This paper argues that Niklas Luhmann’s theory of modem society’s differentiation into autopoietically operating subsystems is widely accepted on false grounds. Modem society’s empirical differentiation into relatively autonomous subsystems is falsely taken as the empirical point of reference for Luhmann’s theory. Luhmann, his advocates and his critics; however; conflate analytical differentiation with empirical differentiation which occurs on a basis completely opposite to autopoiesis. Empirical differentiation consists of the permanent production and reproduction of codes and programs for economic, political, legal or other types of action by societal struggles which include elements of cultural legitimation, legal regulation, political enforcement and economic calculation. Such codes and programs are not evolutionary universals but historically particular institutions. Secondary conservative and critical interests support Luhmann’s theory because they take it as a reflection of what they want either to preserve or to change, as the case many be.
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