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Rationalizing the Irrational: Karl Mannheim and the Besetting Sin of German Intellectuals

David Kettler, Volker Meja and Nico Stehr
American Journal of Sociology
Vol. 95, No. 6 (May, 1990), pp. 1441-1473
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2780331
Page Count: 33
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Rationalizing the Irrational: Karl Mannheim and the Besetting Sin of German Intellectuals
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Abstract

Sociological theory is ambivalent about the rationalizing processes of which it forms a part. This constitutive difficulty presents itself today in ways that have instructive parallels to the problem constellation confronting the first generation of 20th-century sociological classics. Karl Mannheim's Ideologie und Utopie (1929) was extraordinarily successful in Germany at the historical turning point of the Weimar Republic. This marks him as a representative figure among those contemporaries who acknowledged the force of "irrationalist" criticisms of progressive liberalism but sought to contain the destructive dynamics of such criticisms within a new type of rational framework, both intellectual and political. The article contrasts Mannheim's encounters with antirationalist thought in Ideologie un Utopie with the later pragmatist instrumental rationalism of his writings in English exile. In analyzing the shift, special attention is paid to Mannheim's involvement in Paul Tillich's religious socialist circle and to confrontations between Mannheim and Georg Lukacs, Oscar jaszi, Eduard Heimann, Max Hrkheimer, and Theodor W. Adorno. Newly discovered letters and transcripts are use to specify these relationships. Mannheim's promising theoretical beginnings were disruped by the brute facts of his generation's biography. Learning from Mannheim requires retrieval of his achievements, criticism of its distortions, and renewed start in the direction of his work during the 1920s.

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