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By expanding on the causes of reification — from mere predictability to the uses and abuses of technology and industry — Lukács extends the scope of reification to include not only the legal and scientific apparatuses (à la Weber), but the entirety of capitalist culture.Responding to the claim that capitalism is responsible for a society reified through and through, Honneth complains that “nowhere does Lukács even begin to substantiate his assumption that the principles of the capitalist market have indeed ‘colonized’ family life, general public opinion, the parent-child relationship, or our leisure time” (77).
try — Hollywood producers and Madison Avenue advertisers could not quite conceal the trauma of two World Wars, mass genocide, and pending global annihilation.
For once, political and cultural elders had finally succeeded in extinguishing the moral torch that had (more-or-less successfully) guided successive generations throughout history.
Accordingly, Honneth argues that even if we take reification at face value, there is no reason to believe that a full account of its causes can be located within the capitalist apparatus.
The bulk of Honneth’s essay, however, is spent rehabilitating the concept of reification so as to preserve — for, after all, you cannot rebel against that which does not exist — its very real and arguably degenerative consequences.
Having dealt with the concept itself, Honneth moves on to address reification’s place in capitalist society.
Adopting a strictly orthodox Marxist position, Lukács maintains that it is the mode of capitalist production that is primarily (if not solely) responsible for reification. For these modern businesses with their fixed capital and their exact calculations are much too sensitive to legal and administrative irregularities.Unfortunately for Honneth, upon delivering his newly minted theory in the form of the Tanner Lectures at Berkeley, he was immediately met with resistance by Judith Butler, Raymond Geuss, Jonathan Lear, and others.Honneth’s theory, they argued, draws numerous false equivalencies, fails to remain morally impartial, and so alters the original intent of reification that it can no longer function within the purview of Marxism.Although grounded in Georg Lukács’s “Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat” (1923), Honneth’s critique ranges from reification’s economic roots in Marx’s (1944).In this review, I will highlight Honneth’s critique of Lukács, on which basis Honneth redefines and defends reification as a category of social criticism.More specifically, I will consider Honneth’s own idea of reification in light of the work of Louis Althusser, which threatens to expose even Honneth’s modified formulation as, at best, disappointingly outdated or, at worst, a troubling regression toward a not-so-distant past in German thought.But first, a closer look at the history of reification.Western civilization plunged headfirst into an ethical darkness.To meet this colossal challenge, the finest minds of the post-war West worked furtively to reclaim fertile land beyond the sterility and superficiality of consumerism: Lacan excavated the Real, Debord constructed Situations, and Ginsberg dropped LSD.Throughout his work, Lukács is careful to avoid any explicitly moral terminology, and avoids basing his critique on ethical considerations.Rather, Lukács begins by vigorously defending the need toourselves on Marx’s economic analyses and to proceed from there to a discussion of the problems growing out of the fetish character of commodities …