Georg Lukács' Theory of Reification and the Idea of Socialism
Rüdiger Dannemann (Essen)
A. The Project of Renewing the “Idea of Socialism”
If our goal is to demonstrate the timeliness of Georg Lukács’ philosophy, it is worth taking a look at the attempt currently being made to revitalize approaches that transcend the system. Axel Honneth1 has pointed out that it is folly to simply dispense with the great 19th century idea of socialism. He gives several reasons for his view. First, he notes that “there have never been so many people outraged at the same time, about the social and political consequences that have accompanied the globally unrestrained market economy since the end of Word War II.”2 Quite rightly, he continues to write about the consequences of eliminating any “idea of socialism”: “It would be the dominance of a fetishizing notion of social conditions that would have to be held responsible for the fact that the mass outrage about the scandalous distribution of wealth and power has currently lost any sense of an achievable goal.”3 Because this is the case, he wants to pursue the “causes for the apparent loss of the decisive, reification–destroying effectiveness of all the classic and formerly influential ideals.”4
As within other contexts, the theoretical intervention of today’s most important representative of Critical Theory is valuable and should not be subject to crude polemics. Certain completely inappropriate responses fail to recognize that Honneth is not aiming to rediscover some long-dead spectre. These critics fail to appreciate the profound and widespread antipathy towards the global capitalist, economic system and the post-democratic conditions closely connected to it. That is why the goal in our time is literally to secure the legacy of the socialist (I would add: and the “communist”5) idea and to develop it further in order to cultivate alternatives to the dominant political and economic conditions, which are disliked by many and, in this sense, constitute more than just the representatives of some leftist subcultures.
However, one might voice various misgivings about the thrust of Honneth’s attempted reconstruction. He believes that reclaiming the attractiveness of socialism should go hand in hand with a turning away from Marx and his philosophical legacy. Honneth gives three chief reasons that make such a renunciation unavoidable in his eyes. He first criticises Marx’s Critique of Political Economy on account of its model of “progress,” which in his eyes constitutes an unacceptable determinism in regard to historical philosophy. Second, even when Honneth admits at times that it has become difficult to demonstrate that any modern institution, or social subsystem, remains a sphere unaffected by the logic of exploitation, he insists on the notion that there are several social subsystems, which are to be examined individually and that follow their own separate logics.6 This applies in his view particularly to the domains of politics, law, and family.7 Anyone who insists on emphasizing the relevance and ultimate dominance of the economic, even in non-economic realms of society, unmask themselves as prone to confusing modernity with the social conditions during Marx’s lifetime. Lastly, Marx’s focus on the proletariat constitutes the most obvious proof of his attachment to the social conditions of the time in industrial society, and with it, to the antiquated conditions of the 19th century.8 Honneth thus proposes to break with Marxist tradition as a precondition for a successful revitalizing of the “actual Idea of Socialism,” which inherits the irreversible legacy of the French revolution by taking its ideals seriously. At the core of this interpretation lies its emphasis on the aspect of freedom, or, in the author's words, “the unconstrained interplay of all social freedoms in the difference of their respective functions.”9 Accordingly, any society is to be called ‘free’ “when every member of society can satisfy their requirements which they share with every other member, for physical and emotional intimacy, for economic independence and political self-determination, in such a way that they can rely on the empathy and support of their partners in any interaction.”10 The road to this goal cannot be reached by traditional forms of class struggles, but only by employing a mode of communication struggles among differentiated social subsystems, in initiatives of all stripes that proceed experimentally.11
Lukács, a thinker for whom Honneth has high regard,12 and whom, in 2005, he attempted to contemporize—albeit in a very idiosyncratic form, namely by means of recognition theory, followed a very different path of lived thought. In the following pages, I would like to outline this alternative path and, in the final part of my essay, consider the question whether Honneth's way of rejecting Marx, or Lukács’ emphasis on a necessary renaissance of Marx’s approach to the project of re-actualizing the “Idea of Socialism” in our time, can claim greater plausibility.
Along the way, I will not be able to consider every single one of Lukács’ theoretical stages. Instead I intend to focus on his development up to the conceptual creation of his theory of reification, although his late works also belong in this context.13
B. Lukács’ Theory of Reification and his Project of a Renaissance of Marx
In various autobiographical sketches, the Hungarian philosopher continually reflected on his theoretical development as “My path toward Marx.” This path began in 1918 and did not end until Lukács’ death in 1971. The fact that this process of reception took so long and never truly reached its conclusion—except through the biological fact of his death—calls for an explanation. How is it possible, asks the contemporary scholar who is used to trading paradigms in order to avoid any kind of fixation, stagnation, stigmatization, and loss of relevance so as to remain present in the public market of academe, for a thinker to remain so singularly focused?
Four reasons may serve towards an explanation:
- Lukács’ intellectual biography is complicated, and his appropriation of Marx is not free from predispositions informed by the kind of theoretical premise characteristic of the pre-Marxist Lukács.
- What constitutes Marxism and Marx’s theory is in itself a subject of controversy. As early as 1918 (Lukács joins the Hungarian Communist Party at the end of this year), interpretations diverge, e.g. Karl Kautsky's orthodoxy, that of the revisionist Eduard Bernstein (to whom Honneth makes positive reference14), of the Austro-Marxists, of the syndicalists and—increasingly significant—that of the Leninists. The question of what constitutes Marx’s “actual” teaching required and continues to require clarification.
- Even more important is another point: for Lukács, Marxism is practical philosophy, that is to say, primarily a theory that is able to explain reality better than any other approach, and one that has to make certain of its relationship to real socio-political movements. This also means: Lukács, in his efforts to approach Marx, is continually tasked with understanding the ever-changing social world, and with demonstrating accordingly the adequacy of the tradition of Marxist thought. Thus his analysis of Marx is always inseparably connected with an effort to diagnose contemporary development and to render plausible the assertion that the pathologies of modern society can be made transparent from a Marxist vantage point.
