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[The struggle for recognition: the moral grammar of social conflicts]

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Axel Honneth (Trans. Joel Anderson), The Struggle for Recognition. The Moral Grammar of Social Conflicts. Cambridge: Polity Press. 1994, 215pp.

In an age of bitter "identity politics" and pseudo - claims to "inclusivity," social theorists feel compelled to go back to foundational premises, to start all over again and rebuild the model of society based on reason, shared values, and individual autonomy. Axel Honneth, a social philosopher and Hegelian scholar, attempts to do just that by constructing a model which draws on the early Hegel (the Jena period), George Herbert Mead, the American pragmatist, and Donald Winnicott, British psychoanalyst.

Modern (postmetaphysical) social theory starts, Honneth says, with Machiavelli and Hobbes; that is, with (1) conflict resolved through a (2) social contract based on (3) isolated, atomistic individuals who (4) act in terms of self interest. This template was, Honneth says, flawed as a theory and, by implication, doomed in practice. The alternative based on Hegel retains conflict as the Prime Mover or "the struggle for recognition" through which the Spirit drives social life and proceeds by means of a series of negations. But the other elements -- social contract, atomistic individuals, and motivation based on self - interest -- are dropped. Thus human societies evolve from simple to complex, from ascriptive or status - based honour to achievement, from an undifferentiated whole to a division of labour, from indifference to the fate of others to a recognition of interdependence, from private interests to shared values, from particularistic norms to universal law and human rights, from authority based on tradition to a devaluation of tradition itself. The end point is modernization without materialism, modernization without techne.

The social forms it takes are family, civil society and the state which correspond respectively to love (affective bonds), law and solidarity, while on another...