Frankfurt School

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The Frankfurt School (Frankfurter Schule) is a school of social theory and critical philosophy associated with the Institute for Social Research, at Goethe University Frankfurt. Founded in the Weimar Republic (1918–33), during the European interwar period (1918–39), the Frankfurt School comprised intellectuals, academics, and political dissidents who were ill-fitted to the contemporary socio-economic systems (capitalist, fascist, communist) of the 1930s. The Frankfurt theorists proposed that social theory was inadequate for explaining the turbulent political factionalism and reactionary politics occurring in ostensibly liberal capitalist societies in the 20th century. Critical of both capitalism and Marxism–Leninism as philosophically inflexible systems of social organisation, the School's critical theory research indicated alternative paths to realising the social development of a society and a nation. [1]

Goethe University Frankfurt university in Frankfurt, Germany

Goethe University Frankfurt is a university located in Frankfurt, Germany. It was founded in 1914 as a citizens' university, which means it was founded and funded by the wealthy and active liberal citizenry of Frankfurt. The original name was Universität Frankfurt am Main. In 1932, the university's name was extended in honour of one of the most famous native sons of Frankfurt, the poet, philosopher and writer/dramatist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The university currently has around 45,000 students, distributed across four major campuses within the city.

Weimar Republic Germany state in the years 1918/1919–1933

The Weimar Republic is an unofficial historical designation for the German state from 1918 to 1933. The name derives from the city of Weimar, where its constitutional assembly first took place. The official name of the republic remained Deutsches Reich unchanged from 1871, because of the German tradition of substates. Although commonly translated as "German Empire", the word Reich here better translates as "realm", in that the term does not have monarchical connotations in itself. The Reich was changed from a constitutional monarchy into a republic. In English, the country was usually known simply as Germany.

Interwar period Period between the end of World War I and the beginning of World War II

In the context of the history of the 20th century, the interwar period was the period between the end of the First World War in November 1918 and the beginning of the Second World War in September 1939. This period is also colloquially referred to as Between the Wars.

Contents

The Frankfurt School perspective of critical investigation (open-ended and self-critical) is based upon Freudian, Marxist and Hegelian premises of idealist philosophy. [2] To fill the omissions of 19th-century classical Marxism, which could not address 20th-century social problems, they applied the methods of antipositivist sociology, of psychoanalysis, and of existentialism. [3] The School’s sociologic works derived from syntheses of the thematically pertinent works of:

Classical Marxism economic, philosophical, and sociological theories expounded by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

Classical Marxism refers to the economic, philosophical and sociological theories expounded by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels as contrasted with later developments in Marxism, especially Leninism and Marxism–Leninism.

In social science, antipositivism is a theoretical stance that proposes that the social realm cannot be studied with the scientific method of investigation applied to Nature and that investigation of the social realm requires a different epistemology. Fundamental to that antipositivist epistemology is the belief that the concepts and language that researchers use in their researches shape their perceptions of the social world they are investigating, studying, and defining.

Psychoanalysis psychological theory that was founded in 1890 by the Viennese neurologist Sigmund Freud

Psychoanalysis is a set of theories and therapeutic techniques related to the study of the unconscious mind, which together form a method of treatment for mental-health disorders. The discipline was established in the early 1890s by Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud and stemmed partly from the clinical work of Josef Breuer and others. Psychoanalysis was later developed in different directions, mostly by students of Freud such as Alfred Adler and Carl Gustav Jung, and by neo-Freudians such as Erich Fromm, Karen Horney and Harry Stack Sullivan. Freud retained the term psychoanalysis for his own school of thought.

Immanuel Kant Prussian philosopher

Immanuel Kant was an influential German philosopher in the Age of Enlightenment. In his doctrine of transcendental idealism, he argued that space, time, and causation are mere sensibilities; "things-in-themselves" exist, but their nature is unknowable. In his view, the mind shapes and structures experience, with all human experience sharing certain structural features. He drew a parallel to the Copernican revolution in his proposition that worldly objects can be intuited a priori ('beforehand'), and that intuition is therefore independent from objective reality. Kant believed that reason is the source of morality, and that aesthetics arise from a faculty of disinterested judgment. Kant's views continue to have a major influence on contemporary philosophy, especially the fields of epistemology, ethics, political theory, and post-modern aesthetics.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel German philosopher who influenced German idealism

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was a German philosopher and an important figure of German idealism. He achieved wide recognition in his day and—while primarily influential within the continental tradition of philosophy—has become increasingly influential in the analytic tradition as well. Although Hegel remains a divisive figure, his canonical stature within Western philosophy is universally recognized.

Karl Marx German philosopher, economist, historian, sociologist, political theorist and journalist

Karl Marx was a German philosopher, economist, historian, sociologist, political theorist, journalist and socialist revolutionary.

Like Karl Marx, the Frankfurt School concerned themselves with the conditions (political, economic, societal) that allow for social change realised by way of rational social institutions. [6] The emphasis upon the critical component of social theory derived from surpassing the ideological limitations of positivism, materialism, and determinism, by returning to the critical philosophy of Kant, and his successors in German idealism—principally the philosophy of G.W.F. Hegel, which emphasised dialectic and contradiction as intellectual properties inherent to the human grasp of material reality.

Social change Role of social change in society

Social change involves alteration of the social order of a society. It may include changes in social institutions, social behaviours or social relations.

Positivism philosophy of science based on the view that information derived from scientific observation is the exclusive source of all authoritative knowledge

Positivism is a philosophical theory stating that certain ("positive") knowledge is based on natural phenomena and their properties and relations. Thus, information derived from sensory experience, interpreted through reason and logic, forms the exclusive source of all certain knowledge. Positivism holds that valid knowledge is found only in this a posteriori knowledge.

