For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

Under Weber’s Shadow: Modernity, Subjectivity and Politics in Habermas, Arendt and MacIntyre

by Breen, Keith (2016)


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.

Key Passage

MacIntyre, we saw, possesses powerful arguments against that assumption arising from the fact of Fortuna or unpredictability, but he is careful not to devalue the possession of skill and technical knowledge. Practices are quintessentially intersubjective activities whose meaning goes beyond skilfulness to incorporate the realization of specific ends, yet this realization is impossible without the employment of skills. Skills or technai constitute, as Aristotle argued, the subordinate but nonetheless integral means to achieving internal and external goods. Inserting technical skills as constitutive elements within an inclusively conceived praxis, MacIntyre thereby effects an analytic melding of the value-rational and instrumental-rational that prevents the identification of action either with mere instrumentality or pure performance. He accomplishes this, as well, without relinquishing the distinction between manipulative and non-manipulative activity. All worthwhile goods are attained in company with or through reliance on others and this necessary relatedness takes two rudimentary forms, a virtuous relatedness where others are treated with regard or a vicious relatedness where they suffer debasement into objects. (p.185)


Macintyre, Habermas, Arendt, Bureaucratic Individualism, Ethical Polity, Modernity, Political Struggle, Aristotle, Fortuna


On MacIntyre

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