GERMAN CRITIQUE OF THE ENLIGHTENMENT FROM WEBER TO HABERMAS
Much of the social imagination and power of twentieth-century German thought lies in its borrowings from Greek philosophy, literature, and politics. As we move from Weber, Freud, and Heidegger to Marcuse, Arendt, Gadamer, and Habermas, there is a strong sense of excitement generated by the inspiration of the Hellenes that is applied to a broad range of fields, including sociological theory, psychoanalysis, ontology, political economy, political theory, hermeneutics, and discourse ethics and theory of communication. Unlike the American tradition steeped in the mythologies of liberalism, progress, and rationality, the Germans were skeptical of the advances of modernity and capitalist society. Rather, they were inspired by a longing for ancient Greece (Griechensehnsucht) found in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century writings of Winckelmann, Goethe, Schiller, Hölderlin, Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche. These authors did not draw upon liberalism, capitalism, or modem science; they were awed by the imaginative reconstructions of the Greek ideals of beauty, harmony, freedom, and social justice. Their spiritual longings and restive souls were transmitted to twentieth-century social theorists, and, with the exception of Jürgen Habermas, they shared a common critique and rejection of the Enlightenment with its belief in positivism and scientific rationality (techne), universal truth and absolute certainty, the metaphysics of subjectivity and objectivity, and the political values of liberal individualism, natural rights, and competitive capitalism. They rejected what they saw as the alienation of the iron cage and moral nihilism, the loss of the public community and ethical judgment, and the exploitation of unconscious social repression.
Whether it was the Greeks' desire to integrate the sensuous and the spiritual, body and soul, in a harmonious balance; their search for democracy and social justice; their belief in the rationality and order of humanity and the cosmos; or their social and aesthetic ideals of beauty, simplicity, and happiness, twentieth-century theorists began their critique of modernity and the Enlightenment by first returning to the Hellenic world and romancing antiquity. The wellspring of their hopes, inspiration, and ideals came from their classical studies of ancient Greece, as well as the radicalization of Kantian and Hegelian epistemology and moral philosophy. The Greek spirit permeated every aspect of German thought, including: (1) Marx's ideas of species being, human needs and emancipation, self-realization of human potentiality, aesthetic creativity of praxis, critical science, economic democracy, and critique of chrematistics and political economy; (2) Nietzsche's ideas of nihilism, tragic wisdom, heroic resistance and creativity, integration of the Dionysian and Apollonian aesthetics, and Kantian perspectivism; (3) Weber's theory of disenchantment and nihilism, objectivity, truth, critique of liberalism, and his radicalization of Kantian moral philosophy and epistemology; (4) Heidegger's philosophy of truth (aletheia), rationality, objectivity, human nature (Dasein), and his critique of Western metaphysics, subjectivity, and nihilism; (5) Freud's theory of hysteria and sexuality, the unconscious, dreams, social repression, and the Oedipus complex; (6) Marcuse's theory of sensuality, rationality, and repression, and his return to Plato's theory of forms; (7) Arendt's exorcising of Plato, her view of the Homeric heroes and individuality, critique of the Holocaust and mass society, recreation of the Athenian public sphere and participatory democracy, and critique of liberal political philosophy; (8) Gadamer's acceptance of Aristotelian ethics and the distinctions among episteme (science), phronesis (practical knowledge), and techne (technical knowledge) as the basis for his theory of critical hermeneutics; his critique of modern science and positivism; and the incorporation into his thought of the anthropological assumptions of Heidegger's Dasein as already dwelling-in-the-world; and, finally, (9) Habermas's theory of discourse ethics and communicative action, knowledge and human interests, hermeneutics and critical theory, legitimation crisis of law and capitalism, and his view of deliberative democracy.
The range and depth of twentieth-century German social theory are expanded when we recognize its reliance on classical Greek art and politics. The purpose of this work is to trace the basic outlines of this influence. Sometimes the connections between the Hellenes and the Germans are direct and immediate, while at other times they are more difficult to trace. When we examine the connections between the two worlds, modem social theory becomes more articulated and defined; its parameters and subject matter are clarified; it is placed in a broader philosophical and historical context; and the perspectives from which it evaluates and judges modernity are expanded. Throughout the following chapters there is a clear development of thought as each generation builds on the ideas of the previous one. Phenomenology, hermeneutics, political theory, and critical theory all rely on the same group of traditions: German idealism, materialism, neo-Kantianism, moral nihilism, and the Methodenstreit of the historical sciences. The ideas of Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche have a clear and direct impact on the thoughts of Weber, Marcuse, Arendt, Gadamer, and Habermas.
