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6 The importance of Weber’s classification, and the emphasis on rationality as the measure of human actions and their institutions so constituted, is much debated (see opposing views in Runciman 1989 and Aron 1967b, for instance). But the typology enabled subsequent conceptual systems to be explicated in his comprehensive social science. For Weber, the chief characteristic of modern society was rationalization, specifically expressed by an expansion of the sphere of zweckrational actions, actions rational in relation to goals, into all spheres of life.
I invoke here Brown’s ‘mastered irony’ (Brown 1995) – the ability to encounter the problematics presenting in postmodern and counter or non-modern conditions that manifest concurrently in the dominant discourses and social practices of modernity, and to act upon them. Modern theory and values, especially those of freedom and justice, far from requiring wholesale abandonment as mystifications masking systemic domination, or degradation into communalist fragmentation, require excavation, reflection and recomposition, even as we grapple with the current acceleration of hyper, global capitalism.
Marx’s proposition was an inversion of Hegel’s metaphysical idealism (‘placed upon its feet’), and postulated a materialist conception of history that put human experience at the centre. The primary sphere of man’s being is not his spiritual or ideal life but rather his economic life – the foundation on which all else rests. The economic sphere is the primary site of man’s self-alienation. Man is essentially a producer and material production is the primary form of his producing activity. History is a ‘history of production’ in which labouring man creates a world in material productive activities.