Materialism is a form of philosophical monism which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all things, including mental states and consciousness, are results of material interactions. According to philosophical materialism, mind and consciousness are by-products or epiphenomena of material processes without which they cannot exist. This concept directly contrasts with idealism, where mind and consciousness are first-order realities to which matter is subject and material interactions are secondary.

Since the 1960s, the critical-theory work of the Institute for Social Research has been guided by Jürgen Habermas, in the fields of communicative rationality, linguistic intersubjectivity, and "the philosophical discourse of modernity"; [7] nonetheless, the critical theorists Raymond Geuss and Nikolas Kompridis opposed the propositions of Habermas, claiming he has undermined the original social-change purposes of critical-theory-problems, such as:

Jürgen Habermas German sociologist and philosopher

Jürgen Habermas is a German philosopher and sociologist in the tradition of critical theory and pragmatism. He is perhaps best known for his theories on communicative rationality and the public sphere.

Communicative rationality

Communicative rationality or communicative reason is a theory or set of theories which describes human rationality as a necessary outcome of successful communication. In particular, it is tied to the philosophy of German philosophers Karl-Otto Apel and Jürgen Habermas, and their program of universal pragmatics, along with its related theories such as those on discourse ethics and rational reconstruction. This view of reason is concerned with clarifying the norms and procedures by which agreement can be reached, and is therefore a view of reason as a form of public justification.

Intersubjectivity, in philosophy, psychology, sociology, and anthropology, is the psychological relation between people. It is usually used in contrast to solipsistic individual experience, emphasizing our inherently social being.

Reason is the capacity of consciously making sense of things, establishing and verifying facts, applying logic, and adapting or justifying practices, institutions, and beliefs based on new or existing information. It is closely associated with such characteristically human activities as philosophy, science, language, mathematics and art, and is normally considered to be a distinguishing ability possessed by humans. Reason, or an aspect of it, is sometimes referred to as rationality.

Emancipation is any effort to procure economic and social rights, political rights or equality, often for a specifically disenfranchised group, or more generally, in discussion of such matters. Emancipation stems from ēx manus capere. Among others, Karl Marx discussed political emancipation in his 1844 essay "On the Jewish Question", although often in addition to the term human emancipation. Marx's views of political emancipation in this work were summarized by one writer as entailing "equal status of individual citizens in relation to the state, equality before the law, regardless of religion, property, or other 'private' characteristics of individual people."

History

Institute for Social Research

The Institute for Social Research, Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Ffm-adorno-ampel001.jpg
The Institute for Social Research, Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

The term Frankfurt School informally describes the works of scholarship and the intellectuals who were the Institute for Social Research (Institut für Sozialforschung), an adjunct organization at Goethe University Frankfurt, founded in 1923, by Carl Grünberg, a Marxist professor of law at the University of Vienna. [9] As such, the Frankfurt School was the first Marxist research center at a German university, and originated through the largesse of the wealthy student Felix Weil (1898–1975). [3]

At university, Weil’s doctoral dissertation dealt with the practical problems of implementing socialism. In 1922, he organized the First Marxist Workweek  (Erste Marxistische Arbeitswoche) in effort to synthesize different trends of Marxism into a coherent, practical philosophy; the first symposium included György Lukács and Karl Korsch, Karl August Wittfogel and Friedrich Pollock. The success of the First Marxist Workweek prompted the formal establishment of a permanent institute for social research, and Weil negotiated with the Ministry of Education for a university professor to be director of the Institute for Social Research, thereby, formally ensuring that the Frankfurt School would be a university institution. [10]

Korsch and Lukács participated in the Arbeitswoche, which included the study of Marxism and Philosophy (1923), by Karl Korsch, but their communist-party membership precluded their active participation in the Institute for Social Research (Frankfurt School); yet Korsch participated in the School's publishing venture. Moreover, the political correctness by which the Communists compelled Lukács to repudiate his book History and Class Consciousness (1923) indicated that political, ideological, and intellectual independence from the communist party was a necessary work condition for realising the production of knowledge. [10]

The philosophical tradition of the Frankfurt School — the multi-disciplinary integration of the social sciences — is associated with the philosopher Max Horkheimer, who became the director in 1930, and recruited intellectuals such as Theodor W. Adorno (philosopher, sociologist, musicologist), Erich Fromm (psychoanalyst), and Herbert Marcuse (philosopher). [3]

European interwar period (1918–39)

In the Weimar Republic (1918–33), the continual, political turmoils of the interwar years (1918–39) much affected the development of the critical theory philosophy of the Frankfurt School. The scholars were especially influenced by the Communists’ failed German Revolution of 1918–19 (which Marx predicted) and by the rise of Nazism (1933–45), a German form of fascism. To explain such reactionary politics, the Frankfurt scholars applied critical selections of Marxist philosophy to interpret, illuminate, and explain the origins and causes of reactionary socio-economics in 20th-century Europe (a type of political economy unknown to Marx in the 19th century). The School’s further intellectual development derived from the publication, in the 1930s, of the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 (1932) and The German Ideology (1932), in which Karl Marx showed logical continuity with Hegelianism, as the basis of Marxist philosophy.

As the anti-intellectual threat of Nazism increased to political violence, the founders decided to move the Institute for Social Research out of Nazi Germany (1933–45). [11] Soon after Adolf Hitler's rise to power in 1933, the Institute first moved from Frankfurt to Geneva, and then to New York City, in 1935, where the Frankfurt School joined Columbia University. In the event, the School’s journal, the Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung ("Magazine of Social Research") was renamed "Studies in Philosophy and Social Science". Thence began the period of the School’s important work in Marxist critical theory; the scholarship and the investigational method gained acceptance among the academy, in the U.S and in the U.K. By the 1950s, the paths of scholarship led Horkheimer, Adorno, and Pollock to return to West Germany, whilst Marcuse, Löwenthal, and Kirchheimer remained in the U.S. In 1953, the Institute for Social Research (Frankfurt School) was formally re-established in Frankfurt, West Germany. [12]

Theorists

As a term, the Frankfurt School usually comprises the intellectuals Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, and Herbert Marcuse, Leo Löwenthal and Friedrich Pollock. [6] Although initially of the FS's inner circle, Jürgen Habermas was the first to diverge from Horkheimer's research program, as a new generation of critical theoreticians.

