17 ESA Social Theory Conference, Innsbruck, September 11-13, 2008
Between Social Theory and Natural Law: The Case of Karl Löwith
sceptic of social theory’s justifications of secular human progress and argues that social theory has become too infatuated with its own alleged novelty. But on the other
hand, these crucia
insights come at
a heavy price as
The relationship between natural law and social theory has not been at the centre of scholarly debates in either tradition and this paper seeks to explore this connection with the help of Karl Löwith. Indeed, Löwith’s way into social theory is duly associated with his subtle yet brief Max Weber and Karl Marx. But an equally noticeable feature of his work is that this interest in social theory was, if not short-lived, at least marginal in terms of his own wider intellectual preoccupations. My starting point in this piece is precisely to use his ‘outsider’s view’ to look at the relationships between social theory and the tradition of natural law. On the one hand, in Meaning in History Löwith is not taken aback by social theory’s self- affirmation and sense of novelty and rupture. He is
exaggerate the communalities between social theory and natural law. The former, for him, effectively mirrors in secular terms the religious dogmas of the latter. The overall assessment of his work is ambivalent because whereas Löwith must be duly commended for having firmly established the connection between both traditions the substantive result of his reconstruction looks problematic in so far as he ends up dissolving social theory into the modern form of natural law.
Is there still a sociology of crisis? Rethinking the notion of crisis in sociological theory
The notion of crisis has played a major role in the sociological imagination. Indeed, in canonical sociology crisis was a central element for the temporal description and critique of modernity; even more, this concern about crisis has never abandoned sociology. However, crisis has become a notion naïvely incorporated in theoretical and empirical research merely as a 'catch- all-word' and 'light metaphor' for describing the present. The paper contends that despite the essential role of crisis in sociology's historical vision, it is quite clear that
especially since the 1970s and 1980s- there is a lack
of confidence and scepticism about the necessity of a theory of crisis itself, which could let us speak of the "crisis of crisis theory in sociology". The current sense is that crisis is part of the intellectual history of
sociology but not an important theoretical concept any longer. Accordingly, sociology has privileged the use of this notion rather as a semantic for describing its own epistemological disorder and lack of theoretical consensus. In this context, the paper addresses three main concerns: a) why does the concept of crisis seem to be not significant for sociology anymore?, b) is a theory of crisis still relevant and possible within sociology?, c) how to recover an strong and dynamic concept of crisis? In doing so, the paper discusses the main characteristics of classical theories of crisis in sociology, the elements behind the decline of crisis theory and criticizes some of its contemporary replacements, such as theories of exception and global risk.