From neo-Kantianism, phenomenology, psychoanalysis, hermeneutics, and political theory to critical theory; from the disenchantment of science and critique of rationalization of Weber, from the deconstructive return and the destructive engagement of Heidegger, from the historical consciousness and cultural hermeneutics of Gadamer, from the critique of the scientization of politics and rediscovery of democracy by Arendt to the defense of modem rationality and practical reason by Habermas, there is a constant reminder of the importance of classical Greece in the writings of these authors.
Since the eighteenth century, German romantics and classical scholars have been enthralled by the longing for Greece. It was a gentle poetic wind that blew off the Acropolis to the mountains and plains of Germany. It was a spirit that vitalized their thoughts, fed their imaginations, and moved their consciences. It inspired them in their poetry, literature, and philosophy. It provided them with a vision and perspective from which to criticize and, many times, reject modern values and social institutions. This was not the "triumphant spiritual tyranny" of Greece over Germany with its "tragic results" and "gravely abnormal and shattered lives" articulated by Eliza Marian Butler in The Tyranny of Greece over Germany. Rather, the Greeks inspired German intellectuals with values of divine nature, natural harmony, and human possibilities. The story begins in the eighteenth century with Winckelmann's theory of the beauty, harmony, simplicity, and grace of Greek art and develops through Herder's universal history of Greece's "youthful joy and beautiful appearances," Schiller's aesthetics of integrated freedom and bountiful play, Hölderlin's mythopoetic vision of eternal beauty, divine creativity, and perfected human nature, and continues through the end of the nineteenth century with Marx's ethical imperative of species being, workers' creativity, and human dignity and emancipation, and Nietzsche's Dionysian wisdom of moral nihilism, human nobility, and self-overcoming. Now at the end of the twentieth century, we can look back and see that this century, too, has been pervaded by the same kind of searching and inspiration from classical sources.
The first part of the book, "In the Shadow of Ancient Parnassos," begins with a summary of nineteenth-century German thought in the works of Marx and Nietzsche. They experienced the dramatic social and economic transformations of that century with the rise of economic and political liberalism. They saw the period as one beset by contradictions and tragedy. Modern society locked the individual in a cage of irreconcilable conflicts between the mind and the body, reason and nature, and social harmony and class conflict. Marx and Nietzsche were the progeny of Oedipus: they were caught in a world filled with natural causality and historical necessity. Their rejection of modernity and their moral outrage seemed only to drive them more deeply into exile and despair. They radicalized Kant's critique of pure and practical reason as they developed their theories of critique and perspectivism and of dialectics and decadence, respectively. They, like their Greek counterpart, wandered through the groves and hills of Colonus seeking comfort and change. And they, too, killed their fathers by rejecting and turning against the science, liberalism, and economic rationality that gave them birth. They were lost, but they maintained a dignity and grace that was the expression of Oedipus even at his moment of greatest despair.
This inspiration and vision of ancient Greece fired Marx's (1818-1883) imagination and critique of classical political economy and capitalism, profit making and chrematistike, as well as his critique of political liberalism and natural rights. From his earliest to his latest writings, his rejection of alienated labor and reified social relationships, class power and economic exploitation, distorted bourgeois democracy and estranged individualism, and utilitarian pleasures and narcissistic happiness was based ultimately on his understanding of classical natural law, Athenian democracy, and Aristotle's theory of practical reason -- Aristotle's integration of ethics, politics, and economics. His major work, Capital (1867), should be viewed as a modern rewrite of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and Politics. It was the application of Greek ideals and critique of market economy to modern industrial capitalism. Toward the end of his life, Marx saw in the workers' collectives and economic democracy of the Paris Commune of 1871 the same communal spirit and democratic desire for free¬dom and human emancipation that he envisioned the Greeks as sharing.
