On Voluntary Servitude: False Consciousness and the Theory of Ideology by Michael Rosen

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Those who approach the history of political thought must pick their way through a veritable elephant's graveyard of grand theories. This book is aimed at one of the oldest and grandest of them all: the theory of ideology. The Age of Grand Theory has only recently ended, yet it is already hard to recall how many unquestioningly believed in the idea of ideology as false consciousness, most notably in Karl Marx's version of that idea. Michael Rosen diagnoses the underlying question to which the theory of ideology was meant to provide the answer: Why do people accept forms of political domination which it is against their interests to accept? This book provides a historical and critical analysis of that answer and of the way in which it came to be taken for granted in social theory. Rosen's postmortem makes it clear that Marx was never able to develop an adequate theory of ideology and that recent attempts at reconstructive surgery on what he did give us, by G. A. Cohen and Jon Elster, have been unsuccessful. However, by putting Marx into a history that runs from Plato and Augustine to Benjamin, Adorno, and Habermas, Rosen shows that, though Marx may have failed, the rationalist tradition on which he drew is far from dead--that it is, in fact, the dominant tradition in Western political thought, with very few effective dissenters. This is a very rich and wide-ranging book in the history of ideas, written with philosophic rigor and great clarity.

Harvard University Press, 1996.
ISBN: 9780674637795. 289 pp.
Hardcover. Fine in a fine jacket.