Socialism As Creative Democracy? on the Deweyan Turn in Axel Honneth’s Critique of Capitalism

Saturday, 21 July 2018: 08:45
Oral Presentation
Yotaro NATANI, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA
In his recent book, The Idea of Socialism, Frankfurt School theorist Axel Honneth elaborates a new conception of socialism as the establishment of social freedom in the three spheres of family, market economy, and the political public sphere – rather than just the economy as envisioned by previous theories. While Honneth has developed the Hegelian notions of social freedom and democratic ethical life in earlier works like Freedom’s Right, his statement on socialism is unique for its rigorous incorporation of John Dewey’s pragmatist insights about creative democracy and social cooperation. According to Honneth, socialism is to be realized through a cooperative enterprise of sustained problem-solving and experimentation by citizens, resulting in substantive institutional reforms that embody the principles of mutual recognition and social freedom. This paper will first review the basic argument of Honneth’s book and highlight the influence of pragmatism on his critical theory. I discuss how Dewey’s ideas enable Honneth to construct a cooperative model of democracy as an alternative to the three dominant models in political philosophy (liberal, republican, and procedural). The paper will then highlight two inter-related problems with Honneth’s argument: because Honneth rejects external criticism and insists on an immanent critique that is grounded in normative principles inherent in existing institutions, it is unclear to what extent experimental reforms will bring about a post-capitalist transformation; second, the Hegelian-Deweyan framework does not provide Honneth with adequate conceptual tools to analyze the durability of capitalist institutions and obstacles for emancipatory social change. I ultimately argue that Honneth must incorporate a differentiated concept of power if his immanent critique is to address the strength of private interests and the capacity of civil society associations to challenge them.