The Radical Luhmann

The Radical Luhmann

HANS-GEORG MOELLER
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 184
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/moel15378
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    The Radical Luhmann
    Book Description:

    Niklas Luhmann (1927-1998) was a German sociologist and system theorist who wrote on law, economics, politics, art, religion, ecology, mass media, and love. Luhmann advocated a radical constructivism and antihumanism, or "grand theory," to explain society within a universal theoretical framework. Nevertheless, despite being an iconoclast, Luhmann is viewed as a political conservative. Hans-Georg Moeller challenges this legacy, repositioning Luhmann as an explosive thinker critical of Western humanism.

    Moeller focuses on Luhmann's shift from philosophy to theory, which introduced new perspectives on the contemporary world. For centuries, the task of philosophy meant transforming contingency into necessity, in the sense that philosophy enabled an understanding of the necessity of everything that appeared contingent. Luhmann pursued the opposite -- the transformation of necessity into contingency. Boldly breaking with the heritage of Western thought, Luhmann denied the central role of humans in social theory, particularly the possibility of autonomous agency. In this way, after Copernicus's cosmological, Darwin's biological, and Freud's psychological deconstructions of anthropocentrism, he added a sociological "fourth insult" to human vanity.

    A theoretical shift toward complex system-environment relations helped Luhmann "accidentally" solve one of Western philosophy's primary problems: mind-body dualism. By pulling communication into the mix, Luhmann rendered the Platonic dualist heritage obsolete. Moeller's clarity opens such formulations to general understanding and directly relates Luhmannian theory to contemporary social issues. He also captures for the first time a Luhmannian attitude toward society and life, defined through the cultivation of modesty, irony, and equanimity.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52717-0
    Subjects: Philosophy, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. vii-xiii)
  4. I. INTRODUCTION
    • ONE THE TROJAN HORSE LUHMANN’S (NOT SO) HIDDEN RADICALISM
      (pp. 3-9)

      If, as I think, Luhmann’s social theory is the best description and analysis of contemporary society presently available, then it is only fair to ask why the majority of people—not only in the wider public, but also in academic circles—have apparently failed to notice this, and why Luhmann’s name remains far less prominent and less well known than that of Hobbes or Marx, or Foucault or Habermas.¹

      The first and most immediate reason for Luhmann’s relative obscurity, particularly in North America, may well be found in what I describe in the following section, namely his often “soporific” style.²...

    • TWO WHY HE WROTE SUCH BAD BOOKS
      (pp. 10-15)

      On Amazon.com, a reader of my book Luhmann Explained wrote: “Niklas Luhmann was a student of Talcott Parsons, from whom he apparently learned only how to write impossibly vague and convoluted prose. I have found reading Luhmann extremely soporific, so I thought perhaps this book [Luhmann Explained] might be refreshingly lucid and penetrating. Perhaps, I thought, if I could only stay awake, I could learn a lot from Luhmann. Alas, such does not appear to be the case.” The review concludes with some practical advice: “If your teenager is bad, don’t ground him; make him write an essay on the...

  5. II. FROM PHILOSOPHY TO THEORY
    • THREE THE FOURTH INSULT A REFUTATION OF HUMANISM
      (pp. 19-31)

      In the first chapter of his later magnum opus Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft (The Society of Society), Niklas Luhmann candidly declares, in a highly programmatic and uncompromising way, that his theory is to be understood as an attempt at a “transition towards a radically anti-humanist, a radically anti-regionalist, and a radically constructivist concept of society.” He flatly denies the common assumption “that a society consists of concrete human beings and relations between human beings.”¹ Such a rhetorically conspicuous and unhidden declaration of the radicalism of his antihumanist intentions is quite unusual for Luhmann, at least in his earlier works. It...

