From Alienation to Forms of Life
The Critical Theory of Rahel Jaeggi
Edited by Amy Allen and Eduardo Mendieta
From Alienation to Forms of Life
The Critical Theory of Rahel Jaeggi
Edited by Amy Allen and Eduardo MendietaThe wide-ranging work of Rahel Jaeggi, a leading voice of the new generation of critical theorists, demonstrates how core concepts and methodological approaches in the tradition of the Frankfurt School can be updated, stripped of their dubious metaphysical baggage, and made fruitful for critical theory in the twenty-first century. In this thorough introduction to Jaeggi’s work for English-speaking audiences, scholars assess and critique her efforts to revitalize critical theory.
- Table of Contents
- Sample Chapters
Jaeggi’s innovative work reclaims key concepts of Hegelian-Marxist social philosophy and reads them through the lens of such thinkers as Adorno, Heidegger, and Dewey, while simultaneously putting them into dialogue with contemporary analytic philosophy. Structured for classroom use, this critical introduction to Rahel Jaeggi is an insightful and generative confrontation with the most recent transformation of Frankfurt School–inspired social and philosophical critical theory. This volume features an essay by Jaeggi on moral progress and social change, essays by leading scholars engaging with her conceptual analysis of alienation and the critique of forms of life, and a Q&A between Jaeggi and volume coeditor Amy Allen. For scholars and students wishing to engage in the debate with key contemporary thinkers over the past, present, and future(s) of critical theory, this volume will be transformative.
Amy Allen is Liberal Arts Research Professor of Philosophy and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Head of the Department of Philosophy at The Pennsylvania State University.
Eduardo Mendieta is Professor of Philosophy and Associate Director of the Rock Ethics Institute at The Pennsylvania State University.
1. Introduction (Amy Allen and Eduardo Mendieta)
2. “Resistance to the Perpetual Danger of Relapse”: Moral Progress and Social Change (Rahel Jaeggi)
3. Decentered Social Selves: Interrogating Alienation in Conversation with Rahel Jaeggi (John Christman)
4. The Normativity of Forms of Life (Frederick Neuhouser)
5. In Search of the Negative in Rahel Jaeggi’s Kritik von Lebensformen (Max Pensky)
6. What’s Critical about Critical Theory?—Redux (Rocío Zambrana)
7. On the Politics of Forms of Life (Daniel Loick)
8. Forms of Life, Progress, and Social Struggle: On Rahel Jaeggi’s Critical Theory (Robin Celikates)
9. Progress, Normativity, and the Dynamics of Social Change: An Exchange between Rahel Jaeggi and Amy Allen (Conducted by Eva von Redecker)
10. Reply to my Critics (Rahel Jaeggi)
Amy Allen and Eduardo Mendieta
A Leading Voice in New Critical Theory
Rahel Jaeggi is a leading voice of the new generation of critical theorists working in the rich and storied tradition of the Frankfurt School. Her major publications include Entfremdung (2005), published in English as Alienation (Columbia University Press, 2014), and Kritik von Lebensformen (2013), of which the English translation, Critique of Forms of Life, is soon to be published by Harvard University Press. In addition, Prof. Jaeggi has edited or coedited several volumes, including, most recently, Nach Marx: Philosophie, Kritik, Praxis and Karl Marx: Perspectiven der Gesellschaftskritik (both coedited with Daniel Loick and published in 2013), and she has published numerous essays and book chapters. Throughout this substantial and wide-ranging body of work, Prof. Jaeggi has inventively reappropriated key concepts of Hegelian-Marxist social philosophy, reading those concepts through the lens of such thinkers as Adorno, Heidegger, and Dewey while simultaneously putting them into dialogue with contemporary analytic philosophy. Her work offers a forceful and compelling articulation of the left-Hegelian tradition of critical theory, one that demonstrates how the core concepts and methodological approaches of that tradition can be updated, stripped of their dubious metaphysical baggage, and made fruitful for critical theory in the twenty-first century.
