Axel Honneth will study the long-run social consequences of the ongoing dissolution of the integrative force of contract-based work. His project will be partly. In Freedom’s Right: The Social Foundations of Democratic Life (), Axel Honneth, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Frankfurt and at Columbia. Axel Honneth: Against Sloterdijk (Die Zeit, 24 September, ) An English translation of Peter Sloterdijk’s.

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Published on Oct View 27 Download 4. For those readers who feel they need something to go by in English from the object of Honneth’s attack, a translation of a similar argument by Sloterdijk can be found here. Honneth’s views appear here in translation, not because they are sanctioned by The Great Stage, but because they are expressed with a flair that our local journalism, our local “public philosophy” radically excludes.

Honneth’s are impassioned arguments of intellectual substance. From the point of view of Australia’s degraded media landscape, it must surely seem remarkable that they appeared in a broadsheet newspaper at all; however Honneth himself might recoil from the “childishness, superficiality and useless blather” that hlnneth as part of the democratic culture of today, reducing the idea of democracy to a nonsense, it nonetheless says something about the possibility of expression and argument in current-day Europe that his own antinomian views became available in a mainstream print medium Die Zeit, September 24, A principled scepticism about all the achievements of social modernity separated him from the advocates of extending the economy into all corners of life; a proud refusal to take the side of the weak and disadvantaged distinguished him from the hesitant objections of the critics of capitalism.

A tone of militant anti-conformism meant however that he was met from many sides with reiificacin and honneh. As The Critique of Cynical Reason seemed to signal, a true free spirit had here stepped on to the intellectual stage again at last, someone who, with the lonely resolve and radicalism of reificadin Nietzsche, took issue with all the habits of thought that had long ago given our era an almost unbearable sloppiness.

Where Sloterdijks intellectual calculations fell flat because he had done violence to morally well-founded principles, he was quick to shoot off further argumentative smoke grenades; their effect was that the atrocity ended up shrouded in further darkness, taking on the grandiose status of previously unthinkable thoughts.

It was tough to get a handle on Sloterdijks thought over the years from any real moral or political angle. However, Sloterdijk has himself recently put an end to the game of cat-and-mouse that the arts pages of our newspapers have ingloriously taken part in. In an article for the FAZ [Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung], he has let slip what historical developments actually capture his interest as a philosopher of history.

Readers may have always suspected that his own resentment was at the bottom reificwcin that Nietzschean critique of ressentiment he has successfully mimicked. That his own resentment now shows its face in so petty-minded a way must simply have dumbfounded them though.

From the start, Sloterdijks preference for essayistic philosophy was connected with the rise of a social group that had nothing but contempt for the capitalist welfare states forms of cultural expression, though without reificain any workable idea of its own how to shape the future politically.

Axel Honneth

In their academic youth, which fell in the years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the representatives of this new elite had read the words of Michel Foucault; because of their unfixed, elastic intellectual attitude, their readiness for bold intuitive leaps, they had quickly ascended all the conceivable heights of power, where they now found themselves awaiting inspiration a transcendent word of clarity that could provide our epoch with an intellectual signature.

In this milieu, which included the editorial desks of broadsheet newspapers, the cafeterias of axe, architecture offices and advertising agencies, there was agreement on one thing alone that the welfare mentality of the social democratic age should be brought to a decisive end.

The majority of Germans seemed too dependent; the culture was too attached to the open hand of the state for it possibly to give birth to any sort of powerful idea or way of life.

Admittedly their contempt was directed less towards the needy classes themselves and much more towards the latters intellectual representatives, who, in the old West German republic, had xael presumptuous enough to put themselves forward as political spokesmen for a general redistribution.

Axel Honneth | Department of Philosophy

They enthusiastically read every article demonising the politics ofthey noted with reificxcin satisfaction that the leading disciplines of the declining post 68 era, sociology and psychoanalysis, were finally getting their comeuppance.

The word of redemption was to be different from the jeremiads that the ideologues of old had delivered in the name of the weak and socially disenfranchised. It had to reificxcin something of the courage of intellectual grandeur and keep well away from the jargon of social impoverishment.

The representatives of this new class didnt have too long to wait soon a writer came out to meet them who had the right prescription for all their anxieties and hopes in his hand.

