Social Freedom and Progress in the Family: Reflections on Care, Gender and Inequality

Critical Horizons 16 (2):170-186 (2015)

The paper focuses on the discussion of social freedom in the family in Axel Honneth's most recent book Freedom's Right. I argue, on the one hand, that radical democrats have much to learn from Honneth's method of normative reconstruction because it provides a much needed corrective to the “social weightlessness” that characterizes their thought about democracy. In contrast to the current preoccupation with rarefied issues of political ontology, Freedom's Right exemplifies a type of sociologically attuned thinking that is essential for addressing issues of power and inequality. On the other hand, I argue that Honneth's reliance on a teleological notion of historical progress has deeply constraining effects on his critique of power. First, in so far as it underestimates the impact of growing social inequality on personal and intimate relations, it fails to acknowledge just how extensive, radical and, potentially deeply contentious the political measures needed to realize social freedom in the family may have to be. Second, Honneth's teleological reconstruction provides too thin a basis to generate substantive normative solutions to issues of social justice in the family. Third, teleology tends to depoliticize the process of emancipatory social change by construing it in terms of impersonal mechanisms and developmental tendencies rather than as open-ended, often polemical and deeply contested forms of political struggle.
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DOI 10.1179/1440991715z.00000000046
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