Nietzsche (1844-1900), too, relied upon the Greeks for his central insights into the human condition. His earliest works focused on pre-Platonic philosophy and Greek tragedy. In Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks (1873), he undertook a brief summary of the works of Thales, Anaximander of Miletus, Heraclitus, Parmenides, and Anaxagoras. Though ostensibly interested in the origins and constitution of the world and primal being as seen through the eyes of these early Greek thinkers, Nietzsche in fact was preparing his initial epistemological studies into the nature of reason and imagination, truth and certainty, the objective validity of concepts, and the general relation between ideas and external reality. It was the simplicity and subtlety of these early Greek philosophers that helped provide him initial answers to the questions about the nature of consciousness and knowledge raised by Immanuel Kant in his critique of objectivity and pure reason.
Even at this point in his career, Nietzsche pushed beyond Kant's Copernican revolution and radicalized the subjective component in his theory of knowledge: "Man for them [the early Greeks] was the truth and the core of all things; everything else was but semblance and the play of illusion." Whether it was Thales' idea that "all things are one"; Anaximander's theory of the "indefinite"; Heraclitus's view of polarity, strife, and becoming; Parmenides's theory of thinking and Being; or Anaxagoras's idea of the nous, the theories of pre-Platonic Greek physics were all forms of artistic play. Thus the world was, for Nietzsche, an abstract, conceptual metaphor projected by the mind. It was formed not by some primal principle of water, fire, or ideas but by the creative imagination of the aesthetic individual. Even at this stage in the development of his thought, he contended that we live in a world of self-creative illusions and alienated metaphors. The illusions found in Greek mythology, tragedy, and physics were positive reinforcements of the will to power and self-creativity of humanity, whereas in the form of Platonic rationalism, Christianity, modern science, and liberalism, they undermined and distorted human creativity and moral self-definition.
In The Birth of Tragedy (1872), Nietzsche saw in the writings of Kant and Schopenhauer an attempt to recover the Greek view of tragic wisdom. We live in a world that is meaningless and absurd—a world without values, order, or purpose, in which we find ourselves imprisoned. It is a world inhabited by death, suffering, and misery, framed by an abyss of nothingness. In order to avoid a life of permanent despair and resignation, the Greeks constructed an Apollonian and metaphysical universe of being and becoming and a mythological universe of divine cosmology and moral order. This is what Nietzsche called the "metaphysical solace" of the Greeks. The rest of his life was spent analyzing and rejecting all moral ideas, epistemological theories, and political ideologies that claimed absolute certainty and universal truth in religion, philosophy, art, and politics. He rejected Western rationality because it had lost the crucial Dionysian element of tragic wisdom, which he expressed in his earliest writings at the University of Basel and which became the basis for his later theories of moral and epistemological nihilism, eternal return, and the Ubermensch. Since the world has no meaning, it is humankind who is responsible for striving for the artistic creation of a meaningful world that enhances life and the community.
Max Weber (1864-1920) was, like his contemporaries, trained in classical studies in the Gymnasium and studied ancient and medieval legal and economic history at the university. His doctoral dissertation examined the evolution of medieval trading societies, and his habilitation thesis analyzed the legal and agrarian history of land use in ancient Rome. His earliest writings focused on Greek and Roman history and the question of the historical and structural origins of Western capitalism. In these works he analyzed the ancient Mediterranean economic and social structures of the Hebrew state, Greek polis, and Roman Empire: Roman Agrarian History and Its Meaning for State and Private Rights (1891), "The Social Causes of the Decline of Ancient Civilization" (1896), Agrarian Conditions and History of Ancient Civilizations (1909), Ancient Judaism (1917-1919), and General Economic History (1919-1920). Weber was heavily indebted to the major classical historians and scholars of his time, including Mommsen, Meyer, Boeckh, Bücher, Ciccotti, de Coulange, Kuhn, Beloch, Burckhardt, Wilamowitz, Hermann, Pöhlmann, Guiraud, and Beauchet. His writings helped him clarify his major thesis about the institutionalization of rationalization in Western society. Capitalism in antiquity existed in the form of market enterprise and capital investment, commerce, mortgage and debt bondage, tax farming and state loans, and slave trading and leasing.
