Robert Fine was among the most original social theorists in Britain of the past 30 years, and the aim of this paper is to offer a first systematic assessment of his intellectual contribution. There are sound intellectual reasons to explore Fine’s scholarship. He maintained a problematic relation with mainstream sociology and, against the reduction of sociology to questions of method, culture, or class, he argued that sociologists must continue to ask difficult normative questions as part of the social world they ought to explain. And there are also pressing political concerns that justify a reconsideration of his writings. Global politics is currently marked by a populist wave that decries the very ideas and values that were central to Fine’s social theory: the need to uphold the rule of law at home and abroad, the politics of cosmopolitan solidarity, and the significance of antisemitism and its relationships with different forms of authoritarian politics. My main argument is that there is a dialectics of universality that drives forward Fine’s intellectual project. By this, I mean that a universalistic idea of humanity—an all-inclusive conception of all human beings—is the most important normative intuition of modern times. This idea of humanity moves forward in history through a dual process of emancipation and domination: successful forms of social, legal, and political inclusion help make visible previous dynamics of exclusion but may also create or recreate discriminatory practices. Building on the work of French historian Michael Löwy on heterodox Jewish thinkers, I explain the three main tenets of Fine’s work: (a) his reconstruction of critical social theory; (b) the notion of cosmopolitan solidarity; and (c) the significance and main features of modern antisemitism.
- heterodox Jews
- social theory