‘The Idea of Socialism: Towards a Renewal’ by Axel Honneth reviewed by Amogh Sahu, Dave Schafer, Ross Wolfe


The Idea of Socialism: Towards a Renewal

Polity Press, Cambridge, 2016. 216 pp., pb
ISBN 9781509531370

About the reviewer

Amogh Sahu is a PhD student in Philosophy at Columbia University. He works on the intersection …

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About the reviewer

David Schafer is an Adjunct Professor of Philosophy in the School of Professional and Continuing …

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About the reviewer

Ross Wolfe is a writer, historian, and architecture critic living in New York. …

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Axel Honneth is a leading third-generation representative of the Frankfurt School, the successor to Jürgen Habermas as head of the Institute for Social Research. Known for his signature emphasis on ‘recognition [Anerkennung]’, he has written more than a dozen books expanding upon themes first developed by the German philosopher Hegel. Whereas his earlier work took its cues mostly from the self-consciousness section of The Phenomenology of Spirit, his 2011 treatise Freedom’s Right looked more to Elements of the Philosophy of Right for inspiration. Honneth’s The Idea of Socialism is largely a continuation of the arguments he has previously advanced. Given the renewed interest in socialist politics in the US and around the world, this release is a timely effort to engage with its contemporary legacy by an author who can be thought of as a sort of estranged fellow-traveler. Nevertheless, The Idea of Socialism is riddled with so many category errors and tendentious interpretations that it ultimately falls short of the mantle of critical theory Honneth wants to take up.

The book is divided into four chapters, about twenty-five pages apiece. Following a brief preface and an introduction – where he goes over The Idea of Socialism’s genesis from the debates around his previous writing and its enduring salience amidst widening inequalities – Honneth launches into his exposition. In the opening chapter the theme is social freedom, which according to him was the ‘original, groundbreaking idea’ of nineteenth-century socialists (25). Perhaps not coincidentally, this was also the overarching principle of Freedom’s Right, although in that book he credited Hegel more with its initial formulation. By contrast, here social freedom was the achievement of thinkers like Owen, Fourier and Saint-Simon, who successfully counterbalanced the three famous norms bequeathed by the French Revolution: liberté, égalité and fraternité.. Social freedom is for Honneth not the result of individuals who merely act ‘with one another [miteinander]’, but ‘for one another [füreinander]’ as well, such that ‘the aims of the members of a community not only overlap, but are intersubjectively intertwined’ (23). Even if the pioneers of socialism never referred to it thus themselves, he distills the principle of social freedom as the normative essence of their demands for a radically restructured society (10).

Despite the prescriptive force of this principle, Honneth holds that it was hamstrung by its origin in the context of breakneck industrialization throughout Europe. He enumerates a threefold critique of early socialist theory: 1) its reductive economic fundamentalism, whereby revolutionaries need to only change the mode of production in order to change everything; 2) its anachronistic identification of the proletariat as the revolutionary subject of history, which makes socialism simply a theoretical reflection of a now-dead practical movement; 3) its misplaced confidence in the historic inevitability of socialism, assuming the necessity of this revolution for further growth. One flows from the other, informing what comes next. As Honneth sees it, these were the ‘three birth defects’ (26) of classical socialist doctrines that together account for their ‘antiquated intellectual structure’ (which forms part of the title of the second chapter). Reviewing this sequence of premises, he states that ‘if we take a closer look at the three basic conceptual assumptions I have shown to be the inherited burdens of socialism, we see that they are entirely bound to the […] conditions of early capitalist modernization’ (48). Just as Honneth before sought to isolate its essential core with the concept of social freedom, now he removes its accidental aspects.