Weber's methodological writings were the result of his integration of two distinctive Kantian elements: the neo-Kantian epistemology of Heinrich Rickert and the radical transformations of Nietzsche. Their theories of consciousness, subjectivity, and objectivity provided Weber with crucial elements in his response to the later nineteenth- and early twentieth-century debates within the Methodenstreit. Armed with their criticisms of empiricism and rationalism, he attempted to develop a new historical hermeneutics and interpretive sociology in order to come to grips with the problems of relating religious transformations and economic change. To help in this task, Weber also relied on Dilthey's views of hermeneutics, understanding, and ideal types. His more theoretical writings on disenchantment, the last man, nihilism, ressentiment, the iron cage, and the critique of rationalization were all influenced by Nietzsche and his ideas about Greek literature and philosophy. Nietzsche's theory of Dionysian tragic wisdom and distorted Apollonian drives in Socratic and scientific rationalism permeate the corpus of Weber's works.
To expand upon his connection to Nietzsche, Weber's readings of influential secondary literature will be examined: Alois Riehl's Friedrich Nietzsche: Artist and Thinker (1897), Ferdinand Tönnies's The Nietzsche Cult (1897), and Georg Simmel's Schopenhauer and Nietzsche (1907). It is in these works that many of the connections between ancient Greek philosophy and Nietzsche's theory of the Ubermensch and eternal return are articulated. Weber's sociology of religion and economic ethic of world religions depended heavily upon his appropriation of Nietzsche's history of religion with its theory of the decline of Greek moral nobility and the rise of Christian decadence, social pariahs, a psychology of ressentiment, and the herd mentality.
The second part of the book, "Phenomenology and the Greeks," traces the Greek influence on the rise of German phenomenology, hermeneutics, and existentialism in the works of Martin Heidegger (1889-1976). The analysis of Heidegger begins with an examination of his recently discovered essay, "Phenomenological Interpretations with Respect to Aristotle" (also known as the "Aristotle Introduction"), which offers us interesting insights into his earliest study of Aristotle and the development of his phenomenology. After reading this essay, Gadamer would write, "The whole of Aristotle then assumed an importance for me, and when I received my first introduction to Heidegger in Freiburg my eyes opened wide." Heidegger's theories of thinking and truth, reason and being, and phenomenology and hermeneutics were suffused with a love of Greek philosophy of Being from Parmenides to Aristotle. From his treatment of the various forms of knowledge as techne (technique), episteme (science), phronesis (prudence), sophia (wisdom), and nous (reason) found in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and his understanding of Being in terms of ousia (essence), morphe (form of becoming), energeia (act) and entelecheia (end), eidos (appearance) and logos (speech), and Dasein, (human nature), to his epistemological and etymological distinctions between aletheia (unhiddenness) and orthotes (correctness), Greek terminology framed the parameters of his phenomenological discourse. About his phenomenological method Heidegger wrote in his autobiographical essay, "My Way to Phenomenology":
What occurs for the phenomenology of the acts of consciousness as the self-manifestation of phenomena is thought more originally by Aristotle and in all Greek thinking and existence as aletheia, as the unconcealedness of what-is-present, its being revealed, its showing itself. That which phenomenological investigations rediscovered as the supporting attitude of thought proves to be the fundamental trait of Greek thinking, if not indeed of philosophy as such.
In the last analysis, questions about Being and existence, truth and unconcealment, and the presence of being and historicity of Dasein were ultimately questions of meaning and hermeneutics for Heidegger. To undertake this task, he first had to reject the whole of Western metaphysics in his project of Destruktion as he reconstructed the philosophical origins of early Greek ontology. As was the case with Nietzsche, he returned to the pre-Socratic philosophy of Anaximander, Heraclitus, and Parmenides. Through them he hoped to attain a knowledge of Being and reality as process and becoming and not as a static entity or thing existing on its own in the shape of essence, form; or idea. His lectures on Aristotle and the pre-Socratics were incorporated into Being and Time (1927), as well as his later works, and became the lens through which he viewed modem rationality, physics, and metaphysics.
