One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: Idealism in Critical Theory

In Constellations (Early View) (2021).


Although Amy Allen’s critique of contemporary Frankfurt School critical theory has been widely discussed, her concern for an adequate conceptualization of reason’s intertwinement with power has not received the attention it deserves. The article first shows that the diagnosis of a too idealistic account of reason forms the backbone of Allen’s charges against Habermas, Honneth and Forst, before it discusses her criteria for an adequate conceptualization of the intertwinement of reason and power. It demonstrates how Allen’s attempt to formulate such a conceptualization falls short of two of her own criteria, namely the basic commitments of essentially impure reason and radical self-reflexivity. Taking seriously Allen’s proposal for a radical self-reflexive genealogical critique would force her to question the very terms in which she formulates her critique of critical theory, namely the search for “normative foundations,” and the article sketches a way for doing so.