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Unsocial Society: Adorno, Hegel, and Social Antagonisms

Type of publication Not peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Contribution to book (non peer-reviewed)
Author SärkeläArvi, Blili-HamelinBorhane,
Project Process Metaphysics and Social Philosophy
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Contribution to book (non peer-reviewed)

Book Hegel and the Frankfurt School
Editor , Giladi Paul
Publisher Routledge , London
Title of proceedings Hegel and the Frankfurt School


Adorno's reading of Hegel's theory of civil society shapes his way of addressing the core question of his critical theory of society: 'Why do social crises not lead to social transformation?' Our chapter investigates the philosophical innovations at the heart of Hegel and Adorno's respective approach to the problems revealed by the antagonisms of civil society. We will do this by asking the questions: (1) How does Hegel conceive of the antagonistic structure of civil society? (2) How does Hegel conceive of the way civil society addresses crises of legitimacy? (3) How does Adorno think of the way modern welfare states silence crises of legitimacy? (4) How does Adorno's conception of Bannkreis aim to illuminate the root structure of how all antagonistic societies silence crises of legitimacy? We will thereby focus on the basic antagonism at work in both Adorno's and Hegel's theories of society: the antagonism between the overwhelming power of social orders over individuals, and the fragile power of individuals to demand legitimacy from their social orders. First, we will briefly sketch Adorno's surprisingly affirmative reading of Hegel's theory of civil society. We then go on to assess what role antagonism plays in the latter. We will argue that Hegel sees education (Bildung) as the central operator in reconciling the antagonisms of civil society. This will allow us to take a new look at Adorno's social theory as tracing Bannkreis through a plurality of models, which discloses the reproduction of the social totality as a form of counter-education (Halbbildung). We ultimately argue that Adorno conceptualises Bannkreis as an answer to the question of Hegel's account of world-spirit that revives the insights of Hegel's conception of civil society. We conclude by taking a closer look at how Bildung turns into the counter-education of Bannkreis, and what potential for socially transformative practice this dialogue between Adorno and Hegel uncovers.