Critical theory

The works of the Frankfurt School are understood in the context of the intellectual and practical objectives of critical theory. In Traditional and Critical Theory (1937), Max Horkheimer defined critical theory as social critique meant to effect sociologic change and realize intellectual emancipation, by way of enlightenment that is not dogmatic in its assumptions. [14] [15] The purpose of critical theory is to analyze the true significance of the ruling understandings (the dominant ideology) generated in bourgeois society, by showing that the dominant ideology misrepresents how human relations occur in the real world, and how such misrepresentations function to justify and legitimate the domination of people by capitalism.

In the praxis of cultural hegemony, the dominant ideology is a ruling-class narrative story, which explains that what is occurring in society is the norm. Nonetheless, the story told through the ruling understandings conceals as much as it reveals about society, hence, the task of the Frankfurt School was sociological analysis and interpretation of the areas of social-relation that Marx did not discuss in the 19th century — especially in the base and superstructure aspects of a capitalist society. [16]

Horkheimer opposed critical theory to traditional theory, wherein the word theory is applied in the positivistic sense of scientism, in the sense of a purely observational mode, which finds and establishes scientific law (generalizations) about the real world. That the social sciences differ from the natural sciences inasmuch as scientific generalizations are not readily derived from experience, because the researcher’s understanding of a social experience always is shaped by the ideas in the mind of the researcher. What the researcher does not understand is that he or she is within an historical context, wherein ideologies shape human thought, thus, the results for the theory being tested would conform to the ideas of the researcher, rather than conform to the facts of the experience proper; in Traditional and Critical Theory (1937), Horkheimer said:

The facts, which our senses present to us, are socially performed in two ways: through the historical character of the object perceived, and through the historical character of the perceiving organ. Both are not simply natural; they are shaped by human activity, and yet the individual perceives himself as receptive and passive in the act of perception. [17]

For Horkheimer, the methods of investigation applicable to the social sciences cannot imitate the scientific method applicable to the natural sciences. In that vein, the theoretical approaches of positivism and pragmatism, of neo-Kantianism and phenomenology failed to surpass the ideological constraints that restricted their application to social science, because of the inherent logico–mathematic prejudice that separates theory from actual life, i.e. such methods of investigation seek a logic that is always true, and independent of and without consideration for continuing human activity in the field under study. That the appropriate response to such a dilemma was the development of a critical theory of Marxism. [18]

Because the problem was epistemological, Horkheimer said that "we should reconsider not merely the scientist, but the knowing individual, in general." [19] Unlike Orthodox Marxism, which applies a template to critique and to action, critical theory is self-critical, with no claim to the universality of absolute truth. As such, critical theory does not grant primacy to matter (materialism) or to consciousness (idealism), because each epistemology distorts the reality under study, to the benefit of a small group. In practice, critical theory is outside the philosophical strictures of traditional theory; however, as a way of thinking and of recovering humanity’s self-knowledge, critical theory draws investigational resources and methods from Marxism. [15]

Dialectical method

The Frankfort School reformulated dialectics into a concrete method of investigation, derived from the Hegelian philosophy that an idea will pass over into its own negation, as the result of conflict between the inherently contradictory aspects of the idea. [20] In opposition to previous modes of reasoning, which viewed things in abstraction, each by itself and as though endowed with fixed properties, Hegelian dialectics considers ideas according to their movement and change in time, according to their interrelations and interactions. [20]

In Hegel's perspective, human history proceeds and evolves in a dialectical manner: the present embodies the rational Aufheben (sublation), the synthesis of past contradictions. History thus is an intelligible process of human activity, the Weltgeist , which is the Idea of Progress towards a specific human condition — the realization of human freedom through rationality. [21] However, the Problem of future contingents, of considerations about the future, did not interest Hegel, [22] [23] for whom philosophy cannot be prescriptive and normative, because philosophy understands only in hindsight. The study of history is thus limited to descriptions of past and present human realities. [21] Hence, for Hegel and his successors (the Right Hegelians), dialectics inevitably lead to the approval of the status quo — as such, dialectical philosophy justified the bases of Christian theology and of the Prussian state.

Karl Marx and the Young Hegelians strongly criticized that perspective, that Hegel had over-reached in defending his abstract conception of "absolute Reason" and had failed to notice the "real"— i.e. undesirable and irrational — life conditions of the proletariat. Marx inverted Hegel's idealist dialectics and advanced his own theory of dialectical materialism, arguing that "it is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness." [24] Marx's theory follows a materialist conception of history and geographic space, [25] where the development of the productive forces is the primary motive force for historical change, and, according to which, the social and material contradictions inherent to capitalism lead to its negation — thereby replacing capitalism with Communism, a new, rational form of society. [26]

Marx used dialectical analysis to learn and know the truth by uncovering the contradictions in the predominant ideas of society, and in the social relations to which they are linked — which exposes the underlying struggle between opposing forces. Therefore, only by becoming aware of the dialectic (i.e. class consciousness) of such opposing forces in a struggle for power, that men and women can intellectually liberate themselves, and so change the existing social order by way of social progress. [27] The Frankfurt School understood that a dialectical method could only be adopted if it could be applied to itself; if they adopted a self-correcting method — a dialectical method that would enable the correction of previous, false interpretations of the dialectical investigation. Accordingly, critical theory rejected the historicism and materialism of Orthodox Marxism. [28]

