The Frankfurt School in Exile

Frankfurt School
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It was, as such, probably the last school, in the strict sense of the term, in the Western philosophical tradition. There has been no other since that has so decisively coalesced around a central body of thought, and a sustained critical methodology. Instead of proletarian revolution in the West, what appeared was a fresh consolidation of economic power in the hands of old and new capitalist forces. The continent-wide depression that followed the Wall Street crash of had been a major destabilising force, but the reign of capital continued unchecked, and against a background of privation and unemployment, sinister new political forces were rallying.

Working people were being recruited to the opposite of their own liberation, in the form of mass nationalist movements that would culminate in fascist dictatorships in Italy, Germany, Austria and Spain — and then in a new, more terrible global conflict.

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Not only did these thinkers diagnose the destructive forces at work in the European societies around them, but they exemplified them in their own lives. The diaspora first fled to neutral Switzerland, where an attempt was made to re-establish the Institute in Geneva. Adorno went to Oxford University, where he undertook four years of doctoral research at Merton College.

Eventually, the Institute would find a collective refuge in the United States, first in New York and then, from the beginning of the s, in California, in the midst of a community of deracinated European exiles. T he one notable exception was Walter Benjamin, who had been living in indigent isolation in Paris since Germany had succumbed to the Nazis.

With a small band of refugees, he undertook an arduous crossing of the Pyrenees on foot, hoping to be granted safe passage through Spain and Portugal, and then sail from Lisbon to the American refuge that his colleagues had managed to secure for him. Benjamin apparently killed himself in a hotel room with an overdose of morphine, although some believe he was assassinated by local agents of the Soviet secret service, the NKVD.

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Stuart rated it it was ok Dec 07, No physical or electronic security system is impenetrable however and you should take your own precautions to protect the security of any personally identifiable information you transmit. Culture itself was subject to a kind of factory production in the cinema and recording industries. The purpose of the following bibliography is to provide the newcomer with an overview of the most important primary works of the central figures of the Frankfurt School, as well as a small sampling of the voluminous secondary literature. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin. Cambridge, MA: Polity.

They owed the country a debt of gratitude for their survival, but they diagnosed American society with every ill that afflicted the democratic world in magnified form. Their most widely disseminated theory appeared in a book published in German in , co-authored by Adorno and Horkheimer, named Dialectic of Enlightenment. In it, they attempt nothing less than a new history of Western development by overturning the standard narrative of a gradual progress from the benighted mythical beliefs of primeval times to the dawn of rationality in the early modern era, culminating in the advance of freethinking and the scientific breakthroughs of the age of Enlightenment.

To the authors, this linear narrative from darkness to light overlooked the evident fact that, in the allegedly enlightened 20th century, humanity had succumbed to barbarity. Yet the fully enlightened earth radiates disaster triumphant. It had only converted the old myths into a new one called rationality. When rationalism became an autonomous force in human affairs, in which the coldness of scientific procedures, deductive logic and the reign of factuality overcame natural human impulses, the stage was set for what critical theory calls reification: the transformation of living entities and processes into inert objects or things.

Although their consumption patterns in the mass are vital, as individuals, consumers count for nothing. Dialectic of Enlightenment is not an argument for irrationalism. What it seeks to show is that instrumental reason, once it becomes an authority to which human affairs must submit, ends up exercising a tyranny over human beings that turns their societies into soulless machines, and infects relations between individuals as well.

Once they become the components of a rationally ordered mechanical system, something of their humanity has been robbed from them. The human race has become divorced from the very natural world on which it depended for survival in primordial times. This traumatic separation has led to a progressive subjugation of nature to human ends, as in the gathering industrialisation of the advanced economies.

The alienation of humankind from its natural origins helped prepare the spectacular descent into inhumanity that unfolded around the Frankfurt School, the burning of books paving the way for the bureaucratic destruction of whole classes of society, as millions perished in camps where the killing was as industrialised as everything else.