- The appropriate reconstruction of Marx’s approach is exceedingly difficult. Even his closest co-combatants and co-authors were not always able to comprehend Marx’s theoretical revolution without truncating it. Lukács, in his central text of History and Class Consciousness, and its central essay "Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat," in particular, points out Engels’ tendency to equate natural and human history, laws of nature, and human historical development.15
C. A Case for a Socialism in the Tradition of Lukács’ Marx
C.1. Some Remarks on the History and the Problems of Reception
It often goes unrecognized that, in 1923, Lukács was neither a Marx-philologist nor a novice theorist, but a philosopher whose work is marked by personal experiences, intuitions, and thematic fixations. In March 1967, Lukács thought it important to emphasize that he had “never slipped into the error, which I have been frequently able to observe in workers, (and) petit-bourgeois intellectuals, that they were ultimately impressed (...) by the capitalist world.” And he adds: “My contemptuous hatred, conceived during my boyhood, of life in capitalism saved me from this.”16 Lukács’ original experience could perhaps be described, in compressed form, as a complex of personal rebellion by a banker’s son against the unbearable experience of his milieu, and cultural frustration vis-à-vis the art of the Fin de Siècle and the concomitant “transcendental homelessness” of the intellectual. This protest, which was, at first, expressed more intuitively, against the spread of the bourgeois form of socialization constitutes the biographical underpinnings of the reification theory that was to emerge later. Even in his early History of the Development of Modern Drama, the young aesthete and aestheticist17 reflects on the problematic situation of art in modernity, a modernity characterized by a cumulative factualization of life—what Max Weber refers to as the disenchantment of the world. While Lukács, in Soul and Forms, sets form in contrast to this life devoid of contours. He presents aesthetic form as an opportunity for an exodus from the banality of quotidian life. In his Theory of The Novel, he first attempts a historical–philosophical analysis of one of the emanations of objective reason—the novel—as an expression of the world’s disastrous condition. It is not difficult to recognize the widely diverse theoretical approaches Lukács borrows along the way to formulating his theory of reification. This canny pupil from the centre of Europe makes reference to Georg Simmel’s life-philosophy [Lebensphilosophie], in particular his Philosophy of Money [Philosophie des Geldes], to Max Weber's theory of modern rationality, and also to Marx and Hegel. It should also not be ignored that Neo-Kantianism, notably through Heinrich Rickert and Emil Lask, left a lasting impression on him. During the process of his political radicalization, triggered by his experiences during Word War I, Lukács who, unlike Simmel and Weber, had opposed the war from the beginning, encountered other theoretical traditions in Russian authors such as Solovyov, Ropschin, and particularly Dostoyevsky. In his Dostoyevsky-fragments, which were written during the war but published only posthumously, Lukács develops the outline of an anti-formalist and anti-institutional ethic.18
Lukács’ complex intellectual path, his early work on aesthetics, his borrowing from Lebensphilosophie, but also from Slavic tradition, developed his sensibility early on for questions that later came to be treated under the category “everyday life” [Alltagsleben], and which focused on the relationship between the most abstract theoretical configurations within everyday “forms of life” [Lebensformen]—a term that already appears in History and Class Consciousness and not only represents the relationship between cultural and socio-economic developments, but also the problematic moral situation of modernity.19 It is also evident that Lukács' difficulty in adopting Marx’s theory is shaped by his intellectual development. One important consequence of this early theoretical history outlined here20 is that there has always been, and continues to be, widely divergent approaches to his idiosyncratic attempts at synthesizing different theories. The nearly one hundred years of the reception of History and Class Consciousness demonstrates that there are many, quite divergent modes by which one can approach History and Class Consciousness.21
The diversity of approaches to History and Class Consciousness is no accident. It is an expression that has already been stressed, by the nonlinear intellectual biography of its author and the many sources from which his thinking draws, and at the same time a product of contemporary academic life with its peculiar rules. Another aspect that needs to be mentioned is that History and Class Consciousness is by no means a monolithic work, conceived as a unified whole, but a collection of essays, created in different contexts, that document their author’s ceaseless process of learning—at an exceptionally high level. Self-critical reflection is also part of Lukács’ theoretical comportment during the 1920s. In several places, Lukács admits, for example, that in writing certain essays, his argument was marked by an overly optimistic revolutionary euphoria, and was not free of illusions.22 While Lenin plays no significant role in the reification essay, the argument in “Towards a Methodology of the Problem of Organization” draws very heavily on the Bolshevik pioneer. Qualities such as these demonstrate that History and Class Consciousness is a mirror image of the rapid changes during the years between 1919 and 1922. Not least of all, it is an experimental attempt to address the increasingly critical situation of Marxism and the revolution by means of a theoretical approach.
C.2. The Project for a Theory of Reification
The following is not intended to provide a comprehensive analysis of Lukács' theory of reification. The goal is just to provide an outline of the theory project proposed in History and Class Consciousness, in order to forestall truncated forms of reception and critique. Firstly, it must be noted that Lukács opposes a simplified understanding of Marx’s doctrine that was catching on during the time of the 2nd International, as well as the Comintern, interpreting it as a positivist science along the lines of Karl Kautsky or Bukharin. Both understood Marx as a kind of Darwin of history, or society, without sufficient reflection on the methodological premise of his critique of political economy. Lukács undertakes the attempt to philosophically reconstruct Marx's dialectic theory. Thus, together with Karl Korsch, he also initiates the debate that continues until the present, about the relationship between Marxism and philosophy. He chooses Marx’s doctrine of value form [Wertform] developed in Volume I of Das Kapital, as a systematic point of reconstruction. He intends to demonstrate that the chapter on fetish contains Marx’s critical philosophy in a nutshell [in nuce]. This, in Lukács’ view, is to be understood not just as an economic theory limited in its claims to the framework of a disciplinary field, but to contain several dimensions:
- A philosophy of contemporary society,
- A theory of ideology (which may also be drawn on for an explanation of scientific and philosophical theories),
- A theory of history,
- A political philosophy of revolutionary kairos.
In short: the theoretical offering of a view of the totality of social being.
Lukács attempts to “systematically explain the connection between the various forms of experiences of reification.”23 In so doing, he is very much aware of the risky and experimental character of his project. He—and this, one will need to bear in mind during the following remarks—considers his studies in dialectics and their practical intentions about reification as a fresh impulse and as a large-scale research project. His diagnostic discourses on time are sketches whose elements and dimensions were to be elaborated on and increasingly filled with concrete content (i.e. more philosophical and interdisciplinary studies). Indeed, in his outline of philosophy from Descartes onwards,24 he begins to formulate a critique of a notion of rationality that is dominant to this day.
C.3. Cornerstones of Reification Theory
From my vantage point, and tailored to our context, Lukács' reification theory can be outlined using six cornerstones or essential elements.
- Lukács reads Marx’s critique of political economy from the fetish chapter of Capital as a theory of commodity production, in which exchange value is no longer a peripheral phenomenon, but becomes the dominant factor in the framework of capitalist production of commodities. This development includes a process of abstraction and reduction to quantities that affects not only the products of labour in society, but also its agents, the workers or the proletariat. Reification thus becomes social reality and a form of life. This situation gains special volatility against the background of capitalism. Vico’s description of history as having been “created“ by humanity has found its first, but extremely problematic instance of realization: the producers of the modern social world, the social subject of the socialization of humanity is a subject only in the form of a commodity, which is compelled to take on all the characteristics of de-subjectivization and self-objectification. Autonomy takes place here only in the form of heteronomy.25
- In this process, social relations become increasingly anonymous and fetishized. They appear as relationships between objects. An ideological inversion of social relationships takes place. To put it pointedly, capital appears to be “money generating money” [»Geld heckendes Geld«] and, therefore, seemingly able to generate surplus value. The relationship between wage labour and capital appears no longer as an exploitative relationship but a legally regulated, appropriately fair exchange of resources.
- The capitalist production of commodities exhibits totalitarian qualities.26 If, following Max Weber, one interprets the abstract-quantifying logic of capitalist economy as a process of rationalization, one can demonstrate that this type of formal rationality appropriates and transforms all aspects of modern life. That is to say: the capitalist economy creates a social environment, a legal system, and a conforming state system to suit its needs. Especially in domains that are removed from economic imperatives, such as art, the totalitarian strain of capitalism becomes evident. The trend to reify works of art as forces or objects of market activity continues well into our time. Critical theory has concretized and contemporized Lukács’ relevant approaches from the 1920 in this area.
- Even the highest summits of thought have not been spared from the process we are describing. Modern philosophy, from Descartes to Kant, develops dualist subject-object models that are elevated to the status of unresolvable antinomies: antinomies of the actual and the prescribed, of being and appearance, of freedom and necessity. In order to avoid such a restrictive form of rationality, it is necessary to take recourse in the type of dialectic thinking that, for Lukács, can be identified as a process—and totality thinking/philosophy. He refers positively to Hegel’s dictum: “The Whole Truth” [Das Ganze ist das Wahre] as well as to Marx’s thesis formulated in The Poverty of Philosophy: “The conditions of production of any society constitute a totality. [Die Produktionsverhältnisse jeder Gesellschaft bilden ein Ganzes.]”27 In Marx’s concept of a concrete totality, Hegel’s ingenious suggestions contained in The Phenomenology of Spirit find their full expression. It is important to note that for Lukács, Marx’s theory, to that point, was the most highly developed, methodically conceived apprehension of reality. That is why he puts the greatest emphasis on uncovering the methodological foundations of Marx’s discourse.
