Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview

when Trade Unions were powerless, and when the economic Juggernaut was allowed to crash along the highway of Progress without obstruction and even with applause.

Half the copybook wisdom of our statesmen is based on assumptions which were at one time true, or partly true, but are now less and less true day by day. We have to invent new wisdom for a new age. And in the meantime we must, if we are to do any good, appear unorthodox, troublesome, dangerous, disobedient to them that begat us.

In the economic field this means, first of all, that we must find new policies and new instruments to adapt and control the working of economic forces, so that they do not intolerably interfere with contemporary ideas as to what is fit and proper in the interests of social stability and social justice. . . . We have changed, by insensible degrees, our philosophy of economic life, our notions of what is reasonable and what is tolerable; and we have done this without changing our technique or our copybook maxims. Hence our tears and troubles.

A party programme must be developed in its details, day by day, under the pressure and the stimulus of actual events; it is useless to define it beforehand, except in the most general terms. But if the Liberal Party is to recover its forces, it must have an attitude, a philosophy, a direction. I have endeavoured to indicate my own attitude to politics, and I leave it to others to answer, in the light of what I have said, the question with which I began--Am I a Liberal?❖

Georg Lukács ( 1885-1971), the Hungarian Marxist philosopher, had been a visitor in Weber's Heidelberg circle before World War I. After the war, he studied at the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute in Moscow. Lukács is considered an early contributor to the rethinking of Marx in terms suited to the twentieth century. In particular, his History and Class Consciousness ( 1923) returned explicitly to the early, somewhat Hegelian, writings of Marx in order to reformulate dialectic materialism in terms that account for the tensions within modern culture, knowledge, and literature. Yet his thinking was not so much a recovery of lost ideas as a creative reworking of Marx in light of events in the world and the history of ideas. Lukács was an important influence on the early founders of the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research and is credited with contributing to its critical theory of aesthetics. The short selection that follows, "The Irrational Chasm Between Subject and Object", is from Lukács famous essay on reification in "History and Class Consciousness". It illustrates the ease with which he rethought the texts of what he called vulgar Marxism to formulate a social theory of modern knowledge and modern man. The individual, he suggests, is caught in a social world in which he can see himself only as an abstraction.


The Irrational Chasm Between Subject and Object

Georg Lukács ( 1922)

. . History must abolish itself. As Marx says of bourgeois economics: "Thus history existed once upon a time, but it does not exist any more." And even if this antinomy assumes increasingly refined forms in later times, so that it even makes its appear

____________________
Excerpt from "Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat", Rodney Livingstone, trans., History and Class Consciousness ( Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1971 [ 1923]), pp. 157-159. Translation 1971 by The Merlin Press Ltd. Reprinted by permission of MIT Press.

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