Skip to main content

Review: “Resuscitating The Lifeworld: Habermas’s Critique Of Rationalization And The Ritual Path Back To Psycho-Social Unification” by Bayrick Henzel

By July 27, 2019January 24th, 2020Reviews

Publisher:  Institute Of Magical Historicity Press

Review:  Sean Chibbler



In the beginning of the 1980’s, Jurgen Habermas published his magisterial two volume treatise “The Theory of Communicative Action” to a world increasingly riven in its legitimation structures and multi-polar epistemic/normative fragmentation.  This effort ran conspicuously against the grain of social theoretic thinking at the time, largely characterized by the aporeatic approach represented by the full uptake into academic philosophy of Continental-style post-structuralism, as well has the then-mainstreaming Multi-Culturalist sensibilities of management consultancy and, to some extent, the products of the culture industry.  Himself a latter-day member of the enormously influential Frankfurt School, his work stood out against the background of that tradition as well. The work of Horkheimer, Adorno et al concerned itself with a gradually more pessimistic diagnosis of the inherently corrosive nature of instrumental reason. This tendency found the basis of late-capitalist hegemony in an inertial, dialectical unfolding of Enlightenment, or the reduction of social and individual cognition to fit inside the constraints of bureaucratic, managerial efficiency.  While absorbing aspects of this critique, Habermas brought to bear a capacious set of theoretical approaches from fields as disparate as speech act theory, symbolic interactionism, systems theory, hermeneutic sociology, ethnomethodology, and phenomenology to not only provide a deep analytic standpoint for assessing the developmental mechanisms of the phenomenon of rationalization, but also joined this approach to a distinctly Pragmatic effort to re-ground the human capacity for stabilizing social relations through his concept of Communicative Action.


“Resuscitating The Lifeworld” is an attempt to extend the analysis of this project into the rarified contemporary period.  In it, author and Institute scholar Bayrick Henzel not only updates the critique to account for the accelerated granular breakdown of intersubjective bonds wrought by the technological advances in social media and the seemingly omnipotent power of ideological domination, but joins this analysis with his expertise in the ritual magick and groundbreaking clinical and theoretic work on Ritual/Intentional Commitment Regeneration. 


It isn’t obvious to persons outside of Henzel’s discipline of Ritual Social-Psychology how problem and solution meet.  To this end, Henzel does an admirable job of faithfully yet readably rendering Habermas’s account of the Lifeworld – or the pre-thematized collective fund of mythically established presuppositions held by participants in a given social order – to get at something crucial to our present crisis.  For the author, this crisis represents the terminal point of a social disintegration. It is no longer simply the inability of segments and strata of a population to engage in communicative action that is in some sense warranted and guaranteed by some collective set of aesthetic, normative, and ontic assumptions.  This fracture has been driven down to basic interpersonal atomization. The ability to curate one’s own experience of the world in an almost complete manner has dealt a dangerous blow to mutual intelligibility, and as such, rendered the very building blocks of society prone to conflict and unable to engage in collective goal setting.


Henzel makes a nuanced case for the application of techniques gleaned from ritual magick as an intensive program for affinity collectives to re-lay a foundation for communicative action.  Contra Habermas, he does not consider the collective awareness of the transcendental functions of criticizable validity claims inhering to communicative action to be sufficient to secure factual or purposive agreement in even idealized speech situations.   Springboarding off of Durkheim, the lifeworld context for action enters as the point of tribal social organization and is fused almost co-extensively with ritual practice. The mid-book chapters on “Affective Solidarity” lay out a case for the seemingly impossible missing puzzle piece: an intentional reconstruction of a localized Lifeworld, a notion for which Henzel coins the felicitous term “Lifework”. 

“Given the pre-cognitive damage to participant personality structures by the regime of self-commoditizing atomization in Late-Capitalism, we must allow that solutions need account for the repair and replacement of participant personality structures to dis-habituate the problematic alienation and solipsification of those personalities.  In some sense, the ameliorative project must begin with this intentional, inward facing recognition of the ways the self has been made host to the parasitic inducements of neo-liberal self-reification. But this internal work is merely a clearing of space, a slashing and burning in the service of readying ground for something positive and intersubjective to take root.  Whereas this internal work might well be accomplished with a regimen of meditative practices – and here I am thinking of the Shikantaza approach of some forms of Japanese Zen – the collective, intersubjective work must provide a content. The difficulty of such a project as constituting a Lifework is that it must be not only formulated, but also inculcated as close to the basic ground of participants’ personality structures as possible.  The particular blend of the affective, aesthetic, habitual and solidaristic inherent in the rigors of ritual practice seem to fit the bill, so to speak.”  


We notice in this excerpt a brazenly political tone, which is something that pervades the text and is somewhat alien in the largely aloof tenor of work in the Habermasian tradition.  This is not simply because Henzel is an avowed anti-capitalist, which he is. But it is also a clue to the scope and purpose of this work. Henzel is under no illusions that his suggested program is something that might take hold on a large scale.  Henzel, despite his area of expertise remains politically a materialist. It is particularly the vanguard of mundane political agents to whom this work is primarily addressed. Henzel sees the failure of the Left, especially in the core nations, with specific attention to the United States, to largely stem from the ways in which the personal psychologies of Late-Capitalist subjects are distorted such that basic political solidarity is not only repressed from the outside, but more distressingly, wired out of the basic set of competencies that can develop in this cultural condition.  In some ways, this program is quite modest. The hope, paraphrasing Henzel, is that a critical mass of influential and talented organizers can pinpoint the ways in which their basic interpersonal capacities have been tampered with. In this realization, he hopes to provide not only an analytical framework, but an innovative and intensive praxis through which self-selected organizations and affinity groups might slough off the sinister programming toward dissipation in spectacle, empty performative gestures and narcissism which continually plagues activist spaces and hinders organizational stability.


Leave a Reply