Castells & Epic Tradition

Manuel Castells’ Information Age Trilogy and the Epic Tradition of Political Theory: Marxist and Weberian Transformations

Abstract / Overview  (for full paper, see CastellsEpicTheoryDraft):

The dimensions and accomplishments of Manuel Castells’ Information Age trilogy can be gleaned from the first couple of pages of links provided by an online search, enough perhaps to encourage us to ask, how does Castells’ major opus stack up against the Great Books.

This essay takes a look at that comparison from the perspective of “The Epic Tradition of Political Theory” and, for consideration and discussion, shows how its inclusion among that collection provides, for those acquainted with Castells, a new benchmark by which to measure and critique his achievement. For those acquainted with Political Theory, it provides a challenge to consider a decidedly recent and modern (or post-modern) contribution and a striking new vision for the present.

The idea of “The Epic Tradition of Political Theory” was coined by Sheldon Wolin in the late 1960’s, in a lecture and then monograph on “Thomas Hobbes and the Epic Tradition of Political Theory” and in an article in the American Political Science Review, “Political Theory as a Vocation.” Some of the key features of the Epic Tradition — its scope, the impulses behind it and the agonistic, competitive relationship among its members, the nature of its achievement —help elucidate a way of seeing Castells’ trilogy that should be useful to his defenders and critics alike.

As the Epic Tradition characteristically provides one if not more overlapping and reinforcing visions that give a focus with a depth, range, and emotional dimensions, a key reference point for rooting a contribution in the deepest foundations of its culture, Castells’ trilogy begins with an extraordinary picture and vision of the world that is at once detailed as well as presented in the broad strokes of an overarching revised view of the globe and universe.

Castells’ vision is provided right in the opening section of the Prologue. This essay will invite a close examination of those four pages in some detail and in anticipation of what is to come, pointing out some of the dramatic and especially new language used to describe our emerging, networked world, suggesting how its condensed outline structure provides a guided gateway to the whole of the first volume and then the entire trilogy.

In turning to Castells’ relationship and engagement with those whose contributions make up the Epic Tradition, our focus will be on his relationship with two of its more recent members: Karl Marx and Max Weber.

Scholars and critics pay homage to Castells’ critiques and comparisons, both those he makes and those pointed out by others, and some of the special dimensions and his relationship with Marxism and Weberian science and with Marx and Weber’s accomplishments.

Castells’ trilogy, The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture, echoes and challenges both Marx’s three-volume Capital: Critique of Political Economy, based on the distinctiveness and new stage and mode of Informational Capitalism arising at the turn of the millennium and still developing, and Weber’s posthumous magnum opus, Economy and Society, and The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism that Castells wants to update with a presentation of the new Spirit of Informational Capitalism, or just, as he titles the section, “The Spirit of Informationalism.”

Finally we will turn to some of Castells’ pronouncements about the political world, one that is both close to what we ordinarily appreciate as politics as well as the wider and deeper world generally connoted by and associated with the phrase “political theory.” Here we will emphasize, along side the developing shape of the network society, the element of contingency that is found in and honors the political world, most recently in the Occupy movement and the recent revolutions in the Middle East and other parts of the world and their failures as we have moved into the new millennium. It is this final appreciation, of the cruciality of yet-to-be-determined-outcomes, that helps us see Castells’ accomplishment as an achievement of political theory.



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