- Lukács—unlike critical theory later on—does not emphasize a resigned acceptance of the universe of reification. After all, he considers his present as kairos, as a potential moment of transformation from the barbaric epoch of reification to the potential domain of autonomy, of a more than formal freedom. As is well known, he considers the proletariat to be the most marked victim of the process of capitalist rationalization. Virtually all humans have by now become victims of reification, but the social condition, according to Lukács, as a rule prevents non-proletarian segments of society from the necessary (certainly painful) process of coming to consciousness.
- The difficulty of this process is apparent in the ideological crisis of the potential revolutionary subject, which is virulent as early as 1918. It can be explained precisely because the historical process for Lukács is not subject to the laws of nature. Instead, it is valid to say: the revolution requires its protagonists to make a conscious, unconstrained decision.28
D. More Recent Adaptions and Transformations of the Theory of Reification
External and internal problems,29 as well as the dominance of other scientific paradigms removed from Marxism, have caused Lukács’ theory of reification to be either ignored or received at best sporadically. An entire series of potentially influential critical approaches has left a visible trace: in the domain of Marxist discourse, a critique in the tradition of Backhaus, based mainly in a philology of Marx, which avails itself of the progress in the development of the theory of value forms, the structuralist deviation of a Marxist historicism, in particular the anti-humanism of Althusser. Bloch’s meta-critique of Lukács' rejection of a utopian–speculative understanding of philosophy, Adorno’s supposition of Lukács' “positive” understanding of dialectics as a legitimizing ideology, and, last but not least, Lukács' own self-critique, which appears to confirm, at its core, allegations of excessive proximity to Hegel and a deficient, insufficiently “materialist” ontology.30 Outside of the discussion of Marxism, Lukács' approach is frequently interpreted as an emanation of theoretical extremism, or is categorized in the history of philosophy in the context of 20th century Neo-Hegelianism.31
All the same, remarkable developments have taken place in the domain of critical theory, notably with Jürgen Habermas and Axel Honneth. For the newer representatives of Critical Theory it was evident—since Habermas’ turning away from his early “Theory and Practice” phase—that the fundamental assumptions of Marx’s radical anti-capitalist critique could no longer be accepted. Despite the fact that Habermas, unlike Benjamin, did not revere the philosopher of the revolution, his respect had to do with his synthesis of Marx and Weber in such a way “that he was able to consider the separation of the sphere of social labour from the context of the life worlds [Lebenswelten] from two aspects simultaneously––that of reification and that of rationalization.”32 In Habermas’ eyes Lukács became paradigmatic by recognizing the philosophical stature and value of Marx’s value-form analysis and by founding an entire traditional strain of Critical Theory tradition. He undertook the promising project of describing both economic and non-economic processes of modernization as an increase in rationality and as a passion story at the same time, respectively “dialectically.” Nevertheless, Habermas considers the philosophical basis of Western Marxism to be outmoded. He does not care to become a member, like Lukács, of a circle of materialist dialecticians plumbing the innovations in a methodology developed by the critics of political economy; Habermas takes leave the domain of so-called consciousness philosophy altogether and wants to clear the way for what he calls the interactionist-communicative turn in philosophy.
Fairness demands that we point this out that Habermas does not simply reject the reification paradigm; he makes an attempt to reformulate it. It is no coincidence that Habermas’ project of creating a new foundation for Critical Theory “merges into a reconstruction of the reification theorem.”33 At the core of this project lies the thesis of uncoupling the system and the living world in the processes of modernization. The process of objectification [Versachlichung] (the term used by Simmel and early Lukács) takes on the character of colonization. The high degree of de-radicalization in the approach of History and Class Consciousness, if one no longer shares its capitalism-theoretical and revolutionary premises, becomes apparent, at the latest, when one observes Habermas as he describes the social pathologies of our present time. It is in particular the constitutional state that he pins his hopes on, in order to limit the colonialist tendencies of market (money) and power, and to curtail the total mediatization of the living world, along with the tools of an enlightened public and communicative reason. At the same time, Habermas does not believe that a revision, let alone a revolutionizing of the economic sphere, is necessary to defend it. His primary concern is the safeguarding of the rules of law and of civil rights. Axel Honneth, in view of this, notes that little has remained of the early Habermas’ radicalism. Along with “his turn toward the Kantian-dominated tradition, Habermas is in danger of losing a number of important insights, which his early works, more oriented toward his model Hegel, still contained. There seems to be no longer any mention of a pathology of capitalist societies, nor as bold an idea as a systematically distorted interaction, in his recent writings.”34 The critique quoted here leaves one curious how Honneth is hoping to regain the valuable insights he mentions.
The Frankfurt philosopher begins by clarifying that the notion of reification is part of the incompletely processed intellectual legacy of Critical Theory. The phenomenon of reification, long ignored, returns while masquerading in widely varying forms of literary as well as theoretical texts and contexts. Crass forms of reification (surrogate motherhood, the marketization of romantic relationships, the explosive growth of the sex industry, as well as the observable trend toward emotional management, the pervasive social atmosphere of a cold practicality) have induced writers like Martha Nussbaum to use the term reification. The term can also be used for critical reflection on scientific trends; an example is brain research: we can speak of reification, for example, when we observe the attempt to explain human feelings and actions by a mere analysis of neuronal networks in the brain. For Honneth, there is no doubt that the term can only be reintegrated into contemporary scholarly discourse if a definition of reification, which rejects Lukács' Fichtean extravagance of subject-object-identification, and correspondingly his concept of a (very idealistically interpreted) “true” praxis. Honneth considers as transferable, and more modest in scope, a definition of reification as “the habit or custom of a merely observant behaviour, whose perspective recognizes the natural environment, the social collective and one’s own personality’s potential without empathy and neutral in emotional affect, as a mere object.”35 Honneth finds the following description, cleansed of revolutionary radicalism, of Lukács’ “true praxis”: it possesses “those qualities of participation and interest which have been destroyed by the expansion of commodity exchange; not the creation of the object by a subject expanded to form a collective, but another, inter-subjective attitude of the subject constitutes the pattern here, which serves as a contrasting foil for the definition of a reified practice.”36
If one were to completely avoid (deviating from Lukács) the totalizing critique of commodity production, which in highly differentiated cultures is thought to have become obsolete for reasons of efficiency, and if one were to affirm that there are spheres in which observant, detached behaviour plays a legitimate role, one could by means of reformulating Lukács’ reification concept from an action-theoretical approach gain a perspective that provides a cause for illuminating speculation.37 Obviously, Honneth hopes to pave the way toward a positive reception of Lukács, which allows for a link to contemporary debate on theory and especially the theory of recognition—based on an uncoupling from the tradition of Marxist theory. Only then could the weaknesses in Lukács’ conception be eliminated, since Lukács aggressively asserted that orthodox Marxism resulted in factual and thematic prejudices, which did not do justice to the complex differentiations of modern societies. By this he means primarily that the preoccupation with a “through-capitalization of society” caused domains removed from economy to be relegated to the background.38
Honneth’s recognition-theoretical reframing concentrates on two main points: the critique of self-reifying attitudes, and on a form of inter-subjective reification, which becomes noticeable in cases “where persuasion systems with explicit typecasting of other groups of people are deployed.”39 Examples of this include contemporary forms of job interviews or dating services, as well as racist or similar ideologemes. Honneth is convinced—and in this he proves to be a loyal student of Habermas after all—that one can elude the reifying power of commodity production that the Marxist Lukács had posited, provided one adopts the principles of the constitutional rule of law. In Honneth’s eyes, the economic agents are protected in at least an elementary form by the (however rudimentary) legal character of their economic relationship. At least they guarantee each other to recognize their status as persons.
