The Radical Luhmann
by Hans-Georg Moeller (2011)
Niklas Luhmann (1927-1998) was a German sociologist and system theorist who wrote on law, economics, politics, art, religion, ecology, mass media, and love. Luhmann advocated a radical constructivism and antihumanism, or “grand theory,” to explain society within a universal theoretical framework. Nevertheless, despite being an iconoclast, Luhmann is viewed as a political conservative. Hans-Georg Moeller challenges this legacy, repositioning Luhmann as an explosive thinker critical of Western humanism.
Moeller focuses on Luhmann’s shift from philosophy to theory, which introduced new perspectives on the contemporary world. For centuries, the task of philosophy meant transforming contingency into necessity, in the sense that philosophy enabled an understanding of the necessity of everything that appeared contingent. Luhmann pursued the opposite—the transformation of necessity into contingency. Boldly breaking with the heritage of Western thought, Luhmann denied the central role of humans in social theory, particularly the possibility of autonomous agency. In this way, after Copernicus’s cosmological, Darwin’s biological, and Freud’s psychological deconstructions of anthropocentrism, he added a sociological “fourth insult” to human vanity.
A theoretical shift toward complex system-environment relations helped Luhmann “accidentally” solve one of Western philosophy’s primary problems: mind-body dualism. By pulling communication into the mix, Luhmann rendered the Platonic dualist heritage obsolete. Moeller’s clarity opens such formulations to general understanding and directly relates Luhmannian theory to contemporary social issues. He also captures for the first time a Luhmannian attitude toward society and life, defined through the cultivation of modesty, irony, and equanimity.
Niklas Luhmann’s Theory of Politics and Law
by Michael King and Chris Thornhill (2005)
Niklas Luhmann is rapidly becoming recognized as one of the most original and controversial intellectual figures of the 20th Century. King and Thornhill offer the first comprehensive account of his social theory as it relates to law and politics. They explain his complex ideas, placing them in broad cross-disciplinary debates.
Luhmann’s theory, they contend, stands in direct opposition to the ‘anthropocentric’, humanist and liberal traditions that have dominated modern legal and political thought. As such it opens up the possibility of a new paradigm – one where the certainties, ambitions, and rational foundations of the Enlightenment are continually subjected to critical observation. King and Thornhill also answer those critics who reject Luhmann out of hand as an ultra-conservative, arguing that his conservatism should be seen as a challenge to prevailing ‘idealisms’, and as a catalyst for a radical rethink of the role of theory in the social sciences.
Luhmann Explained: From Souls to Systems
by Hans-Georg Moeller (2006)
What are systems? What is society? What happens to human beings in a hypermodern world? This book is an introduction to Niklas Luhmann’s social system theory which explains specific functions like economy and mass media from a cybernetic perspective. Integrating various schools of thought including sociology, philosophy and biology, Luhmann Explained results in an overall analysis of quot;world society.” Special attention is given to the present-day relevance of Luhmann’s theory with respect to globalization, electronic mass media, ethics, and new forms of protest.
From the introduction:
“Niklas Luhmann’s theory of social systems is discomforting to many and irritating to some. In a society that puts so much emphasis on the individual and defines itself as ‘civil’, Luhmann’s basic claim that, in fact, society does not consist of human beings can be seen as shocking, as going against common sense, or as absurd. The present book is an attempt to counter such reactions and to show that, quite to the contrary, Luhmann’s theory is not at all at odds with our social reality—particularly in North America—but rather, in my view, the best theoretical description of it that is presently available. I will explain Luhmann’s functionalist model of society in detail in the main body of this book, but I would like to address the issue of Luhmann’s ‘scandalous’ anti-humanism right away. Yes, social systems theory denies the ‘human being’ a central role in society, but this is not because of a lack of respect for humans, their bodies, their feelings, their rights, and their values; it is rather because of the insight that the human being is, in reality, such a complex assemblage that it cannot be adequately understood in terms of a single concept. Human reality is too complex to be subsumed under the single heading of the ‘human being.’ Luhmann’s theory should be read, I believe, not as a denial of human experience, but as an attempt to sort out and do justice to the extreme multiplicity, or, to put it more dramatically, the existential division of such experiences. In a certain sense, the project of modernity can be described as the attempt to re-unite the Cartesian subject that was split into mind and body with the help of an overarching humanism. Luhmann gives up this attempt and rather tries to grant all the different dimensions of bodily life, of conscious experience, of communicative practice their own right of existence.”
