The Critique of Instrumental Reason from Weber to Habermas
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What different kinds of reason are possible, and which ones are the most appropriate for a legitimate, as opposed to a merely legitimated state? The book opens with an analysis of Weber as a figure who marks a key moment of sociological transition. Weber articulates a distinctly different view to Enlightenment thinkers who believe in the capacity of reason to improve society and emancipate humanity from ignorance and domination. Weber signals that the institutionalization of the instrumental reason particular to industrial society might actually be an effective tool in the struggle for social supremacy. He notes that in comparison with charismatic and traditional legitimation, modern forms of legal-rational legitimation are de-personalised, anonymously bureaucratic, and much more difficult to combat. The book then looks at various responses to Weber's diagnosis, from Lukecs and Benjamin to Horkheimer, Adorno, Heidegger, Arendt, Simmel, Foucault and Habermas. The study culminates with a sociological reading of critical theory that draws together Adorno's concept of non-identity with Habermas on communicative reason and Luhmann on social complexity and differentiation.
16 This was not such an easy argument to make during the period in question, when it may have seemed plausible to many that liberal democracy inevitably gravitates towards fascism, and that the only alternative to fascist collectivism is thus some form of socialist collectivism. From the Horkheimer, Adorno and Critical Theory 87 perspective of early critical theory, the Marxism of theorists like Lukács represents a kind of transition from traditional to critical theory rather than the realization of the latter.
According to Benjamin, capitalist commodity production and fetishism do more than reify consciousness and separate the realities of the production process from the fantasy of consumers. They destroy the ultimately theological unity of naming authority and named thing, that is, they sever, albeit temporarily, humanity’s union with divinity. The rest of this chapter will thus explore the movement in Benjamin’s thought from conceptual critique to mimetic-visual critique, beginning with the Critique of Violence.
Since both systems are ultimately variants on the household model, however, the leadership cliques in each assume familial responsibilities at the top that produce in the citizenry an uneasy mixture of outward adulation and inner fear/distrust. The stability of the multi-party system depends upon producing leaders who the people can identify with as their people, that is, politicians who incarnate the fundamental unity, via representative institutions, of society at the different levels of the social hierarchy.
Kant asks, under what conditions is knowledge is possible? He concludes that the condition is the existence of a subject that has objective knowledge of the phenomena that present themselves to the subject’s understanding in time and space. While Hegel attempts to project philosophy beyond its Kantian limits by positing the existence of an historical subjectivity which is moving towards absolute knowledge and freedom, Nietzsche asks, how much truth can a human being stand? He concludes that the answer varies tremendously from person to person, and, what is more, depending on the culture in question, reason can become an effective tool in the project to condemn the extra-moral truths of life as bad, immoral, unjust, undemocratic, and so on.
11. To this extent Lukács’ approach can be compared to that of Adorno in Negative Dialectics as well as that of a peripheral but very original member of the Frankfurt School, Alfred Sohn-Rethel, in Soziologische Theorie der Erkenntnis (A Sociological Theory of Knowledge), Frankfurt, Suhrkamp, 1985. In the first sentence of Negative Dialectics Adorno remarks that ‘Philosophy which once seemed redundant remains alive because the moment for its realisation was missed’ (p. 15). Unlike Lukács and especially Benjamin, who believes that the irreducibility of historical time to natural time makes that moment recoverable in a political revolution, Adorno suggests that the truth content of the lost moment can be distilled in art and philosophy.