Honneth also refers to concepts in Heidegger and Dewey that are not entirely dissimilar to Lukács’ theory, however, and demonstrates that he is quite open to new attempts to formulate a contemporary phenomenology of reification. However much one might applaud this openness, suspicion remains with respect to the question of how one should react theoretically to the fundamental impulse of History and Class Consciousness, which consists in protesting against the totalizing of the commodity and exploitation principle as it produces reifying effects. It is becoming increasingly difficult to protect domains of life against the logic of commodity production. Lukács insisted, not without good reason, throughout his entire life that such problems cannot be solved without a radical change in the system.40
It is remarkable that Honneth’s attempt to reconstruct the theory of reification, despite its anti-Marxist impetus, has provoked astonishingly harsh reactions among the conservative as well as the “liberal“ camp (unlike Rahel Jaeggi’s study of alienation). There is talk of a “regression to the yearned-for authenticity of contemporary social romanticism” believed to ontologically eclipse even Rousseau’s hypothetical return to nature.41 The anger of these authors, especially the decidedly conservative ones, is understandable, since Honneth with his study is opening the path to a potentially, truly contemporary debate about reification by offering evidence and material for discussion as to what a contemporary reification theory might look like. He connects the discourse of alienation and reification, anchored as it is in the contemporary living world and contemporary scientific discourses, with the lives of contemporary humans, who are living in the realm of tension between personhood, role identity, the striving for self-actualization, and the requirement of self-marketing. The international attention that Honneth’s brief study Verdinglichung has commanded shows: here we have an attentive observer of social pathologies who has hit a nerve.
Nevertheless, the Left’s critique of Honneth’s attempt has been and remains pointed: his appropriation seeks to re-articulate Lukács' concept in such a way that it becomes compatible with social-philosophical approaches that are recognized today. In favour of this compatibility, however, Honneth sacrifices essential aspects of the paradigm. Following the spirit of the Habermas school, he wants to suspend Lukacs’ Hegelianism, his methodical grasp, and of course his—however it may be defined—orthodox Marxism. Following the communication-theoretic turn, there is no room left for a materialist dialectic, however sophisticated. The critique of capitalism, as the critique of a system of (naturally capitalist) commodity production is replaced by a critique of pathological states of emergency, which claims that these aberrations can be compensated for, or in part eradicated, by a democratization of the family, a moralization of the economy, and of course a democratized public sphere.42
Even more naive than Honneth’s is the transformation, by avowed Aristotelian philosopher Martha Nussbaum, of reification theory.43 She investigates practices of “objectification” by using examples from sexist and pornographic attitudes and depictions, and she arrives at seven attributes of reification, which she understands to mean any form of subjects making themselves into mere objects. These attributes are:
- Instrumentalization (subjects are made into a tool for satisfying the requirements of other subjects)
- Denial/deprivation of a subject’s autonomy
- Subjects are deprived of their ability to act, condemned to passivity (this demonstrates the proximity to Lukács' notion of contemplative subject’s behaviour)
- Functionalization, i.e. subjects are accorded value only on account of their function (and thus can be exchanged for other carriers of the same function)
- Violence (subjects are denied their physical integrity, their bodies can be manipulated, and even destroyed under certain circumstances)
- Appropriation (subjects are commodities that can be traded and sold)
- Denial of subjectivity (subjects are not recognized as persons with their own experiences/emotions or these are deemed irrelevant)
Nussbaum’s attributions are illuminating and can certainly be used as guidelines for an analysis of certain reification phenomena, such as demonstrating the problematic consequences of reification tendencies for a “proper life,” or to capture the emotional culture of capitalist modernity (including its digital variant)—a project indispensable to the comprehension of modern subjectivity. But their reach is too limited when the goal is to comprehend reified social conditions that elude the awareness, respectively the control, of individual subjects. Quite rightly, Markus Wolf writes: “She misses the phenomenon of reification because it refers to structures that are not available to individual agents, and that a moral critique cannot claim as its subject.”44 Despite this justified and necessary critique it must be noted that Nussbaum, like the previously mentioned representatives of Critical Theory, has sharpened our gaze to the fact that reification critique does not exhaust itself in mere philological Marxism, and that it aims at more than to a decoding of ideological consciousness structures. The critique of reification is, at its a core, a radical critique of a form of life that can be described as bourgeois-capitalist socialisation, according to the definition of Hegel and Marx.45
E. The Current Relevance of Reification Theory and The “Idea of Socialism”
Even if there are good reasons to criticize the lack of radicalism in the attempted re–articulations by Habermas and Honneth, or the moralizing narrowing of Nussbaum’s view of the phenomenon of reification,46 the question remains how we are to treat Lukács’ critique of reification in our “post-communist” era, with its absence of a revolutionary subject. Three indicators might help to demonstrate that the relevance of the theorem remains undiminished, even if one considers teleological-historical metaphysics and the historical messianism of Lukács in the 1920 to constitute unacceptable Fichtean-Hegelian relics:
- Humans continue to be habitually treated in everyday life not as persons but as objects, i.e. they are being treated as something that may be instrumentalized, sold, used, or destroyed (to paraphrase Kant’s reflections in his Metaphysik der Sitten). It must be noted very clearly that reification is not normal, not a social-ontological fate [fatum]. That the act of turning-oneself-into-an-object, Lukács describes, takes place at present in forms that are sometimes consciously playful, frequently consumption oriented and cynical, inauthentic, always masked, and impregnated by self-deception, may complicate the matter, but does not alter the fact that it constitutes self-alienation.47 How quickly the cheerful cynicism of a playful, allegedly controlled “self-reification of humans”48 turns into pathological catastrophes is only too well known to anyone working in social work, in hospitals, or in schools. The field of working life remains a domain where reification does not appear to be diminishing, and that holds true not only for less developed regions of the global village. While we may currently enjoy the status of a legal subject in working life,49 we are far removed from living autonomous subjectivity in the context of work.50 Even if some people prefer to paint a picture of a new culture of work, allegedly marked by shallow hierarchies, creative autonomy, etc., there certainly are social realities that lead one to expect the opposite development: as soon as we enter the working world, we adopt the internalized attitude of image production51 and of self-marketing,52 never to relinquish it again in the decades that follow, regardless of whether we earn our living as dependent employees or whether we are moving around as modern nomads.53 And the modern manager, whom we address on a first-name basis, and who may be barely distinguishable externally from his “co-workers” will, in a conflict situation and especially when it comes to the bottom line, prove to be someone who exercises power after all, even if they pose as charitable benefactors. The digital revolution, on which some have placed great hopes for gains in autonomy, has not been able to prevent itself from being colonized by the logic of commodity production. The rapid development of technology and biological sciences is even likely to increase the probability that we are approaching, as Günter Anders argues, the final level of reification; in The Obsolescence of Humanity [Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen], Anders distinguishes three levels of reification. On the final level, now increasingly in the process of becoming reality, where the difference between cyborg, clone, and person is becoming blurred, humans tend to become a “device among devices,” an appendix (or more politely: an interface) of computer-based social interaction.54
- There is still a reification of social (especially political) practices in the sense that participation in them is no longer being regulated collectively but appears as an objective constraint (in the meaning of objective causal relationships) that the participants are confronted within a position of powerlessness, in the sense of Lukács’ use of the term “contemplative”; the “contemplative attitude," which they have to adopt toward these relationships “prevents a reflective assurance of their social mutability, and thus undermines the autonomy of subjects.”55 It is no secret that the more recent debate about our post-democratic society provides more than enough material for contemporary forms of political reification. Despite ubiquitous social networks, we are still far from the formation of a type of public sphere in which individuals who are habituated to reifying structures can transform their heteronomy into self-determined processes of communicative reason.