With these tasks out of the way, The Idea of Socialism proceeds to offer two potential ‘paths of renewal.’ Chapters three and four, respectively, deal with economic and political schemes Honneth hopes might breathe life back into the beleaguered socialist project. Methodologically, he adopts the trial-and-error approach of the American pragmatist John Dewey, preferring experimental flexibility to the dialectical rigidity of Marx. Instead of ‘the hitherto dominant faith in the necessity of progress within socialism,’ Honneth recommends ‘a kind of historical experimentalism’ (62). Scattershot proposals ensue, ranging from Mondragón-style ‘solidarity funds’ to Red Vienna housing complexes. ‘Guaranteed minimum income’ likewise receives a hearing, since for him it presents the opportunity to ‘socializ[e] the market from below’ (70-71). Unlike Habermas, Honneth regards the marketplace as a norm-laden ‘sphere of social freedom’ (2014: 179-182) in which subjects reciprocally recognize each other. Proudhon’s mutualism appeals to his sensibilities for no other reason (64). ‘The principle of social freedom in the economic sphere,’ he declared at a symposium on Freedom’s Right, ‘can be realized solely through market socialism’ (2015: 208). Because it is not reducible to instrumental rationality, the market is open to ethical contestation, raising objections to capital rent and speculative profit at the level of ideas (69).

Honneth closes the book with a long discussion of democracy as a ‘form of life’ not restricted to the political sphere, encompassing broader processes of collective will-formation. Legal rights and civil liberties were too often denigrated by early socialists as liberal distractions, he alleges, since these fell outside the narrow purview of the economy. Due to their lack of attention to what Honneth terms the ‘functional differentiation of society,’ revolutionaries exhibited a glaring Rechtsblindheit, or blindness to the importance of law (81). Yet again Hegel’s thought serves as the model here, for the various spheres – of personal, productive, and political relationships, which in turn correspond to the family, the economy, and the state – form separate but complementary organic subsystems ‘like organs of the body’ (90). And in order to harmonize these independently-operating spheres it is vital that communicative barriers be broken down, ensuring all are treated as equals and no one’s input is left out (64-66); in this manner, Honneth assimilates his longstanding focus on ‘struggles for recognition’ to the ideological edifice of socialism. Refreshingly, he insists on the global scope of any social transformation in light of capitalism’s international reach. Even then, in his opinion it would be ‘hasty and imprudent’ to consider revolutionary politics a strictly internationalist endeavor (101), as this might preclude local experimentation.

Of course Honneth would like to portray his own preexisting framework as not just compatible with, but the best possible articulation of, socialist goals. While he is very sympathetic to these goals, the heir to Horkheimer and Adorno believes they must today be rescued from what he takes to be their failure. No doubt Honneth is to be commended for broaching the topic at all. Furthermore, he is admirably candid and forthright in his revisionism, calling for ‘a revised socialism’ (ix) and citing the reformist line of Eduard Bernstein with approval (116-117). If the narrative is at times a bit simplistic, in its best moments The Idea of Socialism can be quite subtle. Use is made of archival resources from the earliest years of the Institute for Social Research, in particular etymological investigations by Carl Grünberg (110), its director between 1924 and 1929. Gerald Cohen’s analytic recasting of socialism as ‘a purely normative alternative to liberal theories of justice’ (52, 121) is submitted to a surprising yet astute criticism. The problems Honneth touches on are difficult, and cannot be dismissed out of hand: 1) economism is a charge that can indeed be applied to many socialists; 2) workers at present are by and large depoliticized, or worse have succumbed to reaction; 3) revolution has not come to pass, as Marx predicted it would long ago.

A number of frustrating drawbacks are readily apparent in the text, however, not least of which is Honneth’s shifting attitude toward Marxism. In a 1989 article included in his early essay collection The Fragmented World of the Social, he had hoped ‘to redeem the remnants of Marx’s intentions for contemporary theory’ (1995: 4); The Idea of Socialism represents a departure from the ‘redemptive critique’ undertaken there. Marxian socialism is now for him passé, as witnessed by his astoundingly arrogant assertion that ‘[w]e need ideas that reflect the more advanced consciousness of our day […] if socialism is to have a future, it must be revived in a post-Marxist form’ (53). Sartre’s old quip that attempts to go ‘beyond’ Marxism always wind up resuscitating pre-Marxist notions retains its share of truth here (1968: 7), particularly insofar as Honneth blames Marx for ‘putting an end to the “experimental” early socialist disposition’ (56). He maintains in any case that the various classical theories of socialism, despite their openness to experimentation, were flawed as a consequence of the industrial age in which they were formulated. Yet his own version is somehow supposed to escape such fleeting accidents of time. What is it about Honneth’s historical vantage point that makes the conceptualization he puts forward immune to this same line of criticism?

