of Weberian Marxism. The early-twentieth-century Marxist critique incorporated sociological insights toward a more refined understanding of capitalist reification (and, in a second step, toward overcoming capitalism). Over the course of the century, the standards and practical orientation of critical theory became increasingly a function of social-theoretical and sociological standards and representations of social reality, and increasingly sensitive to the difficulties and impediments that come with efforts to engage in transformative political action. Attempts to resolve the three tasks central to our discussion – combining Marx and Weber, mediating theory and practice, and overcoming reification – will be successful only if they cross-fertilize each other once they have followed their own respective logics and fulfilled their specific tasks. Such crossfertilization is necessary for any comprehensive consideration of viable mediations of theory and practice, and it enables us to envision the possibility

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of what Luka´cs called practical theory: the formulation of socially desirable goals, the informed identification of strategies that promise to advance political goals more or less directly (by means of more or less mediated practices), and the development and selection of concrete courses of action that apply at various levels of social organization and symbolic production. The category of the ‘‘inner logic’’ helps us to clarify the question: How relevant are radically modern critical theories in the Marxist tradition to the analysis of late-twentieth-century society? To confront this question in a manner both systematic and critical, we must identify the specific purposes of distinct theories as theories, and examine the historic and sociogeographic context of their formulation in a strictly dialectical manner. In other words, we need to differentiate among elements of the theory that are (intended to be) formal, substantive, and/or critical, that is, among the respective projects (and activities) of social, sociological, and critical theories. The category of inner logic is promising because it provides a reference frame for systematically examining how the effects of different forms of structural power relate to each other: from the capitalist mode of production, via bureaucratic modes of managing political will-formation in mass democracies, to first-order Enlightenment scientific thinking, technology, and truth, to gendered ways of structuring the world that are not ‘‘natural’’ but socially constructed. At the same time, however, the category of the inner logic of value spheres is not only a tool for analyzing the effects of reification but also a manifestation of it: as it enables us to differentiate the multiplicity of value spheres, it also forces us to conceive of them as distinct realms evolving according to their specific function in society. In this sense, the category pushes first-order Enlightenment thinking, as it emerged out of dualistic thinking, to the limit. In terms of this category, the modernization process appears as a ‘‘working out’’ of the diverse spheres of life, making them ever more distinguishable. As a result, society is compelled to recognize that existing constellations between different value spheres can be modified. At the same time, the category of the inner logic is also a tool that requires that we consider the contingent nature of divisional thinking. In this sense, the category of the inner logic indirectly points beyond the status quo, as it allows us to conceive of future social orders constituting alternative constellations of the different spheres of life. We would then be able to address the question of whether Weber’s disjunctive characterization of the diverse value spheres was specific to the state of affairs in twentieth-century advanced capitalism, or whether it grasped an inalterable fact of life in posttraditional societies. Clearly, in terms of Habermas’s appropriation of the



category of the ‘‘inner logic,’’ a more conciliatory relationship between the spheres of life is an ‘‘objective possibility,’’ but it will stay out of reach as long as the communicative potential embedded in modern society remains confined to the present degree. Before we can tackle these issues, critical theory first has to work toward diminishing the proliferation of misunderstandings, contortions, and distortions that characterize most theoretical debates not confined to one specific tradition of theory. Indeed, as we confront this challenge, critical theory is better positioned to contribute to theoretical sociology than any other individual theory or theoretical tradition. To do so, and to remain a vital force in contemporary societies at the same time, critical theory has to reassert the practical orientation that was integral to its initial design, but which has become ever more submerged as a result of the orientation toward abstract theory. At this stage of capitalist development, a conscious collective effort to overcome the prevalence of reification is not likely. The sociopolitical, cultural, and economic conditions certainly do not exist that would allow for the implementation of practical steps necessary to truly ‘‘overcome’’ reification on all levels of social, political, and corporate-industrial organization. But if we reorient our focus on reification, we may be able to identify practical strategies that are not based on linear models of causality. The task and the challenge may not be to eliminate all reification in society, but to confine it to spheres where its effects are considered socially ‘‘necessary,’’ acceptable, and advantageous (see Dahms, 1998). Such a step would be contingent on our willingness to cut the direct link between theoretical and practical questions characteristic of Western Marxist theory. To engage a practical turn in critical social theory, we must distinguish between theoretical issues and their inner logics, and practical issues and their inner logics. Just as we should not impose practical needs on theoretical endeavors, so too should we not project theoretical solutions onto practical problems. Only when we recognize their respective autonomy can we reflect upon possibilities for mediating between the two sets of challenges. While theories are oriented toward consistency, synthesis, and logic, any effective practice is contingent on the existence of alliances that are not concerned with purity, but with effectiveness. Modernity cannot sustain itself without social and political forces able to perceive the nature of the challenges they face. While they need theory’s support, they must make their own contingent choices. While the active support from theorists in the end may not enable these forces to engage in consequential practice

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(because the existing societal conditions at this time ‘‘objectively’’ do not allow for qualitative transformation, or because the interpretations provided by theorists remain flawed), without the support from social (and socially responsible) theorists, their efforts will likely be doomed. In the meantime, we would be well advised to put on hold the search that inspired Luka´cs, among others, for a theory enabling us to confront a multitude of analytical and practical challenges more effectively than do any of the theories developed over the last 200 years. Since such a theory presumes the actuality of a socially unifying interpretation of the world in which live, and since the social foundations for such a unifying ‘‘reading of the world’’ do not appear to exist in any developed society, we probably could do little to consciously foster its development at this time. We remain situated in modernity and the social, political, and cultural struggles that are its defining features. Since the relationship between different value spheres depends on shifting power constellations in society, future relationships cannot be anticipated by means of abstract theories; among other factors, they will depend on the course that the struggle between progressive and regressive forces will take. We should concentrate our efforts, therefore, on renewing the collaborative and interdisciplinary project of critical social theory, on consciously transcending the effects of reification in our theories of society, and on recapturing a sense of the possibilities for social transformation the future may hold. If theory, especially critical theory, wants to remain socially relevant, it has to resist the trend toward ever greater fragmentation in our understanding of society: we have to theorize in a way that remains open to, and does not exclude, the possibility of considering additional, as well as alternative, readings and interpretations of the social world. We also must resist the temptation to discard theories before we have had the opportunity to determine their analytical and practical value. Finally, we must keep in mind that most theories, by far, are merely a starting point for rigorous sociological research, including Habermas’s theory of communicative action. Only when critical theory is supported by conceptual and analytical tools compatible with sociological theory, and a sophisticated, nonreductionistic social theory of the present, can we effectively address the issue of theory and practice. While we should not assume that reification as a general phenomenon can be overcome, we must reexamine the possibilities and conditions for problematizing the limitations reification imposes on the ability of modern society to begin to resolve a variety of social problems. To do so, we must turn our attention to critical analyses of the current form of the capitalist mode of production, and its



implications for our ability to understand the society built upon it. Still, without recognizing the importance of creating the conditions for unrestrained communication, we will not be able to thematize reification and, in a socially meaningful manner, to reveal its petrifying face, to transcend it theoretically, in order to take practical steps toward subverting its control over human civilization, without endangering the integrity of western societies at the brink of a new century. In this endeavor, Luka´cs’s fervor may serve as an inspiration, while Habermas’s rigor enables us to approach the arduous task with cautious confidence.

NOTES 1. Georg Luka´cs, Karl Korsch, Antonio Gramsci, and Ernst Bloch generally are considered the ‘‘founders’’ of this tradition. See Merleau-Ponty ([1955] 1973) for the first use of the designation, Western Marxism; for a comprehensive survey of the various traditions within Western Marxism, from its beginning to the late 1970s, see Agger (1979); also Anderson (1976); Stedman Jones et al. (1977); and Therborn (1996). 2. On the contemporary relevance and direction of Frankfurt School critical social theory, see Wellmer ([1986] 1993). For an excellent and comprehensive discussion of the variety of types of critical theories, including modernist, postmodernist, and feminist versions, see Calhoun (1995). 3. On the importance of reading Marx’s work as a theory, and of recognizing that many of his particular ‘‘theories’’ (and concepts) – such as the labor theory of value, class theory, exploitation theory, etc. – were designed to analyze nineteenth-century capitalism and are thus historically specific, see Moishe Postone’s (1993) superb ‘‘reinterpretation of Marx’s critical theory.’’ 4. Throughout this chapter, I will refer to, and employ the concept of, ‘‘inner logic,’’ which has its roots in Max Weber’s idea of Eigengesetzlichkeit: the notion that different social value spheres (like the economy and the administrative state) evolve according to a specific developmental logic all their own. It is only in modern society that these spheres are allowed to evolve, at an accelerating pace, according to their inner logics. Grasping the nature of this unique tendency for all social spheres, particularly as it plays itself out for the modern economy and the nation state, and how they relate to each other in specific social contexts, is key to understanding how modern society is different from other types of society. At critical points below, this Weberian concept and its contemporary significance for how to do theory will be elucidated further. 5. The concept of reification has all but vanished from current debates in critical theory, even in Weberian Marxist critical theory; Habermas’s appropriation of Luka´cs’s conceptualization in TCA was the last notable innovative effort to introduce the concept into sociological theory. On possible uses of ‘‘reification’’ for purposes of sociological research, and why we must not abandon it, see Dahms (1998).

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6. See Habermas (1991b) for a recent statement on why the project of socialism remains viable, both theoretically and practically. See also Love (1995). 7. He continues, ‘‘[A]ccording to Habermas, the theory of communicative action is intended to function as an alternative paradigm which will better achieve the purposes of the old philosophy of history, and perhaps of the entire post-Kantian philosophical tradition’’ (Rockmore, 1989, p. 169). 8. See also Habermas’s (1991a, p. 51) recent affirmation of Herbert Schna¨delbach’s (1984, p. 13) contention that ‘‘our contemporary philosophizing [is] determined to a significant measure by the impulses emanating at the time from Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus [1921], Georg Luka´cs’s History and Class Consciousness [1923] and Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time [1927].’’ 9. ‘‘I get annoyed with people who persist in talking about ‘bourgeois science’, as if they had commandeered a sweeping insight. Theories can in any case no longer be sorted out according to such criteria’’ (Habermas, 1986, p. 128). 10. See, for example, Habermas (1987, pp. 17, 53, 62, 127, 155, 255, 268, 413, 418, 426, 464); and Habermas ([1985] 1987, pp. 48, 53, 66, 75, 192, 223). In the latter work, Luka´cs is briefly summoned to expose the ‘‘striking’’ parallels between his theory of reification and Georges Bataille’s theory of sovereignty, which can be understood as related counterparts (pp. 223–225). In his more recent writings, Habermas mentions Luka´cs rarely (1983, p. 15, [1988] 1992, p. 5, [1991] 1993, p. 170), if at all ([1992] 1996), excepting one paragraph on Luka´cs’s contribution to sociology in the Weimar Republic (1991a, pp. 196–197; see also p. 164). 11. In fact, Habermas had little (if any) interest in Luka´cs as a social philosopher whose work continued to evolve well into the second half of this century. There are only a few occasions where Habermas refers to any of Luka´cs’s writings after HCC (see, e.g., Habermas [1962] 1989, p. 277, no. 2). 12. This ‘‘report’’ was first published in Philosophische Rundschau V (3/4) 1957, pp. 165–235, and later included in Theorie und Praxis (1971). To my knowledge, this text has not been translated into English. See Rockmore (1989, pp. 18–31) for a discussion of this report, which proceeds ‘‘from Marx to Marxism, and from a reading of the Paris Manuscripts as a form of philosophy to the issues that such reading raises, with special attention to three areas: the existentialist approach to Marx, the way in which historical materialism supposedly answers the question of the meaning of history, and a series of critical observations about historical materialism’’ (p. 20). After reading this report, Horkheimer had recommended (unsuccessfully) that Habermas be removed from the Institute of Social Research in Frankfurt. See Wiggershaus ([1986] 1994, p. 554) and Winkler (1996). 13. At the end of the essay, Luka´cs (HCC, p. 80) wrote that the ‘‘revolutionary workers’ council y is one of the forms which the conspicuousness of the proletariat has striven to create ever since its inception y . The workers’ council spells the political and economic defeat of reification. In the period following the dictatorship it will eliminate the bourgeois separation of legislature, administration and judiciary y . [I]t must overcome the fragmentation of the proletariat in time and space, and y it has to bring economics and politics together into a true synthesis of proletarian praxis. In this way it will help to reconcile the dialectical conflict between immediate interests and ultimate goal y . The proletariat only perfects itself by



annihilating and transcending itself, by creating the classless society through the successful conclusion of its own class struggle.’’ 14. Luka´cs did not consider the categorical possibility that it may not be possible to identify a theory with viable practical implications at all times, either because of socially based or constructed barriers to our cognitive capacities or because, under certain circumstances, the constellation of social institutions and established practices may not allow for viable revolutionary practice. He wrote, ‘‘The ability of organization to mediate between theory and practice is seen most clearly by the way in which it manifests a much greater, finer and more confident sensitivity towards divergent trends than any other sector of political thought and action. On the level of pure theory the most disparate views and tendencies are able to coexist peacefully, antagonisms are only expressed in the form of discussions which can be contained within the framework of one and the same organization without disrupting it. But no sooner are these same questions given organisational form than they turn out to be sharply opposed and even incompatible. Every ‘theoretical’ tendency or clash of views must immediately develop an organisational arm if it is to rise above the level of pure theory and abstract opinion, that is to say, if it really intends to point the way to its fulfillment in practice’’ (HCC, p. 299). 15. In the index of the German original of Weber’s Economy and Society ([1922] 1972), the term Eigengesetzlichkeit, as one of the basic concepts of his theory of rationalization, is referenced 22 times – as it applies to the market process, the development of law, ‘‘the religious,’’ and other ‘‘extra’’ or noneconomic phenomena and processes, including artistic production. In the work’s English version edited by Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich ([1922] 1978), which was translated over the course of several decades by altogether 10 scholars, there is no consistent translation for Eigengesetzlichkeit; accordingly, the concept is not referenced in the index. It is translated, for instance, as ‘‘independence’’ (p. 650), ‘‘their own laws’’ (p. 1309), and ‘‘own autonomous tendencies’’ (p. 636). The latter instance is most instructive regarding the concept’s substance: ‘‘Where the market is allowed to follow its own autonomous tendencies, its participants do not look toward the persons of each other but only toward the commodity; there are no obligations of brotherliness or reverence, and none of those spontaneous human relations that are sustained by personal unions. They all would just obstruct the free development of the bare market relationship, and its specific interests serve, in their turn, to weaken the sentiments on which these obstructions rest.’’ See also Weber (1946). By contrast, in translations of Habermas’s writings and other critical theorists, Eigengesetzlichkeit is translated, with near-absolute consistency, as ‘‘inner logic,’’ with such variations as ‘‘internal logic.’’ For pertinent passages in Habermas, see TCA I, pp. 160–168 and 176–185. See also Schluchter (1981, pp. 25–39, 1989, pp 120–127, 1996, pp. 273–278). 16. At the beginning of the second section of his discussion of rationalization as reification in TCA I, Habermas returns once more to Luka´cs, briefly addressing his assertion that there is ‘‘some reservation within the subjective nature of human beings that is resistant to reification’’ (TCA I, pp. 366–368). Yet he does so only to set the stage for his discussion of Horkheimer and Adorno, whose critique of instrumental reason started out from their concern that in fact there may not be any inherent limits to reification (pp. 366–399).

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17. It should be remembered that Luka´cs engaged in political action himself; in the following statement, he vividly described an incident that occurred during his sixweek tenure as a political commissar in the Hungarian Socialist Republic during the war with Romania in 1919 ([1980] 1983, p. 65): ‘‘I was political commissar attached to the Fifth Division. When the Czech-Romanian offensive was launched in April, the Council of People’s Commissars resolved, if my memory serves me right, that half the people’s commissars should join the larger army units as political leaders y . [T]he communists joined a whole series of units as political commissars. I volunteered for this job and was sent to Tiszafu¨red, where we found ourselves on the defensive. The defence of Tiszafu¨red had been grossly mismanaged because the Budapest Red Army units ran away without firing a shot. The two other battalions, who would have been willing to defend Tiszafu¨red, were thus unable to maintain their positions, so that the Romanians penetrated their lines and Tiszafu¨red fell. I set about restoring order as energetically as I could. That is to say, when we crossed the river to Poroszlo´, I set up a court-martial and had eight men belonging to the battalion that had run away in panic shot in the marketplace. By these means I more or less managed to restore order. Later, I was Political Commissar for the whole of the Fifth Division. Together we advanced to Rimaszombat against the Czechs, and I was present when we took the town. I was the ordered back to Budapest. That was the end of my activities with the Red Army.’’ 18. For Luka´cs’s ambivalent attitude towards democracy, see Luka´cs ([1968] 1991), as well as Levine (1991). 19. Postone’s work is a most subtly and convincingly argued critical-theoretical reinterpretation of Marx’s theory that fundamentally alters the understanding of his theory on the whole, and of the basic concepts that we have entertained for some time. To take into consideration the implications of Postone’s work for my discussion of Habermas’s discussion of Luka´cs’s reading of Marx and Hegel as it pertains to the role of theory in Western Marxism, and the liberation of theory’s inner logic from practical-political considerations, would explode the confines of this essay. 20. In Postone’s use, ‘‘traditional Marxism’’ designates forms of analysis that conceptualize capitalism in terms of the historically specific theoretical devices that Marx developed to analyze nineteenth-century bourgeois society and its corresponding mode of production. In traditional Marxism, then, these historically specific devices are being transposed to the analysis of later stages of capitalist development, thus not only generating a distorted depiction of this society, but also contorting the thrust of Marx’s critical theory. As a result, the formal character of such ‘‘basic conceptual tools as mode of production, forces and relations of production,’’ is not recognized, and the historicity of Marx’s ‘‘fully developed substantive theory on the genesis and basic ‘laws of motion’ of the capitalist mode of production’’ ignored (Mouzelis, 1995, p. 3). By contrast, Postone conceptualizes ‘‘capitalism in terms of a historically specific form of social interdependence with an impersonal and seemingly objective character. This form of interdependence is effected by historically unique forms of social relations that are constituted by determinate forms of social practice and, yet, become quasi-independent of the people engaged in these practices. The result is a new, increasingly abstract form of social domination – one that subjects people to impersonal structural imperatives and constraints that cannot be



adequately grasped in terms of concrete domination (e.g., personal or group domination), and that generates an ongoing historical dynamic y . This reinterpretation treats Marx’s theory of capitalism less as a theory of forms of exploitation and domination within modern society, and more as a critical social theory of the nature of modernity itself’’ (Postone, 1993, pp. 3–4). 21. In TCA, Habermas implicitly confirms what has been stated by theorists like Nicos Mouzelis: before we can judge the value of any theory for analyzing contemporary society, we first must distinguish the respective objectives of the three types of theory in sociology: sociological theory, social theory, and critical theory. Mouzelis (1995, pp. 3–8) suggests that we must determine whether these theories are to provide (1) analytical and heuristic devices (or ‘‘tools’’) developed to examine a phenomenon (or question); (2) sociohistorically descriptive representations of society at a certain stage of its development; or (3) critical standards for determining which tools and representations are most adequate for understanding the significance of a phenomenon, action paradigm, or historical reference frame in the overall scheme of things. In more general terms, we can distinguish the three types of theory as follows: Sociological theory stands for the construction of ‘‘basic conceptual tools’’ for purposes of heuristic utility; while they cannot be ‘‘verified’’ empirically, they are intended to promote the formation of systematic analytical frameworks designed to frame and make compatible types of research that contribute to the analysis of modern society at various levels of complexity. In sociological theory, the critical impulse is directed at what should constitute the best general formal framework for sociology as discipline with a specific subject domain and a corresponding catalogue of methods for attaining sociological knowledge. Sociological theory is not concerned with concrete sociohistorical conditions and societal formations; it has its model in economic theory and its successful establishment of a widely accepted conceptual and methodological reference frame. By contrast, social theories constitute historically specific, substantive theories of broad societal transformations that manifest themselves more or less clearly in societies of the same type, which are empirically verifiable and reveal universalistic tendencies more or less clearly. Often, social theories are presented as global interpretations based on selective categories that are presumed to be decisive features of the society at hand. Accordingly, in this case the critical impulse is directed at the identification of the dimensions most important to our understanding of the society’s evolutionary trajectory. Critical theory, finally, cuts through the veil of power and ideology that both social and sociological theories often reflect or perpetuate, on the basis of a normative perspective that provides critical standards, to evaluate the relative utility of different theoretical (and methodological) approaches, as well as their shortcomings. While many social theorists apply critical categories to what methods are best suited to the study of a specific social formation, critical theorists endeavor to develop a theory facilitating the study of contemporary society without implicitly reproducing its most decisive, yet contingent features. In this sense, critical theorists are critical both of the methods and the subject matter, and the relationship between the two. 22. Habermas (1984, p. 605): ‘‘Die Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns [stellt sich] die Aufgabe, die in die kommunikative Alltagspraxis eingelassene Vernunft aufzusuchen und aus der Geltungspraxis der Rede einen unverkiirzten Begriff der Vernunft zu rekonstruieren.’’ (‘‘The task of the theory of communicative action is to

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search for the reason embedded in the communicative practice of everyday life, and to reconstruct an unabridged concept of reason from the practice of validity claims in speech acts.’’ My translation) 23. For a concise discussion of the concept of ‘‘false consciousness’’ in Marxist theory, see Merton (1968, pp. 530–537).

ACKNOWLEDGMENT I thank Robert Antonio, Kimberly Barton, Bruce Bellingham, Craig Calhoun, Daniel Harrison, Lawrence Hazelrigg, Guy Oakes, and one anonymous reviewer for their helpful comments.


INTRODUCTION: NEGLECTING REIFICATION In recent years, the concept of ‘‘reification’’ has virtually disappeared from debates in social theory, including critical social theory. The concept was at the center of the revitalization of Marxist theory in the early twentieth century generally known as Western Marxism. Georg Luka´cs in particular introduced the concept to express how the process described in Marx’s critique of alienation and commodification could be grasped more effectively by combining it with Max Weber’s theory of rationalization (see Agger, 1979; Stedman Jones et al., 1977).1 In Luka´cs’s use, the concept of reification captured the process by which advanced capitalist production, as opposed to earlier stages of capitalist development, assimilated processes of social, cultural, and political production and reproduction to the dynamic imperatives and logic of capitalist accumulation. It is not just interpersonal relations and forms of organization constituting the capitalist production process that are being refashioned along the lines of one specific definition of economic necessity. In addition, and more consequentially, the capitalist mode of production also assimilates to its specific requirements the ways in which human beings think the world. As a result, the continuous expansion and perfection of capitalist production and its control over the work environment impoverishes concrete social, political, and cultural forms of coexistence and cooperation, and it brings about an impoverishment of our ability to conceive of reality from a variety of social, political, and philosophical viewpoints. 93



At a time when the capitalist production process had reached the stage of corporate, organized, and bureaucratic capitalism, Luka´cs asserted that the concept of ‘‘reification’’ enables us to verbalize how capitalism reduces our capacity to perceive, conceive of, and experience reality on alternative levels of complexity and sensitivity – how processes of scientific, theoretical, and artistic production are being assimilated to the level of social complexity conducive to the imperatives of advanced, organized capitalist production. In this respect, reification corresponds to the ‘‘violence of abstraction’’ characteristic of bourgeois philosophies and theories (see Sayer, 1987). Or, as Seyla Benhabib put it, For Luka´cs, the commodity is the ‘‘cell’’ of capitalist social relations y [Its] secret y is the establishment of abstract equivalence: not only can all sorts of goods be equated and exchanged with one another in virtue of being commodities, but human activities and relations as well are commodified, i.e., reduced to abstract equivalence. The establishment of equivalence among qualitatively different things and human activities requires that one abstract precisely from those substantive, concrete characteristics that distinguish them from one another. This process of abstraction is a societal one: it is not a mental act performed by individuals, but corresponds to a real social process. (1986, p. 183)

Early critical social theorists in the Western Marxist tradition inspired by Luka´cs’s work on reification employed the concept to delineate how, in the process of capitalist modernization, all aspects of social and natural existence were being assimilated to the seemingly benign, yet profoundly coercive and homogenizing force of the profit motive.2 As a result, ever more creative energies were being withdrawn from alternative endeavors, ranging from artistic production to experiments with forms of social and political organization. Social philosophers like Max Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor W. Adorno, among others, argued that the reifying effects resulting from the unremitting expansion and continuous perfection of the capitalist mode of production, and from the need for large bureaucratic hierarchies to rationalize the internal and the external organizational challenges of early-twentieth-century mass production, penetrated every level of the social structure to a greater or lesser extent, without exception. As a result, the imperative to think the world along the lines imposed upon society by the mind-numbing pseudo-divinity of capitalist production continually modulates any attempt to reorganize and organize constellations of business, labor, and government at all levels of social organization, any attempt to generate new forms of collective political action, and any attempt to solve social, interpersonal, or personal problems.

Beyond the Carousel of Reification


One of the most compelling uses of the concept of reification was to expose how under conditions of corporate capitalism, abstract ideas like freedom, emancipation, and democracy lose their social relevance and critical meaning, if their substance is not directly related to evolving social, cultural, and political forms of life. To the extent that such ideas are being conjured up as socially and politically legitimizing principles without critical qualification, they further reduce modern society’s ability, weak to begin with, to undergo qualitative transformations – contingent as they are on our capacity to rethink the meaning and relevance of these ideas, and to relate them to changing sociohistorical circumstances. In recent years, radically modernist critical social theorists, as well as postmodern and feminist critical theorists, have abandoned an interest in reification in favor of presumably more fundamental dimensions of social existence and coexistence, and more relevant categories for their analysis.3 While postmodern and feminist critical theorists are more suspicious than modernist critical theorists of the catalogue of implicit assumptions about social reality and possibilities for qualitative change integral to mainstream social-scientific methods and presuppositions, they all share an increasing reluctance to consider Marx’s critical theory a viable framework for the types of criticism best suited for, and essential to analyzing late-twentiethcentury western societies. Consequently, it is not surprising that reification as a relevant and useful category for the analysis of an essential dimension of late-twentieth-century capitalist society has lost much of its former currency. At the same time, little remains of the suspicion, voiced by Theodor W. Adorno, that abstract thinking may be an increasingly subtle correlate of market relations (see Jay, 1984a, p. 67), along with its reifying effects on society. Yet if the proliferation of abstract theorizing in the social sciences is indeed linked to the prevalence of reification: are we still in the position to remain sensitive toward the ambivalent implications of thinking society abstractly? The ever more apparent futility of theorizing practical possibilities of tackling reification led already Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer to an increasingly ‘‘negativist,’’ ‘‘pessimistic’’ critique of advanced capitalist society (see Postone, 1993, pp. 84–120). As a result, their emphasis on reification may have contributed to critical social theorists’ diminishing concern with practical issues and objectives. In an explicit effort to acquire more practical relevance, contemporary critical theorists who work in the radically modernist Frankfurt School tradition in turn have largely given up on their predecessors’ commitment to tracking and tackling the reifying effects of the ever more multifarious, ever less discernable effects of the



capitalist mode of production on all spheres of social, political, and cultural life. Ju¨rgen Habermas’s Theory of Communicative Action ([1981] 1983, 1987), which constitutes the most ambitious attempt to reconstruct the foundations of critical social theory that are compatible with more traditional and mainstream types of sociological and social theorizing, represents the last effort to date to utilize the concept of reification for systematic theoretical purposes. In this context, however, the concept of reification is no longer important as a category for understanding ‘‘the reifying thought forms, which Luka´cs derived from the abstraction imperatives of capitalist commodity exchange y, as an immanent component of humanity’s instrumental disposal over nature’’ (Honneth, 1987, p. 359). Instead, it is the reifying effects resulting from an increasing emphasis on functional imperatives of social subsystems characteristic of modern society that warrant close and critical examination – especially economic efficiency in capitalist production, and administrative effectiveness in the social welfare state. Collective decision-making responsibilities are being delegated to the narrow ‘‘inner logics’’ of specific value spheres, without keeping their limited nature in perspective, thus reducing modern society’s capacity to confront its problems by means of undistorted communication (see Dahms, 1997). Since these functional subsystems, the economy and the administrative state, replace communication as the medium for solving problems, with the systemic ‘‘media’’ of money and power, modern society loses the capacity to confront the multitude of its complex challenges on terms that are genuinely adequate to the variety of problems at hand. This is particularly problematic in the case of the social welfare state, whose alleged purpose is to remedy the living circumstances of those who are being excluded from the work-based determination of success and survival essential to the capitalist industrial system. Yet the concrete functions and impact of the welfare state have been closely related to the imperatives of managing society according to the bureaucratic principles of business–government cooperation characteristic of advanced capitalism. Since the welfare state resulted from the historical complicity between the emerging capitalist economy and the bureaucratic administration, it remains impotent when confronted with structural problems like unemployment and poverty that are more and more common and accepted in the most advanced societies (Offe, 1984b; Habermas, [1985] 1989). To differing degrees, current theorists working in the radically modernist Frankfurt School tradition reject their predecessors’ emphasis on reification above all for three reasons. They assert that the socioeconomic dynamics of

Beyond the Carousel of Reification


capitalist production and development will remain at the center of criticaltheoretical concerns only at the expense of other, perhaps more fundamental dimensions of social organization and development. Recent contributors to modernist critical theory who do not consider the category of reification to be of decisive analytical and practical value include Honneth’s (1991) work on power as a more central category, Cohen and Arato’s (1992) work on civil society as the dimension of modern society Marxists neglected to the detriment of their theoretical and practical objectives (by collapsing the ‘‘civil’’ dimension into the broader category of bourgeois society), and more generally, an interest in the nature and importance of the public sphere in western societies (see Calhoun, 1992). Postmodern critical theorists, on the other hand, argue that what used to be called ‘‘reification’’ concealed rather than revealed the pattern of insurmountable and inescapable power relations characteristic of western civilization, and corresponding forms of social organization and structure. Postmodernist theorists assert that before we can effectively comprehend the nature of this ‘‘modern’’ society, we must move beyond seemingly selfevident enlightenment categories of analyzing society in terms of control, predictability, and commensurability, along with an orientation toward fostering possibilities of authentic self-determination. Jean Baudrillard’s For A Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (1981) is symptomatic (though not representative) of postmodernist responses to theories asserting that reification (as well as the earlier concepts central to the Marxist critique, alienation and commodification) are indispensable categories. In his recent work on current forms of critical social theorizing, Craig Calhoun aptly describes Baudrillard’s postmodernist response as follows: The structure of relations which now matters is not that by which capital dominates labor, or centers of power grow and eliminate the territorial organization of power. Rather, the structure of relations which now matters is among signs. The representations are more real than the things represented. People are ‘‘exteriorized’’ into a techno-culture of ‘‘hyperreality’’ where significance replaces reification and we know only the simulacra of mass existence y [T]he alienation of the commodity form is experienced to such a degree of abstraction that the commodity becomes a mere image detached from its ground in human labor or concrete use value. As a result, the critiques based on use value and concrete labor are rendered impotent. (Calhoun, 1995, p. 103)

Irrespective of whether the critique of political economy has been rendered impotent because, or to the extent that, it was based on such specific categories as use value and concrete labor, both radically modernist and postmodernist critical theorists no longer consider the systematic analysis of



the capitalist economy, its inner workings as well as its concrete effects on society, essential to our understanding of the present.4 The third type of critical theorizing currently in sway, finally, concentrates on the extent to which social, political, and economic structures and forms of organization in western societies must be analyzed in relation to gender distinctions and practices. In a manner similar to postmodern critical theorists, radically feminist theorists assert that the concept of reification implies that the capitalist mode of production must be understood as the expression of a specific form of problem solving not reducible to more fundamental dimensions of social life. Feminist theorists criticize the notion, central to both functionalist and Marxist theory, that capitalist development must be understood as a dynamic process all its own, and that any attempt to trace its origins to a more basic dimension of social reality would deprive us of the possibility to critically analyze both its unique and unparalleled contribution to – and negative effects on – modern society. By contrast, genderoriented critical theorists argue that this modernist perspective occludes the possibility of recognizing that capitalist production occurs in a specifically gendered context: the capitalist mode of production and the bureaucratic form of administration do not represent ‘‘logics’’ of problem solving entirely independent from other forms of social organization: instead, economic and bureaucratic forms of organization are both manifestations of patriarchal domination. This insight applies not only to early beginnings of capitalist development but also and especially to the more recent stage of bureaucratic capitalism. In her critique of Habermas’s conceptualization of reification under conditions of welfare state capitalism, for instance, Nancy Fraser points out that in his Theory of Communicative Action, Habermas acknowledged that ‘‘the role of client carries effects of ‘reification.’’’ Yet he did not recognize ‘‘that this role, qua feminine role, perpetuates in a new, let us say ‘modernized’ and ‘rationalized’ form, women’s subordination’’ (Fraser, 1989, p. 132). Indeed, his theory overlooks that welfare state capitalism simply uses other means to uphold the familiar ‘‘normatively secured consensus’’ concerning male dominance and female subordination. y [I]t posits the evil of welfare state capitalism as the evil of a general and indiscriminate reification. It fails, in consequence, to account for the fact that it is disproportionately women who suffer the effects of bureaucratization and monetarization and for the fact that, viewed structurally, bureaucratization and monetarization are, among other things, instruments of women’s subordination. (pp. 133–134)

Though there certainly are compelling reasons for the relative neglect of reification as a core concept for critical social research, we still must ask whether its near-absolute neglect in the social sciences today is indicative

Beyond the Carousel of Reification


of its waning relevance as a social phenomenon in contemporary society. Are there other factors that may be responsible for this neglect of reification? As long as we do not have at our disposal an integrated social-theoretical and social-scientific reference frame enabling us to examine the nature of reification in different contemporary western societies, the role it plays in society in general, and its relationship to presumably more consequential and fundamental dimensions of social coexistence, we should be reluctant to claim that reification is outdated. Also, we must be reticent to presume that we can determine by theoretical means alone how exactly ‘‘power,’’ gender and reification (and an array of additional categories) relate to each other in terms of their social importance: how power is permeating each and every capillary of social, political, and cultural life (as Foucault would have had us think); how gender structures are perpetuating paternalistic ways of ‘‘solving’’ social problems and challenges; and how reification as a process is shaping all aspects of society’s life in a manner ever more difficult to discern. Under existing conditions, we do not, and we cannot know which and whether any of these dimensions is more forceful and consequential than the others. Therefore, it would be premature to conclude that reification no longer warrants explicit concern. In fact, by asserting that reification is no longer a crucial category for critical theory, we may be effectively submitting to its reign. In this context, then, I will address the problem of reification at the brink of the next century, by focusing explicitly on the problem of analyzing reification in the American context. I will begin by briefly sketching the three most important contributions to the critical theory of reification in Western Marxism. Next, I will examine how the problem of reification has been theorized in America, to prepare a reconsideration of the problem of mediating theory and practice, paying particular attention to modern society as the context for theorizing the problem of ‘‘overcoming’’ reification. In order to recover the concept as a sociologically viable category, I will contend that we need a comparative approach to theory, and that we must engender a practical turn in critical theory, in terms of a ‘‘syncretic’’ approach to practice. Finally, I will relate the preceding discussion to the idea of a guaranteed minimum income as a potentially viable strategy for reducing the scope of reification in western societies. While proceeding accordingly, it is not my intention to suggest that Frankfurt School critical social theory in essence is a critical theory of reification, but that by neglecting this dimension, critical theory loses one of its main referents. After all, as Adorno put it.



The thinker may easily comfort himself by imagining that in the dissolution of reification, of the [commodity] character, he possesses the philosophers’ stone. But reification itself is the reflexive form of false objectivity; centering theory around reification, a form of consciousness, makes the critical theory idealistically acceptable to the reigning consciousness and to the collective unconscious. (Adorno, [1966] 1973, p. 190)

Consequently, in theorizing the state of sociohistorical affairs at the end of the twentieth century, we must remain, or become again, aware of the extent to which the economically most advanced society may be permeated by reification, and that in order not to be blinded by its fetters, we must both recognize them for what they are and not allow them to determine how we conceive of a state of social existence beyond reification.

REIFICATION IN LUKA´CS, ADORNO, AND HABERMAS In the Western Marxist tradition initiated by Luka´cs, the theory of reification has found three formulations, each contending that the concept is a practically important category both in terms of social change and social research. In Luka´cs’s initial formulation, the concept is central to the theory of the revolutionary transformation of capitalism he developed during the years following World War I. In Adorno writings, the concept is reformulated, for purposes of enhancing the quality of sociological research, as a critique of the prevailing form of abstract thinking. In Habermas’s Theory of Communicative Action, finally, the concept is central to his claim that the reifying effects resulting from the respective ‘‘inner logics’’ of the self-regulating capitalist market economy and the administrative state obstruct modern society’s opportunity to rely on communicative interaction as a means to solve a multitude of socially consequential problems in more comprehensively rational ways. Although most Western Marxist theorists employed the concept at some point, Luka´cs, Adorno, and Habermas were particularly insistent that the concept is central to our understanding of advanced western capitalist societies.

Luka´cs’s Theory of Reification Luka´cs developed his theory of reification during the years immediately following the end of World War I, in the context of his collection of essays, History and Class Consciousness ([1923] 1971). At the time, the labor

Beyond the Carousel of Reification


movements in advanced capitalism appeared to become increasingly divided, ineffective, and co-opted by the ideals of bourgeois society, while a successful proletarian revolution had occurred in the economically backward world of post-Czarist Russia. The latter experience was especially disconcerting to Marxists because the Russian Revolution did not conform to what Marx had identified as the necessary conditions for a successful revolutionary socialist transformation of capitalist society. In particular, the productive forces had not yet reached the point where a revolutionary takeover could occur without endangering high levels of productivity that, in turn, had not yet been achieved (Russian society was industrialized during the Stalinist period in the 1930s, at great social and human expense). In addition, there was no tradition of bourgeois democratic ideals that would have enabled people to think of themselves as subjects rather than objects. The fact that the Russian Revolution nevertheless had been successful, while the western proletarian masses remained comparatively ineffective, suggested to Luka´cs that Marx’s initial theory needed to be framed anew to suit the more advanced stage of capitalist development. In History and Class Consciousness, Luka´cs set out to reformulate Marx’s critique of political economy for the more advanced stage of bureaucratic capitalist development, at a time when the international communist movement was undergoing an increasingly materialist turn. Luka´cs saw this move as a danger since it reduced the movement’s ability to keep in mind the critical, antipractical impetus of Marx’s theory of capitalism (see especially Postone, 1993). In ‘‘Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat,’’ Luka´cs argued that capitalist society was approaching a point where the prevalence of the capitalist mode of production would reach such a degree of objectification that the traditional divisions characterizing western societies, such as class, ethnic differences, and nationalism, were being exposed to a homogenizing force with a profound leveling effect: since all members of society for the first time were subjected to the same experience, the stage was being prepared for truly effective, collective action not possible before. Because all humans experienced the objectifying effects of capitalism, they also were enabled to transcend the social-structural differences that earlier had made it impossible to engage in collective action toward a common goal. Yet since objectification represented a common experience, a common denominator existed for the first time, providing the structural precondition for effective collective action (Arato & Breines, 1979, p. 113). To frame his argument, Luka´cs relied heavily on two theoretical categories: Marx’s critique of commodification and Weber’s theory of rationalization. Marx had laid out his critique of capitalism in terms of the



commodifying effects the capitalist mode of production imposed on society and social relations on all levels, in the section on ‘‘the fetishism of commodities and the secret thereof,’’ in the first volume of Capital. A critique of political economy (Marx, [1867] 1977, pp. 136–177). At the time, Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts with their emphasis on the category of alienation had not been rediscovered yet, and when Luka´cs wrote History and Class Consciousness, he was not familiar with Marx’s earlier critique of political economy in terms of alienation. Yet he was able to reconstruct Marx’s critique of alienation as the foundation for the critique of commodity fetishism, to theorize ‘‘the way men’s productive activity becomes alien and objective to them under capitalism’’ (Rose, 1978, p. 31). In addition, Luka´cs relied on Weber’s theory of rationalization as the process by which each and every aspect of human existence and coexistence is being revalued in terms of efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control (see Ritzer, 1996), to consider how the modern capitalist market economy emerged, even though Weber’s theory was not primarily geared toward economic categories. Instead, he identified rationalization as a more fundamental category than any emphasizing economic processes. Though the development of the modern economy from the 1500s to the late 1800s provided a superb illustration for Weber’s theory, he was more interested in the universality of rationalization as an elemental process permeating each aspect of modern society, including the economy. Luka´cs combined Marx’s critique of commodification and Weber’s theory of rationalization, to theorize the social conditions necessary for tackling any structural problem or challenge in society. He asserted that reification was more subtle than commodification. The effects of reification cannot be experienced as concretely and directly as commodification: one knows when one is being treated like a commodity, but one does not necessarily know when one begins to function, feel, and act like a commodity. Indeed, reification is commodification as ‘‘second nature’’: once reification has become generalized, it is virtually impossible to concretely experience it because reification deflates the social, cultural, ethical, and religious foundations characteristic of precapitalist forms of existence, thus depriving individuals as members of groups of the ability to discern and express the difference between reified life and its antecedent. Though the possibility to abstractly identify the effects of reification likely will still exist, the possibility to verbalize it in a socially consequential manner will not. At the same time, reification impedes attempts to conceive of posttraditional and postcapitalist form of social life.

Beyond the Carousel of Reification


Reification is a practically more pertinent category than the general category of rationalization because it identifies the substantive nature of the process: rationalization as a category does not enable us to determine what exactly we try to tackle, as a result impeding our ability to solve structural social problems more effectively, and more rationally. Yet if we recognize reification as a specific form of rationalization in advanced capitalism, we are in a better position to recognize the nature of the problem at hand. In History and Class Consciousness, Luka´cs arrived at the conclusion that only a proletarian revolution under the guidance of the Communist Party might crack the layer of reification the capitalist mode of production imposed on all things inanimate and animate. He did not argue, however, that the proletarian revolution would solve, at a stroke, society’s problems. Instead, he argued that such a revolution would set the stage for concrete attempts to practically solve major structural problems in modern society. As long as the process of reification continues unabated, society will not be able to effectively tackle any structural problems. Because it will not even be possible to take a straight look at any problem, society may spend vast energies and resources on tackling symptoms rather than the root causes of problems; it may also abandon efforts to tackle structural social problems altogether. After Luka´cs was forced by the fifth Comintern in 1925 to retreat from the critique of materialist Marxist theory he put forth in History and Class Consciousness, the concept of reification played less of a role in his work. Walter Benjamin, who later became a loose affiliate of the Frankfurt School, and who may have been its most creative and innovative thinker, employed the concept of reification in a manner that differed only slightly from Luka´cs’s use (see Rose, 1978, pp. 35–42). Ernst Bloch used the term, as well as Bertolt Brecht and Martin Heidegger (Rose, 1978, p. 43). Still, it was not until Theodor W. Adorno developed his perspective on reification that the concept again attained the status of a core concept in critical theory, and of a tool for sociological analysis. Indeed, the theory of reification found its second most important proponent in Adorno’s work, where reification is ‘‘the centrifuge of all his major works and of his many shorter articles’’ (Rose, 1978, p. 43). Since for the purpose of this chapter, it would lead us too far afield to closely examine how exactly Adorno understood and employed the concept of reification, I will rely on Gillian Rose’s excellent portrayal of his theory of reification and the context in which it must be seen, to assess his contribution to our understanding of one of critical social theory’s core concepts.



Adorno’s Critique of Reification When Adorno began to work with the concept of reification, it had acquired various ambiguous meanings, and it was frequently being used synonymously with alienation and commodification. In Adorno, the concept acquired connotations that were slightly different from Luka´cs’s use, whose concept of reification was based on a slightly different reading of Marx. Adorno understood commodity fetishism not in terms of Marx’s theory of the labor process but in terms of his theory of value, stressing the difference between use value and exchange value: ‘‘He was particularly concerned that reification should not be conceptualized as a ‘fact of consciousness’, a subjective or socio-psychological category. y He tried, too, in his sociological work, to make reification into an empirical category’’ (Rose, 1978, p. 43). Although reification is usually discussed in purely theoretical and abstract terms, we should keep in mind that Adorno’s theory of reification, though it took shape during the late 1920s and the early 1930s, received its greatest impetus after he arrived in America in 1938. Adorno spent his years in the United States almost exclusively in New York City and Los Angeles. Presumably, these cities already at that time were places where the effects of reification were immediately apparent. Adorno’s Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life ([1951] 1974), the collection of aphorisms he wrote during the early 1940s, bears testimony to just how much he viewed reification as a very concrete sociological and social category, to be applied even in the most minute and seemingly insignificant experiences of everyday life. Among the members of the Institute of Social Research, Adorno had the greatest difficulties to adjust to the ‘‘American way of life.’’ Though the first generation of Frankfurt School theorists is better known for its critique of instrumental reason (Horkheimer, [1967] 1994; Horkheimer & Adorno, [1947] 2002), in his own writings, Adorno preferred to link the concept of reification to the category of ‘‘identity thinking.’’ He distinguished between three types of thinking: identity thinking, nonidentity thinking, and rational identity thinking. While these distinctions must be seen within the dialectical tradition, it would be wrong to directly tie Adorno’s use of these types to Hegelian dialectics. After all, Adorno’s main contribution to philosophy and social theory was the concept of ‘‘negative dialectics,’’ the form of thinking he regarded as the sole appropriate response to the state of social, political, and cultural affairs under conditions of late capitalist production and organization. While it would be entirely justified to consider Hegel’s dialectical ‘‘method’’ as an attempt to present

Beyond the Carousel of Reification


an ‘‘antimethod’’ method (see Rose, 1981, passim; also Dahms, 1997), Adorno went one step further, to propose a form of dialectics categorically immune to the danger of being turned into a method, and of becoming complicit with the existing, reified social order. His notion of identity thinking must be seen as part of this antireification, antimethod agenda. Identity thinking corresponds to the ‘‘pragmatic, nature-controlling function of thought’’ (Rose, 1978, p. 44). It is the kind of thinking that collapses the potential complexity of a concept (in the Hegelian sense of Begriff ) into the simplicity of a term, attaches this seemingly unambiguous and unproblematic term to an object, and posits that all the dimensions of the object can be adequately expressed on the basis of this term. According to Adorno, every such step constitutes nothing less than a violation of the object at hand, especially if the object is not in fact a simple, straightforward thing to be used for specific purposes, but a historically emergent form, or a human being. Identity thinking reduces the multifaceted nature of any object to one (or a small number of) commensurable, controllable dimension(s), excluding those aspects that represent the potential of impunity, contradiction, or resistance. This is not to say, to be sure, that concepts would not only refer to an object but also to their dimensions in ideal terms. This is the utopian aspect of identifying. For the concept to identify its object in this sense the particular object would have to have all the properties of the ideal state. Adorno calls this condition rational identityy But identity thinking, which is our normal mode of thinking, implies that the concept is rationally identical with its object. However, given the present state of society (the capitalist mode of production), the concept cannot identify its true subject. The consciousness which perceives this is nonidentity thinking or negative dialectic. Adorno claims that the possibility of thinking differently from our paradigmatic mode of thinking is inherent in that very mode of thinking. (Rose, 1978, p. 44)

Per extrapolation, we may formulate the thrust of Adorno’s thinking as follows: the concept should entail all that the object would ‘‘like to be’’ (p. 45), if social conditions would permit that. In a second step, the potentiality of the object must be confronted with its reality under existing conditions. The personification of the object entailed by ‘‘like to be’’ is a stylistic way of presenting the objective, utopian moment. This would be the condition of rational identity. To confront it, present society, with what ‘‘it is,’’ that is, to compare it with the condition of its rational identity, is to see the non-identity in the relation between the concept and the object. Thus Adorno is not saying that the object can be known independently of our concepts. Furthermore, given that the object is ex hypothesi what really fulfills its concept, ‘‘It is pointless to ask whether these essential relationships are real or simply conceptual constructs’’ [Adorno], because by definition, the real is identical with, or



‘‘not yet’’ identical with, its concept. The real is conceptual but not a construct. (Rose, 1978, p. 44)

It is in this context that Adorno’s theory of ‘‘reification’’ enters the picture. He is particularly concerned with the assimilating impulse of identity thinking: in both its paradigmatic manifestation in everyday life and the non- or antidialectical sciences, identity thinking is in fact a reified form of thinking. Identity thinking turns things that are different into things that are alike. If any concept is assumed to adequately describe an object, even though the concept does not fully grasp the complex and/or contradictory nature of an object, it in fact assimilates the object in its various dimensions to the fragmented scope and depth of the concept. If we engage in identity thinking, we project the appearance that things that are different, or at the very least not exactly the same, are in fact identical. As a result, we lose the ability to discern the differences, and in additional steps, to ask whether and how significant the differences may be. If we apply identity thinking to socially relevant or defining concepts, we turn the ‘‘realities’’ they signify into caricatures of what they could otherwise be, or what they in effect are, without being recognizable as such. For Adorno, thinking that cannot discern the differences between what is identified conceptually as equal, ‘‘is reification as a social phenomenon and as a process of thinking’’ (Rose, 1978, p. 46). Reification is a social category. It refers to the way in which consciousness is determined. Thus, to say that something is reified is not to emphasize that a relation between men appears as a relation between things. It is to emphasize that a relation between men appears in the form of a property of a thing. To be non-reified, then, is really to be a property of a thing, or, by analogy, to be a use-value. y [S]omething is non-reified when the concept is identical with its object. y In capitalist society, reified concepts are the only form in which non-reified properties can appear. y The non-reified concepts of critical theory are derived from the reified form in which they appear. y Reified concepts describe social phenomena, the appearance of society, as if it has the properties to which the concepts refer. (p. 47)

It follows that in his investigations, Adorno used language in a manner that may not have enabled him to cut through the reified character of language in (t)his day and age, but he was determined to minimize the extent to which he himself perpetuated the reifying dimension of language under conditions of even more advanced capitalist production. Although Adorno certainly did not reject the notion that it is possible to identify objectively decisive features of social reality, he also did not adhere to a conventional correspondence theory of truth in any form: we cannot meaningfully talk

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about truth as long as we engage in identity thinking, truncating what we cannot hope to grasp conceptually as long as we are not willing to engage in thinking that does not presume the identity of concept and object. Or, to put it differently, as long as we engage in identity thinking, we systematically exclude consideration of the possibility of the object’s ‘‘other’’: that which would not submit if it were recognized; which would express its disagreement and alternative interpretation if given a voice; which would teach us that there is more to the world than the powers that be would have us ‘‘think.’’ Adorno’s repeated attempts to escape from the carousel of reification as it manifests itself in language (and also in art) must not be understood literally. When he asserted, for instance, that ‘‘reification is complete,’’ he both implied that it was and that it was not. The point was to hold fast to the realization that both moments had to be thought in order to do justice to any ‘‘object.’’ As long as it is still possible to contend that reification is complete, we evidently have not yet completely succumbed to its virtual omnipresence (see Rose, 1981, pp. 81–82). Moreover, as long as our thinking does not change, any social, political, or economic change will remain superficial, if not cosmetic.

Habermas’s Critique of Functionalist Reason and the Reification of Communicative Action In the fourth part of the first volume of The Theory of Communicative Action, on ‘‘rationalization as reification’’ from Luka´cs to Adorno, Habermas discusses ‘‘Max Weber in the tradition of Western Marxism’’ and the early Frankfurt School’s critique of instrumental reason. He theorizes the tension between the ‘‘reifying’’ effects of economic imperatives characteristic of modern advanced welfare state capitalism on social, political, and cultural life and the potential embodied in the alternative logic of the lifeworld’s increasing openness to the communicative formation of norms and values governing the way in which people interact, solve problems, and structure life in society. Habermas is interested in the value of Luka´cs’s analysis for understanding the tension between the increasingly differentiated capitalist economy and the deformation of the lifeworld and the communicative capacity embedded within it. Habermas employs Luka´cs’s combination of Marx and Weber to show that ‘‘the capitalist economic system [is] not only a new formation of class relationships but an advanced level of system differentiation in its own right’’



(Habermas, [1981] 1983, p. 374; my emphasis). Luka´cs linked Weber’s theory of rationalization and Marx’s critique of political economy so that he could recognize ‘‘the class-unspecific side effects of modernization processes as the results of an underlying class conflict’’ (Habermas, [1981] 1987, p. 332). Luka´cs used the concept of reification to separate ‘‘Weber’s analysis of societal rationalization from its action-theoretic framework and relate it to anonymous processes of capital realization within the economic system’’ (Habermas, [1981] 1983, p. 354). How does Habermas use the concept of reification to generalize Luka´cs’s critique of anonymous processes of capital realization within the economic system, to apply to the rationalization of power in the economy as well as in the modern administrative state, as a reification of communicative capacities? After a brief discussion of the ‘‘neo-Kantian term ‘form of objectivity’ [Gegensta¨ndlichkeitsform] as a ‘form of existence or thought’ [Daseinsform, Denkform] that has arisen historically and that characterizes the ‘totality of the stage of development of society as a whole’’’ (p. 355), Habermas critically appropriates Luka´cs’s theory of reification in three moves: he first discusses the reifying effect of wage labor on the life of the laboring individual, and then sketches Luka´cs’s use of Marx’s concept of the ‘‘commodity form’’ in analyzing the process of capitalist development as a process of reification and rationalization. Finally, Habermas discusses and criticizes Luka´cs’s reviving of Hegel’s concept of totality, for the following reason: In taking over – unanalyzed – the basic concepts of Hegelian logic, Luka´cs is presupposing the unity of theoretical and practical reason at the conceptual level of absolute spirit, whereas Weber saw the paradox of societal rationalization precisely in the fact that the development (and institutional embodiment) of formal rationality is by no means irrational as such; it is linked with learning processes that exclude a grounded resumption of metaphysical worldviews no less than they do a dialectical connection with objective reason. (Habermas, [1981] 1983, p. 362)

Habermas does not claim that we cannot return to these perspectives, but that such a return cannot be justified by means of rational argumentation. The concept of objective reason may be justifiable for analytical purposes, but the direct link to practice is not. Luka´cs’s attempt to ground a truly forceful theory of societal transformation might have been more successful had he employed the ‘‘objective possibility’’ of the proletarian revolution for theoretical purposes as the model of rational political action by which to ‘‘measure’’ the feasibility of concrete working class action. To be sure, Luka´cs did not simply intend to restore Hegel’s philosophy. Instead, he wanted to give Hegel’s speculative concept of reason a practical

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turn: Hegel’s attempt to philosophically unify the differentiated moments of reason [Vernunftsmomente], which had fallen apart in actually existing society, failed to reach the level of practical action. Yet Luka´cs insisted that only at that level could the critical substance of philosophical insight have shown its force. He concurs with Weber’s assertion that objective reason cannot be reconstructed on the level of philosophical thinking, not even in theory. Yet he inverts Weber’s assertion by rejecting the notion that the impossibility of reconstructing a comprehensive understanding of the world implies that the differentiated moments of reason embodied in rationalized systems of action do not have an absolute common denominator: It is characteristic of the pattern of rationalization in capitalist societies that the complex of cognitive-instrumental rationality establishes itself at the cost of practical rationality; communicative relations are reified. Thus it makes sense to ask whether the critique of the incomplete character of the rationalization that appears as reification does not suggest that taking a complementary relation between cognitive-instrumental rationality, on the one hand, and moral-practical and aesthetical-practical rationality on the other, as a standard that is inherent in the unabridged concept of practice, that is to say, in communicative action itself. (Habermas, [1981] 1983, pp. 363–364)

In ‘‘theory,’’ according to Marx, the reconciliation that the idea of reason projects remains an illusion. Yet a formal link between the differentiated moments of reason does exist, in terms of ‘‘the procedural unity of argumentative grounding’’: What now presents itself merely as a formal connection in ‘‘theory’’ – at the level of cultural interpretive systems – can possibly be reached in ‘‘practice’’ – In the lifeworld. Under the watchword of ‘‘philosophy becoming practical,’’ Marx appropriates the perspective of the Young-Hegelian ‘‘philosophy of the deed.’’ (Habermas, [1981] 1983, p. 364)

Habermas sees as one of Luka´cs’s decisive errors his attempt to turn the ‘‘becoming practical’’ onto ‘‘a theoretical plane and [represent] it as a revolutionary actualization of philosophy.’’ The theory that was decried for not being able to point the way toward reconciliation and reason is thus being reinstituted as the ultimate instance – for precisely that purpose. The burden of proof that results for the ‘‘theory,’’ however, is simply too great. Now, ‘‘philosophy’’ (in Luka´cs’s terminology) must not only be capable of thinking y the totality that is hypostatized as the world order, but the world-historical process as well – the historical development of this totality through the self-conscious practice of those who are enlightened by philosophy about their active role in the self-realization of reason. (Habermas, [1981] 1987, p. 364)



To allow for the realization of the unity of the differentiated moments of reason, Luka´cs supplements his theory of reification with a theory of class consciousness. Habermas’s discussion of Luka´cs concludes with a quote from Albrecht Wellmer, who contended that Luka´cs’s attempt to go beyond Weber’s abstract concept of ‘‘rationalization’’ and to make the specific political-economic content of the capitalist industrialization process visible y was part of his larger project to restore the philosophical dimension of Marxism. That this attempt ultimately failed is, I believe, in an ironical way due to the fact that Luka´cs’s philosophical reconstruction of Marxism was in some important respects equivalent to a return to objective idealism. (Wellmer, 1976, pp. 241–242; quoted in Habermas, [1981] 1983, p. 365)

Habermas does not struggle with, and even contemplate, the feasibility of projects geared toward resolving a comprehensive mediation of theory and practice, which he considers impossible. We must understand, instead, that to appropriately develop and ‘‘apply’’ a theory to different spheres of ‘‘social reality’’ and levels of social organization, the theory must be allowed to evolve according to the ‘‘inner logic’’ characteristic of the specific task at hand. In late-twentieth-century society, we can no longer presume any overarching theme, purpose, or challenge important and consequential enough to take precedence over all other concerns, patterns of solving problems, and institutional arrangements. In the absence of such an overarching principle, the seemingly inescapable and irreducible simplicity of the capitalist economic system’s self-sustaining impulse, devoid of any quest for meaning, fulfills the function of unifying the increasingly ‘‘fragmented world of the social’’ (Honneth, 1995) – for all practical purposes. It is precisely because of this condition that it is imperative to differentiate between the respective inner logics of diverse value spheres and dimensions of social life. The category of inner logic enables us to identify the patterning endemic to spheres that must minimize possibilities for raising issues relating to meaning: the economy, the administrative state (as opposed to the state as the product of a more or less democratic process), and bureaucracies on every level of social organization. In a second step, it enables us to recognize spheres whose ability to fulfill their function is contingent on the confrontation, and more or less tenuous resolution, of questions of meaning: political parties, universities, and the ‘‘public sphere’’ as thematized by Habermas, ([1962] 1989). It is in this context that Habermas’s appropriation of Luka´cs’s theory of reification comes into play. In terms of the concept of inner logic, the economy, for instance, is exemplary for social systems evolving according to

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imperatives that reduce opportunities to ask, on the societal level, how the system (e.g., the economy) should fulfill its function in a modern society. Yet the integrity and vitality of the lifeworld depends on the possibility to address such questions within the social realm. As the domain where the parameters of social life can be determined through a process of more or less successful and unconstrained communicative interaction, the lifeworld’s inner logic points toward the possibility to orient actions, decision-making processes, and forms of social organization toward a form of rationality that cannot be reduced to any one ‘‘inner logic.’’ By contrast, the inner logic of the economy points toward a minimalist form of rationality that narrows the socially available options for solving sociopolitical and cultural problems and resolving conflicts, to the type of rationality characteristic of the capitalist economic process. In Habermas’s terminology, the powerful economy forces the less powerful lifeworld to assimilate its capacity to resolve socially pressing problems on the basis of communicative interaction, to the economy’s mode of ‘‘solving’’ problems: to reduce their complexity by defining them in a ‘‘manageable’’ manner, and then to proceed accordingly. Along the lines of Weber’s concept, Eigengesetzlichkeit applied not only to the economy but also, for instance, to the modern administrative state, which evolves according to a different inner logic.5 Habermas employs Parsons’ systems-theoretic approach to contend that in the economy communication is supplanted by the steering medium of money, while in the administrative state, the medium is power. The inner logics endemic to economic and administrative decision-making processes both ‘‘colonize’’ the inner logic of the lifeworld: a progressively rationalized lifeworld is both uncoupled from and made dependent upon increasingly complex, formally organized domains of action, like the economy and the state administration. This dependency, resulting from the mediatization of the lifeworld by systems imperatives [in terms of money and power], assumes the socio-pathological form of an internal colonization when critical disequilibria in material reproduction y can be avoided only at the cost of disturbances in the symbolic reproduction of the lifeworld – that is, of ‘‘subjectively’’ experienced, identity-threatening crisis or pathologies. (Habermas, [1981] 1987, p. 305)

Within this context, reification is not of primary importance to contemporary theory in terms of the economy’s and the administrative state’s constraining effect on social relations in general, but in terms of their restrictive effects on the lifeworld’s capacity, first, to communicatively problematize their reifying effects, and second, to tackle these effects as well as the origins of reification in society.