At the very outset of his intellectual development, Peter Sloterdijk may still have been undecided whether he should set off down the path of philosophically inspired social criticism, or that of a mystical or speculative interpretation of history and the world. It may only have been the rapid success of his first books in the milieu just mentioned that finally led him to rfificacin its disciples as a seer in impoverished times.

He didnt lack reificaciin power to create concepts and metaphors that seemed to throw open the world; he was also gifted with a certain capacity for diagnostic condensation; now all the intellectual preconditions had been fulfilled for Sloterdijk to take on that much-eyed prophetic mantle. Since then a string of essays, books and speeches have issued reificadin his fertile mind year by year; if they arent all read honnety that stratum of his devotees, nonetheless theyre surely leafed through.

No doubt the scope of the three-volume Spheres yonneth too great to warrant page by page inspection; a quick reidicacin at Sloterdijks melancholy theme was enough: This philosophical poet was dissatisfied with worldly conditions in a way that set him apart from the contemptible social criticism of the old guard; the philosophers critical riposte was not to the institutional structure of public life, but the honeth impoverishment of a whole culture that didnt dare face up to the pitiless givens of existence itself.

Sloterdijks honnetj point of access to these facts of social life was, to be sure, anything but philosophically refined. As if Foucaults objection to anthropological essentialising had never been made, as though all the warnings against the postulation of culture universals or the supposed invariables of the human condition could be thrown to the wind, Sloterdijks assumption was simply that closer inspection revealed a series of inescapable drives at work in civilised life.

Making his acel into the midst of a milieu in search of radical promises, the author seemed to have forgotten everything that he himself had axsl written and thought for example in a sparkling early essay about Foucault. Now he was free to cast a sort of intuitive glance into the essence of existence. In a matter of years, a cocoon of admiration, fascination and mischievous sympathy had formed around the writings of the author. From post-modern radio producers to ageing Goethe Institute directors, many gladly spun away at it.


At last somebody had set himself against all that argumentatively finicky, dizzyingly self-reflexive social criticism and exposed its fixation on mediocre values like equality and social justice. At last somebody had given us a first impression of the true forces slumbering in the depths of historical conflicts.

Be that as it may, after this first swag of work, the long-awaited redemptive formula was yet to fall to that social circle that looked so eagerly up at the master. Sloterdijks glance into essential depths had indeed brought to reificcacin the most various objects of interest. It had fearlessly wised us adel to the hidden meaning of all our genetic experimentation and it had investigated the timeless psycho-dynamics of politics. But the burning question about the social antagonism of our own times was something he had yet to turn his attention to.

As though unable to let his readership go thirsty any longer, reficacin after the turn of the century Sloterdijk undertook to write a politico-psychological analysis under the fearsome title Spleen and Time Zorn und Zeit, Suhrkamp Verlag. Once again, the methodological flippancy he proceeds with in the book is breath-taking; a mere backwards glance at classical Greek and Roman psychology is supposed to suffice to fit us out with the necessary equipment for a complete diagnosis of the contemporary world.

On the psychological picture of the ancient Greeks Sloterdijk wants to inform us without so much as a passing reference to modern research or scientific literature human beings are gripped by a striving for success, prestige and self-respect at least as strongly as they are by sexual desire; these thymotic powers, which in modernity have been ignored with the exception of a few great thinkers and which were finally banished from the realm of self-knowledge by psychoanalysis, supposedly supply the actual material of all political reificain, since in the end its the collective reconquest of pride and honour that political conflict is about.

You only have to cast a glance over the thesis before you want to insist on some conceptual distinctions – surely theres a big difference whether thymos takes hinneth account the consent of the Other or wants to place itself above and beyond that very Other in other words, whether we strive for truly inter-subjective recognition or one-sided domination.

It seems rather futile to point out at this stage of the argument that theoreticians as different as George Sorel and Barrington Moore drew attention to the key role of honour as a motive force of political movements at a much earlier date.

None of that bothers Sloterdijk much. He wants to get at something more important, something that shakes our contemporary sense of ourselves to its foundations. What we learn next is that the opposite of the pride that superior beings have at their disposal in honnegh battle for recognition is the ressentiment of those who cannot but occupy a subordinate position in the social hierarchy. To rid themselves of the shame of this subordination, the moral values of self-limitation and equal treatment are brought into the world from below.

In their light, the members of the successful strata appear as the real failures. To that extent the history of civilisation, as this bald repetition of Nietzsche has it, consists in nothing more than an ever-constant confrontation between life-affirming and life-denying groups, between associations of human beings who enjoy life proudly and those who try to spoil the latters vitality.

