Work and authority in Marcuse and Habermas

Human Studies 2 (1):191 - 208 (1979)


I have argued that Marcuse's notions of the merger of work and play and of the possibility of nondominating organizational rationality and authority fly in the face of the mainstream Weberian tradition which venerates the labor-leisure dualism and the bureaucratic coordination of labor. I have further argued that this Weberian current is reappropriated by Jürgen Habermas in his own recent work on the epistemological foundations of social science. The counterpoint between Marcuse and Habermas reveals a split within modern critical theory. This split could be characterized as the split between radicalism and incrementalism. Marcuse takes the more radical viewpoint, arguing that if work and leisure are dialectically merged and if that work is organized democratically through workers' control, then social labor will be experienced, in Marx's early sense, as creative praxis—a type of self-externalizing activity which is both productive and recreative. Habermas, in his reformulation of Weberian sociology, endorses an incrementalist position (contra Marcuse's radicalization and deepening of early Marx's theory of praxis) which rejects the possibility of transforming labor into praxis, arguing instead for greater communicative democracy as a way of redirecting (what Habermas contends is categorically immutable) social labor toward more constructive ends such as the economic levelling of the capitalist welfare state

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