In concrete terms of mediating theory and practice, Marx’s critical analysis of capitalism must be counterbalanced by the realization, inspired by Weber, that the multitude of tasks to be fulfilled in a well-integrated society cannot be assimilated to imperatives that are incompatible with the inherent requirements of specific tasks. For instance, we cannot assume from the outset that the imperatives of efficient economic decision-making can be assimilated to the imperatives of democratic decision-making without a loss in economic efficiency, even if we do not consider the nature of socalled democratic decision-making in bureaucratized mass society. The ‘‘social subsystem’’ of the administrative state, especially in its welfare state version, and the rationalization processes it engenders on the basis of a different inner logic, further complicates strategies geared toward overcoming reification. Though Habermas contends, with Weber and Parsons, that the economy and administrative state evolve according to different inner logics, he cautions that the precise nature and extent of the difference in advanced capitalism is an empirical question. In order to establish how exactly the economy and the state relate in a particular society, and which inner logic ‘‘weighs’’ more heavily regarding the manner of societal decision-making processes, we must engage in empirical social-scientific research: we cannot determine from the outset, and by theoretical means alone, which of the two types of colonization is more consequential, economic or administrative – and how exactly they relate. For this reason, it is not possible to directly infer appropriate remedies to the economy’s colonization of the lifeworld and the reifying effects it exerts on the condition of communication in society. Habermas cautiously employs the related term, ‘‘decolonization,’’ to designate the direction mediations of theory and practice that could lead to a desirable result might take; with respect to the economy, the lifeworld must be decolonized in the sense that the reifying effects of the production and distribution process must be fully recognized, and its control over modern society’s communicative potential reduced.

Reification since Habermas Since Habermas’s explicit discussion of Luka´cs’s theory of reification in the Theory of Communicative Action, the issue has virtually disappeared from social-theoretical debates. Or so it may seem. In fact, as I mentioned earlier, what used to be described in terms of reification continues to be thought,

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and to inform our thinking more or less rigorously, along slightly different lines: through terms that at the surface do not seem to have much in common with the older concept, the effects of reification are being theorized, for instance, under the headings of power and/or gender. In many respects, ideas related to reification have been transposed, more or less consciously and explicitly, into Weber’s theory of rationalization. Oftentimes, what is explicitly discussed with reference to Weber, in fact carries with it elements that would be described much more effectively along the lines of the Western Marxist conceptualizations of reification.6 In some respects, the postmodern critique of modern society is based on a radicalized understanding of reification, at times to the point where reification is being treated, implicitly, as the very essence of sociality in modern capitalist bureaucratic society (e.g., Baudrillard, 1983, pp. 65–75, 82–86). At the same time, the concrete explanatory value of reification itself may be rather limited. While an understanding of structures of economic and political power, definitions of gender, as well as the still monolithic character of the mainstream sciences and social sciences, promises to be of some concrete use and value, reification is far less concrete and directly detectable. We may be inclined, as a result, to estimate its practical importance as being rather low, in terms of social-scientific research and in terms of social and political practice. On the other hand, we cannot be certain that the appearance of its merely relative importance may not in fact be indicative of its greater importance in contemporary society: as the feminist and postmodernist critics have demonstrated time and again, what seems to be irrelevant, may turn out to be so overwhelmingly relevant that we prefer not to face it. The problem is amplified by the fact that, as Gillian Rose paraphrased Adorno, ‘‘most reactions to reification, whether philosophical, sociological or artistic, were reified, often because they grounded the concept’’ (Rose, 1978, p. 49). So, can we turn the concept into a sociological category? First of all, we must ask whether a society that has been reified retains any intellectual and cultural traditions allowing for the identification of the consequences resulting from reification in society. These traditions may not actually enable society, or a sufficiently large faction of its members, to effectively identify the consequences of reification. What is important, rather, is that society has at its disposal means ensuring that the effects of reification can be positively identified in some form – if ‘‘only’’ abstractly. If there are no such means, reification will attain the status of ‘‘second nature,’’ increasingly tilting how every single issue, problem, or challenge is being perceived in society, and condemning its members to struggle on terms that prevent success from the outset.



To be sure, we cannot determine what conceptual and theoretical tools are available and viable for identifying reification, and to practically get to its core, without looking at specific contexts. Postmodernists’ insistence that there is an intrinsic link between modernity and the condition Western Marxists described in terms of reification appears to be most appealing to many. Yet we must examine whether there indeed is an intrinsic relationship between capitalism in general, reification in general, and modernity in general – or whether there are certain types of relationships between specific forms of capitalism, reification, and modernity that deserve to be scrutinized more closely. In proceeding accordingly, it is necessary to make a determined effort not to implicitly overgeneralize specific contexts, and the way in which a specific issue poses itself there to all contexts of the same general type.

REIFICATION IN AMERICA Why is it that Frankfurt School critical theory is most widely read, discussed, and criticized in the United States and in Germany? The Institute of Social Research was founded in 1924; after Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, the Institute and its members had to leave Germany, and after detours via Geneva and Paris, arrived in New York in 1934. The Institute was affiliated with Columbia University, however without being fully integrated; Adorno officially joined the Institute in 1938. In the early 1940s, the Institute moved to Los Angeles. Both in New York and Los Angeles, the critical theorists conducted extensive empirical and theoretical research. In the early 1950s, Horkheimer, Adorno, and Pollock returned to Frankfurt to rebuild the Institute in a new building financed by the Rockefeller Foundation. Several former members of the Institute remained in America, most notably Leo Lowenthal, Erich Fromm, and Herbert Marcuse.7 Some of the appeal of Frankfurt School critical theorizing in the United States may derive from the fact that there is no explicit native tradition of identifying reification as an effect of the capitalist mode of production. This is not to suggest that there have not been any thinkers and theorists who reflected the tension between the emerging industrial society and the nature. Yet the terms of reflecting the corresponding experience are qualitatively different from continental European types of romantic, nonmodernist (and even antimodernist) thinking about ‘‘man’’ and nature, and especially about modern ‘‘man,’’ modern society, and nature. The members of the Frankfurt School were steeped not only in Marx’s critique of alienation and

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commodification, as well as in the Hegelian critique of alienation as thwarting ever more fundamentally the possibility of reconciliation even in philosophical thinking, but also in the romantic literature and philosophy written after the French Revolution, and in German and Jewish mysticism, most notably Meister Eckhardt. By contrast, the way in which the relationship of man and nature was contemplated in America, by such authors like Emerson and Thoreau (see Hazelrigg, 1995, pp. 82–90), was influenced more strongly by the Anglo-Saxon tradition of possessive individualism and a general faith in the self-healing powers of the market. Among American thinkers and social theorists, Thorstein Veblen came singularly close to the idea of reification. The main foci of his thinking were the emerging industrial arts on the one hand, and the strengthening business orientation in American society around the last turn of the century on the other. Veblen was born in 1869, during Reconstruction, and he died a few months before the stock market crash of 1929, and the onset of the Great Depression. Though he is best known for one of the classics of American sociological literature, The Theory of the Leisure Class ([1899] 1934), in the context of this chapter his more important contribution has to do with the tension he observed between purposive industrial production and speculative financial capitalism not concerned with productivity, but with making profits. Veblen distinguished between the ‘‘key industries,’’ the manufacturing sector, and agriculture. The key industries are responsible for ‘‘extracting’’ natural resources to provide manufacturers with the materials they convert into commodities, while the agricultural sector is primarily responsible for providing society with its nutritional means for survival. The manufacturing sector, or the ‘‘industrial arts,’’ deal exclusively with ‘‘inanimate matter,’’ while agriculture deals with living things, plants, and animals. The industrial system at large, outside of farming, has been reshaped by the machine industry and that standardized quantity-production which the machine industry has brought into action. The system at large is dominated by the technology of physics and chemistry; it is essentially a system of mechanical power, inanimate materials, and inorganic processes. (Veblen, 1923, p. 241)

Agriculture and the society based upon it are concerned with caring and nurturing, which characterizes their corresponding relationship to the world. The industrial arts, by contrast, treat everything as, or as if it were, inanimate matter, thus is the principle of industrial society. As long as industrialism and agriculture are left to their respective domains, and as long as they are allowed to fulfill their respective tasks without outside



interference, the overall orientation of the industrial arts toward inanimate matter does not pose a problem. Precisely because it remains confined to its domain, the industrial arts do not permeate the entire production process and society. The farm population is still given over to a workday surveillance of these processes of breeding and nurture. Farm life is still a neighborhood life of homely detail and seasonal fortuities; and the inveterate habituation to which the farm population is subject still makes for the good old spirit of parochialism and personalities, of neighborhood gossip and petty intrigue. The organization of the work necessarily runs to small-scale parcelment and isolation; relatively small working units which are necessarily masterless and self-directing in their processes of work, however greatly they may be tied up, hampered and retarded by pecuniary obligations to absentee owners outside. (p. 244)

Yet the peaceful coexistence of agriculture and industrialism is being disturbed once business enters the picture. Both agriculture and industrialism are concerned with production, the former for purposes of ensuring subsistence and the latter for large-scale production. There is nothing inherent in the logic of industrial production that would lead it to assimilate agricultural production to its own logic; as a result, the spheres of production dealing with inanimate objects as opposed to animate objects remain distinct, and society as a whole is not being assimilated to the logic of industrial production. Yet with the rise of the business world (or financial capitalism), and its elective affinity with the key industries controlling the natural resources, a different ‘‘logic’’ enters the field. Business is not concerned primarily with production, but with using resources and production for purposes of maximizing profits. It is not organized on the basis of private ownership, but of absentee ownership: those who run the business organization do not have an ownership stake, and they do not ‘‘care’’ as much about the fate of the business as a private owner would. As a result, Veblen asserts, various commodities and products the industrial sector could and would produce if it would follow its own orientation (because there are sufficient resources, because it would continue to be profitable at the level industrialists are trying to achieve, etc.) may not be produced if the interest of the business world is at stake. In many instances, the key industries, as they are not concerned with production, turn into businesses based on banking that are oriented toward maximizing profits while minimizing input and expenses; in other instances, the key industries are being taken over by ‘‘business.’’ Accordingly, if the economy operates ever more clearly along the lines of business imperatives, as opposed to production imperatives, concrete production is bound to become a function of profit opportunities rather than of social needs. First the industrial sector

Beyond the Carousel of Reification


is being assimilated to the necessities of financial capitalism, or business. As a result, the principle of industrial production – dealing with inanimate matter or things – is being generalized to the economy as a whole. Consequently, with industrial production becoming the primary ally to profit making (and not its purpose), the principle of dealing with inanimate matter is being transposed onto the agricultural sector as well. When this process has been completed, living nature and all aspects of society are being treated as if they were dead matter – means for making profits. The incentive of business is not to produce goods but to make money, and business considerations are decisive in the control and management of the industrial system. And the articulation and balance of the industrial system as it is organized for business purposes is accordingly a different one. (p. 248)

Veblen concludes that this ‘‘industrial system describes the situation in America,’’ and that ‘‘with an inconsequential change of words,’’ it applies to all ‘‘civilized nations’’ (p. 249): In many of the characteristic features of the case America may be taken as an exemplar of the civilized world, particularly as regards the civilized world’s present status in industry and business y As the matter stands now the division between nations is a division of business interests, and national policies are chiefly occupied with the competitive cross purposes of vested interests which do business under one flag or another. This too is quite obvious, and it is a familiar matter of course, at large and in detail, to the absentee owners and statesmen who have to take care of these matters. (pp. 249–250)

Although Veblen’s depiction of the tension between business on the one hand and industrial production on the other quite literally describes a process of ‘‘thingification,’’ treating animate matter as if it were inanimate, it might have provided a ‘‘native’’ voice to discern the reifying effects of the advanced, organized capitalist mode of production. Yet Veblen’s peripheral position in American academia in general, and in the social sciences in particular, appears to have impeded the spread of his ideas. In various respects, the history of emergent capitalism in America was quite different from the European experience, especially on the continent. The related ideas of alienation, commodification, objectification, and reification have a long tradition in European thinking, accompanying at times more slowly, at times more rapidly emerging capitalist market economy and its continuous conflict with existing social, political, and religious structures and belief systems. Indeed, in Europe, the formation of the market economy was experienced as a painful process because it aggressively interfered with existing conditions, forcing them to adapt to a



new regime of economic production. By contrast, it would not be entirely inappropriate to assert that when the colonists from Europe went about creating a new society on the American continent, they did so without an existing native system of social and political structures and beliefs of their own they had to confront. This is certainly not to say that they built society from scratch since they brought with them ideas and notions about social, political, and religious life, as well as a plentitude of habits; but in adhering to these features, they did not confront an overwhelming existing structure watching and shaping their every step. Though America did not emerge as a market society, the need to do whatever it took to survive often was too strong to afford the luxury of facing the challenge according to prevailing norms and values. What norms and values they brought, they reshaped in terms of the new context and the newly emergent order. ‘‘Nature’’ was experienced both as a potentially hostile and uncontrollable enemy and as the most basic provider; to survive, both the natural and the social environment had to be used in whatever way necessary and possible. Veblen’s distinction between ‘‘key industries’’ turning into business, the industrial arts of the manufacturing sector, and agriculture, however, is useful not only in terms of what could be considered an American theory of reification but also in terms of the foundations of American society if compared to European societies. The British colonies in North America certainly began as subsistence economies, whose basic principle of production later was forced to give way to industrialization. Well before that occurred, however, within a few decades after the establishment of the American republic, agricultural America with its values of modesty, self-reliance, subsistence, etc., was confronted with the emergence of the market economy. The social foundations of this confrontation had been manifest for some time, in the division between the market society that emerged on the east coast and the subsistence society in the interior. Where England’s venturous capital met the New World’s abundant acreage along the coast of temperate North America, a new kind of society developed. Reversal here of the Old World’s person/land ratio opened a refuge for swarms of the needy and servile uprooted by the market from the European land. New World land – fertile, abundantly watered and wooded, and easily wrested at first from its aboriginal populace – elevated them to landowning security and respect y The resulting society of roughly equal landowning families was the seedbed of American republicanism. (Sellers, 1991, p. 4)

In the interior, by contrast, the market asserted itself to a much lesser degree. It was difficult and prohibitively expensive to move goods. As a result, the two contrasting modes of production, one oriented toward self-sufficiency and the

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other toward trade in the market, facilitated the emergence of different cultural contexts. The market fostered individualism and competitive pursuit of wealth by open-ended production of commodity values that could be accumulated as money. But rural production of use values stopped once bodies were sheltered and clothed and bellies provided for. Surplus produce had no abstract or money value, and wealth could not be accumulated. Therefore the subsistence culture fostered family obligation, communal cooperation, and reproduction over generations of a modest comfort y By the end of the [18th] century, a majority of free Americans lived in a distinctive subsistence culture remote from river navigation and the market world. (p. 5)

Yet this world was about to be shattered by developments emanating from the society on the east coast, whose way of life made itself felt ever more strongly, even in the remote reaches of the interior. The culture of the society on the coast was very much shaped along the lines of ideas based on possessive individualism and utilitarianism, and the Protestant ethic. We may wonder whether the Reformation in Europe was an original movement facilitating the emergence of a new ethic rationalizing persistent economic activity as legitimate, or whether it was the more or less receptive, adaptive response to a new economic mode of production and order that enforced itself ever more inescapably and painfully. Yet to the cultural fabric of the coastal society in early America, the Protestant ethic was an integral component whose preeminence itself was beyond doubt (the question that remained was how exactly the Protestant ethic was understood and practiced, with a multitude of slightly modified answers in the form of a growing number of Protestant sects), and whose orientation toward economic success and the accumulation of capital was considered essential to human nature. As Max Weber ([1905] 2002, p. 14) put it, the spirit of capitalism ‘was y present before any ‘‘capitalist development’’ had taken place.’ This was not the case in the self-sufficient world of agricultural America, which around 1800 constituted the majority of the population. By 1815 y a market revolution was surmounting the overland transportation barrier. While dissolving deeply rooted patterns of behavior and belief for competitive effort, it mobilized collective resources through government to fuel growth in countless ways, not least by providing the essential legal, financial, and transport infrastructures. Establishing capitalist hegemony over economy, politics, and culture, the market revolution created ourselves and most of the world we know. (p. 5)

In principle, it should have been possible for the society of the interior to find a language to express its experience of being subjected to a development that conflicted fundamentally with their own view of the world, as well as with their beliefs and values: ‘‘Despite contradictions of patriarchy, racism,



and fee-simple property, they rallied around enduring human values of family, trust, cooperation, love, and equality’’ (p. 6). For purposes of the argument, one could contend, then, that under these circumstances, with essentially identical languages in both societies to verbalize their experiences, the members of the subsistence oriented society appear not to have been able to express their discontent in a specific cultural tradition that would have protected the uniqueness of their experience from the ‘‘hegemonic’’ culture in the East, brought along from Britain. As a result, their experience could not assert itself; as an experience of conflict independent from the ‘‘Eastern culture,’’ it may as well have never existed. In more concrete terms, one might argue that the seemingly identical cultural heritage between the societies on the east coast and in the interior, and the lack of an independent tradition of ‘‘reading the world’’ that preceded the formation of the American market society in a language of its own, prevented not only the expression of the agricultural experience of suppression but also successive groups that experienced bourgeois market society as alien and violent: labor, native Americans, African-Americans, and so on. Consequently, the different groups were not able to strongly insist on the autonomy and sanctity of their respective experiences – whether in terms of what in Europe was to be called ‘‘alienation,’’ ‘‘commodification,’’ and later on, ‘‘reification’’ – or in another language.8

Toward a Critical Theory of American Society At this point, we should recall once more the peculiar circumstance that Frankfurt School critical theorizing is most developed in Germany and in the United States. Assuming for the sake of argument that this proclivity in both cases has to do with the fact that critical theory thematizes like no other tradition the problem of reification, we might suspect a link between this proclivity and specific social conditions. The reason why the concept of reification was developed in Germany may have had to do with the specific history of the conditions under which capitalism was established there. Germany was not only a late developer politically but also and especially economically. Despite the fact that Marx laid the foundations of his critique of political economy in Germany, he only was able to fully develop it after he had emigrated to England, where industrialization was in full swing. During the first half of the nineteenth century, comparatively speaking, capitalism had barely developed in Germany. In fact, it was not until after the unification of Germany in 1871 that capitalism was forcefully imposed

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on society, not primarily by economic groups but by the new Imperial government under the leadership of the Imperial Chancellor, Bismarck. As a result, in Germany the establishment of a national market and the implementation of accelerated industrialization generated an unavoidably conspicuous and painful confrontation of old and new values, for the entire society. Market forces strongly intervened into existing social and economic structures, while the authoritarian and militaristic regime of Prussia at the core of the Imperial government was imposed on the rest of Germany (see Veblen, [1915] 1954).9 During the fifty years directly preceding the formulation of Luka´cs’s theory of reification in History and Class Consciousness, Germany moved from an almost entirely agrarian society, with functional serfdom still in place in the eastern parts of the country, and without a central national government and any semblance of democratic politics, to a modern, highly industrialized society with a sophisticated workforce whose first, tenuous experiment with democratic politics had just begun. If we also take into consideration, moreover, that Luka´cs had come to Germany from the industrially backward world of Hungary, and that he experienced the novelty of industrialization in all its force, it may not be surprising that under such conditions, the concept of reification was not only first introduced then and there but also resonated strongly with the concrete life experiences of many people. The same might have happened in America, were it not for a number of obstacles, including the lack of traditions of interpreting social and political reality within alternative belief systems related to different class, ethnic, racial, religious, or national experiences strong enough to assert their relative independence in the face of the predominant ideological context of liberal republicanism and possessive individualism. In addition, the specific elective affinity between the latter context with the economic pursuit of happiness in practically all of its forms, including industrialism and what Veblen called ‘‘the machine age,’’ may have ‘‘softened the blow,’’ providing normative and ideological means to not only cope with the various forms of distress resulting from enforced capitalist production but also, in many respects, to turn the fear of suffering into a pillar of the capitalist economic system, risk-taking entrepreneurship. Consequently, there may not have been any vital means to express what might have been experienced by many as reification, nor so much of a need to express the experience, nor an ability to consciously experience it. As a result, the experience of ‘‘thingification’’ was not reflected on any level of abstraction, and Veblen’s unique critique of the machine age did not attain the status Luka´cs’s



theory of reification achieved in certain quarters in European social thinking. The Frankfurt School reformulation of Luka´cs’s theory of reification to a significant extent reflected the manner in which Adorno experienced American society. It is quite noteworthy, however, that his work on reification was not central to the reception of the Frankfurt School in the American humanities and social sciences over the last two decades. To a certain extent, this may reflect that ‘‘reification’’ has been associated so strongly with Luka´cs that Adorno, for instance, was rarely considered an authentic contributor. In any case, the concept of reification did not appear in American social theory until the 1960s, after Weber’s theory of rationalization had become familiar terrain. In many respects, the reception of the theory of reification needed to be prepared by the origin of its nonMarxist, Weberian component, for the stage to be set for considering reification as a viable category at all. The writings of David Riesman (1950), Wright Mills (1956), and Alvin Gouldner (1970) were decisive in this respect. Nevertheless, reification, then as now, has remained an alien category in the American context, and although its centrality in Luka´cs’s work made it impossible for Luka´cs scholars to avoid the issue, in discussions of the Frankfurt School its centrality, obvious to German readers and notable exceptions like Gillian Rose, has remained peripheral not just in recent years. To the extent that the concept was credited with some relevance, however, it clearly provided a ‘‘voice’’ to express an essential element of the American experience native traditions were either not able to express as well or at all. In addition, though the theory of reification could have provided American social scientists with a means to thematize related problems, as an essentially European idea, it might not have provided or identified viable means of tackling it. Instead, a specific theory to mediate some form of viable practice was required since the category of reification as such did not lead directly toward a practical strategy for tackling reification in America. The usefulness of the concept of reification is contingent on a significant faction of the population having shared a sociocultural experience of discontentment and loss, on the basis of tensions between social reality and religious values, social values, or ideological preconceptions. Domestic traditions in the United States appear to have difficulties to verbalize such tensions because the experience of reification is so closely woven into the fabric of American society, and because it is so much part of the common horizon, that its exceptional character is difficult to recognize.10

Beyond the Carousel of Reification


Finally, we have to keep in mind that all societies are contingent realities, and that the question is not whether forms of social, political, and cultural life live up to abstract standards detached from the social world, but whether societies cohere in terms of their own norms and standards. Only critical social theory is interested in answering this question. Indeed, in this context, the function of critical theory is to identify how societal structures impede what can be thought. If there are structural impediments to contemplating a problem, or a type of problem, which make it impossible to adequately address the nature of the problem, the expectation that the problem can be solved is not warranted.11 Considering that we lack a framework to compare the effects of reification sociologically, as well as its relationship to modernity, we need to take two important steps that critical theorists have consistently shied away from, even though these steps for too long have suggested themselves as they are essential to any social theory that draws on dialectical traditions of reflection and analysis. First, critical theorists must develop a comparative approach to theory, both in terms of comparing different theoretical projects and in terms of relating different theories to the sociohistorical circumstances under which they emerged. And second, critical theory must take a practical turn, explicitly addressing whether opportunities exist (and can be fostered) to strengthen, in a broad and nonreductionistic sense, the modern impulse in contemporary societies.

RETHINKING THEORY AND PRACTICE The problem of mediating theory and practice traditionally has been considered in terms of the optimal strategy to attain a specific goal: to calibrate a theory to inform us as to how to best achieve an objective desirable in terms of the theory’s overall scheme. In the ideal case, theory and practice are carved from the same wood, and there is no break between them: Smith’s model of free-market capitalism and the liberal theory of democracy are the most prominent examples. In both cases, the continued practice itself is the objective of the theory. In the Marxist approach to mediating theory and practice, by contrast, the successful strategy is being conceptualized in relationship to a correct theory about the nature and the laws of economy, society, and politics. Such a theory is necessary for breaking the circle of researchers employing socially constituted categories to comprehend the very context in which they were constituted. In terms of its explicitly stated goal, the ‘‘overcoming’’ of the capitalist mode of



production and its reifying effects, this most radical approach has remained notoriously unsuccessful. In the first two instances, laissez-faire and democracy, the mediation of theory and practice is practice itself as depicted in the theory, and the outcome beyond the theory’s grasp. In the third case, however, the Marxian mediation itself has generally been understood to be a means toward an end: preparing the emergence of a communist society. In Marx’s critique of political economy, the purpose of the theory was to identify the conditions that need to be avoided (and, to a lesser degree, conditions that need to be fulfilled) in order to prepare the emergence of a truly postcapitalist society. In traditional Marxism, and in Luka´cs’s version of it, the mediation of theory and practice was thought in terms of class struggle and the proletarian revolution, with the proletariat being the identical subject– object. In recent years, however, several social theorists have pointed out that this reading of Marx’s perspective on the problem of mediating theory and practice was at least reductionistic, if not an outright distortion (Postone, 1993; Sayer, 1987; Hazelrigg, 1993). These theorists argue, in different ways, that the essence of the problem of theory and practice in Marx must be seen at a far more subtle level: Marx’s theory of constitution through practice is social, but not in the sense that it is a theory of a constitution of a world of social objectivity by a human historical Subject. Rather, it is a theory of the ways in which humans constitute structures of social mediation which, in turn, constitute forms of social practice. y [A]lthough Marx does posit the existence in capitalism of what Hegel identified as a historical Subject – that is, an identical subject-object – he identifies it as the form of alienated social relations expressed by the category of capital rather than as a human subject, whether individual or collective. He thereby shifts the problem of knowledge from the possible correlation between ‘‘objective reality’’ and the perception and thought of the individual or supraindividual subject, to a consideration of the constitution of social forms. (Postone, 1993, p. 218)

This more literally mediation-oriented reading of Marx necessarily applies on a variety of levels of social organization, and calls for an explicit consideration of alternative approaches. It is in this context that a fourth variant of mediating theory and practice must be considered. This variant, while entirely compatible with the above re-reading of Marx, is particularly pertinent under sociohistorical circumstances that do not allow for a more or less direct mediation of theory and practice along the lines drawn by Marx. Considering the level of technological know-how and productivity characteristic of advanced capitalist economies, we have reason to assume

Beyond the Carousel of Reification


that most essential social and societal problems could be resolved in terms of their material conditions. Yet as a result of cultural, political, and ideological impediments, modern societies are not able to effectively confront these problems. In the famous preface to his 1859 – A Contribution to Critique of Political Economy, Karl Marx claimed that ‘‘mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; since, looking at the matter more closely, it will always be found that the task itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution already exist or are at last in the process of formation’’ (Marx, 1978, pp. 4–5). Problems can be solved and truly resolved rationally only as long as we are in the position to examine the specific task on its own terms, without ulterior motives that induce us to see the task in the light of some other objective that leaves decisive features of the task at hand in the dark, and without limitations that the existing order of things (including various power structures essential to late-twentiethcentury capitalism) impose on our ability to examine a problem in its complexity, by defining problems in ways that are instrumental to the continued existence of the specific form of advanced capitalism. Only when we concede that there is a specific logic to the problem at hand can we take the next step, and ask how do we want to solve this kind of problem in society, by employing what strategies, and to what end? Marx wrote with the confidence of the theorist who was certain that he helped a qualitatively different and superior social formation to emerge. Today, few theorists – if any – seem to expect that a qualitatively new social formation is about to emerge. Yet much theoretical rhetoric betrays that theorists see the task of social theory in general, and of critical social theory in particular, in two presumably incompatible ways: to facilitate the emergence of a different social formation that allows ‘‘humankind’’ to solve its problems more effectively or to project that the optimistic modernist expectations were vastly overdrawn. In fact, however, to give critical theory meaning in a specific historical situation, we must conceive of it in those terms (and we should keep in mind that the alternatives of effective problem resolution on the one hand, and of historically situating modernist expectations on the other, are not incompatible). Yet is it legitimate to expect from (critical) theory the power to facilitate the emergence of a different social formation? Why should we think, first, that there are ‘‘correct’’ theories for all problems; and second, that such correct theories are relevant in a society where they cannot come to fruition? There may be conditions where we must first prepare the conditions necessary to effectively address a problem. Such preparation calls for a practice that is informed by theory, but that does not conflate theory with practice.



To prepare such a form of practice, we must identify an approach to the problem of mediating theory and practice that does not perpetuate the dualism between theory and practice. At the same time, we must be cognizant of the possibility that under existing conditions, the claim that there should not be a difference between theory and practice, or that we already are engaging in far-reaching mediations of theory and practice, might fulfill an ideological function – if it does not also state that the only kind of direct mediations possible under conditions of reification is a regressive one. To put it differently, under ideal circumstances, theory and practice should be compatible and complementary, but under conditions of reification, the impression must be avoided that they can be; therefore, the task is to prepare the possibility of steps that, in turn, might foster the possibility of a less rigid way of thinking about theory and practice in society. To ask these questions effectively, we need to reconsider the relationship between universals and particulars, between what ‘‘we’’ know about various crucial dimensions of contemporary society as, for instance, the degree of modernity, the organization and function of the state, the nature and importance of communication, and the concrete form these dimensions take in actually existing societies. This is more true for specific differences between very similar societies, than between different types of societies. I would posit that for sociologists, the most interesting issue should be to determine how modern societies are different from each other: the emphasis on the difference between modern western societies and other societies occludes rather than illuminates differences between modern western societies that we must understand to grasp the unique nature of modern societies. This is not to suggest that we should neglect the difference between modern and premodern societies, but that we will not be able to pass judicious verdicts on the fate of modern society as long as we do so on the basis of intimate familiarity with only one modern society. It is not enough to abstractly understand general patterns, such as the relationship between the state and the economy, between business and labor, and between the civil society and the state; instead, we must also understand the link between the general patterns and the specifics.12 If we neglect to examine this link, we cannot understand the potential for change in one specific society, in modern society in general, dangers for continued development, and whether modern society is being succeeded by a postmodern social order. At this point, the interesting issue is no longer the emergence of modern society, but the extent of its generalization in

Beyond the Carousel of Reification


different modern societies. Sociology should be above all the social science of western societies. The idea that we can adopt policies that proved to be successful in one society, or another society, entails both a promise and a danger. For instance, under what conditions can ‘‘free’’ market economic policies be exported into structurally hostile environments, for example, Eastern Europe and most of Russia? The widespread implementation of Parsonian sociology during the 1960 is a case closer to home, where research strategies developed in American society of the 1940s and the 1950s were implemented not only in other modern societies but also in less advanced societies, without considering the contextuality of the theory’s development in the United States. As a result, many attempts to apply his theory and to implement the results of the research failed, and Parsons was regarded as the ultimate culprit. Much of post-Parsonian American sociology must be seen as a reaction to his flawed theory; rarely was the possibility considered that the issue of implementing it constituted a challenge of a different type, and that the idea that it could be implemented without mediation was misguided. To consider the issue of mediating theory and practice, we are very much in need of a comparative approach to theory, as well as of an approach to practice that considers strategies viable in some societies, but not necessarily in others. However, such an approach to practice must not be an extension of theoretical considerations to practical questions, but qualitatively different. How can critical social theory introduce concrete factors into the abstract equation; how should it balance the universal and the particular? The point is not to theorize the particular in the same manner in which the universal is being theorized but to theorize the particular in its own right, and to do so explicitly. Otherwise, we do not engage in social theory, but in a theory of the social that is not respectful of the latter: we must refrain from the temptation to assimilate the social to categories of analysis that may prevent us from identifying the multidimensional nature of the social.

Toward a Comparative Approach to Theory How do abstract theories enable us to understand specific social realities better; how can we apply them to concrete problems? The abstract tendency in theory makes it almost impossible to ask this question; and once the abstract level has been reached, it becomes virtually impossible to cede



autonomy to concrete forms of social life. In terms of the division of labor, once the abstract level became generalized, largely as a result of Parsonian theorizing, every single-issue theorists might be concerned with, was reformulated in theoretical terms. As Habermas put it, All theories are highly abstract today. At best, they can make us more sensitive to the ambivalences of development: they can contribute to our ability to understand the coming uncertainties as so many calls for increased responsibility within a shrinking field of action. They can open our eyes to dilemmas that we can’t avoid and for which we have to prepare ourselves. ([1993] 1994, pp. 116–117)

Yet this development may turn out to be detrimental for social theory, especially for critical social theory since it is designed to enable us to cope with concrete social formations. Habermas’s inclination to accept that theories are becoming ever more abstract may conflict with the intent to make critical theory more practically relevant. We would be well advised to recall Adorno’s warning that we must hesitate to embrace theory’s tendency toward ever greater abstractness. Compared with consciousness y the concept represents not only something more abstract; by virtue of its coining power it also represents something more real. Beyond the magic circle of identitarian philosophy, the transcendental subject can be deciphered as a society unaware of itself. Such unawareness is deducible. Ever since mental and physical labor were separated in the sign of the dominant mind, the sign of justified privilege, the separated mind has been obliged, with the exaggeration due to a bad conscience, to vindicate the very claim to dominate which it derives from the thesis that it is primary and original – and to make every effort to forget the source of its claim, lest the claim lapse. Deep down, the mind feels that its stable dominance is no mental rule at all, that its ultima ratio lies in the physical force at its disposal. On pain of perdition, however, it must not put its secret into words. Abstraction – without which the subject would not be the constituens at large at all, not even according to such extreme idealists as Fichte – reflects the separation from physical labor, perceptible by confrontation with that labor. (Adorno, [1966] 1973, p. 177)

If we regard increasing abstractness independent of the sociohistorical context, we are in danger of implicitly perpetuating a pattern that has been imposed on our thinking the world we would not want to embrace were we aware of it. After all, abstract theorizing may be a blessing in the sense that it enables us to cut through the multiplicity of social forms, to get to the core of the basic patterns of modern society. If we were forced to first consider the specifics of every social environment, we could not possibly identify the nature of modern society; we would not be able to see the forest for all the trees. As social scientists, moreover, our main interest must lie with those

Beyond the Carousel of Reification


features that transcend specific cases; if we were not able to thematize the general nature of modern society independently from specific contexts, we simply would not be able to consider a variety of issues: the relationship between empirical changes at different levels of social organization and the overall trajectory of modern society; the relationship between what Marx called the laws of motion in capitalism and developments in politics, culture, and society; and the tension between opportunities for collective selfdetermination and the force of systemic imperatives pushing society along their respective tracks of development (the economy toward reification, the state toward the iron cage, and so on). Yet I would argue that we are approaching a dead end in this regard. Increasingly abstract social theorizing, though necessary in terms of the continuing division of labor in the social sciences, is losing its explanatory force when it can no longer consider specific contexts of analysis. Indeed, the actuality of abstract thinking is reaching a point where it is barely possible to backtrack. The division of labor itself is a social process that warrants critical analysis. When we engage in abstract theorizing (and the emphasis on universally valid core concepts) to the point where it is no longer possible to ask about the specific meaning and significance of the core concepts, we effectively leave social reality behind. While this feature has been fundamental to ‘‘sociological’’ theory from the start – in Parsons, it was its expressed purpose to function as a universally applicable reference frame for analysis, independent from specific sociohistorical contexts – critical social theory explicitly operates at a specific point in time and space. To do so effectively, it must utilize a universalizable foundation, identifying its general standards, purpose, and orientation. However, if critical theory is conceived above all as a universal theory, it cannot achieve its objective: it must be willing and able, at various steps, to consider how its standards are expressive of modern society, as opposed to specific sociohistorical circumstances. While noncritical theory (and even some versions of critical theory that do not derive from, or focus on social analysis, but from textual criticism, philosophy, or an emphasis on social structures as a function of gender patterns) do not make any claim to explicitly consider and reflect concrete social conditions, critical social theory starts out from the assumption that all theories reflect the social conditions of their production and application. It is for this reason that critical theorists cannot allow themselves to focus exclusively on abstract theorizing, at the expense of concrete social analysis. We must ask, then, how do specific conditions/constellations shape opportunities for social, cultural, and political change? What do the constellations reveal about the



specific meaning of central concepts, such as reification, state, civil society, and modernity? The distinction between universal and particular is especially pertinent regarding modernity, and the nature of its relationship to reification. In Sociology after the Crisis (1995), Charles Lemert set out to reassess why and how sociology does remain a viable and indispensable project, after the ‘‘crisis of differences, y the remarkable intrusion of multicultural thinking and politics into high academic discourse as well as the cultural politics of public life’’ (p. x). To frame his argument, Lemert draws conclusions about the present state of affairs, and the nature of modern society, from the American context. Yet, throughout the book, he does not explicitly distinguish between modernity in America from modernity as an ideal type. He does not consider that American modernity may not be characteristic of modernity ‘‘in general,’’ and that American modernity may be characterized by features that do not occur or apply in other modern societies we also consider modern, such as much of industrialized Europe.13 If we theorize modernity without considering specific contexts, it will be difficult to discern the essence of modernity. For obvious reasons, the tendency to glance over differences between the ways in which modernity manifested itself in different societies is especially great in the United States that, in many ways, constitutes and behaves like a world onto itself. It is especially important, then, to examine how social conditions are related to its specific theoretizations. To expand on a question asked earlier: why is it that Marx’s critique of political economy inspired the development of the Frankfurt School critical social theory in Germany in the second quarter of the twentieth century? Why did Marx’s critique prepare postmodernist thinking in France in the following quarter of the century? And why did both versions acquire unprecedented regard in the United States in the last quarter of this century? How are national traditions of theorizing related to depictions of social reality that shape our understanding of core categories in certain (often slanted) ways? Most theoretical debates are being conducted as if we could discuss substantive issues independently of specific contexts, like the nature of modern society and any of its components (the nation state, the economy, civil society, culture), and to arrive at a thorough and sophisticated understanding. One of the most promising developments in sociology in recent years has been the reemergence of economic sociology. Scholars in this field have recovered two propositions that have been of interest to social theorists from the start, and which should be eminently important to critical

Beyond the Carousel of Reification


theorists, for an array of reasons. The first proposition is that economic action and institutions are socially and culturally embedded (Granovetter, 1985; DiMaggio, 1990); the second proposition is that economic institutions are socially constructed (Granovetter, forthcoming). For the time being, economic sociology lacks a unifying theoretical foundation or orientation, which heightens the paradoxical nature of the situation: social and critical theory drops its interest in the economy, while reemergent economic sociology lacks a clear theoretical reference frame that locates its return in a meaningful historical perspective. As things stand, economic sociology’s claim to fame is that it provides new knowledge that is more apt regarding the nature and the dynamic of the economic process than economics. Yet since economic sociology is largely unaffected by, and unaware of the theoretical debates that have rattled theoretical sociology in recent years, it is in imminent danger of providing the kind of knowledge those in charge of economic decision-making need, to make their various decisions more effectively. Economic sociology by definition is especially oblivious to the problem of reification since its overall interest is based, to a significant extent, on presuppositions that contain reification from the outset. This is particularly unfortunate since we might presume that the vibrant reemergence of economic sociology might be indicative of a change in the relationship between economy and society, of emerging opportunities warranting careful theoretical scrutiny. However, ‘‘with respect to theoretical approach, [economic sociology] is fundamentally eclectic and pluralistic and no single theoretical perspective is dominant’’ (Smelser & Swedberg, 1994, p. 18), focusing primarily on networks, markets, corporations, gender, and culture. To date, there is no significant attempt at integrating the various approaches, and at recognizing their trajectory in terms of a potential for societal transformation that cannot be understood simply as an extension of previous approaches, but as a genuinely new response that does not require assimilation of the various approaches to one ‘‘logic.’’ It is also noteworthy that to date the reemergence of economic sociology largely has remained an American phenomenon. The diversity in economic sociology is clearly related to the fact that with respect to the challenge to reconsider the role of the economy in society, western societies are very much adrift. This is not surprising: those approaches in the social sciences not influenced by Marx’s theory have rarely asked whether the economy can, might, or should play a different role in society. With the decline of Marxist social theory, there is no concerted voice addressing the economy as a whole as a social phenomenon. If anything, economic sociologists contribute to the sense that there are no



viable answers – if there are any viable questions. Critical theory, as a tradition derived from Marx, among others, is called upon here too, to insist that all concepts and theoretical categories must be understood in the context of dialectical social change. Our understanding of reality, through concepts and theories, must be dialectical: not that all we need is a dialectic approach, but that without a dialectical approach, we may not be able to ask pertinent questions. The beginnings of social theory were concrete; specific theories were developed for specific contexts, within a general (izable) reference frame, and the link between the two was decisive. Now, however, sociological research about the economy is concrete to the point where posing the theoretical questions is all but impossible. A Polanyian perspective is sorely missed, even though economic sociology’s basic categories – the social construction and sociocultural embeddedness of economic institutions – are derived from his writings. From an explicitly comparative perspective, we could hone in on more crucial questions, not asking in general what role the economy does and should play in western societies, and how they relate to a society’s modernity, and asking instead how these questions are to be answered in and for different contexts. It is here that economic sociology represents a unique promise: it can provide access to a different way of looking at the economy issue. If we realize that economic institutions are socially constructed in different societies, regions, and industries, we also must realize that they can be constructed differently. However, under existing conditions we have no reason to expect much flexibility; the impression created of too much pressure, increasing international competition, a lack of will on the part of governments to engage in experiments, is too strong to allow for debates that can productively affect the public discourse. ‘‘We’’ hold on to the status quo, keep the economic machine humming, and stall change in society as much as possible. The carousel of reification keeps us in perpetual motion, but it does not allow us to move beyond, or retreat from the present state of affairs. We also must ask whether and how the ‘‘postmodern experience’’ is related to the economic state of affairs. The less attention we pay to the economy, the more difficult it will become to name the effects of the universalizing capitalist production process, forcing us to conclude that there may not be any concrete reality we can agree upon, or that the idea itself that we can (and should try to) solve problems is out of place. If questions about the economy are not being asked, there will not be any answers. Instead, ‘‘the economy’’ is likely to become ever more representative of western civilization, pulling into its maelstrom whatever it touches.

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It will become more difficult (if possible at all) to distinguish between economy and society, not because there is no longer any difference, but because we no longer can see it. The postmodern claim that ‘‘the social’’ always was a chimera may in fact rationalize what results from an unbridled emphasis on capitalist modernization. Thus, postmodernists like Baudrillard sustain what they decry, telling us that we should not waste our energies on struggling against the tide, and instead to respond in ways that are better suited to the situation at hand.14 As Calhoun (1995, p. 103) put it, genuine changes like the increase in the role of advertising and the media y [and consumption] y, and others like them, do not add up to a very conclusive case either that production has lost its basic importance or that signification has gained the status of self-production free from any need for creative subjects or material referents. y [E]ven on the face of things it appears false, mistaking the rising importance of information technology within capitalism for a basic transformation of capitalism, not just into a new phase but into something altogether different.

Critical theory must move away from its virtually exclusive focus on universalities and the development of a critical theory of ‘‘advanced western society’’ in general, and turn directly toward socially specific analyses of actually existing societies. We certainly must continue to labor toward a general critical theory of society. But we will be in a much better position to further that objective if we also develop critical theories of particular societies. Since Frankfurt-type critical theory has become a cooperative German-American project of sorts, for instance, we should distinguish between categories for critical analysis that may fit one society, but not necessarily the other (beginning with a basic comparison of the specific meaning, sociocultural embeddedness and societal relevance of such concepts as state, civil society, class, public sphere, communication, system and lifeworld, as well as their interrelations in the United States and in Germany). We must distinguish between patterns of theorizing that are appropriate for the object of analysis at hand, and patterns that may reflect specific societal constellations and national traditions that cannot necessarily be transposed to all ‘‘western’’ societies, without qualification. For instance, why is it that critical social theory has been in sway primarily in Germany and in the United States, but hardly anywhere else? Why is it that postmodern forms of theorizing first emerged in France, and have become more popular in the United States than in most other ‘‘advanced’’ countries? Unless we address these issues explicitly, we may unintentionally perpetuate the problematic social conditions our theories are designed to identify and criticize, and but also analyze problematic features on terms that reflect the



specificity of those conditions, rather than the inner logic of the challenge of illuminating those conditions. Without an explicitly comparative approach to theory, we cannot systematically thematize these issues, nor is it very likely that we can arrive at viable proposals for mediating theory and practice independent of specific contexts.

Toward a Syncretic Approach to Practice One of the reasons mentioned earlier for contemporary, radically modernist critical theorists’ disinterest in reification is their avowed resolve to theorize in a more practically relevant manner, and more practically relevant issues. To date, however, this claim does not seem to have led to any discernable practical success. On the contrary, in many respects, critical social theory after Habermas looks and behaves more like a philosophy detached and disengaged from the concerns of society: the mode of theorizing he presented in The Theory of Communicative Action has become the dominant paradigm in this tradition. As a result, his followers continue the critical-theoretical project not by confronting social reality and the challenge of empirically relevant research, but by further ‘‘refining’’ his theory in the abstract. Numerous attempts have been made to improve his treatment of certain dimensions, and theoretical issues he presumably did not resolve sufficiently well (like the relationship between system and lifeworld, the role of civil society, etc.), or by identifying dimensions he neglected altogether (the role of play in social action, the importance of creative action (Joas, 1992), etc.). There can be no doubt that Habermas is partly responsible for this condition. He rarely states that his depiction of the various sociohistoric dimensions he considers may not be universally applicable, but instead quite conspicuously reflective of circumstances characteristic of the context in which he wrote. One obvious example is his treatment of new social movements in general, and his claim that most movements are progressive and defensive at the same time, with the exception of the socially proactive feminist movement. This claim described the situation during the late 1970s in West Germany quite well, with the emergence of various Green movements, the peace movement, and the proliferation of a variety of issue-oriented citizen initiatives at the local, state, and national levels. But his claim clearly does not apply, for instance, to the United States, both then and now. In fact, aggressive conservative movements with explicit agendas for social, political, and/or cultural transformation are far more common, visible, and powerful in American society than progressive

Beyond the Carousel of Reification


movements. In this respect too, the claim that America is ‘‘simply’’ a modern society on its way toward postmodernity appears in a somewhat questionable light.15 Still, it is rather apparent that the concrete practical relevance of critical theoretical work for western society’s capacity to tackle any problems remains rather limited, if there is any – despite the apparent need for enhancing opportunities for rational decision-making at all levels of social organization. In some respects, this may be due to what Charles Lemert identified as the continued orientation toward theorizing possible solutions for social problems on the societal level. This orientation, he contends, characteristic of nineteenth-century social theory, has become dramatically anachronistic, if it ever was justified. In ‘‘Social Theory at the End of a Short Century’’ (1994), Lemert stresses that the kind of homogenizing theorizing characteristic of European social thought inappropriately started out from the assumption that the big ‘‘We’’ was possible, and that these classic theorists – most of all Marx and Durkheim, and even Weber – thought society as one, either as already one or as one to become. Lemert argues that we should recognize that their unifying theories represent questionable reference frames for analyzing modern society since they do not adequately describe actual social realities (and potentialities) in modern western society. In recent years, under the aegis of identity politics, various groups have begun to resort to group self-reliance as a strategy against the unreliability of the democratic political system, its retreat from being a progressive force (as in the waning commitment to affirmative action), and an increasing sense of fragmentation in society. Lemert argues that this recent emphasis on difference is in fact long overdue: modern society was always structured along the lines of many differences, though facing up to these differences was suppressed politically, and the latter rationalized theoretically. He does not call for a rejection of the classics’ theories, but for the recognition of their limitations, and for acknowledging contributions made by theories that emphasized the importance of difference early on: especially the neglected work of Anna Julia Cooper and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It is interesting in this context, though, that Lemert does not relate the European types of theorizing to the European experience of modernity. Nor does he explicitly relate the writings of Cooper, Gilman, W. B. Dubois, and others to the American experience of modern society. Ironically, Lemert wants to ‘‘study the present, not to prove a point, but to think the reality of the world as it is’’ (p. 151), but he does not consider the possibility of differences between the contexts that are being theorized: the world is the American world.