The single original twist that Sloterdijk gives this well-known doctrine follows from a thought that is actually directed against Nietzsche the argument that over the past years Christian morality couldnt have provided the weak with an instrument of ressentiment in their campaign for revenge, since the values and norms that come down to us from early Christianity were, according to Sloterdijk, so other-worldly in their humanitarianism that they could never have supplied axeo starting-point for a spiritual attack on the affluent and privileged.

On Sloterdijks picture, philosophical reflection reificadin to begin at a deeper level if it is to succeed in extracting from the dark haze of historical conflict the values that might actually have served the honneh movements of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries as instruments of artful revenge you already sense that now the magic formula that Sloterdijks meaning-hungry followers have been awaiting for so long reificacun not too far off.

To keep it short: What were supposed to understand here by demands for equality by and large remains vague what Sloterdijk has in mind however are both the nationalist and internationalist movements in modern history, the former having sued for social equality exclusively for their respective national populations, the latter attempting to lay claim to it for all the citizens of the globe.

From this point, its not far to the claim that the world-historical catastrophes of the twentieth century were initiated by the revolts of two associations of the aggrieved, with intellectuals playing the part of the new ministers of world-spiritual hatred, their knowledge enabling them to use the slogans of a moralistic humanism and organise the product of humiliation and disdain, the spleen of the masses, against the elites. Somehow you feel youve already heard all this you might well think youre being presented with an amalgam of Gehlen and Ernst Nolte, except that the equation of fascism and socialism and their common derivation from motives of ressentiment and thirst for power comes across here as showier and more slapdash.

Surely its rare for products of the intellectual past that in their own time betrayed little more than defensiveness and dull fears to be freshened up so deftly and presented as the latest word on the spiritual and political condition of the contemporary world. The text that some of the central connective terms in Sloterdijks argument seems to stem from, Gehlens Morality and Hypermorality, was already met 40 years ago with an important objection. It was that equating an intra-national moral code structured around the values of national honour and solidarity with the moral universalism of internationalism is to overlook the very different intentions behind their respective calls for equality.

While in the first case the equality of all members of the nation striven for within the state was was merely the moral flipside of a battle fought against a honnfth foe in the outside world, in the second case, at least in theory, all polemical reference to outside groups falls away, since all members of the human race are to enjoy the same rights. The value systems of nationalism and internationalism thus do not represent two sides of one and the same humanist ideal of equality, as Sloterdijk, like Gehlen, would have us believe.

On the contrary, they form different stages in the development of social ethics. Things dont look any better for Sloterdijks thesis that the moral indignation of the socially disadvantaged masses can only be explained by motives of resentment towards the privileged.

Here you ask yourself why Sloterdijk takes his detour via such a trivial psychology, when in fact the political constitutions of Western democracies positively encourage those who feel themselves at a disadvantage to make use of their well-founded claim to equal treatment before the law. In the struggle against social discrimination and economic disadvantage, the relevant social actors are only trying to put into practice what the moral principles of all modern states governed by the rule of law promise them.

No thirst for power, no envy and no resentment is needed to explain why. As far as Sloterdijks use of Gehlen goes, obviously every author is free to recur to the thought patterns of the past as they wish.


However, doing so means contravening the norms of intellectual honesty, if in the process the old is passed off as the new just so you can save yourself a discussion of counterarguments raised long ago.

The speculations of Sloterdijk that Ive gone over so far obviously only represent philosophical warm-up exercises for the political blow that he was finally ready with in the FAZ of June At some stage the implications of the insight hed won into the eternal return of the war between the justifiably privileged and the envy-ridden underlings had to be drawn; here they are, in the form of a speculative recommendation to let the unpleasant stir of eternal social conflict honneth to a standstill, at least for a historical instant.

To judge by the grand standards of the reificaciin of history, there can only be one solution to the problem: The political slogan for this programme? You can hardly believe it: From the lonely heights, Sloterdijk had at last reificacij the long-awaited formula that will shape the political future, the formula that will finally put paid to the sentimental dream of the social democratic state.

To do it he draws on an idea aaxel two he had already made use of in Spleen and Time to tease out the implications of his teachings about the energy of pride and self-respect that ground our civilisation and give us a picture of a different sort of capitalist economy; referring darkly to Georges Bataille, the talk there was of the rich shaking off the self-contempt they had been culturally burdened with once they distributed their fortunes down below among the needy in a series of benevolent beaux gestes as part of an economy of pride.