Influences and early works

Historical context Transition from small-scale capitalism to large-scale capitalism and colonialism; the socialist labour movement matures into a reform movement and fosters the emergence of the welfare state; the Russian Revolution (1917) and the rise of Communism; the neotechnic period; the emergence of mass communications media and of mass popular culture, Modern art; and the rise of Nazism.
Weberian theory Comparative history of Western rationalisation in capitalism, the modern state, secular scientific rationality, culture, and religion; analyses of the forms of dominance hierarchy and of modern rational-legal bureaucratic domination; articulation of the hermeneutic method in the social sciences.
Freudian theory Critique of the psychological repression of the reality principle of advanced civilization, and of the neuroses of daily life; discovery of the unconscious mind, primary-process thinking, and the psychological impact of the Oedipus complex anxiety upon a man's mental health and life; analyses of the psychic bases of the irrational behaviours of authoritarianism.
Antipositivism Critique of positivism as philosophy, as a scientific method, as political ideology and as conformity; rehabilitation of the negative dialectic, return to Hegel; appropriation of critical elements from phenomenology, historicism, existentialism, critique of the ahistorical, idealist tendencies of positivism; critique of logical positivism and pragmatism.
Aesthetic modernismCritique of false and reified experience by breaking traditional forms and language; projection of alternative modes of existence and experience; liberation of the unconscious; consciousness of unique, modern situation; cultural appropriation of the literary devices of Franz Kafka and Marcel Proust, of Arnold Schoenberg and André Breton; critique of the culture industry.
Marxist theory Critique of bourgeois ideology; critique of Marx's theory of alienation (Entfremdung); historical materialism; history as class struggle and the rate of exploitation in different modes of production; systems analysis of capitalism as the extraction of surplus labour; financial crisis theory; democratic socialism, and the classless society.
Culture theoryCritique of Popular culture as the suppression and absorption of individual negation, and as the integration of the individual person to the status quo; critique of Western culture as a culture of social domination; the dialectical differentiation of the emancipatory aspects and the repressive aspects of élite culture; Kierkegaard's critique of the present age, Nietzsche's transvaluation, and Schiller's aesthetic education.

Critique of Western civilization

Dialectic of Enlightenment and Minima Moralia

The second phase of Frankfurt School critical theory centres principally on two works: Adorno and Horkheimer's Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944) and Adorno's Minima Moralia (1951). The authors wrote both works during the Institute's exile in America. While retaining much of a Marxian analysis, in these works critical theory shifted its emphasis from the critique of capitalism to a critique of Western civilization as a whole, as seen in Dialectic of Enlightenment, which uses the Odyssey as a paradigm for their analysis of bourgeois consciousness. In these works, Horkheimer and Adorno present many themes that have come to dominate the social thought of recent years; for instance, their exposition of the domination of nature as a central characteristic of instrumental rationality in Western civilization was made long before ecology and environmentalism had become popular concerns.

The analysis of reason now goes one stage further: The rationality of Western civilization appears as a fusion of domination and technological rationality, bringing all of external and internal nature under the power of the human subject. In the process, however, the subject itself gets swallowed up and no social force analogous to the proletariat can be identified that enables the subject to emancipate itself. Hence the subtitle of Minima Moralia: "Reflections from Damaged Life". In Adorno's words,

For since the overwhelming objectivity of historical movement in its present phase consists so far only in the dissolution of the subject, without yet giving rise to a new one, individual experience necessarily bases itself on the old subject, now historically condemned, which is still for-itself, but no longer in-itself. The subject still feels sure of its autonomy, but the nullity demonstrated to subjects by the concentration camp is already overtaking the form of subjectivity itself. [29]

Consequently, at a time when it appears that reality itself has become the basis for ideology, the greatest contribution that critical theory can make is to explore the dialectical contradictions of individual subjective experience on the one hand, and to preserve the truth of theory on the other. Even dialectical progress is put into doubt: "its truth or untruth is not inherent in the method itself, but in its intention in the historical process." This intention must be oriented toward integral freedom and happiness: "The only philosophy which can be responsibly practiced in face of despair is the attempt to contemplate all things as they would present themselves from the standpoint of redemption." Adorno goes on to distance himself from the "optimism" of orthodox Marxism: "beside the demand thus placed on thought, the question of the reality or unreality of redemption [i.e. human emancipation] itself hardly matters." [30]

From a sociological point of view, both Horkheimer's and Adorno's works contain a certain ambivalence concerning the ultimate source or foundation of social domination, an ambivalence that gave rise to the "pessimism" of the new critical theory over the possibility of human emancipation and freedom. [31] This ambivalence was rooted, of course, in the historical circumstances in which the work was originally produced, in particular, the rise of National Socialism, state capitalism, and mass culture as entirely new forms of social domination that could not be adequately explained within the terms of traditional Marxist sociology. [32] For Adorno and Horkheimer, state intervention in the economy had effectively abolished the tension in capitalism between the "relations of production" and "material productive forces of society"—a tension that, according to traditional Marxist theory, constituted the primary contradiction within capitalism. The previously "free" market (as an "unconscious" mechanism for the distribution of goods) and "irrevocable" private property of Marx's epoch have gradually been replaced by the centralized state planning and socialized ownership of the means of production in contemporary Western societies. [33] The dialectic through which Marx predicted the emancipation of modern society is thus suppressed, effectively being subjugated to a positivist rationality of domination.