Let us recall, in this context, Adorno’s critique of identity thinking: it reduces our ability to consider the potential complexity and depth of any ‘‘object,’’ effectively turning it into a caricature of itself. In many respects, an increasing emphasis on identities and differences that separate different groups in society may have a similar result: the various groups may be in danger of contributing to their own and others’ reification, as caricatures of themselves. This can only be avoided in one way: if we emphasize difference on the basis of distinct identities, while considering the possibility of commonality as well. To be sure, existing social conditions foster an emphasis on difference, as it increases and solidifies the practical ineffectiveness of every individual group pursuing its own interest, against the interests of all others. On the other hand, one could argue that in terms of Adorno’s critique of reification and identity thinking, the recent emphasis on difference in American society could be interpreted along slightly different lines. The emphasis on difference might be the specifically American response of very concrete ‘‘others’’ to the experience of the concrete violence of having been excluded from mainstream society and the political process, during the history of the American republic. By ever more vigorously forcing society to acknowledge their existence, a growing number of factions of the population insist on their participation in the shaping of how ideas like democracy, freedom, emancipation, and equality are being interpreted.16 It is a curious paradox that though democratic ideals have shaped how we conceive of politics in general, of choosing strategies for coping with society’s problems, and of making socially consequential decisions, for more than two centuries, there is still no viable substantive modern theory of democracy. In the United States, for instance, the history of democratic republicanism describes a largely static form of self-rule, to be understood more in terms of formal democracy than in terms of a viable philosophy of democracy (see Dahms, 1992a). At this point, there is not much of a sense of things to come, nor that the latter will be qualitatively different from the present. On the contrary, debates about society in the twenty-first century center more around issues of equal access to the free flow of information, than around ways of using that information prudently, or of utilizing the ‘‘information super highway’’ for purposes of enhancing the quality of democratic decision-making. In particular, there is no specific approach as to how to cope with the many differences that characterize American society. In many respects, the idea of democracy has become stale, and Joseph Schumpeter’s notorious suggestion that we should think of democracy in terms of a formal ‘‘democratic method’’ (1942, pp. 269–283) rather than as a

Beyond the Carousel of Reification


form of life, essentially has supplanted a variety of more substantive and qualitative understanding of democracy. What may be even more striking than the vacuum surrounding debates about democracy in recent years is that there does not seem much sense of loss, especially among social theorists. In many respects, it would be more appropriate to think of actually existing democracy as a formal framework impeding rather than enhancing opportunities for solving key social problems and key challenges in effective ways (Fraser, 1992). It is no surprise, then, that a certain stance for democracy has become associated with a neoconservative political outlook. The questionable status of democracy must be examined in direct relation to the condition of modernity in American society. Irrespective of whether ‘‘democracy’’ no longer has enough to offer in the sense that it cannot any longer function as a mediator of the interests and expectations of the different populations and interests groups, or whether it merely has become obvious that it never did: how is the disappointment with democracy related to the presumably proliferating experience of postmodernity? Before we can answer this question, we must recall a question posed earlier: how modern is American modernity? The general assumption that modernity as it emerged in the United States is characteristic of the core features of modernity must be scrutinized. There are too many unique features to the American experience of modernity to assume that it is largely synchronous with the European experience (see especially Woodiwiss, 1993; Therborn, 1995). For instance, the American republic in many respects began as a modern society without its ‘‘other’’: immigrant as well as native populations that were perceived to represent an antidemocratic (or, paradoxically, a radicaldemocratic) threat were forcefully suppressed (Barton, 1997). As far as the mainstream was concerned, there was no qualitative difference between the two groups: they were perceived as equally dangerous. The ‘‘other’’ was also not acceptable in the form of alternative political or philosophical interpretations of modernity and democracy if they might have represented a threat to the existing consensus. While an aristocracy fundamentally opposed to ideas of democratic self-rule, and an array of other openly antidemocratic forces threatened European democracy and modernity from the start, American modernity began without its ‘‘other,’’ without any potentially powerful opposition to the specific definition of democratic republicanism being allowed to assert itself. As a result, the powers that the emerging forces of modernity in Europe continuously had to reckon with, and in whose face they had to justify their demand for political



participation, were expelled, silenced, or made invisible, during the period from the declaration of independence to the completion of the constitution (and thereafter). Consequently, republican democracy emerged without the presence of its opposite being acknowledged: antidemocratic forces and radically democratic forces, groups that did not readily comply with the prevailing ideology. To a certain extent, the emphasis on republican ideas as opposed to democratic ideas functioned as a buffer, and it is wellknown that the constitution has been regarded as a conservative triumph, among conservatives (see Kirk, 1982, pp. xxv–xxvi). The antidemocratic but pro-republican forces did not appear as enemies of democracy: they were part of the republican-democratic consensus. As a result, modernity was ‘‘deprived’’ of its ‘‘other,’’ and there did not seem to be any need of strongly asserting democratic as opposed to republican ideals. In addition, democracy was also deprived of its ‘‘other’’ in that the constitution attained the status of a sacred document, thus effectively prohibiting the possibility of democracy’s rejuvenation through periodic constitutional conventions that would have allowed for the kind of institutional adaptations to changing sociohistorical circumstances facilitating qualitative transformations. Before we can conclude that American society is experiencing postmodernity, we first must ask in what specific sense America began as a modern society, and how modern and premodern elements relate and compare. Since the actuality (in the Hegelian sense of Wirklichkeit) of America’s modernity was assumed from the start, it rarely had to assert itself. In many instances, as is especially apparent with regard to the labor movement, the presumption of completion and all-inclusiveness appears to have made exclusion of some much easier: from the political process, access to the mass media, and so on. We cannot categorically conclude that modernity is over, as long as the various, diverse groups and movements in support of modern goals have not engaged in a concerted effort to sustain modernity. In many ways, we must consider the possibility that the failure of modernity may not be indicative of modernity’s flaws, but of the truncated nature of modernity in America.17 In this context, we must also take into consideration the role that religious sectarianism, as a pillar of American society, played in marginalizing modernity’s ‘‘other.’’ How are we to appraise the fact that America is frequently considered to be the ‘‘most modern’’ society, while it is also, as Seymour Martin Lipset recently reminded us, the ‘‘most religious’’ society among the most advanced, industrial nations (1996, p. 26)? In a section on

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‘‘secular and religious sectarianism’’ in his work on American Exceptionalism, Lipset cites a recent survey indicating that Close to four fifths of Americans y report that religion is very or quite important in their lives, while only 45 percent of Europeans (Germans, French, Britons, Italians, Austrians and Dutch) on average give similar answers. And it should be noted that the historical evidence indicates that religious affiliation and belief in America are much higher in the twentieth century than in the nineteenth, and have not decreased in the post-World War II era. (p. 62)

Lipset returns to the issue of sectarianism in a later section on Marx and Engels on America, relating their concern about political sectarianism among American radicals and their treatment of radical doctrines as absolute dogmas to be applied in all situations, to the prevalence of religious sectarianism in America (pp. 78–81). In this context, he cites from the following passage in ‘‘The Jewish Question’’: Religion is no longer the spirit of the state, in which man behaves, albeit in a specific and limited way and in a particular sphere, as a species-being, in community with other men. It has become the spirit of civil society y. It is no longer the essence of community, but the essence of [difference]. It has become what it was at the beginning, an expression of the fact that man is separated from the community, from himself and from other men. It is now only the abstract avowal of an individual folly, a private whim or caprice. The infinite fragmentation of religion in North America, for example, already gives it the external form of a strictly private affair. (Marx & Engels, [1848]1978, p. 35)

As a result, the moralistic and ideologically purist attitude characteristic of religious sectarianism also shapes the outlook especially of politically radical groups, ultimately preventing them from cooperating and coalescing with other political groups and movements that, in many cases, pursue highly compatible objectives. It is in this context that we must recall Lemert’s above demand that sociology and social theory embrace the place and impact of difference in modern society: that we accept the fact that difference plays a much greater role in western societies than most theories acknowledge, and that we cannot grasp the nature of these societies before we face up to the social significance of difference. Yet in the American context in particular, we must reckon that difference is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it is necessary that we move away from the tendency to homogenize the variety of social forms and personal experiences characteristic of distinct groups in modern societies, instead appreciating their authenticity and autonomy. On the other hand, however, we must beware that if we base strategies for



collective action on empowering groups on the basis of their distinct identities alone, we perpetuate the pattern of fragmentation that has impeded qualitative social change throughout most of American history. For this reason, we must not embrace difference in any form and manifestation, but difference that promises to point beyond the societal condition of fragmentation: the meaning of ‘‘modernity’’ and ‘‘democracy,’’ and their various ‘‘others’’ must be reexamined accordingly. What exactly are modernity’s and democracy’s ‘‘others’’? The most immediate response would be their opposites: premodernist, postmodernist, and antidemocratic tendencies and forces. In terms of Adorno’s critique of identity thinking, ‘‘modernity’’ and ‘‘democracy’’ in the mainstream sense appear to be more or less reified concepts: they do not allow for multiple, and no less intelligible interpretations (especially in terms of diverse forms of participation in the public realm), nor for flexibility in the concrete shape they take. Yet if we open up the concepts of modernity and democracy so as to include meanings and dimensions excluded as long as we engage in identity thinking – that is, as long as we presume that the terms ‘‘modernity’’ and ‘‘democracy’’ can express all that is to be taken into consideration – it may turn out that there is greater compatibility between seemingly incompatible programs implicit in diverse political, theoretical, and philosophical agendas.18 Under ‘‘normal’’ circumstances compliant with identity thinking, there is not really an opportunity to mediate between these different perspectives, as the respective languages they employ appear to be incompatible, and as attempts to verbalize understanding that to some degree is contorted by, and reflective of reification. In fact, only once we are willing to acknowledge that the existing societal condition may impact on our interpretations in ways we are not able to identify individually, or within the framework of individual political, theoretical, or philosophical perspectives, will we realize that recognizing the power of reification is essential to considering its possible effects on any attempt to understand. Still, to know that reification reigns does not as such correspond to any superior understanding at all. It is, however, the precondition to the latter. In this light, the pertinence of Habermas’s above critique of Luka´cs appears even more starkly. The notion that any one perspective could identify correct solutions to a variety of social problems (i.e., affecting all of society) is not warranted in this day and age. Habermas’s Theory of Communicative Action, and his claim that we should engage in a process of communicative interchange to collectively identify possible solutions to social problems, appears to be more apt. Yet why is it, then, that his theory so far has resonated almost exclusively among academics, and even within academia only among a minority? Adorno probably would respond that

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Habermas’s theory is too critical of reification, while at the same time too complicit with it. The emphasis on abstract categories in Habermas’s theory does not provide for any mechanisms, or barriers, that prevent, or at least make difficult, conceiving of the core concepts of his theory in terms of identity thinking: economy, state, lifeworld, system, discourse, and even communication. His writing lends itself to reading his theory without being reminded, consistently, that the various concepts must be actively conceived of as dialectical Begriff; and his specific solution to the agenda of linking critical theory and sociological theory may have induced him not to sufficiently immunize his theory against reifying ‘‘consumption.’’ Yet there may be an additional, more consequential problem. In one respect, Habermas resembles the nineteenth-century classic social theorists decried by Lemert for thinking society as a whole. As Habermas’s above critique of Luka´cs also demonstrated, he is cognizant, and critical, of the temptation and pitfalls of engaging in totality thinking; his objective to combine micro- and macro-analyses is an attempt to actively avoid engaging in totality-oriented thinking. At the same time, Habermas insists that a successful critical theory will enable society as a whole to solve its problems more effectively; and that we should orient our theorizing toward that objective. In addition, we only can ensure (at least enhance possibilities for) communicability of our theoretical categories, objectives, and insights if we orient our work toward universalist categories. Still, the question remains: do the categories that must be adhered to for purposes of critical theorizing, also be applied to the consideration of practical questions? I do not think so: instead, I would contend that it is essential that we clearly distinguish between the type of application of theoretical categories to theoretical problems and their application to practical problems. As we approach the next century, it appears obvious that western societies have achieved an almost complete consensus that the liberal-democratic process, the rule of law, the separation of governmental powers, as well as the regulation of the economic process through a more or less regulated market, are desirable, and preferable to any other known form of politically and economically organizing society’s needs. At the same time, however, the prevailing forms of social, political, and economical organization are in a state of entrenchment. Yet if modernity is to be sustained, and democracy expanded into all social, political, and even into economic realms, as critical social theory explicitly posits as desirable and necessary goals, an avenue toward that end must be identified. I would suggest that this end can be advanced by applying critical-theoretical categories to specific groups and movements that, more or less consciously, try to ‘‘advance’’ modernity, by



providing them with interpretations and analytical tools enabling them to locate themselves and their objectives in the larger sociohistoric context in which they try to act, and into which they try to intervene. At this point in time, social movements and interest groups whose objectives social scientists would readily identify as modernist do not necessarily seem to be aware of that quality as a quality. Many also do not seem to realize that different groups, pursuing seemingly incompatible objectives, in fact try to advance highly compatible and complementary objectives of a modernist nature (see Smith, 1987; also Lehmann, 1993). On the other hand, political discourse and public debates are almost completely deprived of any meaningful reference to modernity as a practically relevant, formal, and substantive set of ideas – aside from the fact that the possibility of reconciliation between alternative perspectives rarely enters the picture. While conservative movements and organizations are well equipped to aggressively pursue their political objectives and agenda, those movements, groups, and organizations we would identify as progressive or modernist are fragmented, divided, and often antagonistic. Within the context developed so far, this fragmen-tation of modernist social and political forces is neither surprising nor necessary. Since for every idea, there has to be the concept, I propose ‘‘syncretism’’ as the most promising candidate for a different critical-theoretical approach to practice an approach that makes a clear distinction between theoretical concerns and their ‘‘solutions,’’ and practical concerns. Syncretism denotes (1) The reconciliation or union of conflicting beliefs, esp. religious beliefs, or a movement or effort intending suchy (2) Egregious compromise in religion or philosophy; eclecticism that is illogical or leads to inconsistency; uncritical acceptance of conflicting or divergent beliefs or principles. (3) In the development of a religion, the process of growth through coalescence of different forms of faith and worship or through accretions of tenets, customs, rites, etc., from those religions which are being superseded. y 19

The concept is of particular appeal and importance in the present context because it does enable us to clearly distinguish between theoretical questions and practical questions. In theory, the emphasis must be on consistency, ‘‘logic,’’ and compatibility. In practice, however, these concerns are secondary: By ‘‘syncretism,’’ in [the] political sense y we are to understand the instinct of selfdefense which sinks private differences before a threatening peril on the outside. The ‘‘syncretists’’ close their ranks; they like quarrelling among themselves, but would rather exist than indulge in fatal internecine strife at home.20

Along these lines, I would suggest that the ‘‘solution’’ may lie in a more focused application of critical theoretical categories: Habermas’s discourse

Beyond the Carousel of Reification


ethic (Habermas, 1990), for instance, while it must be theorized on the universalist, abstract level, to be developed in terms of its ‘‘inner logic,’’ must not be applied on the same plane. We have no reason to presume, after all, that western societies, at this stage, will be in the position to collectively engage in proactive, progressive social and political transformation. Instead, as suggested in my earlier call for critical theories of specific societies, theorists should contemplate the employment of such devices as Habermas’s discourse ethic for purposes of enhancing the effectiveness of those groups ready and willing to take advantage of them. This reorientation does not render the objective of achieving a socially agreeable consensus on a variety of issues unfeasible but reflect the apparent fact that under existing conditions a socially binding consensus cannot be achieved on a variety of highly contested issues (see McCarthy, 1992). Instead, under conditions of reification, critical theorists should conceive of theoretical categories in terms of their practical usefulness in specific societal contexts. More or less radically modernist critical theorists have no reason to shy away from considering this kind of theoretical labor legitimate since their entire work circulates around the notion that sustaining and advancing modernity is not only desirable but imperative to the continuation of social and political systems respectful of the sanctity of human life, and I dare say so to the continuation of human civilization. After all, who would expect that a meaningful modern and democratic society could do without the constructive input of those who spend their energies on figuring out ways of improving the conditions of life in industrial societies?

BEYOND THE CAROUSEL OF REIFICATION: CONTEMPLATING THE IDEA OF A GUARANTEED MINIMUM INCOME In his recent writings, Noam Chomsky contends that we must realize that at this historical juncture, we may not be able to pursue progressive political agendas in a direct manner. As an avowed anarchist, he acknowledges that pursuing anarchist ideals under existing conditions may not be viable at all: ‘‘In particular, the anarchist vision, in almost every variety, has looked forward to the dismantling of state power. Personally, I share that vision, though it runs directly counter to my goals’’ (Chomsky, 1996, p. 73). He implies that the linear models of political practice that used to inform us



may not be of much use at this time. Although some might be inclined to conclude that this realization suggests that effective political practice is not possible now, Chomsky puts forth an alternative stance: My short-term goals are to defend and even strengthen elements of state authority which, though illegitimate in fundamental ways, are critically necessary right now to impede the dedicated efforts to ‘‘roll back’’ the progress that has been achieved in extending democracy and human rights. State authority is now under severe attack in the more democratic societies, but not because it conflicts with the libertarian vision. Rather the opposite: because it offers (weak) protection to some aspects of that vision. Governments have a fatal flaw: unlike the private tyrannies, the institutions of state power and authority offer to the despised public an opportunity to play some role, however limited, in managing their own affairs. That defect is intolerable to the masters, who now feel, with some justification, that changes in the international economic and political order offer the prospects of creating a kind of ‘‘utopia of the masters,’’ with dismal prospects for most of the rest. (pp. 73–74)

I would contend that radically modernist critical theorists would be well advised to adopt this kind of perspective to considering theory’s practical relevance. At the end of the twentieth century, we find ourselves at a point where the mediation of theory and practice oriented toward affecting structural social problems directly may not be possible. Assuming this concern as a working hypothesis, however, would not necessarily lead to the conclusion that we should abandon attempts to theorize possible mediations of theory and practice in general, but that we abandon the convention of drawing necessary practical conclusions from our diagnoses of the societal state of affairs (see Offe, 1985). Indeed, we should slightly alter our perspective on the problem of theory and practice under conditions of continued reification: since we cannot affect the scope and the depth of reification itself, we should consider possibilities for preparing conditions that make the possibility of effective mediations of theory and practice more likely. This would entail a different set of concerns related to the problem of theory and practice: do present conditions allow for modifications that enhance opportunities for viable, theoretically informed forms of practice? We must ask, first, however, what is the relationship between socialtheoretical production and the overall context in which it occurs? We may wonder whether the desire among many postmodernists to move beyond the more narrow types of modernist theorizing corresponds to actually changing social circumstances that warrant serious and radical reconsideration of our analytical categories. The impulse to come up with fundamentally new responses to old problems may seem to be the only proper response to the

Beyond the Carousel of Reification


fatigue resulting from the continually unsuccessful attempts to solve socially consequential problems. Postmodernists’ assertion that the consistent failure of our responses and feeble attempts at solving social problems (and our equally consistent inability to avoid unintended consequences) is indicative of their categorical inadequacy, and their call for radically questioning the entire ‘‘enlightened and modern’’ reference frame in which attempts at solving problems are being confronted is not surprising. We must ask, however, whether radical responses are appropriate as long as the general social circumstances we theorize do not show concrete potential for qualitative change on their own. As the history of failed attempts to put into practice Marx’s theory in advanced capitalist societies has shown, theoretical insights do not necessarily lead to corresponding social change. Even if the insights are correct and warranted, we have no reason to assume that there is any necessary correspondence between an enhanced understanding of central principles of social life and their practical transformation. Accordingly, radical responses should not be expected to have any greater potential for effective forms of social practice than more or less conventionally modern responses to perceived problems, even when the radical responses are far more suitable to the problem at hand. To put it differently, perhaps we should ask whether specific approaches to solving problems and responding to challenges have been misguided; whether more or possibly less extensive adjustments may be more promising than radical new perspectives barely related to prevailing ideas, definitions of reality, and concrete hopes in society. In this context, we may consider a movement that slowly has been gaining momentum in western advanced societies: the movement to unlink citizenship rights in democratic societies, from the determination of social status on the basis of work. Although this is not the place to go into any details, in terms of concrete strategies to tackle the problem of reification in the economically most advanced societies, the idea of a ‘‘guaranteed minimum income,’’ or ‘‘basic income,’’ a ‘‘social dividend,’’ or a ‘‘negative income tax’’ warrants attention. At this point, the idea is being pushed most strongly in continental European countries; the various groups and individuals in support of this type of institutional change have established an umbrella organization, the Basic Income European Network (BIEN).21 Although like reification this may at first appear to be another European idea alien to American society, this impression would be more expressive of collective amnesia than of fact. There is not only a growing number of social scientists and economists in favor of this idea, including Milton Friedman, Fred Block, and others. Tom Paine, for instance, was an early advocate of



this idea. As John Keane (1995, p. 427) put it, it was wrong to see Paine’s Agrarian Justice (1797), as either a reforming ‘‘bourgeois liberal’’ or protosocialist tract. The anachronistic language of ‘‘capitalism’’ or ‘‘socialism’’ obscures Paine’s concern to sketch or defend the democratic republican principle of citizens’ social rights. Paine favored the preservation of private-property, market-driven economy, but he argued that its selfdestructive dynamism – its tendency to generate wealth by widening the income gap between classes – could be tamed by institutionalizing the basic principle of each person’s entitlement to full citizens’ rights. This would prevent the smothering of the poor by the rich.

Paine insisted that political rights had to be severed from economic position, and that economic position may have to be linked to political rights: Instead of denying the franchise to those who currently depend politically on the rich, the dependents should be granted monetary independence. That universal guarantee of a right to a basic citizen’s income would then require – contrary to the spirit of the new 1795 constitution – a universal franchise.

A more recent instance of this idea being considered in America was the New Jersey Maintenance Income Experiment of the late 1960s. The purpose of the experiment was to determine the kinds of effects resulting from providing citizens with the possibility to derive income in the form of government transfer payments not linked to work. The results of this experiment were published during the late 1970s (Kershaw & Fair, 1976; Watts & Rees, 1977); one of the major results of the experiment was that over its three-year duration, the members of the experimental group showed very little inclination to reduce their work effort. In Europe, the movement has gained support from a broad spectrum of social scientists, artists, intellectuals, and politicians, coming from many different philosophical, political, and geographical directions, including such well-known sociologists as Ralf Dahrendorf and Claus Offe, but also politicians, some of them in leading positions, belonging to the spectrum reaching from leftist to moderately conservative parties (see Dahms, 1992b). Indeed, a consensus appears to be in formation, reaching beyond conventional political and ideological programs; and though many supporters frequently do not agree on why they are in its favor, they all champion the idea of a guaranteed basic income independent from the labor process. In fact, there is a variety of very different, at times, seemingly contradictory reasons: some support it because it would give greater meaning to the concept of full democratic citizenship rights that, under conditions of capitalist economic organization, frequently only apply to those who can afford to actively

Beyond the Carousel of Reification


participate in the political process (Dahrendorf, 1987; Offe, Mu¨ckenberger, & Ostner, 1996; Vobruba, 1990, 1995); because it promises to provide a means for relaxing labor markets suffering from the strain of high rates of structural unemployment that cannot be effectively attacked by conventional means; because it would free society from having to subsidize industries kept alive to keep unemployment rates down, though these industries are often superfluous and not competitive; because it would provide workers with a better footing when attempting to switch jobs, perhaps forcing employers to enter a more cooperative, less coercion oriented work relationship; and finally, some also support it because it may be a road toward diminishing the extent to which western societies are under the spell of reification (Gorz, 1989; see also van der Veen & van Parijs, 1986a, pp. 631–657; van Parijs, 1992, 1993). It is telling that established labor union organizations are among those most openly opposed to entertaining this idea on any level of political debate. Although the idea is supported by individuals and groups representing an array of alternative perspectives, the core assumptions about the nature of the basic income are highly compatible: it should be set high enough to enable those eligible for it (which in principle includes all citizens, but only some would want to take advantage of it) to live a decent life, but not so high that the labor market would collapse. While the idea of a basic income as an entitlement is designed to remedy the most repressive aspects of the established welfare systems in western societies, it is also intended to qualitatively transform the way in which welfare has been distributed. Initially, it was the ‘‘multi-functional character’’ of the welfare state, and ‘‘its ability to serve many conflicting ends and strategies simultaneously, which made the political arrangement of the welfare state so attractive to a broad alliance of heterogeneous forces’’ (Offe, 1984b, p. 148). In a similar way, though at a higher level, the idea of a basic income appeals to groups with different political and ideological agendas. As Bill Jordan puts it, in terms of the term he prefers, ‘‘social dividend,’’ there is widespread agreement that As the problems of managing advanced capitalist states increase, it seems likely y that [market-oriented] political parties will take up the idea of a social dividend as one answer to the issues of economic efficiency, productivity growth, flexibility of employment and wages and income distribution which will increasingly occur. The advantage of the scheme, over and above its potential for easing economic problems, will be its offer of a more integrating role of the state. Even under the market version of the social dividend, clear advantages in terms of the equal autonomy of all citizens could be seen as achieved, with the breaking down of distinctions of status between property-holders and non-property-holders,



between workers and claimants, and between men and women. This would help legitimate the state under capitalism, as its present divisive and repressive role makes it vulnerable to disaffection, lawlessness and ultimately even to organized resistance. (Jordan, 1985, p. 296).

The introduction of a ‘‘social dividend,’’ as Bill Jordan calls it, would have effects especially on three groups in advanced capitalist societies: workers could choose not to work but to determine the number of hours they want to work, etc.; claimants could choose to increase their overall income, by receiving a certain amount of benefits, while also working; and finally, the scheme would provide women with far greater equality with men (Jordan, 1985, p. 298).22 This is not to suggest, to be sure, that the introduction of a social dividend, or basic income, would eliminate reification in society. But by relieving society of the constant pressure to perform in economically rational ways, it may open up opportunities to reconsider, and redefine institutional arrangements, modes of coexistence and communication, the role of political processes, and in the end, the importance of work in life. As Habermas ([1985] 1989, p. 296) put it, A reflective welfare state project could not even limit itself to introducing a guaranteed minimum income in order to break the spell that the labor market casts on the life history of those capable of working – including the growing and increasingly marginalized potential of those who only stand to reserve. This step would be revolutionary, but not revolutionary enough – not even if the lifeworld could be protected not only against all the inhuman imperatives of the employment system but also against the counterproductive side-effects of an administrative system designed to provide for the whole of existence.

The context in which this idea emerged is related to the experience in recent years that capitalism’s continued productivity does not translate into an increasing liberation of society from the realm of necessity but apparently to an increasing confinement in the ever less recognizable shackles of capitalism. Still, despite the plight of the middle class in America, it is not likely that suggestions like a basic income as a firm entitlement would draw widespread support in the United States, under present circumstances. It would require that society (i.e., a sufficiently large faction of the population) would be willing and able to recognize the violence entailed in the ways in which prevailing economic ideas and values can assert themselves, and the limitations it imposes on all. For this willingness and ability to emerge, it is necessary that there are opportunities to transgress, in terms of alternative modes of thinking, the confines imposed by actually existing sociohistoric conditions on our ability to look at any issue in terms that are adequate to its understanding. We must recognize that even societies of the same type

Beyond the Carousel of Reification


constitute more or less different worlds, and that we need a framework that allows us to systematically consider that ingrained ways are not necessarily insurmountable but sociohistorically specific, and that different existing structures have different types of gravities. We may be inclined to conclude that since western societies are socially constructed and constituted in different ways (and that the concrete meaning of key concepts social scientists use without much consideration is highly contingent on specific contexts), there cannot be a universally valid reference frame for social research and theory. Yet the issue is not that the differences between similar societies are more or less arbitrary, and that we as individual sociologists or theorists cannot cut across the differences. Instead, we must be willing to engage in types of research and theorizing that are at least relatively immune to the temptation to overgeneralize what is specific, thus hypostatizing as inalterable what in fact may be contingent on socially, politically, culturally, and historically unique conditions. In this age of supposed ‘‘multiculturalism,’’ we must not only examine the concrete, qualitative actuality of the concept (and its relationship to what once was called cosmopolitanism) but also how it relates to the nature of existing conditions in society. We must also engage in concrete research as to what kinds of differences apply where, how significant they are, and how their focused analysis may impede, distort, or enhance our understanding of a variety of different issues. Social theorists in general, and critical theorists in particular, must recognize the emphasis on abstract thinking as a dimension of the carousel of reification, perpetually keeping us in motion, yet allowing us to leave its dominion only at our peril, and risk of ‘‘social death.’’ As long as critical theorists insist on the preeminence of abstract thinking, and perpetuate the fragmentation permeating all aspects of society, we deprive ourselves of the possibility to consider viable mediations of theory and practice. The real challenge may be to resist the temptation of arriving at radical responses to the experience of societal inertia, and to pursue theory and practice in a related but distinct fashion. Synchronicity between qualitatively transformative conceptualizations of theory and practice is especially desirable under conditions of reification; yet as long as we engage in the kind of abstract thinking that is profoundly shaped by the condition of social, political, and cultural reification, we may not be able to discern a form of theorizing that can bridge the gap. To conclude, on the other hand, that as a result, the gap cannot be bridged at all, however, is to remain the captive of two patterns of theorizing that must be overcome. We must bid farewell to early modernist models of linear causality fundamental to the capitalist



mode of production and the type of reflection on problems it condones; and we must consider that in different societies, the explanatory value of the theoretical categories (including reification) may differ significantly, calling for strategic responses modulated to respect the diversity of social, cultural, and political forms of life. In closing, social theorists should keep in mind that it may be premature to conclude that reification is an outdated issue, and that ignoring it may prevent us from identifying strategies that would give us reason not to despair quite yet. Critical theorists must keep in mind, moreover, that existing societal conditions, and especially the competitive imperatives of economic survival, may induce us to engage in modes of theorizing that yield, at an ever accelerating pace, ideas, interpretations, and analytical tools that are being jettisoned before their viability and vitality could be established. Under such circumstances, the carousel of reification gyrates at an ever increasing speed, projecting the illusion of fundamental social change, and at the same time making it impossible to get off without being crushed. Since all we can do is hold on ever more tightly, what concrete potential for qualitative social transformation may remain is continually being depleted. For this reason, we must not conclude yet that social theorists’ lack of interest in reification, or any other issue, is in itself an indicator that it is no longer a relevant category for critical sociological research. Indeed, the exact opposite may be the case.

NOTES 1. Antonio Gramsci and Karl Korsch are the other important ‘‘founders’’ of Western Marxism. 2. On the perception of commercial life’s ostensible innocuousness before capitalism’s ‘‘triumph,’’ see also and especially Hirschman ([1977] 1997). 3. Throughout this article, I use the designation ‘‘postmodern’’ with some reluctance, since the term does not refer to a unified body of thought, but to an array of theories and frameworks representing a variety of presuppositions, purposes, and objectives, many of which combine elements from different types of critical theorizing (e.g., Frankfurt School, postmodern, and feminist theorizing; see especially Agger, 1994). For purposes of framing my argument, however, it is necessary that we distinguish between critical theory as a radically modern project and projects that presuppose, more or less explicitly, that we already have moved beyond modernity. 4. The most notable exception to the neglect of economic concerns in Frankfurt School critical theory is Moishe Postone, who maintains a systematic interest in the nature and logic of capitalism. His Time, Labor and Social Domination.

Beyond the Carousel of Reification


A Reinterpretation of Marx’s Critical Theory (1993) is a sustained argument that we must clearly distinguish between traditional Marxist theories, which were insensitive to the sociohistoric specificity of many of Marx’s theoretical categories and the limited nature of their analytical value, and the overall purpose of his work as a theory of ‘‘social constitution.’’ Though his study does not engage the critical analysis of concrete economic forms shaping the conditions of contemporary social life, it sets the stage for a most promising examination of the latter. 5. In the index of the German original of Weber’s Economy and Society ([1922] 1972), the term Eigengesetzlichkeit as one of the basic concepts of his theory of rationalization, is referenced 22 times as it applies to the market process, the development of law, ‘‘the religious,’’ and other ‘‘extra’’ or noneconomic phenomena and processes, including artistic production. In the work’s English version edited by Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich ([1922] 1978), which was translated over the course of several decades by altogether 10 scholars, there is no consistent translation for Eigengesetzlichkeit. Accordingly, the concept is not referenced in the index. It is translated, for instance, as ‘‘independence’’ (p. 650), ‘‘their own laws’’ (p. 1309), and ‘‘its own autonomous tendencies’’ (p. 636). The latter instance is most instructive regarding the concept’s substance: ‘‘Where the market is allowed to follow its own autonomous tendencies, its participants do not look toward the persons of each other but only toward the commodity; there are no obligations of brotherliness or reverence, and none of those spontaneous human relations that are sustained by personal unions. They all would just obstruct the free development of the bare market relationship, and its specific interests serve, in their turn, to weaken the sentiments on which these obstructions rest.’’ By contrast, in translations of Habermas’s writings and other critical theorists, Eigengesetzlichkeit is translated, with near-absolute consistency, as ‘‘inner logic,’’ with such variations as ‘‘internal logic.’’ For pertinent passages, see Habermas ([1981] 1983, pp. 160–168 and 176–185). 6. The most obvious example may be George Ritzer’s popular book, The McDonaldization of Society (1996), which has been widely used as a textbook, to make Weber’s ideas more accessible. One may wonder, though, why Ritzer chose to put his emphasis so exclusively on Weber. The earlier Marxist concept of commodification certainly would have supplemented his use of Weber, as well as his overall argument quite well. Especially in the case of fast food businesses, moreover, presenting McDonaldization almost exclusively in terms of Weber’s formal theory of rationalization, emphasizing efficiency, calculability, predictability and control, may in the end be self-defeating since the substantive, antiqualitative effects of this process are merely being verbalized in terms of the ‘‘irrationality of rationality,’’ not in terms of a more Marxist analysis that would have enabled Ritzer to thematize where exactly the origins lie for the fact that a McDonaldized society is also very much a society that not only has lost most of its values and value, as well as its ability to ‘‘value value,’’ or to value anything at all, for that matter, including human life. 7. On the history of the Frankfurt School, see Jay (1973), Wiggershaus ([1986] 1994), and Dubiel (1985). 8. Interestingly, in a footnote, Sellers correctly points out that ‘‘horror at Karl Marx’s politics has blindered bourgeois historians to the most powerful conceptual



tools for understanding Americans’ central transformation. But Marx’s European analysis requires considerable adaptation to the special circumstances flowing from cheap American land – widespread property ownership, a farming populace oriented more to subsistence and profit, and a bourgeoisie massively reinforced by small enterprisers. Here the industrial capitalism of commodified wage labor was not possible until merchant capital pushed a market revolution across the countryside to transform economy, culture, and politics by commodifying the family labor of subsistence producers. ‘Market,’ in this capitalist sense, excludes local exchange for subsistence while including production for a competitive world market wit commodified slave labor. Only on the battlefields of the Civil War did the progressive bourgeoisie of free-labor exploitation finally prevail over resistant farmers, workers, and the anachronistic planter bourgeoisie of slave-labor exploitation’’ (6n). 9. Streeck (1996) shows that the unique nature of capitalism in Germany is still very much an issue. 10. Seymour Martin Lipset’s American Exceptionalism (1996) is instructive, in this respect. Lipset embraces the fact that ‘‘[b]orn out of revolution, the United States is a country organized around an ideology which includes a set of dogmas about the nature of a good society. Americanism y is an ‘ism’ or ideology in the same way that communism or fascism or liberalism are isms’’ (p. 31). When read against the grain of his largely affirmative argument, Lipset’s overall analysis of the origins of American society is entirely compatible with my argument that the reifying impulse was there almost from the very start. At various points, he asserts that America was capitalist before the rise of American capitalism: ‘‘The United States, almost from its start, has had an expanding economic system. y From the Revolution on, it was the laissez-faire country par excellence. Unlike the situation in many European countries, in which European materialism was viewed by the traditional aristocracy and the church as conducive to vulgar behavior and immorality, in the United States hard work and economic ambition were perceived as the proper activity of a moral person’’ (p. 54). 11. In this context, Hans Joas’ (1993) work on pragmatism, and his call for a social theory founded on pragmatism, appears in a rather problematic light. Joas argues that European social theorists were not willing to seriously consider the pragmatist tradition as an important contribution to social theory, singling out Frankfurt School critical theory as having been particularly hostile to pragmatism. Yet he does not acknowledge that from the point of view of the early critical theorists’ systematic concern with reification, pragmatism as a genuinely American philosophical tradition, which presumed, rather than explicitly and critically reflected upon, reification, held no promise toward the elucidation of the civilizational catastrophe unfolding during the 1930s and the 1940s. The central tenet of pragmatism – that, as in Dewey, ‘‘knowledge [is] a product of inquiry undertaken in specific circumstances in order to solve some ‘problem’ which the inquirer and others (‘we’) have been confronted’’; that the ‘‘process of ‘knowing’ is primarily instrumental rather than apprehensional: ‘an existential overt act’’’ (Hazelrigg 1989a, p. 167) – by definition excludes the possibility of considering reification since all that is ‘‘second nature,’’ is implicitly integral to pragmatism’s scenario. Though on many occasions, pragmatists attempted to tackle the fact of reification in

Beyond the Carousel of Reification


American society, given their presuppositions and overall orientation, they could not fully ‘‘succeed.’’ 12. As Veblen ([1915] 1954, p. 335) put it, ‘‘It is as difficult for the commonplace Englishman to understand what the German means by the ‘State’ as it is for the German to comprehend the English conception of a ‘commonwealth,’ or very nearly so. The English still have the word ‘state’ in their current vocabulary, because they once had the concept which it is designed to cover, but when they do not in current use confuse it with the notion of a commonwealth, as they commonly do in making it serve as a synonym for ‘nation,’ it is taken to designate and extensive tract of land; on the other hand, the Germans, having never had occasion for such a concept as that covered by the term ‘commonwealth,’ have no corresponding word in their language. The State is a matter not easily to be expounded in English.’’ 13. Lemert’s work is a prime example for the consequences that result from collapsing modernity and the reifying effects of capitalist production on it, making it impossible to distinguish between the essence of modernity, its reified contortions, variations between modern societies, and variations between groups with different understandings of what it means to pursue ‘‘modern’’ orientations. In Lemert’s view, the self-understanding of ‘‘modern’’ societies appears all but monolithic, and there were no struggles about the nature of modernity in those societies: ‘‘the modern is the lie that linear truth organizes the conflicting valences of power’’ (p. 73); ‘‘It was not that the colonial subjects had believed the West’s claims to superiority but that the West believed in itself so mightily that it could not, and would not, hear the signals of discontent’’ (p. 111); ‘‘It would not be far wrong to say that the modern culture of the West was essentially an exclusionary culture’’ (p. 199). Considering Lemert’s consistent emphasis on the importance of recognizing difference, it is surprising that he does acknowledge the possibility that the past two centuries were a time when different social and political forces struggled to assert conflicting understandings of ‘‘modernity,’’ and that the one that became prevalent was far more narrow than various other understandings. 14. Which not to suggest that there are no exceptions to this trend. David Harvey (1990) and Fredric Jameson (1991), for instance, arrive at the conclusion that we are entering into postmodernity (perhaps by overgeneralizing the American condition), by showing that there is a link between economic conditions and postmodernity as a viable category. Still, we must ask whether the US context can really be generalized, and how its generalization might reduce sight of alternative options. In light of the above discussion about American modernity and reification, the focus on the United States may be truncating the options that modern civilization has at its disposal. 15. To be sure, one should keep in mind that Habermas explicitly stated that The Theory of Communicative Action must be read above all as a framework for identifying the decisive issues in the most advanced societies, issues that warrant careful empirical examination, rather than a completed theory. 16. Note that in the collection edited by Craig Calhoun, Social Theory and the Politics of Identity (1994), Adorno’s critique of identity thinking is not mentioned. It certainly would be most interesting to determine how he would have thought about the current emphasis on identity politics. 17. As I am completing this paper, James Davison Hunter and Carl Bowman’s The State of Disunion: 1996 Survey of American Political Culture (1997) is about to



be published. This survey, conducted by the Post-Modernity Project at the University of Virginia, promises to provide greater insight into the state of American modernity than any sources available to date. 18. See Beck (1995, pp. 133–125), especially chapters ‘‘The Conflict of Two Modernities’’ and ‘‘The Unfinished Democracy.’’ 19. Neilson, Knott, and Carhart (1949), term ‘‘syncretism.’’ 20. Moffatt (1924), p. 155. 21. The BIEN (now Basic Income Earth Network) has its own website (http://, where the basic income is defined as follows: ‘‘an income unconditionally granted to all on an individual basis, without means test or work requirement.’’ 22. ‘‘[W]omen’s entrapment in conventional domestic roles was closely related to financial dependence on men. By giving women a basic income in their own right, the social dividend would greatly reduce this dependence, and allow the development of new conceptions of autonomy for women, both collectively and individually’’ Jordan (1985, p. 298).

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS In many respects, this chapter constitutes a culmination of various themes that I have pondered, on and off, over the course of a decade. Among the teachers and colleagues who contributed to my working out the ideas presented here for the first time, I thank Albrecht Wellmer, Arthur Vidich, Claus Offe, Guy Oakes, Jennifer Lehmann, Eric Hobsbawm, Agnes Heller, Lawrence Hazelrigg, Ralf Dahrendorf, Jose´ Casanova, Richard Bernstein, Kimberly Barton, Andrew Arato, Robert Antonio, and Robert Alford. I also thank Daniel Harrison and John Farnum for giving the manuscript a close reading.


SOCIAL POLICY IN THE MODERN AGE: IN THE INTEREST OF MAINTAINING ORDER For perspectives on globalization to do justice to its many facets, they must be informed by an understanding of modern societies as simultaneously complex, contingent, and contradictory – as modern capitalist societies. As is becoming ever more apparent, such an understanding of modern societies is the necessary precondition for identifying the defining features of globalization. Yet, for the most part, the history of the social sciences did not produce research agendas, theories, and methods designed to grasp complexity, contingency, and contradiction as core dimensions of modern social life that continually reinforce each other. The social sciences did not evolve as ongoing efforts to grasp the gravity each dimension exerts on concrete forms of political, economic, and cultural life, and how the force of each depends on the constant exchange of energy with the other two. To the extent that scrutinizing the impact of globalization on the future – find


I presented an early version of this article at the BIEN Conference, ‘‘Economic Citizenship Rights for the Twenty-First Century,’’ in Berlin, October 2000, and elements of the central argument at the Faculty Seminar, University of North Florida, March 2002, and at the USBIG Conference in New York, February 2003.




possible futures – of human civilization is the primary challenge for social scientists to confront today, the current condition presents a unique, and perhaps most unusual opportunity to conceive anew the promise of each and all the social sciences, as elucidating how the complex, contingent, and contradictory nature of modern societies, in the name of advancing social justice, has engendered a regime of managing ‘‘social problems.’’ From the beginning of the modern age, and in a more pronounced manner since the end of World War II, the primary purpose of the political and policy apparatus of the nation-state was to maintain social and political stability, in the interest of ensuring conditions conducive to economic activity and continuous economic expansion. Historically, the rise and spread of nation-states accompanied the formation of the market mechanism regulating economic activities, and thus prepared industrialization (see C. B. MacPherson, 1962, 1977; Wood, 1999; Wood & Wood, 1997; also Dahms, 2000, pp. 1–30). Yet, lingering questions remain regarding the link between political-economic developments increasing the wealth of nations, the nature of progress, and the advancement of social justice. Were the efforts to reduce a multiplicity of inequalities during the post-World War II era, and related successes, intended consequences of the constellation of business–labor–government relations that took hold during the 1950s and 1960s? Was the constellation a necessary precondition for economic recovery after World War II, and for continuous economic expansion thereafter, under the aegis of modernization and democratization? Evidently, depending on what perspective we apply to frame addressing those and related questions, we will arrive at different sets of answers. At the time, there certainly appeared to be a close link between increasing prosperity at the national level and advancing social justice. To examine the link between overall increases in wealth and productivity and the advancement of social justice today, we first must delineate how the examination of the link is situated within a perimeter of study that is not readily accessible, but increasingly problematic – as is true for most aspects and consequences of the set of transformations we refer to, in the singular, as globalization. From one angle, advances in social justice were the result of successful efforts to configure the function and functioning of democratically legitimated governments, the influence and relative autonomy of business organizations, and the role of labor unions, for economic growth to go hand in hand with the decline of inequality in society. Put differently, the postWorld War II configuration of business, labor, and government facilitated incremental changes in the structure of modern western societies that reduced the impact of inequalities on the life chances of individuals, while creating proliferating opportunities for economic growth and development – thus the

Globalization or Hyper-Alienation?


phrase, economic miracle.1 Viewed from this angle, the emergence of the specific constellation of business–labor–government relations in western societies, after World War II, appears as a major achievement, as it made possible steps toward greater social justice – most visibly in public policies central to the social welfare state. Along these lines, in the United States, this constellation was a necessary precondition for the civil rights movement. From another perspective, however, the key question pertains to imperatives relating to necessary preconditions for economic recovery and expansion after 1945. Accordingly, the configuration between business, labor, and government – including, especially, the specific regime of welfarestate-based public policies – would have emerged in response to the need to secure social and political stability, as the necessary precondition for continued economic growth and development – under conditions of the Cold War. The configuration, then, would not have taken hold in the interest of advancing social justice. Instead, advances in social justice would have been a necessary correlate of the need to maintain social and political order – containing the potential for social and political conflict – in the interest of economic expansion.2 The configuration prepared changes in the relationship between business, labor, and government, which, for now, have culminated in ‘‘globalization.’’ Thus, the advancement of social justice appears to have been temporary in nature, and the result of social legislation during the third quarter of the twentieth century. While it would be premature – and highly questionable – to conclude that there has not been progress, my purpose here is to emphasize the problematic character of the patterns underlying the scale and scope of possible progress – and how those patterns and their impact on social life have become implicitly presupposed, as individuals, organizations, and societies endeavor to meet myriad challenges.3 While advocates of the public policy regime that took hold during the Cold War insist that its superiority over alternative strategies for advancing social justice – especially when compared to the experience of ‘‘actually existing socialist societies’’ – rests with its facility to ‘‘solve social problems,’’ the evidence suggests that it is more likely to thwart efforts to resolve any social problem, and that it may even prepare conditions that will further weaken, or preclude, opportunities to tackle social problems.

Theorizing ‘‘Modern Society’’: Complexity, Contingency, Contradiction When situated within their historical context, the priorities orienting developments in the social sciences during the second half of the twentieth



century were fraught with the tension between approaches that reflect the underlying patterns that shaped the Cold War public policy regime in western societies, and approaches that critically reflect on, and oriented toward transgressing, the power of underlying patterns. Most mainstream (i.e., ‘‘traditional’’) theories – and approaches to identifying the nature – of ‘‘modern society,’’ in economics, political science, and sociology, were guided by the endeavor to sustain as legitimate the kind of social research that abstracts from the complex, contingent, and contradictory nature of social life in the modern age, to arrive at social-scientific facts (see Dahms, 2006).4 Despite both repeated and sustained attempts to expose as problematic the limitations manifest in mainstream approaches to studying modern society, for the most part, those attempts have remained marginal to the development of economics, political science, and even of sociology. By contrast, critical approaches emphasize complexity, contingency, and contradiction, respectively, as related and central, yet distinct dimensions of social life in modern societies, irrespective of whether they concentrate on one of those dimensions, or combine two or three. The relative reluctance among mainstream social scientists to confront complexity, contingency, and contradiction, may be indicative of a concern that doing so explicitly and systematically would imperil tacit assumptions in the social sciences about the link between social and political order, and economic development and growth. Given that since the beginning of the modern era, the former has been regarded as a necessary precondition for the latter, to formulate a working definition of modern society, we need to recognize that practices, organizations, institutions, policies, and structures of power may have been evolving in response to the need to contain the (perceived) threat to order and stability posed by complexity, contingency, and contradictions, as much as – or to a greater extent than – to facilitate the pursuit of a specific objective. In turn, recognizing the need for an understanding of modern society that would integrate the three dimensions, will draw our attention to the fact that we first must establish whether and how the categories developed in the social sciences during the twentieth century, illuminate the underlying patterns that have spawned trajectories of social, political, and economic change culminating, for now, under the aegis of globalization. The objective of framing the study of globalization in a rigorous manner both necessitates and provides opportunities for acknowledging a possible discrepancy between the categories that facilitated social research during the twentieth century and the categories engendering the kind of research that would have increased opportunities to gain insights preparing us for the onset of globalization. If there is a gulf separating two

Globalization or Hyper-Alienation?


sets of categories, it is likely to relate directly to two conflicting approaches to ‘‘reconciling’’ facts and norms in the modern age – especially as they relate to public policies. In the interest of ‘‘safeguarding’’ society, the first approach presupposes that specific constellations of political, economic, and social order must be preserved in their specificity – not social order in general, but the social structure of inequality, in its particularity. To attain this goal – sustaining social and political stability as the necessary precondition for continuous economic expansion – decision-makers in politics, the corporate world, and the policy establishment draw on established and accepted notions and practices, especially as they relate to ‘‘shared values’’ pertaining to fairness and social justice, as resources to be molded and utilized in the interest of stabilizing order, to create a buffer for capitalist dynamism. As a result, the underlying patterns determining the direction of change tend to remain submerged, even and especially when tension characterizes the relationship between purportedly shared values, the underlying patterns that bring about a societal reality which threatens to weaken, undermine, or render inadequate, those values, and strategies to identify and advance the ‘‘public interest.’’5 By contrast, the second approach centers around the imperative to scrutinize underlying patterns in ways that open up, rather than close off, future possibilities to synchronize directions of change in society with the actuality of shared values – necessitating continuous efforts to determine the nature and extent of both – the directions of change and efforts to translate shared values into public policies. In sociology, these approaches correspond with two conflicting ways of framing the purpose and promise of social research.6 Difficulties to identify the defining features of globalization are symptomatic of the preliminary character of attempts in the social sciences to make explicit the nature of modern society. Paradoxically, research in the social sciences evolved without coordinated and collaborative efforts to facilitate an explicit, shared, and rigorous understanding of ‘‘modern society’’ – of the historically specific formation that spawned the social sciences. In most instances, the meaning of ‘‘modern society’’ remained implicit; in other instances, related working definitions were a function of specific theoretical frameworks, and in tension, or incompatible, with definitions tied to different, competing frameworks.7 With the failure to achieve a shared understanding revealing key characteristics of modern societies social scientists have labored to identify, efforts to establish such an understanding could have been successful if a majority of social scientists representing different approaches had been willing and capable to engage in concerted efforts to transgress the limitations of individual approaches.



To do so, proponents of diverse approaches would have had to acknowledge that a truly social-scientific understanding of modern society will remain elusive as long as each individual approach is burdened with the expectation that it can provide the kind of comprehensive perspective that would result from sustained, genuinely collaborative efforts. For the most part, however, progress in the social sciences during the second half of the twentieth century came at the expense of such efforts.8 If social scientists had been willing and able to achieve a shared understanding of ‘‘modern society’’ – thus violating the competitive principle governing modern life – confronting the complex, contingent, and contradictory nature of modern society would have become integral to designing research agendas in each of the social sciences. In turn, that attempts in the social sciences to achieve such an understanding have not permeated the practice of social research suggests a tension between priorities in the history of the social sciences and the complex, contingent, and contradictory nature of the modern world. More importantly, such an understanding would have compelled social scientists in different fields to recognize that without the collaborative interlinking of research agendas within and between sociology, economics, and political science, rigorous social research that positively relates to the nature of modern society – and, by implication, of globalization – remains elusive. In principle, such interlinking research agendas should have allowed for scrutiny regarding the manner in which tensions in modern society sustain a force-field between social, economic, and political values, priorities, and imperatives – and how the underlying dynamics of modern societies are tied to those tensions. Such interdisciplinary research is the precondition for formulating criteria for determining degrees of modernity in different societies – and in different social subsystems within particular societies. Such research would also engender appreciation of the variations between societies, along a broad spectrum of practices, forms of organization, and public policies in politics, economy, culture, and society, as during the twentieth century, industrialized societies developed a variety of modes for containing societal tensions and conflicts – especially those between business, labor, and government. Thus, the focus on modern society as complex, contingent, and contradictory reveals this form of social organization to be a kind of force-field whose energy derives from continuous efforts to reconcile the irreconcilable. Capitalism, democracy, freedom, solidarity, and justice represent sets of normative, ideological, and organizational principles that are in tension with each other and do not lend themselves to consistent interpretation and application. At least in part, the superiority of modern

Globalization or Hyper-Alienation?


capitalist societies derives from the expectation that in the not-so-distant future, tensions between different social value spheres will be reconciled, and economic, political, and social conflicts overcome. Yet in light of globalization, related efforts at reconciliation – especially by means of public policies – not only appear to be less and less likely to succeed, they also seem to be less likely to occur. As demands proliferate that we should interpret globalization as emergent opportunities to solve social, political, and economic problems that do not require determined and sustained efforts, inequalities continue to be on the rise in and between nation-states (see, e.g., Perrucci & Wysong, 2003). Indeed, while during the post-World War II era, efforts were necessary to attain a minimum degree of reconciliation within the framework of modern nation-states, to maintain social and political stability – in the form of the modern welfare states and corresponding public policy regimes – the official end of the Cold War at the beginning of the 1990s appears to have set in motion sustained attempts to abandon a commitment to social justice, while maintaining language that implies its impending realization, via the reconciliation of related tensions and conflicts.

Traditional Marxism, Basic Income, and the Future of Sociology In the present situation, amplified efforts to bring about qualitative change tend to engender mounting resistance, as the strategies that are available to us, especially those that are socially, culturally, politically, economically, and organizationally condoned in western societies today, appear to be a function of, and tend to replicate, the underlying patterns basic to the postWorld War II era. For this reason, increasing the likelihood that policies advance stated goals is one of the most important challenges, and may not be possible without prior creation of an environment in politics, culture, society, and economy that will reduce resistance against qualitative, structural change. Among the many attempts to cope with the experience of globalization, two developments that appear to be located at the outer fringes of the sociological imagination, and which may seem not to relate directly to the objective of increasing policy success under conditions of globalization, warrant particular attention. While their affinity has remained unacknowledged, their importance for reformulating the research agenda and responsibility of sociology – regarding the goal of scrutinizing globalization – is becoming increasingly compelling. I am referring, on the one hand, to the



revived debate about universal basic income, or guaranteed minimum income, whose beginnings as an explicit social policy strategy date to the 1960s’ War on Poverty, and whose origins in the history of ideas date back to the time of the Italian Renaissance.9 Independently of whether and how basic income is a ‘‘viable’’ strategy to tackling social problems that result from and are tied to inequality – especially, though not exclusively, economic inequality – basic income points beyond the social policy paradigm centered on the notion that it is possible and legitimate to determine an individual’s ‘‘worth’’ in terms of the kind of work he or she performs.10 Moishe Postone’s reinterpretation of Karl Marx as the first critical theorist, and concurrent critique of traditional Marxism, on the other hand, provides the most systematic perspective on Marx’s work as motivated by the objective to lay the foundation for a critical theory of the all-embracing and all-defining role of labor in modern capitalist society. While acknowledging the wide spectrum of arguments for basic income, my goal is to establish whether there is an affinity (and, if so, what kind) between basic income and Postone’s interpretation of Marx as the critical theorist of labor. To do so, I will frame basic income as a strategy to ‘‘uncouple’’ work and income. Proponents of basic income frequently start out from the observation that in industrialized societies, politicians and policymakers tend to presuppose as inalterable an array of inequalities and social problems. By implication, the post-World War II policy regime regards most inequalities and social problems as structural features of modern societies, even though they violate purportedly shared values in democratic societies, prevent the success of related policies in terms of stated goals, and thwart the development of rational strategies relating to the nature of problems and challenges at hand. Structural unemployment is one of the most conspicuous problems of this kind. To a large extent – though by no means exclusively – the debate about basic income since the 1980s has been drawing energy from the fact that institutions and organizations in western societies function by compelling the vast majority of their members who are ‘‘fit for and to work,’’ to dedicate the bulk of their waking lives to ‘‘making money,’’ or ‘‘making a living’’ – without sustaining labor markets that are sufficiently large to allow all members to comply with that expectation. As Postone’s interpretation of Marx’s theory as a critique of labor in capitalism reveals, phenomena such as structural unemployment are symptomatic for the actual depth of the problematic nature of ‘‘work society.’’ More importantly, however, in the absence of a thorough appreciation of the thrust of Marx’s critique of labor in capitalism, attempts to design and implement basic income-related scenarios and proposals are

Globalization or Hyper-Alienation?


more likely to perpetuate precisely those conditions against whose prevalence they are directed, as the strategy of choice.11 In turn, the most important aspect of Postone’s critique of traditional Marxism, for present purposes, is his analysis of how in modern society, labor molds prevailing conceptions of social problems, their place in both individual and social life, and approaches to tackle them. In addition, Postone’s analysis of labor directly leads to a critical analysis of the tools employed in the social sciences, as an extension of the nature of labor, rather than a means to scrutinize its predominance. Both efforts – to advocate the need for a universal basic income and to reframe Marx’s theory as a rigorous critique of labor in capitalism – provide theoretical sociologists with important clues for sustaining as central to the discipline the notion that sociology represents a promise, as it is a framework for research directed at facilitating an understanding of modern society that increases opportunities for actors and organizations to move beyond conditions characterized by structural inequalities coining the nature of social relations. As representatives of a professional discipline, sociologists are neither expected nor compelled to conceive of necessary steps to move beyond present conditions by grasping the multifarious character of globalization. Yet, the willingness of sociologists to recognize the importance of steps in such a direction is vital to fulfill the function of enlightening modern society about itself, especially insofar as modern society has developed mechanisms to immunize itself against illuminating key features that must become transparent, in order for public policies to be oriented toward amplifying the reconciliation ‘‘between facts and norms’’ (see Habermas, [1992] 1996). Clearly, despite the narrow focus of research that is characteristic of sociology as a professional discipline, there is no other social science whose scope and diversity of concerns compare, even remotely, with those of sociology. For this reason, theoretical sociologists may be best positioned to identify, and visualize, links between theoretical perspectives and practical developments that tend to remain latent, and which must be made visible, in order for qualitative change to become possible. After clarifying how it is necessary to frame ‘‘modern society’’ in terms of globalization, alienation, social policy, and sociology, I examine the underlying patterns of the social policy paradigm that took hold after World War II. I will try to demonstrate how the construct – ‘‘glass casing’’ – better approximates the meaning associated with Max Weber’s concept of the iron cage. I introduce glass casing to describe the social policy regime that took hold during the post-World War II era, supported by a highly bureaucratic social welfare state, economic policies explicitly oriented



toward continuous economic growth, and international relations organized in terms of the conflict between ‘‘capitalism’’ and ‘‘communism.’’ The most explicit purpose of this regime was to contain the destructive impact of social inequalities, as they threatened social and political order at both the national and international levels. However, the objective was to advance this purpose without altering the overall structure of inequality.12 After laying out how basic income is both a continuation of key aspects of the social welfare state and a determined effort to move beyond, I turn to two critiques of traditional Marxism. Van der Veen and van Parijs’s argument for ‘‘a capitalist road to communism,’’ published first in 1986, upon publication acquired the status of a key programmatic text, in the discourse about basic income that has been gaining momentum since the 1980s. I already mentioned Postone’s ‘‘reinterpretation of Marx’s critical theory,’’ published in 1993, as the other critique of traditional Marxism. My interest here is to illuminate how these critiques complement and support each other in crucial ways, how they strengthen arguments for basic income, and how – in different ways – they stress the importance of making explicit the degree to which alienation has become the mechanism through which forms of social, political, cultural, and economic life are being maintained in a stasis that delimits opportunities for qualitative transformation – in ways that tend to be immune to scrutiny. The objective of this comparison of two competing critiques of traditional Marxism – as arguments for basic income – is to illustrate how the social policy paradigm that took hold after World War II constituted a set of mechanisms enabling decision-makers in business, labor, and government to meet institutional and organizational challenges more efficiently and effectively than would have resulted from any available alternative – given the need to manage the potential of political and social conflicts. In concert with an array of social and economic policies (‘‘Keynesianism’’), the social welfare state helped to secure social and political stability, and facilitated unprecedented economic expansion and development. Yet as it sustained a network of enduring social and economic inequalities, along with corresponding social problems, the actual purpose of the social policy paradigm that emerged during the Cold War was not the eradication or alleviation of those inequalities, and the resolution of corresponding problems – though moving beyond both was proclaimed to be the primary goal in countless political speeches and policy dossiers. The occurrence of, and discourse about, globalization suggests that the Cold War social policy paradigm, in combination with the social welfare state, has run its course. While the Cold War officially ended in 1991, with

Globalization or Hyper-Alienation?


the collapse of the Soviet Union, the social policy paradigm we inherited, continues to function as the principal strategy for implementing social, political, and economic responses to a multiplicity of social, political, economic, and cultural challenges and problems. Ultimately, my effort is directed at illuminating how the continued relevance of sociology appears to depend on the willingness of social scientists generally to appreciate as central the contribution critical theorists have been making to theoretical sociology, and to consider policy proposals whose likelihood of success, under present circumstances, appears to be practically nonexistent. Without a firm commitment to contemplating – and recognizing – how present conditions exclude an entire array of policy strategies that would be more compatible with both the espoused values of modern, western societies, and the imperative to sustain prosperity benefitting all members of society, social scientists in effect support conditions and practices that prevent those strategies from becoming viable.

THE CULMINATION OF MODERN TRENDS: GLOBALIZATION AS HYPER-ALIENATION In recent years, a growing number of theoretical sociologists have begun to address how reconceiving sociology depends on our willingness to reinterpret the classical theorists of modern society – Marx, Durkheim, Weber, and others – in the interest of ascertaining how they did, in fact, predict the coming of globalization.13 At a time when the Zeitgeist (including the mind-set of many social scientists) seems bewildered by globalization, this situation may be a necessary precondition for reconstructing the purpose and promise of sociology. Reconsideration of the classical theories along such lines might lead us to an understanding of sociology as the social science that emerged in historical circumstances which produced the first explicit experiences, and related concept, of alienation (see Dahms, 2006). Independent of alienation, it is neither possible to envision sociology as the social science of modern society nor to determine how it is the discipline tailored to analyze globalization. Without acknowledging the manner in which alienation has been molding modern forms of social life, sociology is more likely to perpetuate the prevalence of, rather than making a momentous contribution to overcoming, alienation.14 Clarifying how social policy designers prefer strategies that tend to perpetuate alienated social relations, rather than recognizing them as such, is a necessary first



step toward overcoming alienation. In the absence of such clarification, both sociology and social policy may solidify precisely the patterns of inequality that render ambivalent efforts to advance social justice – in the name of social justice. From the start, both in Hegel’s dialectical philosophy and in Marx’s critical theory, the purpose of alienation was to highlight that the society taking shape during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries – ‘‘bourgeois society’’ – rested upon a multiplicity of contradictions that could not be reconciled within its own confines. Thus, from the outset, the concept of alienation was meant to facilitate access to the warped nature of social, political, and economic relations in bourgeois society. In this sense, it was conceived in relation to concrete sociohistoric conditions.15 In Hegel, and especially in Marx, alienation was not merely an abstract, philosophical concept, but a lens through which to examine the link between key features of social life in bourgeois society, as a social order based on distinct classes. Bourgeois society denotes a structure of inequality whose transformation would bring the end of bourgeois society. While there is a long history of interpreting both bourgeois society and the republican state as embodiments of Enlightenment and humanistic principles, Marx pointed out that the realization of those principles in what would be a civil society, was being made impossible by the modern economic system’s need to continuously reproduce an exploited working class – the need to maintain a class structure that rendered (and continuing to render) futile efforts to realize Enlightenment and humanistic principles.16 The resulting tension has remained the source of alienation to this day: western societies are synonymous with a sociopolitical order drawing legitimacy from its claim to advance the interests of all members of society via increasing prosperity at the societal level, with the most important social value sphere being an economic system that relies on a stable structure of class inequality. The type of social relations prevalent in a society with a political system whose legitimacy depends on the acknowledgment of structural inequalities, while lacking the means as well as the commitment to overcome those inequalities, compel members of one class (or race, or gender) to view members of another class (or race, or gender), not primarily as fellow human beings, but as representations of the classes (and class interests) to which they belong. In this type of society, equal citizenship simultaneously is being simulated and denied, thus undermining the construction of meaningful life histories, in the absence of mechanisms that guarantee improvements over time. As the alternative to guaranteed improvements, established policy

Globalization or Hyper-Alienation?


strategies channel individuals’ perceptions, values, convictions, and goals in the interest of concealing the simulation. Sociology emerged in response to the sociohistorical context in which alienated social relations first took hold. As Habermas put it, [S]ociology originated as the discipline responsible for the problems that politics and economics pushed to one side on their way to becoming specialized sciences. Its theme was the changes in social integration brought about within the structure of old-European societies by the rise of the modern system of [nation] states and by the differentiation of market-regulated economy. Sociology became the science of crisis par excellence; it concerned itself above all with the anomic aspects of the dissolution of traditional social systems and the development of modern ones. ([1981] 1984, p. 4)

While initially, Marx’s interest in alienation was philosophical in nature, and his concern directed at overcoming alienation by philosophical means, the shift to the critique of political economy highlighted the need to investigate the economic origins of alienation. The newly emerging economic system, based on the capitalist mode of production, generated alienated social relations – what Durkheim later was to analyze in terms of anomie.17 The inception of sociology coincided with the emergence of alienated social relations, and a new configuration of sociality that made it impossible for most inhabitants to be ‘‘at home’’ in bourgeois society.18 Most inhabitants were not in the position to conceive of the process by which the values, beliefs, and convictions providing their lives with meaning, were being up-ended all around them. A succession of mediation processes resulted, which concealed the discrepancy between received certainties about the position of human beings in the context of social and political hierarchies. The mutually reinforcing nexus between economy and culture undermined formerly firm certainties that had enabled individuals, as members of social groups, to gain a sense of their place in society. Globalization appears at a stage in the history of western civilization that generates increasing difficulties to contain the discrepancy between traditional perspectives on the meaning and nature of social life, and the actuality of those conditions. Ironically, depending on how the social sciences respond to globalization, and whether they facilitate genuine responses to the discrepancy between socially and politically enforced constructs purported to represent social reality, and concrete societal conditions, it may turn out that concerns are justified that globalization indeed is the first perceivable stage in the devolution of western civilization, as postmodernists as well as theorists of postmodernism have been arguing since the 1980s (e.g., Harvey, 1990; Jameson, 1991; Woodiwiss, 1993).



