Heisenberg-Project: Crisis of Critique?Capitalism, Neoliberalism and Democracy "after the Boom“

The period “since the Boom” is characterized by a reordering of the relationship between market and state and between capitalism and democracy. Regardless of whether one describes this change as an enforcement of a “second modernity” or a new kind of “cultural capitalism,” the world of ideas of neoliberalism is always at the center. But its appeal is not yet sufficiently explained by looking solely at its proponents and lobbyists or at its contemporary plausibility as a solution to problems. Rather, the starting point of this research program is the assumption that the potential opponents of neoliberalism must also be considered. Their relative weakness is in need of explanation.

The project examines a crisis of critique of capitalism during the 1980s and 1990s: Structural, power, and distributional issues were assumedly replaced by issues such as human rights, consumer and environmental protection; problems of recognition and identity politics gained weight, while (neo-)Marxist critique suffered from an eroding scientific foundation. This was accompanied by a rise of the New Social Movements. The political upheaval of 1989/90 reinforced these processes: The West now described itself as the winner of a systems competition, and on the left, too, an age without utopia was seen to be dawning. This epoch ended only with the strengthening of the globalization-critical movement at the end of the decade.

The project tests these hypotheses empirically in two areas:

a.) Shareholders and activists: general meetings as a stage for criticism.

Multinational corporations are of interest here as representatives of a changing capitalist order. Accordingly, this project asks about changing forms of corporate criticism and about the formats of the “compliance revolution.” It focuses on those activists who, since the 1970s, have systematically turned the annual general meetings into a stage for criticism. Here, the question is not only about practices of criticism but also about corporate responses that soon began to professionalize.

b.) Weimar’s downfall, historiography, and capitalism

Under the impact of populist electoral successes, there has been a renewed interest in the Weimar Republic and the fragility of democracy. This takes as its starting point the conspicuous accumulation of scholarly controversies about Weimar capitalism around the turn of the 1980s. His hypothesis: historiography also engaged in a critique of capitalism aimed at the contemporary present. The reasons for its erosion in the course of the 1980s are to be traced.