Axel Honneth and the Tradition of Radical Reformism

  • Volker Schmitz
Part of the Political Philosophy and Public Purpose book series (POPHPUPU)


In response to critics who have taken issue with what they understand as a turn away from the radical political potential of the early Frankfurt School in his critical theory of recognition, Axel Honneth’s The Idea of Socialism continues the tradition of “radical reformism” established by Jürgen Habermas in his early work, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere and, more extensively, in his writings on the German student movement of the 1960s. In this chapter, I explore their ideas and contrast them with André Gorz’s A Strategy for Labour. I then move on to two theorists whose work has strongly influenced Honneth’s variant of socialism: John Dewey’s Liberalism and Social Action and T. H. Marshall’s evolving narrative of the relationship between capitalism and the welfare state. I posit that Honneth’s “socialism” remains constricted by a theoretical framework inherited by Habermas, suggesting that the “emancipatory intent” of the Frankfurt School and its current methodological paradigm(s) are difficult to reconcile and highlight the importance of the individual theorist’s pre-scientific commitment.

Selected Bibliography

  1. Dewey, John (2000) Liberalism and Social Action. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.Google Scholar
  2. Freyenhagen, Fabian (2015) “Honneth on Social Pathologies: A Critique.” Critical Horizons, vol. 16, no. 2: 131–152.Google Scholar
  3. Gorz, André (1964) Strategy for Labor: A Radical Proposal. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  4. Habermas, Jürgen (1969) Protestbewegung und Hochschulreform. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
  5. Habermas, Jürgen (1989) The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
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  7. Honneth, Axel (2011) Das Recht der Freiheit: Grundriß einer demokratischen Sittlichkeit. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
  8. Honneth, Axel (2014) Freedom’s Right: The Social Foundations of Democratic Life. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Honneth, Axel (2017) The Idea of Socialism: Towards a Renewal. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
  10. Marshall, T. H. (1981) The Right to Welfare and Other Essays. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Northumberland Press.Google Scholar
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  12. Scheuerman, William E (2012) “Good-Bye to Radical Reformism?” Political Theory, vol. 40, no. 6: 830–838.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Volker Schmitz
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA

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