Of this second "phase" of the Frankfurt School, philosopher and critical theorist Nikolas Kompridis writes that:

According to the now canonical view of its history, Frankfurt School critical theory began in the 1930s as a fairly confident interdisciplinary and materialist research program, the general aim of which was to connect normative social criticism to the emancipatory potential latent in concrete historical processes. Only a decade or so later, however, having revisited the premises of their philosophy of history, Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment steered the whole enterprise, provocatively and self-consciously, into a skeptical cul-de-sac. As a result they got stuck in the irresolvable dilemmas of the "philosophy of the subject," and the original program was shrunk to a negativistic practice of critique that eschewed the very normative ideals on which it implicitly depended. [34]

Kompridis argues that this "sceptical cul-de-sac" was arrived at with "a lot of help from the once unspeakable and unprecedented barbarity of European fascism," and could not be gotten out of without "some well-marked [exit or] Ausgang, showing the way out of the ever-recurring nightmare in which Enlightenment hopes and Holocaust horrors are fatally entangled." However, this Ausgang, according to Kompridis, would not come until later – purportedly in the form of Jürgen Habermas's work on the intersubjective bases of communicative rationality. [34]

Philosophy of music

Adorno, a trained classical pianist, wrote The Philosophy of Modern Music (1949), in which he, in essence, polemicizes against popular music―because it has become part of the culture industry of advanced capitalist society [ page needed ] and the false consciousness that contributes to social domination. He argued that radical art and music may preserve the truth by capturing the reality of human suffering. Hence:

What radical music perceives is the untransfigured suffering of man [...] The seismographic registration of traumatic shock becomes, at the same time, the technical structural law of music. It forbids continuity and development. Musical language is polarized according to its extreme; towards gestures of shock resembling bodily convulsions on the one hand, and on the other towards a crystalline standstill of a human being whom anxiety causes to freeze in her tracks [...] Modern music sees absolute oblivion as its goal. It is the surviving message of despair from the shipwrecked. [35]

This view of modern art as producing truth only through the negation of traditional aesthetic form and traditional norms of beauty because they have become ideological is characteristic of Adorno and of the Frankfurt School generally. It has been criticized by those who do not share its conception of modern society as a false totality that renders obsolete traditional conceptions and images of beauty and harmony.

In particular, Adorno despised jazz and popular music, viewing it as part of the culture industry, that contributes to the present sustainability of capitalism by rendering it "aesthetically pleasing" and "agreeable". The British philosopher Roger Scruton saw Adorno as producing "reams of turgid nonsense devoted to showing that the American people are just as alienated as Marxism requires them to be, and that their cheerful life-affirming music is a 'fetishized' commodity, expressive of their deep spiritual enslavement to the capitalist machine." [36]

Critical theory and domination

Negative dialectics

With the growth of advanced industrial society during the Cold War era, critical theorists recognized that the path of capitalism and history had changed decisively, that the modes of oppression operated differently, and that the industrial working class no longer remained the determinate negation of capitalism. This led to the attempt to root the dialectic in an absolute method of negativity, as in Marcuse's One-Dimensional Man (1964) and Adorno's Negative Dialectics (1966). During this period the Institute of Social Research resettled in Frankfurt (although many of its associates remained in the United States) with the task not merely of continuing its research but of becoming a leading force in the sociological education and democratization of West Germany. This led to a certain systematization of the Institute's entire accumulation of empirical research and theoretical analysis.

During this period, Frankfurt School critical theory particularly influenced some segments of the left wing and leftist thought, particularly the New Left. Herbert Marcuse has occasionally been described as the theorist or intellectual progenitor of the New Left. Their critique of technology, totality, teleology and (occasionally) civilization is an influence on anarcho-primitivism. Their work also heavily influenced intellectual discourse on popular culture and scholarly popular culture studies.

More importantly, however, the Frankfurt School attempted to define the fate of reason in the new historical period. While Marcuse did so through analysis of structural changes in the labor process under capitalism and inherent features of the methodology of science, Horkheimer and Adorno concentrated on a re-examination of the foundation of critical theory. This effort appears in systematized form in Adorno's Negative Dialectics, which tries to redefine dialectics for an era in which "philosophy, which once seemed obsolete, lives on because the moment to realize it was missed". Negative dialectics expresses the idea of critical thought so conceived that the apparatus of domination cannot co-opt it.

Its central notion, long a focal one for Horkheimer and Adorno, suggests that the original sin of thought lies in its attempt to eliminate all that is other than thought, the attempt by the subject to devour the object, the striving for identity. This reduction makes thought the accomplice of domination. Negative Dialectics rescues the "preponderance of the object", not through a naïve epistemological or metaphysical realism but through a thought based on differentiation, paradox, and ruse: a "logic of disintegration". Adorno thoroughly criticizes Heidegger's fundamental ontology, which he thinks reintroduces idealistic and identity-based concepts under the guise of having overcome the philosophical tradition.

Negative dialectics comprises a monument to the end of the tradition of the individual subject as the locus of criticism. Without a revolutionary working class, the Frankfurt School had no one to rely on but the individual subject. But, as the liberal capitalist social basis of the autonomous individual receded into the past, the dialectic based on it became more and more abstract.

Habermas and communicative rationality

Habermas's work takes the Frankfurt School's abiding interests in rationality, the human subject, democratic socialism, and the dialectical method and overcomes a set of contradictions that always weakened critical theory: the contradictions between the materialist and transcendental methods, between Marxian social theory and the individualist assumptions of critical rationalism between technical and social rationalization, and between cultural and psychological phenomena on the one hand and the economic structure of society on the other.

The Frankfurt School avoided taking a stand on the precise relationship between the materialist and transcendental methods, which led to ambiguity in their writings and confusion among their readers. Habermas's epistemology synthesizes these two traditions by showing that phenomenological and transcendental analysis can be subsumed under a materialist theory of social evolution, while the materialist theory makes sense only as part of a quasi-transcendental theory of emancipatory knowledge that is the self-reflection of cultural evolution. The simultaneously empirical and transcendental nature of emancipatory knowledge becomes the foundation stone of critical theory.

