Understanding Modern Society: Why Luhmann Matters


The End of Left and Right

Most people do not understand that modern society no longer operates according to differences in status. Society is no longer a zero-sum game, but highly inclusive and complex. Sociologically it can be understood as a functionally differentiated society. No one area of society controls another. No one class dominates another. Indeed, classes have gone the way of the dodo bird. Of course there are differences, more than ever before, but differences do not mean structured inequality. Rather they point to a society where individuals struggle with freedom and choice, while social institutions also grapple with the problem of selection. All this is a game-changer, theoretically as well as existentially.

In Understanding Modern Society: Why Luhmann Matters, or the End of Left and Right, Shabbtai explains all this in language that is accessible to the average reader. With wonderful examples and pithy formulations he explains why the world can no longer be divided into left and right and no longer understood with the categories of rich and poor, powerful and powerless, the top dogs and the discriminated against. Instead he explains how a modern economy and democracy really function, what the welfare state is all about, how we fall in love, why we love the art we do and what the perennial story of religion is all about. He also explains how Luhmann’s theory is pertinent to getting a grasp on all this and how that must affect the sociological categories with which we approach this task. In so doing, he explains as well what theory really does.

For students of the discipline this book is essential reading. For people who think the world is still divided into left and right, this book is an eye-opener. Furthermore, no one will have difficulty understanding the subject, for it is one of Shabbtai’s true talents that he can take Luhmann’s abstract theory and apply it to an analysis of modern society in language that is as limpid as it is vivid. It is not often that one reads a book of sociology and laughs. But so you will do. Indeed, you might even be startled and ultimately consoled when you read that the only truly equal experience modern life imposes upon us is the disappointment we all come to feel in ourselves. And the best thing of all, this book costs much less than what it would if some hot shot publisher in the field were selling it. Truly democracy at work!