On the Metonymy of the Frankfurt School
Rahel Jaeggi’s work can only be properly understood against the background of the “critical theory” of the “Frankfurt School.” The “Frankfurt School” is in fact a metonymy for “critical theory,” a rich and generative interdisciplinary research agenda and theoretical paradigm that was launched nearly a century ago in 1923, when the Institute for Social Research was endowed and established in Frankfurt am Main. Since its birth, the Frankfurt School’s philosophical agenda and orientation has been neither unified nor homogenous, and its interdisciplinary agenda has continually evolved as it has taken on the challenges of its times. Few movements, schools, or philosophical movements exemplify the Hegelian insight—that “philosophy is its time comprehended in thought”—as has the Frankfurt School.
Thus it would be instructive to briefly disentangle both the conceptual and material history of this “school.” As Rolf Wiggershaus notes in his massive, comprehensive, and indispensable history of the Frankfurt School,1 it is a “school” in virtue of the conceptual and material, intellectual and institutional, matrices that have held together its philosophical attitude, method, and paradigm. Following Wiggershaus, we identify the core features of the Frankfurt School as the following: First, a shared institutional framework to bring together research agendas and intellectual works. There would be no “Frankfurt School” without the Institut für Sozialforschung, the Institute for Social Research. Over nearly the last century, both the institute and the Goethe University in Frankfurt with which it is institutionally linked have remained geographical points of reference. Second, there were and there are “charismatic,” “inspirational,” and “coalescing” figures that lend a name and personality to the project: Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, Habermas, Honneth, and arguably now a new generation of scholars, which includes Jaeggi. Third, there were and there are “manifestos” that (re)articulate the agenda of the school in the light of contemporary challenges. Fourth, the school, however, is not a mere conglomeration of thinkers and researchers under a shared institutional roof; they are also thinkers that share a “conceptual paradigm,” a way of asking questions and aiming to answer them that share some “family” resemblances. The name for that paradigm is “critical theory,” which already in its name announces its basic orientation: a philosophical refusal of conceptual conciliations or accommodations with the status quo and the subordination of theory to any affirmation of extant reality. Still, what “critical theory” is and how it should be conducted are the objects of sustained and intensive reflection by members of the school. The Frankfurt School remains from its birth hyperreflexive of its own relationship to theory, to what counts as critical and traditional theory, and to how the latest developments in the natural and social-historical sciences can be marshaled to enhance the critical attitude toward both social reality and theoretical reflection on it. Fifth, a school is also held together by a venue or venues for its projects and results. The Institute for Social Research has had its publication venues in the form of the Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, and later through its affiliation with Suhrkamp Verlag, which became the main venue for the publications of many of the affiliates of the Frankfurt School, members of the school disseminated their research and studies. Building on Wiggershaus, we could add two additional elements that give further warrant for the designator of “school” to the Frankfurt School: Sixth, and perhaps just as important as any of the factors already mentioned, the members of this school all engage in immanent, critical, generative, and transformative appropriations of the philosophical, sociological, and political canon in Western thought. Each figure and generation of the Frankfurt School has offered elucidating and provocative readings of key figures, beginning with Homer and Plato, Kant and Hegel, Marx and Freud, and culminating more recently with the works of Niklas Luhmann, John Rawls, Michael Tomasello, Hannah Arendt, and Michel Foucault, to mention only a few recent figures. To paraphrase Whitehead’s words, philosophy is always a critical footnote to those who came before us but at the same time is one that not only allows us to understand better what the original thinker aimed to think but also challenges us to think our own thoughts. At the very least, the Frankfurt School is also a school of some of the most illuminating critical reading of the Western intellectual canon. And finally, seventh, a school is a school if it is so recognized abroad. The closeness of home only breeds neglect and misrecognition. Because of the exile of its founding members and the cosmopolitanism of its later generations, the Frankfurt School has developed an international reception that is unparalleled by any single individual, tradition, or movement. In fact, in its latest iterations and developments, the Frankfurt School has been advanced by individuals who are from neither Frankfurt nor even Germany. The school has become truly international, turning Frankfurt not into a geographical reference point but a state of mind, an intellectual and philosophical commitment. Without question, however, the Frankfurt School and its theoretical paradigm, critical theory, has retained a modicum of continuity over what some refer to as four