Criticism

Horkheimer and Adorno

In The Theory of the Novel (1971), Georg Lukács said that the Frankfurt School were:

A considerable part of the leading German intelligentsia, including Adorno, have taken up residence in the Grand Hotel Abyss which I described in connection with my critique of Schopenhauer as "a beautiful hotel, equipped with every comfort, on the edge of an abyss, of nothingness, of absurdity. And the daily contemplation of the abyss, between excellent meals or artistic entertainments, can only heighten the enjoyment of the subtle comforts offered." [37]

In "Addendum 1974: The Frankfurt School" (1994) Karl Popper said that:

Marx's own condemnation of our society makes sense. For Marx's theory contains the promise of a better future. But the theory becomes vacuous and irresponsible if this promise is withdrawn, as it is by Adorno and Horkheimer. [38]

Habermas

In his criticism of Habermas, the philosopher Nikolas Kompridis said that a break with the proceduralist ethics of communicative rationality is necessary:

For all its theoretical ingenuity and practical implications, Habermas's reformulation of critical theory is beset by persistent problems of its own ... In my view, the depth of these problems indicate just how wrong was Habermas's expectation that the paradigm change to linguistic intersubjectivity would render "objectless" the dilemmas of the philosophy of the subject. [39] Habermas accused Hegel of creating a conception of reason so "overwhelming" that it solved too well the problem of modernity's [need for] self-reassurance. [40] It seems, however, that Habermas has repeated rather than avoided Hegel's mistake, creating a theoretical paradigm so comprehensive that in one stroke it also solves, too well, the dilemmas of the philosophy of the subject and the problem of modernity's self-reassurance. [41]

That:

The change of paradigm to linguistic intersubjectivity has been accompanied by a dramatic change in critical theory's self-understanding. The priority given to questions of justice and the normative order of society has remodeled critical theory in the image of liberal theories of justice. While this has produced an important contemporary variant of liberal theories of justice, different enough to be a challenge to liberal theory, but not enough to preserve sufficient continuity with critical theory's past, it has severely weakened the identity of critical theory and inadvertently initiated its premature dissolution. [42]

That to prevent that premature dissolution critical theory should be reinvented as a philosophic enterprise that discloses possibilities by way of Heidegger's world disclosure, by drawing from the sources of normativity that were blocked by the change of paradigm. [43]

Psychoanalytic categorization

The historian Christopher Lasch criticized the Frankfurt School for their initial tendency of "automatically" rejecting opposing political criticisms, based upon "psychiatric" grounds:

The Authoritarian Personality [1950] had a tremendous influence on [Richard] Hofstadter, and other liberal intellectuals, because it showed them how to conduct political criticism in psychiatric categories, [and] to make those categories bear the weight of political criticism. This procedure excused them from the difficult work of judgment and argumentation. Instead of arguing with opponents, they simply dismissed them on psychiatric grounds. [44]

Economics and communications media

During the 1980s, anti-authoritarian socialists in the United Kingdom and New Zealand criticised the rigid and determinist view of popular culture deployed within the Frankfurt School theories of capitalist culture, which seemed to preclude any prefigurative role for social critique within such work. They argued that EC Comics often did contain such cultural critiques. [45] [46] Recent criticism of the Frankfurt School by the libertarian Cato Institute focused on the claim that culture has grown more sophisticated and diverse as a consequence of free markets and the availability of niche cultural text for niche audiences. [47] [48]

Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory

Definition and Culture War usage

In contemporary usage, the term Cultural Marxism refers to an anti-semitic conspiracy theory which claims that the Frankfurt School is part of an ongoing academic and intellectual effort to undermine and destroy Western culture. [49] According to the conspiracy theory, which emerged in the late 1990s, the Frankfurt School and other Marxist theorists were part of a conspiracy to attack Western society by undermining traditionalist conservatism using the 1960s counterculture, multiculturalism, progressive politics and political correctness. [50] [51] [52]

This conspiracy theory is associated with American religious paleoconservatives such as William S. Lind, Pat Buchanan, and Paul Weyrich; but also holds currency among the alt-right, white nationalist groups, and the neo-reactionary movement. [53] [54]

In 1998 Weyrich presented his version of the Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory in a speech to the Conservative Leadership Conference of the Civitas Institute and then published the speech in his syndicated Culture war letter. [55] At Weyrich's request, William S. Lind wrote a short history of his conception of Cultural Marxism for the Free Congress Foundation; in it Lind identifies the presence of openly gay people on television as proof of Cultural Marxist control over the mass media and claims that Herbert Marcuse considered a coalition of "blacks, students, feminist women, and homosexuals" as a vanguard of cultural revolution. [50] [51] [56]

In 2014 Lind pseudonymously published Victoria: A Novel of 4th Generation Warfare, by Thomas Hobbes, about a societal apocalypse in which Cultural Marxism deposes traditional conservatism as the culture of the Western world. Ultimately, a Christian military victory deposes social liberalism and reestablishes a traditionalist and theocratic socioeconomic order based upon British Victorian morality of the late 19th century. [57] [58] The anti–Marxism of Lind and Weyrich advocates political confrontation and intellectual opposition to Cultural Marxism with "a vibrant cultural conservatism" composed of "retro-culture fashions", a return to railroads as public transport, and an agrarian culture of self-reliance, modeled after that of the Christian Amish folk. [59] In the Dialectic of Counter-Enlightenment: The Frankfurt School as Scapegoat of the Lunatic Fringe (2011), the historian Martin Jay said that Lind's documentary of conservative counter-culture, Political Correctness: The Frankfurt School (1999), was effective propaganda, because it:

spawned a number of condensed textual versions, which were reproduced on a number of radical, right-wing sites. These, in turn, led to a plethora of new videos, now available on YouTube, which feature an odd cast of pseudo-experts regurgitating exactly the same line. The message is numbingly simplistic: “All the 'ills' of modern American culture, from feminism, affirmative action, sexual liberation, racial equality, multiculturalism and gay rights to the decay of traditional education, and even environmentalism, are ultimately attributable to the insidious [intellectual] influence of the members of the Institute for Social Research who came to America in the 1930s.” [60]