- In the post-democratic condition, the citizen appears to become a marginalized political object, whose participation is limited to taking part in formal democratic procedures and in the public debate about symbolic Ersatz actions on the political stage.56 One of the consequences of this development, lamented volubly but hardly believably by the representatives of the political class, is the waning interest in democratic elections,57 which is in no small measure a symptom of the daily experience of disenfranchisement. Lukács’ lifelong sympathy for the forms of council democracy [Rätedemokratie] sets its hopes against this undermining of democratic procedures in a social model in which the social agents are actually given an opportunity, in a social environment that militates against obscurity and over-complexity, to freely make decisions aimed at practicing solidarity.58
- As the first two points indicate, the time-diagnostic potential of the theory of reification is not only practically unbroken, but its scholarly standing and status a critique of ideology continue to be widely applicable. Take the debate about the "death of the subject." To the extent that the ideological character of many concepts of the end of subjectivity is becoming apparent, it is possible to revive Lukács’ fundamental philosophical concept. Consider further, for example, the lack of articulation and inability to communicate between representatives of different scientific disciplines, who can no longer find a shared language—with disastrous consequences for a comprehensive, integrated view of reality, and the emancipatory value of their research.59 Not least among preconditions for improving this situation is that Marxism is allowed to reclaim its rightful place in scholarly culture. The self-deceptions of the currently dominant directions in philosophy, as well as the social and cultural sciences, include the belief that they are able to do without the legacy of this school in their attempt to overcome the poor abstractions of modern rationality that, in the 20th century, have been most effectively described by Lukács and Heidegger.60 It is not difficult to prove that contemporary forms of scientific rationality (in Lukács' meaning of the term) are particularized and insufficient. The discipline of economics, for example, is still unable to eliminate economic crises (we are all aware that in our time the opposite is the case), and the number and intensity of military conflicts, which Lukács would undoubtedly have understood in the context of a theory of imperialism, has increased alarmingly. The mainstream of traditional-academic philosophy shows itself to be even less prepared than contemporary art and literature61 to react both theoretically and practically to the global and intercultural challenges, in line with Marx’ last thesis on Feuerbach (assuming it takes any note of it all). Scientific praxis in our time appears to be aiming to confirm Wittgenstein’s dictum “that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, our living problems will not have been touched at all.”62 In his Ontology, the late Lukács remarks, not without justification, in his assessment of “the most influential directions of bourgeois philosophy“63 that in both philosophy and science “the principle of manipulation“ has come to be dominant: “For if science is not orientated towards an as adequate as possible knowledge of reality-in-itself [ansichseiende Wirklichkeit], if it does not strive to discover these new realities by its ever more perfected methods, which are by necessity founded ontologically as well, and which deepen and increase ontological insights, its activities reduce themselves in the final analysis to supporting praxis in its immediate sense. If it cannot or will not rise above this level, then its activity transforms into a manipulation of facts which are of practical interest to humanity.”64
If the evidence thus far presented is correct, or at least partially correct, then the obvious conclusion seems to be that the pathological tendencies of our present time, described temporarily as the “
"post-industrial," "knowledge-," "risk-," "adventure-," or "digital-society," require an updating of Lukács’ phenomenology of reification, which would naturally have to take into account the points of criticism that have been discussed in the decades since it was first made public.65
In closing, I would like to refer back to my opening remarks once more. The experiences of our contemporary crises—according to our initial thesis—provoke the question whether it is feasible to simply renounce the great tradition of socialist and revolutionary thought. The “idea of socialism”—and here we can agree with Axel Honneth—has not become obsolete with the collapse of the traditional proletarian movements.66 It requires, however, without doubt new theoretical efforts and rearticulations.67
No one can simply advocate a renaissance of the practical philosophy of the 1920s, of course. That was an ambitious attempt to respond to a revolutionary situation in theoretical terms. It is completely uncertain whether the utopian elevation of the political, which we could observe especially in Lukács’ theory of contemporary life and of the party, can be re-integrated into philosophical discourse. It is also indisputable that many of our contemporaries will reject, with some outrage, the thought that they are living in an age of reification, or respectively that they are subject to patterns of self-reification.68 But even if “developed,” “democratic” societies do not widely practice, or consider normal,69 some forms of reification such as direct violence (i.e. subjects are denied their physical integrity, their bodies may be manipulated or destroyed) and appropriation (i.e. subjects are sold like slaves as commodities), instrumentalization, functionalization, and denial of subjectivity continue in this “age of manipulation”70 to be present at the core of social life.71 They appear, however, in entirely new forms that did not yet exist during the times of the Taylorization of the work process, or the classic cultural industry. During the final years of his life, Lukács lamented that Marxist theory was still in its infancy with regard to the analysis of modern capitalist theory. “Thirty years of theoretical stagnation of Marxism have created the disgraceful situation that today, nearly a century after its coming into effect, Marxists are still unable to at least offer a somewhat adequate economic analysis of contemporary capitalism.”72 Similar statements can be made about reification theory: the new, “reifying forms of life and living situations”73 in our brave new digital world need to be theoretically worked through in their peculiar rationality and irrationality, their technical dimensions and human particularity, at long last. It is a truly ambitious project waiting to be undertaken.
But this self-critical assessment does not mean that one should dispense with the advantages of Marx’s approach in rearticulating a contemporary socialist theory, as Honneth is proposing. Unlike the Marxists, he wants to base his hopes for a contemporary socialism on modern institutions, respectively on institutional regulation, as “carriers of normative requirements.”74 He views institutionalized progress such as co-determination and minimum wage as the “foreshadowing of the future” [“Vorschein des Zukünftigen”] or, following Kant, as “historical symbols,” while he believes that orientating oneself by social movement gives rise to problems, “because that would lend far too much weight to what is fleeting and contingent among the ever more rapid transformations.”75 The Frankfurt philosopher places his bet on functional differentiation. Against a fixation on economics, he wants to see law and politics considered as following their own logics and thus as spheres to be treated separately. In concrete terms, this means he wants to take the realm of the democratic formation of decisions much more seriously than has been the case in socialist traditions, especially of Marxist persuasions, to date. By this he wants to emphasize the normative foundations of a socialist alternative to existing society, instead of obscuring them in a philosophy of history.
Indeed it cannot be denied that, in the history of the workers’ movement there have been strong anti-democratic tendencies that produced new forms of alienation.76 Traditions such as these, which have to be assessed as “relapses into totalitarianism and primitivism,”77 are rightly met with increasing scepticism. Lukács’ emphasis must be worked through and replaced by an understanding of politics that recognizes democratization as an indispensable characteristic of socialist politics. A modern socialist understanding of politics, however, cannot ignore the fact that, in a reified world, people existing in reified forms of life are confronted with a process of forming political will in which it is not easy for them to recognize their own requirements and interests, to shape and articulate them in ways that are informed by solidarity. The phenomenon of the ideological crisis of the proletariat is not a Leninist invention, but a result of the inherent obscurity of the capitalist system, and of the profound reification of our thinking and living.