generations of critical theorists. While the “Frankfurt School” may have been born on February 3, 1923, when the Institute for Social Research was established, it is often claimed that “critical theory” was born in 1931, when Horkheimer delivered his 1931 inaugural lecture as the new director of the Institute for Social Research, “Traditional and Critical Theory” Interestingly, in this lecture Horkheimer did not use the term “critical” in an affirmative sense, although he did make reference to “uncritical” and “critical” elements within Hegelian philosophy. Nonetheless, Horkheimer’s “The Present Situation of Social Philosophy and the Tasks of an Institute for Social Research” did articulate clearly the interdisciplinary and radical character of its research agenda, even if in rather Aesopian and conciliatory terms. In this lecture, Horkheimer is at pains to argue that what the Institute should be doing is precisely taking up both the oldest and yet most pressing issues. He argued that the institute should be guided by “the question of the connection between the economic life of society, the psychical development of individuals, and the changes in the realm of culture in the narrower sense (to which belong not only the so-called intellectual elements, such as science, art, and religion, but also law, customs, fashion, public opinion, sports, leisure activities, lifestyle, etc.),” and yet, taking up this three-pronged research agenda, he exposed investigators to “nothing [else] but a reformulation—on the basis of the new problem constellation, consistent with the methods at our disposal and with the level of our knowledge—of the old question concerning the connection of particular existence and universal Reason, of reality and Idea, of life and Spirit.” Here “critical” appears in the guise of “reformulation on the basis of a new problem constellation,” which is summarized in terms of the old antinomies of individual existence and universal reason, reality and the concept, object and subject, or to use the language of Jaeggi, unalienated agency and nonpathological lifeworld.
From Martin Jay, who offered the earliest intellectual history of the Frankfurt School; Raymond Geuss, a British philosopher who provided one of the most acute and succinct overviews of the very idea of a critical theory; and Stephen Eric Bronner, a political philosopher who has written on critical theory and its theorists, we can gather a set of key terms, ideas, and approaches that give coherence to the paradigm called “critical theory.” This paradigm has the following characteristics: an aversion to closed philosophical systems (and Habermas is not an exception, as his Theory of Communicative Action is not a system but a research project that is underwritten by a “fallibilistic” and “reconstructive” methodology); a critical but forward-looking appropriation of thinkers and social science research agendas; a philosophical focus on the subjectivity, interiority, and agency of social and moral agents; a materialist orientation that is attentive to the economic, political, legal, gendered, ethnic, and of course social conditions of agency and subjectivity; a positive but critical appropriation of enlightenment and bourgeois rationalism, which has either turned into ideology or has turned against itself in forms of irrationalisms and aestheticism; a resolute commitment to think through the “dialectical mediations” among the material conditions of the reproduction of social existence, the way in which these modes of existence are reflected in subjective and agential attitudes, and the ways in which they are captured both in “culture” and “social theory”; a complex and ambivalent articulation of modernity that critically appropriates the crucial insights of the great “masters of suspicion”—namely, Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche; and per- haps most importantly, a steadfast refusal to identify or assimilate any form of freedom with the extant institutional arrangements that claim to deliver any modicum of freedom or nonalienation. All these themes or research agendas could be gathered under two basic headings: moral autonomy and the becoming, or history, of freedom, both of which are united in the self-consciousness of a society that is able to direct its own moral development. At the core of critical theory is the rejection of all positivisms, empiricisms, pseudopragmatisms, and naturalisms and the affirmation of self-reflexive critical theory at the service of social emancipation, which has a commitment to the morally autonomous, though not autarkic, subject, who is part of a social project that aims at both individual and collective dignity.
The unruly expansiveness of the category of critical theory is both exhilarating and bewildering. We twenty-first-century critical theorists are like inspired and challenged children trying to decipher who were our intellectual mothers and fathers but also how, whether, and to what extent we want to claim their bequest. The “school,” “paradigm,” “tradition,” “method,” or “movement,” sheltered under “critical theory,” however, claims us, because it is guided by a set of imperatives. We are standing at the foot of the scaffolding of a great edifice still under construction, attempting to articulate the common meaning that we invoke in that name: critical theory. From Alienation to Forms of Life: The Critical Theory of Rahel Jaeggi is a contribution not only to the appropriation of that history but also to the articulation of its future(s).
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