At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, a new industrialised culture began to emerge, controlled by gigantic media corporations like the Hollywood film industry, recording companies and commercial radio. Not only have these institutions replaced genuine works of art with mass-produced garbage, they also manipulate people into acquiescing in the status quo and accepting capitalist values. Consumers are given to understand that although their consumption patterns in the mass are vital, they, as individuals, count for nothing.

To that extent, the authors saw no functional difference in the conveyor-belt production of delusion by the American culture industry and the sledgehammer propaganda techniques of European dictatorships. The political impetus that drives this theory has its roots in Marxism, but it is a Marxism retheorised for the era in which the expected revolutionary transformation of industrial societies never materialised.

The revolution had either degenerated into tyranny, as in Russia, or it failed altogether where capitalism was at its most advanced, as in America. Even if it has obvious continuities with the work of the younger Karl Marx, author of the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of , it is doubtful whether the fully elaborated economics of Capital retained all its authority for Frankfurt critical theory.

If the failings of society were to be accurately and effectively diagnosed in microscopic detail, nothing should be seen as too trivial to fall within the scope of a critical theory.

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All this is a sine qua non of Frankfurt social exposition. Where Adorno and Horkheimer departed from Marx was in the idea that the ideologically deceptive institutions of an unjust society would inevitably generate from within them a class whose radical discontent would put paid to those same institutions once and for all. In the midst of the Second World War, and the mass outbreak of violently repressive, mythically delusional politics on the European continent, the victory of a revolutionary proletariat had itself passed into mythology.

Then there is the question of social collectivity, without which revolutionary movements and parties stood no chance of overthrowing existing state structures. When collectivism fails in this endeavour, it is reconstituted into a tool of ideological domination. What underpins the mass of philosophical and applied sociological investigations that the Institute undertook during its period of wartime exile in the US is a concern for the fate of the individual in mass society.

The Frankfurt School

As the industrial economies of the West became subject to automation and an increasingly brutal division of labour between mental and manual tasks, individuals came to be ever more subordinated to the collective that they theoretically constituted, but which was now fast becoming an independent structure of prohibitive authority to which all must submit. Rather than being the medium in which human hope for liberation might be invested, the social collective was now a repressive structure that swept everybody under its homogenising sway.

Society had become a functional law unto itself, in accord with the principle of instrumental reason, and what that resulted in, at the level of individual human beings and their psychology, was a more desperate struggle for self-preservation than they had known since they lived in rock-shelters. That struggle, more than anything else, is what had put paid to the idea of a historically decisive transformation of society by those of its elements who had the least to lose.

What haunted them was the evidence, everywhere to be found in the Federal Republic of Germany to which Adorno returned in , that the fascist era was being airbrushed from history, erased from collective memory in an act of repression. The fear was not only that it was being forgotten in itself, but that if not remembered, it was likely to resurface in unpredictable forms. One of the first books that Adorno had published on his return to Germany was a collection of short essays entitled Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life Throughout the text is woven a mood of profound melancholy, a wounding sense that the old world has passed, the old culture of the European Enlightenment had failed in its civilising mission — and what remains is a society of highly trained automata, consuming the flotsam of a junk culture that cares nothing for them, while it does its best to convey the opposite impression.

One day, the whole human enterprise may be redeemed in some presently unimaginable way, and whether that outcome is a realistic prospect or not is virtually irrelevant in view of the necessity of not resigning oneself to irreconcilable defeat. Was there, even vestigially, any possibility that something like Auschwitz could happen again? The Frankfurt thinkers worried over this question to a degree that led them to see harbingers of mass murder in the use of insecticide, or even in apparently innocuous things such as the new sliding windows using which required more imperious movements than the placid opening and closing of casements.

