Axel Honneth: The I in the We: Studies in the Theory of Recognition.

Author:Klikauer, Thomas
Position:Book review

Axel Honneth The I in the We: Studies in the Theory of Recognition, Polity Press: Cambridge, 2012, 246 pp: 9780745652337, US$35 (pbk)

Ever since the publication of The Struggle for Recognition (1995), Axel Honneth has been pursuing the Hegelian theme of 'recognition' as originally outlined in Hegel's Phenomenology (1807). The latest instalment is Honneth's The I in the We: Studies in the Theory of Recognition. A quasi-background of this can be found in the idea to move critical theory onto the theoretical and ethical platform of 'recognition', as discussed in Fraser and Honneth's Redistribution or Recognition (2003). To a large extent, The I in the We is a continuation of Honneth's project. The book has fourteen chapters, divided into four parts: 'Hegel's Roots', 'Systematic Consequences', 'Social and Theoretical Applications', and 'Psychoanalytical Ramifications'. What the book does not have is an introduction providing an overall discussion on Honneth's theme; and nor does it have a conclusion that could have comprehensively discussed 'what we could learn from all this'.

After a very brief preface, Part 1 begins with a discussion on Hegel's concept of 'recognition', emphasising the fact that 'Hegel's text is especially difficult to understand'. In Chapter 2, 'The realm of actualised freedom', Honneth positions Hegel's work in its historical context, outlining 'the great disturbance caused by the Counter-Reform in Prussia', which according to d'Hondt (1988), was a period marred by the 'Carlsbad Decrees' of 1819, signifying an historical period of state censorship, reaction, and repression. It was in this period that Hegel wrote his second great book, Philosophy of Right (1821), on which Honneth notes, 'on the whole, the book gives the highly confusing impression', arguing that Hegel's 'three-stage network of institutionalised practices and structures has been completely travelled through [so that] the realm of actualised freedom ... will be presented in its entirety'. By this, Hegel meant the stages of family, civil society, and state. This is needed so that each stage can 'compensate for the flaws that characterise the previous stage'.

In Chapter 3, 'The fabric of justice: On the limits of contemporary proceduralism', Honneth highlights the 'deficits of the distribution paradigm', perhaps not only because justice is linked to 'distributive justice', but also as a response to Nancy Fraser's 'distribution model'. For Honneth, justice is a...

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