This book is an introduction to the nature of modernity as envisioned by Germany's leading social theorist of the late twentieth century, Niklas Luhmann. For Luhmann, modernity is neither an Enlightenment project r a ludic rejection of that project, but rather the pre-condition of all our deliberations, the structure within which our semantics makes sense, even as we think we celebrate (or mourn) its passing. Rather than viewing modernity as a disease for which we seek a cure, Luhmann poses it as a question to which we continually devise incomplete and partial answers. When we grow impatient with the contingency and indeterminacy that is thus forced upon us and seek solace in community, religion (orthodox or civic), consensus, and a universal vision of the good life, we grow impatient with modernity itself. The book injects concepts derived from Luhmann's influential systems theory (complexity, contingency, and enforced selectivity; system differentiation, self-referential closure, and autopoiesis) into debates about modernity and postmodernity, constructivist and foundationalist epistemologies, the relationship between politics and ethics, and the possibilities of interdisciplinary work that spans the great divide between science and the humanities. Delighting in Luhmann's provocatively cool and dispassionate bursting of cherished balloons, the book stages challenging engagements with such thinkers as Jurgen Habermas, Jacques Derrida, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Drucilla Cornell, Judith Butler, Michel Serres, N. Katherine Hayles, and such political theorists as Chantal Mouffe and Carl Schmitt. The irrepressibility of paradox emerges as a stubborn feature of all of these confrontations. The book closes with two interviews: one a discussion with Luhmann and Hayles on epistemology, the other with Luhmann on the functional differentiation of modern society.
William Rasch is Associate Professor of German Studies at Indiana University.