Lukács’ path to Marx is accompanied and characterized by reflections on ethics. As late as 1918, he rejected the Bolshevik revolution from a Kantian perspective—on the grounds of moral considerations. And even after turning toward Marxism, his moral impulse that humans must not be degraded to serve as means, robbed of their autonomy, and reduced to a “trolls” (in the words of Ibsen)78 persists. Since History and Class Consciousness, however, the Hungarian philosopher was convinced that the loss of autonomy of humans is not an individual-moral phenomenon, but a structural characteristic of capitalist commodity production. Revolutionizing the latter is a possible product of the historical process, and, having become realizable in this context, is the moral postulate of the struggle against the diverse forms of reification. This struggle is always susceptible to relapses—an insight that Lukács who, ever since his notes on Dostoyevsky, had little faith in institutions and the conformist, law-abiding behaviour they demanded, never let go off. The de-reification, de-commodification of social relationships is substantially a matter of everyday living; a form of life for which it holds true “that the active alienating of another person necessarily entails one’s own alienation.”79
A critique of economism [Ökonomismus] must not overlook the realism that is characteristic of the Marx-Lukács assessment of the political: even non-Marxist authors are recognizing that the present is marked by a “dominance of the economic system.”80 The economic system is—as we have emphasized above—totalitarian in tendency, it leaves its mark on politics and private life and “will perhaps precisely because of that (because of its ubiquity) rarely be recognized”;81 by the medium of money it secures the “social cohesion,” precisely by invading as exchange value every social domain (of a functionally differentiated modern society).”82 Only if a change in the system that offers hope of social control of the economic domain and provides space for modes of praxis that serve their own purposes83 is initiated, can a functional differentiation, in the sense that Honneth desires, therefore have a hope of succeeding. In the process of transcending the hic et nunc, a true democratic formation of collective will can take place, and culture and private life can find configurations that are appropriate to their domains. Honneth’s reflections on the “democratic forms of life,” which will at that point be on the agenda, can provide valuable suggestions for this socialist future.84 As a set of instructions for our capitalist reality they are less useful.
1 Axel Honneth, Die Idee des Sozialismus. Versuch einer Aktualisierung (Frankfurt/Main: 2015).
2 Honneth 15. Similarly, Robert Castel notes as early as 2009: “The financial, economic and social crisis which is threatening to strangle millions of people in the entire world, makes apparent the inanity of the liberal constructs which are based on the hegemony of a self-regulating market. The possibility of averting this catastrophe depends on the will to draw boundaries, to enact legislation in order to tame this hubris of capital” Quoted from Peter V. Zima, Entfremdung. Pathologien der postmodernen Gesellschaft (Tübingen: 2014) 135.
3 Honneth, Die Idee des Sozialismus, 19.
4 Honneth, Die Idee des Sozialismus, 20 (Emphasis mine).
5 As in the case of socialism, and even more thoroughly with communism, we have to probe critically and self-critically, which forms are fit for continuation and which are to be rejected as pernicious, inimical to enlightenment and emancipation, and even to be combated practically. Just as the generalized identification of communism and fascism under the category of “totalitarianism” is of little use, there must be a clear and distinct distancing from forms of socialism and communism that are inimical to democratization.
6 Cf. Honneth's critique of the Hegel-Marx concept of “totality”, ibid. 92ff and 127ff.
7 For consistency’s sake, he would have to add art as another sub-system with its own, “autonomous” logic.
8 Cf. Robert Lanning, Georg Lukács und die Organisierung von Klassenbewusstsein. Laika Verlag (publication imminent). Lannings examples from North Africa can be accompanied by counterparts in Europe and hereabouts. Guido Speckmann, for example, is not altogether wrong when he writes in a review of Honneth: “The eminent Frankfurt professor overlooks that institutional achievements don’t just drop from the sky but that they have social carriers who attain them by engaging in social struggles. The right of co-determination is inconceivable without the class compromise following Word War II, any more than the institutionalization of minimum wage by the struggles of trade unions.” (Neues Deutschland, October 28, 2015)
9 Honneth, Die Idee des Sozialismus, 166.
10 Honneth, Die Idee des Sozialismus.
11 Honneth refers to Dewey, in order to reach “an experimental understanding of historical processes of transformation“ (ibid. 96 and 96ff as well as 150ff).
12 He is not alone in this, as he great international resonance to the closing of the Lukács archives in Budapest demonstrated. Information about the scandal of the closing of the archive can be found on the Facebook page of the International Georg-Lukács-Society (www.facebook.com/lukacsgesellschaft).
13 I wish to distance myself as clearly as possible from the interpreters of Lukács who honour his work selectively, i.e. with a focus on his early work. From my point of view, for example, we have to re-examine whether labour, taking the term in the meaning of Lukács‘ late work Zur Ontologie des gesellschaftlichen Seins (cf. Georg Lukács, Zur Ontologie des gesellschaftlichen Seins. Band II. GLW Bd. 14, Darmstadt und Neuwied 1986, 67-117), has lost its constitutive significance in modern society and the chapter on alienation in the Ontology contains valuable impulses for contemporary analysis.
14 Honneth, Die Idee des Sozialismus, 63f.
15 Georg Lukács, Die Verdinglichung und das Bewußtsein des Proletariats (Bielefeld: 2015) 121f and 164f.
16 Georg Lukács, Preface (1967) to Geschichte und Klassenbewußtsein in GLW, Vol. II (Taschenbuch: 2013) 13.
17 Cf. Konstantinos Kavoulakos' illuminating study Ästhetizistische Kulturkritik und ethische Utopie. Georg Lukács' neukantianisches Frühwerk. Berlin 2014. On Kavoulakos‘ discoveries cf. Rüdiger Dannemann, Muss Georg Lukács’ Frühwerk neu gelesen werden? In: Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie 63, Nr. 6 (2015), 1158–1168.
18 This is not an exhaustive list oft he sources that found their way into the discourse of GuK. Other formative elements are classical German philosophy (especially Kant, as read in the Neo-Kantian variant, Fichte, especially in the interpretation of Emil Lask, increasingly Hegel, who needed to be re-discovered at the time), alongside the life philosophy of Bergson and Simmel, Husserl’s Phaenomenology (Lucien Goldmann has identified Die Seele und die Formen as an early existentialist work), legal theoreticians like Kelsen and Jellinek (we must remember that Lukács had also studied law and obtained a doctorate in political science (rer. oec.), the Weimar classics (in particular Goethe and Schiller’s critique of Kant), but also romantic philosophy (cf. M. Löwy, From Romanticism to Bolshevism, 1979); in addition to the increasingly dominant influence of Marx and Lenin, that of Rosa Luxemburg (and of syndicalism).
19 The critical reception of Lukács has not infrequently taken the aforementioned theoretical melange/melee/mashup as a cause for criticism––giving rise to accusations of eclecticism, of being equivocal; later on of revisionism, of an improper synthesis of incompatible theoretical approaches. The Neo-Kantians object to Lukács' Hegelianism, the self-appointed orthodox Marxists to the Fichte-inspired historical philosopher, the 68 generation to the bourgeois–son–turned–revolutionary’s reading of Weber and Simmel, or his allegedly unreserved conversion to “orthodox” Marxism etc. Other readers, less concerned with orthodoxy (of whatever stripe) on the other hand, have pointed to the wealth, and the scope of his perspective: Even in the 1930s or 50s, Lukács’ singular intellectual position in the context of the Marxist school of philosophy was remarked on by his contemporaries.
20 On the evolution of Lukács’ thinking, cf. the relevant works of Apitzsch (1977), Arato/ Breines (1979), Congdon (1983), Dannemann (1987 und 1997), Feenberg (2014), Grauer (1985), Hermann (1985), Jung (1989 und 2001), Kadarkay (1991), Kammler (1974), Löwy (1979).
21 At least nine different modes of access can be observed, which can of course also be combined or may intersect. Cf. Rüdiger Dannemann, Nachwort zu Georg Lukács, Die Verdinglichung und das Bewußtsein des Proletariats, loc. cit., 182-186.
22 Georg Lukács, Geschichte und Klassenbewußtsein, GLW Vol. II, 5.
23 Titus Stahl, Verdinglichung als Pathologie zweiter Ordnung, in Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie 59, Nr. 5 (2011) 734.
24 Peter Bürger, Lukács-Lektüren. Autobiographische Fragmente, in: Rüdiger Dannemann (ed.), Lukács und 1968. Eine Spurensuche (Bielefeld: 2009) 19ff.
25 This applies primarily to the proletariat, but also to the beneficiaries of the economic system of modernity.
26 Even in his philosophical testament, his Ontologie, Lukács reaffirms this aspect: “from language to the motives of their actions, the process of reification suffuses all the utterances of contemporary humans.” (Georg Lukács, Zur Ontologie des gesellschaftlichen Seins, Vol. II, loc. cit. 598).