Functions of the conspiracy

Cultural pessimism and Holocaust denial

In the essay "New Dark Age: The Frankfurt School and 'Political Correctness'" (1992), Michael Minnicino presented a precursor of the Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory on behalf of the Schiller Institute of the LaRouche political movement. Minnicino said the "Jewish intellectuals" of the Frankfurt School promoted modern art to make cultural pessimism the spirit of the counter-culture of the 1960s, based upon the counter-culture of the Wandervogel , the socially liberal German youth movement whose Swiss Monte Verità commune was the 19th-century predecessor of Western counter-culture. [61] [60] [62] [63]

In Fascism: Fascism and Culture (2003), professor and Oxford fellow Matthew Feldman traced the etymology of the term "Cultural Marxism" back to the anti-Semitic term Kulturbolshewismus (Cultural Bolshevism), which Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party used to assert that Jewish cultural influence was the source of German social degeneration under the liberal régime of the Weimar Republic (1918–1939), and also the cause of social degeneration in the West. [64]

Othering of political opponents

In Hate Crimes, Vol. 5 (2009), Heidi Beirich says that the conspiracy theory is used to demonize various conservative "bêtes noires" including "feminists, homosexuals, secular humanists, multiculturalists, sex educators, environmentalists, immigrants, and black nationalists". [65]

In Europe the Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik quoted Lind's usages of Cultural Marxism in his political manifesto 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, writing that the "sexually transmitted disease (STD) epidemic in Western Europe [is] a result of cultural Marxism"; that "Cultural Marxism defines . . . Muslims, Feminist women, homosexuals, and some additional minority groups, as virtuous, and they view ethnic Christian European men as evil"; and that "The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg is a cultural-Marxist-controlled political entity." About 90 minutes before killing 77 people in his terrorist attacks in Norway (22 July 2011) Breivik e-mailed 1,003 people a copy of his 1,500-page manifesto and a copy of Political Correctness: A Short History of an Ideology (2004), edited by Lind and published by the Free Congress Research and Education Foundation. [66] [67] [68] [69]

In "Collectivists, Communists, Labor Bosses, and Treason: The Tea Parties as Right-wing, Populist Counter-subversion Panic" (2012), Chip Berlet identifies Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory as an ideological basis of the Tea Party movement within the Republican Party. The Tea Party identifies as a right-wing populist movement; its claims of social subversion echo earlier, white-nationalist claims of subversion (racial, social, and cultural). The economic élites use populist rhetoric to encourage counter-subversion panics; thus, a large, middle-class white constituency is politically deceived into siding with the ruling-class élites (social and economic) to defend their relative and precarious socioeconomic position in the middle class. Cultural scapegoats, such as mythical conspiracies of collectivists, Communists, labor bosses, and the nonwhite Other, are to blame for the failures (economic, political, social) of free-market capitalism. In that manner, under the guise of patriotism, economic libertarianism, Christian values, and nativism, the right wing's charges of Cultural Marxism defended the racist and sexist social hierarchies specifically opposed to the "big government" policies of the Obama Administration. [70] [71]

In the essay "Cultural Marxism and the Radical Right" (2014), the political scientist Jérôme Jamin said that "next to the global dimension of the Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory, there is its innovative and original dimension, which lets its [racist] authors avoid racist discourses, and pretend to be defenders of democracy" in their respective countries. [72] In the vein of othering political opponents, "How Trump's Paranoid White House Sees 'Deep State' Enemies on all Sides" (2017) reported that Trump Administration employee Richard Higgins was dismissed from the U.S. National Security Council because of the memorandum "POTUS & Political Warfare" (May 2017), wherein Higgins claimed the existence of a left-wing conspiracy to destroy the Trump presidency and that American public intellectuals of Cultural Marxism, foreign Islamicists, globalist bankers, the news media, and politicians from the Republican and the Democrat parties were attacking Trump because he represents “an existential threat to [the] cultural Marxist memes that dominate the prevailing cultural narrative” in the U.S. [73] [74] [75]

Anti-Semitic canards

In the speech "The Origins of Political Correctness" (2000), William S. Lind established the ideological and etymological lineage of Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory; that:

If we look at it analytically, if we look at it historically, we quickly find out exactly what it is. Political Correctness is cultural Marxism. It is Marxism translated from economic into cultural terms. It is an effort that goes back not to the 1960s and the Hippies and the peace movement, but back to World War I [to Kulturbolshewismus]. If we compare the basic tenets of Political Correctness with [the basic tenets of] classical Marxism, the parallels are very obvious. [76]

Lind's history of the term and its meanings demonstrated that the ideology of "The Alt-right’s Favorite Meme is 100 Years Old" (2018), in which professor of law Samuel Moyn reported that social fear of Cultural Marxism is "an American contribution to the phantasmagoria of the alt-right"; while the conspiracy theory itself is "a crude slander, referring to [ Judeo-Bolshevism ], something that does not exist". [77]

See also

Related Research Articles

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to critical theory:

Max Horkheimer German philosopher and sociologist

Max Horkheimer was a German philosopher and sociologist who was famous for his work in critical theory as a member of the 'Frankfurt School' of social research. Horkheimer addressed authoritarianism, militarism, economic disruption, environmental crisis, and the poverty of mass culture using the philosophy of history as a framework. This became the foundation of critical theory. His most important works include Eclipse of Reason (1947), Between Philosophy and Social Science (1930–1938) and, in collaboration with Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947). Through the Frankfurt School, Horkheimer planned, supported and made other significant works possible.