Modern Society and the Rationalization of Alienation Since the development of Marx’s critique of bourgeois society, the purpose of critical social theory has been to clarify how the economic forces that made possible the rise of modern capitalism, exact costs that cannot be grasped in terms of political economy.19 The thrust of Marx’s critique of political economy was to construct a theoretical framework tailored specifically to identify the nature of these costs. While narrow economic principles have been metabolizing more and more aspects of social, political, and cultural life, it has become more and more difficult to contend that individuals, social groups, and societies as entities, pay a price for economic progress – in light of ‘‘the deep traces that more than one hundred years of the hegemony of industrial capitalism have imprinted on ideas, intuitions, and expectations’’ (Offe, 2001, p. 114). The march of laissez-faire ideology around the world, accelerating under conditions of globalization, keeps reinforcing a mind-set that presumes that at the global level, compared to the benefits of ‘‘free-market capitalism,’’ its costs are negligible – and that the latter must not become an impediment to implementing the necessary preconditions for the former. This mind-set, prevalent among decision-makers in the world of business, has also become an implicit presupposition among politicians of many stripes, among those who design and implement public policies, and among a growing number of social scientists. Resistance to the notion that there is no viable alternative to laissez-faire economic policies has shrunk to the so-called ‘‘antiglobalization movement’’ – a highly amorphous collage of labor activists and organizations, environmental groups, leftists, focus groups, academics, and a small group of more or less violent protesters that serve attempts to delegitimate the claims made by most others. Critics of globalization stress that the manifold processes subsumed under this heading violate many of the values western democratic societies purport to embody. The latter values form the starting point, and their future realization the ‘‘vanishing point,’’ of the critiques of globalization. While the diversity of opponents of economic globalization may suggest broad appeal, the different groups remain internally fragmented and on the fringes of the increasingly managed public spheres of nation-states dominated by transnational corporations not recognizable as such (see Sklair, 2001). This trend makes even more necessary a willingness to clearly identify the ‘‘costs’’ of economic modernization, and its cultural, organizational, and structural manifestations – irrespective of whether such an analysis, at this point in time, translates directly into practically viable policies.

Globalization or Hyper-Alienation?


The possibility that the costs might approach – or exceed – the benefits, especially at the global level, need not compel us to search for venues to eviscerate the social, cultural, and political costs of capitalism, especially if such evisceration would come at the expense of past achievements in terms of wealth, social, political, and economic stability, and technological proficiency. There is no ‘‘necessary’’ link between the willingness to contemplate that the costs of capitalism might exceed its social, political, and cultural benefits, and – if such should turn out to be the case – the conclusion that capitalism must be overcome ‘‘at any price’’ (see Dahms, 1997). Instead, scrutinizing the nature of the costs resulting from the continuous reconfiguration of the modern condition, in the interest of economic progress, is a necessary precondition for the social sciences to illuminate the trends that shape our collective future, and possible futures. Globalization processes generate unprecedented possibilities in certain arenas of human activity, while smashing prospects for qualitatively different, including preferable forms of life, in others.20 Effective public policies directed at desirable social change, even when reflecting awareness of impediments to such change, are contingent on a clear sense of the losses civilization incurs in the interest of retooling everything existing for purposes of economic survival on the part of individuals, institutions, and nation-states, as dictated by the pursuit of economic gain endemic to increasingly powerful national and transnational corporations (see Kuttner, 1997).21 However we may conceive of ‘‘democracy,’’ for instance, we must consider that economic transformations, legitimated in relation to what Adam Smith called the ‘‘wealth of nations,’’ and meant to advance the quality of life for all, might undermine the very possibility of democracy and advances in the quality of life for all. Recall Weber’s contention, in 1906, that [i]t is utterly ridiculous to suppose that it is an ‘‘inevitable’’ feature of our economic development under present-day advanced capitalism y as it exists in America, that it should have an elective affinity with ‘‘democracy’’ or indeed with ‘‘freedom’’ (in any sense of that word), when the only question to be asked is: how are all these things, in general and in the long term, possible where it prevails? ([1906] 1978, p. 282)

The gulf appears to be widening, considering the technologically sophisticated forms of democratic will-formation, participation, and decisionmaking that ought to result from the accelerating computerization of life, but do not – even in terms of representative democracy in its current mold (see Brettschneider, 2002; Dahl, 1985, 1989; Kaplan, 1997; and especially Dahl, 2001).



The purpose here, then, is to illustrate how the abstract concept of alienation is our best means for delineating the spectrum of concrete costs modern civilization keeps paying – from certain categories of individuals bearing the brunt of negative consequences resulting from economic transmutations and corporate mismanagement, to assimilating health care systems and educational priorities to economic imperatives, to the long-term losses incurred by less-developed cultures and societies that are being forced to undergo rapid economic transformations. Indeed, more and more aspects of modern civilization resemble the consummation of alienation, mediated over and over, with alienation affecting not just certain practices, but the possibility of practice itself. The tendency in the social sciences, to view forms of organization and modes of coexistence independently of their economic foundations, and as expressions of what is quintessentially ‘‘social,’’ ‘‘political,’’ or ‘‘cultural,’’ does not suggest that alienation has ceased to be an analytically relevant category. Instead, this tendency is symptomatic of the fact that alienation never has been more relevant.22 Alienation in this sense is not just an undesirable by-product of the spread of the capitalist mode of production. Instead, it is the matrix of engendering qualitatively new types of social relations, animated by large-scale economic and organizational transformations, whose pace has been accelerating as our ability as social scientists to keep pace with the transformations has been falling behind. Yet whether new types of social relations are regressive or progressive, remains concealed as long as we presuppose that there is no need to reexamine the specific character of social ties and practices – as in family, friendship, work, voluntary associations, leisure activities – in relation to, and as a function of, capitalist transformations, both spatially, around the globe, and socially, culturally, and politically. Alienation, then, is not the other, darker side of capitalism’s effulgence. Alienation is the mode of changing economic conditions reconfiguring social, political, and cultural patterns of life, in a largely obfuscated manner. As social, political, and cultural values, practices, and institutions are being assimilated to changing economic conditions, and its singular and exclusive emphasis on economic value, the related vernacular tends to remain the same – in politics, culture, society, and even in the social sciences. Alienation, then, is not a by-product of the capitalist mode of production, but the modus through which economic imperatives shape societal conditions – the consequence of the multiplicity of values in society being replaced by economic value, as imposed by successive stages of capitalist organization and concentration. Indeed, it would be quite appropriate to conceive of sociality in the modern age as a combination of the desire,

Globalization or Hyper-Alienation?


among human beings, to be ‘‘in society’’ with fellow human beings, of forms of sociality that result from alienation, and of attempts to view those alienated social relations as the continuation of unalienated ‘‘natural’’ patterns and practices that flow from genuinely human desires. As this process continues, seemingly new patterns are being forged between economy, culture, politics, and society: the more advanced these patterns appear to be, the less transparent they become, and the more difficult to discern with the analytical, conceptual, and theoretical tools available in social science as well as in policy. Marx predicted that with the expanding reach of capitalist principles, their basic features will become increasingly obscure: unless we make sustained efforts to refine and frame the tools we employ to identify these principles, while retaining a rigorously critical distance, the tools are likely to turn into epiphenomena of the processes they are supposed to illuminate – and the social sciences into implicit attempts to rationalize the inevitability of capitalist principles. The need to maintain critical distance is especially urgent, under conditions of globalization. In certain regards, however, it also may be less difficult to do so. From a perspective that is critical of sociology as a professional discipline, the challenge to apprehend globalization is a unique opportunity, insofar as it necessitates taking account of the extent and prevalence of flawed assumptions, inaccurate forecasts, and theoretical errors in the social sciences during the twentieth century.23 Despite unquestionable successes on many fronts, assumptions about possible and likely directions of social change, about the nature of social processes and institutions (including the nature of their interrelations), and about the adequacy of chosen methods, concepts, and theoretical designs, appear in an increasingly problematic light. These failures and mistakes may be dismissed as rooted in individual error, insufficient ‘‘information,’’ reductionist theorizing, and the momentary nature of quantitative methods. Yet in the context of globalization, the failure to scrutinize the key features of modern social life also may have been a function of the widespread willingness to presume as germane the representations of social, political, cultural, and economic ‘‘reality’’ fostered by and through key institutions central to modern, western, democratic societies, including the social sciences. Marx designed the critique of political economy to identify structural impediments to types of societal practice that will not be bound to reproduce existing institutions, patterns, and routines – especially as they relate to social injustices. It was for this reason that Marx’s theory began as a critique of alienation, then turned toward the critique of political economy – as a critique of the material conditions that foster alienation – and culminated in



his critique of commodity fetishism – alienation as ‘‘second nature.’’ It was especially in this regard that Marx’s critique of political economy was the inception of critical theory in the sense of the Frankfurt School.24 Alienation, along with later forms of regressive mediation, such as reification (especially Luka´cs, [1923] 1971; see Dahms, 1998), and instrumental reason (Horkheimer & Adorno, [1947] 2002), are not synonymous concepts for identical phenomena. While these critical concepts relate to distinct experiences, refer to specific sociohistoric reference frames, and express different theoretical objectives, they derive their importance from being located along one continuous spectrum. Each mode of mediation corresponds to a specific stage in the development of capitalism and modern society. However, a new stage of capitalist development, and corresponding form of regressive mediation, does neither entail the complete ‘‘overcoming’’ nor the submergence of earlier forms. Instead, they constitute layers of mediation, just as multiple stages of capitalist development persist side by side, coincide, intersect, reinforce, and invade each other – and, at times, collide. As ‘‘capitalism’’ today refers to different modes of capitalist process and organization combined, so too ‘‘alienation’’ denotes layers of mediation that continue to amplify the complex and contradictory nature of modern life, while making more and more difficult attempts to identify the underlying logic of this process. We may refer to this modern capitalist modus operandi as postmodern, in the sense that it increasingly renders unintelligible categories meant to facilitate analyses and interpretations of conditions of life in modern society both pointed and pertinent, and to allow the individual to find his or her meaningful place in the world. Referring to the present as postmodern, however, tends to conceal that our interpretations of the ‘‘essence’’ of the social, may be appearances of ‘‘the social’’ resulting from layers of economic and organizational conditions and imperatives that are becoming increasingly impenetrable, as such.25

Social Policies, the Social Welfare State, and the Containment of Alienation In the current context, alienation highlights the persistence of paradoxes and contradictions prevalent in contemporary society, yet not reconcilable within its basic framework. Inequalities persist, yet are not acceptable as the context for attempts to apply democratic validity claims to the functioning of institutions and organizations.26 At the same time, education and the mass media do little to enhance the ability of democratic citizenries to face

Globalization or Hyper-Alienation?


up to, and to confront, paradoxes and contradictions. It is not surprising, therefore, that modern democratic political systems operate in ways that prevent the development of viable means to resolve related tensions. Discussions of social policy strategies, especially if they relate to sincere efforts to tackle specific problems, need to take into consideration alienation in its multiple forms – not because it will be empowering, but because it will make it possible to anticipate the nature and scope of obstacles to overcome. It ought to be the goal of proactive social policies to decrease the degree of systemic disempowerment. Yet the prevailing assumption is that for policies to be viable, categories such as alienation must not be taken into consideration. Paradoxically, however, if the prevalence of alienation (or a related category – or set of categories – intended to highlight lack of policy success as a systemic problem) is being ignored, the relative irrelevance of social policies directed at inequalities is practically inevitable.27 Today, it appears to be impossible to address the basic contradiction of the modern age, in a manner that opens up opportunities for practice and agency. Tremendous increases of wealth and productivity combine with growing inequalities and a decline of socially compelling visions of how to translate this wealth into a future more compatible with values relating to freedom, equality, solidarity, and justice. It is becoming exceedingly difficult to conceive of practical, political-economic strategies geared toward translating wealth and productivity into a better life for all. ‘‘Better life for all’’ – understood not in the sense of economic wealth distributed more equitably, but in terms that remain inconceivable as long we determine the quality of social and political life on the basis of economic wealth. Rather, the challenge is to conceive of ‘‘better life for all’’ in terms of greater synchronicity between the values purportedly governing modern, western, democratic societies and the principles according to which institutions and organizations fulfill their respective responsibilities – not in the sense of less technologically sophisticated, and ‘‘back to nature.’’ The challenge is to resist pressures to subscribe to a formula that can be put forth and recited, without requiring a corresponding understanding of the issues involved, and of its overall purpose. What is needed is a clear sense of the necessary preconditions for discussions to begin at the community, state, and national levels, which would allow citizens to address issues in a manner that relates to the nature of the problems at hand.28 At this point, both the ‘‘general public’’ and the ‘‘mass media’’ seem to lack the vocabulary required for such discussions, not because of incompetence, but because of invisible barriers. To take a step in this direction, we need to reconsider from scratch sites that allow for remediating values we claim orient our actions, and



institutional practices that may pervert these values – with visions of the kind of societies we (claim we) want to live in. Social policies are being designed in a context that is permeated by diffuse assumptions and saturated with highly problematic truisms about the thrust, desirability, and effectiveness of established public policy strategies. To the extent that these assumptions and truisms go unquestioned – when applied in the interest of defining the characteristics of present conditions, the structural and cultural transformations currently underway in economy, politics, and society, and purportedly shared, guiding objectives – they constitute the most prevalent and the most perilous form of ideology today. The future, and future possibility, of democracy – as the framework for designing policies – is contingent on more qualitative, socially and politically compelling perspectives on the complex and contradictory trends summarized under the heading of ‘‘globalization,’’ as it will continue to unfold. It is consistent with these trends that established perspectives on the purpose of the welfare state result, at least in part, from carefully crafted arguments which, in turn, reflect the precarious context in which welfare policies advance intricately formulated objectives. At the same time, the gulf between arguments in favor of maintaining the welfare state and objections to the continuation of welfare-state institutions – both in the mass media and in political discourse – appears to have reached proportions which may no longer be bridgeable. In this context, globalization is hyper-alienation in the sense that alienation has become ‘‘second nature’’ to such a degree that, by default, we view every aspect of reality through the prism of socially, culturally, and politically mediated, reinforced, and rationalized alienation.29 Without collaborative efforts to sustain a critical perspective on the intricacies of public policies, in relation to existing institutions and structures of inequalities, as representations of hyper-alienation, we are bound to replicate, and amplify further, the manner in which alienated conditions and practices coerce actors, organizations, and institutions to comply with, and reinforce the underlying program.

REFORMIST SOCIAL POLICIES AND THE WELFARE STATE: A DEAD END? In a well-known article published in the early 1980s – a classic of the related literature – Claus Offe (1984b) examined ‘‘some contradictions of the

Globalization or Hyper-Alienation?


modern welfare state.’’ Since the 1960s, Offe has continued like few others to explore possibilities of innovative policy design, in a manner that is both informed and inspired by critical social theory. In his article on the modern welfare state, he stated that The welfare state has served as the major peace formula of advanced capitalist democracies for the period following the Second World War. This peace formula y consists, first, in the explicit obligation of the state apparatus to provide assistance and support y to those citizens who suffer from specific needs and risks which are characteristic of the market society; y . Second, the welfare state is based on the recognition of the formal role of labor unions both in collective bargaining and the formation of public policy. Both y are considered to limit and mitigate class conflict, to balance the asymmetrical power relations of labor and capital, and thus to overcome the condition of disruptive struggle and contradictions that was the most prominent feature of pre-welfare state, or liberal, capitalism. In sum, the welfare state has been celebrated throughout the post-war period as the political solution to societal contradictions. (Offe 1984b, p. 147)

Historically, the welfare state was a ‘‘success story’’ in several regards. During the decades following World War II, it was not only based on a farreaching consensus in many western societies, but also decisive for providing the sociopolitical context necessary to make possible economic miracles: a social and political stabilizer and facilitator of economic growth, despite continued inequalities, and under conditions of the Cold War’s ‘‘competition of socio-economic systems,’’ between the capitalist West and the ‘‘actually existing socialist’’ East. The welfare state contributed to the legitimacy of political institutions and processes and secured mass-loyalty, while thwarting social criticism and political unrest. The welfare state resulted from a unique historical constellation of interests in advanced industrial societies that made possible a constitutional modification which proved advantageous to all major groups in society. Post-World War II democracy and market economics would not have been possible without a modernized welfare state. The bulk of Offe’s argument was dedicated to counterposing critiques of the welfare state put forth from opposite ends of the political spectrum. The critique from the Left centered on the contention that the welfare state is insufficient in terms of both the socioeconomic security it provides – which is most often conditional and temporary – and the limitations it imposes on the ability of recipients to determine their way of life. The critique from the Right entailed that the welfare state imposes counterproductive regulatory burdens on the market process, and unnecessarily high taxation on businesses and individuals. Over time, the broad support



the welfare state used to enjoy among major groups in western societies, has begun to erode, as it was no longer seen as economically beneficial by many – though it continued to be so, given the ‘‘practically viable’’ alternatives. Since western societies appear incapable of eliminating the social problems that presented the welfare state and related social policies as the strategy of choice, even in terms of narrowly stated goals, the pursuit of success tends to come at a price, in the form of ‘‘unintended consequences’’ and in the persistence of the problems. For the foreseeable future, Offe concluded 20 years ago, there are no viable alternatives to the welfare state in sight. Not surprisingly, once the ‘‘competition of systems’’ ended in the late 1980s, it no longer appeared to be ‘‘necessary’’ to maintain it at the same, high, progressively unconditional level. In the United States, the ‘‘unsettledness of American social politics from the 1960s to the present’’ (Skocpol, 1988, p. 295) became more pronounced, as welfare benefits were reduced in size during the 1990s’ economic expansion, ‘‘to end welfare as we know it,’’ rather than lifting them to a qualitatively higher level (see Sawhill, Weaver, Haskins, & Kane, 2002). In terms of current policy-practice, welfareto-work regimes constitute a return to conditions that preceded the spread of ‘‘social rights,’’ as they are characteristic of a context in which maintaining welfare is no longer viewed as a precondition for securing social and political stability.30

Social Policy, Social Reform, and Structural Inequalities The espoused purpose of social policies is to solve, alleviate, or in some form or other, to tackle social problems. It is an integral feature of advanced, industrialized societies with democratic political systems that such social problems as unemployment, poverty, job discrimination, and exclusion from social and political life, especially as they relate to race, class, and gender, produce unequal life chances. These unequal life chances are in contradiction with the principles of democratic citizenship on which political institutions base their claims of superiority to other forms of government – principles from which they derive their legitimacy and upon which modern societies purportedly are built – freedom, equality, solidarity, and justice (Dahrendorf, 1979). As modern political systems evolved, institutions and practices in the different spheres of life – the economy, politics, education, etc. – increasingly came to embody these values, however tenuously, and in

Globalization or Hyper-Alienation?


competition with other values, especially as they relate to individualist conceptions of economic success, on the one hand, and to the imperative of maintaining social and political order, on the other (see MacPherson, 1962, 1977). During the post-World War II period, the explicit commitment of democratic governments to combating social problems that impede equal life chances for all members of society became the primary source of political legitimacy. The assumption was that if institutions, organizations, and public policies converge toward the end of equalizing life chances for a continuously growing number of citizens, success will be inevitable.31 Even at times when parties or politicians who lack or oppose the express commitment to alleviating social problems, control the levers of power, the need to present preferred ‘‘solutions,’’ is inescapable. Politicians and political parties must propose specific policies which, at the very least, simulate a commitment to reducing the impact of social problems on people’s lives, as they result from one, or – as is more frequently the case – from several forms of inequality. Even those less committed or even opposed to social policies must make concessions regarding the need to remedy social problems in the interest of maintaining order in society. By contrast, those more strongly committed to proactive policies, endeavor to advance the health of the social whole. As it turns out, though, the gap separating the impact of policies resulting from a simulated commitment to reducing the negative consequences of inequalities, from those resulting from a more sincere commitment, may not be as wide as we should wish. How do social policies and welfare state arrangements relate to the social problems they are supposed to ‘‘solve,’’ especially those that are structural in nature, and related to inequalities? In orientation, social policies intervene into the field of tensions between stagnation and change. The idea of social policy reflects the acknowledgment, at the political level, that most ‘‘social problems’’ in modern democratic societies are incompatible with their values, and that efforts must be made to reconcile the conditions that produce social problems, with the values of modern, democratic societies – that is, to make the former compatible with the latter. By contrast, the practice of social policy is testimony to the fact that in societies with democratic political systems, social policies are indispensable means to secure social and political stability, as the necessary precondition for economic prosperity, in a system of interlocking, mutually reinforcing inequalities that seem impenetrable. With inequalities appearing as a necessary precondition for economic expansion, and the expectation that long-term economic growth will alleviate the negative consequences resulting from those inequalities, the ability of



individuals to rely on the actuality of equal life chances should increase. Yet it is a particular type of inequalities that precipitates a specific kind of economic expansion. The concrete practice of social policy – in particular, the expansion of welfare systems in many countries during the third quarter of the twentieth century – reflects the fact that democratic politics cannot ignore the array of social problems that impact on the life chances of members of many groups. At the same time, to actually ‘‘resolve once and for all’’ any social problem that is related to structural inequalities, would be revolutionary indeed, since mutually reinforcing, structural inequalities constitute the foundation upon which modern societies rest. Eliminating any key social problem – and corresponding limitations of life chances and social injustices – would qualitatively alter the condition of modernity, as it has been a social, political, and moral response to mutually reinforcing structural inequalities. If, hypothetically speaking, it should turn out to be possible that even one key social problem that has burdened political systems in western societies, can be solved once and for all – without endangering economic performance and prosperity – the widely accepted limitations on theoretical inquiries that have become commonplace in recent decades, would lose at least some of their restraining character on questions asked and policies envisioned. At the same time, it is exceedingly unlikely that it is possible for any social problem to be ‘‘solved once and for all,’’ since all social problems appear to be so intertwined that for one problem to be solved, strategies will have to be employed that would penetrate several other social problems at the same time. Needless to say, such strategies would be contingent on the willingness and ability of policy designers to rigorously identify the link between the complex and contradictory nature of modern societies, and alienation as the link between the prevalence of specific kinds of social problems and a context of structural inequalities. Continuous attempts to refine methods and theories that were formulated and designed, during the twentieth century, to answer questions relating to the nature of social problems, have engendered unprecedented insights into the empirical conditions and patterns of change around the world. However, especially under conditions of globalization, we need to ascertain which of the questions that have guided the development of the social sciences, remain of central importance, and what kind of effort will be required to formulate the questions that ought to enable us to recognize, and extrapolate from, the patterns of change emerging today (see Dahms, 2002).32

Globalization or Hyper-Alienation?


Theoretically speaking, social policy is neither entirely compatible with traditional perspectives on social life nor with critical perspectives. As Ralph Miliband put it, piecemeal reform is not sufficient to cure the fundamental evils of the [capitalist] system y The history of reform under capitalism shows it to have been a very partial response to specific ‘‘problems,’’ and to have remained constrained by the logic of capital. Far from seeking to achieve radical cures, conservative governments have viewed reform as a means of preventing radical transformation from occurring by buying social peace with concessions. But even where reforms have been undertaken by social democratic governments, they have not resulted in the abolition of the essential features of capitalism. Nor is this remarkable, since such abolition was seldom what was intended. (1995, p. 9)

For the most part, those who implement social policies, those who oppose them, as well as those in whose interest they are being implemented, do not appear to expect policies to succeed fully. Though social policies are supposed to reduce the extent to which life chances are limited and channeled for members of disadvantaged groups, who tend to suffer from multiple, mutually reinforcing forms of inequality and exclusion, policies have a tendency to reaffirm the patterns of inequality and exclusion prevalent in society.33 To enumerate the major reasons for why social policies fail, would require, and facilitate, a comprehensive sociology of the modern age in its contradictory and contingent complexity. My purpose here is to provide a glimpse of such a sociology of the modern age – no more and no less.34 To make explicit my related, central hypothesis: due to compounding policy failures, and the cumulative consequences resulting from the unwillingness of many politicians, policymakers, and social scientists to identify how much of an impediment current conditions are for social policy success, and to consider the interest-based motives behind many policy initiatives, a culture of policy discourse has taken hold that is both a manifestation of alienation and a cause of further alienation. The assumption of clearly identifiable, specific causes for the failure of particular policies prevents the possibility to grasp the nature of the paradox that constitutes the ‘‘ether’’ within which policy is being designed. Effectively, the culture of rationalized policy failures is the culmination of myriad trends in modern society. Policy failures, and subsequent attempts to rationalize those failures, are surface manifestations of how modern societies in general (and each modern society in its particularity) are constituted. Accordingly, ‘‘policy failure’’ can indeed serve as a means to obtain a better sense of the



nature of modern society. The forces that collude and collide under the surface of ‘‘modern society’’ make it impossible to examine directly a form of social organization – rather, a form of organizing economic, political, and social life – that is located at the point of tension between processes of modernization and the culture and politics of modernity (see Offe, 1996b). Social policies thus are located at the intersection between conflicting interests that are tied directly into the social, political, and economic structure of modern society which, at this point, does not allow for the reconciliation of those interests. As Hegel inferred almost two centuries ago, the etymological similarity between policy and police is not accidental.35 In practice, the primary purpose of policy has been to police social problems, not to solve them.36

CAPTIVES OF THE GLASS CASING: HYPER-ALIENATION AS NORMALCY It is not surprising, then, that for any policy proposal directed at improving the condition of any particular group in, or segment of, the population, those groups benefitting most from prevailing conditions will perceive their interests as threatened. In an increasing number of instances, and an increasingly blunt fashion, vested interests no longer refrain from setting in motion an apparatus whose purpose it is to bring about the failure of a particular policy.37 Both the protection and attribution of interests occur in a context that is characterized by attempts either to conceal interests or to frame interests as ‘‘natural’’ and not in need of critical analysis. Despite the ideology of the ‘‘zero-sum society’’ that has taken hold since the 1980s, American society was a ‘‘surplus society’’ during the 1990s, though evidently not all social groups benefitted equally, or at all, as a disproportionately large share of the wealth created during that decade went to the wealthiest few.38 In retrospect, we must wonder whether and how increasing stock values relate to productivity increases (see Thurow, 1980).39 Yet even if concerted efforts between government agencies, affected organizations, and concerned interest groups were to take place in favor of a particular policy, without the resistance of vested interests, and, hypothetically speaking, without the unavoidable, expected, ‘‘unintended consequences’’ – in all likelihood, success still would be impossible. The problem does not appear to be surmounting the actual distance between current social policy practice and future policy success, but the

Globalization or Hyper-Alienation?


nature of the territory to traverse. Even if the gap between current policy practice and the attainment of success in terms of stated goals seems narrow, for the time being, there appears to be a glass casing whose existence impedes policy success, and threatens to thwart efforts to engender social, political, and economic conditions that are compatible with espoused social, political, and cultural values. My hypothesis is that such a glass casing preventing social policy success does exist, that it is so much part of modern capitalist work society that its manifestations are ever-present, but that its concrete implications for social, political, and economic life are ever more elusive.40 One set of operating assumptions about social policy practice in advanced industrialized nations appears to be that concrete success is within reach, and that we either have an adequate understanding of the nature of social problems and their relationship to structural inequalities or are wellpositioned to attain such an understanding. Accordingly, for policy designers, the main challenge is to identify the strategy best suited to achieve stated objectives. Failure, thus, would appear as the result of a flawed choice of strategy – once the best strategy has been chosen, the objectives will be achieved. The possibility that the specificity of existing conditions may not allow for stated objectives being attained, will not be considered. Instead, if failure is the outcome, the consequence is much greater willingness to conclude that the stated objectives themselves were flawed. A further set of operating assumptions suggests that success should not be part of the equation, in terms of designing policies, of ‘‘solving’’ social problems, or of the limited scope of expressly stated goals. Yet to concede that a glass casing may exist which, under present circumstances, thwarts the effectiveness of social policies, would challenge the conventional wisdom about purpose and possibility of social policy. And while the purpose of the glass ceiling is immediately apparent (to keep low the number of individuals who might change the prevailing culture and ingrained priorities in business corporations and other organizations), it is more difficult to ascertain whether there is a comparable ‘‘purpose’’ behind the glass casing preventing social policy success. Social policies and welfare systems are one set of venues for tackling social problems; the other venue is the retreat to social, political, or economic mechanisms to which their proponents ascribe the power of engendering processes that, sooner or later, will solve problems far better than explicitly stated and transparently designed public policies ever could. The paradigmatic example for such a mechanism is the market (see Hedstro¨m & Swedberg, 1998). The future may confirm the predictions of advocates of



mechanisms, as opposed to policies – not necessarily in the sense that the problems will be ‘‘solved,’’ but that the ‘‘objective impossibility’’ of their being solved will become socially and politically accepted, and implicitly presumed. Social problems would come to be regarded as ‘‘quasi-natural’’ facts of social life, along with the concession that efforts to solve social problems had been misplaced to begin with, and ought not to be pursued any further. There certainly appears to be greater affinity between the logic of mechanisms and alienated social conditions, than between the latter and social policy. Social problems, then, might ‘‘disappear’’ by becoming invisible as social problems in the modern sense – along with the specifically modern configuration of social and political life. At the same time, it is quite conceivable that the illusion of modernity would continue to prevail: in this sense, the social, political, and cultural costs advanced societies keep paying for maintaining economic prosperity would be mitigated through compounding layers of legitimating rationalizations. The glass casing would be synonymous with a high degree of alienation prevalent in western societies, thwarting most efforts to conceive of the possible implications of any given social problem being solved. Indeed, if our willingness to perceive the continuous, qualitative reconfiguration of social, cultural, and political patterns of modern social and political life that accompanies organizational and technological advances in the global economy were to fall below a certain level – in the social sciences, in politics, or in the world of art – a condition of hyper-alienation indeed would be likely to take hold. In Max Weber’s use, the image of the ‘‘iron cage’’ highlighted the impact bureaucratization processes have on all aspects of social life – limiting the ability of individuals, groups, and institutions to make decisions and choices that lead to the attainment of desired objectives. The iron cage thus makes it impossible to pursue strategies without unintended consequences; instead, categorically, the iron cage perverts desired outcomes. In the interest of avoiding further misunderstandings, I will replace the image of the iron cage, with the projection of a ‘‘glass casing.’’ In my use, glass casing is a better representation of the modern condition than that suggested by iron cage. Glass casing more closely conveys the double character of Weber’s attempt to characterize the increasingly dominant feature of our world, as was explicit in the original phrase he coined: the iron cage is, in fact, a ‘‘casing of bondage hard as steel’’ (eisernes Geha¨use der Ho¨rigkeit). The main difference between Weber’s phrase and the shorthand version that came to be associated with his theory of rationalization and bureaucratization, in the English language, is that in Weber’s use, the casing of bondage does not appear to be a cage at all, that it is not visible as a cage to

Globalization or Hyper-Alienation?


those confined by it, and that its confining effect on modern man and woman, nevertheless, is that of an iron cage. As I will try to show, this imagery applies especially well to the nature of the social policy regime that took hold during the post-World War II era.41 In this context, the primary purpose of this paper is to make explicit how two decades of intensifying attempts to advocate basic income, first in Europe, and now in the United States, are symptomatic of the misery of mainstream social policy approaches, and how basic income is a qualitatively different social policy paradigm. As it turns out, the reconceptualization of Max Weber’s concept of the ‘‘iron cage’’ in terms of a glass casing more effectively suggests a reference frame for comparing basic income with more conventional social policy paradigms.

BEYOND THE WELFARE STATE: ‘‘UNIVERSAL BASIC INCOME’’ AS A SUPERIOR SOCIAL POLICY? To remedy the problem of a welfare state perceived to be increasingly ineffective, many academics, intellectuals, and policy experts agree that ‘‘universal basic income’’ (UBI) may be the most viable alternative. Tellingly, Claus Offe has become a prominent proponent of basic income, along with a growing number of fellow social scientists (see, e.g., Offe et al., 1996).42 What is the thrust and intended scope of basic income? In orientation, is it reformist or revolutionary? Will basic income be politically feasible, under what conditions, and how would it modify the basic constitution of the modern state? As an attempt to ‘‘solve’’ the problem of ineffective policies, it implies a qualitatively different way of thinking about policy. As I will endeavor to show, basic income is a surreptitious attempt to tackle problems related to alienation, concealed not only to those who are contemplating its merits but also to many of its proponents. In terms of how proponents justify basic income, it constitutes a social policy strategy in competition with other strategies. The specific arguments presented in favor of basic income, though – as a means to ‘‘uncouple work and income’’ – reveal that it is understood as a qualitatively different, and by implication, superior approach to thinking about, and to tackling, social problems. Indeed, the ambition to introduce basic income as a universal entitlement goes beyond the established strategies of social policy, in theory as well as in practice: it is the model of an alternative strategy for how to conceive of policy responses to social problems more generally. Yet it is not a model for ‘‘solving’’ once and for all social problems, or for directly



‘‘resolving’’ the underlying conflicts. Instead, most proponents introduce basic income as a strategy that should play a role in the creation of societal conditions in which debates about social policies solving – or meaningfully alleviating – social problems, are a recognized and common practice. In this sense, it is a model for preparing the possibility of formulating social policies in a manner that is linked directly to specific social problems, and what it would take to solve them. Put differently, the basic income debate needs to be understood in relation to the prevalence of alienation, starting out from the observation that in many instances, public policies and government action are based on strategies that reflect concrete and conflicting social, political, and economic conditions, interests, tensions, and ideologies, to a degree that renders difficult, if not impossible, conceptions of politics and policies as directly related to the problems and challenges at hand. However, in terms of how proponents view basic income as a response to the challenge of policy failure, it is an indirect reaction to alienation. Consequently, arguments for basic income tend to resemble the tip of an iceberg, the bulk of which – the underpinnings of the arguments – remains under the surface. Most of all, what has been lacking in the debate about basic income is a sustained and rigorous analysis of contemporary societies geared toward scrutinizing the meaning and role of labor in a manner that reflects its socially, politically, economically, organizationally, and culturally integral role. For this purpose, it is essential that the analysis not be confined by preconceived notions about the importance of work, and about what kind of goals, ‘‘realistically,’’ are attainable under present circumstances, as is characteristic of debates that are delimited by preconceived notions of practical political feasibility. Instead, scrutinizing the nature of the barriers that impede the policy-oriented debate about, and the political possibility of, basic income, must be at the center of the analysis. These barriers range from concerns that it is a risky scheme (depending on the specifics of context and manner of implementation), to rigid patterns of social, political, and economic thinking that stultify further as the dynamics of the capitalist process keeps accelerating, and include concerns that basic income would be highly destabilizing, in a multiplicity of regards, and a threat to the prevailing work ethic. This paradoxical situation is characterized by advocates asserting that basic income constitutes a qualitatively superior social policy approach, while hurrying to downplay the likely impact of its unconditional implementation. Proponents contend that the relevance of basic income derives from the difficulties, under present circumstances, to conceive of policy directly in relation to the nature of specific social problems, how they

Globalization or Hyper-Alienation?


are tied to structural inequalities, and the long-term perspective necessary to conceive of ‘‘solving’’ them by means of social policies. Still, proponents of basic income suppose, at the same time, that the overall framework of western, liberal democracy provides the sole context for engendering policies that are directly related to the nature of social problems, and their ‘‘solution.’’ Most often, though, they do not admit that determining how social problems are entwined with the social, political, and economic structures of contemporary industrialized societies, and identifying the required kind of qualitative change, will be necessary for solving any of these problems. To do so, would require that we identify the boundaries of contemporary societies, how they confine our ability to conceive of effective solutions, and how the latter prefigure a future that is different from the prolongation of the present into the distant future. In order to confront this challenge, proponents of basic income first need to examine the nature of successes and failures of past and present social policy practice from a comparative perspective. My hypothesis is that the effective analysis of contemporary societies depends on our willingness to scrutinize the meaning and role of labor – and whether and how the organization of labor is the systemic impediment to policy success that is part of the implicitly presumed inner matrix of contemporary western societies. Most arguments for basic income presuppose it belonging to the same class of policy projects and as institutionalizing collective bargaining and establishing social welfare systems. Yet, as I will endeavor to show, the notion that basic income can ‘‘uncouple labor and income’’ within the framework, or on the basis, of work society, transgresses the boundaries of the established policy regime. Proponents of basic income share the conviction that establishing ‘‘economic citizenship rights for the twentyfirst century’’ will be an endeavor of the same order as the successive establishment of civil, political, and social rights that coincided with the last three centuries, respectively – following T. H. Marshall’s historically oriented argument – and its logical continuation (see Marshall, 1950). Yet this conviction may be contingent on the willingness to ignore decisive features of contemporary societies whose explicit consideration appears to suggest that the forces assembled against establishing economic citizenship rights are of a different magnitude than those that were opposed to civil, political, and social rights. Historically speaking, the establishment of civil, political, and social rights constituted successive stages of providing the necessary preconditions, in terms of legal, political, and social stability, for economic expansion to continue. Indeed, if implemented in a universal and unconditional



fashion – and irrespective of the advocates’ specific goals and intentions – basic income is bound to strike at the very heart of the work society, as the system of control it conceals. If we were to follow Marshall’s logic to comprise economic rights, we would have to assume that their establishment will become a necessary precondition for the continuation of economic expansion. This teleology may indeed turn out to apply. However, at this point in time, under conditions of globalization, it is quite apparent that the trend points in the opposite direction: even if the establishment of economic rights would become a necessary precondition for continual economic expansion, the unanimity of opposed forces – all else remaining equal – would be overwhelming. Today, the social and political organization of work can be explained only in part with reference to economic necessities. To understand the role of labor in advanced capitalist societies, instead, we need to conceptualize it as the foundation of a system characterized by a mode of control whose impact is most apparent with regard to the working segment of the population, but whose logic is directly opposed to principles of democratic representation and participation (see Rifkin, 1995; Aronowitz, 2001; Sennett, 2000). To rephrase the challenge for proponents of basic income in terms of the ‘‘glass casing’’: the decisive question is whether breaking the cage is the necessary precondition for establishing basic income, or whether basic income is a necessary (or possible) precondition for breaking the casing – and no longer as momentous and appealing a policy strategy, in terms of its intended purpose, once cracks make visible the casing. Consequently, the more basic question is whether it is possible to determine the nature of the glass casing and what, in concrete terms, it would take – and mean – for it to break. I am inclined to suggest that at the current historical juncture, as multiple trends in economy, politics, and culture intersect under the aegis of globalization, in a manner that prohibits definite predictions, we are in no position to answer the above question one way or the other. The fact that we only could answer the question within the framework of a particular theory, theoretical tradition, or political world-view – whose predictive powers, respectively, will be highly suspect, at this point in time – given the pace and open-ended nature of current changes – presents unique opportunities. We should not try to find an answer to a key dilemma of this age when related issues, pertaining to prosperity, stability, and justice, are at the center of processes that will keep reshaping our societies for some time to come. Yet for proponents of basic income to participate in shaping the future, it is imperative that the related challenges be confronted in a manner that is

Globalization or Hyper-Alienation?


likely to enhance the chance that basic income will fulfill a constructive, constitutive, and lasting, purpose. Given current political, economic, and social realities, basic income appears to be the theoretically and practically most viable strategy for reenergizing the modernist, qualitatively progressive drive toward translating the wealth produced by ever more powerful economic systems, into qualitative improvements that comply with the values modern democratic societies purport to embody. We need to acknowledge, however, that the relationship between modern institutions and organizations, the nonauthoritarian practices they are supposed to engender, and values relating to freedom, equality, solidarity, and justice, has been fraught with increasingly irreconcilable tensions and contradictions.43 However, reviving the modernist form of progress, which has been eclipsed in recent decades by the nondemocratic practices of multinational and transnational corporations, is contingent on a higher level of critical reflexivity, a categorical willingness to concede the relativity of modernist principles. Related conceptions are geographically and historically situated, and preliminary at best, and we must acknowledge that ‘‘reality’’ does not necessarily operate on the basis of the principles we presuppose. The level of reflexivity called for will have to be on a much higher plane than suggested by ‘‘reflexive modernists’’ like Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens.44 In fact, reflexive, ‘‘second-order’’ modernist theory will have to reach the point of intersection with the postmodernist contention that societal processes do not coincide with the principles we deem both desirable and applicable, the underlying values, and ‘‘our’’ expectations of future progress. Consequently, the required effort will be far greater than, and qualitatively different from, the practical strategies ‘‘modernist doctrine’’ so far has permitted. To take a step toward a solid theoretical justification of basic income, the Marxian tradition is the necessary jumping-off point, as the only tradition that responded directly to alienation as the correlate of the capitalist transformation of traditional social ties and relations. Social policies intended to overcome, indirectly, the effects of alienation, without acknowledging alienation as the invisible barrier, are not likely to succeed, but rather, bound to fail – and to impair subsequent attempts to attain stated objectives. In the interest of shoring up the theoretical foundation of arguments for basic income, therefore, I will keep in mind the above dilemma – basic income first, or broken glass casing? – to examine the problematic perimeter within which social policy is formulated and implemented.



REINTERPRETING MARX: TWO CRITIQUES OF TRADITIONAL MARXISM Our everyday understanding of work, as a function of inherently legitimate market processes, is so deep-seated that the tension between what we regard as necessary preconditions of active citizenship (such as economic security, education, and equal treatment before the law), and work as the basis of income, status, and weight in the community more generally, rarely comes to the surface. Whether an individual has the opportunity to work, especially in the area of his or her choice, relates only in part to the individual’s professional and social skills. It is important to recognize the contradiction between the principles of self-determination according to which we should make life choices, and myriad limitations that constrict the individual’s ability to make those choices, within the context of concrete life chances. The regime of work, as the culmination of power relations in modern industrialized societies, continually amplifies the demands imposed on individuals to conform to the prerequisites of professional success. What is most important, in this regard, is not that all citizens in industrialized societies ought to have the opportunity to make a living as they choose – which they certainly should – but the high degree to which the choice is delimited, when applied to the world of work. ‘‘Modern society’’ is a form of social organization capable of balancing continually re-modulated, prevailing definitions of economic imperatives, power structures in economy, society, and the state, economic, gender, and ethnic inequalities, organizational cultures in business, labor and government, and institutionally condoned or reinforced practices in all areas of social life. Although the constellation basic to contemporary societies is characterized by a tremendous variety and dynamism, there is a static core that changes very little over time – if at all. It appears that this constellation, the more differentiated it becomes, begets mechanisms that conceal the underlying contradictions in an ever more sophisticated fashion.45 The social sciences are replete with a peculiar, widespread inability to acknowledge the convergence of power at the cultural, organizational, and structural levels, and to grasp related matters – especially under conditions of globalization. Indeed, as the discord between principles of democratic citizenship and the actuality of power relations keeps increasing, more and more ‘‘inhabitants’’ of western societies appear to be losing the sensitivity to perceive the growing noise.46 It is essential that we recognize, and remain aware of, the inherent obstinacy of the regime of work that has taken hold in industrialized societies.

Globalization or Hyper-Alienation?


In terms of the underlying developmental dynamic of capitalist society, the formation of the work society is an internally consistent stage.47 Entry into work society is characterized, today, by a high degree of accessibility – a job applicant’s class, gender, ethnic, racial, and religious background matters much less than it did a few decades ago, in the industrialized world. Internally, however, work society continues to operate according to the principle of bureaucratic control as it took hold during the age of Fordism and Taylorism – more so, it seems, as time goes by. In work society, bureaucratic control has morphed into a new system of bondage whose omnipresence threatens to undercut most of the espoused values of western democracies. Bureaucratic control does not advance the culture of intellectual and moral equality that is the necessary prerequisite for a truly democratic civilization – whose possibility effectively keeps being undermined by the former. Arguably, Marx’s theory remains the primary reference frame for formulating related, critical categories.48 To claim that Marx’s theory continues to function as an important reference point, however, is not to imply that any of the most prevalent interpretations of his theory were sufficiently adequate, nor that it is possible to ascribe a definite meaning and importance to his theory, independently of specific sociohistorical conditions and carefully formulated theoretical challenges. While I posit that Marx’s theory remains uniquely valuable, we need to start out from the premise that most interpretations of Marx’s writings have tended to be more, rather than less, problematic, and that interpreting Marx is a constant challenge. Marx’s theory and the tradition it inspired provide the critical categories facilitating a comparative perspective on contemporary work societies, revealing that while some societies of this type may be moving beyond work as the defining feature, others appear to move headlong in a direction that ensures that work will continue to play a decisive role and that, under conditions of globalization, it will play an even more important role – and how this is so. As is becoming increasingly apparent, during the twentieth century, the primary purpose of Marx’s theory was obscured by overly favorable as well as overly unfavorable misinterpretations, misrepresentations, and political and ideological instrumentalizations. If it were not for the uniqueness of Marx’s theoretical contribution, combined with the conspicuous inability of later social theorists to surpass the scope and depth of his vision, the distortions of his writings would not be cause for concern. Yet if there is a prevalence of distortions in the literature relating to Marx, and even more so in purported ‘‘applications’’ of his writings, we must suppose that these distortions have engendered an increasingly deficient appreciation of the



conflicted link between economy, politics, and society – the specific kind of issues his theory was designed to illuminate. Unavoidably, these distortions would radiate their destructive energy to later theories as well, contaminating the basic structure of their designs – irrespective of whether they critically responded to his work, constructed their theoretical edifices against his, or endeavored to build on his contribution (or certain elements thereof). If it would be possible to readily identify the most important distinguishing feature of Marx’s theoretical perspective, among any of the ‘‘special theories’’ he provided, the challenge of interpreting Marx might have been met some time ago. Yet his special theories have functioned as the organizing principle of the scholarly reception of his work – such as his ‘‘theories’’ of socialist transformation, exploitation, surplus value, social class, and social conflict.49 Clearly, it is neither possible nor appropriate to identify as the gravitational center of his work any of these special theories, and attempts to apply them to later stages of capitalist development. Instead, his contribution must be understood in relation to his overall ‘‘guiding interest.’’ Yet what was his guiding interest? Can we hope to grasp the conceptual, substantive, and formal evolution of his theory, how exactly different interests and writings form components of a coherent whole, and which, ultimately, as the specific kind of questions he strove to answer – independently of a clear restatement of his guiding interest? The specific meaning, thrust, and relevance of this guiding interest needs to be recaptured and reformulated time and time again, in relation to concrete societal conditions and historical context. It is not only not possible to identify it once and for all; indeed, to date, reformulating his guiding interest in a manner that reflects and relates to specific conditions, in an intelligible and compelling fashion, may be one of the greatest challenges social scientists have had the opportunity to confront. We do not know, after all, whether and how the social sciences would have evolved without Marx’s writings functioning as the foil; nor do we know how they would have evolved if his work to a greater extent had been understood and applied, from the start, as he intended. In modern society, the nexus between the continually modulated capitalist mode of production and the corresponding ‘‘relations of production’’ (‘‘bourgeois society’’) makes for a highly dynamic form of economic organization within the context of largely static forms of social and political organization, the combination of which reaches so deep as to shape the theoretical, conceptual, and methodological tools we employ to understand it. Constructing a theory whose purpose it is to track how modern society changes over time, and how these changes affect the constellation between

Globalization or Hyper-Alienation?


economy, society, and the state, and the social-scientific categories and methods we employ, is possible only if we continually ensure that our efforts will not be corrupted by the desire to settle down with positions we no longer need to question. For this reason, Marx’s theory must be appropriated as an attempt to provide a framework for tracking the relationship between ‘‘quantitative’’ (economic) and ‘‘qualitative’’ (political, social, and cultural) changes in modern society, as a field of tensions, or force-field, that never quite is the same at any two moments in time. Grasping this nexus necessitates a theoretical and cognitive framework that forces us to guard against ingrained habits and implicit patterns of ‘‘thinking.’’ Even the most basic assumptions we inherit from earlier social scientists may be highly problematic, as they might draw our attention away from the most conspicuous paradox of advanced capitalist societies – that increasing societal wealth does not translate, inevitably, into decreasing social inequality. Departing from ingrained practices is eminently difficult, as our selves are bound up with these practices to a far greater degree than educational systems are equipped to convey to students, and Marx’s critiques of alienation and commodity fetishism must be viewed as addressing precisely this issue. His theory was not so much about the ‘‘objective possibility of overcoming reification’’ (to paraphrase Luka´cs), as about the growing difficulties to overcome the effects of the capitalist mode of production as reflected in politics, culture, and society, with each successive mediation – alienation, commodity fetishism, and reification – repatterning the thoughts, desires, and actions of subsequent generations, making it ever more difficult to conceive of adequate means for analyzing this condition. Since the mainstream social sciences (as they operate on the basis of traditional theories – in Horkheimer’s distinction) do not provide a language to access and verbalize the most problematic dimensions of this condition, an explicit and determined effort was required to develop a framework for elucidating just how much we are caught up in a reality that we presume functions according to readily identifiable principles – a presumption that appears to be a necessary precondition for ‘‘consensual’’ social research.50 To date, as a discipline, sociology has not had the capacity to acknowledge the multiplicity of implications resulting from the close link between the imperative of ‘‘maintaining order’’ in any given society – probably the first sociological fact to consider in the study of any social phenomenon – and the construction of representations of social, political, and economic imperatives that facilitate order. In all likelihood, such representations are correlated negatively with the ability of sociologists to



identify features that must be the necessary starting point for the rigorous understanding of modern society, especially as far as formulating policy objectives is concerned, and constructing related strategies.51 The purpose of Marx’s theory was to identify the mode of theorizing required to conceive of possibilities to utilize the productivity and wealth created in capitalism, in accordance with the espoused values of modern democratic societies, for the benefit of all members in society. As it stands, ‘‘capitalism’’ is a socioeconomic system that continually erodes, at the societal level, the opportunity to conceive of ways to utilize wealth for social ends. At the same time, resources must be allocated for the social good. ‘‘Capitalism’’ does not prevent the utilization of those resources, but it generates ever greater obstacles to conceiving of possibilities to advanced the ‘‘public interest’’ or, as Adam Smith put it, the ‘‘general interest of society’’ ([1789] 1937, p. 250). The capitalist economic system keeps reinforcing premodern habits of thought and practices that make it exceedingly difficult to conceive of opportunities emerging with organizational and technological developments, to pursue qualitative changes in politics, culture, and society – changes that would enhance the quality of life for most – or all – members of modern societies – meaning, under conditions of globalization, to human civilization as a whole. Consequently, as technological advances continue, imperatives relating to maintaining social order, ensure that our ability to conceive of the global world in ways that positively relate to concrete processes and interrelations, will not keep pace. Capitalism thus does not advance rationality overall, but a certain, truncated, confined type of rationality. Increases in total wealth do not lead, of necessity, to an increased willingness among ‘‘capitalists’’ to share it; nor do they relativize the orientation of regular citizens toward wealth, just as, in the long run, increases in the wealth of nations do not lead to decreasing inequality within and between nations – contrary to what Schumpeter predicted during the 1940s, and Inglehart observed during the 1970s (see Horkheimer & Adorno ([1947] 2002; Schumpeter, 1942; Inglehart, 1977).

Basic Income versus Traditional Marxism In advanced, industrialized societies with democratic political systems, the impediments to the transition from capitalism to socialism, and especially to communism, appear to be far greater and deeper than most interpretations of Marx during the twentieth century would have been willing and able to acknowledge. Concordantly, much of what supporters and opponents of

Globalization or Hyper-Alienation?


basic income conjecture about the relationship between work motivation, Protestant ethic, the desirability of financial security, and the futility of efforts to advance solidarity, must be exposed to scrutiny, not merely because these relationships are highly dynamic, and subject to change. The socially, politically, and culturally controlling nature of the current regime of work society remains obscure to most workers, employers, and policymakers, and the critical theory of work society is sketchy at best.52 By necessity, arguments for basic income imply a mediation between theory and practice: how to transpose abstract categories from the theoretical and normative levels, to the level of social policy, in a manner that increases communicability, on the one hand, and practical relevance, on the other. In the current situation, there do not appear to be any direct threats to social and political stability in industrialized societies – either from or in favor of basic income. Realistically, basic income in its universalist version is not likely to be introduced in any industrialized nation, within the foreseeable future – despite the Alaska Permanent Fund, recent developments in Brazil, and the related debate about Iraq (see below, p. 214n11). The reason ought to be immediately apparent: as industrialized societies are the engine propelling globalization, they will ensure the protection and continuation of work society. As stated earlier, the idea continues to require further theoretical clarification and grounding. It is necessary and legitimate, for these reasons, to investigate whether the debate about basic income so far has ignored some key issues that are indispensable for attempts to prepare an effective implementation of basic income-related policies, once it will enter the realm of political possibilities. During the initial phase of the current debate about basic income, Philippe van Parijs’ essays written between the late 1970s and late 1980s, and published in the collection, Marxism Recycled (1993), played a decisive role. Among these essays, those coauthored with Robert J. van der Veen, on the ‘‘capitalist road to communism,’’ are most pertinent in the present context, with regard to theoretical justifications of basic income. Van Parijs has remained the leading theorist in the debate about basic income. Taking van Parijs’s perspective as the starting point, I will introduce Moishe Postone’s Time, Labor, and Social Domination (1993), also a work on Marx that was conceived before, and published after, the collapse of Soviet Communism and the demise of ‘‘actually existing socialism’’ in Europe – at a time when there was little concern with globalization.53 Postone’s work is a comprehensive endeavor to ‘‘recycle’’ Marx, not Marxism: to reinterpret Marx’s critical theory against most versions of Marxism, in terms of Marx’s guiding interest, and as a critique of traditional



Marxism. To avoid established preconceptions about the theory of Marx, it is important to stress the need for a mindful rereading of a theorist whose analysis was geared toward identifying the specific nature of the contradictions endemic to modern capitalist society, and in reaction to a multiplicity of historically specific potentialities. In this endeavor, we scrupulously must identify criteria for determining the current value of Marx’s work, to be applied in a manner that is consistent with the explicit purpose for which it was designed, in relation to specific challenges we face today. The perspective I will introduce here has as its vanishing point the possibility, in the future, of work that is neither determined by the market nor a function of the capitalist market process, but supersedes the historical specificity of capitalist organization, and the capitalist mode of production.54 Since Postone interprets Marx’s work as the first critical theory, as a critical theory of labor in modern society, I concentrate on the relevance of Postone’s interpretation of Marx for arguments for basic income and how the debate about basic income would benefit from his interpretation. As will become evident, the paradox of the basic income debate is that while supporters acknowledge the problematic nature of current constellations of business, labor, and government, they tend to recognize those features in a manner that misapprehends the likely scope of the transformative consequences that would result from the unconditional implementation of basic income: proponents of basic income presuppose a concept of labor that is not sufficiently precise, at the conceptual and theoretical level. First, though, we need to take a step back, and revisit the argument for basic income that has been most central in the present context, as formulated in the abovementioned article by Robert J. van der Veen and Philippe van Parijs.

A Capitalist Road to Communism? Van der Veen and van Parijs In ‘‘A Capitalist Road to Communism,’’ the central essay in a 1986 issue of Theory and Society dedicated to basic income, van der Veen and van Parijs (1986; see also van Parijs and van der Veen, 1993, pp. 155–175) started out from the position that preconceived notions about the succession of societal stages of development, in the Marxist tradition, have become problematic.55 Given that under existing conditions, most stated policy objectives are not attainable, preconceived notions about social progress tend to impede rigorous thinking about viable social policy options. Furthermore, the expectation, prevalent in socialist and Marxist circles, that socialism

Globalization or Hyper-Alienation?


necessarily follows capitalism – to prepare the rise of communism – appears to comply more with theoretical and ideological dogma, than with the prospects of capitalist transformations during the second half of the twentieth century. Yet adherence to dogma may make impossible the attainment precisely of the goals theorists on the Left deem most imperative and desirable, as they relate to social justice. Van der Veen and van Parijs contend that if capitalism were to be allowed to run its course, historical development may bypass the ‘‘developmental’’ stage of socialism, and lead directly to communism. Capitalism is being bogged down by bureaucratic welfare regimes, government subsidies that maintain inefficient industries, and the need to foster ‘‘full’’ employment. The Left undermines its own objectives by remaining committed to socialism. To begin with, the Left must abandon its habit of identifying the working class as the most important progressive social force (Van Parijs & van der Veen, 1993, p. 155).56 In Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme, he introduced socialism as a means to move closer to communism, as it refers to a society in which workers collectively own the means of production – and in which therefore they collectively decide what these should be used for and how the resulting product should be distributed y ‘‘To each according to his labour.’’ (ibid., p. 156)

By contrast, communism is defined by the distribution principle: ‘‘From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs’’ – which implies at least that the social product is distributed in such a way (1) that everyone’s basic needs are adequately met, and (2) that each individual’s share is entirely independent of his or her (freely provided) labour contribution. (ibid.)