27 Karl Marx, Das Elend der Philosophie. Response to Proudhons “Philosophie des Elends”, MEW Vol. 4, 130. Even in his Bloch-critique in the context of the expressionism debate of the 1930s, Jahre Lukács refers at a central point of his argument to this Marx-quote, in order to legitimize his notion of totality (cf. Lukács, Es geht um Realismus (1938), in: GLW Vol. 4, 316.)
28 Thus ends the famous reification essay in Geschichte und Klassenbewußtsein (Georg Lukács, Die Verdinglichung und das Bewußtsein des Proletariats, loc. cit. 176). In his late writings, Lukács distanced himself equally clearly from a deterministic interpretation of historical processes; he emphasizes that economic development merely produces a “margin of possibility [Möglichkeitsspielraum],” “whose realization can only be enacted by humans themselves” (Zur Ontologie des gesellschaftlichen Seins, Bd. II, loc. cit. 629). This is not the place for a detailed discussion of the important 7th pillar of reification theory, that of its organizational theory, respectively its concept of “imputed” [zugerechnet] class consciousness, since we are primarily concerned with the aspect of how realizable reification theory is.
29 The further development and continuation of his reification project took an entirely different form than its author had imagined. It did not take place among the circle of recipients he had intended, that of politically engaged and even organized practical philosophers—with the aforementioned exceptions—but among theoreticists, who would later come to be renowned as Frankfurt School (respectively as critical theory). The more than difficult relationship between Lukács and Adorno is a lesson in the kind of problems in communication and discourse typical of left intelligentia oft he 20th century. Cf. the dossiers “Georg Lukács und Theodor W. Adorno“ (1. und 2. Teil) in: F. Benseler/ W. Jung (eds.), Lukács 2004. Jahrbuch der Internationalen Georg-Lukács-Gesellschaft, Bielefeld 2004, 65-180; Lukács 2005, Jahrbuch der Internationalen Georg-Lukács-Gesellschaft, Bielefeld 2005, 55-189.
30 Cf. die Beiträge von Robert Fechner und Fabian Kettner in: Markus Bitterolf/ Denis Meier (ed.), Verdinglichung, Marxismus, Geschichte, Freiburg 2012 ; Louis Althusser/ Etienne Balibar, Das Kapital lesen, Hamburg 1972; the essays by Hans-Ernst Schiller, Ivan Boldyref, Werner Jung, Wolfgang Fritz Haug, Hans-Heinz Holz in: Beat Dietschy, Doris Zeilinger, Rainer E. Zimmermann (Ed.), Bloch-Wörterbuch, Berlin/ Boston 2012; Dirk Braunstein/ Simon Duckheim, Adornos Lukács. Ein Lektürebericht, in: Rüdiger Dannemann (ed.), Jahrbuch der Internationalen Georg-Lukács-Gesellschaft 2014/ 201505, Bielefeld 2015, 55-189; Georg Lukács, Preface (1967).
31 Norbert Bolz, Auszug aus der entzauberten Welt. Philosophischer Extremismus zwischen den Weltkriegen (Wilhelm Fink Verlag: 1991); George Lichtheim, Georg Lukács (München: 1971); Wolfgang Röd, Der Weg der Philosophie, Vol. II (München: 1996) 417ff.
32 Jürgen Habermas, Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns (Frankfurt/Main: 1981) Volume I, 479.
33 Rahel Jaeggi, Entfremdung. Zur Aktualität eines sozialphilosophischen Problem (Frankfurt/Main: 2005) 28.
34 Axel Honneth, Unser Kritiker. Jürgen Habermas wird siebzig: eine Ideenbiographie, in: DIE ZEIT Nr. 25 (1999), ed. June 17, 1999.
35 Axel Honneth, Verdinglichung. Eine anerkennungstheoretische Studie (Frankfurt/Main: 2005) 24.
36 Honneth, Verdinglichung, 27.
37 Honneth, Verdinglichung, 28.
38 Honneth notes the absence of proof from the 1920s author, that there is in the family, in the political public sphere, in the relationship between parents and children, in the culture of recreation, an actual process of “colonisation” by the principles of the capitalist market, of the exchange principle. The privileging of the economic sphere is claimed to have bizarre consequences. Unchecked forms of dehumanizing reification express themselves in racism or in human trafficking, especially of women. Ibid, p 90.
39 Honneth, Verdinglichung, 102.
40 Honneth views this quite differently, without doubt: In his reflections on the international debate that his essay has triggered, he steps back even further (cf. Axel Honneth, Nachbetrachtung zu “Verdinglichung”, in: Frank Benseler/Rüdiger Dannemann (Ed.), Lukács 2012/ 2013. Jahrbuch der Internationalen Georg-Lukács-Gesellschaft, Bielefeld 2012, 67-79): Now Honneth wants to define the circle of reification phenomena even more narrowly, and limit the term to the, in his opinion unlikely, cases where the ontological difference between a person and a thing is consigned to permanent institutional oblivion.
41 Cf. Ralf Konersmann, Anerkennungsvergessenheit. Für Sozialromantiker: Axel Honneth über Verdinglichung. In: Süddeutsche Zeitung, 21./22. Januar 2006, Nr. 17, 14. Ähnlich Wolfgang Kersting in der FAZ vom 7.11.2005, anders Michael Schifzyk in der NZZ vom 18.10.2005. Judith Butler in her quite critical discussion of Honneth’s essay also points to a link between his idea of a genuine praxis and Rousseau (cf. Judith Butler, Taking Another’s View: Ambivalent Implications, in: Axel Honneth, Reification. A New Look at an Old Idea. Oxford 2008, 97-119).
42 In the tradition of the Frankfurt School, there is a tendency to think of critical theory merely as a branch of moral philosophy that is concerned solely with questions of social equity. The original approach remains relevant precisely because Lukács does not interpret reification morally, or reduces it like Honneth to a “set of individual attitudes” (Timothy Hall, Returning to Lukács: Honneth’s Critical Reconstruction of Lukács' Concepts of Reification and Praxis, in: Michael J. Thompson (ed.), Georg Lukács Reconsidered. Critical Essays in Politics, Philosophy and Aesthetics, London/ New York 2011, 197). Recent Anglo-American authors (like Hall) identify the search for the “good life” under the conditions of modernity as the core of reification critique. A search that could not, in Lukács’ eyes, be undertaken in a singular act but only “by a concrete relationship to the concretely manifesting contradictions in the total development.” Therefore, it has to be concerned “with the contextually specific suspending of pathological obstacles to acquisition [Aneignungshindernisse] of every individual case.” (Titus Stahl, Verdinglichung als Pathologie zweiter Ordnung, loc. cit., 743).
43 Martha C. Nussbaum, Verdinglichung, in: dies., Konstruktion der Liebe, des Begehrens und der Fürsorge. Drei philosophische Aufsätze (Stuttgart: 2002) 90-162.
44 Markus Wolf, Verdinglichung kritisieren. Was. Warum und Wie?, in: Hans Friesen, Christian Lotz, Jakob Meier, Markus Wolf (eds.), Ding und Verdinglichung. Technik- und Sozialphilosophie nach Heidegger und der Kritischen Theorie (München: 2012) 285.
45 Nussbaum is also critical of the term reification because of its lack of focus, and even finds positive aspects in certain “natural” forms of reification.
46 Cf. z.B. Christoph Henning, Von der Kritik warenförmiger Arbeit zur Apotheose der Marktgesellschaft. Verdinglichung in Marxismus und Anerkennungstheorie, in: Hans Friesen et alii (eds.), Ding und Verdinglichung loc. cit. 243-272.