Theodor W. Adorno German philosopher and sociologist, 1903–1969

Theodor W. Adorno was a German philosopher, sociologist, psychologist and composer known for his critical theory of society.

Fredric Jameson American academic

Fredric Jameson is an American literary critic, philosopher and Marxist political theorist. He is best known for his analysis of contemporary cultural trends, particularly his analysis of postmodernity and capitalism. Jameson's best-known books include Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991) and The Political Unconscious (1981).

The term culture industry was coined by the critical theorists Theodor Adorno (1903–1969) and Max Horkheimer (1895–1973), and was presented as critical vocabulary in the chapter "The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception", of the book Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944), wherein they proposed that popular culture is akin to a factory producing standardized cultural goods—films, radio programmes, magazines, etc.—that are used to manipulate mass society into passivity. Consumption of the easy pleasures of popular culture, made available by the mass communications media, renders people docile and content, no matter how difficult their economic circumstances. The inherent danger of the culture industry is the cultivation of false psychological needs that can only be met and satisfied by the products of capitalism; thus Adorno and Horkheimer especially perceived mass-produced culture as dangerous to the more technically and intellectually difficult high arts. In contrast, true psychological needs are freedom, creativity, and genuine happiness, which refer to an earlier demarcation of human needs, established by Herbert Marcuse..

<i>Dialectic of Enlightenment</i> book

Dialectic of Enlightenment is a work of philosophy and social criticism written by Frankfurt School philosophers Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno and first published in 1944. A revised version appeared in 1947.

Moishe Postone was a Canadian Western Marxist historian, philosopher and political economist. He was Professor of History at the University of Chicago, where he was part of the Committee on Jewish Studies.

Axel Honneth German philosopher

Axel Honneth is a German philosopher who is professor of philosophy at both the University of Frankfurt and Columbia University. He is also director of the Institut für Sozialforschung in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

<i>The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere</i> book by Jürgen Habermas

The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society is a 1962 book by the philosopher Jürgen Habermas. It was translated into English in 1989 by Thomas Burger and Frederick Lawrence. An important contribution to modern understanding of democracy, it is notable for "transforming media studies into a hard-headed discipline."

In sociology, communicative action is cooperative action undertaken by individuals based upon mutual deliberation and argumentation. The term was developed by German philosopher-sociologist Jürgen Habermas in his work The Theory of Communicative Action.

<i>The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity</i> book

The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures is a 1985 book by Jürgen Habermas, in which the author reconstructs and deals in depth with a number of philosophical approaches to the critique of modern reason and the Enlightenment "project" since Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Friedrich Nietzsche, including the work of 20th century philosophers Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Martin Heidegger, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Cornelius Castoriadis and Niklas Luhmann. The work is regarded as an important contribution to Frankfurt School critical theory. It has been characterized as a critical evaluation of the concept of world disclosure in modern philosophy.

Reification (Marxism)

In Marxism, reification is the process by which social relations are perceived as inherent attributes of the people involved in them, or attributes of some product of the relation, such as a traded commodity.

Immiseration thesis

In Marxist theory and Marxian economics, the immiseration thesis is derived from Karl Marx's analysis of economic development in capitalism, implying that the nature of capitalist production stabilizes real wages, reducing wage growth relative to total value creation in the economy, leading to worsening alienation in the workplace.

Herbert Marcuse German philosopher, sociologist, and political theorist

Herbert Marcuse was a German-American philosopher, sociologist, and political theorist, associated with the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory. Born in Berlin, Marcuse studied at the Humboldt University of Berlin and then at Freiburg, where he received his PhD. He was a prominent figure in the Frankfurt-based Institute for Social Research – what later became known as the Frankfurt School. He was married to Sophie Wertheim (1924–1951), Inge Neumann (1955–1973), and Erica Sherover (1976–1979). In his written works, he criticized capitalism, modern technology, historical materialism and entertainment culture, arguing that they represent new forms of social control.

Critical theory Philosophy that sociological understandings primarily use should be social reform

Critical theory is the reflective assessment and critique of society and culture by applying knowledge from the social sciences and the humanities. As a term, critical theory has two meanings with different origins and histories: the first originated in sociology and the second originated in literary criticism, whereby it is used and applied as an umbrella term that can describe a theory founded upon critique; thus, the theorist Max Horkheimer described a theory as critical insofar as it seeks "to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them."

Marxist philosophy Philosophy influenced by Marxist political thought

Marxist philosophy or Marxist theory are works in philosophy that are strongly influenced by Karl Marx's materialist approach to theory, or works written by Marxists. Marxist philosophy may be broadly divided into Western Marxism, which drew out of various sources, and the official philosophy in the Soviet Union, which enforced a rigid reading of Marx called dialectical materialism, in particular during the 1930s. Marxist philosophy is not a strictly defined sub-field of philosophy, because the diverse influence of Marxist theory has extended into fields as varied as aesthetics, ethics, ontology, epistemology, theoretical psychology and philosophy of science, as well as its obvious influence on political philosophy and the philosophy of history. The key characteristics of Marxism in philosophy are its materialism and its commitment to political practice as the end goal of all thought. The theory is also about the struggles of the proletariat and their reprimand of the bourgeoisie.

Western Marxism body of various Marxist theoreticians based in Western and Central Europe

Western Marxism is a current of Marxist theory arising from Western and Central Europe in the aftermath of the 1917 October Revolution in Russia and the ascent of Leninism. The term denotes a loose collection of theorists who advanced an interpretation of Marxism distinct from that codified by the Soviet Union.

Marxs method

Various Marxist authors have focused on Marx's method of analysis and presentation as key factors both in understanding the range and incisiveness of Karl Marx's theoretical writing in general and Das Kapital in particular. One of the clearest and most instructive examples of this is his discussion of the value-form, which acts as a primary guide or key to understanding the logical argument as it develops throughout the volumes of Das Kapital.

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Further reading