Jürgen Habermas on centralized automation of social control

The negative Utopia of technical control over history would be fulfilled if one were to set up a learning automaton as a central system of societal control which would answer these questions cybernetically, thus by “itself.”

The critique of ideology, which for the sake of resolving dogmatism and asserting technologically rational behavior insistently separates reason from decisions of commitment, in the end automates the decisions according to the laws of the rationality thus made dominant. Critique, however, cannot maintain this separation and only finds its own rationality in its partisanship for rationality, no matter how restricted. That is why even the type of rationalization developed on these four levels is not tolerant, to say nothing of indifferent, toward values. For from this concept of rationality the ultimate decisions concerning the acceptance or rejection of norms are not excluded after all. Even these decisions ultimately are incorporated into the self-regulating process of adaptation of a learning automaton according to the laws of rational behavior—connected to a process of knowledge oriented toward technical control. The substantive rationality suppressed in the innocent partisanship for formal rationality reveals, in the anticipated concept of a cybernetically self-regulated organization of society, a tacit philosophy of history. This is based on the questionable thesis that human beings control their destinies rationally to the degree to which social techniques are applied, and that human destiny is capable of being rationally guided in proportion to the extent of cybernetic control and the application of these techniques. But such a rational administration of the world is not simply identical with the solution of the practical problems posed by history. There is no reason for assuming that a continuum of rationality exists extending from the capacity of technical control over objectified processes to the practical mastery of historical processes. The root of the irrationality of history is that we “make” it, without, however, having been able until now to make it consciously. A rationalization of history cannot therefore be furthered by an extended power of control on the part of manipulative human beings, but only by a higher stage of reflection, a consciousness of acting human beings moving forward in the direction of emancipation.


SOURCE: Habermas, Jürgen. “Dogmatism: Reason, and Decision: On Theory and Praxis in Our Scientific Civilization” (1963?), in Theory and Practice, translated by John Viertel (Boston: Beacon Press, 1973), pp. 253-282. This excerpt, pp. 275-276, comes from the end of the section entitled “The partisanship of the critique of ideology in favor of technological rationality” (268-276); the opening paragraphs of this section (pp. 268-270) can be found at the preceding link. Preceding the extract here is a characterization of four levels of rationalization of technical control. See also succeeding & concluding section: On the self-reflection of rationalistic “faith” (pp. 276-282 + 305).


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