From 1936 to 1940 Heidegger delivered a series of lectures on Nietzsche, in which the latter was viewed as the last representative of Western metaphysics. The will to technically dominate and control is seen by Heidegger as the defining characteristic of modem civilization. Reality is sacrificed to the utility of technological rationality; truth is reduced to a mere correctness of expression; and humanity is alienated from Being itself. To uncover and disclose the truth of modernity require that humankind return once again to the Greek notions of Being and reality. For Heidegger, the crisis and sickness of modernity resulted from the fallenness (Verfall) of humankind into an inauthentic life. We are thrown into the world and absorbed by the world of things in a mass society. We become das Man. It is this very existential condition that forced Heidegger to return to the Greeks -- the pre-Socratics, Plato and Aristotle, and the Gnostics -- at the same time that he responded to the ideas of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Dilthey, Husserl, and Rickert.
For phenomenology, the major questions were access to Being and the examination of the structures of experience. Edmund Husserl had seen the task of phenomenology as the examination of the structures of pure consciousness and the transcendental ego, whereas Heidegger saw it as the uncovering of Being through the analysis of the various modes of Dasein as a Being-there in its ontological care, anxiety, temporality, finitude, and death. Thus this distinction between transcendental consciousness and the existential situation of Dasein defined the differences between the two philosophers. Phenomenology was to be either an eidetic reduction or a study of human existence as hermeneutics, a "science of philosophy" or a form of true knowing as phainesthai (showing itself). It was Heidegger who was to be the teacher of the next generation of Hellenic lovers In political and social theory, hermeneutics, and critical theory.
Part 3, "The Gods of Greece and the Reenchantment of Reason," analyzes the influence of the Greek polity and German phenomenology on the works of Marcuse, Arendt, and Gadamer. They all returned to the nineteenth-century theorists for further direction. Heidegger had created phenomenology as a hermeneutic to understand the origins and constitution of beings. The German authors used his approach to temporality, being, and truth in order to develop the implications of phenomenology for an understanding of Hegel's theory of ontology and Marx's theory of praxis (Marcuse), human history and political action (Arendt), and metatheory of interpretive hermeneutics, textual analysis, and Being of Dasein (Gadamer).
Along with Heidegger, another prominent German intellectual who affected the development of much of twentieth-century social and political thought, especially the members of the Frankfurt School, was Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). Born in Freiberg, Moravia, in 1856, he received his classical training in the Viennese Gymnasium. Though his later university education was in the natural sciences, he continued throughout his personal and professional life to be influenced by the mythologies and tragedies of ancient Greece. He looked southward for help in clarifying and justifying his psychoanalytic theories of the unconscious, sexuality, repression, the Oedipus complex, and dreams. Freud turned to the classical tradition for guidance and inspiration in his critique of the Enlightenment view of truth, objectivity, and rationality. And his theory of the topography and structure of the mind, the process of social repression, and the dialogical cure of the psychoanalytic method forced him to conceptualize alternative views of science, reason, and formation of consciousness. The path to self-enlightenment and individual harmony led through the tragedies of Sophocles and the myths of Oedipus, Narcissus, Eros, Thanatos, Pandora, and so forth.
Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979) was born in Berlin and attended the university there from 1919 to 1920 and the university in Freiburg from 1921 to 1922. In the same year that Marcuse's habilitation thesis was published and one year before Hitler took power, Marx's early writings, collected in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, were published at last. Marcuse undertook a project to integrate Heidegger's phenomenology and existentialism and their categories of historicity, existential resoluteness, authenticity, and Dasein with Marx's dialectical method and theory of alienation and labor. Phenomenology was to be made more concrete, historical, and practical, while it would provide a more complete philosophical foundation to anthropology and history in Marxism. This in many ways was a response to the distortions of Marx in scientific sociology, crude materialism, and the theory of economic determinism prevalent at the time.
Later Marcuse would incorporate other existentialists, such as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Jaspers, into his social theory. For him, existentialism provided an important theoretical alternative to the rise of Fascism and mass society. Though Marcuse changed his theoretical orientation and methodology many times throughout his career, these early days provided him with the intellectual foundations for his later critique of capitalism. As his writings passed through their various distinctive stages, he emphasized different authors, methods, and critical approaches -- Hegel, Heidegger, Marx, Freud, and Schiller. However, throughout his writings, his focus remained on questions of the nature of the good society, happiness, political freedom, self-realization of human potentialities, democracy, and human needs and sensibility. In his mid-career, he sought the dialectic and social critique in Freudian metapsychology and alternative views of rationality and sensuality based on the Greek mythologies of Orpheus and Narcissus (Eros and Civilization, 1955). In his later writings, he grounded his critique in the classical ideals of beauty and sensuousness articulated by Winckelmann, Goethe, and Schiller but filtered through the sensibility of Kant and Freud (Counterrevolution and Revolt, 1972 and The Aesthetic Dimension, 1978).
