Social Imaginaries

Volume 4, Issue 1, Spring 2018

Festschrift for Peter Wagner

Bo Stråth
Pages 133-155

The Social Question and the Concepts of Progress and Freedom

A key concept in Peter Wagner’s academic production is modernity, and the thought that modernity is experience and interpretation is central. Not the historical and social facts as such but the interpretation of them is the motor of modernity. The way Wagner understands history as interpretation and struggle for superiority of interpretation brings him close to the historical philosophy of Reinhart Koselleck, which is based on two fundamental conceptual couples: experiences and expectations, and critique and crisis. If interpretation constitutes the mode to approach modernity, the question remains of what the phenomenon we are approaching really is. What is modernity? Wagner’s answer is that the imaginary of being autonomous is the core of modernity. From this point of departure, the chapter discusses the distinction between individual and collective autonomy, highlighted by what since the 1830s has been referred to as the social question, under connection to the concepts of freedom and progress. The conclusion links up with Wagner’s recent emphasis on the dynamics between protest against and defence of domination.