Critical theory once offered a powerful, distinctive approach to social research, enabling sociologists to diagnose the irrationalities of the social world across institutions and forms of thought, even within the subject’s deepest desires. Yet, with the work of Axel Honneth, such analytical potency has been lost. The ‘domestication’ of critical theory stems from the programme’s embrace of Honneth’s ‘recognition-cognitivist’ understanding of social problems; where all social maladies are understood to lie, ultimately, within the head of social subjects and within the intersubjective relationships they enact. This book explores the manifold limitations of this dominant understanding of social pathologies and builds towards an alternate theoretical infrastructure, drawn from a marriage of insights from Erich Fromm and Herbert Marcuse. While Honneth’s critical theory leads to researchers exploring all social problems as ‘pathologies of recognition’, a return to Fromm and Marcuse reminds critical theorists that power precedes subjectivation and that a wide range of pressing social problems exists which are invisible to the recognition framework. As such, this book urges critical theorists to once again think beyond recognition.
In this chapter, I subject Axel Honneth’s critical theory of recognition to an extended immanent critique. I argue that Honneth’s vision of critical theory fails on its own terms for social-theoretical, philosophical, and political reasons. The theory of power which the recognition paradigm depends upon is shown to be untenable. The monistic social-theoretical perspective Honneth supports is shown to obscure central social pathologies and impede critique. The political commitments of Honneth’s method are shown to be opposed to the founding aims of a critical theory of society, and the real-world impacts of a recognition politics are shown to be more amenable to neoliberal co-option than his supporters admit.
In this chapter, I chart the rise of a ‘Finnish School’ and an ‘Essex School’ of critical theory. Both are shown to have fused Honneth’s work on social pathology and his critical theory of recognition into a ‘pathologies of recognition’ perspective. The many and varied limitations of this approach are charted. Honneth’s own work is shown to have adopted a radically recognition-cognitivist framing of social pathology, especially within Freedom’s Right. The social-theoretical limitations, philosophical antinomies, and political betrayals of this marriage are detailed and expanded upon.
In this chapter, the merits of Erich Fromm’s account of social pathology are advanced. Fromm’s work is shown to avoid many of the pitfalls which beleaguer contemporary critical theory as he understands the very normalcy of the social conjuncture to be part of the social pathology itself. This is shown to be at clear variance from Honneth’s normative reconstructive method. Fromm’s framing of social pathology is held to offer an excellent foundation for social research today as he recentres market irrationalities with a humanist Marxism.
In this chapter, the importance of Hegelian-Marxism to social pathology diagnosis is charted. While Rousseau had stressed that human needs could be artificially induced, Hegelian-Marxists argue that the very form of thought, not merely thought contents, could be socially denatured. The distortion of the subject’s consciousness was held to be linked to pathologies of reason which emanate from a pathological system of production and distribution. The importance of such insights for the potency of pathology diagnosing social critique is presented through a critical engagement with the post-metaphysical standpoint of Habermas and Honneth.
In this chapter, I commence my reconstruction of the pathology diagnosing tradition upon which critical theory is built. Rousseau’s sophisticated theoretical apparatus is detailed and the merits of reading Rousseau as a social pathologist underscored. Rousseau is presented as being an ideal thinker to return to when reconsidering the framing of social pathology in light of today’s restrictive ‘pathologies of recognition’ orthodoxy, as Rousseau combines an analysis of recognition pathologies within a broad and multilateral diagnosis. The influence Rousseau had on critical theory is stressed through a reading of Lukács.
In this chapter, I lay bare the fault lines within contemporary critical theory. That critical theory once offered a powerful and distinctive approach to social research is established, yet such diagnostic potency has been ‘domesticated’. The problems brought about by the recent foundational change in the research programme’s social-theoretical foundations are introduced, with Axel Honneth’s form of ‘recognition theory’ identified as a primary culprit. The possibility of an alternative social-theoretical foundation for critical theory is foregrounded, built upon a marriage of the work of Erich Fromm and Herbert Marcuse.
In this chapter, I introduce social pathology, explaining how and why it is so central to the Frankfurt School. The distinctive syncretism the framing enables is detailed, and an inclusive and expansive definition of pathology is adopted. The merits of pathology diagnosing critique are explored and the philosophical and political merits of the approach justified through an extended engagement with post-structuralist and post-modernist critics.
In this chapter, insights from Erich Fromm are married to those from Herbert Marcuse. I argue that while Fromm’s account of pathological normalcy offers a robust theoretical foundation, Marcuse’s framing of repressive desublimation and of the technical a priori offers operationalisable avenues for contemporary social research. While it is acknowledged that Fromm and Marcuse both presented very different Freudo-Marxisms, this is read as offering a productive tension born out of ‘sibling rivalry’, rather than indicating an insurmountable incompatibility.
In this chapter, the political urgency of renewing critical theory is stressed. The importance of solid social-theoretical foundations is underscored and the limitations of the recognition-cognitivist paradigm restated. In contrast, the possibilities contained with a renewed Freudo-Marxian form of normative social research are enumerated, and the need for a timely change in course ‘beyond recognition’ is stressed.