Quite a few Marxists, moreover, tried to address the problems identified in The Idea of Socialism. Vladimir Lenin ruthlessly criticized economistic tendencies in the Russian labor movement as ‘vulgar Marxism,’ upbraiding them for their limited perspective. Georg Lukács, much like Lenin, argued that workers were susceptible to the reified relations of bourgeois society, a fact Honneth himself noted in his Tanner Lectures on Reification. ‘Lukács reasoned the proletariat’s self-awareness had not been able to get much further than “trade union consciousness” […] as Lenin had understood,’ he explained in that study (2008: 7). Revolution, or better its non-occurrence, preoccupied the first generation of the Frankfurt School, something Alfred Sohn-Rethel remarked upon in the preface to Intellectual and Manual Labor:

The new development of Marxist thought which these people [Lukács, Bloch, Benjamin, Horkheimer, Kracauer, Adorno, and Marcuse] embodied evolved as the theoretical and ideological superstructure of a revolution that never happened. In it re-echo the thunder of the Christmas 1918 gun-battle for the Marstall in Berlin, as well as the massacre of the Spartacus uprising that following winter (Sohn-Rethel 1978: xi-xii).

Critical theory is another point of contention in The Idea of Socialism. Honneth gives an appreciative nod in the direction of his institutional forebears for their skepticism that workers are automatically predisposed to socialism: ‘We must acknowledge the early Frankfurt School under the guidance of Max Horkheimer as the first group to present empirically-founded doubts in the sociological fiction of a revolutionary working class’ (40). For all their misgivings, however, the premier theorists of the Institute – aside from Horkheimer, toward the end – never broke from Marxism. Adorno’s 1942 ‘Reflections on Class Theory’ and 1968 article on ‘Late Capitalism or Postindustrial Society?’ attest to his orthodoxy. Not by chance did Honneth write these pieces off as ‘underinformed, uninspired, and almost dogmatic’ (2009: 54). On this score, the founders of critical theory were still too attached to the Marxist faith, whereas the author of The Idea of Socialism is bravely willing to abandon it once and for all. Much like Karl Otto-Apel and Habermas, who turned to the writings of Charles Sanders Peirce and George Herbert Mead, he does so in favor of a philosophy Horkheimer and Marcuse had both fought: pragmatism.

Pragmatism is for Honneth, as for Habermas, ‘a long-overlooked variant of Young Hegelianism’ (Habermas 2006: 131). Dewey is the principal reference in The Idea of Socialism, as mentioned above, invoked throughout the latter half of the book. Significantly, Honneth contends that ‘Dewey operates with a speculative conception which bears a distant resemblance to Hegel’ (60). Yet in his exchange with Trotsky, whose Stalinist show trial he publicly reviewed in 1938, Dewey’s hostility to Marxism owed in large part to its method of materialist dialectic. Thus he complained of ‘a kind of absolutism’ in the Marxist subordination of means to ends, ‘inherited presumably from its Hegelian origin’ (Dewey 2008: 354). Logic to the pragmatists was the same thing as inquiry; hence the name of Dewey’s last major work, upon which Marcuse issued the damning verdict that ‘the shriveling of theory to the [standard procedure] of scientific experiments and of praxis to experimentation itself encroaches onto the theory of society’ (Marcuse 2011: 265). Verification by Baconian testing is the alpha and omega of knowledge for pragmatism, which transposes the modus operandi of the natural sciences in its treatment of social objects (Horkheimer 2004: 33). In stark contrast, Frankfurt School theorists start from the category of totality: this is where Hegel’s influence can be felt the most, but this is exactly what Honneth leaves behind.

