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23.03.2016 | Theoretical / Philosophical Paper | Ausgabe 3/2016 Open Access

Human Studies 3/2016

Kurt Wolff’s Interpretation of Mannheim’s Late Political Writings

Human Studies > Ausgabe 3/2016
Sandro Segre


This article deals with Kurt Wolff’s interpretation of Karl Mannheim, with reference to his writings on social planning. Wolff’s interpretation is presented and discussed in the context provided by other interpreters of Mannheim. They have, generally speaking, given scant attention to the late works by Mannheim, and rather focused on Ideology and Utopia, Mannheim’s most celebrated work. Interpreters who have considered these writings on planning have been mostly or entirely critical of them, objecting to their vagueness and inadequacy as a project of social reform, and the unsatisfactory conceptualization of the élites. These objections have been raised by several interpreters of different ideological persuasions, from the Marxist thinkers Adorno and Lukacs to the conservative T.S. Eliot. Wolff’s interpretation stands out in that it pays less attention to the social and political contents of Mannheim’s reform project, but brings into light its psychological background; namely, the deep anguish Mannheim experienced because of the widespread tendencies to the formation of a mass society, prone to the forces of irrationalism and authoritarianism. A perusal of Mannheim’s works on planning bears out Wolff’s interpretation.

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