Question about Habermas and Reification.

I’ve not read The Theory of Communicative Action, but I know in other places Habermas falls prey to functionalism. Am I therefore right to suspect that part of his criticism of Lukacs’ theory of reification rests on his own functionalist account of the system, as well as the lifeworld opposed to it ? In contrast, Lukacs — at points at least — treats totality not as a functional system but as crisis-ridden in terms of the interplay between rational fragments and the irrational whole. If I am right this would explain both why the post-Habermasian paradigm of critical theory: (a) attempts to remedy Lukacs in functionalist theories that can’t account for crises and (b) seems incapable of providing a systematic account of crisis, which might in part by remedied by drawing on Lukacs’ insight.

About HR

Deep in the adjunct crackhole.
This entry was posted in crisis, Lukacs, reification. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Question about Habermas and Reification.

  1. CB says:

    I have a question and a comment.
    First the comment. It may not help you much, but my masters thesis chair was a phd student of Habermas, and he informed me that Lukacs was essentially of no real interest to Habermas or him at the time of his studies. They saw Lukacs as more of a footnote to Adorno, like Wolff might be to Kant. One knows who he is, but doesn’t care to read him. I of course got him to read Lukacs, and he recanted.

    Question. Have you read Martin Jay’s book on Totality and Marxism? And if so, curious what you thought?

    • Bob Cannon says:

      As Johannes Berger (1991) notes for Habermas: ‘… the site of reification is not the factory, and its source is not a particular form of organization of alienated labour’, but rather ‘… the border between ‘lifeworld’ and ‘system’, and consists in the deformation of lifeworld structures by forms alien to everyday practice’ (p.175).

      Habermas adopts an ‘affirmative’ stance towards capitalism’s capacity to ‘wipe out (verwicht) the ‘… hermeneutical tracks that point the way into society for an action theory starting with the actors’ own self-understanding’ (Habermas 1996, p.47).

      It is only when capitalism expands beyond its non-normative boundary and ‘colonizes’ the normative lifeworld that reifications arises (Habermas 1987a).

      In this way, Habermas recalibrates critical theory to both defend (a) the (normative) lifeworld from its colonization by the system, and (b) the (norm-free) system from its remoralization by the lifeworld.

      Despite claiming to be ‘the last Marxist’, Habermas refuses to apply the modern norm of ethical autonomy to capitalism (Habermas 1992, p.469).

      In opposition to the revolutionary expectations of Marx, Habermas writes that: ‘Weber’s prognosis has proven correct: the abolition of private capitalism would not at all mean the destruction of the iron cage of modern industrial labor’ (Habermas 1987a, p.340).

    • HR says:

      Hey CB,

      Sorry for the late reply. I have limited internet access at the moment.

      Speaking of which, I swear I’ve seen a quote attributed to Habermas about how influential HCC was on him in his youth. I do know he does discuss Lukacs in The Theory of Communicative Action when he is criticising reification. I’ll be looking into this later in the week, when i have better access, but this would seem to indicate that Lukacs was of some influence.

      I have read Jay’s book. Like other books by Jay, I think it is first rate intellectual history, but that his philosophical handling of some of the subjects is a bit uneven.

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