Accordingly, socialism involves the abolition of exploitation, with workers appropriating the entire social product, ‘‘while communism, as defined, implies that ‘alienation’ is abolished’’ (ibid., emphasis added), with external rewards no longer prompting productive activities. Van Parijs and van der Veen respond to two key points in interpretations of Marx’s theory, pertaining to why socialism is a necessary stage, and why it is not possible to move to communism directly: first, socialism is a means to ‘‘reshape man y into the altruistic person communism requires’’; and second, since communism will fail under conditions of scarcity, socialism will ‘‘develop the productive powers of humankind and thus create the state of abundance in which alone communism can flourish’’ (ibid., p. 157). Corresponding propositions purport, first, that communism will become possible once altruism and productivity have been developed fully, and



second, that socialism is more likely than capitalism to advance their development. Yet, the authors contend, at least one point about socialism being a necessary step toward communism clearly is incorrect. The issue is whether socialism or capitalism is more likely to promote altruism. As far as the transition from capitalism to communism is concerned, Marx’s theory is most relevant with regard to the need to facilitate altruism. To the authors, this focus on altruism may be misguided: The transition to full communism can y be viewed as a gradual increase of the part of the social product distributed according to the needs vis-a`-vis the part distributed according to labour contributions. Progress along this dimension does require that material rewards should gradually lose their significance, but does not entail that workers should be increasingly driven by altruistic motives. (ibid.)

Nonmaterial, social rewards could replace material ones, as the incentive compelling people to do the necessary work, with ‘‘work, its organization, and the human relations associated with it’’ being modified so that extrinsic rewards progressively will lose their importance, as incentives for ‘‘a sufficient supply of labour. Work, to use Marx’s phrase, could and should become ‘life’s prime want’’’ (ibid.): [T]he improvement of work up to the point where it is no longer work – the transition to communism need not rely in any way on the development of altruism, nor indeed on any other transformation of human nature. It takes people and their preferences as they are, but alters the nature of (paid) work up to the point where it is no longer distinguishable from free time. Even if we grant that only socialism can turn people into altruistic beings, therefore, it does not follow that socialism is indispensable to reaching communism. (ibid., p. 158)

The other issue, that socialism will liberate the forces of production beyond what is possible under capitalist conditions, is equally problematic. The authors argue that this too may be dogma, in the absence of compelling reasons for assuming that capitalism unbound will not engender continuous economic expansion and development, to a point where the whole system transforms from capitalism to communism. The question, then, is whether and what steps can be taken, by means of social policy, that will free capitalist production from the constraints currently preventing the kind of flexibility required to reach a level of societal wealth that will make overcoming the negative consequences of capitalism more likely. As van Parijs put it in the introduction to Marxism Recycled, ‘‘a gradually increasing unconditional basic income or universal

Globalization or Hyper-Alienation?


grant’’ is more likely than socialism to advance what Marx called the ‘‘realm of freedom’’ (van Parijs, 1993, p. 4). It is consistent with this perspective, then, that the objective should not be to facilitate the kind of change that would be contingent on normative transformation and a ‘‘shift in consciousness’’; rather, the latter should result from structural changes and emerging material possibilities. Specifically, the goal should be institutional change of a sort that would trigger, as it were, an array of reforms and changes which it would not be possible to plan, but which might result if conditions were to be engendered that are conducive to changes not possible under existing conditions. [S]uppose something like a universal grant is introducedy . The choice of the tax rate y will be determined by power relationships in the context of current material conditions. It is these material conditions – basically, rapid labour-saving technical change combined with compelling constraints on economic growth – that will turn the capitalist transition to communism from a utopian dream to a historical necessity, not in the sense that it will happen automatically, no matter what people think or do, but in the sense that, given the material conditions, human rationality can be relied upon to generate, sooner or later, political forces that will bring it about. A crucial part is played in this process by the exploration of alternative futures, by the investigation of their possibility and desirability – the central component of human rationality. Consequently, however sketchy and tentative, the argument of this chapter is of a piece with the historical necessity it ends up asserting. (van Parijs & van der Veen, 1993, p. 172)

The introduction of universal basic income would break the stranglehold of alienation and the glass casing impeding social policy success that is being sustained by alienated social relations. As universal basic income is a reaction to and reflection of the problematic nature of the prevailing constellation of business, labor, and government, it constitutes an attempt to conceive of a strategy that relates to those problems in a manner that is constructive. Basic income is one possible strategy to increase opportunities to design policy to remedy how inequalities limit the life chances of members of certain groups in modern society. Basic income should increase the ability of governments to implement policies relating to inequalities in ways that are more likely to succeed. What is most problematic in the above argument is the assumption that certain material conditions provide the context in which ‘‘human rationality can be relied upon to generate, sooner or later, political forces that will bring y about [something like a universal grant].’’ Yet will favorable material conditions suffice to engender practices that allow for strategies to overcome the effects of alienation – or will favorable conditions combined with alienated conditions produce a situation that is far less conducive to



designing policies targeting inequalities, in ways that advance stated goals, in terms of shared values?

Postone’s Critique of Traditional Marxism Moishe Postone’s Time, Labor, and Social Domination (1993) arguably is the most comprehensive, and the most sophisticated reinterpretation of Marx’s social theory to date. In the literal sense, efforts to legitimate nonmarket work are compatible with Postone’s critique of traditional Marxism, his interpretation of Marx’s theory as a critical theory of labor, and his perspective as it contributes to, and supports, the debate about basic income. It is telling indeed that this affinity is conspicuously between a highly refined interpretation of Marx, on the one hand, and the only serious endeavor to keep alive motives of his thought that point toward practically oriented efforts to engender change intended to be compatible with the political, social, and economic principles guiding western societies. More specifically, the argument put forth by proponents of basic income, that a time might come when ‘‘uncoupling work and income’’ will become a necessary precondition for continued economic growth and development, resonates well with central tenets of Postone’s reinterpretation of Marx. Modern society relies on ‘‘rationalizations’’ of alienated forms of life, practices, and institutional arrangements. Among the paradoxes of social science is that dimensions of social life that are part of the basic design of modern society, and whose consequences manifest themselves at all levels of social organization and activity, tend to remain submerged – and neglected in analyses of social life. In the absence of specifically tailored instruments, the social sciences tend to disguise these dimensions further. If basic income is to function as a means for overcoming the most restrictive aspects of work society, its proponents must be willing to hone in on how labor casts a net over social life, how it necessitates continuous redefinitions of social reality, social organization, social processes, and social action, in a manner that allows for the construction of meaningful life histories, in a context fraught with irrationalities (see Vidich, 1991). As Postone put it, Marx’s analysis of the historically unique character of labor as a socially mediating activity in capitalism is central to his investigation of the social relations and forms of subjectivity that characterize this society. According to Marx, the dual function of labor in capitalism as abstract labor and as concrete labor, as an activity that mediates people’s relations with one another and with nature, constitutes the fundamental structuring form of social life – the commodity. (1993, p. 385)

Globalization or Hyper-Alienation?


An adequate interpretation of Marx’s theory, then, involves the challenge of understanding the nature of a specific problem – in this case, the role of ‘‘labor’’ in modern society – in a manner that is directly related to the nature of the problem, whether in terms of analysis, or with regard to explicitly acknowledged norms and values. Such an interpretation of Marx’s theory draws attention to the degree to which, in most cases, social science is about framing the analysis of a specific problem in the context of related, accepted notions. For instance, it is impossible to meet the challenge suggested by Postone’s interpretation of Marx, if social scientists are not willing to question the perspective modern society has on itself, as inherently progressive and evolutionary – especially insofar as this perspective impedes possibilities to understand the mediated nature of many, or most socially, relevant problems. Postone’s critique of traditional Marxism is a critique of most versions of Marxism, as well as a critique of ‘‘actually existing socialism.’’ The purpose of this critique is not to deny across the board the legitimacy of previous interpretations and continuations of Marx’s theory, but to point out a basic flaw in the vast majority of interpretations of his theory during the twentieth century, which can be identified clearly only since the direction of the capitalist transformations underway since the 1970s has become identifiable, in terms of ‘‘globalization.’’ By ‘‘traditional Marxism’’ I y mean y all analyses that understand capitalism – its basic social relations – essentially in terms of class relations structured by a market economy and private ownership and control of the means of production, and grasps its relations of domination primarily in terms of class domination and exploitation. Within this general interpretive framework, capitalism is characterized by a historical dynamic (driven by class conflict, capitalist competition, or technological development) which gives rise to a growing structural contradiction between the society’s basic social relations (interpreted as private property and the market) and the forces of production (interpreted as the industrial mode of producing). (Postone, 1997, p. 49f)

Starting out from the observation that traditional Marxism has not been an effective means to analyze the transformations of capitalism and its underlying dynamics, Postone endeavors to grasp the nature of the dynamics of current transformations and the concurrent opportunities for qualitative social change. He points out that many purported critiques of Marx’s theory in fact targeted highly flawed, traditional versions of Marxism. For Postone, the key issue is how to interpret Marx’s theory in order to elucidate ‘‘globalization.’’ For our purposes, the consequences resulting from the developmental dynamic of capitalism today for the possibility of effective social policies are most crucial: how to reflect upon



necessary preconditions for solving key social problems? Have arguments for basic income been impaired by key tenets of traditional Marxism? Five points that are most central to Postone’s critique of traditional Marxism, as a contribution to the debate about basic income. Especially in its mature version, in Grundrisse and Capital, it is necessary to distinguish propositions in Marx’s theory that were transhistorical universal in nature or intent, and those that were means for analyzing liberal capitalism in the nineteenth century. Put differently, we must clarify in which regard Marx’s theory was historically specific, and which are of continued relevance to us today. As Marx’s theory involved, but did not constitute, a theory of exploitation, a theory of surplus value, a labor theory of value, and a theory of class struggle, these ‘‘theories’’ were aspects of his attempt to answer the most decisive question: how to identify the nexus between bourgeois society and the capitalist mode of production, to distinguish between the specificity of nineteenth-century liberal capitalism and the dynamic principles of modern capitalism? In his earlier writings, Marx tried to present as transhistorical certain key features of society he later identified as specific features of nineteenth-century capitalism. As in modern capitalism, the primary purpose of production is to generate profits, rather than to supply society with the means to satisfy needs, the commodity is the most fundamental form of social relations, revealing the inverted nature of business–labor–government relations in bourgeois society. In turn, the commodity is constituted by labor, the purpose of labor being the production of commodities. In a society where the generation of profits through the production of commodities is the basic principle of the labor process, social relations evolve in relation to the commodity form. This is the case in capitalist society only. We also must distinguish how Marx’s concept of labor was historically specific, and how – in what regards – it was transhistorical. He distinguished between concrete labor and abstract labor, with the latter fulfilling a unique social function in capitalism: to mediate a new type of social interdependence. At Marx’s time, the category of the commodity was an attempt to abstractly identify the underlying features of modern forms of social life most important for social analysis. In order to grasp how the thrust of Marx’s theory was misconstrued by most of his self-proclaimed followers, it is important to distinguish two modes of critical analysis that lead to very different interpretations: ‘‘a critique of capitalism from the standpoint of labor, y and a critique of labor in capitalism’’ (Postone, 1993, p. 5). I hypothesize that under conditions of globalization, the commodity form is a concrete, empirically viable category for social analysis.57

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Marx’s theory was both a critique of distribution and a critique of production. Traditional Marxism concentrated on the critique of the dominant mode of distributing wealth in capitalism as a mechanism to reinforce the prevailing structure of social and economic inequality, neglecting the critical analysis of the organization of production – and that it cannot be molded at will. Traditional Marxists used Marx’s theory to criticize the mode of unequal distribution of the wealth produced, independently of the organization of production. Yet to analyze the specific consequences resulting from the capitalist mode of production, for politics, culture, and society, and to theorize the obstacles to realizing freedom, the critique of political economy must involve a critique of the ‘‘inner logic’’ of the market process in capitalism, as it pertains to both distribution and production. Thus, a new form of social domination is endemic to capitalism. What Marx had described in his early writings as ‘‘alienation’’ reappears, in his mature work, as ‘‘commodity fetishism’’ – referring to a ‘‘form of self-generated structural domination’’ (p. 62). Conceiving of this form of domination as class domination, or other forms of concrete political or economic domination, distracts from the fact that it has no determinate locus and, although constituted by specific forms of social practice, appears not to be social at all. The structure is such that one’s own needs, rather than the threat of force or of other social sanctions, appear to be the source of such ‘‘necessity.’’ The Marxian analysis includes [relations of class exploitation and domination], but goes beyond it. y [T]he forms of social mediation expressed by categories such as the commodity and capital develop into a sort of objective system, which increasingly determines the goals and means of much human activity. (Postone, 1997, p. 62f)

This abstract form of domination produces a particular kind of dynamic modern society is based upon. This dynamic is highly complex and, which is even more important, it is not linear. Its two key characteristics are, first, that it engenders continuous transformations emanating from the economy, and affecting all aspects of life58; and second, that it continuously reconstitutes ‘‘its own fundamental condition as an unchanging feature of social life’’: labor is the dominant mode of social mediation, and ‘‘living labor remains integral to the process of production y regardless of the level of production’’ (ibid., p. 63f). Postone’s rereading of Marx sheds light on the specific kind of impediments to understanding and theorizing modern capitalism, attempts to solve social problems, modes of collective social and political action, and opportunities to pursue desirable social change. Implications resulting from



these impediments for social policy and the prospects of basic income ought to be immediately apparent. If labor is the dominant mode of mediating social relations in capitalism, then social relations are not independent from the workings of the economy, how the labor process is organized, and how workers, and citizens more generally, experience their position in society. If social policy ignores the specificity of labor in capitalism, and its formative impact on society in all of its dimensions, it is bound to replicate the problematic nature of the context in which policy success is to be achieved, especially regarding existing structures of inequality, as features of modern society that are linked to the dominant mode of organizing the labor process – but not as a function of it. If proponents of basic income start out from the assumption that there is a fundamental difference between the nature of social relations in the labor process and in society, and that the role of labor has not changed qualitatively, as the foundation of alienation, then proponents overlook the actual thrust of basic income, and the consequences of its implementation, if successful. Most importantly, if the implementation of basic income is to establish economic citizenship rights for the twenty-first century, without altering the dominant role of labor in its specificity – that is, in terms of how it mediates social relations – the implementation of basic income will not advance the espoused objectives. If basic income will not affect the manner in which labor structures social relations, what will be its impact?

ALIENATION OMNIPRESENT: CRITICAL THEORY, BASIC INCOME, AND SOCIOLOGY The main difference between basic income and more established social policy approaches is that the former is an attempt, albeit implicit, to design strategies in relation to a specific kind of social problems – as a function of structural inequalities. Established approaches to designing social policy, by contrast, move within a perimeter whose boundaries are determined by assumptions about how existing inequalities constitute the confines of the purpose and scope of social policies that its adherents would be hardpressed to explicate. In many instances, these assumptions do not relate, primarily, to the nature of the problems at hand, but they tend to be a function of how a given problem has come to be defined, in the context of political and economic institutions and organizations, in recent decades. Most politicians, policymakers, and social scientists concerned with policy,

Globalization or Hyper-Alienation?


do not have an interest in the kind of explicit, self-reflective, and critical exchanges that would be required for a common definition to result – of the societal context in which policy is to be constructed, to which it is to respond, what ends are to be achieved, and which interventions are most likely to be effective. The lack of a dynamic, rather than a dialectical, perspective on the link between inequalities and social problems, at the levels of culture, organization, and structure, is a major impediment to the conception of social policy as a means of qualitative transformation.59 Basic income-related designs digress from built-in assumptions about the nexus between inequalities and social problems that prefigure discussions about the purpose and scope of social policies. Most policies intended to alleviate specific social problems and conditions rest upon constructions of causality links between societal conditions, the functioning of institutions, and the malleability of ‘‘human nature,’’ on the one hand, and possibilities to alter structural inequalities by means of policy, on the other. By contrast, proponents of basic income contend that under present conditions, we are not in the position to adequately identify the link between existing inequalities and determinations of what kinds of policy designs are possible, probable, and desirable, in a manner that would be consistent with prevailing norms and values in western democratic societies. Yet as long as assumptions about the nature of relevant causality chains remains implicit, or entirely submerged, they are likely to perpetuate policy failures, as they will tend to be grounded in and foster ‘‘ideology,’’ in the sense of reference frames that negatively relate to the nature of problems at hand, rather than in fact. In addition, they often entail implicit attempts to legitimate, or to rationalize, inequality in general, and specific inequalities, in particular. Basic income results from a genuine commitment to putting forth policy designs that are oriented toward solving key social problems. Social problems must be seen in relation to existing structures of social and economic inequality, and economic and political power, and to past policy decisions and strategies predefining the scope of perceived available options and future choices. At the same time, however, proponents are reluctant to take a clear stand on whether under present conditions – especially in the most advanced societies – the combined political and policy apparatus does, or does not, have the capacity to bring about qualitative change. How, then, do proponents reconcile the assertion that modern political systems are not able to eliminate social problems that emanate from inequalities, with the assertion that those same systems will allow for the implementation of basic income? How would basic income ‘‘enable’’ modern political systems to overcome the societal barriers to social policy success, to implement a new



policy regime that is directed explicitly at overcoming the limitations of life chances imposed by structural inequalities? How is it that these systems have been incapable of achieving policy success, but will be most capable of implementing basic income? This is the crux of arguments for basic income. To be sure, proponents of basic income are aware of the paradox, and arguments for basic income must be viewed in light of this paradox. The importance of basic income derives directly from the assertion that it is a policy design that ought to allow western political systems, as it were, to jump over their own shadow. Under present conditions, solving social problems relating to inequalities is not an option, yet – so the argument goes – implementing a policy innovation that makes more likely future possibilities to tackle social problems more effectively, must be. Considering that the welfare state has been, at least in part, a regime to police inequalities – without altering their nature and prevalence – and to protect against threats to social and political stability – while increasing opportunities for individuals to improve their life chances, in a manner that is compatible with the principles of liberty, equality, and solidarity – how will basic income become a reality? In particular, how can we make sure that basic income will not be implemented in a manner that perverts the very objectives that inspire the current debate? What if the inability of modern political systems to tackle social problems is symptomatic neither of flawed policy designs nor of a lack of commitment on the part of decision-makers in the political and policy establishments to solve social problems by altering structures of inequality? An alternative explanation would be that there are systemic impediments in western societies – with corresponding impediments in academia and politics – which thwart attempts to implement policies that would support values relating to liberty, equality, and solidarity. It appears that under conditions of globalization, in the context of an increasing concern with the future of the nation-state, inherent, systemic impediments are beginning to become more visible.60 Since the ‘‘bourgeois’’ revolutions of the late eighteenth century, there has never been a consensus in any western society, that the modern nation-state was supposed to facilitate progressive societal reconstruction, toward the elimination of ‘‘inequality.’’ In fact, with inequalities having been rationalized for centuries as the necessary precondition for the functioning of a market economy, the primary purpose of the nation-state was to contain and utilize the potential for social and political conflict resulting from inequalities. In this view, the welfare state was a late, and highly refined rendition of the basic configuration of the nation-state. The welfare state reflected the difficulties to avoid, and the need to manage, expanding,

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democratically asserted demands on the ‘‘state,’’ especially after World War II. Nation-states adapted to constantly changing conditions, and often were provided with a legitimating basis retroactively (as in Hobbes’ Leviathan). For the most part, and for a variety of reasons, decision-makers in politics and policy were not in the position to grasp the contradictory intricacies of those changing conditions, in relation to shifting functions of the nationstate. Today, in light of the debate about the ‘‘end’’ of the nation-state, the transformation of markets, and the ‘‘end of work’’ (see especially Castells, 1996, 1997, 1998), we must contemplate the possibility that the ‘‘evolution’’ of human civilization may have reached an impasse, and that the underlying program of the existing social, political, and economic systems does not allow for further attempts to alter the nature and extent of inequalities. The current concern with ‘‘endings,’’ then, might not relate to the actual end of the organizational form of the nation-state, of markets, and of labor, as such – but to the possibility that how the nation-state was designed to police inequalities – to facilitate economic expansion and control over the working class – is no longer viable. Liberalism buffered our ability, and our willingness, to face the extent of inequalities in western societies, the corresponding implications for members of certain segments of the population, and the tension between basic western values and concrete conditions.61 It thus legitimated an institutional and organizational framework for balancing political and economic processes in a manner that produced clearly identifiable social, political, and economic benefits.62 Yet in light of changes in the world economy, we must be skeptical whether liberalism is capable of fulfilling this balancing function any longer, without the kind of major reorientation many liberals might regard as a betrayal of basic liberal principles.63 While it may not be clear whether it is by intent or default, proponents of basic income do not contend that it is possible to readily identify specific strategies to directly confront any particular social problem, such as unemployment. At this point in time, such efforts would not appear to be politically feasible. Instead, the starting assumption is that policy success will be contingent on the willingness of those involved, to conceive of indirect, preparatory strategies and policies: the goal is to allow conditions to emerge that will facilitate change that is consistent with both stated objectives and increasingly effective policies, within the matrix of modern societies – engendering continuous improvements, without destroying the achievement of modern society. As proponents of basic income are not oriented toward revolutionary change, they envision concrete, meaningful, and lasting social



reforms. Yet with globalization accelerating, the potential for social reforms appears to erode (see Teeple, 2000; Isbister, 2001, especially Chapter 8; Midgley, 1997; Jordan, 1997; Kingfisher, 2002). What, then, is the link between basic income and critical theory? How does consideration of basic income, in turn, make possible clarification of the practical role of critical theory today?

Critical Theory, Basic Income, and Economic Rights: Beyond the Perpetuation of the Cold War In recent years, there has been a steady proliferation of conflicting conceptions and definitions of critical theory.64 Disagreements about the thrust of ‘‘neo-Marxist’’ Frankfurt School critical theory abound. Alternative versions of critical theory, such as feminist theory, postmodernist theory, postcolonial theory, and critical race theory, as well as various combinations of these and other types of critical theory, have attracted growing attention as well. To identify the contribution of critical theorizing to the social sciences, and to debates about social policy, it is necessary to determine whether different critical theories share a formal or a substantive core. Such a core, once identified, should clarify how the perspective of critical theory, as a generalized perspective, is practically relevant, and how specific versions of critical theory relate to ‘‘traditional theory,’’ and to each other (see Horkheimer, [1937] 1986). Traditional approaches start out from the assumption that prevailing perspectives on the parameter and the perimeter of research, both thematically and methodologically, and on the purposes of the social sciences in relation to policy, are legitimate and adequate – if in need of slight modification and refinement. Traditional approaches posit that we can only engage in rigorous – and nonideological – research if we start out from the assumption that there is an intrinsic link between dominant views of social life, and the adequacy of resulting research approaches and perspectives. Consequently, there is no need to question the nature of the relationship between modes of research, the defining characteristics of the society in whose interest, purportedly, mainstream research is being conducted, and the research questions and hypotheses that are being investigated. By contrast, critical approaches to social research posit that implicit assumptions about the nature of modern societies are most in need of rigorous scrutiny. Critical theories are calibrated to examine those dimensions of modern societal life whose systematic analysis is a necessary

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precondition for the development of strategies for solving social problems that relate to structural inequalities. Traditional, noncritical theories – not including the classics of social theory, Marx, Durkheim, and Weber, who each was more critical than dominant interpretations during the twentieth century would have allowed for – either ignore these dimensions altogether or regard them as aspects of the ‘‘natural’’ constitution of society. Lack of concern with any of these dimensions, however, makes impossible consideration of the necessary preconditions of meaningful social change that is compatible with, and advances the espoused values of, western democratic societies. I propose the following working definition65: The purpose of critical theories is to identify those dimensions of societal life that remain implicit in traditional approaches to social-scientific research – but which must be made explicit, and scrutinized, for opportunities to emerge, to identify the kind of conditions that would have to prevail in order for policies to attain success in terms of stated goals. Critical theory in this sense comprises neo-Marxist, feminist, postmodernist, postcolonial and critical race theory.

Ultimately, the perspective required may resemble more closely a therapeutic approach than strategic policy designs targeting the attainment of concrete objectives. It may not be possible to break, or crack, the glass casing, without damaging the fabric of modern society – with potentially unforeseeable consequences. After all, we have not been socialized to cope with revelations that force us to acknowledge that the patterns of societal life which determine the conditions of our existence, and modes of our coexistence may be a function of structures of power and inequality. As these structures are rooted in particularistic interests, and geared toward maintaining social and political stability, they hoist images of society upon us that reinforce the functioning of existing constellations of politics, economy, society, and culture. To emphasize that the sense of realism required of an educated, circumspect, self-confident, and informed public is the exception rather than the rule, in the modern world, is not to imply that the latter is not worth preserving. The discrepancy appears to be widening between how we are taught to conceive of the modern world, and what it would take to grasp how its contradictory and complex nature limits our ability to conceive of more adequate strategies to confront persistent problems – even at the theoretical level. Presently, the most ambitious policy designs may be those that endeavor to prepare the emergence of a more realistic mode of societal organization – both in the sense that its citizens will be more willing and capable to confront the facts of collective life, and to envision a world that is more in



line with its purported values. In the most favorable reading, universal basic income is both the most daring, and the most practical step in this direction. Yet basic income is desirable only if implemented in a manner that it is difficult, or impossible, to reverse, and especially, to pervert. It requires attention to the fact that established practices reflect and perpetuate flawed approaches and problematic presuppositions, and that we may not even have a clear sense of what it would mean to take a perspective on social problems that is less a function of submerged and socially, politically, and economically grounded ideology. In addition, we tend to view policies and strategies within existing contexts, which themselves reflect the disordered condition. If, for instance, basic income were to be implemented in the mode characteristic of the history of failed policies, could it succeed? What would success mean – in light of the fact that the established regime of welfare-state social policies that emerged during, and as a function of, the Cold War, is alienation in its current disguise? If Marx’s theory retains merit, in the absence of a major rupture in the prevalence of the capitalist mode of production, we must suppose that today, alienation is far more central to forms of social life than it when Marx formulated the foundation of critical social theory. Accordingly, if Marx’s theory continues to be unsurpassed, we must accept the fact that ‘‘modernity’’ denotes tensions that are not reconcilable directly, and in a causally predictable manner, within the framework of modernity itself. It will not be possible to strive toward realizing the promise of modernity as a form of social organization and process that is dynamic, reflexive, and critical at the same time, regarding the societal (social, political, and economic) foundations to which it is a reaction, which it continually, and unsuccessfully, tries to overcome, and which will have to transform, and be transformed, in a manner we are ill-equipped to envision. Indeed, while ‘‘globalization’’ may signify that this stage of ‘‘evolution’’ has been reached, the inertia of the language and key concepts we continue to employ may thwart related efforts. Theoretically rigorous justifications of basic income tend to be hampered by a set of dilemmas that remain unresolved – as they are symptomatic of a high degree of alienation in social and political life – the condition of hyperalienation. Basic income may be conceived of as highly compatible with prevailing values, agreed-upon and widely accepted definitions of social reality, and established policy-related strategies. Yet proponents of basic income also contend that it is a possible venue for engaging in efforts to facilitate the move toward a qualitatively superior, ‘‘better’’ future.

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Furthermore, the tension between the set of values oriented toward individual self-realization, and the values oriented toward collective wellbeing, remains unresolved. While this tension may be endemic to modern society in general, the framing of basic income tends to relate back to the utilitarian hope that the unimpeded pursuit of individual happiness will lead to a greater collective good. In this reading, basic income is superior to earlier versions of utilitarian design in that it is preconditioned on a less compromised, and institutionally reinforced understanding of equal life chances. The issue of how to avoid the co-opting of basic income designs, in a manner that will prevent the perversion, and possible inversion, of its intent and purpose, remains a major challenge, for several reasons. There will be predictable, determined efforts by ‘‘vested interests’’ to prevent the success intended, or to soften the impact sought.66 In addition to a multiplicity of economic consequences, attempts to implement basic income will generate an array of unintended consequences, since assumptions about its intended consequences are contingent on the calculation of interlocking causal relations basic to contemporary modern societies. The introduction of basic income will engender new constellations and new dynamics, and continue to require that we question established notions about causal links. Prior assumptions about causal links will be revealed as flawed, and entirely new causal links between the nature of the prevalent commitment to work, productivity, and economic security, will emerge. As a matter of principle, justifications of basic income relate to concrete sociopolitical and economic contexts; consequently, even explicitly theoretical attempts to legitimate basic income tend to be permeated by political considerations that impede the uncompromised consideration of related, theoretical issues. Consequently, establishing economic citizenship rights for the twenty-first century is likely to be far more difficult than we might expect. In terms of the above analysis, the obstacles should be greater than can be tackled through policy reform. If Marx’s theory remains pertinent and relevant, for the reasons outlined earlier, and if Postone’s reading of Marx’s theory is warranted, overcoming the condition of labor in capitalism would be more dramatic a transformation than the literature about basic income would admit. For basic income schemes to be more successful, it is necessary that its proponents engage in a related, sustained, rigorous theoretical debate. Economic citizenship rights will have to be achieved against greater odds than was the case for civil, political, social rights – because economic rights strike at the heart of the matrix of modern society. Basic income schemes may contribute to setting the stage in a manner that makes it possible that



these issues can be addressed, and tackled, more effectively. For this reason, it is also necessary to question the adequacy of prevailing values basic to modern democratic societies (like freedom, equality, and justice), and the earnestness of struggles against social problems, by means of social policies. Consequently, critical theory is key to identifying unacknowledged dimensions of social life that make direct implementation of basic income impossible, or likely to be ineffective. Even if economic rights would be a necessary precondition for continued prosperity in the twenty-first century, similar to civil, political, and social rights during the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries – as suggested by T. H. Marshall – it appears that the regime of global capitalism currently emerging will pose a vastly greater obstacle. If basic income indeed is a strategy that is directly related to the nature of a set of social problems, and not an expression of ideology or unrelated imperatives that impede a straight perspective on the problems at hand – proponents need to continue to concern themselves explicitly with the inner logic of the processes and conditions that generate those problems. The ‘‘capitalist road to communism’’ van Parijs and van der Veen proposed during the 1980s, thus would be in imminent danger of pointing the alienated way to communism – by engendering a mechanism that would not require that people understand how economy and society work and are interconnected, and by reinforcing and amplifying the degree of alienation with which we have become acquainted. By contrast, Postone insists that only a rigorously critical understanding of the conditions producing alienation, tied to the centrality of labor as a socially constituting force, can engender the necessary perspective on how to conceive of a nexus between production and distribution that would be both socially just and economically sound. In order for the perspective van Parijs and others have been advocating since the 1980s to bear fruit, the kind of critical-theoretical perspective Postone put forth, is indispensable. For proponents of basic income must strive to design the kind of map that ought to enable us to decide which venues, in the world of global capitalism, increase the chances of reigniting a truly progressive, nonregressive strategy for conceiving of social policies.

CODA FOR THEORETICAL SOCIOLOGISTS The current historical moment is exceedingly unique in that it provides theoretical sociologists with a window of opportunity to heed the proposition,


Globalization or Hyper-Alienation?

basic to critical theory (if adhered to reluctantly), that the challenge is to envision how all contributions to the theory of modern society – including its postmodern variant – provide fragments of a narrative that has never been told before. The stance such a perspective, and related practices of theorizing, would require all involved to adopt, should enable us to depart from the long shadow of alienation, since how we relate to the work of others would be guided by the certainty that it is not possible for any approach, any specific framework or tradition, to tell the whole story. Instead, in terms of social theory as a vocation, it would be our responsibility to situate diverse contributions to the theory of modern society, as pieces in a puzzle that is not a still photo, but a moving picture. How we ‘‘do theory’’ would have to correspond to this anticipation – that in the end, the purpose of theoretical sociology is not to produce static representations of a societal process, but a never-ending, collaborative activity directed at the unfolding of a mind-set that is increasingly capable of conceiving of implications resulting from the fact that modern social life is contradictory, complex, and contingent. For sociology to make explicit – and take on – this hitherto submerged mission, its center of gravity will have to be placed, not in the past or present, but in the future.

NOTES 1. The term describes the period following World War II, especially in Germany and Japan. Regarding the German case, see, for example, Giersch, Paque´, and Schmieding (1992). 2. Such a perspective necessitates a different reading of works published and concepts developed in the social sciences at the time, such as the conflict theories of Coser (1956) and Dahrendorf (1959), and Lipset’s concept of the ‘‘democratic class struggle’’ (1963). 3. As Richard Ofshe put it in the introduction of The Sociology of the Possible, ‘‘ y theoretically, there is no reason the social world must be organized in the manner in which [we] find it y alternative forms of social organization are possible, [though] y they cannot be attained by fiat. The problem is not so much to design a social system that seems to be more humane, desirable, and fair; it is to figure out how to build it’’ (1970, p. xvii). 4. The distinction between ‘‘traditional and critical theory’’ was Horkheimer’s ([1937] 1986); at its most basic, the distinction refers to approaches as traditional if they treat concrete social formations as quasi-natural, while critical approaches scrutinize those formations as sociohistorically contingent. 5. In the United States, difficulties to reconcile the rise of the modern corporation during the early twentieth century and the emergence of the regulatory state during the late 1940s and the 1950s, with basic tenets of laissez-faire and entrepreneurial



capitalism, are illustrative cases in point. See especially Harrison (1997), also Schumpeter (1942). 6. See especially Mills (1959), who wrote of the promise of the sociological imagination as the ability ‘‘to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society y the capacity to shift from one perspective to another y to range from the most impersonal and remote transformations to the most intimate features of the human self – and to see the relations between the two’’ (p. 6f). Both the need and the opportunities to do so keep amplifying with globalization, while the ability to shift between perspectives, in sociology, continues to apply more to the discipline as a whole, rather than to individual researchers, practitioners, and theorists. 7. As J. M. Bernstein (2001, p. 235) has pointed out, even one of the most rigorous and sophisticated critics of modern society, Theodor W. Adorno, chose to refrain from offering ‘‘an explicit account of the modern world in its self-conscious differentiation of itself from the theological and metaphysical past.’’ 8. While problematic in its concrete execution, Horkheimer’s concept of interdisciplinary collaboration at the Institute of Social Research in Frankfurt was an explicit step in this direction; see Dubiel ([1978] 1985), Wiggershaus [1986] 1994, and Dahms (1999). 9. For information about basic income, see as well as http:// Referring to Philippe van Parijs, the leading theorist of basis income, Andrew Reeve has summarized (universal) basic income as ‘‘paid to each ‘full member’ of society without reference to that person’ existing resources, willingness to work, household membership, or location. Such a payment is quite obviously different from standard welfare-state payments, which are often means tested, depend upon a person’s availability and willingness to take employment, or relate to local considerations like levels of rent, or take into account the position of partners or others living in the household. It is a requirement of justice, for van Parijs, that the government should disburse such an income. This is because a free society is identified with a just society by real libertarianism’’ (Reeve, 2003, pp. 5–6). 10. See also proposals such as a negative income tax, as supported by Milton Friedman of the Chicago School (see Moffitt, 2003), or stakeholder grants, as advocated by Bruce Ackerman and Anne Alstott (1999). See also Widerquist (2001a, 2001b). 11. It is important to keep in mind that basic income, both as an idea and as a policy proposal, is characterized by a high degree of affinity with one strain of American values regarding the relationship between individual and society, especially as far as obligations, responsibilities, rights, and entitlements are concerned. Basic income deviates from the work ethic strain of American values insofar as it starts out from the proposition that just as the individual has responsibilities to, so too, does society have responsibilities to the individual, and that it is not compatible with American values and traditions that misfortune on the part of an individual, for instance, releases society from any responsibility toward the well-being of the individual. Tom Paine was one of the earliest advocates of a basic income-related scheme in the United States. During the 1960s, two large-scale socioeconomic experiments were conducted in the United States, the ‘‘Seattle Experiment’’ (see Kurz & Spiegelman, 1971) and the ‘‘New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiment’’

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(see Kershaw & Fair, 1976; and Watts & Rees, 1977a, 1977b). Today, the only established basic income regime also is in the United States: the Alaska Permanent Fund (Hartzok, 2002). Note also that the ‘‘Federative Republic of Brazil has become the first national government to introduce a basic income guarantee. On January 8, 2004, President Lula signed a law decreeing the gradual introduction of a universal basic income for all Brazilian residents. The phase-in will begin in 2005, starting with those most in need by consolidating existing federal income support programs. Many of the details are yet to be worked out y ’’ See USBIG Newsletter Vol. 5, No. 25, January–February 2004 ( A basic income also has been discussed by US government officials, as a possible solution to problems in Iraq; see Ehrenreich (2003). 12. ‘‘A rising tide lifts all boats’’ and the ‘‘elevator effect’’ are two common characterizations of the increasing prosperity that all social groups experienced, in the United States and many other western industrialized countries after World War II, without the social structure as such having changed in favor of the lower income levels. See Danziger and Gottschalk (1993, 1995). Also see Beck’s concept of the ‘‘elevator effect’’ employed in the German original of Risk Society (Beck 1986, p. 122); there is no reference to this concept in the corresponding chapter in the English translation (Beck, [1986] 1992, pp. 91–102). See Bourguignon and Morrison’s (2002) study of global inequality between 1820 and 1992. Between 1820 and 1950, inequality was on the rise, while after 1950, the pace of inequality rising at the global level slowed. The study does not include data for developments after 1992. Inequality at the national level has been rising continuously in many countries, however, as in the United States. 13. Most of all, Postone (1993), as well as Stedman Jones (2002); see also Camic (1997) for a collection of reevaluations of classics from Comte to Mead. 14. I am not suggesting that sociology should be retooled as the social science of alienation, but that the practical and public relevance of sociology is contingent on the inclusion of a perspective on modern society, as a form of social organization that is centered, both, around increasingly alienated social relations, and continuous efforts to contain and rationalize the destructive potential embedded in alienated social relations. Furthermore, I am not suggesting that it is possible to ‘‘explain’’ modern society in terms of alienation, but that neglecting the extent to which sociology emerged in response to alienated social relations will be a major impediment to sociological research relating to the contradictory nature of modern society. The perspective I am advocating here does not involve the claim that alienation is the category that will enable us to unlock the mysteries of modern society, and that alienation is the Archimedean point of sociology. Instead, neglecting alienation as a key dimension of modern social life is synonymous with precluding questions and perspectives that make possible analyses relating to the problematic constitution of modern society. It may be symptomatic of the prevalence of alienation, and the related lack of curiosity about the nature of modern society, that many standard sociology textbooks do not mention either ‘‘alienation’’ or ‘‘modern’’ in their index, for example, see Kornblum (2002) and Charon (2002) – as both are implicitly presupposed, neither are being thematized. 15. In Marx’s later writings, most notably in Capital, commodity fetishism took the place of alienation, with commodity fetishism being alienation as ‘‘second



nature’’ (Marx, [1867] 1977, pp. 163–177). On the sociological uses of the concept, see especially Torrance (1977) on the differences and affinities between alienation and estrangement, as translations of the German Entfremdung, and their counterparts, appropriation and solidarity; also Me´sza´ros (1970). 16. See Marx’s critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right ([1843/44] 1978.) 17. Durkheim’s concept of anomie, as well as Weber’s thesis of the Protestant ethic can be appreciated more fully when conceived as a continual process of reconstituting social relations within the triangle of alienation, anomie, and Protestant ethic. Reading Marx’s writings as a critical theory of alienation, Durkheim’s as a critical theory of anomie, and Weber’s as a critical theory of the Protestant ethic, would engender a perspective on the beginnings of modern society, as follows: with alienation resulting from the new, capitalist mode of production, anomie was the consequence of successive, and increasingly futile attempts to reconcile traditional understandings of the nature of social relations, with a transformation of the material basis of social relations. The Protestant ethic, then, would represent an adaptation to the transformed material basis of social relations – a means to contain the fact that traditional views regarding, and material basis of, social relations, were becoming irreconcilable. Such a co-reading of Marx, Durkheim, and Weber, as critical theorists of alienation, anomie, and the Protestant ethic, appears to be the necessary foundation for a dynamic perspective on globalization as contradictory, contingent, and complex. On the affinity between alienation and anomie, see Ludz (1973, 1975). 18. See Hardimon’s (1994) interpretation of Hegel’s philosophy as an attempt to enable the individual to find a ‘‘home’’ in the modern social world. 19. From this angle, it would be premature to contend that we live in a postmodern age, since in the context of globalization and alienation, it may be more constructive to conceive of postmodernism as, potentially, a more sophisticated reflection of and on alienated life, rather than an unalienated critique of the ‘‘modern condition.’’ Also, whether we have entered a postmodern age or not is secondary in this context, since the assumption that we have, would render pointless the kind of analysis of the link between alienation and policy at issue here. The determination that a postmodern condition has taken hold, empirically speaking, depends on how we frame the crucial criteria for identifying such a condition. As it stands, there are no pertinent criteria that promise to be agreeable even to a minority of social scientists. See Lemert (1997), Agger (2002), and Antonio (1998). 20. This is one of the central theses of Dahms (in preparation): conditions conducive to economic ‘‘entrepreneurship’’ – narrowly conceived – are being sustained by means of economic policies, at the expense of a range of other forms of entrepreneurship. 21. ‘‘Desirable social change’’ not in the sense of the process of realizing a utopian social order, however conceived, but the kind of change commonly conjured up by democratically elected representatives, to be achieved through the means of ‘‘state’’ power, or on the basis of ‘‘mechanisms,’’ such as laissez-faire economic policies, which both are presumed to lead to desirable outcomes. 22. I have formulated a related argument with regard to the concept of reification, which succeeded alienation during the 1920s, following Luka´cs, in Dahms (1998). Alienation is the broader, more generic concept.

Globalization or Hyper-Alienation?


23. See Kitching (2001) for one example of a sustained argument in favor of globalization, from the point of few of its social, cultural, and political potential. 24. The critical theorists of the Frankfurt School explicitly continued to refine the critique of the link between material conditions, states of consciousness, practices, and modes of social-scientific theory and research Marx had initiated. This type of critique is oriented toward identifying, at successive stages of capitalist development, the most problematic aspects of modern capitalist society, in the form of alienation and commodity fetishism in Marx, reification in Georg Luka´cs, instrumental reason in Horkheimer, identity thinking in Adorno, and functionalist reason in Habermas (see Dahms, 1998). Axel Honneth (1996) purports to represent the ‘‘latest stage’’ in this succession of critiques, in the context of his critique of recognition relations in advanced societies. However, in terms of the logic of critique introduced by Marx, Honneth’s is precisely what he claims it to be – a break with the tradition of critical theory. Whether this break is necessary, in terms of the logic of critical theory, or indicative of a desire to introduce a new paradigm, in the interest of making critical theory more practically and politically relevant, only time will tell. See my manuscript, ‘‘Critical Theory or Critical Liberalism? Honneth’s Recognition Paradigm as the Latest Stage of Frankfurt School Theorizing.’’ For a recent set of assessments of the Frankfurt School, see Nealon and Irr (2002). See also How (2003). 25. This condition explains, at least in part, the proliferation of regressive strategies to cope with the experience of alienation; on the return of mysticism, for instance, see Wexler (2000). 26. There are many different ways of conceiving democracy, and of democratic validity claims. For present purposes, democracy denotes a political process that is guided by a genuine desire to advance what Adam Smith, among others, referred to as the ‘‘general interest of society’’ (Smith, [1789] 1937, pp. 248–250). Accordingly, political processes that conspicuously advance particular interests, at the exclusion of attempts to determine the general interest of society (e.g., by identifying the general interest with the interest of a particular group, class, or race), may be democratic in terms of formal decision-making processes, but also violate the idea of government by all the people. See Held (1996). 27. I do not consider the conservative across-the-board rejection of proactive social policies a convincing approach to identifying lack of policy success as a systemic problem, since conservatives tend to be too quick to conclude that the lack of success of a particular policy is indicative of the futility of all attempts to remedy consequences of inequalities that are conspicuously incompatible with democratic validity claims. In an inverted fashion, though, conservative critics of policy are ‘‘correct’’ insofar as policies rarely seem to work. The lack of success of most policies relating to inequalities does not result from their being ‘‘inherently’’ flawed, however, but from invisible barriers that thwart attempts to design policy in a manner that considers how, categorically, the nature of existing inequalities predefine the scope of policies designed to alter (the impact of) inequalities, the prospect of greater societal prosperity, and the pursuit of collective social strategies more generally. Put differently, if policies directed at remedying the impact of inequalities would work, under existing conditions, conservative critics probably would be the first to mount determined resistance, claiming to be motivated by the desire to ‘‘protect’’ western civilization. The fate of affirmative action appears to be symptomatic of the



conservative reaction to a strategy that may well have been one of the most successful policy strategies to date, relating to structural inequalities, and in terms of stated goals. As ought to be apparent, the purpose of this chapter is not to argue against social policies, but to illuminate how established approaches to designing policy are highly problematic – and to identify what mode of analyzing established strategies would be required to conceive of more effective strategies and modes of implementing democratically decided upon policies. It would be consistent with the perspective I am introducing here, to apply the resulting conclusions, to an examination of affirmative action, and how it may represent a kind of ‘‘qualitatively superior’’ policy strategy – in terms of stated goals, strategies of implementation, and results attained. For an excellent compilation of positions relating to affirmative action, see Post and Rogin (1998). 28. See Robert Dahl’s (1989) proposal for a ‘‘minipopulus.’’ 29. ‘‘[G]lobalization has become ‘normalized’ to an extent where it is hard to perceive any alternative. Sociologically, its power is ‘hegemonic’y . The culture of globalization is so overwhelming that seemingly nothing can stand in its way. Even moderate dissent is interpreted as subversive intent, converting social arrangements into putative facts’’ (Newman & de Zoysa, 2001, p. 227). See especially Baudrillard’s ‘‘Hypermarket and Hypercommodity’’ ([1981] 1994, pp. 75–78) and Rifkin (2000). 30. T. H. Marshall’s (1950) thesis about the establishment of civil rights, political rights, and social rights has become a staple in the literature on welfare state and social policy, as well as on basic income. Drawing on the British experience, the centerpiece of Marshall’s thesis was that it is possible, in industrialized societies, to view the eighteenth century as the century of establishing civil rights, ensuring equality before the law. The nineteenth century, then, would have coincided with the establishment of political rights, within the context of democratic institutions and processes, as the recognition and establishment of civil rights prepares equal political rights. The twentieth century, finally, was the century of establishing social rights, by means of social policy and social welfare state, acknowledging that social rights are as integral to civil rights as political rights. Extending the same logic to the twentyfirst century requires that we presuppose that it will be the century of establishing economic rights. 31. During the 1970s, this commitment increasingly came to be viewed as problematic, in conservative circles. See the literature about ‘‘ungovernability’’ and the ‘‘crisis of democracy,’’ especially Crozier, Huntington, and Watanuki (1975); Offe (1984a). 32. On differences in the use of the concepts globalization and ‘‘globalism,’’ see Steger (2002, pp. 43–80). 33. With regard to the United States, see Quadagno (1994), especially Chapter 5. Also Jencks (1992, pp. 1–2): ‘‘The only important exception to the rule that Washington did not make social policy, the Social Security Act, was a legacy of the Great Depression and the New Deal. As the name implies, social security was supposed to reduce the risk that individuals who had become used to life in a particular economic niche would suddenly find themselves pushed out of it. Its most important components were Unemployment Insurance (UI) and Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI, known in the vernacular simply as ‘social security’). y Like private insurance, these two social-insurance programs reinforced the existing

Globalization or Hyper-Alienation?


social and moral order. y [B]oth programs reinforced not only the work ethic but the social hierarchy that America had created on the bedrock of wage inequality.’’ During the mid-1980s, Morris and Williamson (1986, p. 169) wrote that ‘‘no matter how much policymakers and the public may wish otherwise, the ability of most y approaches [such as employment and training, and education] to reduce poverty appears to be severely constrained. Increased recognition of this fact would be a major step toward relieving these programs of the burden of unrealistically high expectations, and would foster greater appreciation of the actual and potential accomplishments of other approaches. There is no guarantee y that this recognition will lead to the development of more effective poverty policy. At the very least, however, there is likely to emerge a more sophisticated understanding of the dynamics of poverty in American society.’’ 34. For a step in such a direction, see Glazer and Rothenberg (2001). 35. See Hegel ([1821] 1967, pp. 145–155), especially: ‘‘In the system of needs, the livelihood and welfare of every single person is a possibility whose actual attainment is just as much conditioned by his caprices and particular endowment as by the objective system of needs. Through the administration of justice, offences against property or personality are annulled. But the right actually present in the particular requires, first, that accidental hindrances to one aim or another be removed, and undisturbed safety of person and property be attained; and secondly, that the securing of every single person’s livelihood and welfare be treated and actualized as a right, i.e. that particular welfare as such be so treated ’’ (pp. 146–147). See also article 242, p. 149, about the problematic nature of government relying on private charity, as a means to remedy poverty: ‘‘Public social conditions are on the contrary to be regarded as all the more perfect the less (in comparison to what is arranged publicly) is left for an individual to do by himself as his private inclination directs.’’ 36. In recent years, there have been two trends that illustrate the policing of social problems, most pronounced in the United States: a shift from policing problems to policing those who suffer from them (as incarceration rates indicate), and community policing shifting some of the responsibilities of policy to the activities of police officers. 37. There are vast differences between countries. The most obvious example in recent years has been, in the United States, the insurance industry’s barrage of commercials directed against the attempt by the Clinton administration in 1994, to take steps toward universal health care. 38. It is telling, in this context, that the only political entity that supports a version of basic income, the State of Alaska, during the 1990s, became the state in the Union with the lowest degree of inequality. 39. For a highly accessible, general overview of the ‘‘new gilded age,’’ see Krugman (2002). 40. This glass casing resembles the glass ceiling in corporate and political organizations that continues to keep a disproportionately high number of qualified women and members of minorities, in advanced industrialized societies, from entering the higher echelons of political and economic power – and effectively excludes those who might pursue more balanced strategies from a less exclusionary, purposively oriented vantage point. This is not to say that the glass ceiling has not been pervious in individual instances for decades; nor that it does not tend to become



more pervious in many societies – at least in terms of demographic representativity. See, for instance, Cotter, Hermsen, Ovadia, and Vanneman (2001) and DaviesNetzley (1998). 41. On Weber’s concept of ‘‘iron cage,’’ in relation to the concept of glass casing I propose, see Dahms (Unpublished manuscript). 42. Prominent supporters of basis income in the social sciences include (and included) Bruce Ackerman, Stanley Aronowitz, Fred Block, Ralf Dahrendorf, Andre Gorz, Herbert Simon, James Tobin, and Erik Olin Wright. For a recent collection of arguments for, and analyses of, basic income, see van Parijs (2001). See also van Parijs (1992, 1995). For a set of assessments of van Parijs’s work, see Reeve and Williams (2003). 43. Gabel’s work on the link between reification and modes of ‘‘thinking’’ is most illustrative, and valuable, in this regard. His analyses of the warped ways of perceiving reality we come to regard as ‘‘normal,’’ ‘‘necessary,’’ and ‘‘natural,’’ as they are manifest both in the frequency of mental disorders and of diagnosing mental disorders independently of the specificity of sociohistorical context, remain unsurpassed. See Gabel ([1962] 1975, 1997), as well as Alan Sica’s important, related work (Sica, 1995, 1997). 44. In this context, see especially Beck (2000). 45. This perspective suggests a reading against the grain of the theme of the book edited by Hedstro¨m and Swedberg (1998). 46. ‘‘[A] civilization – our civilization – locked in the grip of an ideology – corporatism. An ideology that denies and undermines the legitimacy of the individual as the citizen in a democracy. The particular imbalance of this ideology leads to a worship of self-interest and a denial of the public good’’ (Saul, 1995, p. 186). 47. The main reason why work society often is analyzed as a phenomenon above and beyond capitalist society may be that social scientists tend to presuppose a level of intellectual and theoretical independence from existing conditions enabling us to apply a largely nonideological perspective. In the present context, this presupposition would appear to be highly problematic. 48. This does not mean, however, that we can transpose Marx’s concept of labor into and onto the present, as if its significance were clear, and not subject to contest. In fact, how to make Marx’s concept of labor analytically useful, with reference to contemporary work societies, is a major challenge of interpretation, contingent on a willingness to discern the contradictory and complex nature of advanced capitalism, without giving in to the temptation to take refuge in one ideological posture or another. 49. For both highly sophisticated and especially illustrative instances of this reception, see Dahrendorf (1959), Cohen (1982), and Berger (1999). 50. Edward Shils (1961, pp. 1435–1448) distinguished between manipulative sociology, alienated sociology, and consensual sociology, with very different policy implications, respectively, and he advocated the latter as the least ‘‘deformed’’ sociological perspective. 51. While sociology is the discipline endowed with the responsibility to enlighten modern society about itself, and thus to engender strategies for change that follow from the social, political, and cultural values upon which this form of social organization rests, it more often than not tends to function as a brake on rather than

Globalization or Hyper-Alienation?


an accelerator of change. As long as most sociologists presuppose that the established research strategies and guiding questions are prevalent because they are adequate and sufficiently ‘‘scientific,’’ the methodologically overdue paradigm shift will not occur. For steps toward the kind of paradigm shift that is becoming increasingly necessary, see S. M. Miller’s ‘‘Great Chain of Explanation’’ (1996, especially pp. 583–586), as well as the perspective Barbara Reskin proposed during the presidential address at the ASA Annual Meeting in Chicago, 2002, regarding the study of compounding inequalities. 52. To date, Claus Offe arguably has made the greatest strides in this direction; see Offe (1984c) and Offe and Heinze (1992). See also Beck’s forage in this direction (2000). 53. Since then, Postone (1997, 1999) has addressed directly the issue of globalization. 54. This would be compatible with Dahrendorf’s distinction between economy and society being dominated by ‘‘work,’’ as opposed to ‘‘activity’’ replacing work over time; see the related essays in Dahrendorf (1987). 55. This essay was published in vol. 15, issue 5 of Theory and Society, along with essays by Erik Olin Wright, Alec Nove, Joseph Carens, Johannes Berger, Adam Przeworski, Jon Elster, and a response to these articles, by van der Veen and van Parijs (1986b). 56. Note that this very insight transformed the reference point of the critique basic to the critical theory of the Frankfurt School, during the 1930s – away from a prior preoccupation with the proletariat as the ‘‘revolutionary subject of history.’’ See Wiggershaus ([1986] 1994) and Dubiel ([1978] 1985). 57. ‘‘In a society in which the commodity is the basic structuring category of the whole, labor and its products are not socially distributed by traditional ties, norms, or overt relations of power and domination – that is, by manifest social relations – as is the case in other societies. Instead, labor itself replaces those relations by serving as a kind of quasi-objective means by which the products are acquired. y [A] new form of interdependence comes into being where no one consumes what they produce, but where, nevertheless, one’s own labor or labor-products function as the necessary means of obtaining the products of others. y Instead of being defined, distributed, and accorded significance by manifest social relations, as is the case in other societies, labor in capitalism is defined, distributed, and accorded significance by structures (commodity, capital) that are constituted by labor itself. y [L]abor in capitalism constitutes a form of social relations which has an impersonal, apparently nonsocial, quasi-objective character and which embeds, transforms, and, to some degree, undermines and supersedes traditional social ties and relations of power’’ (Postone, 1997, p. 59). 58. ‘‘[O]ngoing transformations of the technical processes of labor, of the social and detail division of labor and, more generally, of social life – of the nature, structure, and interrelations of social classes and other groupings, the nature of production, transportation, circulation, patterns of living, the form of the family, and so on’’ (Postone, 1997, pp. 63–64). 59. The most compelling effort in the direction of a dynamic analysis of social problems may be Leisering and Leibfried’s (1999) study of poverty in western welfare states. On problems related to the grounding of a rigorous dynamic analysis of modern western societies, see Dahms (2002).



60. See the debate about the end of the nation-state, for example, Strange (1996), Ohmae (1995) and Gue´henno (1994). 61. In A Nation of Agents: The American Path to a Modern Self and Society (2002), James E. Block demonstrates how problematic the western emphasis on freedom, or liberty, has been, with regard to America as the first modern democracy. He contends that this emphasis was ill-conceived from the start, and concludes: ‘‘[t]he agency paradigm, y the deepest narrative of American nationhood attending to its modernist interweaving of individual and collective, searches for a continued viability in the United States. y [P]erhaps the synthesis between ideal and real, of which agency was one stage on some greater journey, lies ahead to be newly imagined and pursued. Might not the quest for just democracy, genuine selfhood, and diversity within a cohesive community, while indebted to the immense developmental steps taken with creation of the agency world, be advanced through further reconstruction of the human setting? A ‘free individual in a free society’ will not forever look like the Protestant agent in liberal society. Brilliant and enduring though it was, it was only the first approximation’’ (Block, 2002, p. 550). 62. In this regard, see the literature in Europe on the ‘‘Third Way.’’ I submit that without innovations like basic income, arguments for the Third Way are in danger of remaining largely vacuous. For the Third Way between capitalism and socialism to be a viable strategy, it requires reflection on, and implementation of, the kind of constitutional changes for which basic income provides the most compelling model yet. See Newman and de Zoysa (2001). See also Habermas’ defense of an ‘‘offensive’’ variant of the Third Way, in Habermas (2002), especially p. 229f. 63. See Benhabib (2002), especially Chapter 7, ‘‘What Lies Beyond the Welfare State?’’ With regard to European integration, see also Kleinman (2002), Vobruba (1994), and Calhoun’s (2002) arguments about the need to foster a Europe-wide public sphere. 64. For overviews of critical theory, comprising different types of critical theory, such as postmodernist and feminist theory, see Calhoun (1995) and Agger (1998). 65. See also Dahms (2002, p. 306). 66. These efforts will take different forms, and occur through the democratic political process and lobbying, and by defining economic reality and politicoeconomic possibilities in certain ways, as well as by refusing to cooperate – to name just the most predictable options.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I thank Claus Offe and Philippe van Parijs for encouraging me to formulate this argument; Lawrence Hazelrigg, Lauren Langman, and Daniel Harrison for helpful comments; and the students in a graduate seminar on basic income at Georg August University Go¨ttingen, Germany, Summer 2000, for their willingness to patiently follow my first attempt to situate and outline the argument developed here.