With Marcuse, the Greek spirit and vision that had motivated nineteenth- and early twentieth-century theorists were still very much evident. There existed a profound concern for beauty and sensuousness, grace and harmony, truth and proportion. There was a synthesis of theory, praxis, and techne as he attempted to integrate aesthetics, politics, ethics, and practical reason. The Greek experience was felt directly through the writings of Goethe, Hegel, Heidegger, and Husserl and enhanced by Schiller's notion of moral play, Feuerbach's theory of sensuousness, Marx's theory of materialism, and Freud's theory of sexuality. Ancient Greece was retranslated into the historical and ethical concerns of the moderns. Though he engaged in no major discussion of Greek philosophy or literature, Marcuse may have captured, more than any other theorist of his time, a picture of the integrated and creative individual that reflected a true Greek vision of humankind.
Hannah Arendt (1906-75) undertook in The Human Condition (1958) a critique of modernity by examining the historical range of key philosophical concepts, such as public and private, contemplation and action, and labor and work. It was her understanding of the Greek polity that anchored this critique. Human life is produced and maintained through three fundamental forms of human activity: biological labor, fabricating work, and political action. The changing relationships among these three forms of activity define the major differences between particular historical periods. The Greek era placed primacy on political activity within. the public sphere of the polis; early capitalism stressed work and production, and today the focus of social life is on labor and consumption. According to Arendt, one of the main defining characteristics of modernity is the eclipse and disappearance of the public and private worlds: The Greek experience of public participation in the political process and its definition of man as the zoon politikon, as well as the hierarchy and security of the private sphere of the family, disappeared with the creation of the market, private property, and civil society.
By examining the spatial and temporal dimensions of the forms of human activity, Arendt was able to create a phenomenological framework from the ancients that recalled to historical memory the range of lost human experiences, political relationships, and practical knowledge. She created traces of forgotten memories and experiences that enlighten our deeply limited modern consciousness. The recovery of antiquity enlivens our perceptions, enhances our reality, intensifies our critical thinking, broadens our intellectual horizons, and deepens our criticism of the modern world. According to Arendt, the new-age consciousness was a result of the Copernican revolution, Galileo's theories of inertia and primary and secondary qualities, Descartes's analytical geometry, and Newton's law of gravitation: all these theories subjected nature to the technical control of symbolic language and the logic of mathematical relations. Being was reduced to the measure and reality of the human mind. Arendt believed that reality itself became mathematized and instrumentalized. It became an alien world. With this transformation there was a corresponding "eclipse" of the public and private spheres, transcendent and eternal .truth, and cognitive certainty and objective reality. Being was hidden and did not disclose itself. The world was reduced to a fabricated reality whose truths are technical and utilitarian -- a world completely enclosed in a cage of introspection of the isolated self. Truth was reduced to working hypotheses, pleasure to utility, knowledge to self-doubt and uncertainty, and reality to a hypothetical nature.
Both the sensuous and transcendent worlds disappeared along with human experience and contemplation. "If we compare the modern world with that of the past, the loss of human experience involved in this development is extraordinarily striking." Borrowing extensively from Nietzsche's critique of Socratic rationalism and nihilism, Weber's theory of rationalization, and Heidegger's suspicion of modern technology and the hiddenness of Being, Arendt created an image of the "iron cage" as life without experiential horizons. To develop the implications of this perspective and counter its historical development, she relied heavily upon Aristotle's concept of praxis and Homer's view of the heroic warrior. She applied her analyses of Greek politics in order to gain insight into the Holocaust and the formation of mass society with their loss of respect for the uniqueness and dignity of the individual. Her later works developed these insights when she expounded upon the modern principles and institutions of political freedom and action (Between Past and Future, 1961 and On Revolution, 1963). Later, many aspects of her work were incorporated into Habermas's approach to modernity.
Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002), like Marcuse and Arendt, was a student of Heidegger's. He expanded upon his teacher's method in another way by reappropriating the philosophy of classical Greece in order to develop a philosophical hermeneutics. Gadamer wrote and lectured extensively on the Greeks, covering a broad range of issues from Plato's dialectical science and Aristotle's ethics and theory of practical knowledge to the nature of the good in Plato and Aristotle. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on Plato for the neo-Kantian Paul Natorp at the University of Marburg in 1922; the following year he attended Heidegger's lectures and in 1928 completed his habilitation thesis on Plato's dialectics and ethics. At the university he developed close relationships with Rudolf Bultmann, Nicolai Hartmann, and Paul Friedländer. It was Natorp and Friedländer who were opening up new interpretations of Plato and Socrates that would be very influential on Gadamer's later ideas. They emphasized the dialogical and discursive nature of Socrates as they rejected the universalistic and objectivistic theory of Platonic forms.
In his major work on hermeneutics and Greek philosophy, Truth and Method (1960), Gadamer constructed a theory of understanding, interpretation, and application by integrating the historicism of Hegel and Dilthey and the phenomenology of Heidegger with Aristotelian praxis and the Platonic dialectic. He relied heavily on Aristotle's distinctions in the Nicomachean Ethics between the political and moral knowledge of phronesis, the theoretical knowledge of episteme, and the technical knowledge of techne. Political phronesis provided Gadamer a form of knowledge that expressed similar insights into the nature of human understanding and laid the foundation for a more comprehensive picture of historical consciousness and exegetical truth. As a universal knowledge of ethics was rejected, Gadamer turned to moral praxis, political dialogue, and dialectical ethics as alternative solutions in the development of a critical hermeneutics.
The final section of this work, "Eclipse of Antiquity and the Revaluation of the Enlightenment," traces the relative decline and fading images of classical antiquity in German social theory. It examines the writings of Jürgen Habermas (1929- ), whose relationship with the Greeks is even more subtle, confusing, and at times difficult to unwind. In Theory and Practice (1963), he borrowed from Arendt's The Human Condition and Gadamer's Truth and Method their understanding of the Aristotelian distinction between the two forms of action, praxis and poiesis, and the two forms of knowledge, phronesis and techne. Habermas outlined the transition from ancient political theory to modern political physics and social technology in the writings of Machiavelli and Hobbes. Because of his application of the dialectical method and immanent critique, he turned to authors who themselves made extensive use of the Greeks. He thus appropriated the Greeks by developing his theory of practical reason, discourse ethics, and noncoercive ethical life based on democratic participation, public discourse, and free and open communication.
Habermas's work would be extremely important in itself, but his dialectical method of formulating and presenting social theory also recapitulates the history of twentieth-century German social thought from Weber to the present. To develop his theory of moral discourse, Habermas relied on Hegel's notion of social ethics (Sittlichkeit) and Aristotle's theory of phronesis, Weber's theory of liberalism and rationalization, Arendt's analysis of the public and democratic will formation, and Gadamer's theory of hermeneutical understanding, dialectical ethics, and community of discourse. As "critical theory" of the Frankfurt School moved away from the ancients, it evolved toward either a Weberian pessimism or abstract political utopianism. Whether it was the transcending ideals within bourgeois liberalism found in Horkheimer and Marcuse in the 1940s, the deep pessimism and negative dialectic of Adorno, or the emancipatory potential in language and communication of Habermas, political and social freedom carne to be expressed in terms of the possibilities of cultural liberation. The Greek ideals were no longer crucial motivating forces, as they were for the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century thinkers. The rise of monopoly capitalism, fascism, and anti-Semitism, on one side, and Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Weber, on the other, had all helped change that. However, Habermas, unlike his colleagues at the Institute of Social Research, saw in Weber's theory of modernity a "structural differentiation of the lifeworld," which opened up the possibilities for new forms of social and reflexive action on the basis of tradition and mores, language communication, and intersubjective understanding. "Modern lifeworlds are differentiated and should remain so in order that the reflexivity of traditions, the individuation of the social subject, and the universalistic foundations of justice and morality do not all go to hell."