Though occasionally extreme, these fears reflect the notion that mass psychosis does not spring fully formed from nowhere into murderous existence, but has its roots in habits of thinking, in coldness, indifference, the mechanised timetabled life — that is, in the reign of instrumental rationality. When widespread protest erupted on university campuses and among industrial labourers in the later s, so did a measure of dissension among the first Frankfurt generation. His book One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society became one of the required texts of the countercultural movements of this period, and when student revolt blew up across the Western world, from onward, Marcuse urged all dissident thinkers to support it.

In Frankfurt, to his exasperation, they took a rather different view. Adorno, now director of the Institute, saw nothing but pointless pseudo-activity in most of the sit-ins and demonstrations, and in committed what many saw as the enormity of calling the police to remove a student occupation at the Institute premises.

The Architects of Western Decline A Study on the Frankfurt School and Cultural Marxism

Student radicalism fizzled out as the first generation of Frankfurt thinkers passed away. The constant stress brought on by tear-gas on the campus and rowdy oppositionism in the lecture halls sent Adorno to an early grave in , dead of a coronary thrombosis at The collective and individual work of the scholars affiliated with the Institute for Social Research had a tremendous impact on 20th-century intellectual life in a wide variety of areas, including philosophy, sociology, psychology, social psychology, sociology of literature, musicology, aesthetics, history, political and legal theory, cultural studies, economics, communication, and media studies.

The influence of the Institute also extended beyond the academy, most notably perhaps in the impact of its writings on the protest movements of the s in Western Europe and the United States. The purpose of the following bibliography is to provide the newcomer with an overview of the most important primary works of the central figures of the Frankfurt School, as well as a small sampling of the voluminous secondary literature.

Primary and secondary works have been chosen based mainly on their significance, but a number of works have also been selected because they provide ideal points of entry for those unfamiliar with Critical Theory or any of its individual practitioners. These include core members, such as Theodor W. Due to space limitations, this bibliography will also include only works written in or translated into English. Those seeking a broad overview of the history of the Frankfurt School should begin with Jay and Wiggershaus Jay was the first comprehensive study and it remains the best introduction, although it does not cover the period after Wiggershaus extends into the s and s.

The latter is the briefest and most accessible. Bronner, Steven Eric. Critical theory: A very short introduction. Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. DOI: Written by one of the foremost scholars of Critical Theory and Western Marxism, this is probably the best place to begin for anyone who knows nothing about the Frankfurt School. Bronner succeeds in portraying clearly and succinctly the most important ideas of Critical Theory as well as the historical, social, political, and biographical force fields out of which it emerged.

He also reflects astutely on how the tradition should be rethought in order to remain relevant today. Held, David. Introduction to critical theory: Horkheimer to Habermas. Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. This study provides a generally reliable thematic overview of the most important theoretical concerns of the central figures of the Frankfurt School—with a particular emphasis on Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, and Habermas—from the s until the s.

Held attempts to refute some of the common criticisms of the Critical Theorists, such as, they abandoned Marx, fell back into an idealist position, were too distant from working-class politics, and focused too much on questions of aesthetics and cultural criticism. Jay, Martin. Boston: Little, Brown. Based on extensive interviews with original members of the Institute, this was the first comprehensive scholarly study of the history of the Frankfurt School and remains the standard introductory work. Jay provides a balanced and richly detailed overview of the origins and development of the Institute for Social Research through He discusses its collective empirical projects, as well as the writings of its principal protagonists on a wide variety of subjects, including fascism, culture, aesthetics, and the philosophy of history.

He also introduces the reader to a broad cast of supporting characters who worked with the Institute from the early s until Kellner, Douglas. Critical Theory, Marxism and modernity. Baltimore: John Hopkins Univ. Kellner provides a clear, introductory overview of the main ideas and debates that shaped the Frankfurt School from the s to the s. He also attempts to move beyond a purely intellectual historical or philosophical approach, by examining how it is still relevant to critical social theory and radical politics.

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The latter discussion of Critical Theory and its relationship to postmodernism are dated, but the earlier historical sections of the book are still helpful.