Based on his rejection of this category, the philosophical credentials of The Idea of Socialism can even be brought into question. Honneth hangs his hat on his putative Hegelianism, so this cuts very deep. ‘Marx’s conceptual approach,’ he concedes, stands ‘in the Hegelian tradition of thinking in terms of totality. As valuable as the Marxist analysis of capitalism was to the socialist movement, the totalizing features of this theory constituted a great disadvantage’ (56-57). Opposed to this view of society as an integral totality, Honneth speaks of distinct social spheres that obey their own peculiar rationales; his language cannot be considered neutral here. For Hegel, the institutions covered in Elements of the Philosophy of Right were not so neatly demarcated. To regard the modern state as a mechanical assemblage of spheres with discrete functions is the sort of bundle theory he would have scorned. Each institution was suffused by spirit, and related to one another on that ideal basis. Reversing Hegel’s thesis, Marx simply added that this spirit is alienated at present. Under capitalism, these institutions are animated by none other than capital. Can one really uphold the family as a non-economic institution, when it is still the main vehicle for the transmission of property, through inheritance? Governments are also obviously beholden to vested class interests. Political economy itself was the object of Marx’s most sustained and trenchant critique.

Socialists since Marx have oriented themselves toward these various institutions critically, rather than imagine they supply post-metaphysical norms for a rational society. Normative foundations are only required by those who have strayed from the via negativa of critical theory. Whereas Marxists saw the family, the economy and the state as transitory phenomena doomed to wither away as soon as capitalist relations were overcome, Honneth is obliged to hypostatize them as more or less permanent because they provide him with positive maxims of ethical life. His reliance on norms suggests a vision of subjectivity frozen into a petrified set of principles, principles that individuals must lean upon in order to engage in social criticism. Yet subjectivity can be conceived otherwise, as human self-activity, which is the true patrimony of Hegelianism. Labor is for Marx the material, sensuous form of this self-activity, not just transhistorically (qua humanity’s perennial metabolism with nature) but specifically with regard to capitalism (in its waged form, as capital’s immanent antithesis). Rather than rules regulating behavior or guiding critique, what is given to subjects by reason in history are the raw capacities opened up and refined over time by the saga of society’s development.

Although a laudable effort in parts, The Idea of Socialism is best read as a symptom of the very thing it seeks to deny: historical regression. It refuses to take seriously the possibility raised by critical theorists like Adorno and Marcuse, namely that the current moment is marked by regress rather than progress toward a ‘more advanced consciousness.’ For these theorists, the consumer comforts provided to the working class under Spätkapitalismus have only further entrenched forms of domination in ever-more insidious ways. Proletarian consciousness as such, more so than objective circumstances, is impoverished as a result. Just as his mentor Habermas claimed in 1980, Honneth seems to accept that this pessimism undermines the emancipatory goals its proponents championed in the first place – even though this is hardly a settled debate. One is left to wonder what Frankfurt School theory would look like today if Alfred Schmidt had taken over directorship of the Institute after Adorno’s death, followed perhaps by Hans-Georg Backhaus or Helmut Reichelt, rather than fall into the hands of Habermas in 1983.

9 January 2020

References

  • Dewey, John 2008 Means and Ends The Later Works, Volume 13: 1938-1939 Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.
  • Habermas, Jürgen 2006 John Dewey’s Quest for Certainty Time of Transitions trans. Ciaran Cronin and Max Pensky, Malden, MA: Polity
  • Honneth, Axel 1995 The Fragmented World of the Social: Essays in Social and Political Philosophy trans. Charles W. Wright, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
  • Honneth, Axel 2008 Reification: A New Look at an Old Idea trans. Joseph Ganahl, New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Honneth, Axel 2009 Pathologies of Freedom: On the Legacy of Critical Theory trans. James Ingram et al, New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
  • Honneth, Axel 2014 Freedom’s Right: The Social Foundations of Democratic Life trans. Joseph Ganahl, New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
  • Honneth, Axel 2015 Rejoinder Critical Horizons 16:2 trans. Owen Hulatt.
  • Horkheimer, Max 2004 The Eclipse of Reason New York, NY: Continuum Books.
  • Marcuse, Herbert 2011 Review of John Dewey’s Logic: The Theory of Inquiry Transactions 46:2 trans. Phillip Deen.
  • Sartre, Jean-Paul 1968 The Search for a Method trans. Hazel E. Barnes, New York, NY: Vintage Books.
  • Sohn-Rethel, Alfred 1978 Intellectual and Manual Labor: A Critique of Epistemology trans. Martin Sohn-Rethel New York, NY: Macmillan Press.

