Jens Borchert and Stephan Lessenich
Claus Offe and the Critical Theory of the Capitalist State, London: Routledge, 2015; xvii + 157 pp.: ISBN 9781138887428, 85.00 [pounds sterling], US$ 108.91
Written by two eminent German sociologists--Jens Borchert and Stephan Lessenich --this book is about another German sociologist, Claus Offe, and his approach to state theory under democratic capitalism, as the first pages of their book indicate. This rather short book (140 pages plus references) is divided into six chapters, starting with 'Claus Offe's cheerful eclecticism'. The introductory notes are followed by Offe's magic triangle of state, capitalism and democracy. Among the large volume of publications (Claus Offe commands 240,000 Google hits), Offe's key publications are Contradictions of the Welfare State (Offe 1984), Disorganized Capitalism (Offe 1985) and perhaps Industry and Inequality (Offe 1977). In addition to these three, one might add Offe and Wiesenthal's (1980) masterpiece 'Two logics of collective action: theoretical notes on social class and organisational form'--the 1980s' article is a superb interconnection between Offe's three chosen institutions: capitalism, the state and democracy. The book's third and fourth chapters highlight Offe's central 'theorems' as the authors of the book call it. Perhaps shying away from the word 'theory', these chapters also include traces of impacts of Offe's theorems. The final chapter is not a conclusion but discusses Offes relevance today.
Written by the distinguished American sociologist Erik Olin Wright, the book's foreword starts with Wright's acknowledgement of 'my three months of study under Claus Offe' (p. xi) noting that 'what I learned from Claus Offe is that one can remain a Marxist in the sense of pursuing questions firmly embedded in the Marxist tradition and still freely incorporate elements from other traditions when they help solve problems and identify real mechanisms at work in the world' (p. x). Like Marx would have done, Wright recognises that our 'social systems are filled with contradictions, not simply because they are built on antagonistic social relations (such as class relations), but because complex social systems contain incompatible functional requirements for their stability' (xi). Perhaps capitalism's contradictions have not only been worked out by Karl Marx but most comprehensively and more recently by David Harvey (2014).
Before the authors begin their illuminating and also comprehensive discussion of Claus Offe's work, both write that their book on Offe is 'a genuine co-production ... we can't tell anymore who has written what' (xvi). This is followed by the rather surprising disclosure that their book was 'twenty years in the making' (xvi). Their first chapter is on state theory. Both authors note that for Offe, 'legitimation and legitimacy [of the state] were core categories' (p. 2) and that 'legitimacy was the factual support of citizens for rulers, not the deserved support for a good order' (p. 3). This indicates more of a Weberian than a Marxian notion. Aligned to Max Weber, 'Offe is interested in the empirical reasons of citizens for granting legitimacy' (p. 4). With that, according to Borchert/Lessenich, Offe reaches beyond standard Marxian orthodoxies such as the idea that 'the modern state [is] derived directly, and in some sense mechanically, from the structural requirements of the process of capital accumulation and value realisation' (p. 5).
In a further step away from traditional Marxist orthodoxy, 'Offe's paradigm turns away from a sociological conception based on class and class struggle to a functionalist, system theory based conception of capitalist dynamics' (p. 7). This renders 'Weber's influence [as] the most prominent in Offe' (p. 9). Offe seeks to combine 'Weberianism, Critical Theory, and System Theory [to create what the authors call] Weberian neo-Marxism' (p. 10). Rather surprisingly, with that Offe became a 'senior...