47 Georg Lukács, Zur Ontologie des gesellschaftlichen Seins, Vol. II, 682. In his Ontologie, Lukács emphasizes the currently observable changes in capitalism as due to the “expansion of large capital production to the entire domain of consumption and service, which causes them to influence the everyday lives of most humans in a completely different, direct, active, and directly intervening sense than was ever possible in earlier economic models.”
48 Lukács, Zur Ontologie, 587.
49 Both Habermas and Honneth fervently insist on this. Oppinions divide perceptibly when it comes to the assessment of bourgeois law: Lukács insists even in Sozialismus und Demokratisierung, his political legacy, and in the Ontologie on his critique of formal civil/bourgeois law (human rights [die Rechte des homme] “offer humanity the full freedom to reify themselves socially and naturally also ideologically to their hearts content”, according to his pointedly phrased diagnosis [Zur Ontologie des gesellschaftlichen Seins, Vol. II, loc. cit. 561), whereas Honneth accuses the (early) socialists and their successors of “their persistent blindness to the law” (Die Idee des Sozialismus, loc. cit. 127).
50 In the Ontologie Lukács puts it, not without a hint of pessimism, like this: “Reification and alienation may have a greater actual power now than ever before.” (Zur Ontologie des gesellschaftlichen Seins, Vol. II, loc. Cit. 656).
51 In his Ontologie, the late Lukács emphasized this aspect: “In that humanity subordinates its actions in everyday life to the enlarging of its ‚image’, clearly such an elevation of the standards of living must give rise to a new form of alienation, an alienation in and of itself” (ibid 683, cf. as well as 627).
52 It would be worth investigating, to what extent the forms of self-marketing in working life find their “voluntary“ continuation in the rampant cult of beauty and physique.
53 Naturally there are significant differences between employees as to how they experience instances of freedom/autonomy, but that changes nothing about the self-objectification demanded by the system’s rationality.
54 Thomas Zoglauer, Zur Ontologie der Artefakte, in: Hans Friesen et alii (eds.), Ding und Verdinglichung 26-27.
55 Titus Stahl, Verdinglichung als Pathologie zweiter Ordnung, 741.
56 The late Lukács, despite the protests of a counter-public, is convinced of the poor state of the public in our “age of manipulation [Manipulationszeitalter]” (Zur Ontologie des gesellschaftlichen Seins, Bd. II, loc. cit. 635).
57 If once in a while voter turnout should increase and lead to undesirable consequences, the ruling political class likes to complain about populist trends that are to be kept outside the political arena.
58 Georg Lukács, Sozialismus und Demokratisierung (Frankfurt/Main: 1987).
59 Georg Lukács, Zur Ontologie des gesellschaftlichen Seins Vol. II 598.
60 Despite all its deficits, among the strengths of the “Marburg School” formed around Wolfgang Abendroth and Werner Hofmann, unlike the Frankfurt school’s protagonists, counts its insistence, on the indispensable role of Marx’s theory to gain adequate insights and to be able to address practical-political problems in contemporary society. Cf. Lothar Peter, Marx an die Uni. Die »Marburger Schule« - Geschichte, Probleme, Akteure. Köln 2014.
61 While in bourgeois art “the revolt against the alienations (…) has remained unextermineable” Lukács detects more tendencies towards adaptation for bourgeois philosophy—“despite mock opposition.” (Zur Ontologie des gesellschaftlichen Seins, Vol. II, loc. cit. 678).
62 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus logico-philosophicus, London 1955, 186 (quoted in: Georg Lukács, Zur Ontologie des gesellschaftlichen Seins, Vol. II, loc. cit. 374).
63 Lukács includes especially Neo-positivism, the philosophy of language succeeding Wittgenstein and Existentialism.
64 Lukács, Zur Ontologie, 344f.
65 In more recent, as yet to be seriously investigated mass phenomena of everyday culture [Alltagskultur] similar reification phenomena can be found. As the above examples demonstrate, reification critique did not concern itself with “marginal practices” but with the central practices of a form of life in which entire bundles of practices are systematically intertwined. (Stahl, Verdinglichung als Pathologie zweiter Ordnung, loc. cit. 742).
66 The great media resonance to Honneth’s essay indicates that the author’s assessment is correct. That professional recipients frequently respond to his work, similarly to his study of reification, with a mixture of sympathy and (harsh) criticism, confirms that his thoughts are inciting a relevant discussion, which is awaiting continuation.
67 It is not correct, however, that the original reification theory is unable in principle to perform a critique of the many concrete forms of reification such as racism, repression of women etc. On the contrary, it is an approach that places the concrete forms of reification in the context of a social totality, and can thus explain them adequately. That is at the core of the radical quality of this approach, which links the critique of individual phenomena with the question of the system as a whole. To put it pointedly: The struggle against racism and xenophobia is always justified, but it becomes comprehensive, i.e., “radical” in Marx’s meaning of the word, in the context of a praxis that brings about radical changes.
68 There is a new culture, a new form of life, unfortunately hardly analyzed from a Marxist perspective until now, of unapologetic narcissistic egotism, which ignores the dimensions of politics and human history and completely prevents the memory of possible experiences of alienation and reification.
69 Recent customs in the treatment of the current streams of refugees give us reasons to fear that such forms of an immensely violent, reifying treatment of humans.
70 Lukács, Zur Ontologie Vol. II, 635.
71 The diagnosis by the late Lukács is similiar, when he speaks oft he disappearance of “cannibalistic over-work” and the fading of “perceivable [sinnfällig] brutality … only to make way for a 'voluntarily' accepted form.” (ibid.).
72 Lukács, Zur Ontologie Vol. II, 706.
73 Lukács, Zur Ontologie Vol. II, 736.
74 Honneth, Die Idee des Sozialismus, loc. cit. 117. Despite all the criticism of Honneth, his impetus to overcome the pure, history-philosophical negativity of Adorno is appropriate to the facts and productive for the further development of modern critical theory. Lukács always opposed the hyperradical gesturing of the negativity of the Minima Moralia, since he views—with Marx and Aristotle—humans as “responding beings” (Zur Ontologie des gesellschaftlichen Seins, Bd. II, loc. cit. 524, 573 and passim).
75 Honneth, Die Idee des Sozialismus, 116.
76 Lukács, Zur Ontologie Vol II, 551.
77 Zima, Entfremdung. Pathologien der postmodernen Gesellschaft, 134.
78 Cf. Georg Lukács, In praise oft he nineteenth century, in: ders., Essays über Realismus, GLW Vol. 4, Neuwied and Berlin 1971, 662: “… man becomes man, by wanting to become self; the troll rejects this should [Sollen], any should [Sollen]; it sufficient unto itself [in its particular immediacy [Unmittelbarkeit], R.D.].”
79 Georg Lukács, Zur Ontologie des gesellschaftlichen Seins, Vol. II, a.a.O. 519. Cf. The brief but exemplary abstract of a history of the relationship between the sexes ibid 517ff. Incidentally: Mere recourse to “the remaining critical intellectuals (such as the ones highlighted e.g. by Zima, R.D.),” who are supposed to continue to mount resistance in the areas that remain open to them, „Science, Education, Art and—Politics” (Peter V. Zima, Entfremdung. Pathologien der postmodernen Gesellschaft, ibid. 92) is not a convincing option.
80 Lukács, Zur Ontologie, 101.
81 Lukács, Zur Ontologie, VII.
82 Lukács, Zur Ontologie, 101.
83 In the terminology of the Ontologie these constitute forms of praxis of the species in itself [Gattungsmäßigkeit].
84 When human history ceases to function as if grown out of nature, spaces for individual autonomously defined forms of law, politics, and love are created—in a new quality. (cf. Georg Lukács, Der Funktionswechsel des historischen Materialismus, GLW Vol. II, 398-431).