BU¨RGERLICHE GESELLSCHAFT AND ITS CONTRADICTIONS Marx’s writings were the first sustained and rigorous attempt to identify and scrutinize inherent contradictions as a constitutive feature of early modern society – the society he referred to as ‘‘bourgeois’’ society.1 In the related literature, scholars have paid ample attention to the fact that the German term Marx used, and which had been a key concept in Hegel’s philosophy of right ([1821] 1967) – bu¨rgerliche Gesellschaft – refers to early modern society as both a society in which wealthy ‘‘burghers’’ are the driving force and primary decision-makers – bourgeois society – and a society of equal citizens – civil society (see especially Cohen & Arato, 1992; Riedel, 1988). The conceptual differentiation of bu¨rgerliche Gesellschaft into bourgeois society and civil society suggests that it is not possible to discern the nature of this emergent society according to one overarching principle. Instead, it is necessary to recognize underlying contradictions as a key structuring principle. The contradictions are most conspicuous in tensions between the values of democracy (as espoused most explicitly during and by the French Revolution, in terms of liberty, equality, and fraternity/solidarity) and the


I presented different aspects of the argument presented here, at the following conferences: Globalization and Social Justice, Loyola University, Chicago, May 2002; Annual Meetings of the American Sociological Association, Chicago, August 2002, and Atlanta, August 2003; and International Social Theory Consortium, Tampa Bay, May 2003.




imperative of a market-based economy operating according to the capitalist mode of production and foreshadowing industrialization. The self-understanding of early modern society emerged through an intricate, albeit warped, association of values of equal democratic citizenship and participation in public life with values that are a function of economic conditions necessitating, to an ever-increasing extent, the maintenance of structural inequalities in society. In the process, the latter values came to be interpreted as an expression of ‘‘human nature,’’ relating to the pursuit of individual self-interest, with ‘‘happiness’’ functioning as the ever more precarious vanishing point.2 The ‘‘free,’’ unrestrained pursuit of individual self-interest constitutes the basis for a mechanism purported to solve the ‘‘economic problem’’ – a mechanism, Adam Smith suggested, whose consequences will prove superior to collective decision-making processes that are contingent on the ability of individuals, or groups of individuals, to make choices, as in government.3 Yet the bourgeois emphasis on individualist values undercut opportunities to actualize the values of liberty, equality, and solidarity – with democracy serving as the mechanism facilitating collective decision-making processes at a qualitatively higher level than facilitated by the market mechanism. Thus, the inhabitants of bourgeois society are situated in a state of suspension resulting from the simultaneous espousal and violation of two sets of values, and attempts to reconcile the imperatives of two different kinds of mechanisms. Combined with assertions that the modern age should be centered around enlightenment principles and the certainty of progress, this state of suspension engendered a mode of unreality unprecedented in history. It is endemic to this mode of unreality that it thwarts explicit acknowledgment of this state of suspension, by fragmenting philosophical, theoretical, political, and ideological perspectives on the totality of the transformations that accompanied the rise the modern age.4 Hegel was the first to point out the tension between political values and economic conditions as infusing early modern society with the energy that translates into a kind of historical change that points beyond those tensions. In fact, the prospect of the espoused, conflicting values of bourgeois society being actualized and reconciled over time, provides the primary basis for interpreting historical change as the incremental realization of an underlying program that remained elusive until the beginning of the modern epoch. Paradoxically, in modern society, historical change points in two related, yet opposing directions. The politically grounded values of equal democratic citizenship mediate between a multitude of individuals, while the economically based values of mutually exclusive individual self-interest sustain conditions that are fraught with inequalities. Hegel most explicitly presented this perspective in

Does Alienation Have a Future?


Philosophy of Right ([1821] 1967), but his entire work is permeated by related motives and figures of thought (see especially Rose, 1981). In Marx’s writings, by contrast, what Hegel had identified as a tension with a productive dimension reappears as a set of fundamental contradictions that cannot be reconciled within bourgeois society, nor – to the degree that it replicates patterns of bourgeois society – in modern society.5 At the same time, scrutinizing these contradictions is the necessary precondition for rigorously delineating the perimeter of bourgeois society as a form of socioeconomic organization that perpetually regenerates societal conditions as a function of, and to reinforce, those contradictions. Consequently, the question of how to engender qualitative societal change beyond those contradictions is the most formidable practical challenge of the modern age, and inspired both reformist and revolutionary movements and political parties since the early nineteenth century. Identifying the necessary preconditions for engendering qualitative change, on the other hand, is the most daunting theoretical task – a task that cannot be fulfilled as long as we subscribe to prevailing, and socially, politically, and culturally reinforced notions about the kind of change that is possible – and acceptable. Even a cursory review of the agendas for change put forth by most reformist and revolutionary movements and parties would reveal a built-in tendency to suppose a necessary link between prevailing assumptions about casual relations between order and change in the modern world – a supposition that is highly problematic.6 Indeed, determining how in modern society, underlying contradictions impact on the nature and specific form of a multiplicity of practices, institutions, and decision-making processes requires a level of intellectual discipline approaching mathematical rigor. Thus, the scope and depth of Marx’s critiques of alienation and political economy, which was not the result of his personal proclivities, but rooted in the nature of the problem at hand – a matter of ‘‘objective necessity.’’7 Though we might regard it as desirable to calculate the exact impact systemic contradictions have had on concrete forms of social life in modern society, those underlying contradictions are bound to have molded all sociologically relevant causal relations and forms of organization. Indeed, to contend that the specific configuration of modern society is a function of underlying contradictions, since the beginning of industrialization, is not to imply that we can ascertain how modern society would have evolved in the absence of those contradictions. Rather, as we reflect upon modern society, rather than abstracting from underlying contradictions, we must consider all aspects of modern society as a function of the latter, and ponder the nature of their manifold implications. As social scientists, we have a special



responsibility to be weary of demands that we discern social reality as human nature transposed to concrete forms of collective behavior and coexistence. The purpose of this chapter, then, is to provide a glimpse of the theoretical dimension of the task at hand, namely scrutinizing contradictions as the necessary precondition for engendering qualitative social change. Rather than trying to provide a ‘‘balanced’’ account, what follows is an endeavor to convey how the purported desirability of ‘‘balance’’ thwarts precisely the kind of unrelenting exactitude required to scrutinize the management of contradictions as the essence of modernity.

ALIENATION VERSUS ACTUALIZATION: SELF, CITIZENSHIP, AND CIVIL SOCIETY According to Marx’s theory, for the workers, the discrepancy between democratic values both espoused and violated should have been glaring enough to open up possibilities for collective practices that are qualitatively different from those at the core of bourgeois society.8 As a form of social organization, bourgeois society purports to be centered around the advancement of the pursuit of individual, ‘‘rational’’ self-interest while preventing what Adam Smith referred to as ‘‘the race of labourers,’’ from recognizing and realizing their individual and collective self-interest.9 Workers might have been willing and able to face the entwinement of the laws of motion in economies operating according to the capitalist mode of production with the early modern social structure, as a system of inequalities corresponding with a set of political ideologies and institutions concealing the actual workings of those laws. By contrast, the bourgeoisie was incapable of recognizing the degree to which it subscribed to the ideology it had devised to protect its own interests, against those of the working class, and against ‘‘the general interest of society’’ – as Adam Smith put it (ibid., p. 249).10 As the precursor of the modern upper and upper middle classes in western societies, the bourgeoisie refused to acknowledge the link between the laws of motion in what was to become capitalism, the corresponding system of structural inequalities, and the political ideologies and institutions protecting those inequalities. Consequently, the concrete condition of the proletariat rendered exceedingly unrealistic attempts by its members to interpret their situation in terms of ideologies both available and condoned in bourgeois society. Even the mode of political ideology endemic to bourgeois society should have been suspect. Yet, as Marx acknowledged, most workers became captive to

Does Alienation Have a Future?


bourgeois ideologies to a degree preventing the labor movement from conceiving of modes of collective action pointing beyond bourgeois conditions. Marx further pointed out that the realization of the principles of what would be a civil society was being prevented, categorically, by the need of the modern economic system for an exploitable working class – and for a class structure whose basic patterns collided with Enlightenment and humanistic principles.11 The tension in bourgeois society between a political order drawing legitimacy from its claim to advance the interests of all members of bourgeois society and an economic system that necessitates the context of a stable structure of class inequality was the source of alienation as a social force. Societies fraught with largely impenetrable inequalities, while maintaining a policy apparatus to combat a multiplicity of social problems – thus conceding the illegitimacy of structural inequalities – foster a type of social relations that condemns members of different social groups – according to race, class, gender, etc. – to view each other not as humans, but as representations of the attributes shared by all the members of a particular demographic reference group. In such societies, equal citizenship is reduced to a simulation that undermines the construction of meaningful life histories – unless there are mechanisms that channel individuals’ perceptions, values, convictions, and goals to facilitate the construction of life histories that are compatible with prevailing contradictions, and thus presumed to be meaningful. In capitalist societies, alienation is the most important such mechanism.12 The actualization of democratic values would require the active fostering of related democratic practices determining individuals’ life chances to a continuously increasing degree. At the very least, such practices would have to be supported by corresponding policies. The actualization of those practices would depend on a mode of production and distribution – and economic practices and economic organizations – conducive to democratic values.13 Instead, within the framework of bourgeois society, structural inequalities render unattainable the actual resolution of an array of social, political, and economic problems resulting from the prevalence of inherent contradictions molding the socially, politically, and economically unequal structure of society.14 A critical theory illuminating how bourgeois society fosters certain types of change while impeding others first must explain how, for this form of social organization to continue to exist, it must prevent the actualization of its underlying values. In terms of how the beneficiaries of bourgeois society see ‘‘their’’ societal formation, the norms and values that facilitate and regulate the increasingly equal distribution of individual life chances, alongside economic progress,



also determine the structure and functioning of institutions, in the interest of the former. Yet from the beginning of the modern age the tension between those norms and values, and inherent contradictions sustaining a web of social problems, began to engender an increasingly overwhelming sense of alienation: civil society is the ideology bourgeois society has of itself. After two centuries, the jury is still out on whether it is possible, within the framework of societies structured according to bourgeois principles, to engender opportunities and to devise tools that will penetrate the prevalence of social problems and the inequalities supporting them.15 Thus, the question of whether the concept of alienation has a future simultaneously must be answered on two levels. The first level relates to the continued relevance of alienation as a heuristic device, while the second level relates to ‘‘alienation’’ as a dimension of contemporary reality. According to the societal logic of modern, capitalist society identified by critics of alienation, we should assume that unless there has been a break in the basic patterns shaping the institutions and processes upon which the force field hovers that is the modern, capitalist world, the virulence of alienated social relations will continue to amplify. In terms of Marx’s theory of alienation, in the absence of a radical, qualitative break in the constitution of western societies that would render the use of the concept ineffectual, we have to presume that the concept continues to apply. Indeed, alienation would have to apply ever more absolutely. In the absence of such a break, it is exceedingly difficult for any aspect of today’s reality to resist the reach of alienation. The manner in which alienated conditions mediate our ability to identify their gravitational force engenders a process whereby the less we are able, and willing, to detect alienation, the more powerful we should assume it is becoming. For present purposes, then, alienation refers to the mechanism that allows for incremental steps toward but prevents the actualization of values relating to ‘‘civil society’’ and democracy – liberty, equality, and solidarity.16 Furthermore, steps toward the actualization of those values (‘‘progress’’) appear to be accompanied by trends that nullify the achievements positive steps constitute, or turn them into their opposite (‘‘regress’’).17

ALIENATION AND THE INCEPTION OF SOCIAL THEORY Initially, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, the individual was the site where alienation manifested itself; the individual experienced

Does Alienation Have a Future?


and expressed it in a variety of ways. The modern roots of alienation developed with early industrialization, its impact on individuals’ lives, and the nature of emerging bourgeois social relations. Alienation described a concrete experience, not an abstract concept. After the initial experience of industrialization, as alienation became part of the ‘‘program’’ of bourgeois society, dialectical philosophers – and later on, theorists working in the dialectical tradition – began to advocate the importance of the concept. However, whether and how the specificity of alienation was considered, differed between countries and traditions of thought.18 It is symptomatic for the affinity between economics, language, and culture that alienation as a social-philosophical and theoretically rigorous concept was not introduced in England, where industrialization occurred first, but in Germany, where the process of industrialization set in later, occurred more slowly and more painfully, and was less compatible with established practices and prevailing values and norms. Before industrialization and the nation-state, dialectical philosophers and romantic writers introduced the concept, Entfremdung, into the catalogue of modern terms. The primary source of Hegel’s dialectics, for instance, was his insight to the extent that it is possible to identify an underlying logic and trajectory of historical change, it results from the working out of contradictions at the root of the human condition. The dilemma Hegel was trying to make explicit, philosophically, was that most inhabitants of the early modern world were not able to discern the much more pronounced tensions inherent in bourgeois society, except through its mystifying manifestations in politics, culture, society – most especially in the form of religion. Thus, emerged the possibility of, and need for, modern dialectical thinking as the means par excellence to confront seemingly mutually exclusive, yet endemic features of early modern, bourgeois society. Evidently, linguistic differences sensitized some cultures to the experience and acknowledgment of alienation, while in other cultures it remained submerged and concealed, and culture in its totality may have been, or turned into, an instrument of alienation, undermining values and practices pointing beyond the perimeter of alienated social relations. The central guiding question Marx (as Hegel’s most important heir, regarding the sociological relevance of the dialectical ‘‘method’’) addressed in all of his theoretical inquiries related to the tension expressed in the relationship between economically grounded contradictions inherent in bourgeois society and their primary expression – the alienation between ‘‘individual and society.’’ His guiding theoretical question, which allows for a variety of formulations depending on the desired emphasis, related to the



need to grasp the specific nature of the contradictions of bourgeois society in order to conceive of possibilities to overcome alienation as the relational medium that both highlights the need for and thwarts the realization of the promise of the modern age. To construct a theoretical framework for rigorously confronting his guiding question, Marx had to resolve a set of prior, corresponding, challenges, especially – identifying the roots of alienation in bourgeois society; – circumscribing the nature of its impact in and on this society; – delineating the perimeter required for critically analyzing the socially formative power of alienation; – ensuring that the analysis itself was immune against assimilation to patterns of alienation; and – tracing its evolution alongside societal change. The result – Marx’s work on the whole – represents the first genuine endeavor to lay out a social theory of the modern age.19 The experience of alienation thus was central to the emergence of classical social theory in Europe. Since then the development of social theory accompanied continuous transpositions of alienation to ever higher levels of mediation reshaping cultural, social, political, economic, legal, and educational processes and institutions (see Dahms, 1998).20 Assuming that there is merit to Marx’s manner of framing the pursuit of his guiding theoretical concern, it is not possible to conceive of the beginning of social theory, and of sociology as a social science, independently of alienation – whether and how individuals experienced it, how society at all levels of social integration assimilated it, and how alienation became a key dimension of social life, permeating every aspect of social, political, and cultural reality – as it emanated from an economic process that became more and more central to the possibility and continuation of modern society. From the start, alienation was as a sociological category. Yet before the rise of sociology, in the absence of sociological means to capture related phenomena, philosophy provided the next best alternative and tools to scrutinize alienated conditions. Yet alienation also molded the means to analyze its very manifestations – the emerging social sciences were a reaction to the experience of alienation, became possible only in response to alienation, and were a product of alienation as their emergence was mediated by the increasing omnipresence of alienation. The transformation of personal experience, and the subsequent internalization of the consequences resulting from the transformation, is the key to unlocking the secret of the modern age – social life at the same time assimilates to alienation and assimilates

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alienation, becoming more alienated as it redefines alienation as normalcy – the pattern of interpreting as unexceptional what is most exceptional about the modern condition.

ALIENATION AND THE DIVERSITY OF SOCIAL THEORIES It is consistent with Marx’s perspective on the nexus between alienation and the modern configuration that the specific manner in which successive generations of social theorists reflected, and reflected on, alienation, differed greatly. In fact, less variation among attempts of social theorists to grapple with the modern condition would have rendered Marx’s critical theory of alienation less compelling. Marx’s immanent critiques of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right and Smith’s Wealth of Nations most importantly illustrate this point. Without a determined, uncompromising effort to grasp how diverse theories identify more or less crucial aspects of the same reality, it would be impossible to understand the specificity of the modern condition. After all, Marx’s main point about the centrality of his critique of alienation, qua the critique of political economy, was not that their importance derived from their facilitating an understanding of bourgeois society in its complexity. Instead, categorically, neglecting the centrality of either alienation or political economy in social analyses would render impossible an adequate understanding of the entwinement of bourgeois society with underlying contradictions. Indeed, the main characteristic of the modern condition may derive from the fact that anything less than such an effort – requiring a sustained commitment of intellectual energy and of time – is bound to fail. If we were to transpose Marx’s parallel approach to Hegel and Smith, to the present, taking into consideration the spectrum of social theories developed to date, as they home in on diverse features of the modern world, along a broad spectrum of phenomena and dimensions of social life, the challenge and sophistication required to explicate how ‘‘a wilderness of mirrors’’ (see Hazelrigg, 1989a, 1989b) represents and identifies aspects of the same reality are far greater. If, furthermore, we were to examine if and how specific theories considered alienation (or any of its later incarnations, such as reification and instrumental reason – in Luka`cs ([1923] 1971) and Horkheimer and Adorno ([1947] 2002), respectively – we might be in the position to conceive of a reference frame enabling us to begin to establish a hierarchy of theories in terms of how they acknowledge the prevalence,



nature, and consequences of contradictions in modernity, by default or intent, to differing degrees and in a variety of ways. With alienation reconfiguring every aspect of social life, opportunities proliferate to interpret modern societies through the lens of one or several particular aspects of their totality, at the expense of all others – engendering representations of reality that tend to be highly fragmented and which seem mutually exclusive. The claim that social theorists must respect the autonomy of the social, political, and cultural phenomena observed, rather than ‘‘violating’’ (Sayer, 1989) their autonomy by superimposing an abstract theoretical reference frame that attributes meaning to features of social life for which it is not possible to provide ‘‘scientific’’ proof, also confirms Marx’s claim about the centrality of alienation to the modern condition, as it is symptomatic of the desire to interpret alienated conditions as ‘‘natural’’ (see especially Popper, 1959; also Adorno et al., [1969] 1976). Ironically, at bottom, alienation is one of the many consequences of the capitalist mode of production imposing an abstract framework on social life. Consequently, the directive against superimposing a theoretical framework would be justified if social, political, and cultural life would not be molded by the capitalist mode of production and mediated by alienation. But since, according to Marx’s theory and subsequent analyses, alienation will continue to prevail, the cautionary directive against ‘‘violent’’ theoretical frameworks, and against its own intentions, is likely to obscure, indeed to conceal and solidify the prevalence of alienation. The assertion that we should respect the autonomy of phenomena that are relevant for and to social analysis, thus, is precisely the problematic assumption Marx set out to contest with his critique of alienation. Scrutinizing alienated conditions – conditions that are a function of alienation, in the sense that their ‘‘essence’’ might be distorted by society accommodating the fallout of the capitalist mode of production in operation – necessitates a perspective on social ‘‘reality’’ that presupposes a discrepancy between the appearance of the causalities constituting social life and the actuality of underlying causal relations. Discerning the specificity of underlying causal relations is possible only if we concede that alienation as a societal force impacts on social practices and modes of organization, and on our ability to expose practices and forms of organization to rigorous criticism. The constitutive principle of social and political order and stability in bourgeois society is contingent on the facility of modern social structures to maintain and protect interconnected inequalities that are supported by a web of specifically tailored, interrelated networks of institutions – concealing how

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inequalities are not ancillary but integral to the bourgeois social order. It is key to the survival of the bourgeois social and political order that institutions impair the ability of both individual and collective actors to make and implement decisions directed toward engendering ways of ‘‘doing things’’ in ways that transgress the boundaries of established practices and modes of organization. The maintenance of those practices and modes of organization is the precondition for the continuation of the patterning power of interconnected yet different inequalities. Evidently, it also is consistent with Marx’s critique of alienation that those institutions that acquire the ability to prevent actors from recognizing the confines institutions impose on actors’ capacity to grasp the nature of their situation and on their power to act will be most secure. Marx’s theoretical agenda was directed against perspectives on the nexus between economics, politics, society, and history that were burgeoning during the first half of the nineteenth century, and which suggested the impending nascence of an understanding of social science circumnavigating theoretical and methodological dilemmas associated with the distinction between appearance and essence. Concurrently, developments in theoretical sociology by and large have gone in two directions since the nineteenth century.

ALIENATION AS THE CORE OF BOURGEOIS SOCIETY: CRITICAL APPROACHES For present purposes, the first tradition of social analysis started out from, and tried to explain, the intensifying feeling among and between individuals and social groups during the early nineteenth century that the costs of progress might exceed its apparent, economically conspicuous benefits. As it drew on the modern dialectical tradition initiated by Hegel, Marx’s critique of modern capitalism, in particular, started out from the observation that alienation shapes social relations in bourgeois society in a manner elusive to the inhabitants of the bourgeois world, as there is no generally accepted basis for viewing prevailing patterns of social life as anything but ‘‘natural.’’ Those concerned with identifying the defining features and trends of lateeighteenth and early-nineteenth-century societies in Western Europe and North America, he argued, must be willing to make determined efforts to overcome, or circumvent, the same predicament, as the relationship between



individual and nature was revealed to be a function of the relationship between individual and society. The critical tradition evolved directly and explicitly from the experience of alienation, whose acknowledgment provided a means to name the ‘‘downside’’ of bourgeois society as integral to the modern condition. Alienated social relations thus appeared as the necessary correlate to the narrowly defined efficiency of a ‘‘self-regulating market economy’’ – requiring a myriad of interconnected, yet distinct, social and economic inequalities, and the similarly defined effectiveness of the administrative nation-state responsible for managing those inequalities. As Adam Smith ([1789] 1937) had emphasized, the prosperity of nations is impossible without structural inequalities. Transposed to the level of Marx’s theory, Smith’s concession implied that the wealth of nations is not possible without alienated social relations. In terms of its underlying economic logic, as the constitutive principle of modern bourgeois social structure, it is not only possible for the wealth produced in market-based economies and market-centered societies to be distributed equitably. More importantly, in capitalist societies it is not possible for a nation’s wealth to be distributed to benefit all major social, political, racial, ethnic, and economic groups, over extended periods of time. As the 1950s and the 1960s revealed, periods when ‘‘a rising tide lifts all boats’’ are compatible with the logic and the principle of the system of modern social inequalities – especially when the survival is contingent on a period of time allowing all boats to rise (see Danziger & Gottschalk, 1993, 1995). But for the wealth of nations to continue to expand, according to market-based principles, which in turn further the capitalist mode of production, wealth must be distributed to solidify existing structures of inequalities. To date, from the early 1950s to the late 1960s has remained the sole time period when all major social groups in several western societies experienced improvements, a window of opportunity whose occurrence has remained exceptional. Under ‘‘normal’’ circumstances, inequality patterns the distribution of wealth to reinforce the existing inequalities, and to reconstitute alienated social relations (see also Beck, [1986] 1992, pp. 91–102).21 Alienated social relations also tend to invert what appears to be the continuous expansion of ‘‘liberty.’’ As the emphasis on individual liberty keeps undermining the possibility of collective action geared toward socially rational objectives, it amplifies alienated social relations, thus hollowing out even further the meaning and possibility of individual liberty. The alternative – practically inconceivable to most, at this point in time – collective liberty, would denote the liberty of social groups (including, in

Does Alienation Have a Future?


principle, the nation-state) to make choices and decisions beyond the link between scarce resources and basic needs, at the societal level.22 The tradition that focuses most sharply on the manner in which alienation molds conditions in industrialized society while undermining the critical analysis of those conditions – the critical theory of the Frankfurt School – combined Marx’s critique of alienation with elements of Freud’s psychoanalysis, Weber’s theory of bureaucracy and rationalization, and Luka`cs’s critique of reification and false consciousness. The work of the critical theorists, who regarded culturally oriented criticism as central to any attempt to contemplate the possibility of qualitative social transformation, developed further the category of alienation as central to the modern condition – to illuminate precisely those contradictory and paradoxical features of culture, politics, and society that noncritical traditions implicitly presume.23

ANALYZING ALIENATION WITHOUT ALIENATION: TRADITIONAL APPROACHES Well into the twentieth century, the view of modern culture fraught with alienation remained alien to mainstream sociology and social theory. While the concept made regular appearances in the sociological literature, it did so in a manner that deprived related analyses of their intended, critical edge.24 The second tradition of social theorizing – or rather, set of traditions – included structural functionalism, symbolic interactionism, pragmatism, and approaches to ethnography. For analytical purposes, in terms of how research agendas are constructed, these traditions share a propensity to presume a synchronicity between – albeit not the identity – surface appearance and underlying social forces and patterns. Social scientists working in any of these traditions are likely to start out from the assumption that sociologically relevant phenomena should and can be explained in their own right, on their own terms, and within their own dimension. Even if these phenomena are manifestations of forces and developments that originate in dimensions of societal organization, process, and complexity other than their own – which may not be directly accessible and observable – the challenge is to organize phenomena in a manner that makes it possible to construct sociology as a social science, by ensuring that the level of complexity involved remains manageable. The overriding concern in mainstream sociology is to define legitimate scientific endeavor as producing a reference frame that is grounded methodologically, theoretically,



or substantively to compel most sociologists to work toward a common goal: the continuous accumulation of knowledge to mirror ever more perfectly the complexity of societal conditions. Only when this process of accumulation will approach completion will sociology enter a stage of knowledge that ought to allow social scientists to propose strategies for solving the multiplicity of social problems that, for now, keep even the most advanced societies in a state of ‘‘dynamic immobilism’’ (see Lessenich, 1997). Thus, the proliferation in sociology of approaches proposing venues for ‘‘solving’’ the fragmentation and diversity inherent in sociology as a social science – by placing at the core of the discipline a specific method, theory, or issue that seems to be central to all sociological concerns, and from which it appears to be possible to extrapolate in a multiplicity of directions, so as to apply to an array of challenges – keeps accelerating. Yet none of these approaches has brought sociologists any closer to enabling modern societies to effectively solve key social problems. Instead, the effectiveness of strategies to manage rather than to begin to solve social problems keeps escalating, as groups and institutions benefitting from the prevalence of specific social problems continue to refine schemes to fortify the prevalence of social problems – often with the help of professional social scientists. It is not within the purview of traditional approaches to contemplate that the objective of constructing a reference frame for sociology that unifies without being exclusionary, in relation to the observable forces that shape the specificity of concrete social formations and practices, may be contrary to the very nature of ‘‘the social.’’ For instance, to analyze intergroup relations, it should not be necessary to expand the sphere of inquiry to include changes in the nature and the logic of economic processes. Instead, to qualify as ‘‘scientific,’’ sociologically pertinent analyses of intergroup relations would have to abstract from the impact economic transformations might have on those relations, to discern their inherent nature. Paradoxically, however, it is in the very specific nature of modern societies that it is not possible to discern the nature of any aspect, or dimension, of social life, independently of its ‘‘embeddedness’’ in, and connectedness to, the multiplicity of social, political, economic, and cultural phenomena. With an eye toward causality relationships between certain aspects of societal life, it is justifiable to presume that specific features of distinct dimensions of social life – identified in the form of variables – causally impact on other variables. Yet to truly do justice to the nature of societal interrelations, and the socially constituted nature of every aspect of social life, we must start out from the assumption that it would only be possible to examine each distinct and specific variable of social life, as a representation of the complex and contradictory nature of modern societal

Does Alienation Have a Future?


conditions as a whole. As long as we are not able, and willing, to meet this challenge, sociological research will remain preliminary. For social-scientific purposes, the sense of alienation expressed by many inhabitants of the modern world, then, in the context of traditionalist approaches, was not understood as revealing problematic features of the modern world to be remedied socially, but as deficiencies on the part of individuals that he or she must be helped, or compelled, to overcome, as an individual – even though he or she may not be regarded as ‘‘responsible’’ for the deficiency. What in the first tradition appears as alienation, in the second tradition tends to be viewed as the individual’s failure to adjust. During the twentieth century, the mainstream social sciences emerged to emphasize those patterns of cultural, social, political, and economic life that can be analyzed without reference to dimensions of social organization and process that remain invisible without research approaches specifically designed to illuminate their features. Moreover, these patterns were presumed to reveal the most important aspects of human nature that, in turn, culminate in aggregate form to shape institutions and processes in different areas of societal life. The notion that something could be ‘‘wrong with the world,’’ thus, was viewed as the result of a categorical misunderstanding. Approaches in this second set of traditions concede that modern societies are organized around different centers of power, and that power impacts on how people ‘‘do things’’ – a figure of speech that is a revealing contradiction in terms, as it makes explicit the reifying nature of practice, and practices, today. However, the notion that systems of power reconstituting themselves over extended periods of time, often in competition with each other, could qualitatively transform how we ‘‘do things’’ – that is, engage in practices, construct and maintain institutions, design policies, foster modes of coexistence, and above all conceptualize the nature of social relations – is alien to this tradition of theorizing and analyzing social, political, economic, and cultural life. Concordantly, there is no room for considering the possibility that modern forms of social life might be manifestations of alienation, mediated over and over.

HOW SOCIOLOGY IS IMPOSSIBLE WITHOUT CRITICAL THEORY The concern that in the modern world, systems of power – increasingly seen and experienced as ‘‘quasi-natural’’ (see Postone, 1993; Hazelrigg, 1995) – may



shape practices, processes, and institutions, by transforming the nature and quality of cultural life, inspired critiques of social life as constituted through alienation. While the first critical tradition regarded the consequences of alienation – what has been called ‘‘systemic pathologies’’ – as the necessary and indispensable starting point for analyzing modern culture, approaches that belong to the second tradition tend to constitute determined efforts to interpret what the first tradition regards as pathologies, as revealing the standard, and nonproblematic pattern of modern culture. With the critique of alienation being the point of departure for proponents of the first tradition, it would not be possible to identify the forces that shape the specificity of concrete social formations and practices, without constructing a specifically designed theoretical framework to determine if and how they remain inaccessible without such a framework. The defining question, thus, above all relates to the need for a framework to scrutinize its own presuppositions about the nature of sociological research, especially when those presuppositions may conceal the underlying causal relationships between sociologically relevant phenomena and the forces that shape them. It is not surprising, therefore, that social scientists working in the traditional mold keep asking – or rather, questioning – whether ‘‘alienation’’ continues to be a relevant concept. Those who contest the viability of the concept assert that developments during the twentieth century have moved matters, social, political, economical, and especially cultural, well beyond the circumstances that would necessitate reliance on this early-nineteenthcentury philosophical concept. Conditions in modern western, democratic societies evidently have improved, thus the assertion, and there is no longer a need for us to refine alienation as a key component of the theory of modern society. Yet the kind of wealth creation that followed World War II may not have been possible without social, political, economical, and cultural conditions providing evidence for ‘‘overall improvements.’’ On the other hand, postmodernist critics of progressive modernism have been contending that the notion that life in society beyond alienation is possible is a misnomer, as it results from a profound misconception of ‘‘the social.’’ As soon as we enter into social relations, we implicitly agree to comply with and consent to modes of alienation. However, while ‘‘alienation’’ in the latter sense – presupposing the synonymity of alienation and society (as opposed to community – see Pappenheim, 1959) – promises to be a compelling starting point for germinal social analyses, it collapses alienation since the rise of bourgeois society and the capitalist mode of production into a much broader concept. By refraining from opportunities

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to identify the specificity of alienation endemic to the modern form of social life, postmodern critics run the risk of solidifying both alienation in general and present-day alienation in particular.25 Modern society and social relations increasingly became a function of the origins of alienation. As alienation became prevalent, it also became submerged, and less accessible and visible. In the social sciences, many specific tools developed and employed can be explained well in terms of the increasing prevalence of alienation, the effort to foster enlightenment while advancing unenlightenment, and the development of the social sciences as progressive concealment of alienation. Thus, those approaches that do consider alienation have not only been marginal to the disciplines, they have become more so as time went by. Economics, political science, and sociology – the mainstream of each of the social sciences – continue to become more narrow, formal, and quantitative, as riverbeds are being turned into canals. Alienation seems to become less important both as a concept and as a dimension of contemporary reality to be theorized. To employ the language of deconstructionism, the issue of alienation is the nature of the relationship between signifier and signified: is it possible to determine what exactly the concept of alienation denotes in today’s world, since with regard to alienation, signifier and signified are more closely entwined than in most other instances? In fact, the entwinement of signifier and signified is most pronounced with regard to alienation because the distinction between signifier and signified, when applied without explicit reference to alienation, itself is a manifestation of the degree of alienation reached in recent decades. Accordingly, the distinction of signifier and signified emanates from, and represents, alienated conditions – though, in most instances, their referent remains implicit. In part, the problem is that as the alienation of social relations keeps intensifying, the gap between appearance and reality continues to widen, while the signifier – alienation – appears to become more abstract, and opportunities to name it as socially relevant continue to erode. As alienation is becoming more concrete, social, political, economic, and cultural conditions reconstitute themselves through the medium of alienation to an ever-increasing extent. Yet as the concept appears to become more abstract, the reality it denotes is becoming far more concrete. In Marx, the concept of alienation served to make explicit features of social life that remained concealed from and inaccessible to scrutiny, in the absence of the kind of questions and sensitivities alienation ought to engender – thus the need for social theory and its tools, to facilitate an on-going process of theorizing the social to begin with.



Critical theory is inspired by the proposition that every individual discipline and tradition is flawed on account of its being an individual discipline or tradition. Consequently, any approach designed to facilitate understanding a particular aspect of social life is bound to violate the object of inquiry, due to the fragmentary nature of the perspective applied, the research questions pursued, and the insights desired. The most distinguishing feature of the radically modernist critical theory of the Frankfurt School, from Horkheimer to Habermas, is the starting proposition that combinations of different research disciplines and theoretical traditions are a necessary precondition for approaching an adequate understanding of the nature of social life in its myriad manifestations, and for offering opportunities to overcome the built-in fragmentation of singular agendas and concerns. Perhaps more importantly, combinations of disciplines and traditions in turn promise to heighten the quality and amplify the analytical and explanatory power of each discipline and tradition included in the process. Critical theory presupposes that there is a direct link between the quality of social research and the categories employed, the willingness to cut through ideological representations of reality, and the possibility of social transformations. Yet the effort required to make explicit this link exceeds the prevailing practice of social research, as it is contingent on the willingness of social researchers and theorists to admit that who and what we are, is tied directly into the patterns and contradictions characteristic of social conditions today. If we want to ‘‘change’’ our world, we also must be willing to change ourselves as representations of, and in relation to, our world – at a level of identity construction that reaches much deeper than the kind of change suggested by most twentieth-century theories (see especially Moran, 2001). Key to grasping Marx’s inception of critical theory is appreciation of how the combination of elements of Adam Smith’s political economy and Hegel’s philosophy was the basis for his appropriation of followers of Smith and Hegel. Similarly, it is not possible to understand Luka`cs’s theory of the revolutionary proletariat independently of his integration of Marx’s critiques of political economy and bourgeois ideology, with Weber’s theory of rationalization and bureaucratization. Horkheimer and Adorno would not have been able to explicate that there were features common to National Socialism, Stalinism, and the ‘‘culture industry,’’ without incorporating Freud’s psychoanalysis into Luka`cs’s combination of Marx and Weber. In Habermas’s theory of communicative action, finally, the motive that the integration of different disciplines and traditions is bound to enhance the quality of the insights gained becomes explicit, and is framed as a major

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paradigm shift, within the theory of action as the theoretical basis of sociology. The motive that integration is both a necessary precondition for confronting the increasing complexity of forms of societal life in advanced western societies, and how it enhances the quality of each individual approach, led Habermas to include an array of theories in sociology, philosophy, and psychology, including the earlier combinations of Marx and Weber (Luka`cs and Horkheimer and Adorno), Durkheim, Mead, Parsons, Piaget, Schutz, and Kohlberg. Notably, though, Habermas neither included political economy (in the sense of more recent developments in political economy, neoclassical economic theory, or the critique of political economy) nor psychoanalysis in his synthesis.26 In retrospect, the omission of recent developments in the analysis of political economy and psychoanalysis is paradoxical in several regards. Among the most striking features of the world in the early twenty-first century are the peculiar (yet conspicuous) links between – globalization as a multifarious process driven by narrowly defined economic considerations (increasingly represented by transnational organizations),27 – the many different ways in which this process impacts on people’s lives everywhere, – the growing difficulties of those same people to reconcile its impact on their lives with its purported benefits, and finally, – the dissipating ability to individuals, including most social scientists, to verbalize the contradictory nature of the process. Without the systematic inclusion of political economy and psychoanalysis, transposed onto the level of sociological theory, it would not be possible to discern openings for redefining the relationship between individual and globalization – nor to draw attention to the possibility of pointing out that such openings should, or do, exist. Presumably, there is a link between the growing power of economic definitions of reality over people’s lives – collectively and individually – and the rejection of approaches that are inspired by psychoanalysis, in the interest of ascertaining the impact this power has on the construction of individual and collective identities. Indeed, in order for the former to expand, it is necessary that the achievement psychoanalysis represents – as a step toward scrutinizing the link between the problematic nature of material conditions and their impact on concrete mental and emotional states – be denied ever more strongly. It is especially paradoxical, then, that the paradigm shift Habermas has been advocating, away from the ‘‘philosophy



of consciousness,’’ toward communicative action and discourse, neglects the two dimensions of social life today that, arguably, are most crucial for a critical-theoretical perspective on impediments to, and possibilities for, qualitative social change. Consequently, Habermas implicitly subscribes to liberal theory as put forth by Adam Smith to a greater degree than we should consider compatible with critical theory. As stated earlier, Smith’s main contribution was the introduction of the market as a mechanism that makes it possible in bourgeois society to delegate the responsibility for collective decisionmaking about economic priorities and necessities, to the economic process itself, on the conviction that the latter performs best if the political system fulfills functions that allow the ‘‘free market’’ to be left to its own devices. Ironically, in Habermas, communicative action is introduced as a social mechanism that is analogous to the market mechanism as an economic mechanism. Communicative action and the linguistic turn make explicit and rely on the potential for reason embedded within everyday interactions. Habermas contends that communicative action constitutes a mechanism for regulating collective decision-making processes in politics, economics, and society that transcends the problematic features of the subject-oriented philosophy of consciousness. Communicative action facilitates reason without having to rely on individuals’ ability to think rationally about how to begin to solve a multiplicity of problems. Intersubjectivity that is not constrained by economic and political imperatives should provide for the release of reason whose attainment, according to the philosophy of consciousness, was supposed to have been the achievement of the individual subject. Yet, the question remains: how can we rely on reason as it is embedded in our everyday interactions, and how can the force of the better argument ‘‘win out’’ – if it is the everyday interactions that facilitate the proliferation of alienation, and its subsequent assimilation at all levels of social organization? If concrete practices of everyday intersubjectivity are the buffer that renders ‘‘humane’’ the consequences of the capitalist mode of production, then the claim that a different practice of intersubjectivity is required must be made far more forcefully. If communicative action and reason are to become social forces that will transcend instrumental action and reason, the suggestion that the philosophy of consciousness is an anachronism may engender precisely the kind of compliance with prevailing views about social, political, and economic reality today that undermines the subject’s ability to resist the overall trend, whether we frame it in terms of globalization, or of corporate imperialism. Yet there cannot be any notion of communicative reason transcending instrumental rationality,

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independently of individuals who, as subjects, are certain that the actualization of what the liberal tradition framed in terms of ‘‘human nature,’’ and what Marx referred to as ‘‘species being,’’ requires a conception of self that points beyond alienated conditions. The direction in recent decades of the tradition that, more than half a century ago, set out to scrutinize without compromise the degree to which the features endemic to the modern world are expressions of mediated alienation – the critical theory of the Frankfurt School – in its current incarnation and against its own intent appears to confirm the contention of its earlier proponents, that is, alienation is omnipresent. The current mode – and predominant paradigms – of critical theorizing in the Frankfurt School tradition, as represented by Habermas’s theory of communicative action ([1981] 1984; 1987), and more recently by Honneth’s critique of recognition relations (1996), appears to constitute accommodations with alienated conditions as the concept of alienation no longer is central to their frameworks.28 Yet acknowledging the extent of this accommodation is the necessary precondition for addressing how alienation continues to be an indispensable category for considering what conditions will have to be fulfilled, for the actualization of qualitative societal change to remain, be, or become possible.

NOTES 1. See the section on ‘‘Bourgeois and Proletarians’’ in the Manifesto of the Communist Party (Marx & Engels, [1848] 1978, especially pp. 473–478). 2. For an instructive treatment of the problematic nature of the pursuit of ‘‘happiness’’ as a guidepost for how to live life today, see Lane (2000). 3. On the issue of social mechanisms, see especially Peter Hedstro¨m and Richard Swedberg (1998), who define a ‘‘social mechanism [as] an integral part of an explanation which (1) adheres to the four core principles [of action, precision, abstraction, and reduction], and (2) is that such that on the occurrence of the cause or input, I, it generates the effect not outcome, O’’ (p. 25). It is not clear, though, whether Smith meant to suggest that the ‘‘free’’ market mechanism will remain superior to collective decision-making processes once government secures its continuous functioning – or whether, once the market mechanism ‘‘works,’’ its relationship to collective decision-making may change, without necessarily violating the principle of the free market. The problem with grounding free-market capitalism as an absolute is that it precludes possibilities to conceive of collective decisionmaking becoming superior to the market mechanism – along with modes to contemplate an array of related issues and questions – at some point in the future. 4. The issue is not that earlier generations related more realistically to their societal circumstances; ‘‘realism’’ and ‘‘enlightenment’’ were prerogatives of the most



educated only. Yet there is an inherent unreality to modernity, in the form of assumptions that it is possible without effort to relate to our reality more realistically, and that compares to our forebears, it is our natural condition to be ‘‘enlightened.’’ See especially Saul (1995). 5. As Susan Buck-Morss (2000) has shown, developments during the twentieth century provide ample evidence that the reach of bourgeois contradictions goes beyond western societies to include – and delimit opportunities for qualitative social change in – ‘‘actually existing socialist societies.’’ 6. To my knowledge, Moishe Postone’s (1993) critique of ‘‘traditional Marxism,’’ that is, part of his reinterpretation of Marx as the first critical theorist is the most rigorous and related argument. 7. On the notion of ‘‘objective necessity,’’ as discussed by Max Weber as well as Georg Luka`cs, see Dahms (1997). 8. See especially Marx’s critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right ([1843/44] 1978). 9. In The Wealth of Nations ([1789] 1937), Adam Smith presented his synoptic theory of class – the ‘‘three original orders of society’’ (pp. 248–250). Identifying the nature of the relationship between the ‘‘general interest of the society’’ and the interest of the three orders – ‘‘those who live by rent, y those who live by wages, and y those who live by profit’’ (p. 249). About the workers, he writes that ‘‘[t]he interest of y those who live by wages, is as strictly connected with the general interest of the society as that of [those who live by rent]. The wages of the labourer y are never so high as when the demand for labour is continually rising, or when the quantity employed is every year increasing considerably. When this real wealth of the society becomes stationary, his wages are soon reduced to what is barely enough to enable him to bring up a family, or to continue the race of labourers (sic!). y But though the interest of the labourer is strictly connected with that of the society, he is incapable either of comprehending that interest, or of understanding its connexion with his own. His condition leaves him no time to receive the necessary information, and his education and habits are commonly such as to render him unfit to judge even though he was fully informed. In the public deliberations, therefore, his voice is little heard and less regarded, except upon some particular occasions, when his clamour is animated, set on, and supported by his employers, not for his, but their own particular purposes’’ (p. 249). 10. See also the following passage: ‘‘The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from [those who live by profit], ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it’’ (ibid.). 11. On the link between alienation and exploitation, see Pappenheim ([1964] 2000, 1959). 12. It is consistent with the perspective I am advocating that while alienation is the most relevant mechanism, in and for the mainstream social sciences, it also has been perceived to be the least pertinent category for purposes of social research. As Gudmund Hernes (1998, p. 78) put it, ‘‘A mechanism is an intellectual construct that

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is part of a phantom world which may mimic real life with abstract actors that impersonate humans and cast them in conceptual conditions that emulate actual circumstances. y [T]his imagined world y is a conceptual copy that enables us to understand the real world. Reality presents itself to us, but we have to represent it in order to make sense of it. y This artificial, manmade (sic!) world of mechanisms is real–real virtuality.’’ 13. On this issue, see especially Dahl (1985). 14. I use ‘‘structural’’ in the sense that within the existing framework, it is neither possible to eliminate inequalities nor to ‘‘resolve’’ related social problems. On the other hand, ‘‘bourgeois’’ societies appear to be able to solve problems if (and as far as) they constitute potential threats to social and political stability, the exploitation of natural resources, technical and technological progress, and organizational changes geared toward increasing the efficiency of economic enterprises, especially as far as what used to be called ‘‘industrial relations’’ are concerned – relations between employers and employees. 15. On the highly problematic origins and nature of the civil society concept, see Wood (1995), especially pp. 238–263, Wood and Wood (1997), and Wood (1999). 16. For a powerful critique of the currency of ‘‘civil society’’ today, see Keane (1998, 2003). 17. There appears to be a trend for policies that bring about changes that approximate the stated goals the policy designers had in mind, to produce countermoves by the policy’s opponents that may go far enough to make it more difficult to advocate a certain policy, or progressive policies in general, today than at their time of inception. In the United States, the history of affirmative action appears to be a case in point. While we might prefer to regard such back and forth as the everyday practice of democratic politics, in Dialectic of Enlightenment (Horkheimer & Adorno [1947] 2002), Horkheimer and Adorno suggested that it is more likely to reveal the pattern of societal transformation in the modern age. 18. When italicized, alienation refers to the philosophical, theoretical, or sociological concept. Without italics, ‘‘alienation’’ refers to the actuality of related conditions and phenomena in modern bourgeois society. For an in-depth discussion of Marx’s concept of alienation, see Me´sza´ros (1970). 19. It is for this reason that today Marx commonly is regarded, and introduced in theory courses, as the first social theorist. It was not until the late 1960s, however, that Marx’s work came to be included in the canon of sociological theory – an eloquent reminder that the theorists who inspired the emergence of sociology as a social science – mostly Durkheim and Weber – did not provide frameworks designed to make explicit the contradictions inherent in modern societies, which are culminating under conditions of globalization. Their writings did, however, provide analyses that fleshed out Marx’s critique of alienation, in terms of ‘‘anomie’’ and the ‘‘Protestant ethic,’’ respectively. For an excellent overview of ‘‘alienation as a concept in the social sciences,’’ see Ludz (1973, 1975). On the affinity between alienation, anomie, and Protestant ethic (as opposed to the more general concepts commonly identified with Weber, in relation to alienation and anomie – ‘‘loss of meaning,’’ ‘‘disenchantment of the world’’ or ‘‘dehumanization’’) see Dahms (unpublished manuscript).



20. These transpositions have amplified and transformed alienation. In the related literature, they have been theorized in terms of commodity fetishism (Marx), reification (Luka`cs), instrumental reason (Horkheimer and Adorno), and functionalist reason (Habermas). 21. In a study on global inequality between 1820 and 1992, Bourguignon and Morrison (2002) have shown that between 1820 and 1950, inequality was on the rise, while after 1950, the pace of inequality rising slowed. Unfortunately, they did not examine developments after 1992; if they had, the evidence would have shown that since 1992, global inequality has experienced a resurgence, and on the rise since. For an analysis of inequality in the United States, see Perrucci and Wysong (2003). On the ideology of the ‘‘zero-sum society,’’ which has remained in place throughout, and despite, the vast economic expansion of the 1990s, see Thurow (1980). 22. Thus, Wellmer’s ([1969] 1971) characterization of the centrality of the concept of ‘‘totality’’ to critical theory, which explains the high degree of compatibility between critical theoretical analyses and environmentalist perspectives: ‘‘Critical theory lives by the anticipation of ‘total social subject’; only on the basis of this anticipation is it able to conceive the apparent forms of a social disorder or ‘unnatural essence’ of society; the validity of its findings is bound up with the efficacy of a liberating interest in cognition – in knowing.’’ (p. 135) On the idea of basic income as one example for such strategies, see Rifkin (1991); also Dahms (2005) – which includes references to key texts in the debate about basic income. 23. The experience of life in America was key to the development and direction of this theoretical tradition. See especially Claussen, Negt, and Werz (1999). It has become a cliche´ of sorts to introduce Frankfurt School critical theory as the moment of despair in the history of social theory – see, for example, the section, entitled ‘‘Despairing Critique: the Frankfurt School,’’ in Callinicos (1999, pp. 245–257). What may appear as despair to many critical theorists is the necessary first step. For an illustration of how inept ‘‘despair’’ is as a designation for the theoretical perspective of the Frankfurt School, see Claussen’s (2003) biography of Adorno. 24. See, for example, Shils (1961), who distinguished between three types of orientations to policy in sociology: ‘‘(1) the use of sociology as a part of the manipulative action performed by the powerful over those they control; (2) the use of sociology as criticism from the outside; (3) the use of sociology as part of the process of transformation of the relationship of authority and subject through the enhancement of self-understanding and of the sense of affinity. These three modes may be summarized as manipulation, alienation, and consensuality’’ (p. 1435). While Shils introduced the third type with appropriate nuance, the first two types resembled caricatures, though they warrant at least the same degree of nuance. Not surprisingly, a few pages later, he concluded that ‘‘[b]oth the manipulative and the alienated forms of sociological research, and theories associated with them, are afflicted by intellectual deformity. Neither is capable y of producing a coherent and comprehensive sociological theory. Neither can meet the requirements of a polity that respects human dignity and is, therefore, adequate to aspirations of universal validity. Consensual sociology is alone capable of satisfying the requirements of an adequate theory and of a proper relationship with policy’’ (p. 1440). Ironically, he characterized the tradition of critically theorizing alienation as ‘‘alienated,’’ while

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neglecting that critical theory scrutinizes traditions of theorizing that refuse to acknowledge the actuality of alienation in society, as most likely to be expressions of alienation. In a recent article on the utility of the concept of reification, Vandenberghe (2003) formulates a curiously similar argument about the Frankfurt School, writing that for the Frankfurt School theorists, ‘‘[r]eification is no longer conceived as a heuristic device, but as a metaphysical a priori. Whatever the Frankfurter (sic!) look at, gets reified. The possibility of emancipation is a priori excluded, refuted, included in the grand theoretical scheme of universal reification’’ (p. 311). Yet Vandenberghe’s interpretation fails to appreciate the issue most ‘‘critical’’ to critical theorists – that we will not be able to make transparent the omnipresent nature of alienation, without the willingness to apply what I referred to above as a level of intellectual discipline approaching mathematical rigor. Instead, his interpretation implies – probably without meaning to – that it will be possible to make visible the omnipresence of alienation, without overcoming our own selves as the a representation of alienation. On the issue of social policy under conditions of hyperalienation, see Dahms (2005). 25. It would be instructive to scrutinize the literature about postmodernism along the lines suggested. Timothy Bewes’(2002) work on reification represents one of the most promising starting points for such an analysis. 26. As Alan Ryan (2003) put it: ‘‘Habermas’s most radical thoughts about the connection between philosophical speculation and social emancipation came y in Knowledge and Human Interests. In that book he imagined a form of social inquiry whose object was neither the mastery of the world that the physical sciences sought nor the passive understanding sought by some forms of history, but freedom, or emancipation. One model for such an emancipatory science was obviously Freudian psychoanalysis and another was Marxism, suitably understood; but the implications for social science were hard to see, and Habermas never followed them us. Readers who thought Habermas had glimpsed something important but elusive have always been disappointed’’ (p. 44). For the most thorough scrutiny of the ‘‘absurdity of an essential split in world constitution between that which is constituted merely as material premise of experience, objects that simply exist, and that which is thought/ spoken about them,’’ in Habermas, see Hazelrigg (1989a, 1989b, pp. 410–449; here: p. 449). 27. For my perspective on globalization, see Dahms (2000, 2002, 2005); see also Antonio and Bonnanno (2000) for a focus to which my own is closely related. 28. See Morris (2001), who wrote, ‘‘Against Habermas y alienation and fetishism cannot be neatly isolated as the products of y an ‘economic sphere’ because the abstraction of the modern economy is itself part of the phenomena of alienation and fetishism. Likewise, the broader concept of reification does not simply designate an ‘effect’ or pathology of a social whole that turns back on itself in crisis, but rather designates a condition for the operation of that very same system that is said, on Habermas’ reading, itself to produce reification effects. Alienation and fetishism are aspects of the whole, not of its parts, of capitalist social production, not of any one moment of society that comes to dominate the others. This is why those such as Marx and Adorno refuse to see the fundamental distinction Habermas maintains between life-world and system’’ (p. 84f).



ACKNOWLEDGMENT I thank Lauren Langman for encouraging the completion of this chapter, Lawrence Hazelrigg for helpful comments, and Jason Eastman for reading and commenting on several drafts.


