Critical Theory Derailed: Paradigm Fetishism and Critical Liberalism in Honneth (and Habermas)

  • Harry F. Dahms
Part of the Political Philosophy and Public Purpose book series (POPHPUPU)


Despite Honneth’s claim to have advanced critical theory not just beyond the early Frankfurt School especially of Horkheimer, Marcuse, and Adorno, but also of Jürgen Habermas, the specific configuration and overall orientation of his theory of recognition should be understood as an instance of traditional rather than critical theory, even though he retains elements of the latter. This applies especially insofar as Honneth appears not to have examined how the concrete socio-historical circumstances in West Germany, especially from 1949 until 1990, shaped and continue to be reflected in his own theoretical agenda. Judged on its own terms, and evaluated and interpreted according to its own standards, Honneth’s theory constitutes an undeniable achievement. Yet, as Honneth declared in an interview he gave in 2000, he did not think of himself as a social theorist. Indeed, if judged in terms of critical theory, especially if we take as the “gold standard” for the latter the writings by Horkheimer, Marcuse, and Adorno during the 1930s and the 1940s, Honneth’s theory of recognition should be recognized as a systematic effort to develop critical liberalism as a positive rather than critical political philosophy.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Harry F. Dahms
    • 1
  1. 1.The University of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA

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