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Title: Negotiating the 'iron cage' : Jürgen Habermas, Hannah Arendt, and Alasdair MacIntyre in response to Max Weber
Author: Breen, Keith
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2004
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This study in political theory explores the challenges and potentialities of modern politics as envisaged within the work of Jürgen Habermas, Hannah Arendt, and Alasdair MacIntyre. It begins by confronting Max Weber’s seminal diagnosis of the crisis era of late modernity. According to this diagnosis the world-historic process of rationalization is deeply paradoxical in promising freedom and yet threatening servitude under an “iron cage” of deadening specialism and senseless hedonism. Weber responds to this paradox by conceding that all endeavour will henceforth take the form of a specialism but that it can be rendered meaningful by a fundamentally inscrutable decision to devote oneself to a cause or vocation. For those called to politics this means accepting three ineluctable facts: that politics is a contest over the means of violence in which the “ethics of brotherhood” has no place; that freedom endures only when organizational machines are dominated by charismatic leaders; and that there are no criteria to determine political legitimacy except the subjective decision to act responsibly and not otherwise. With Weber as both foil and problem, this study then explores the profound impact his pessimistic diagnosis of modernity, elitist account of politics, and subjectivist theory of ethics have had on Habermas, Arendt and MacIntyre. Although very different in terms of philosophic background and commitment, these three are united by a critical urge to think beyond his dark prescriptions. Each begins with and largely accepts Weber’s narrative of modernity, seeing in his account of rationalization and disenchantment an apposite description of the age. Each nonetheless rejects his understanding of the grounds and possibilities of politics, accusing him of complicity in the very realities he sought to resist. The central argument of this study, however, is that these thinkers simultaneously aid and hinder the attempt to think beyond the “iron cage,” their thought both a critique of and yet an abutment to Weber’s.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available