INTRODUCTION Any endeavor to circumscribe, with a certain degree of precision, the nature of the relationship between social science and critical theory would appear to be daunting. Over the course of the past century, and especially since the end of World War II, countless efforts have been made in economics, psychology, political science, and sociology, to illuminate the myriad manifestations of modern social life, from a multiplicity of angles. It is doubtful that it would be possible to do justice to all the different variants of social science, in an assessment of their relationship to critical theory. Moreover, given the proliferation of critical theories since the 1980s, the effort to devise a ‘‘map’’ that would reflect the particular orientations and intricacies of each approach to critical theory also would be exacting, in its own right.1 Yet the challenge of characterizing the relationship between social science and critical theory is greater still considering that all approaches to social science and critical theory emerged within specific historical circumstances, $

I presented aspects of this argument at the Philosophy and Social Science conference, Prague, Czech Republic, in May 2007; at the Sixth International Rethinking Marxism Conference, Amherst, MA, in October 2006; and at Florida State University, Tallahassee, Sociology Colloquium, in February 2002.




to which they were a response, and which they reflect, in different ways and to differing degrees. For this reason alone, it is not likely that it would be possible to identify the constellation of social science and critical theory once and for all, independent of ‘‘time and space’’ – that is, of sociohistorical context. In fact, careful examination of the nature of the constellation at a particular point in time and space ought to produce valuable insights about the societal circumstances that prevail in a concrete context.2 Yet, in the absence of ongoing efforts to focus on the link between social science practice and context at a certain level of sophistication, examining the link between social science and critical theory is not likely to be particularly revealing or conclusive. Moreover, most approaches to understanding social life are oriented toward research in a manner that transcends the limitations actually existing societies impose on our ability to do so. Explicit consideration of how concrete circumstances may be detrimental to the effectiveness and pertinence of social research is the rare exception, rather than the rule, and for the most part, regarded as ‘‘unscientific.’’ One possible approach to remedying the neglect of context would be distinguishing between the actual disciplinary history of each social science, with regard to its stated successes and recognized failures, and its ability to confront, and live up to, what that history could and should have been. There are several possible reference frames for outlining the responsibility, purpose, and promise of a discipline. The measure could be how a discipline’s founders conceived of its characteristic contributions3; how competing approaches delineated the kind of contributions a discipline should make, compared to the other social sciences; how to assess the history of each discipline from the vantage point of the early twenty-first century; or how a discipline enables us to contribute to alleviating or solving current national and global challenges. What is much more important, however, is whether there is an ongoing and lively discussion within and between the individual social sciences, about the responsibility, purpose, and promise of each – a discussion that is driven by the desire to strive for the greatest correspondence between social scientists’ claims about their particular discipline’s contribution, effectiveness, and pertinence, regarding research as well as public policy, and their actual, related contribution, effectiveness, and pertinence.4 Concordantly, to circumscribe the constellation between social science and critical theory, it would be imperative to make explicit, on a regular basis, the link between changing sociohistorical conditions and challenges and the ‘‘evolving’’ responsibilities and promise of each and all of the social science disciplines in time and space.5 It also would be important to confront

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the fact that there appears to be a countervailing trend: while the social sciences as a whole are characterized by increasing diversity and accelerating fragmentation (theoretically and methodologically speaking), certain disciplines have tended to remain or to become more ‘‘monolithic’’ – such as economics, political science, and psychology – and other disciplines continue to diversify and fragment further and further – especially sociology. Moreover, to differing degrees, directly and indirectly, efforts to illuminate patterns of coexistence in modern societies were oriented toward improving conditions in society. Especially after World War II, when the pursuit and incremental attainment of progress became an integral feature of society, and basis of political and social legitimacy in the context of the Cold War, progress was measured according to several criteria, especially economic well-being; social, economic and job security; sanctity of life; political participation in collective decision-making processes; equality before the law; access to education and health care; and efficient natural resource extraction and utilization. In the interest of justifying ongoing private and especially public financial and institutional support of research in the social sciences, its results at least had to promise to be beneficial to underprivileged segments of population, to society ‘‘as a whole,’’ or to ‘‘human civilization.’’ The goal was success in all of the above-mentioned regards; the assumption that success across the board is possible, and must be the guiding objective; and the concern that success in one regard might come at the expense of any or most other regards, too alien not to be taken as a betrayal of the promise and possibility of both social science and modern society.6 Yet from its inception, determining whether single-minded orientation toward progress in one regard, especially (though not exclusively) economic prosperity, might be detrimental to progress in other areas of social life, as well as in society as a whole, was one of the selfimposed, defining responsibilities of critical theory. While critical theory must rely on the contributions of social science, many social scientists regard the contributions of critical theory are ancillary to their endeavors. As a consequence, in addition to it not being possible to circumscribe the relationship between social science and critical theory once and for all, the contrary orientations of social scientists and critical theorists further obscure the relationship between both. Yet if we were to follow wellestablished social science practice, we should try to provide focused working definitions of critical theory and social science, and delineate the relationship between both by formulating manageable hypotheses about the nature of the relationship. Instead, in the interest of raising a set of issues that



established discourse and research practice regarding the link between social science and critical theory tends to neglect – even though they pertain directly to the purpose and the promise of both – I will pursue a different strategy. To circumscribe the link between social science and critical theory, I will focus on the relative neglect of sociohistorical context in mainstream approaches, and how the resulting tensions are detrimental to the analytical, descriptive, and practical pertinence and effectiveness of social science and social research today – at a time when revealing the dark side of modern society no longer may be merely desirable, but indeed, critically important for the survival of human civilization.7

DILEMMAS OF SOCIAL SCIENCE During the decades following World War II, there appeared to be mounting evidence that the efforts of social scientists to make valuable contributions to improving conditions for more and more people nationally and globally were bearing fruit, in different ways, at all levels of societal life – though neither across the board nor simultaneously. In the context of the Cold War, modernization seemed to be the strategy of choice for stabilizing the western model of democracy, for containing Soviet imperialism, for generating conditions conducive to economic growth and technological development, for diminishing the likelihood of war, and for strengthening human rights. As a consequence, public policies designed to enable national governments as well as international organizations to work toward the realization of explicitly stated and widely supported goals inspired by liberty, equality, solidarity, and self-determination appeared to become increasingly conducive to the attainment of stated objectives. During the last quarter century, social scientists continued to be committed to producing the kind of knowledge needed to support the efforts of decision-makers in positions of political and economic power, to amplify the effectiveness of public policies. Yet achievements in politics, economics, culture, society, and natural environment, in the so-called ‘‘most advanced’’ societies, neither seem to have translated into a greater capacity for overcoming social problems once and for all nor to correspond with continuous qualitative improvements at the global level. Rather, the most advanced societies appear to remain in a state of stasis, striving to hold on to past achievements, in a context that is less and less conducive to successful public policies, in terms of stated goals, beyond the baseline that was reached during the 1970s. With regard to such indicators as social and

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economic inequality, labor conditions, and environmental degradation, progress and stability in the West appears to have been accompanied by a latent potential for crises to become more aggravated over time, both internally and externally, with changes in the geopolitical context. Moreover, even if we confine ourselves to a purely economic cost–benefit analysis at the societal level, and ignore political, cultural, and social factors, presumed long-term achievements in advanced societies have begun to appear in an increasingly questionable and precarious light. Until the end of the twentieth century, only proponents of approaches that are on the margins of the social science disciplines explicitly questioned that strategies in advanced societies for ‘‘mastering’’ political, economic, social, cultural, environmental, and organizational challenges provided the avenues most conducive to success.8 For the majority of social scientists, those strategies seemed to combine into the most promising model for less advanced (especially, less wealthy) societies to confront a multiplicity of challenges as well. Yet the further we move into the twenty-first century, indications suggesting that those strategies did not enhance opportunities in advanced societies to realize comprehensive and lasting responses to those challenges that (actual solutions) continue to proliferate. Thus, it is not accidental that what used to be perceived as the purported ability of advanced societies to confront a multiplicity of challenges in ways that are positively related to the nature of those challenges is giving way to the sense that that perceived ability was tied to highly specific circumstances: a geopolitical and economic context characterized by acceptance of the global superiority of the most advanced societies. For practical purposes, given emerging global economic, political, and environmental challenges, that superiority has begun to look far more tenuous and temporally limited.9

The Purported Superiority of the Western Model From the perspective of the early twenty-first century, the seemingly superior capacity of ‘‘western,’’ ‘‘advanced,’’ or ‘‘modern’’ societies to produce long-term solutions to a multiplicity of structural problems – problems that are a function of social structure – to increasing extent appears to have been a chimera. That superiority now appears as a projection that is contradicted by emerging probabilities of future trends as its global environmental, political, and economic costs are becoming apparent, along with the fact that it is not sustainable. Today, in light of



social, cultural, political, economic, and environmental costs, the superiority of the West logically is compelling mostly within the confines of advanced modern societies – as ideology, rather than as actually existing forms of societal organization. The issue is not that the problem-solving capacity of other actually existing societies and forms of social organization – such as traditional, authoritarian, or state-socialist – are superior to modern western societies. In fact, the evidence would suggest that given economic and natural resource scarcity (both ‘‘home-grown’’ and as a consequence of prior and current geopolitical position and policies of modern societies), and political institutions, cultural traditions, social structure, and technological capability, the problem-solving capacity of nonmodern and nonwestern societies has been below that of modern societies. Instead, the issue is that the idea that modern western societies are superior to other types of society functions as an ideology that prevents the former to recognize its own limitations and inability to confront problems in ways that alleviate urgent challenges, regarding the underlying logic of those challenges, and their nature. In the present context, the illusory nature of the superiority of the West is most evident in its unwillingness to conceive of strategies to confront challenges that are contingent on recognizing the actual gravity and contradictory character of social structures and practices. Contemporary societies appear to be just as incapable of applying critical reflexivity to the logic of modern social structure as it is discordant with ‘‘dominant ideology,’’ especially where such reflexivity would be the necessary precondition for qualitative improvements.10 Perhaps the most conspicuous case in point is the fact that the modern way of economizing has been and continues to be based on the assumption that the Earth provides limitless resources, even though it has been evident from the beginning of modern capitalism, if not earlier, that resources are in fact limited, and that ‘‘production’’ is not possible without ‘‘destruction’’ – socially, ecologically, and organizationally.11 Formulated more generally, the achievements of advanced societies are built on the assumption that it is justified to intervene into the natural, social, economic, and political environment, in the interest of realizing set goals, without consistently and rigorously considering both the destructive and unintended consequences of interventions, as well as our inclination to overlook those consequences, as par of the course. Indeed, the ideology of modern society may be most apparent in the rejection of the need to reflect on the nature of reality in general and of concrete challenges in particular, when reflection impedes the ability of decision-makers to pursue well-established strategies or approaches to

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problems that are a function, and tied into the constitutional logic, of modern society – as a set of social structures and practices. Maintaining the appearance of a guiding concern about the nature of reality and concrete challenges, however, is an integral component of this ideology.12 Suppose that rather than pushing them to the side, we face the implications resulting from recent trends that appear increasingly disconcerting, not to say distressing, for our perspectives on modern society: population growth, resource depletion, rising inequalities, economic instability, increasingly volatile international tensions, pollution of the environment, and global warming. The superior problem-solving capacity of modern society increasingly resembles a projection that is a necessary precondition for the possibility of modern society as a form of societal organization. Today, it is difficult to deny that the West’s problem-solving superiority never was as real as it appeared to its inhabitants – including most social scientists. Social and political stability, as a precondition for economic productivity and investment, would not have been sustainable without the projection of, and ‘‘faith’’ in, the West’s superiority.13 Thus, if social science is to be an effective and worthwhile undertaking, confronting directly the discrepancy between the projection and the actuality of modern society, and its ability to recognize and confront concrete and actual – rather than simulated – challenges, especially as they relate to social structure, must be the first order of business.14 Given trajectories of overpopulation, overextraction of resources, and overpollution, how the global community conceives and confronts economic, political, social, environmental, and cultural problems not only looks to be increasingly conducive to failure, but the strategies pursued appear to be at least partly responsible for the deepening state of crisis.15 For a pointed assessment and critique, the origin of those strategies would need to be traced to the pursuit of economic and political modernization, that is, of prosperity and democracy, in the historically highly peculiar context of Cold War institutions and policies, starting in the late 1940s.16 Though those institutions and policies certainly are not the sole reason for the current crisis, continued tacit reliance on the approach to ‘‘solving’’ problems they provide, especially after the official ‘‘end’’ of the Cold War in 1989, appears to become increasingly problematic.17 The failure of social scientists to scrutinize the sociopolitical and economic perimeter of the Cold War, as the sociohistorical context in and from which the modern social sciences took hold, remains quite symptomatic of the reluctance to scrutinize the real as opposed to legendary origins of social science disciplines.18



From Cold War to Globalization: Opportunity Costs of Professionalization Instead of recognizing the academic and public discourse about globalization since the early 1990s as an opportunity to reenvision the future, and to seize upon newly emerging imperatives and possibilities, decision-makers in political, business, and international organizations and institutions continue to hold on to the purportedly successful strategies and policy models of what should be a bygone era. By holding on to the logic of the modernization/ Cold War period, decision-makers are trying to stretch its approach to reconciling facts and norms, especially with regard to the field of tensions between prosperity and democracy, beyond its historical perimeter.19 It is impossible to tell whether this reluctance to confront new challenges is the expression of concern that the political and social stability of modern societies since World War II may have concealed an underlying fragility that is coming to the fore. Alternatively, the reluctance may also be a consequence of the inability to recognize and confront the new reality of globalizing capitalism, as a context fraught with complexities, contingencies, and contradictions (see Dahms, 2005), and to conceive of the reconciliation of facts and norms beyond the perimeter of the post-World War II era. It may be symptomatic of this inability to acknowledge and transcend the costs of continued reliance on the Cold War configuration that, paradoxically, modern societies employ political and economic bureaucracies to pursue goals, and to achieve successes, whose realization and attainment appears to be incompatible with the organizational logic according to which those bureaucracies operate (see Beetham, 1996). Despite the depth and breadth of changes that have been altering and shaping the conditions of human existence to differing degrees and in different ways in all societies, most social scientists continue to rely on the well-established and ‘‘legitimate’’ research agendas and questions that were conceived and formulated during the Cold War era, and on corresponding modes of reflexivity. These questions and agendas have been sanctified within academic disciplines, and at educational and research institutions, during the second half of the twentieth century, and to a large extent account for the degree and nature of successes attained in the interim. Yet those questions and agendas inevitably also limit the scope of research interests and the effectiveness of research efforts and agendas, as soon as the questions provide a disincentive for social scientists to recognize that and how the configuration characteristic of a specific sociohistorical contexts changes.

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For instance, to a larger extent than would seem justified, we work with and perpetuate interpretations of both classical and more recent contributions to each and all of the social sciences, in the form of established theories and methodologies.20 We continue to produce ever more subtle interpretations of the particular intent that appears to have inspired each classical framework – from Smith to Hegel, Marx, Durkheim, Weber, Freud, Keynes, Parsons, and beyond. All the while, we seem interminably captured by continuously regenerated jargons and tacitly agreed-upon ways of reading that define the perimeter of legitimate interpretations and applications. Efforts to illuminate social life in ways that are truly and compellingly innovative, inspiring, meaningful, or enlightening to both academic and nonacademic readers and audiences, are rare. At the same time, we are in no position to assess to what extent the scarcity of such efforts is indicative of deficits and lack of ability on the part of individual social scientists, of the logic of institutionally grounded and defined imperatives of legitimate research and success, or of the current sociohistorical context imposing invisible barriers on innovative cognition as far as theorizing modern society is concerned – in ways that would qualitatively transform social science practice. The most important indication of successful cognition of this kind would be the disruption of the pattern of increasing fragmentation within and across the social sciences: the ability of social scientists to collaborate constructively, practically as well as theoretically.21 Presently, few social scientists would regard triggering ‘‘chains of reflection’’ that relativize and transcend the status quo – in ways that are directed at opening up perspectives on viable and preferable alternative futures, so as to translate into rigorous research questions and agendas – as part of their stated responsibility.22 For the sake of professionally ‘‘respectable’’ social research, sparking – and carrying through collaboratively – analytically rigorous and theoretically sound processes of reflection related to, and necessitated by, changing historical conditions, is not part of the agenda of any established discipline. In the absence of overarching disciplinary discourses about the evolving mission of each and all of the social sciences in the changing sociohistorical environment of globalization, regarding the issue of whether and how prevailing norms and values are reconcilable with societal transformations currently occurring, approaches in each discipline follow a trajectory of ‘‘progress’’ according to priorities that mostly tend to be the function of agendas and designs carried over from the discipline’s very own past.



Furthermore, the permanence of established idioms, canonized interpretations, and methodological orientations are the product of both the desire to foster progress in sociology, economics, psychology, and political science, as social science, rather than social science (in the sense of socially oriented and relevant science), and of imperatives of professional career and academic success.23 This permanence may weaken our determination to face the most important issues of our time in ways that are comparable both to the efforts of the classics of each discipline and of critical theory and to the outcome of their endeavors, mostly in two regards. On the one hand, given the pressures of professional success, such determination may become more difficult to sustain as it requires commitment to a logic and process of inquiry that neither might be compatible with ever more precisely formulated career imperatives nor conducive to inclusion and success in increasingly rationalized and bureaucratized academic and research institutions.24 On the other hand, given the forces that have been shaping research practices in the social sciences since the 1980s (as expressed most clearly in the growing emphasis on efficiency and accountability at universities and research institutions), the gulf between the priorities and imperatives that are shaping research and academic careers, and the investment of time and energy that would be required for the analytical depth and interpretive sensitivity to historical context conducive to appreciating the thrust of theoretical agendas, keeps widening (see Assheuer, 2008). As a consequence, it is becoming more and more difficult to conceive of research efforts that compare to those of the classics, in depth, breadth, and especially, in pertinence. It is especially symptomatic that there is no ongoing debate in the social science, as to what does, should, or would constitute basic research. To be sure, my purpose here is not to suggest that efforts in the social sciences to discern and confront the conditions of our existence are not sincere, that the classics of each social science ought to be arbiters for the kind of research we should be doing today (even when appreciated carefully and adequately), or that research and theorizing in the social sciences during the second half of the past century was pointless, misguided, or irrelevant. Instead, my effort is directed at providing the context for suggesting that there is a glitch in the ‘‘program’’ of all the social sciences that appears to prevent each from contributing to the kind of progress in society that points beyond present social structures in their specificity – and that identifying and scrutinizing this glitch has been the distinctive charge of critical theory. The ability to pinpoint how present societal conditions are politically, culturally, socially, and economically specific is a necessary precondition for conceiving

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of strategies to confront and solve problems that, for now, remain utopian in the sense of objectively unattainable.25 For now, we refrain from making explicit how exactly societies today, as social structures, are specific in space and time, and how social stability, political control, and economic prosperity are contingent on the invisibility of particular conceptions of reality, notions about reality, and practices in reality, to most individuals as well as social scientists. Yet in order to engender the kind of social research whose results will enable social actors to engage in forms of individual as well as collective action (politics, research, education, etc.) that are positively related to the nature of concrete challenges at hand, the constitutional principle of modern society must become visible, especially where it is in profound conflict with representations of that principle in socialization, education, and politics.26 What complicates matters further is the need to rigorously scrutinize that dimension of social structure that is, at the same time, the force that overlays all specific forms of social, political, economic, and cultural existence in the modern age – and the formative concern of critical theory: alienation.27 However, we may conceive in detail that which the concept of alienation was meant to capture – ongoing transformations of societal forms of existence are the inevitable corollary of the spread of the capitalist mode of production – its entwinement with the nature of social change is central to modern society. As a consequence, it is not sufficient for social scientists to be concerned with the link between specific forms of societal existence as they undergo change and the inevitable transformative impact of change in the modern age, on practices, institutions, and processes. The specificity of those forms is integral to the force-field of modern capitalism whose perpetually distorting effects social researchers in the tradition of Marxian theorizing have been striving to capture, by employing such concepts as alienation, commodity fetishism, reification, and instrumental reason: that in the modern age, it is categorically impossible to take a straight look at anything social, political, economic, or cultural.

CONSIDERING CONTEXT: CONFRONTING THE SPECIFICITY OF MODERN SOCIETIES Ironically, as professional social scientists, it is neither part of our day-today activities nor of our disciplinary responsibility to identify and counteract the kinds of deficits that are built into our work, as an inevitable



consequence of the fact that we are immersed in time and space – in concrete sociohistorical contexts. We do not examine and spell out whether, and how exactly, concrete sociohistorical circumstances are conducive to, or may limit, our ability to actualize what we claim we set out to do. Rather, we work with two assumptions, above all, that are likely to be more problematic than we are willing, or able, to recognize – given professional and institutional constraints, as instances of structural and systemic societal constraints. The first assumption pertains to the fact that in order for our work to be useful and relevant for individuals, organizations, and institutions, it must relate to perspectives, experiences, and challenges in actual circumstances. To the extent that as social scientists we subscribe to reality in a manner that is compatible with what we might call everyday life experiences and constraints, our contributions will be relevant to a certain degree, by default. On the other hand, as social scientists, subscribing to reality as it exists for ‘‘real’’ individuals, organizations, and institutions, is likely to conflict with our efforts to illuminate societal realities. As a general principle, all societies (as integrated aggregations of different types of orders: social, political, economic, cultural, rational, ethnic, gender, etc.) sustain stability and integrity by limiting and channeling transparency regarding its defining features, as far as possible, while still being conducive to stability and integrity. The frameworks to study social life presented by the classics of sociology – such as those of Durkheim and Weber – confronted the challenge of conceiving of social science in the context of modern society, as a form of societal organization that may have more in common with premodern societies than we ‘‘moderns’’ tend to presuppose, and are supposed to consider possible (see Latour, 1993). Social stability is contingent on the willingness of members of society to subscribe to notions and values that support and reinforce the projections modern society must generate and regenerate of itself, as a necessary precondition for the possibility of social order, in an environment that is prone to instability. If members would be allowed or encouraged to face the actuality of modern society, as far as functional imperatives, structural patterns, and ideologies are concerned, modern society would have to generate and maintain a rather different mode of securing stability and integrity. One of the main challenges for theoretically oriented social scientists is whether such a society would still be modern, in the sense in which we commonly use the term. Regarding the tension between the logic of social structure and efforts to illuminate this logic, we could go one step further (see Kontopoulos, 2006). Modern societies may remain stable due to organizations and institutions

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responding to demands for accountability and transparency, especially as far as the defining features of specific societies are concerned, only within limits that are conducive to maintaining those features and the corresponding social structure in their specificity, and by continuously utilizing newly emerging opportunities to conceal those features. The stability and security of social order may be contingent to a high degree on the willingness of individuals (including social scientists) to entertain as germane to understanding modern social reality the representations a specific social order produces of itself – precisely in order to limit transparency, as a precondition for stability – not the stability of social order in general, but the stability of a social order in its specificity. Yet stability is not free from normative content – the imperative of maintaining stability provides the scaffolding of the very norms and values individuals at the same time take for granted, interpret, and misconstrue as their most personal characteristics, impulses, and inclinations. The second assumption is more directly related to our labor as social scientists. As a matter of course, we must presume our efforts to illuminate the conditions of our existence to be sincere, and driven by the desire to do justice to the challenge at hand. This is especially true where illumination matters most – for instance, where shining light on features that tend to remain in the dark is a necessary precondition for solving, rather than regenerating, social problems. As a consequence, we usually surmise that our efforts ought to be successful – to the extent that our skills and intelligence are conducive to the attainment of success, to whatever extent success may be ‘‘objectively possible,’’ in a given environment.28 Yet if we take as the measure of ‘‘success’’ the ability of individuals, organizations, and institutions to tackle emerging challenges, by engaging in increasingly more effective strategies that are being measured in terms of the degree to which they are conducive to both rational and reasonable solutions to social problems, the contributions of social-scientific research appear more questionable. Viewed from this angle, we must scrutinize whether and how existing conditions are conducive to what kinds of ‘‘successes,’’ and consider that in all likelihood, conditions from the outset orient and limit possibilities of attaining success, as well as notions of reason and rationality, in ways that support, reinforce, and conceal those conditions. Yet, we could argue, it is precisely the purpose of such concepts as success, reason, and rationality, to engender the ability to acknowledge and identify the confines within which social research is bound to occur – confines that remain invisible, in the absence of determined efforts to make them accessible (see Walsh, 2005, chap. 5, especially pp. 119–126).



In terms of theoretical logic, it is a matter of principle that we must regard as problematic notions of reason and rationality that are condoned by and directly compatible with ‘‘social structure,’’ as shorthand for societal systems of institutions and organizations, and structures of power and inequality. For instance, those individuals, organizations, and institutions that put forth, favor, or champion notions of reason and rationality that are entwined with social structure also resist critical reflexivity with regard to the immersion of concepts of rationality and reason in sociohistorical contexts. Given the affinity between their particular interests and concrete social structures, as in part both cause and effect of those structures at the same time, prevailing notions of reason and rationality are likely to be ‘‘corrupted.’’ Such notions, and especially their being summoned for purposes of legitimating – rationalizing – the prevalence of specific forms of power and inequality, reflect the limitations of context, rather than making them visible. Such rationalizing notions undercut possibilities to conceive of rational and reasonable approaches to meeting challenges and solving problems in a different sense as well. Approaches that would point beyond sociohistorical practices and forms of organization whose problematic nature is increasingly apparent, in the present historical context, are more and more difficult to convey to individuals and social scientists. Wherever immersed notions of rationality and reason are conducive to problems getting solved, rather than managed in a manner that may in fact be inversely related to their solution, the absence of critical reflexivity is not especially problematic. Yet where those notions are a function of problems being managed, as is more frequently the case, without recognition that the prospect of their solution is not part of the equation, reason and rationality themselves are the problem. To the extent that social scientists engage in research and theorizing without working with the distinction between immersed notions of reason and rationality, on the one hand, and such notions that would enable social scientists to thematize the perimeter and defining features of the context that is to be scrutinized, on the other, the result of research is more likely to be part of the problem as well. Paradoxically, one characteristic feature of our ‘‘success’’ as professional social scientists appears to be our ability to explain to individuals, organizations, and institutions that and how in the present context, efforts to advance socially desirable goals are less than likely to succeed, in terms of stated goals, whenever they go beyond those condoned in the confines of existing social structures – without being able to explain why this is so. Explaining the obstacles to advancing socially desirable goals would require

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that we focus to a far greater extent on the specificity of the dynamic processes that enable the modern social structure to maintain and reconstitute itself, as it relies on the proliferation of continuously deepening contradictions and paradoxes – even though this proliferation is not likely to be sustainable and conducive to societal stability, in the long run (e.g., Postone, 1993). To the extent that social research and social theorizing are oriented toward engendering higher levels of reason and rationality, and qualitative transformations that are conducive to a greater reconciliation of facts and norms than is possible today, they conflict with the dynamic constitutional logic of modern society. We need to focus on the link between social science practice and social research, and the concrete and internally contradictory features of social structure as part of our ongoing efforts as social scientists. Thus, we may postulate that to the degree that we refuse to address in a systematic manner, as an integral component of our work, the link between our practices as social scientists and the contradictions of modern society, with regard to the concrete and specific consequences for our research, we may not only betray the claim to be social scientists, we actively – albeit unintentionally – may sabotage the possibility of social science. It would seem, then, that the glitch in the program of social science alluded to earlier takes the form of an invisible barrier that ‘‘mainstream’’ approaches do neither have the means nor the incentive to recognize.29 This barrier would appear to play a key role in preventing actual progress in the social sciences as well as in society. Despite ongoing and determined efforts, even incremental progress whose attainment is nonambivalent, appears elusive – both in terms of engendering higher levels of reconciling facts and norms in contemporary societies and in terms of explicating what preconditions would have to be in place for higher levels of reconciling facts and norms to become possible. That is, of course, unless we preinterpret changes and trends currently underway – for example, globalization – as necessarily constituting progress. The kind of knowledge of our social world and the forces shaping it that would be a necessary precondition for taking steps in the direction of actually solving problems, however, appears to remain astonishingly rudimentary, and increasingly incompatible with imperatives that govern decision-making in institutions and organizations, along with appreciation of the kind of reflexivity that would facilitate such knowledge. Indeed, modern society appears to ‘‘evolve’’ according to a dynamic logic that is incompatible with the achievement of solutions to social problems – modern society appears to be synonymous with the perpetuity of problems having to be managed, rather than solved.



SOCIAL SCIENCE VERSUS CRITICAL THEORY? Throughout the history of the social sciences, the majority of economists, psychologists, political scientists, and sociologists have regarded critical theory – as well as its precursors, especially Hegel, Marx, and Freud – as ancillary to rigorous research at best, and as an undesirable, misguided, and even frivolous distraction, at worst. To be sure, those who regarded the contributions of critical theory as irrelevant or ineffective also tended to be representatives of precisely the kind of approaches to social science and social research critical theorists have been scrutinizing since the 1930s. Especially in its inception as what later came to be known as the ‘‘Frankfurt School,’’ at the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt, under the leadership of Max Horkheimer since 1932, critical theory began as the project of illuminating how ‘‘traditional’’ theories of modern society, conceptions of social science, approaches to studying social life, and practices of doing research start out from largely implicit, yet highly problematic assumptions about the relationship between social science and society – in the sense of social science and concrete sociohistorical context.30 Since the early 1930s, critical theory has stood as a reminder that the specific economic, political, cultural, and ideological configurations of sociohistorical contexts have a direct bearing on the form, content, practice, and normative orientation of both social life and the social sciences. Yet, rather than explicitly developing and pursuing its concern with the immersion of social life and the social sciences in space and time as a consistent feature of critical theory, individual representatives have confronted the issue more or less explicitly, to differing degrees, and in a variety of ways. There may be multiple reasons for why this feature of critical theory has not been more central to the tradition as a whole. Making accessible the link between particular formations of societal life within the same genus, such as modern industrialized society, and the ways in which they shape and influence concrete practices, concepts, ideas, and institutions, may be among the greatest challenges social scientists confront. One aspect of the challenge is the difficulty of stepping back from social reality in a manner that enables observers to recognize the particularity of formations of societal life, and its significance for how we coexist and make choices. Another aspect is that the challenge cannot be confronted effectively by individual social scientists, but requires the kind of ongoing collaborative efforts that are increasingly difficult to sustain, in the present context, given institutional and career constraints.

How Social Science is Impossible Without Critical Theory


Two Dimensions of Societal Reality While social scientists as a matter of principle tend to focus on those features and dimensions of societal life that logically are prior to issues of change, for example, ‘‘static’’ structures and systemic characteristics, institutions, and practices, notwithstanding the disciplinary proclivity toward dynamic issues of change, critical theorists regard as the penultimate purpose of the social sciences to track changes as they manifest themselves within concrete reference frames, whose potentially problematic nature required focused attention.31 To illustrate this issue, we might visualize societal reality as divided into two interconnected, yet distinct, dimensions. In the first dimension, the traditional province of social science, societal reality is described and analyzed, depending on the particular tradition at issue, for example, at the level of practices, modes of interaction, institutions, spheres of life, or social subsystems. Constellations between sets of institutions that are critical to society’s ability to fulfill a multiplicity of increasingly differentiated tasks and functions, and which are characteristic of the type of society scrutinized, also belong to this dimension. Social research is concerned with the kinds of coexistence, decision-making, priorities, values, and practices that go hand in hand with those constellations, for example, in modern industrialized societies. In addition, both comparative and historical approaches in the social sciences recognize the variations that occur between societies regarding the features of societal reality individual incarnations of a general type of society have in common.32 For instance, with differing degrees of variation, British, French, German, and American societies all adhere and function according to the same basic design of modern industrialized society, comprising the same components, such as the legal system, democratic political institutions, and market economy. This kind of variations has been framed, for example, in the language of ‘‘exceptionalism’’ (especially with regard to American exceptionalism33). Drawing on the work of Karl Polanyi, since the 1980s a growing number of social scientists, especially in economic sociology, also have been examining the social and cultural embeddedness of economic institutions – a perspective and approach that in principle can be applied to all aspects of modern societies. Yet despite the apparent importance of comparative as well as historical approaches (and especially comparative-historical approaches) to social science, they have remained subordinate and marginal within each individual discipline, and largely a matter of individual social scientists’ preference whether to apply and pursue or not. Still, concerns that relate to the spatial and temporal



variations between, and the embeddedness of ‘‘nonsocial’’ (economic, political, military, educational, etc.), institutions and organizations in modern societies (regarding cultural and social life) belong to the first dimension in the terminology suggested here. In other words, comparative perspectives focus on the concrete form that the general framework of a type of society, as well as its components, takes, both regarding forms of solidarity, structures of inequality and their role in society, economic, political, legal institutions, organizations and forms of power, and their interrelations – both as cause and effect of cultural and religious traditions and modes of collective action.34 For instance, when comparing economic or political systems in two distinct societies of the same type, social scientists tend to be interested in determining what kind of social relations correspond with capitalist economies or democratic government, in all societies of that type – especially modern society. To the extent that social scientists are concerned with the specifics of the differences between capitalist economies or democratic government in societies of the same genus, and their relationship with social relations, those social scientists are regarded, and usually regard themselves, as working in a specialized area within a discipline – the assumption being that the relevance of research questions asked and results generated is limited to the subdiscipline, and usually do not have a bearing for the discipline as a whole. By contrast, the second dimension of societal reality concerns qualitative transformations in the general framework of a type of society (and its components) that accompany changes of the kind that alter the meaning and nature of ‘‘social,’’ ‘‘economic,’’ and ‘‘political.’’ Such changes and qualitative transformations are exceedingly difficult to discern, in part, because the distinction between cause and effect is most elusive. Capturing this kind of change requires a mind-set, analytical framework, and set of tools that an orientation toward the traditional concerns of social science neglect – toward the first dimension of societal reality. In a sense, these kinds of changes occur below the radar screen of traditional social science, even though they may be as momentous, if not more so, than changes that have been a defining concern for the latter since their inception. Given the overall orientation and self-understanding of critical theory, the impact resulting from such changes at the level of institutions, spheres of life, and social subsystems is of primary importance, as well as at the level of social and cultural life is most important. Traditional social scientists tend to confine their rigorous labor to the nature of social relations that correspond with political, economic, and

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cultural forms in modern societies, working with the assumption that the link, for example, between social relations and capitalist market economies should be viewed as static. By contrast, critical theorists are much more concerned with the transformations that inevitably occur at the social and cultural level, within forms of organization, and especially with regard to the constellations that are characteristic of modern societies. Put differently, in terms of the distinction between social science and critical theory, proponents of the latter charge that social scientists tend to neglect the fact that all elements of societal reality maintain stability by continually adapting to an environment that is inherently dynamic, rather than static. Critical theorists favor and rely on dialectical approaches and tools because those are uniquely well-suited for studying processes and dimensions of reality that adhere to patterns whose nature cannot be captured with means that are not tailored to capture the inherently dynamic qualities of modern societal reality. Concordantly, if the dynamic logic of capitalist market economies requires ongoing adaptations that engender transformations, which in turn permeate forms of social coexistence, it is inevitable that the nature of social relations will change as well. As a tradition, critical theory stands for the contention that unless social scientists explicitly track and examine such adaptations and transformations, their manifestations are likely to be overlooked. Furthermore, the nature of social relations may undergo qualitative transmutations of a kind that alters that practices, priorities, choices, and values – without those transmutations are not likely to be being detected in a timely fashion. Yet from the vantage point of critical theory, it is essential that social scientists be concerned with changes of this kind due to their preferred position to recognize changes and their consequences, it is their responsibility, and especially because recognizing changes and consequences is a necessary precondition for detecting their impact on conceptions of the responsibilities of social scientists, and the practice of social research itself.

The Immersion of Social Science in Society Recognizing societal phenomena in their dynamic particularity is contingent on the willingness, first, to differentiate between the dimensions of societal life that are stable and more similar than not across societies of the same type, especially modern society, and those dimensions that are variable, and specific, and for which dimensions of the first type provide the foil. Second,



it is necessary to distance oneself from one’s own societal environment – the environment that provided the context for identity formation.35 Given that Karl Marx’s critiques of alienation and commodity fetishism provided key reference points for the development of critical theory, its representatives initially were concerned with the changing influence of increasingly bureaucratic forms of economic organization in capitalism on modern society and social research, and the link between society and social science.36 During the decades that followed, critical theorists expanded their concerns to scrutinize processes in society that impacted on the ability of social scientists to grasp the contradictory nature of social life in modern society: the subversion and inversion of the enlightenment in the interest of economic prosperity (Horkheimer and Adorno), the emergence and spread of culture industry (Adorno), increasingly complex bureaucratic structures (Marcuse), the erosion of the public sphere, and the ideological tendencies of technology and the natural sciences (Habermas).37 Yet overall, the commitment of critical theory to illuminating how exactly concrete sociohistorical conditions shape and influence social life, and especially research and theoretical endeavors in each of the social sciences, to date has remained relatively implicit, submerged, and marginal to the tradition. What came to be called ‘‘mainstream’’38 approaches in the social sciences during the 1970s have been resisting the contention that there is a categorical need for all social scientists to be critically reflexive regarding the immersion of social science practice and social research in space and time. A simple comparison between two distinct social reference frames may illustrate the importance of critical reflexivity regarding context. Take a society where dominant values to a continually increasing extent reflect, and are a function of, stories of personal economic success and wealth creation characteristic of a particular elite. Compare this society to another where prevailing values correspond with a widely practiced ability to cooperate and collaborate with others, in a manner that is ‘‘hard-wired’’ into individuals’ identities. In addition, in the first case, the dominant values may not be recognizable to most members of society to the same degree and in the same way, as in the second case. In the first case, individual and social efforts to advance social justice or the reconciliation of facts and norms for most citizens in a tangible way would be strenuous, if not futile, since it would be impossible for most to be economically successful and wealthy. In the second case, the likelihood of individual and social efforts directed at increasing social justice would be distinctly more likely to bear fruit. The differential in ability to recognize dominant values might be a consequence of the cognitive dissonance such recognition would likely provoke in the first

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case – assuming that the society would be characterized by a high degree of social and economic inequality – while there would not be a comparable cognitive dissonance in the second case.39 Evidently, in these two cases, social research and social science practice would be immersed in qualitatively different societal contexts – each context influencing the kind of questions social scientists would ask, framing the purpose and value of social research, and prioritizing the production of certain kinds of knowledge and insights as a function of societal context. From the perspective of critical theory, the notion that it should be possible to advance and engage in social science in ways that abstract from the specific features of both societal contexts would be unrealistic, ill-conceived, and ideological in the literal sense. In the extreme, such conceptions of social science suggest that the purposes of social science can and must be delineated independently of the concrete challenges that characterize particular societal contexts. As has been noted before, critical theory contests the possibility of ‘‘value-free’’ social science in this sense. To varying degrees, its proponents contend that in contexts where differences and changes are subtle, and may become manifest over time, the particulars of economic, political, organizational, cultural, social, and ideological context and change are especially important, as far as influence over ‘‘legitimate’’ questions, ‘‘relevant’’ research, and ‘‘desirable’’ knowledge and insights is concerned. However subtle the differences and changes between contexts in time and space may be, or appear to be, their consequences for both social life and social science could be most momentous – especially if social scientists exclude them from the process and purview of social research.

The Issue of ‘‘Globalization’’ Since the 1990s, there has been widespread public awareness and concern about the phenomenon of ‘‘globalization.’’ It is evident that efforts to illuminate effectively a phenomenon that comprises as many distinct discernable processes as globalization, and to disentangle competing meanings and interpretations of the concept, will require extensive and ongoing collaborative research. Yet the willingness and ability of social scientists to agree, for instance, on a set of working definitions of globalization that would be conducive to collaborative research has remained astonishingly limited, within disciplines, and especially across disciplines. Agreeing even to need for mutually arrived at and binding working definitions is not part of social



science practice and process. Yet, given that globalization is a process characterized by high degree of complexities, contingencies, and contradictions, the formulation of research strategies that would be conducive to generating a rigorous understanding of the issues involved will depend on cooperation and collaboration within and across the social sciences. The argument could be made that the failure to agree on what would be necessary and promising approaches to studying globalization, given the concrete and unprecedented challenges its analysis entails – including agreement regarding the desirability of such approaches – is at least as likely to be a function of the nature of globalization as an expression of the contradictory nature of modern society, as of the flaws of individual social scientists, specific approaches in each of the disciplines, and social science as a whole – and probably much more so. We must determine whether our inability to arrive at a meaningful set of perspectives on how to study globalization effectively originates within the social sciences. To do so, we must assess whether the apparent ineffectiveness of social science may be related to, and the manifestation of, emerging dimensions and features of modern social life of which concern about globalization is the most recent expression. Put differently, what if what we diagnose as flawed and ineffective social science is in fact a consequence of that which we are trying to understand – modern society – as it changes over time? If globalization is not a distinct stage of ‘‘evolution’’ or ‘‘development,’’ but instead the most recent, discernable incarnation of modern society and its paradoxical constitutional logic – would that not mean that we would have to link directly our assessment of what social science is and should be to our ability to grasp that which is the most important subject matter of social science – modern society? Grasping the nature of globalization would require a willingness to confront the paradoxical and contradictory features of this process. Yet, to begin with, both historically and especially after World War II, the traditional social sciences have evolved in ways that exclude from the spectrum of legitimate research concerns rigorous consideration of both how concrete structural and systemic contradictions are central to modern society, and how it is possible to study them in a systematic manner. If we frame difficulties to agree on working definitions of globalization in terms of this process constituting the culmination of all the contradictory processes that have been shaping the modern age, then such agreement will continue to be impossible as long as social scientists refuse to confront the central role of contradictions, and their entwinement with and aggravation of complexities and contingencies, to the design and stability of modern societies.

How Social Science is Impossible Without Critical Theory


At the same time, how globalization keeps changing conditions of existence on Earth, in all areas of societal life, provides an excellent, as well as urgent, concrete reference frame for illustrating the importance of examining carefully how changing societal conditions, by sheer necessity, reconfigure practices and conceptions in society, including – especially – practices and conceptions in each and all the social sciences. After all, it certainly is not inconceivable that, first, many assumptions that have guided mainstream research, in light of globalization, turn out to be erroneous to differing degrees, and second, that what we frame in terms of globalization denotes processes that alter features of societal life in ways that supercede what used to be compelling and accurate representations of features of societal life in the past. Yet the purpose of this chapter is not to scrutinize globalization, but to address difficulties in mainstream approaches to recognize and confront related challenges and dilemmas. Among mainstream social scientists, resistance to considering the specifics of sociohistorical context takes many forms, the following being among the more prominent: – the strict separation between the logic of scientific method and the analysis of the characteristic features of sociohistorical context; – the determined refusal to acknowledge that the centrality of contradictions to modern society influences concrete research agendas and modes of research, to scrutinize concrete contradictions and implications resulting from their centrality, and to determine the nature of the link between contradictions and social forms; and – the ingrained unwillingness to ensure that claims made about the purpose and consequences of research coincide with its actual orientation and effects within sociohistorical contexts that constitutionally (with regard to structural features and systemic imperatives) may prevent the actualization of those claims. The guiding observation of critical theory is that in the social sciences, mainstream approaches tend to be detrimental to research that would be theoretically enlightening, socially empowering, and politically, morally, and psychologically conducive to the kind of reconciliation of facts and norms without whose promise and prospect modern society would neither have taken shape as it did nor be able to function as it does. Conceptually, in the name of social science, economists, psychologists, political scientists, and sociologists should be committed to advancing the emancipation of both human beings and societies from structural and systemic constraints that both result from, and sustain, our inability to



know and understand – that is, to recognize – how the defining features of modern societal reality prevent actors from actualizing socially desirable goals. Social science in this sense is especially important where such constraints prevent the ability of individuals, collective actors, and organizations and institutions, to pursue and realize comprehensively rational and lasting solutions to social problems – to take steps in the direction of reconciling facts and norms. Critical theory continues as a tradition above all because most social scientists claim, implicitly or explicitly, that their efforts are directed at both theoretical and practical emancipation from constraints, without ascertaining that their efforts in fact are conducive to such emancipation, especially where constraints are both integral to the possibility of social order, in its specificity, and detrimental to human and societal agency, at the same time.

The Place of Theory in Social Science As the title of Charles Lemert’s (2007) most recent book suggests, social theory is about ‘‘thinking the unthinkable’’ – about enabling both individuals and social scientists to recognize and appreciate the condition of their existence and responsibility as human actors. Critical theorists would add that social theories are attempts to enable individuals, and especially social scientists, to think the ‘‘socially’’ unthinkable, in a sociohistorical context – modern society – whose principle of reconstitution is contingent on the successful conditioning of the vast majority of its members into a societal reality that maintains itself through a multiplicity of fundamental and irreconcilable contradictions. This conditioning compels all individuals, including most social scientists, as members of modern society, to frame the challenge of critical self-reflexivity regarding everyday self as a carrier of the defining features of modern society, in ways that reinforce those features of modern society, against both implied and publically stated intentions – and interests – of individuals, social scientists, collective actors, and society. Concordantly, as long as social scientists refrain from integrating this kind of critical self-reflexivity into social research and social science practice, both present hypothetical language games – on the assumption that scrutinizing the specific link between sociohistorical contexts and social science in fact is immaterial to the possibility, promise, and responsibility of social science. Critical theorists insist that it is symptomatic of the sociohistorical configuration of modern society that social scientists may claim to engage in

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research that is both socially beneficial and conducive to conceiving of actual solutions to social problems, while refusing to confront a most central dilemma: the link between the defining features of sociohistorical context, the ways in which social problems are integral to sustaining those features, and the specific orientations and agendas of each of the social science disciplines, respectively. Emancipation from structural and systemic societal constraints is a necessary precondition for individuals’ ability to be selfreflexive, to recognize their talents, and to realize their potential. The same applies to social scientists. Contrary to its ideology, modern society channels the capacity to engage in reflexivity, uncover and apply talents, and realize one’s potential in ways that feed back into constitutional design, with contradictions providing the scaffolding. Yet against dominant ideology, the resulting interconnecting feedback loops in all dimensions of sociocultural life are both so comprehensive and so subtle that critical self-reflexivity – with regard to one’s socially constructed and determined self – requires a firmly committed and never-ending effort. Recognizing the defining features of one’s own society is a necessary precondition for individuals’ and social scientists’ ability to be critically self-reflexive. Those who are not able to recognize the particularities of their own society are constitutionally incapable of being ‘‘self-reflexive’’ – regarding the ability to formulate and realize their personal or professional life goals, to shape the circumstances of their existence and success, and their capacity to relate to ‘‘others’’ (members of ‘‘other’’ social groups, in terms of race, class, gender, ethnicity, etc.) – in ways that avoid replication of structural inequalities in society, and reliance on structural inequalities for purposes of forming and sustaining identities. In short, it is exceedingly difficult for individuals to construct meaningful life histories that depart from the patterns characteristic of societal context. While such impediments to individuals’ ability to engage in critical selfreflexivity would be a necessary precondition for the very possibility of social order in all complex societies, it is disturbingly paradoxical in modern society – which conforms to and relies on this pattern to a greater degree than dominant ideology would admit. Moreover, it would be unrealistic for social scientists to expect individuals to be able to recognize the distinctive features of societies whose stability and possibility is contingent on the concealment of those features from its members. Yet, if the majority of social scientists refuse to be critically self-reflexive with regard to the gravity of their own society’s defining features, and deny the possibility that those features exert a kind of force that resists recognition and escape, without sustained efforts, what, then, is the meaning of ‘‘social science’’?



Implicitly or explicitly, critical theorists contend that social scientists striving to recognize the defining features of their own society are integral to social research and social science. Social science must be oriented toward enabling and compelling societies to allow for qualitative changes regarding those structural and systemic societal constraints that sustain social problems – as a means to preserve especially those defining features of social order that are resistant to actual, comprehensive, and lasting progress. The emancipation of individuals from those constraints is the necessary precondition for emancipating society from shackles preventing steps toward the reconciliation of facts and norms, which would constitute real progress. More importantly, for present purposes, without the emancipation of social scientists from the constraints, social science is in danger of being an accomplice in the prevention of steps toward such reconciliation. The constraints are most conspicuous regarding the inability of modern society to solve social problems, and to recognize and confront this inability as a function of the synergistic capacity of both established structures and systems of power and inequality, and of human actors and social groups who benefit most from those structures and systems, both knowingly and unknowingly, to maintain the prevailing configuration of societal life, in their image. Whatever the material, demographic, geographic limitations, the structural and systemic societal constraints add a further burden that obstructs opportunities to reconcile facts and norms. Revealing and dissecting these constrains ought to be the primary domain of the social sciences; by default, their neglect distorts whatever efforts social scientists make to illuminate social life. Despite the sustained rejection by mainstream social scientists of contributions made by critical theorists, since the 1970s a continuously growing number of critical theorists have been making efforts to accommodate the standards and views of mainstream social science. In the interest of demonstrating how critical theory is not merely critical of – but also and especially critical to – the overall project of social science and proponents of critical theory have been reconceiving its agenda and orientation, to facilitate greater compatibility with mainstream approaches and perspectives. Surmising that the gulf separating critical theory and mainstream social science is circumstantial rather than foundational, and that mainstream social scientists will welcome the prospect of overcoming mystifying and frustrating hurdles against explicating paradoxes and dilemmas inherent to modern society, critical theorists of the second and third generations, represented by Habermas and Honneth, have been reconstructing critical theory. Yet, it seems that despite ongoing efforts by critical theorists to advocate the

How Social Science is Impossible Without Critical Theory


importance of their contributions, in the context of globalization, mainstream approaches have become less, rather than more, pervious to the kind of reflexivity critical theory represents. Thus, we must ask whether the efforts of a growing number of critical theorists to encourage and enable mainstream social science to become more critically reflexive, by treating its objectives, tools, and criteria for effective research as the relevant reference frame, may endanger the commitment of critical theory to the kind of questions, concerns, and tools that are its specific and sole domain.

CRITICAL THEORY VERSUS MAINSTREAM SOCIAL SCIENCE? Despite its marginalized status in each of the social sciences, especially in economics, psychology, and political science, but also in sociology, critical theory is key to the overall mission of social science – of all the social sciences. Efforts in the individual social sciences to illuminate societal life in a rigorous manner will be futile as long as the specific issues that are the primary concern of critical theorists remain unaddressed, in those efforts. Assuming that critical theory has an important and unique contribution to make to the social sciences that is both substantively and methodologically related to the nature of modern society, my claim is as follows: Precisely to the degree that the issues that define the core agenda of critical theory remain implicit or are neglected entirely, in particular research designs and agendas, those designs and agendas constitute hypothetical arguments and analyses – on the contingency that the nature of modern society as framed by critical theory does not matter to efforts to study social life. Pursuant to this claim, there is an imminent need to critically and scrupulously evaluate each social science, as well as each approach within each social science, with regard to the degree to which it addresses the issues that define critical theory. Evidently, we barely are in the position to register the importance of such an evaluation, not to mention the scale and scope at which it would have to be undertaken. What are the issues defining critical theory? More specifically, is it possible to identify the ‘‘core’’ of Frankfurt School type neo-Marxist critical theory, both in its original incarnation and in more recent versions of critical theory? How internally consistent, compatible, and conducive to circumscribing their core are the different ‘‘generations’’ of Frankfurt School critical theorizing?40 With regard to theoretical logic, what is the overarching agenda common to the first generation of critical theory, as



represented by Horkheimer, Adorno, and Marcuse, the second generation as represented mainly by Habermas, the third generation of Honneth, and the current generation? Are more recent versions of critical theory a continuation of the initial Frankfurt School project, and if so, how? Are there important differences? Is there a clearly identifiable, overriding core common to all, or are there variations and shifts in emphasis that may distract and detract from, and even conceal, the core?41 Do similarities outweigh differences, or vice versa? If we trace the beginning of critical theory to the early writings of Marx, the first concrete effort to address the critical-theoretical challenge in the history of ideas was directed at how exactly the capitalist mode of production engenders a radically new relationship between individuals in society and their ability to conceive of reality (see especially Postone, 1993). At the very root of critical theory, in Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, ‘‘alienation’’ denoted a process of ongoing, compounding mediation that isolates individuals further and further from their daily activity (‘‘labor’’), from their natural and social environments (nature, their own selves, their ‘‘species-being’’), in a manner that produces a qualitatively different way of experiencing ‘‘reality.’’ At the same time, this process thwarts the ability of individuals to consciously experience and discern this change in ‘‘reality.’’ Yet the continued use of the same language, the same words even, in everyday life, political discourse, education, as well as in the social sciences then and now, conceals a radically and continually altering reality that follows its own, newly emerging, self-generating logic. Not only is there a qualitative difference between ‘‘before’’ and ‘‘after.’’ In addition, ‘‘after’’ is characterized by an ongoing process of reconstitution that socializes successive generations of individuals into a perpetually transforming reality. The pace of change inherent to this reality is greater and more warped, in certain regards, than any individual or group of individuals could possibly comprehend. In the context of structural and systemic patterns that remain astonishingly stable for long periods of time, such as the overall distribution of economic wealth, the paradox that individuals may be socialized into an environment that is becoming increasingly antisocial, literally would be too much to handle.42 Most mainstream approaches presume the adequacy of their approaches and tools in the endeavor to determine the particular subject matter of each social science, pending minor adjustments, and ascribe failure to lack of skills and other deficits on the part of researchers, to lack of funding or time, or to flawed theorizing and development or application of methods.43 By contrast, critical theory in its original conception is interested in failure as it

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is the consequence – and function – of both the existing social structure and the willingness of researchers to subscribe to dominant ideology – whatever form it may take, in a particular sociohistorical environment.44 The following four criteria constitute necessary preconditions for any effort to theorize a phenomenon in society in a manner that is oriented toward doing justice to the nature of the phenomenon. These criteria are intended to counteract our inclination as traditional, or noncritical, social scientists to frame the analysis of a phenomenon in time and space implicitly – that is, in terms of concrete norms, attributions of value, and definitions of reality that are endemic to a particular sociohistorical context whose defining characteristics, typically, may be presumed not to be problematic – as individuals who are immersed in society. From its earliest inception, the critical theory of the Frankfurt School rejected the notion that it is possible to circumscribe the particular, socially and historically situated responsibility of each individual discipline independently of the others – thus the need for a rigorously interdisciplinary perspective. Furthermore, since there needs to be as much correspondence between the contradictory and dynamic nature of the subject matter – modern industrial capitalist postliberal society – and the tools employed to scrutinize it, anything short of a dialectical approach will be inadequate. Horkheimer distinguished critical theory from traditional theory to highlight the need to examine the larger context in which research in the social sciences occurs, to spell out how both are closely entwined. Resisting the impulse to engage in traditional modes of theorizing and analysis may be the greatest challenge, considering the extent to which the western model of science, centered on an understanding of physics that was outdated already a century ago, influences our thinking about social science as well. Critical theory, in this sense, is opposed to traditional theorizing, and rigorously nontraditionalist. Finally, it is not possible to see how the different social sciences supplement and complement each other, how their agendas intersect, and how the contributions of any social science, without linkages to the others, are mostly hypothetical statements about how to study the social world from the political, economic, cultural, psychological, and sociological perspective alone. To remedy this flaw that is built into the design of each social science, we need to work with the critical concept of totality (see Jay, 1984b). As an initial approximation of the resulting unique contribution of critical theory to social science, we could frame modern society as a nexus of social relations that are the function of compounded layers of alienation (see Dahms, 2006). As alienation resulted from the spread of the capitalist mode of production, politics, culture, and society increasingly assimilated to



requirements that made straight, unmediated perspectives on societal life more and more difficult, if not impossible. In the process, starting with the descendants of those who experienced the onslaught of alienation directly (as illustrated most vividly by Marx and Engels for the first generation of workers who moved from agricultural work into industrial factories and subterranean mines), alienation became submerged and compounded. In the social sciences, the diversity of methods and theories reflects the increasing prevalence of alienation, in different dimensions of societal life – especially to the extent that social science approaches neglect to recognize their immersion in this condition of alienation. Since the social sciences emerged and spread, the risk that particular approaches concealed rather than revealed the ubiquity of alienation has been increasing, and will continue to do so, for the foreseeable future. Approaches that explicitly name and consider alienation have not only remained on the margins of each discipline in the social sciences but also have become more so as time has gone by. In economics, psychology, political science, sociology, and even and especially social work, the mainstream of each of the social sciences keeps becoming more narrow, formalistic, and quantitative. As the utility of the concept of alienation seems to decrease, along with the willingness of social scientists to employ it, its force to shape the actuality of societal life keeps expanding exponentially. What was conceived by Hegel and Marx as an abstract philosophical concept, in the context of globalization, can be gleaned from the surface of societal life, in more ways than we could ever enumerate, and should have wished to be able to. This, then, is the very essence of critical theory: alienation is the seemingly inescapable, ever more pervasive corollary of the economic process in capitalism, an ongoing process of societal mediation and reconstitution which, as members of society captured in the minutiae of everyday life, we are meant to experience and embrace, but not to detect. Yet as social scientists, we must embrace the responsibility for making the most determined and sustained efforts to discern and reveal the truly awesome force alienation has over our lives and our existence – as a constitutional feature of modern reality.45

On the Immersion of Mainstream Approaches in Modern Society In terms of its logic laid out during the 1930s and the 1940s, critical theory works with the results of traditional or mainstream research, on a

How Social Science is Impossible Without Critical Theory


case-by-case basis, after determining whether, how, and to what degree a specific approach advocates, relies on, and is compatible with an interdisciplinary perspective, the dialectical mode of reasoning (theoretically and/or methodologically), a nontraditionalist concept of theory and/or research, and the concept of totality. Given the availability of resources, in terms of funding and time, the necessary first step toward illuminating the gravity of mainstream approaches for social research, and the possibility of social science more generally, would be to locate the plurality of approaches along a spectrum, from most mainstream to least mainstream. In addition, such a framework would have the advantage of making accessible the concrete form and content of ‘‘mainstream’’: what are the formative and organizing assumptions of approaches that reject interdisciplinary collaboration, dialectic outlook, concept of totality, and critical (nontraditionalist) reflexivity with regard to how an approach is socially and historically immersed? Is there a common denominator among approaches that subscribe to, reflect, and perpetuate what, for present purposes, we might refer to as ‘‘dominant ideology’’? To recall my earlier comments regarding the purported superiority of the western model, one of the most obvious yet least scrutinized examples for dominant ideology permeating and shaping mainstream approaches occurred soon after World War II, when in the context of the Cold War the notion proliferated that postwar western societies were qualitatively different from, and indeed superior to, both their predecessors before the war, and especially the primary opponent – the Soviet Union or ‘‘Communism.’’ From a political perspective, it would have been exceedingly difficult and problematic – indeed frivolous – to contest this stance, both at the time, and in retrospect, from a multiplicity of angles. Yet from a theoretical perspective, the fact that so many social scientists did not see the need, after 1945, to apply – or even to appreciate – the kind of systematically critical scrutiny to societal reality that the classics had advocated, especially Marx, Durkheim, and Weber, is most disconcerting. To a high degree, social scientists applied an affirmative perspective on post-World War II societal reality that, at a theoretical level, is not compatible with the determination of most of the classics to confront the inherently irreconcilable nature of modern society. The eagerness with which social scientists embraced the creed that after World War II, ‘‘things really got rather better,’’46 as even the highly ambivalent Habermas put it, revealed a widespread readiness to transpose politics onto the level of research agendas in the social sciences, at the expense of theoretical rigor.47 I am not suggesting that social scientists had no misgiving, but



that those misgivings, for the most part, were viewed as exterior to social research, rather than integral and indispensable – as I am insisting they are. To reiterate an earlier point, made in allusion to Lemert’s ‘‘thinking the unthinkable’’: social scientists need to work from the stance that societies compel their members to subscribe to modes of interpreting social reality that are conducive to sustaining social order and political stability – rather than to illuminating them. This applies especially in modern society, where the resulting tensions and dilemmas for social research are not less pronounced than they would have been in premodern societies, but much more so. The willingness of most social scientists after 1945 to subscribe to dominant ideology in this specific sense, and to neglect the requisite critical attitude regarding societal imperatives that are a necessary precondition for the very possibility of a stable social order, and the concurrent requirement to distance oneself from the projection that every society must maintain of itself, was evidently problematic for the project of social science. Notwithstanding the fact that the desire of social scientists, as professionals, to relate to the societal world in a manner that is closely related to ways of relating to the social world in which we are immersed, is entirely understandable, given the nature of societal life in the modern age, which includes the present time, this desire cannot, and will not, be fulfilled. One of the distinctive objectives of critical theory is illuminating the specific relationship between conceptions of social science and sociohistorical context, as an indispensable step in the process of examining how compounded layers of alienation alter our ability to discern and, if possible, to shape societal conditions. Yet to state that critical theorists’ contention that the possibility of social science is contingent on illuminating this relationship is neither to suggest that doing so will be sufficient nor that critical theorists have done so successfully. Instead, it is to caution, first, that the agenda of the early, ‘‘classical’’ critical theorists of the Frankfurt School is likely to remain as pertinent as ever, for neo-Marxist critical theory, and for critical theory more generally, and second, that efforts at successful execution remain preliminary, despite claims of recent representatives like Habermas and Honneth to have left the classics behind. Rather, their conceptions of critical theory constitute departures from the original agenda that stressed and developed further certain, partial aspects of that agenda, and in this sense, are legitimate in their own right. However, as attempts to reconstruct the core of the original agenda their departures are neither necessary nor sufficient. They do not constitute a direct continuation of that agenda, nor did they transpose that agenda to present times and conditions,

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nor are they necessary, or even compelling. Indeed, in light of the proliferating dangers not just to the achievements of the modern age – fragmented and contradictory as they were from its beginning – but potentially to the survival of humanity as a whole, it would not be difficult to provide evidence supporting the claim that the incentive to realize the agenda has never been greater. The effort to make explicit, and realize, that agenda must continue. Is it possible, then, to circumscribe more explicitly and more precisely the specific and distinguishing theoretical agenda of the early Frankfurt School, in and for the present context? Formulated thus, the question implies that current incarnations of critical theory do not necessarily represent successful efforts at transposing and continuing the agenda of the classics of critical theory to and for present circumstances. Instead current modes of critical theorizing may constitute parallel or branched-off agendas that, ironically, may obstruct the perspective on critical theory’s defining agenda. The purpose of transposing and continuing the original agenda to twenty-first century conditions would not be, primarily, to reassess how successful early proponents were. Rather, the challenge is to ascertain what implications result from the failure to connect the efforts of the first generation of Horkheimer, Adorno, and Marcuse to work that must be done today – the kind of work that may not be undertaken at all, in the absence of a stated orientation of inquiry for the present context that would correspond with the efforts of the classics. It also suggests that current efforts in the name of critical theory may neither be consistent with the theoretical core of the original agenda of critical theory, as the classics tried to capture it, nor with an updated version of it. As soon as we apply this kind of perspective to the history of critical theory, questions arise with regard to the nature of successes achieved so far, and more importantly, to the state of critical theory today. In particular, the question is whether, to what extent, and in what ways, the main representatives of the second and third generations of critical theory, especially Habermas and Honneth, have continued the tradition on terms that are conducive to pushing ahead the program as it emerged during the 1930s – in what sense they are, or may not be, critical theorists in that sense of the term. Given that critical theory is not compatible with, and indeed opposite to, mainstream approaches, how did successive ‘‘generations’’ of critical theorists relate to mainstream approaches in the social sciences? How did their immersion in time and space influence their ability to pursue and push further the agenda of critical theory? Did critical theory undergo mutations during the post-World War II period that deepened, or diluted, the initial



objectives? To determine to what degree the project of critical theory succeeded in its efforts, however, it is not sufficient to trace its history as an approximation of its practicality, its theoretical logic, as well as its overall legitimacy. Instead, we must also expand on each generation’s efforts, with the proverbial benefit of hindsight. If earlier critical theorists would have been in our position – being able to draw both on knowledge of societal changes that have occurred since the 1970s, as well as on theoretical and empirical work that has been done since then, in the form of both traditional and critical social science – could and would they have laid out the project of critical theory differently, more explicitly and sharply? At the same time, politically speaking, if the spread of democracy and the pursuit especially of economic modernization after World War II could have occurred without the weight of the Cold War, would the theoretical logic of critical theory have been more or less distinctive, and recognizable? Since in the present context, it will not be possible to address these questions adequately, here too, a few central points will have to suffice.

