It is gratifying to receive comment on one’s ideas as thoughtful and sympathetic as this. Responding to it is but a way of expressing appreciation. Before I do this, however, I must emphasize that I speak for myself only and not also for the co-author of the article, who, I daresay, would react quite differently.

Brewster makes a number of very helpful criticisms of the article that I readily concede. He is right in pointing out that alienation somehow gets lost in the argument on reification, which may then be misunderstood as an ‘autonomous’ phenomenon. It was certainly not the intention of the article to suggest this. Apart from the obvious limitations of space, the de-emphasis of alienation is due to the fact that, with its focus on reification, the article had to concentrate on consciousness rather than praxis, that is, on super-structure rather than sub-structure phenomena in Marxian terms. The relationship between reification and alienation is assumed throughout to be a dialectical one, thus precluding the ‘autonomy’ of either moment of this dialectic. Brewster criticizes the article for giving individual rather than institutional examples. This point is well taken, particularly since the conceptual framework of the argument stresses the collective character of reification. Brewster is also quite right in saying that the term ‘paradigmatic’, applied to reification in the economic sphere, is ambivalent. In the context this is intended to mean that the analysis of this category of reifications may serve as a guide to the analysis of other categories, and not to impute a simple economic determinism to Marx, but this should have been made clearer.

The main thrust of Brewster’s critique, however, is in another direction, and there I can only say that he has understood very well certain undeveloped assumptions of the argument (on my part, at any rate, if not Pullberg’s) and put his finger on what I suspect to be a fundamental disagreement on the character of sociological thinking. My own position with regard to this disagreement can be indicated rather simply by saying that, while I regard the integration of some Marxian concepts into sociological theory as very important, I am emphatically not a Marxist—not in the sense of accepting the whole of Marx’s work as valid for sociological understanding, not in the sense of aiming for some sort of neo-Marxist synthesis, and certainly not in the sense of being politically in any of the several Marxist camps. I can well understand that someone who is a Marxist in any of these senses (I do not mean Brewster, whose general position is unknown to me, but anyone who stands ‘on the left’) might be irritated by this conceptual eclecticism, but this cannot be helped. After all, even the Christians have to live with the fact that some people (Marxists, for instance) operate with notions that are derived from Christianity, such as a historical perspective on the human condition, while refusing to accept the Christian scheme as a whole.

Marx understood reification as the result of specific historical conditions, specifically conditions characterized by scarcity and exploitation. I understand reification as a much more general phenomenon grounded in historically recurrent circumstances of human existence in society. This is obviously a rather basic difference. I am not quite clear, though, why my understanding should be ‘psychologistic’ or ‘essentialist’ for that reason. The ‘fundamental terrors of human existence’ are given in the fact that man is a conscious animal fated to die, a fact that has nothing to do with ‘psychology’ or with any ontological speculations about the ‘nature of man’. Incidentally, I would today (the article was written over two years ago) put greater emphasis on certain aspects of the biological constitution of man as analysed by such writers as Buytendijk and Portmann in looking for the propensity to reify, rather than on existentialistic Angst, but I doubt whether this would make Brewster any happier.

My basic difference from a ‘legitimately’ Marxist position shows very clearly (as Brewster has recognized) in the question of de-reification. I am not clear just what he means by calling the examples of de-reification given in the article ‘conjunctural’, but he is correct if he gathers that I would reject both Marx’s understanding of the genesis of reification and his recipe for a collective Sprung in die Freiheit. The former I believe to be mistaken—reification is possible in a society of abundance and equality. The latter I consider Utopian—socialism may be desirable or undesirable for any number of reasons, but its chances of producing reifications of the human world are roughly equal to those of capitalism (though both, under conditions of modern industrialism, have greater chances of de-reification as compared with most preindustrial societies). I doubt whether a non-reified society is possible (as Brewster, in this case incorrectly, imputes to the article), at least for any extended period. Weber’s theory of the ‘routinization of charisma’ is suggestive in this connection. I am inclined to think that dereification as a global societal process (in distinction to de-reification in the social existence of individuals or marginal groups) is possible only in statu nascendi, with new reifications setting in once more at the latest when a new generation must be socialized into a world not made by themselves. Revolutionary upheavals undoubtedly constitute an interesting case of the shattering of reified structures, but they do not have a privileged status when it comes to the reification-prone ‘routinization’ of whatever new structures have come about as a result.

Such a perspective, I admit, is pessimistic. It is probably ‘conservative’. It is certainly not ‘ahistorical’. Can it be part of a ‘critical social theory’? Not in the Marxist sense, to be sure. But it seems to me that the critical force of sociological thinking lies precisely in its consistent ‘humanization’ of the reified structures that posit themselves as if they were given ‘in the nature of things’. Nor does the perspective have to be ‘anti-political’ in its practical implications. Indeed, I think that the political relevance of sociological thinking lies above all in its capacity to see through the reifying distortions of both revolutionary utopianism and anti-revolutionary ideologies. And if it is depressing to say that there is little likelihood of reification ever vanishing from human society, let us also say that there is something left to choose between those reifications that justify murder and others that make it easier to dispense with sexual polymorphism, for instance. Thus both racism and a belief in sexual ‘normality’ require specific reifications, but it makes sense to me to act violently to stop people from killing off their neighbours while remaining quite ‘conservative’ when people marry each other in the faith that this is the ‘normal’ thing to do. But then, as I must also concede, I am very modest in my political hopes.