6 comments

  1. Totally enjoyed this review. Wondering if the “separate spheres “ (bundles society etc) is coming from Luhmann? Like a society of societies? Obviously haven’t read the honneth book.

  2. Just one factual error here. Honneth did not succeed Habermas as head of the Institute since Habermas never had that position. He didn’t work there since the fifties.

  3. Really embarrassing review. Besides the tortured prose, there’s a transparently partisan thread running through the whole thing implying some sort of background conspiracy that “favors” Habermas over Adorno in contemporary critical theory. I think it’s fine and worthwhile to synoptically sketch out the current state of work in the field, but the way it’s treated here is quite puerile and polemical, certainly not appropriate for a book review. In fact, there is very little actual review of the argument of the book and instead weird claims about pragmatism as a whole being opposed to True and Proper Critical Theory — in fact, I can’t even find a summary of the book’s argument anywhere in this review! The random invocations of third parties not obviously relevant to the issues of the book, the failure to perform the basic research to see that these points are explicitly addressed in the book, and even the verbiage taking oblique potshots at the author all suggest that this is a very un-serious review.

    Which is genuinely a loss! There is plenty to critique in this book, and rightfully so, it’s just a shame this shoddily constructed thing was slapped together. I mean let’s be real: the main Hegelian reading that provides the basis for the first half of the book is given a measly 2/3 of a paragraph.

    1. It’s fine if you disagree with our critique, but I find it strange that you missed the summary of the book’s arguments in the review. The second, third, fourth, and fifth paragraphs provide a chapter-by-chapter discussion of its main points.

      1. It’s not so much disagreement about the critique, but whether there is a critique! But thanks for the pointer about the summary; I’ll bite, since it is admittedly a bit incredible for someone to claim to not be able to find a summary of a book in an ostensible book review! Let’s take a look at the indicated paragraphs, in turn. I will try to be as interpretatively neutral as possible, focusing merely on whether or not the paragraphs you indicate really do constitute a “summary of the book’s arguments”.

        Paragraph 2 – I would have thought that some sort of overarching summary of the aims and purposes of the book as a whole would appear at some point here (it doesn’t appear in the previous paragraph either), but the closest we get is a claim that the introduction relates the project to contemporary discussions of inequalities–which is a bit hard to understand, and a cursory look at the introduction tells me there might be more information here about the purpose of the project beyond its genesis or projected relevance.

        Moving into the first chapter, I’m told that the “theme is social freedom”; okay, that seems promising, but I’m never told what Honneth’s conception of social freedom is! I’m told that it was also a theme of another book of his, that here it’s attributed to Owen, Fourier, and Saint-Simon that it has something to do with the political slogans of the French Revolution, and that Honneth “distills” (distills to what?) its principle “as the normative essence of [the socialist pioneers’] demands for a radically restructured society”. Sure, but I’m still left in the dark as to what social freedom is. The sentence that most directly seems to address what social freedom is begins “Social freedom is for Honneth …” and yet proceeds to identify social freedom with characteristics that Honneth connects (on the page cited, 23) with “community” and the socialist “model of community”, which itself is later characterized in the subsequent paragraphs as the bearer of freedom, or the medium of freedom’s realization, not freedom itself. This is not a trivial point, because as Honneth himself explicitly maintains here and suggests throughout, the main aim of the book is to articulate the relationship between (social) freedom and community, e.g., the conditions under which the relevant form of community can be established *for the sake of* the realization of social freedom. The big questions at stake are going to involve what the scope and purpose of such communities are, how they can or should be legitimately established, and what role this community plays or should play for its members. Honneth specifically takes pains to differentiate between social freedom and community for this reason, i.e., in order to investigate how these two (admittedly necessarily connected) aspects are synthetically related. I will also add that it is exceedingly strange that only the earliest generations of socialists are mentioned in connection with social freedom, given that the bulk of the references in this chapter are to methodological innovations in conceiving of social freedom made by Proudhon and Marx specifically.

