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Forthcoming Edited Collection on Habermas and Rawls

Finally Fabian and I have signed a contract for Habermas and Rawls: Disputing the Political. It has been a long road. Publishers don’t want to know about collections of essays. As Raymond Geuss told me they will try to get away with publishing as few as they can decently get away with publishing. Any hint of a lukewarm remark in a reader’s report is likely to put them off. Remember that if and when you write a reader’s report for a proposal. There is always something that can be criticised in a proposal, but doing so may well scupper it.

Some publishers now want a non refundabe subvention of $9000 lest they lose money. Others are only interested if all the same old big names are in the book. The same familiar roster of stars that everyone knows about. Above all, no new voices. Finally, many publishers – I’ve heard this more than once – say that the book won’t sell in the US unless a majority of US academics be among the contributors. Strange eh. A Friend of mine Henry Pickford, had a proposed volume with Cornell sunk because it did not contain a piece by a particular author – a rising star in the field, apparently. For similar reasons, I guess, British Films always have to have American stars in them. I never thought academic publishing would be so like the film industry.

Still, it’ll be a good volume. Here is a quick preview.

Disputing the Political: Habermas and Rawls


(1)     a substantial introduction;
(2)     reproduction of the contributions by Rawls and Habermas to the original dispute;
(3)     chapters evaluating the original dispute, or on  substantive issues     relevant to the debate
(4)     an afterword by Habermas;
(5)     a select topic by topic bibliography and index.

4.    Overview of the Volume and List of Contributors

Habermas and Rawls: Disputing the Political

I: Editors’ Introduction:

The pre-history of the dispute. The actual dispute. Post-dispute developments. Contents of the volume.

II: The Original Dispute

Ch. 1    ‘Reconciliation through the Public Reason: Remarks on John Rawls’s Political Liberalism.’ Jürgen Habermas.

Ch. 2    ‘Reply to Habermas.’ John Rawls†.

Ch. 3    ‘Reasonable versus True: or the Morality of World Views.’ Jürgen

III: Disputing the Political

Ch. 4    ‘Habermas and Rawls on Collective Reasoning.’ Chris McMahon, (University of California, Santa Barbara).

Ch. 5    ‘Justice: Transcendental not Metaphysical. What Habermas should have said to Rawls.’ Joseph Heath, (University of Toronto, Canada).

Ch. 6    ‘The Justification of Justice.’ Rainer Forst, (University of Frankfurt).

Ch. 7.     ‘The Idea of Social Criticism in Habermas and Rawls.’ Andrea Sangiovanni (King’s College London).

Ch. 8.    ‘Habermas and Rawls on Human Rights.’ Jeff Flynn (Fordham).

Ch. 9    ‘Procedural versus substantive conceptions of justice.’ Cristina Lafont (Northwestern University)

Ch. 10    ‘Democracy and Public Reasons.’ Anthony Simon Laden (University of Illinois at Chicago).

Ch. 11.    ‘Habermas and Rawls on Religion.’ Catherine Audard (London School of Economics).
Ch. 12    ‘Habermas and Rawls on International Justice.’ Jim Bohman (St. Louis).

IV: Afterword. Jürgen Habermas

V: Select Bibliography and Index.

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Adorno is not a Jewish Thinker

Why do so many commentators make so much of Adorno’s Jewishness, and so little of his Catholicism? Terry Eagleton is probably the worst culprit. He is still happily spreading the received idea that Adorno was a Jewish thinker, whose Jewishness illuminates the religious dimension to his thought. (LRB 31, 12, June 2008). Adorno, he notes, in a recent review of a biography of Adorno he does not seem to have read, was “part-Jewish”, a “Jew” though not “pious”, “a Middle European left-wing Jewish intellectual”, one of the “emergent Jewish bourgeoisie” and finally a “devout, agnostic Jew”. Eagleton has made this claim before, lumping him in with Benjamin, “the secular rabbi” on the basis of the centrality of the ban on images in his work, and writing of “Jews like Adorno” in The Ideology of the Aesthetic, as if Adorno and his work expressed something typical of all Jews (Eagleton, 1990, 343).