    • FOUR FROM NECESSITY TO CONTINGENCY A CARNIVALIZATION OF PHILOSOPHY
      (pp. 32-50)

      Niklas Luhmann’s relation to the discipline and history of philosophy was highly ambiguous. He was “officially” a sociologist (a professor in a department of sociology) and always regarded himself as one. However, he was awarded one of the most prestigious philosophy prizes in Germany, the Hegel Award, in 1989, and in his works he referred to Plato and Kant at least as often as to the works of the sociological founding fathers. Jürgen Habermas rightly stated: “It is not so much the disciplinary tradition of social theory from Comte to Parsons that Luhmann tries to connect up with, as the...

    • FIVE THE LAST FOOTNOTE TO PLATO A SOLUTION TO THE MIND-BODY PROBLEM
      (pp. 51-67)

      One of the most useful of Luhmann’s radicalisms is what I would dare to call nothing less than a convincing solution to the mind-body problem that has haunted the history of ideas in the West for two and a half millennia.¹ Given the contingent character of the theory, it should be noted right away that this is not to say it is the solution to the mind-body problem. Luhmann’s solution to this problem necessarily arises from the contingency of the problem: it is part of the semantic heritage or history that Luhmann’s theory relates to. The problem is, to begin...

    • SIX ECOLOGICAL EVOLUTION A CHALLENGE TO SOCIAL CREATIONISM
      (pp. 68-77)

      Relatively speaking, one of the less conspicuous radical aspects of Luhmann’s theory is his application of the theory of evolution to sociology. This may seem a somewhat strange point to make, given that the theory of evolution is no longer considered all that scandalous, at least outside of North American fundamentalist Protestant circles. The same may be the case with respect to biology, but Luhmann’s use of evolutionary theory for a theory of society is, I believe, quite provocative. Although Luhmann is not a social Darwinist and has little in common with Herbert Spencer, his evolutionary approach is nevertheless at...

    • SEVEN CONSTRUCTIVISM AS POSTMODERNIST REALISM A TEACHING OF DIFFERENCES
      (pp. 78-87)

      Among the many radicalisms that Luhmann adorned himself with was that of radical constructivism.¹ Such a self-designation was, academically speaking, among the less contentious of Luhmann’s many radicalisms, since radical constructivism had been embraced by others before him.² Luhmann made fun of this somewhat unnecessary amplification of the term “constructivism.” He called it “the latest fashion in epistemology,” probably because he felt uneasy allying himself with a trend, considering that once a radicalism becomes a fashion it is no longer particularly radical.³ Luhmann apparently only wanted to paradoxically underline his own radicalism by rhetorically distancing himself from a relatively established...

    • EIGHT DEMOCRACY AS A UTOPIA A DECONSTRUCTION OF POLITICS
      (pp. 88-104)

      While Luhmann did not believe that democracy exists in the sense of “rule of the people,” he did not deny that there is a mode of government in contemporary society that is named “democratic” and that this term usually refers to a “specific structural arrangement” of the political system.¹ That is to say, for Luhmann, democracy is not a term that should be discarded. It indeed says something, just not what it actually means. While the idea of democracy seems quite unfit to describe the functioning of politics in today’s world, the term nevertheless signifies a specific way of doing...

    • NINE CONCLUSION NEC SPE NEC METU: NEITHER HOPE NOR FEAR
      (pp. 105-120)

      A German friend of mine, although generally sympathetic to social systems theory, once expressed a certain frustration that, as he said, not only he himself but many others had experienced when studying Luhmann. Creating a very fitting metaphor, he pointed out that Luhmann’s works do not provide its readers with a Kuschelecke, literally, a “cuddling corner,” a space with well-cushioned furniture that allows readers to feel comforted and cozy, relaxed and warm.¹ Since he made that remark, I have been on the search for Luhmann’s cuddling corner, so far to no avail. Perhaps it is this complete lack that makes...

  6. APPENDIX NIKLAS LUHMANN (1927–1998): A SHORT INTELLECTUAL BIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 121-137)
  7. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. 138-140)
  8. NOTES
    (pp. 141-155)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 156-168)