        Paragraph 3 – Here I’m expecting some sort of (as you say) “discussion” of the arguments in chapter 2. The first sentence is immediately perplexing: “despite the prescriptive force of this principle” leads me to believe that the following independent clause is going to raise some consideration opposed to “the prescriptive force” of the “principle” of social freedom (which I still am unclear on; is it meant the stuff before about community, or the stuff about a “distillation” as a “normative essence”?). But instead it reads, “Honneth holds that it was hamstrung by its origin in the context of breakneck industrialization throughout Europe”. So, despite its “prescriptive force” (persuasiveness? validity? acknowledged normativity?), the principle of social freedom was “hamstrung” by rapidly industrializing Europe. What’s the connection here? Its normative status was threatened by the economic conditions in 19th century Europe? The proper recognition of its normative status was so threatened? The practicability of its implementation was so threatened? I simply don’t understand what this sentence is doing besides setting up a vague opposition between the already vague normative dimension of the “principle” and certain specific material historical conditions.

        The surface-level description of the “threefold critique of early socialist theory” here is adequate (it is after all hard to miss the clearly labeled sections 1, 2, and 3 of chapter 2), but the architectonic comments surrounding it do nothing to explain what the justification for this critique is besides some very general comments about its formal role as necessary (on Honneth’s view) to demystifying the “accidental aspects” of theories of social freedom, viz., their orientation by the concerns of 19th century industrial Europe. That necessity is analytically obvious of course; what is interesting is rather what this threefold critique is and what it claims. On this score even the surface-level descriptions belie a kind of superficial engagement with this chapter. Let’s briefly consider only the first of these three claims, which is here cast as the charge of “reductive economic fundamentalism, whereby revolutionaries need to only change the mode of production in order to change everything”. But in fact in the relevant areas of the chapter, Honneth aptly points to Marx’ “On the Jewish Question” in order to highlight the fact that even Marx acknowledged that political liberties (e.g., citizenship) were a valuable achievement on the path towards freedom, even if they fell short of complete economic liberty (e.g., some form of genuine, autonomous economic participation), and hence “worthy of struggle”. Of course, Honneth in the end indeed concludes that early socialist theorists mostly (with the notable exception of Eduard Bernstein, who is only mentioned elsewhere in this review) subordinated such struggles to those pertaining to the economic fundament; but it is an important aspect of the argument (especially with a view towards the later articulation of the second “path for renewal” concerning social freedom in the political sphere, as Honneth himself explicitly says) that Honneth holds that early socialist theory in fact recognized, even if at times merely implicitly, these different spheres in which social freedom could be realized in line with the Hegelian structure outlined in the Philosophy of Right.

        Paragraph 4 – Here I’m told that this chapter offers an economic scheme to renew socialism. Okay, that again sounds promising. But the haphazard reconstruction here suggests that this chapter aims to merely throw an experimental mix of “scattershot proposals”—all attempting to use the market mechanisms for concrete, social goals (i.e., goals in line with the realization of social freedom)—against the wall to see what sticks. There is an allusion to Dewey’s so-called “trial-and-error approach” (itself a highly simplistic if not misleading gloss on Dewey’s vision of experiment), but no mention is made of Honneth’s specific, explicit, and absolutely crucial appropriation of Dewey’s methodological criterion of productive social antagonism, whereby (social) experiments can be normatively evaluated on the basis of the degree to which they allow more interested stakeholders to express their own interests in the antagonistic development. I will reproduce a relevant quote from the chapter’s analysis of Dewey:

        “Dewey therefore gives a methodological response to the question as to the criterion for the experimental exploration of appropriate solutions to problematic situations. The more those who are affected by a problem are involved in the search for solutions to that problem, the more such historicalsocial experiments will lead to better and more stable solutions” (my page numbers are slightly off, but this is near footnote 14).