Eagleton is not alone in making rather more of Adorno’s Jewishness than Adorno did. Discussing the significance of the motif of the prohibition against graven images in Adorno, Josef Siebert says: “The unbelieving Jew, Adorno remained as faithful to this Mosaic prohibition as any pious Jew.” (Siebert 1983: 113 & 110), while Susan Buck-Morss in The Origin of Negative Dialectics, notes that Adorno was not positively influenced by Judaism: “Unlike Benjamin he joined no Jewish youth groups as a student; unlike Scholem, he was not attracted to Zionism; nor did he participate with Siegfried Kracauer, Franz Rosenzweig and Martin Buber in Rabbi Nehmiah A Nobel’s intellectual circle in Frankfurt.” This is true, but not entirely surprising as we shall see.

Adorno has been claimed as a fellow Jew by quite a few Jewish academics, such as Anson Rabinbach, Jonathan Sacks and Gillian Rose. As Evelyn Willcock has shown Rose who towards the end of her life “was fully cognizant of the ambiguities of Jewish identity in the Diaspora claimed Adorno unhesitatingly (along with Buber, Rosenzweig, Weil, Benjamin, Arendt, Levinas, and Derrida) as a Jewish writer like herself.” [Evelyn Wilcock in New German Critique, No. 81, Autumn, 2000.] I am interested to know what institutional reasons or intellectual fashions lie behind this now more or less widespread but in my view undue emphasis on Adorno’s Judaism.
The truth is that Adorno was not born, nor did he become, Jewish. Rather, history made it hard for him to forget his Jewish origins, which, according to one biographer, even for his father, Oscar, were ‘no more than a memory’. Oscar Wiesengrund converted to Catholicism, married a Catholic, Maria Calvelli-Adorno, and had their son, Theodor, baptized a Catholic. Theodor was raised a Catholic by his mother and her sister. The only people whom he knew regarded him as Jewish, according to him, were some of his anti-semitic school fellows. Even the National Socialist authorities classified him as being only of “half-Jewish descent.” As Adorno told his teacher Alban Berg, his being half Jewish (on his Father’s side) alienated him from the League of Jewish Culture in Frankfurt, and from some other Jews. When Arendt, who disliked him for independent reasons, criticised Adorno in a letter to Jaspers for attempting to hide his Jewish origins and ingratiate himself with the authorities, among other things by dropping his middle name – Wiesengrund – she brings up his Jewish origins. “The real infamy was that he a half-Jew among pure or genuine Jews took this step without informing his friends. He hoped to get through with his mother’s Italian side, Adomo versus Wiesengrund.” Arendt, Letter to Jaspers, 4/7/1966.

That said, it clearly won’t do to replace a source critical approach that focuses on Adorno’s Jewish ancestry, with one that overemphasises his Catholicism. In a letter to the composer, Ernst Krenek, written in his early 30s, Adorno claims that Krenek’s Catholic ideas were “very familiar” to him and that he himself “was on the point of converting to Catholicism” ten years ago, but “was not able to go through with it”, a remark that shows how estranged the Adorno had become from the Catholicism of his early years.   I wonder what exactly Adorno thought he was converting from? Not Judaism, at any rate. More probably some form of secular humanism or atheism.

Adorno was, it seems, an unbeliever. Josef Siebert is right about that. At any rate, he was anything but devout. When Soma Morgenstern asked him if he had been brought up in a God-fearing house, “Adorno answered ‘with a deep breath’: ‘Yes, my father is a Socialist.’” And Habermas, who worked with Adorno, and knew him well, unlike most of the people who write about Adorno’s Judaism, refers to him as an “undeviating atheist”. In my view not only is the Judaic dimension of Adorno’s thought grossly overemphasized, but so is the religious or theological dimension. Of course I don’t deny that the motif of imagelessness and the Bilderverbot play a significant role in his thinking. It’s just that iI think that motif is not explained at all by appeal to the supposed Judaic dimension of his thought. Rather the Judaic residues in Adorno’s thought are borrowed from other thinkers, Krakauer, Benjamin, Bloch, Fromm, and Horkheimer, who were more deeply influenced by Judaism than he was, or from ideas that were simply in the intellectual ether. However, Adorno appropriates them and presses them fully into the service of his theoretical agenda without regard to their religious content or origins. So in conclusion, not only was Adorno not a Jew, he was not a Jewish thinker, and not a religious thinker either. For more on this see my article on this site: “On Not Being Silent in the Darkness: Adorno’s Singular Apophaticism”.




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