Under Weber’s Shadow

Modernity, Subjectivity and Politics in Habermas, Arendt and MacIntyre

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  • Keith Breen, Queen's University Belfast, Northern Ireland
  • Under Weber's Shadow presents an extended critical evaluation of the social and political thought of Jürgen Habermas, Hannah Arendt and Alasdair MacIntyre. Although hailing from very different philosophical traditions, these theorists all take as their starting-point Max Weber's seminal diagnosis of late modernity, the view that the world-historic processes of rationalization and disenchantment are paradoxical in promising freedom yet threatening servitude under the 'iron cage' of instrumental reason. However, each rejects his pessimistic understanding of the grounds and possibilities of political life, accusing him of complicity in the very realities he sought to resist. Seeking to move beyond Weber's monological view of the self, his subjectivism and his identification of the political with domination, they offer alternative, intersubjective conceptions of the subject, ethics and politics that allow for positive future possibilities. But this incontrovertible gain, it is argued, comes at the cost of depoliticizing key arenas of human endeavour and of neglecting the reality of struggle and contestation.

    Engaging with important current debates and literature, Keith Breen provides a rigorous analysis of the work of Habermas, Arendt, MacIntyre and Weber and a highly accessible and original intervention within contemporary social and political thought. Under Weber's Shadow will therefore be of interest to students and researchers alike within the areas of social and political theory, as well as those within the disciplines of ethics, sociology and philosophy.
  • Contents: Introduction; Modernity, politics and Max Weber; Part I Jürgen Habermas and the Project of Modernity: One-sided rationalization: Habermas on modernity, discourse and emancipation; Critiquing Habermas: intersubjectivity, ethics and norm-free sociality. Part II Hannah Arendt and the Promise of Politics: The burden of our times: Arendt on modern oblivion and the promise of politics; Judging Arendt: citizenship, action and the scope of politics. Part III Alasdair MacIntyre and the Politics of Virtue: The new Dark Age: MacIntyre on bureaucratic individualism and the hope for an ethical polity; Engaging MacIntyre: flourishing, modernity and political struggle; Closing reflections: ethics, politics and strategy in the present; Bibliography; Index.
  • About the Author: Keith Breen is a Lecturer in political Theory at the School of Politics, International Studies and Philosophy, Queen's University Belfast, Northern Ireland
  • Reviews: 'Through a rich and imaginative engagement with the writings of Habermas, Arendt and MacIntyre, Keith Breen conducts a profound and challenging investigation into the legacy of a broadly Weberian understanding of the political condition of modernity, and the place of individual subjectivity within it. Under Weber's Shadow is a work that should be of exceptional interest to all those concerned with the way we live now.'
    John Horton, Keele University, UK

    'Under Weber's Shadow offers a powerful demonstration of just how central - and how intellectually productive - Weber's analysis of modernity was for twentieth-century political theory. Breen's insightful examinations of Habermas, Arendt, and MacIntyre, reveal surprising continuities across their work, while mounting a compelling argument against their "intersubjectivist" responses to Weber's political realism.'
    Jason Frank, Cornell University, USA

    'Based on a breathtaking reconstruction of the limits of Weber's vision of modernity and modern political life and of Habermas's, Arendt's and MacIntyre's various attempts to overcome these limits, Breen offers a creative and vigorous vindication of the strategic moment of politics, albeit one directed towards human flourishing and kept in check by moderation and care.'
    Alessandro Ferrara, University of Rome 'Tor Vergata', Italy

    '… each of these assessments is highly insightful and detailed, the authors presented fairly, sympathetically, and in their own voice, the subsequent critique is all the more penetrating and persuasive. There are flashes of brilliance here… of special interest to scholars of Arendt, Habermas and MacIntyre…'
    LSE Review of Books blog

    '[Breen’s] for the most part well-argued and often illuminating reading of Habermas, Arendt, and MacIntyre helps broaden our understanding of these three distinct thinkers’ varying critiques of and responses to Weber and the challenge of political modernity - as well as their possible limitations. In so doing, Breen also opens spaces to rethink the conditions and paradoxes of political subjectivity and action in a, for better or worse, partially globalized and persistently modern world.'
    Perspectives on Politics

    'This book would make an excellent required text for courses on Contemporary Political Issues or a secondary text for courses in political theory and philosophy, social theory, or critical theory. Anyone interested in Weber, Habermas, Arendt, or MacIntyre would do well to read this, both to get a sense where each thinker succeeds and a sense of where each thinker fails. It would be difficult to take seriously any future critical work that does not at least acknowledge an engagement with the problems that Breen identifies in each thinker. In fact, anyone interested in political science, management, or business would do well to read this to understand just exactly how theorists have understood the modern world and how to think about their own future work.'
    Marx & Philosophy Review of Books

    ‘Breen forcefully demonstrates that the three thinkers, despite their limited interest in each other’s work, share the fundamental concerns with modernity, (inter)subjectivity and the normative ground of politics; and that these themes may be richly illuminated through a Weberian lens. … Under Weber’s Shadow offers a concise and thought-provoking discussion of the four prolific thinkers’ writings. Moreover, it is greater than the sum of its parts: it shows how, despite the important work by Habermas, Arendt and MacIntyre, Weber’s insights remain profoundly relevant to the theory and practice of contemporary politics.’
    Political Studies Review