        Clearly, the argument is not just that market mechanisms can serve socialism merely in virtue of being “open to ethical contestation”, but rather that there is a kind of systematicity (perhaps a “totality” even, to use the word Honneth is so pointedly accused of having abandoned wholesale) to certain forms of ethical contestation which progressively envelop more interested stakeholders as foci of social decision-making. These qualifications are necessary in order to explain why Honneth offers the “scattershots” he does in fact offer, and on what basis. And in fact, Honneth is more than clear that his vision for a new “type of socialism must realize that it can only hope to find support for such experiments to the degree that it can convincingly show the capitalist economic system to be capable of fundamental change and even revolution” (just after footnote 19). I emphasize that I don’t think it’s necessary for me to take a position on whether Honneth’s argument here is plausible – I simply don’t see where Honneth’s argument is being presented in a way that would seem relevant to a book review.

        Paragraph 5 – Similarly, I am told that this chapter offers a political scheme to renew socialism. Once more, however, there is a disappointing lack of actual discussion of the relevant arguments. Nothing of what is said here is incorrect, per se, but it is misleading in that it does not explain why early socialist theorists failed to attend to the “functional differentiation of society”, or how the vision of Hegel on offer could provide a solution (beyond the mere fact that Hegel seems to himself provide an account of said functional differentiation). But here again, the point of the book is to offer arguments and reasons in support of both the relevance of such a failure to the aims of socialism and the relevance of Hegel as a model for recovering these aims. And indeed, this is precisely what is developed in this chapter, through an extended discussion of the levels of societal analysis undertaken by the early socialists and in particular their failure to consistently methodologically distinguish between these levels: “Upon closer inspection, early socialists’ failure to recognize the functional differentiation of society is due to their failure to distinguish sufficiently between the empirical and the normative level of these diagnoses” (after footnote 5). Honneth goes on to develop this critique in relation to Hegel in order to provide a sketch for how democracy could be understood as a kind of form of life spanning across the functional differentiae, but again I don’t see a discussion of this development beyond the suggestion that this is somehow related to Honneth’s abiding interest in recognition as an interpretative frame for the realization of social freedom – surely that is so, but it would be good to know what the specific connection is.

        Regarding the rest of my comments, I stand by them: I think this would have been a much better book review if it had actually dealt with the arguments, framings, project, and specific aims of the book (not even evaluatively, but at the level of laying out what the arguments are!) rather than trying to engage in some sort of programmatic diagnosis of the State of the Schools of Critical Theory. The caricature of pragmatism and its possible relationship to socialism is just bizarre. Again, I think there is a lot to critique in this book from the perspective of what Honneth calls in this book “Western Marxism” (specifically in reference to “unorthodox critics” from Lukács to Marcuse), especially with respect to Honneth’s dubious claims about the status of education (of the masses, of the proletariat, etc.) as Marx’s panacea to capitalism in chapter 1 that supply much of the dialectical grist for the later critiques of the early socialist attempts to articulate the realization of social freedom in an (educated) community, or with respect to his highly contestable interpretation of Marx’ understanding of laws (and tendencies) of capitalism as relevantly fixed or timeless (cf. footnote 6 to chapter 4) that undergirds much of his positioning with respect to the late Marx’ analyses of capitalism. But the programmatic posturing here and lack of accurate substantive review tend to occlude the actual position and possible relevance (and I mean this very neutrally here) of the book to these contemporarily important debates about the practical role of Marxism.

        If you’d like some more pointers (especially with respect to what I called “verbiage taking oblique potshots”), consider the claim in paragraph 7 that Honneth’s suggestion that socialism be revived in a post-Marxist form as an “astoundingly arrogant assertion”, and reflect on whether you’ve properly understood what the suggestion here is with respect to post-Marxism — I wonder if some sort of preconceived notions about what post-Marxism is or could mean are being imported here in a way that is making it difficult to understand the actual and interestingly relevant distinctions between Honneth’s position and a more orthodox Marxian line here. I emphasize this because again my aim is not to come to the defense of the author of the book reviewed here (in fact I suspect understanding the aforementioned distinction properly might provide a clearer critique of Honneth’s position), but rather merely to clarify what I see as an inadequacy in a review. Happy to discuss further points about your review, at your leisure (I’d be especially interested in further discussing the hatchet-job done to pragmatism in relation to socialism in the latter half of the review)!

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