In plain English, what thats meant to mean is that every legal duty to hand over part of their own wealth in the form of tax only does injury to their proprietorial sense of well-earned success, while an act of self-imposed over-taxation whose bounty falls to the lower orders would spark a feeling of joyous benevolence.

So much was clear here we had a man who, in times marked by a widening gulf between rich and poor, was giving very earnest thought to how things stood on the side of the gulf that the miserabilist Left had neglected. Hed heard enough complaints about growing unemployment, hed had enough too of joyless preoccupation with the life at the bottom of the heap: These half-baked reflections at no reificcin does he make clear why hobneth acquired by inheritance or financial speculation are justly earned in the sense of involving any sort of notable achievement provide Sloterdijk with the basis for a political programme of revolutionary proportions.

With the courage of a true free thinker, he now essays the means with which the historical victors, the wealthy, could put an end to the cruel game that brings all their successes into ever greater disrepute. The title of the short piece should already make it clear that we have someone here who is contemplating nothing less than the overthrow all our customary values and habits. For Sloterdijk, merely repairing the existing social order is not good enough, when something as great as the misery of the ruling classes is at stake.

The latter could only ward off their shameful fate or so he argues if they grasped the means of political counterattack that are capable of clearing the source of their shame from their path; and, as we read further on, Sloterdijk detects this source, the root of all evil, in nothing other than the reifivacin of the social democratic state that enormous welfare system with the help of which the underprivileged, standing shoulder to shoulder reificcain moralistic intellectuals, take advantage of the well-off; the insight is so central for Sloterdijk, the concern connected with it so momentous, that he makes axep of the taxation state again in no particular connection in his latest book, You Have To Change Your Life Suhrkamp Verlag.

With a reference to Friedrich August von Hayek, the notion there gets the name real existing semi-socialist liberal fiscalism.

You really have to take a close look several times at the implicit argument before it dawns on you what the peculiar thesis is that Sloterdijk is putting forward with such nonchalance here: A small historical reminder suffices to see that the claims Sloterdijk develops here are plain nonsense; what we have to thank for them is a mixture of historical ignorance and theoretical chutzpah.

During the development of industrial capitalism, in their collective efforts to carry through a policy of economic redistribution and thus secure social rights, the economically worse-off were able to support their claims from the outset using two sources of moral legitimation. On the one hand, it was plain to see that the rapidly growing wealth of sections of the middle class had little to do with their own achievements and efforts and much more to do with family background with chance and with enormous revenues from unproductive property.

Why, though, should things go so much better for those whom nothing but fortunate circumstances had put in the position to multiply their riches than for the classes whose members contributed on a daily basis to the rise of national income through productive labour?

If it was thus on the one hand an appeal to the principle of individual effort propagated by the bourgeoisie itself that could serve the wage-dependent as a moral basis of their struggle for redistribution, on the othe it was consistent interpretation of the civil rights documented in democratic constitutions didnt honnth documents guarantee all members of the newly formed societies that they would be looked upon and treated as equals among equals?

Couldnt a case thus be made with complete justification for social conditions that accorded every citizen the reifivacin chance to participate in axfl life of society?

To repeat, no ressentiment, no envy and no lust for power was needed to motivate the members of the lower classes to fight for an economic redistribution from the upper to the lower social reaches.

To view the concentration of economic wealth in the hands of a few was as unjust and to see yourself accordingly as morally called to act in defence of your interests, all that was necessary was a resolute application to the dominant state of affairs of a well-established principle the bourgeoisie itself also stood for. The whole idea that it required additional impetus from a feeling of resentment for that to happen was always a monstrous intellectual product of class warfare from above.

Things are not improved by the fact that that product regularly re-appears in times of sharper social conflict and it doesnt become any more credible either when compliant intellectuals like Sloterdijk give it their intellectual blessing. When he characterises the social democratic state as institutionalised kleptocracy, Sloterdijk in any case reaches the point of his argument where he thinks he can start to put forward a political programme.

If the social democratic state is going to operate purely as the lower classes instrument of envy and demand ever more by way of tax, if, as in recent decades, it has indeed developed into a money-grubbing, money-blowing monster, then, according to Sloterdijk, its time to rouse the members of the exploited elite to overcome the self-contempt they have been condemned to feel.