The continuity of history, and our debt to the past

I’ve started some research on a new project with a colleague, where we develop a criticism of historicism in social theory. This is mostly tied up with Honneth’s interpretation of historical materialism. I’ve been reading his early essays on history – one on Althusser, and another on Walter Benjamin.

The core motivation of the paper is a normative one. This is a lateral step for my work on history so far – my focus to date has been ontological and epistemological. It’s the Benjamin piece that provides the central idea here, that the victims of history make a moral demand on the present. Honneth interprets this as a claim for symbolic recognition. What is interesting, however, is that Honneth more lately wants to insist on the specificity of modernity, which short circuits any demands that issue from other times or cultures. On the face of it, that just seems naive. So we want to argue for a continuity of history – the very point Honneth argues against Althusser in “History and Interaction”.

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