Disillusioning Modernity: Niklas Luhmann’s Social and Political Theory
by Balázs Brunczel (2010)
The work of Niklas Luhmann is the most innovative and comprehensive attempt to describe modern society. His views, in turn, have triggered the most intensive criticism ever in social sciences. This book presents his extraordinarily complex theory in a step-by-step fashion and in a way understandable for those who are not familiar with his thought. It examines his views on politics, which, the author argues, is the best way to demonstrate the provocative character of his theory. The book not only facilitates the understanding of Luhmann’s theory but is also useful for getting an insight into the methodological problems of the social sciences and the theoretical issues of modern society. Whether we agree with Luhmann or not, his thoughts on democracy, legitimacy, human rights, and the welfare state may help us understand the society we live in. The reader may consider his disillusioning findings as challenges that can contribute to the solution of the problems our society faces.
by Christian Borch (2011)
Niklas Luhmann offers an accessible introduction to one of the most important sociologists of our time. It presents the key concepts within Luhmann’s multifaceted theory of modern society, and compares them with the work of other key social theorists such as Jürgen Habermas, Michel Foucault, and Zygmunt Bauman.
The book pays particular attention to introducing and discussing Luhmann’s original sociological systems theory. It presents a thorough investigation into the different phases of his oeuvre, through which both the shifting emphases as well as the continuities in his thinking are shown. The primary focus of this text is Luhmann’s theory of modern society as being differentiated into a plethora of ‘function systems’ – such as politics, law, and economy – which operate according to their own distinct logics and which cannot interfere with one another. For Luhmann, this functional differentiation works as a bulwark against totalitarian rule, and as such is a key foundation of modern democracy. Furthermore, the book critically examines the implications of this functional differentiation for inclusion and exclusion dynamics, as well as for the understanding of power and politics.
This is a key text for both undergraduate and postgraduate students of areas including contemporary social theory, political sociology, and sociology.
Luhmann on Law and Politics: Critical Appraisals and Applications
Michael King and Chris Thornhill (eds) (2006)
Perhaps more than any other social theorist in recent history, Niklas Luhmann’s work has aroused extreme, and often antagonistic, responses. It has generated controversies about its political implications, its resolute anti-humanism and its ambitious critique of more established definitions of society, social theory and sociology. Now, however, a steadily growing number of scholars working in many different disciplines have begun to use aspects of Luhmann’s sociology as an important methodological stimulus and as a theoretical framework for reorientating their studies. This collection of essays includes critical and reconstructive contributions by a number of distinguished social theorists, political theorists, legal scholars and empirical sociologists. Together, they provide evidence of Luhmann’s extensive and diverse relevance to the issues facing contemporary society, and, at the same time, they enhance our understanding of the challenges posed by his theoretical paradigm to more traditional conceptions of social theory.
Luhmann Observed: Radical Theoretical Encounters
Ander La Cour and Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos (eds) (2013)
Niklas Luhmann is one of the best, and least understood, social theorists of the last century. One of the main disadvantages of the poor reception of his work has been the lack of fruitful critical dialogues with other theoretical perspectives. This book brings, for the first time, Luhmann’s work into critical dialogue with other theoretical positions, including the works of Lacan, Derrida, Deleuze, as well as gender studies, eco-theories, bioethics, translation, ANT and complexity theory. The book goes beyond theory: expanding its cognitive horizons and revealing the truly topical contemporary potential of Luhmann’s work.