With the development of Habermas's ideas, the Greeks, and Aristotle m particular, became less and less important. Modernity created the very possibilities for individual self-reflection, moral discourse, and emancipatory social action. It expanded self-consciousness and freedom because individuals now stood differentiated from nature, society, and history to the point where they could make normative judgments about nature (instrumental facts), society (historical events, universal norms, and social understanding), and their own selves (self-experiences and emancipatory enlightenment). These possibilities for autonomous individual and social development, for Habermas, were not available in an undifferentiated pre-modern world based on mechanical solidarity. According to him, the problems with modern rationality lay in distorted development resulting from the internal dynamics of monopoly capital and the legitimation crises of the welfare state, the domestication of class conflict, and the internal colonization and reification of the lifeworld through linguistic distortions, deformation of consciousness, cultural impoverishment, depoliticization, and a dissimulating rationality defined exclusively in terms of systems categories (techne).
Ranging over an extensive amount of material, the discussion in the following chapters focuses on the German attempt to recapture crucial elements of an imaginative and romantic reconstruction of classical antiquity. The purpose of this reconstruction is to reclaim reason from its disenchantment and alienation as instrumental rationality in order to evaluate the institutions and values of modernity in light of the principles and formal structures of Athenian social justice. Another goal is to trace the developments of major schools of twentieth-century German social thought and the traditions upon which they relied for their inspiration and insight. Each generation of theorists had to come to grips with the problems and dialectic of Western rationality and modernity. As a final note, it is interesting to observe that the origins of postmodernism lie in many of the authors discussed in this book. The critiques of Enlightenment rationality, liberal individualism, Cartesian dualisms, and technical science are grounded in the classical forms of reason, community, and politics. Aristotle is crucial for the second half of the twentieth century in that he provides the basis for a call to participatory democracy and a rejection of social engineering and technological politics (Arendt and Habermas), an understanding of historical consciousness and the dialectic of textual analysis (Heidegger and Gadamer), and an expanded view of the nature of knowledge as episteme, phronesis, and techne (Arendt, Gadamer, and Habermas).
By recovering the Greek element in their thought, we achieve a broader framework within which to develop a critique of modern political economy and social rationalization. Though guided by Greek horizons and ideals, we delve into the structures, institutions, and values of modernity, further integrating philosophy and the social sciences. The ancients aid us, not by offering abstract hopes and unreachable goals, but by inspiring us to look more deeply into ourselves and our society into contemporary economic institutions and crises, psychological repression and linguistic distortions, and political legitimation and capital accumulation. Though the Germans romanticized antiquity, they provide us with a unique perspective from which to understand modernity. They help us to connect social theory to twenty-five hundred years of philosophical thought. And they expand our understanding of the nature of "science" to include critical, structural, historical, and hermeneutical science with their different epistemologies, methodologies, and interpretations about the nature of rationality and society. We move beyond the limitations and one-dimensionality of positivistic and explanatory science. With the expansions of the ideas of Kant by Marx, Nietzsche, and Heidegger; with their differing definitions of human beings as species being, will to power, and Dasein, respectively; with their rejection of idolatry and fetishism; and with their critique of epistemology and foundationalism, they offer us alternative ways of thinking about the nature of knowledge and truth. Nineteenth- and twentieth-century theorists moved away from metaphysical dualisms, a deterministic and mechanical universe, and the alienated ego toward an integration of becoming and being, process and reality. They dug further into the inner reaches of the structures of the economy, will, and Being in order to challenge the authority of modern reason. They did this by viewing modernity from the heights of the Acropolis. Their students and followers in the second half of the twentieth century applied these insights to an extended range of issues in critical theory, metapsychology, political philosophy, and hermeneutics. This is one of the great lessons of our times: The more we study the ancients, the more we learn about the moderns.
As the German authors romanced antiquity, they also radicalized the Kantian critique of reason and aesthetics in a broad range of theories: Hegel's dialectic and phenomenology of self-consciousness, Marx's social praxis and critique of political economy, Nietzsche's perspectivism and will to power, Weber's epistemology and ideal types, Heidegger's ontology of care and Being-in-the-world, Marcuse's aesthetic creativity and sensuous imagination, Arendt's political judgment and public communication, Gadamer's hermeneutical understanding and historical consciousness, and Habermas's discourse ethics and transcendental "ideal speech situation." Twentieth-century social theory advanced the integration of the ancients and the moderns -- the integration of antiquity and critique.