Toward a Critical Theory of Mainstream Approaches: The Tension between ‘‘Static’’ and ‘‘Dynamic’’ in Social Science To reiterate the basic claim suggested in the title of this chapter: the particular type of issues the first generation of Frankfurt School theorists tried to tackle during the 1930s and the 1940s pertain to the very concept, and possibility, of social science today. These issues relate to the fact that mainstream approaches in the social sciences work from the implicit assumption that efforts to illuminate economic, political, cultural, and psychological features of social life do not require rigorous reflection on how the immersion of social research in space and time – for example, within concrete sociohistorical circumstances – impacts on our ability to truly illuminate social life. Put differently, whereas critical theory starts out from the contention that modern society is inherently contradictory – a fact that has a definite bearing on all attempts to describe, analyze, scrutinize, and advance modern society – proponents of mainstream approaches emphasize the difficulties of engaging in social research, independently of the specifically problematic nature of modern society. To be sure, few social scientists represent either position in its pure form; most are located along a spectrum with critical theory at one end, and determined refusal to acknowledge contradictions, at the other.

How Social Science is Impossible Without Critical Theory


While mainstream approaches are oriented toward identifying features of social life that remain constant over time, the early critical theorists were concerned specifically with how to confront the impact of concrete social changes on specific forms of social life, as well as on the analysis of those forms. For instance, should social scientists be concerned with the impact of changes in the organization of the labor process over time, on how members of certain segments of a population view – and especially how they practically relate to – each other, members of other segments, political institutions, democracy, social justice, family life, and access to education and health care, on the other? Most social scientists probably would respond that within the division of labor among the social scientists, at least some researchers should study those changes and their consequences. Yet, assuming that changes in the labor process qualitatively alter social forms – for example, the nature of social relations – should social scientists not directly concerned with either phenomenon consider the implications of such a link for their own research? Moreover, what if such changes influence, or impair, our ability to do social research, in ways that we will not notice unless and until we pay focused attention – as a necessary precondition for the possibility to successful efforts, rather than those efforts themselves? If we identify as the primary charge of social scientists to make accessible the nature of forms of social life as they are independent of, and transcend, the specifics of space and time, then the issues with which the early critical theorists struggled are marginal, if not irrelevant. Yet if we respond to the above set of questions affirmatively, then our response implies the willingness to take responsibility for examining the specific nature of the link between concrete forms of life – and the forces that shape or produce them. From this perspective, social research needs to pursue challenges at several levels simultaneously: – How are forms of societal life concretely manifested? – How do changes in the sociohistorical context influence concrete forms of societal life? – How do forms of societal life reflect changes in the sociohistorical context? – How do forms of societal life reflecting changes in the sociohistorical context provide access to the origins of those changes? – How does knowledge of the link between concrete forms of societal life and sociohistorical changes open up perspectives on society that are closed off from members of society who are actively engaged in societal life?



Since mainstream social scientists tend to be interested primarily in processes and phenomena in society that facilitate knowledge about processes and phenomena in society that is independent of time and space – that is generalizable beyond the specificity of societal context. Concrete processes and phenomena are relevant mostly as far as they reveal stable patterns and trends. The early critical theorists contended that unless we are able to determine the nature of the link between change in society and forms of societal life, we will not be capable of truly illuminating the latter. Yet in order to do the latter, we must put ourselves in the position to be able to distinguish between features of societal life that are independent of time and space, and those that are subject to social change – whose concrete shape, in other words, reveals the concrete manifestations and underlying logic of change in society. If we orient the purpose of our research in such a manner that the specific, dominant features of a particular society, as they are consequences of social change and continue to pattern future social change, are not part of our research agenda, then we are bound to conflate consequences of change with the nature of the phenomenon to be studied – we process consequences as indicative of the nature of the phenomenon. For instance, depending on the degree and kind of reflexivity applied to the link between sociohistorical context and research, some approaches may be oriented toward illuminating the link in a manner that is in accordance with how most members of society relate to and view society, in everyday life. In this sense, the effort to illuminate the link in fact would reflect features of society. (From a criticaltheoretical perspective, relating the task of illuminating social life to prevailing ways of viewing social life, in an ironic twist, would then make accessible those prevailing views.) On the other hand, approaches may be directed at illuminating the link in a manner that is a necessary precondition for grasping the nature of the link as a representation of society itself. In this sense, the inquiry explicitly would go beyond perpetuating socially condoned views, and thus reflect on society. In mainstream approaches, sociohistorical circumstances only enter the picture in the form of concrete and observable facts: demographic and statistical data, historical events, concrete political and economic processes, institutions, systems of power, and social structure. The possibility that concrete sociohistorical circumstances and trends influence or shape research in the social sciences itself in ways that are in profound conflict with how we, as members of society, see social life, does not enter into, or influence, mainstream perspectives. We should therefore orient our research in a manner that compels us to grasp the nature of such features and

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phenomena as social relations and political institutions, as their nature is the intersection between static and dynamic dimensions in and of modern society – rather than being constant over time. Yet it may not be possible to study this nature separately, in terms of static versus dynamic dimensions. Rather, what we must study is the ways in which static dimensions may provide the scaffolding for dynamic dimensions, and how both exist through their combination. It would not be possible, then, to grasp the nature of such phenomena and features as social relations and political institutions independently of time and space, that is, independently of how members of society practically relate to them, in different sociohistorical environments and contexts. Since all efforts to analyze social reality occur in specific sociohistorical contexts, the latter inevitably impact on the former in a multiplicity of ways. In addition to obvious influences that are inescapable – notions of necessary, desirable, legitimate research; ideology, at many different levels; funding opportunities; religion and cultural traditions; political, economic, and social power; structures of inequality – the term ‘‘sociohistorical context’’ also highlights the particular, and particularly problematic, form and content those influences may take and entail in the modern age, in relation to structural changes, especially in economic, organizational, and political regards. It is not just that but also especially how we adhere and subscribe to differing degrees to prevailing norms, traditional ideas, and ideology that fulfill necessary functions for the possibility of social order. How we are being socialized, educated, and trained to view ourselves as individuals capable of being free, enlightened, self-interested, self-determining, emancipated and social (i.e., solidaristic), does engender a view of the self that is integral to the possibility of modern society as a social, political, and economic order. Yet while our socially constructed ways of seeing our and each others’ selves is necessary for social order, it also impacts on our ability to confront the discrepancy between the projection and actuality of social reality – as members of society we relate to certain features of society in ways that reinforce social order, even though those ways of relating to features of society may not be conducive to illuminating its actual workings and constitutional principles. As long as social scientists do not regard it as necessary to scrutinize the precise nature of the relationship between research agendas pursued and tools employed (theories, methods, and concepts – along with the explicit or implicit priorities that shaped their development), and the defining features of the economic, political, cultural, and societal context that is to be illuminated, approaches in the social sciences are more likely than not to



implicitly reflect – and perpetuate – those features, rather than critically reflecting on them. In fact, this may be the essence of mainstream approaches: that their proponents and adherents insist on the possibility – and necessity – of analyzing and explaining social reality, and any and all of its component dimensions, with the help of tools that bypass (i.e., that make unnecessary recognition of) the constitutionally problematic nature of modern society, as it keeps undergoing successive transmutations. Ironically, in an inverted manner, this insistence is not far from the truth: implicitly, advocates of mainstream approaches suggest that all social scientists work with tools that reflect (work with, embody) the complexities, contingencies, and contradictions of modern social life in such a manner that responses and/or solutions to theoretical, methodological, or practical challenges result by default. By contrast, the early critical theorists asserted that refusal to critically reflect on the link between social science practice and sociohistorical context inevitably perpetuates, or amplifies, the defining features of the latter. There are numerous approaches and traditions in each of the social sciences that are cognizant of the fact that at different levels of subtlety, preference for a particular methodology, theoretical orientation, notion of polity, economy, culture, or society, along with conceptions of the purpose and responsibility of each social science, are tied to and reflect specific societal and historical contexts. Yet aside from critical theory, there is no approach that has, in terms of its basic design and theoretical logic, a comparable obligation to scrutinize a particular type of possible pitfalls that accompany all efforts to take steps in the direction of a science of society, polity, culture, or economy. This particular type of pitfall results from the fact that it is not possible to conceive of a social science and its specific subject matter, purpose, and responsibility, entirely independent of the specific features that are characteristic of its sociohistorical context. Whether, for instance – in ‘‘static’’ terms – a society has a political system that adheres to and employs what Joseph Schumpeter referred to as the ‘‘democratic method,’’ certainly will influence and be reflected in the concepts of social science in that society. However, and at least as importantly, whether democratic values and validity claims are being feigned on a regular and consistent basis to compel voters to support parties, policies, and candidates whose manipulative intent is apparent, must translate into attempts in the social sciences to examine and describe the actual functioning of societies with purportedly democratic political systems as well. This second, ‘‘dynamic’’ dimension, whose incidence, concrete form, and practical execution will differ from society to society, is at least as

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important for the possibility of social science that is related meaningfully to the actuality of forms of societal life, as the ‘‘static’’ dimension. Examples of this kind are so ubiquitous, in every area of modern social life and modes of application, that this one illustration will need to suffice here. All efforts to conceive or design a social science, identify the need for it, and to formulate legitimate scientific questions, tools, and practices, inevitably reflect priorities that are prevalent in geographical space and historical time. Evidently, how the latter influences and shapes conceptions of science must also be taken into consideration, regarding the orientation of each of the social sciences. For instance, the current entwinement of global context and the orientation of neoclassical economics as an established ‘‘social’’ science is merely the most conspicuous example; similar links could be identified and thematized for political science, psychology, and even sociology. While proponents of other approaches may allow for, or even rely on, the recognition that structures of power, interests, and inequalities in a particular society are bound to shape the kinds of questions and issues ‘‘respectable’’ social scientists should want to be concerned with, critical theorists have addressed this shaping force along an entire spectrum of phenomena, and how it entails the potential of undercutting the possibility of success from the outset. However, to date, no sustained effort has been made to systematically capture this shaping force, nor has there been an adequate focus on the consequences resulting from the conspicuous longing of many critical theorists to be regarded as respectable social scientists, for the future of critical theory.

CRITICAL THEORY: MAINSTREAM APPROACHES?48 How will social science be possible with critical theory? The fragmentation of the social sciences is a consequence of the same forces and processes that fragment societal life in the modern age, combined with the fact that most social scientists at best have a marginal interest in recognizing those forces and processes. De facto, mainstream social science largely is a hypothetical exercise on the supposition that modern society is an internally consistent form of social, political, cultural and economic life, and organization. However, as critical theorists and many other social scientists have recognized, stated, and demonstrated, actually existing modern societies are both constitutionally irreconcilable, as far as the tension between norms and values is concerned, and implicitly and explicitly rely on the projection that they are the most promising venue for reconciling facts and norms in



history (see Wellmer, 1993; Schluchter, 1996). The evidence that both of these ‘‘moments’’ are integral to modern society is too overwhelming to ignore, and continues to become more overwhelming as time goes by. Yet we continue with business as usual. The agenda laid out by Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, and other representatives of the classical period of critical theory constituted a decisive, albeit certainly not flawless step in the direction of approximating, if not actualizing, the kind of theoretically informed social science that will engender qualitative societal change beyond the current state of irreconcilable modernity. The latter seems forever bound by its unwillingness to spell out how its core consists of contradictions, and how its values are fraught by (though not reducible to) the need to produce and maintain projections that are tied up with contradictions. These projections conceal the proliferation of hyper-alienated forms of existence, by compelling individuals, as individuals, to interpret those forms of existence within reference frames that do not coincide with the ways of the world today – that are, in fact, objective impossible (Dahms, 2005). In addition, we must recognize that established practices of trying to ‘‘solve’’ problems are a function of the warped design of modern society (inequality, poverty, unemployment, etc., to whatever degree they are part and parcel of modern society, rather than the consequence of aggregated individual failings, etc.) – not ancillary, but integral to modern society. Instead of changing prevailing modes of coexistence, we externalize those problems, and engage in efforts to solve them, without changing those modes of coexistence, along with ourselves, as they (we, ourselves) reflect specific sociohistorical conditions.49 As should be expected, in light of the above, efforts to carry the original project of critical theory into the twenty-first century will have to overcome major obstacles. Ironically, though, in retrospect, the history of critical theory since the 1970s itself might be one of those obstacles. With regard to the problematic nature of mainstream approaches outlined here, it would be difficult to deny that the writings of the main representatives of critical theory since the 1970s, Habermas and Honneth, represent a major departure from the original agenda, as both have stressed repeatedly during the last quarter century. Habermas’s work since the 1970s is characterized by determined efforts to reconcile critical theory with mainstream approaches. Many of the approaches developed by earlier theorists he utilized and incorporated are among the most sophisticated efforts to frame aspects of social life. Especially in The Theory of Communicative Action ([1981] 1984, 1987), Habermas relied heavily, though of course not exclusively, on approaches that did not address explicitly issues related to alienation (as

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shorthand for the willingness to recognize the centrality of contradictions to modern society) and the societal condition it denotes. Moreover, his particular reading and integration in his theory of those contributions tended to be more compatible with mainstream interpretations, than with critical theory. For instance, when viewed from the perspective of alienation, both Durkheim’s concept of anomie and Weber’s concept of the Protestant ethic, as organizing categories that are directly related to and expressive of the guiding thrust of their theoretically informed designs of sociology as a social science, entail are much more critical impetus than Habermas allowed for.

Critical Liberalism, Cultural Pessimism, and Public Sociology Given the degree to which both Habermas’ and Honneth’s respective attempts to move ‘‘beyond’’ critical theory reveal a willingness to subscribe to the ideology modern western societies constructed of themselves – as the purported vehicles par excellence for advancing democracy, social justice, and economic equality – it might be more accurate to describe their perspectives as critical liberalism, rather than critical theory. Yet framing liberalism as problematic does not translate into the wholesale rejection of western democracy, rule of law, and economic prosperity. Rather, it emphasizes that conceptualizing the charge of critical theory within the context of and depending on a particular political arrangement, such as post-World War II democracy, is in danger of betraying its systematic theoretical commitment, without putting in its place a set of tools that will ensure that the kinds of questions that inspired the first generation of critical theorists will continue to guide social research in some form, in some regards, into the future.50 The issue is similar with regard to the charge of overly exaggerated pessimism that has been leveled especially at Horkheimer and Adorno. I propose that this charge might start out from an erroneous stance: that the distinction between optimism and pessimism provides suitable cornerstones for framing the original agenda of critical theory. In light of the perspective I have been advocating here, the distinction simply would not appear to apply. Instead, the distinction suggests an outlook that posits that theoretical analysis ought to translate into constructive political and practical action. While this indeed would be desirable, it should not be so at the expense of theoretical rigor – not for its own sake, but for the sake of our ability to confront facts perpetually seeking to hide themselves from



sight. The supposition that constructive collective action is possible, in the present context, and that theoretical endeavors ought to be conducive to such action and its conception, may not be warranted. At the present historical juncture, if we follow the contention that theoretically sound, proactive politics must be possible, we might undercut the kind of research of ‘‘objective possibilities’’ – for example, as far as solving social problems is concerned – that would warrant ‘‘optimism.’’ Put differently: within dominant ideology, as it permeates even critical-theoretical discourse, what may appear as optimism, might undercut the possibility of actual, justified optimism, while the kind of ‘‘pessimism’’ of which especially Adorno was accused of, may be the necessary precondition for the kind of optimism that is grounded in an ability to ‘‘face facts’’ – that is, the exceedingly warped nature of ‘‘modern’’ society. As social scientists, it is not our main responsibility to ‘‘solve the world’s problems,’’ but to make critical contributions by confronting, rigorously, the causes of the different disciplines’ lack of effectiveness, as far as actual, comprehensive analytical, and research progress is concerned. For instance, the lack of willingness and determination among many practitioners of social science to recognize the causes of fragmentation plays a key role in preserving the world’s problems. Fragmentation is not incidental to the link between modern social life and social science, but integral to both – and must be recognized and confronted accordingly. The fact that social life is fraught with fragmentation, and the need to ‘‘reign in’’ its constitutionally destructive consequences for social order both a permanent challenge and an opportunity to reinforce social order by utilizing the destructive potential, inspired the classics of sociology to center their theories and conceptions of social science around categories that, at the time, were truly ‘‘unthinkable’’ – alienation, anomie, and the Protestant ethic.51 We must recognize that the possibility of social science is contingent on our commitment to ascertain the empirical and theoretical impact of the dimensions of social reality these categories denote, at successive points in time. As long as we ignore that the very design of modern society is both consequence and cause of fragmentation at the same time, the temptation and inclination is great to surmise that social science can achieve any of its goals. As a result, we not only delude ourselves – our readiness to be deluded is an integral part of the problem, rather than of the solution – and certainly not a matter of personal preference. We are a cause of the problem, and far from providing decision-makers in institutions and organizations, as well as collective actors, with the kind of categories and tools that would compel

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them – probably against their ‘‘better knowledge’’ – to begin to appreciate what it would mean to solve any social problem. Acknowledging and scrutinizing the link between society and social science opens up an important venue for examining the ability of social scientists to realize the claims made in the name of each discipline, and to recognize the discrepancy between claims made and their realization, in a multiplicity of ways. Critical theorists have pointed out that, and in certain regards also addressed how, particular aspects of the research process suffer from a lack of reflexivity regarding the limitations and biases concrete sociohistorical circumstances impose on our ability to illuminate modern social life, whenever those circumstances are treated as inevitable, desirable, natural, or given.52 One the one hand, it is critically important to identify the characteristic features of the context that leads observers to the conclusion that specific circumstances are inevitable, desirable, natural, or given. Recognition that those features are most important inasmuch as they take specific form is a necessary first step in the process of assessing to what degree social research is driven by the determination to illuminate and scrutinize a particular phenomenon, and to what degree it is driven by priorities and objectives that are extensions of a specific societal context that steers research in a direction that may be inversely related to illuminating and scrutinizing the phenomenon – instead framing it in ways that are compatible with, and reinforce, those very specific features of the societal context. Given critical theory’s emphasis on reflexivity regarding the link between societal context and research practice, it is uniquely positioned to make a necessary and indispensable contribution to the project and process of social science as a whole. Yet the centrality to the agenda of critical theory, of reflexivity regarding concrete contexts, consistently must be made explicit, and expanded on systematically, in order for it to be possible to demonstrate that and how the tradition’s contribution to all the social sciences is foundational, rather than circumstantial.

SOCIAL SCIENCE IN THE AGE OF GLOBALIZATION: RECONCILING THE IRRECONCILABLE? In conclusion, circumscribing the relationship between social science and critical theory does not appear to be as daunting a challenge after all. Indeed, it can be summarized as follows. Social science without critical



theory (or any of its close allies, such as critical realism) constitutes what has been referred to as ‘‘mainstream’’ social science, that is, those approaches that lack reflexivity regarding their immersion in sociohistorical contexts, and the implications resulting from that immersion for research capabilities, especially as far as the built-in systemic, structural, and cultural limitations of the sociohistorical context are concerned. If a particular form of social organization can function only because certain dimensions of social, political, cultural, and economic life are suppressed or kept out of sight, then the suppression or occlusion of those dimensions will have a bearing on the practices and orientations of social science. In the absence of reflexivity regarding the limiting and disabling impact of sociohistorical context on research, it is not possible to interpret and try to explain the manifestations of suppression and occlusion in the social sciences as anything but flaws characteristic of particular – if not all – research designs and approaches, and thus, of social science per se. By contrast, social science that relies on critical theory, in the sense outlined here, as a matter of course explicitly reflects on sociohistorical context. Thus, researchers are in the position, as a matter of principle, to differentiate between flaws of research designs and approaches that reflect and are an extension of a sociohistorical context in its specificity, and those flaws that are subject to methodological and theoretical errors and deficiencies. The latter are of concern to philosophers of science, especially social science, and their domain of competence. Historically, and in mainstream approaches in particular, the opportunity did not exist to differentiate clearly between deficits in research that need to be framed, understood, and explained in terms of the disciplinary methodological and theoretical horizon of each social science, respectively, on the one hand, and in terms of the bearing concrete empirical circumstances have on the disciplinary practices of each social science on the other. Thus, we have arrived at the vanishing point of this chapter. As social scientists endeavoring to grasp the nature of the most important practical as well as theoretical challenges of the present age, we find ourselves in the proverbial ‘‘Catch-22.’’ Because in part of ‘‘globalization’’ – as shorthand for our sociohistorical reference frame, which in certain regards represents a highly unique configuration – we may be able to state more explicitly than at earlier times the need to differentiate two types of research in the social sciences. On the one hand, there is social science of the sort that de facto reflects problematic features of the present specific context, in a manner that replicates and reinforces those features with and through social research, by default or by design.53 This kind of social science literally, though to

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differing degrees, is a reflection of society, in the sense that it subscribes to the projection any society needs to sustain in order to function and be stable. On the other hand, the mode of social science that critically reflects on problematic features being detrimental to the practice of effective and pertinent social research relates to social science that ‘‘reflects society’’ as playing an active role in maintaining those features. To social scientists critically reflecting on society, the practices and orientation of social scientists that reflect society are symptomatic of society – and thus, theoretically, could serve as a means to make visible problematic societal features – by counterposing the claims made by proponents of approaches that reflect society, about the purpose of social science, and the actual efficacy of those approaches. Yet in order to make visible the concrete link between problematic features and research practice, we must identify precisely the features that mainstream social scientists refuse to recognize as problematic due to their unwillingness to acknowledge the ‘‘gravity’’ of sociohistorical context in its specificity. The problem is not only that mainstream approaches deny that modern forms of social organization are bound to entail specific features, under any and all circumstances, that have a problematic bearing on research practice, down to the level of epistemology, and that these features must be identified carefully. Worse still, the gravity of mainstream approaches in each social science discipline undercuts the legitimacy of critically reflexive efforts, however rigorous they may be, to identify systemically, structurally, and culturally problematic features and their detrimental effects on the practice of social research. In one regard, mainstream approaches either refuse to acknowledge or simply neglect the existence of those specific features. This neglect provides a key criterion for determining whether a particular approach belongs to the mainstream or not – whether it is compatible with the categories of classical critical theory – dialectics, nontraditional reflexivity, totality, and interdisciplinarity. In another regard, the gravitational pull of the mainstream – as obliviousness regarding sociohistorical specificity – is both so great and so seemingly inescapable that efforts by context-reflexive social scientists to identify problematic features and to ascertain and convey their impact on research will have little or no effect on mainstream approaches. Since the movement of the mainstream resembles a juggernaut, it does not need to immunize itself against critique, protect itself against opportunities to expand its horizon, or prevent itself from reflecting upon its sociohistorical context. Critical reflexivity is immaterial to the existence or the direction of the mainstream since its raison d’etre was never meant to be, and never was,



related to the production of representations of modern societal life as a constitutionally warped totality. Instead, it would be more appropriate and more justified to regard mainstream approaches as efforts, in the name of social science, to ‘‘analyze’’ and ‘‘scrutinize’’ modern society within the horizon of modern society. Meaning: mainstream approaches do not provide truly probing analyses of modern society as such, which might (or would) engender qualitative transformations of modern society – but instead, present analyses of modern society, without making the effort to ‘‘think the unthinkable’’ – to recall Lemert’s phrase. As a consequence, mainstream approaches reflect modern societies in their specificity in the sense that they provide a mirror of modern society, rather than a mirror for society. Mainstream representations of modern society do not and never were meant to reveal its form of social organization as existing against the normative framework of modern society, but instead as it appears to itself within the normative framework of modern society. Concordantly, members of modern society who rely on mainstream representations of modern society – including social scientists, inasmuch as they are members of society as well – do not see modern society as it functions and reconstitutes itself through the design of the individual identities of its members and of social scientists, so as to secure the contours and features of modern society in its specificity – the specific contours and problematic features of each individual modern society – by imprinting them on every individual member, in ways that he or she could not possibly conceive. By contrast, the goal and purpose of critical approaches is to direct research efforts at providing representations of modern society that reveal to its members and to social scientists their problematic features as integral components of its concrete sociohistorical form, and thus, its very possibility. However, the mere fact that critical theory along with other approaches and traditions that are critically reflexive with regard to particular aspects of sociohistorical context – such as the continuing prevalence of patriarchy in modern society, or western bias itself, both from poststructuralist and postcolonial perspectives – or of particular disciplines – such as Gouldner’s or Bourdieu’s arguments for reflexive sociology – does not relativize the preeminence and gravity of mainstream approaches (see Gouldner, 1970; Bourdieu, 1990; Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992; Antonio, 2005). Rather, they confirm the latter: to ‘‘think’’ social science without taking into consideration the gravitational pull of the mainstream runs the risk of overrating the relevance and weight of dissident approaches within each discipline and the seeming significance of proliferating diversity and plurality. Underestimating the affinity between

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mainstream approaches and social structures in their specificity, thus, would be detrimental to the possibility to the kind of social science that is most important, most needed, and most challenging today: the kind of social science that enlightens society about its concrete form and condition of existence – the kind of enlightenment no society ever ‘‘wants’’ to confront, or is capable of confronting, given that social order and stability are contingent on the facility of any society – including, most importantly, modern society – to limit transparency and accountability to levels well below those whose consistent projection is a necessary precondition for the legitimacy, and possibility, of modern society. In conclusion, identifying the perimeter of ‘‘mainstream’’ approaches is both a necessary precondition for effective and pertinent social research, and a possible avenue for illuminating the functioning and constitutional logic of modern societies. Mainstream approaches in one regard are an impediment to analyzing society as far as today’s most important issues, along with the critically reflexive purpose, responsibility, and promise of each and all of the social sciences, are concerned. Yet in another regard, mainstream approaches also provide access to the problematic features of particular contexts, once we ‘‘calculate,’’ as it were, the inability of mainstream approaches, first, to recognize their limitations as manifestation of specific social conditions, and second, to explain the consequences of those limitations for conceiving and designing social research programs – albeit in different ways and to different degrees. Thus, in a warped manner, mainstream approaches can in fact serve as highly pertinent contributions to conceiving of strategies for confronting more effectively social problems, and the prospect of their solution – just not in terms of mainstream social science, but read against the grain, within the more expansive perimeter of comprehensive social science that is capable of and fully engaged in critical reflexivity at all levels, as par for the course – and oriented toward the kind of qualitative transformations in and of modern societies whose urgency continues to become more obvious by the day. To do so, critical theorists must be reticent regarding the temptations of ‘‘mainstream’’ respectability, prestige, and success, and continuously renew the ‘‘classical’’ commitment to analytical efforts that are, in fact, oriented toward a kind of basic research that is directed at illuminating the constitutional principle of a form of social organization that is built on and around contradictions, and that continues to produce and feed off of alienation, anomie, and the Protestant ethic, at an increasingly intensifying pace. Consequently, rather than being concerned about defending critical theory as a legitimate research agenda, we must direct our labor at revealing the causes and consequences of modern



society’s inherent irreconcilability – on the assumption that if we should make it to the proverbial bottom, we might be in the position to conceive of social life in ways that are not determined by immersion in the gravitational pull of modernity’s inability to allow for a qualitatively superior constitution of societal existence.

NOTES 1. While the argument presented here applies above all to the neo-Marxist critical theory that began as the ‘‘Frankfurt School,’’ poststructural, postmodernist, feminist, postcolonial, and critical race theories represent perspectives that are similar, and highly compatible, with Frankfurt School-style theorizing. Unless explicitly stated otherwise, in this chapter the focus is on the critical theory of the Frankfurt School only. Given that its reference frame is universal in aspiration, rather than particular to specific experiences, population, or lifestyle, in terms of theoretical logic, it has come to be regarded as the model of all critical theories. Note, however, that its universalist orientation has been criticized by all non-Frankfurt School approaches to critical theory as being highly problematic. On the issue of universality in relation to globalization, see Natter (2008). For an overview, see Calhoun (1995). On mapping critical theories, see Huyssen (1984) and Antonio (1998). 2. Reluctantly, I try to distinguish between ‘‘social’’ and ‘‘societal’’ in this chapter with as much consistency as possible, to signal when I refer to the social dimension of society – as opposed to the political, economic, or cultural dimensions – and when I refer to societal features – as dynamic intersections of the social, political, economic, cultural, and organizational dimensions of societies. In doing so, I adhere to the practice in Frankfurt School critical theory, of distinguishing between social (‘‘sozial’’) and societal (‘‘gesellschaftlich’’). In Adorno, in particular, critical theory consistently is concerned with societal rather than social issues, a distinction that tends to be neglected in translations into English. Strictly speaking, critical theory criticizes ‘‘social science’’ for its failure to recognize the need for ‘‘societal science’’ – social science of society as a ‘‘dialectic totality.’’ 3. In the sense that the work of founders provides a foil enabling latter social scientists to revisit, on a regular basis, the question of whether and in what sense the trajectory of a discipline’s concerns and development of tools both is consistent with early designs and standards, and does constitute ‘‘progress.’’ 4. I am not suggesting the conflation of research and public policy, as advocates of public policy appear to suggest, at times. Rather, I am acknowledging the fact that research in the social sciences always, inevitably, has policy implications, usually is informed by and funded for its potential for policy implications, and within the context of social structures and ‘‘dominant ideology’’ often has a bearing on reality, via public policies – for better or for worse. For present purposes, though, I propose that to frame a discipline’s responsibility, purpose, and promises, the distinction must be made between public-policy oriented research (as in ‘‘public sociology’’), on

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the one hand, and ‘‘basic research’’ – a term that largely has dropped out of social science discourse, on the other. On the issue of public sociology, see Paolucci (2008). 5. ‘‘Evolution’’ commonly is employed to refer to qualitative improvement over time; I employ it here in the more narrow sense of continuous adaptation to a changing environment that may, but must not necessarily, entail qualitative improvement. 6. Case in point: from the end of World War II until the 1970s, faith in the advantages resulting from a nation’s ability to achieve and sustain economic prosperity through economic growth was widespread, and the notion that the noneconomic costs could outweigh the economic and noneconomic benefits combined close to inconceivable and tempered by optimistic projections of increasing personal and national wealth directly translating into an increasing capacity to solve social problems. The period from approximately 1950 to 1970 also saw the only period in recorded history when in globally the rate of economic inequality increasing decreased, compared to the decades preceding and succeeding it (see Bourguignon & Morrison, 2002). 7. It is telling that today a former vice president feels compelled to strike more critical tones than many self-proclaimed critical theorists, not to mention social scientists. Note the similarity between the title of Al Gore’s most recent book, The Assault on Reason (2007), and one of Horkheimer’s classical texts, Eclipse of Reason (1947). Though Gore does not reference Horkheimer, he does refer the ‘‘Frankfurt School of Philosophy’’ (p. 276) in general and Habermas in particular (pp. 19, 26). 8. In the social sciences, proponents of the different kinds of critical theory mentioned earlier (neo-Marxism, feminism, poststructuralism, postmodernism, and postcolonialism), more traditional Marxism, world-systems theory, critical realism, and reflexively modernist approaches, have been critical of modernization theory for decades, in one way or other. Note that the fact that proponents of marginal approaches have achieved positions of great prominence; for example, Ju¨rgen Habermas does not relativize the previous statement. Rather, the greater the gravity and stability of the ‘‘core’’ – in this case modernization theory – the more likely it is that a growing number of scholars who are critical of the core will attain positions of prominence. 9. As I put it elsewhere, the purpose of social policies in western democratic capitalist societies appears not to solve social problems but to police social problems (Dahms, 2005, p. 230) – meaning: policing those who suffer most from social problems. 10. I am using the phrase, dominant ideology, reluctantly. In my use, it refers not to more or less codified political ideologies, but to the ideology of post-World War II western societies as they are tied up with the political, social, economic, and cultural Cold War configuration that is supported and reinforced dynamically by those dimensions of modern social life that Marx, Durkheim, and Weber proposed to capture in terms of alienation, anomie, and the Protestant ethic. For a discussion of the phrase see Abercrombie, Hill, and Turner (1980). 11. As suggested in Schumpeter’s (1942, pp. 81–86) well-known phrase, creative destruction. 12. On the main three models of ideology critique in Frankfurt School critical theory, see Strecker (2008).



13. On the category of ‘‘faith’’ as a central feature of capitalism, see Deutschmann (2001). 14. The similarity in spirit to the language of Baudrillard, especially in Simulacra and Simulation ([1981] 1994), is not accidental, although my perspective is not just compatible with the notion that social science and modern society are viable categories, but inspired by the possibility and prospect of their actualization in a much more comprehensive sense than the reality of both social science and modern society to date would seem to justify. Most importantly, while Baudrillard’s categories and critique are sweeping in nature, my argument is directed at a particular kind of specificity of societal conditions for which social scientists are responsible, and must take responsibility. 15. To reiterate an earlier point, I am referring to the set of political, cultural and economic features, problems, and challenges, as societal – as pertaining to the dynamic nexus of intersecting and integrated levels of spheres of life in society. For the most thorough examination of the depth of the self-deception of modern society, as far as conceptions and the treatment of ‘‘nature’’ are concerned, from a sociological philosophy-of-science perspective, rather than poststructuralist or feminist vantage points, see Hazelrigg (1989a, 1989b, 1993, 1995). 16. For an analysis that traces the more problematic trends and features of the post-World War II era for the present to the 1970s, see McMurtry (1998). 17. Though this is most obvious in the United States – perhaps due in part to the fact that here there were few concrete signs of the end of the Cold War that would have been comparable to the closing of military bases and the removal of foreign troops in and from Central Europe – in less conspicuous ways it applies across the ‘‘democratic world.’’ 18. In the social sciences, interest in the Cold War and the Cold War period has been growing in recent years. See especially Abbott and Sparrow (2007), Steinmetz (2005a), Antonio and Bonnanno (2006), Engerman, Gilman, Haefele, and Latham (2003), and Westad (1998), the latter including especially Stephanson (1998), Lebow (1998), and Wohlforth (1998). See also Buck-Morss (2000) and Westad (2005). 19. For present purposes, I conceive of modern society as a form of social organization that both promises and betrays the ‘‘reconciliation of facts and norms’’ – as the vanishing point of efforts to synchronize the categories we employ to make sense of ‘‘reality,’’ the nature of reality, our place within it, and any of its aspects, components, and dimensions, both as far as natural and social reality are concerned, in theory, philosophy, science, ideology, and religion. 20. Classical contributions not merely in the sense of each discipline’s founders and early representatives, but of waves of contributions that keep reconfiguring the agenda and purpose of each discipline, renewed typically through the adoption and embrace of a new, or additional, paradigm. Mainstream economists and psychologists appear to be most committed to the need for and desirability of one dominant paradigm, with mainstream political scientists being a close (and increasingly closer) second. Mainstream sociologists are less fixated on one paradigm, but work with the idea of organizing paradigms just as much. 21. The problem of fragmentation as a disciplinary challenge is most visible in sociology, which may well be the most fragmented discipline to date. Talcott Parsons’ effort at developing a ‘‘general theory of society’’ was an expression of his

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concern about the threat of proliferating fragmentation. For an early perspective that resulted from concern about the fragmentation of social life, see Mills (1959), as well as Dandaneau (2008). See also Gouldner (1985) and Phillips (2001). On the issue of ‘‘invisibility’’ as a theoretical category, see Phillips and Johnston (2007). Honneth’s (2001) use of the concept is a function of his recognition-oriented framework, rather than directed at critical theory as a comprehensive horizon; the same could be said for his comparably narrow employment of the concept of reification (Honneth, 2005) as it is centered around the concept of recognition as well. 22. The challenge of reconceiving the future has begun to inspire some politically and theoretically oriented social scientists, though; see George (2004), Jameson (2006), and Cooke (2006). 23. Social scientists, who are primarily concerned with furthering progress in ways that live up to and reinforce ‘‘scientific’’ standards, pursue research that is inspired by the natural sciences. (They usually do not ask whether those scientific standards correspond to actual natural science practice.) Social science in this sense is not concerned with whether research advances our knowledge of politics, economics, culture, and society in a manner that is conducive to greater correspondence between how we (inhabitants as well as social scientists of modern life) perceive societal conditions, and the actuality of those conditions. Put differently, social scientists tend to work with the assumption that the results of their research, if sound, improve our conditions by default; addressing the question of whether or not societal conditions are conducive to the results of social research actually improving conditions is not considered among the responsibilities of social science. 24. See Adorno’s (2003, p. 13) related complaint, expressed in one of his lectures in 1965. See also Dahms (1999), especially pp. 55–57. 25. Sarah Amsler (2008) has presented an argument and outline of a pedagogy that is oriented beyond the gravity of dis-utopias. 26. From a position that is both informed and influenced by Habermas’s concept of deliberative democracy, Kevin Olson (2008) has addressed the links and tensions between governmental rationality and collective political resistance (see also Olson, 2006). 27. The literature relating to this concept is vast indeed, and I will not try to begin to provide references. Suffice it to say that it is quite apparent that its importance under conditions of globalization is not decreasing but rapidly increasing. See Langman and Kalekin-Fishman (2006) and Dahms (2005, 2006, 2008). For a most probing and promising recent contribution at a high level of theoretical sophistication, see Jaeggi (2005a, 2005b). 28. I am employing the phrase here in allusion to the discussion surrounding Luka`cs’s ([1923] 1971) use of the phrase; see especially Fetscher (1973). 29. Note that I employ the term ‘‘mainstream’’ not to refer to a set of concrete approaches that can be identified positively, but instead, negatively – through the absence of one particular characteristic – reflexivity with regard to the impact of changing sociohistorical conditions of the orientation and practice of research in the social sciences. 30. See Horkheimer’s programmatic essay, ‘‘Traditional and Critical Theory’’ (Horkheimer, 1937). The literature on the Frankfurt School ceased to be perspicuous



some time ago; for a selection of both established and more recent treatments and overviews, see the classical treatments of Wellmer (1969) 1971 and Jay (1973), as well as Wiggershaus ([1986] 1994), Nealon and Irr (2002), and Wolin (2006). 31. For a typical illustration of the social science perspective, see Parsons (1951, p. 480), where he states, in his characteristic language, that ‘‘the treatment of y those [problems] concerned with processes of change of the system itself, that is, processes of resulting in the changes of the system itself y comes in the present scheme logically last, and presupposed some level of theoretical solution of the [problems of working] out a conceptual scheme in which the major structural components of the social system could be identified y and [of analyzing] motivational processes within the system.’’ 32. Also, it is not likely to be accidental that many critical theorists, and representatives of closely related approaches, were comparativists by default – having spent years of their lives in at least two different countries – Marx, Engels, Luka`cs, Mannheim, Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, Gabel, Arato, and Benhabib. It is quite possible, even likely, that experiencing two different societies enables a person to transcend the specificity of both. 33. The related literature has placed special emphasis on role of labor movement and religion in the United States, primarily compared to Europe, but also to Canada and Australia. See Lipset (1996), Lloyd (1997), Wrobel (1996), Madsen (1998), and Voss (1993). Although in the existing literature, the emphasis has been on American exceptionalism, in principle, this perspective could be applied to all societies since it is highly unlikely that there are any societies that are not exceptional in some regards. 34. In sociology, as the social science discipline most compatible with comparative and historical perspectives, see Wallerstein (1993), Mandalios (2000), and Griffin and Stryker (2000). For a more recent collection of excellent essays addressing related issues, see Adams, Clemens, and Orloff (2005). 35. I have been pursuing this line of inquiry in terms of ‘‘socioanalysis’’ – in allusion to psychoanalysis – from the position that the latter remains incomplete as long as individuals are compelled to interpret problems in personal psychological terms what may be caused, at least in part, by imperatives of social order and the constitutional logic of society at a particular point in time and space, for example, failure to adapt to a social environment as at least in part the consequence of prevalent form of social relations. 36. In Germany, the rise of National Socialism provided the strongest incentive for asking questions about the increasingly problematic links between business and bureaucracy, on the one hand, and the values of modern societies in terms of individual self-determination, freedom, equality, and so forth, on the other, with which the former could not be reconciled in ways that would have been conducive to the construction of meaningful life histories. Especially the studies on prejudice and on authority and family fall into this category, as well as works by social scientists that were associated with the Institute for Social Research, but did not belong to its core, such as Neumann and Kracauer. See also Mark Worrell (2008) on antisemitic workers and Jewish stereotypes during World War II. 37. Vol. 25 of Current Perspectives in Social Theory includes several chapters that address aspects of the Frankfurt School critical theorists’ related contributions. Robert Gorman’s (2008) essay traces the linkages between logic and politics in

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Frankfurt School theorizing until the late 1960s. The chapters by Philip Walsh (2008), Arnold Farr (2008), and James Block (2008) examine aspects of Marcuse’s rendering of critical theory. Kevin Fox Gotham and Daniel Krier (2008) employed Adorno’s category of culture industry to the Situationist International. 38. With regard to sociology, see the very useful overview over the history and role of mainstream approaches by Calhoun and VanAntwerpen (2007). 39. As Adam Smith ([1789] 1937, p. 670) put it in The Wealth of Nations, ‘‘For one very rich man, there must be at least five hundred poor y .’’ 40. See Dahms (2006) for my contention that the effort to circumscribe the core of critical theory must be made on a regular basis, in relation to changing sociohistorical conditions. 41. Although the early members of the Frankfurt ‘‘School’’ did not regard themselves as such – the members of a school – they certainly shared an unusually high commitment to contributing to a common effort that translated directly into a degree a critical reflexivity and ensuring the relevance of research (see, e.g., Wellmer, 1993a). 42. See the collection of essays in Langman and Kalekin-Fishman (2006). 43. The perspective on mainstream social science is similar to the debate about positivism, though the latter was more narrow. ‘‘Mainstream’’ is a more practical and frequently used term today, and denotes acceptance of prevailing practices that especially social scientists with quantitative or applied goals today rarely have the opportunity to recognize as such, given the relatively marginal status of theoretical debates to the social sciences today, along with their history and issues related to philosophy of the social sciences. Most quantitatively oriented applied social scientists today are truly ‘‘innocent,’’ as far as many of these matters are concerned, and strongly encouraged, if not coerced, not to be concerned with philosophy of [social] science issues, except as they pertain directly and narrowly to the very specific methods or theories employed. See Adorno et al. ([1969] 1976), and more recently especially Steinmetz (2005b), in particular his introduction, and the chapters by Mirowski and Hauptmann. 44. Evidently, this is not to say that societal structure and dominant ideology are entirely responsible for whatever failure occurs in social research, but that the early critical theorists were interested in failure to the extent to which it is the product of – and thus a means to access – concrete and specific societal structures and dominant ideologies. 45. Alienation was the first concept that in Hegel and Marx served to explicate what accounts and expresses the warped nature of modern society, to be followed by commodity fetishism (in the later Marx), reification (in Luka`cs), instrumental reason (in Horkheimer and Adorno), and functionalist reason (in Habermas) (see Benhabib, 1986). 46. ‘‘I am y ambivalent because I have the impression that something is deeply amiss in the society in which I grew up and in which I now live. On the other hand, I have also retained something else from the experience of 1945 and after, namely that things got better. Things really got rather better. One must use that as a starting point too y ’’ (Habermas, 1992, p. 126). 47. In retrospect, the desire to make a break with the past was both understandable, in a myriad of ways, and a necessary precondition for the kind of progress that was made during the 1950s and the 1960s, for example, regarding the



role of economic inequalities. But theoretically, we need to recognize today how fundamentally problematic the implications of such attitudes were for the possibility of social science, and how it provided a ground for an increasingly wider and deeper discrepancy between social reality and social science. 48. As will become apparent in this section, I am employing the symbol of infinity to characterize efforts to integrate critical theory and mainstream approaches as likely to be futile. As long as the basic configuration of the modern sociohistorical framework remains essentially the same, conditions will not be conducive to genuine integration of critical theory and mainstream approaches; we may engage in ‘‘endless’’ attempts to ‘‘square the circle,’’ but they can and they will not be successful. On the other hand, mainstream approaches must relate to and rely on each other, for any approach – and in the long run: all approaches – to succeed. Before the constitutional principle of society allows for the kind of social research that increases the ability of all or most social scientists to ‘‘face facts,’’ it will be impossible to close the breach between the imperative to compel individuals to subscribe to projections of social reality that are necessary for maintaining social order and the emancipation of individuals from those projections. 49. I have framed this nexus between social structure and self/identity as a challenge to conceive of, and develop, ‘‘socioanalysis’’ – in allusion to psychoanalysis. My starting assumption is that many individuals who suffer from so-called ‘‘mental problems’’ are likely, to a degree that is as of yet undetermined, to suffer from social pathologies that they are in no position to recognize, and to the extent that they seek ‘‘help’’ from professional psychologists and psychiatrists, are likely to be actively prevented from recognizing. It is a truism that one of the main flaws of psychoanalysis (not to mention psychology or psychotherapy) is its lack of ability to process the social dimension of human existence, as a specific challenge, rather than a general challenge. The combination of psychoanalysis and ‘‘socioanalysis’’ would be more likely to enable individuals to differentiate between their personal problems, and how their personal problems are a function of social problems – as a necessary first step toward ‘‘health.’’ For a initial statement, see Dahms (2008). 50. As Katrin Flikschuh (2000) put it, ‘‘Finally, there is critical liberalism. Although more influential in continental Europe, it offers an interesting counterpart to classical liberalism’s reception of Kantian metaphysics. As its name suggests, critical liberalism developed out of Critical Theory, drawing from Karl Marx, Max Weber, Theodor Adorno, and Max Horkheimer, among others. To these, critical liberalism adds the idea of the Rechtsstaat, which links it back to the political philosophy of Kant. The most prominent proponent of critical liberalism is Habermas, who defends a postmetaphysical standpoint, and whose discourse ethical approach to political legitimation through democratic consensus is designed to meet the requirements of mature liberal post-metaphysical societies’’ (p. 15; also p. 19, 38; see also Jung, 2008). Depending on the particular context, ‘‘critical liberalism’’ can be a most constructive concept. In the present context, however, it presents a problem for critical theory, conceived in terms of theoretical logic. I cannot deny a certain irony, as far as my current position is concerned. In an article published a decade ago that compared Luka´cs and Habermas within a matrix of politics versus theory, I concluded that Luka´cs fell prey to political temptations to too great an extent, and to the detriment of his importance as a theorist (Dahms, 1997).

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Evidently, I am contending now that at a different level, the same point could be made about Habermas, as having been subscribed to too great an extent to the ideology post-World War II western democratic societies created of themselves, regarding their unique potential for qualitative progress. I am uncertain, as of yet, whether or not Habermas’s recent writings on religion confirm my concern about his unwillingness to confront the dark side, as it were of modern society. Perry Anderson (2005) certainly seems to think so. For a compelling critique of the recognition paradigm, such as advocated by Honneth, see McNay (2007). 51. Contemplate the fact that in the absence of Marx’s, Durkheim’s, and Weber’s respective and linked contributions, social scientists in the English-speaking world would not have had at their disposal tools to capture the dimensions of the warped design of modern society that alienation, anomie, and Protestant ethic make accessible. There are no comparable concepts that originated in either the United Kingdom or the United States, in all likelihood betraying a reluctance to confront the contradictory nature of modern society, as a feature specific to those particular incarnations of modern society. 52. See especially Postone’s (1993) use of the term, ‘‘quasi-natural’’ with regard to the condition of labor in capitalism: for example, p. 65, 68, 105, 116, 157, 163, 165. 53. The possible objection that all sociohistorical contexts entail ‘‘problematic’’ features, and that therefore my point is trivial, would not apply here – for its is not the fact that there are problematic features, but the specific nature of those problematic features, as far as they influence and shape both social and research practices in ways that remain undetected. Thus, my emphasis on the specificity of the features, rather than on the fact that – as the evidence suggests – there appears to have been an increasing proliferation of problematic features, with ‘‘globalization.’’ Unless we make preparations to scrutinize those features at the highest possible level of rigor, our labor as social scientists is much more likely to exemplify rather than illuminate those features.

ACKNOWLEDGMENT I thank John Bradford for commenting on an earlier draft of this chapter.

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INDEX corporate capitalism, corporation(s), xiv, 6, 10, 21, 23–25, 27, 30–31, 40–42, 48, 84, 94–95, 131, 161, 170–172, 183, 189, 213, 219–220, 242 culture industry, 35, 240, 268, 301

affirmative action, 135, 217, 218, 245 alienation, 5, 8, 9, 11, 12, 16, 17, 20, 38, 48, 53, 54, 63, 93, 97, 102, 104, 114, 115, 117, 120, 157–303 passim. America, see United States anomie, 169, 216, 245, 289, 290, 295, 297, 303 authoritarian state 7, 22, 23, 24, 31, 121 authoritarian capitalism 29–32, 36, 40, 41

democracy, democratic societies, xvi, 15, 25–26, 43, 49, 64, 70–71, 73, 83, 89, 95, 101, 112, 121, 123–124, 135–138, 140–141, 143–146, 158, 162, 164, 170–171, 173–181, 187–191, 194, 205, 207, 209, 212–213, 216–218, 220, 222–224, 226–228, 238, 245, 252, 255–256, 265–266, 282–283, 286, 289, 297–299, 302–303 Dialectical of Enlightenment (Horkheimer & Adorno), xiii, xv, 7, 31–35, 40, 44, 51, 104, 174, 194, 231, 245 dynamics, 9, 30, 33, 65, 71–72, 90, 93, 96, 98, 131, 162, 186, 191–192, 195, 201–203, 205, 211, 219, 236, 263, 265, 267, 277, 282–287, 296–298

basic income, 145–150, 157–222, 246 bourgeois society, 4, 8, 15, 37, 38, 41–42, 46–48, 89, 97, 101, 120, 168–170, 192, 202, 223–234, 238, 242, 245 bureaucracy, 5, 9–14, 29, 44, 58, 64, 70– 71, 94, 96, 98, 110, 111–112, 184, 191, 235, 240, 256, 268, 300 Cold War, 159, 160, 163, 166, 177, 208, 210, 251, 252, 255, 256, 279, 282, 297, 298 communism, 152, 166, 194–199, 212, 279 contingency, 20, 157–160, 256, 270, 275, 286 contradiction, ix–x, xviii, 5, 16, 19, 26–27, 39, 40, 53, 56, 105, 119, 157, 159–160, 168, 174–178, 189–190, 196, 201, 223, 225–232, 237, 240, 244–245, 256, 263, 270–273, 282, 286, 288–289, 295

emancipation, emancipatory, 9, 25, 33, 35, 39, 72, 95, 136, 247, 271–274, 285, 302 freedom, 25, 43, 61, 72, 95, 136, 162, 171, 175, 178, 189, 199, 203, 212, 222, 247, 300 325

326 globalization, xvii, 40, 157–222, 241–242, 245, 247, 256, 257, 263, 269–271, 275, 278, 291–292, 296, 299, 303 Great Depression, 17, 23, 24, 27, 28, 115, 218 History and Class Consciousness, HCC (Luka´cs), xv, 7, 8, 11–13, 15, 17, 48–49, 51–52, 54, 56, 60–61, 65–68, 70, 72–75, 87–88, 100, 102–103, 121 identity thinking, xvi, 104–107, 136, 140, 141, 153, 217 inner logic, 6, 14, 15, 18–20, 25, 26, 28–32, 38, 41, 45, 47, 58, 59, 61, 63–65, 69, 74–84, 86, 88, 89, 96, 100, 110–112, 134, 143, 151, 203, 212 Institute of Social Research, Frankfurt, xiv, xx, 7, 11, 15, 18–19, 22, 40, 43, 87, 104, 114, 214 instrumental reason, xv–xvi, xviii, 3, 5, 6, 7, 19, 20, 27, 30, 31–36, 39, 40, 50, 57, 88, 104, 107, 174, 217, 231, 246, 259, 301 labor, 6, 15, 16, 18, 22, 33, 34, 36, 38, 39, 40, 41, 43, 44, 60, 61, 70, 76, 86, 94, 97, 100, 104, 108, 120, 126, 128, 129, 133, 138, 143, 146–148, 150, 152, 158, 159, 162, 164–166, 170, 177, 186–188, 190, 195, 196, 199–204, 207, 211, 212, 220, 221, 227, 253, 261, 266, 276, 283, 295, 300, 303 lifeworld, 45, 57–62, 64, 65, 107, 109, 111, 112, 133, 134, 141, 148, 247 mainstream, 27, 52, 95, 96, 113, 136, 137, 160, 185, 193, 208, 235, 237, 239, 244, 249–302 passim.

INDEX managerial capitalism, 20, 25, 27, 28 Marxism, 6, 7, 8, 11, 13, 14, 15, 17, 20, 22, 35, 37, 38–41, 45–53, 55, 57, 59, 61, 63–67, 69–73, 75, 77, 79–83, 85–87, 89, 91, 93, 99, 107, 110, 124, 150, 157, 163–166, 190, 194, 195, 196, 198, 200–203, 244, 247, 249, 297 modern society, 9, 25, 28, 32, 33, 47, 58–68, 70, 75–86, 90, 95–96, 103, 111, 129, 135, 160, 182, 193–195, 201, 255, 268, 288 monopoly, 7, 21, 23–24, 27, 29, 32, 40, 42 National Socialism, xiii–xiv, 7, 23–24, 28–29, 32, 41, 240, 300 negative dialectics, 103–104 political economy, 4–12, 14–16, 18–21, 23, 24, 27, 28, 30, 31, 33–37, 39–42, 46–48, 68, 71, 97, 101, 102, 108, 120, 124, 125, 130, 169, 170, 173, 174, 203, 225, 231, 240, 241 postliberal capitalism, 5, 6, 15, 16, 19, 20, 27, 28, 33, 34, 40 progress, 21, 77, 144, 158, 159, 162, 170, 171, 189, 196, 198, 224, 227, 228, 233, 245, 251, 253, 257, 258, 263, 274, 290, 296, 299, 301, 303 Protestant ethic, 5, 9, 119, 195, 216, 245, 289, 290, 295, 297, 303 rationalization, 4, 5, 7–14, 17, 33, 42, 45, 47, 48, 52, 53, 57, 58, 60, 61, 64, 67, 69, 70, 76, 77, 88, 93, 101, 102, 103, 107, 108, 109, 110, 112, 113, 122, 151, 170, 184, 235, 240

Index reform, xvii, 28, 32, 41, 49, 146, 176–182, 185, 199, 208, 211, 225 reification, xvi–xviii, 4, 11, 12, 16, 17, 20, 41, 42, 45, 47–53, 57, 59–77, 80–88, 93–153, 174, 193, 216, 217, 220, 231, 235, 246, 247, 259, 299, 301 revolution, xvii, 8, 10–13, 15, 22, 28, 42, 46, 47, 49, 51–54, 61, 62, 73, 80, 101, 103, 108, 115, 119, 124, 152, 223 social justice, 158, 159, 161, 163, 168, 197, 268, 283, 289 social policy, xiii, 157, 164–168, 175, 178–187, 189, 195, 196, 198, 199, 204, 205, 208, 218, 247 sociology, xiv, 4, 9, 18, 45, 47, 51, 66, 67, 72, 76, 82, 84, 87, 90, 127, 130–132, 139, 160–163, 165, 167, 168, 169, 173, 181, 193, 204, 213–215, 220, 230, 233, 235–237, 239, 241, 245, 246, 249, 251, 258, 260, 265, 275, 278, 287, 289, 290, 294, 296–298, 300, 301s Soviet Union, 22, 167, 279 Stalinism, 31, 56, 74, 101, 240

327 state capitalism, 3, 6, 7, 21, 23–31, 32, 37, 39, 40, 43, 44, 98, 107 Theory of Communicative Action (Habermas), xvii, 50–52, 57–63, 75, 76, 78, 80, 85–88, 90, 100, 107, 112, 134, 140, 153, 240, 243, 288 totalitarian, xiii, 7, 25–26, 29, 32, 40, 43, 44 United States, ix, xiii–xiv, xvii, 10, 11, 14, 23, 26, 28, 31, 32, 99, 104, 114, 121–123, 127, 130–139, 145, 146, 148, 152–154, 159, 178, 185, 213–215, 218, 219, 222, 245, 246, 265, 298, 300, 303 welfare state, 64, 96, 98, 107, 112, 147, 148, 159, 163, 165, 166, 174, 176–179, 185, 206, 218, 221, 222 World War II, xiii, 34, 139, 158, 159, 163, 164, 165, 166, 177, 179, 185, 207, 213, 215, 238, 249, 251, 252, 256, 270, 279–282, 289, 297, 298, 300, 303