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Modern European Intellectual History. Lecture 26 The Frankfurt School: Modernism between Program and Utopia. outline. Intro The Origins of Western Marxism and the Frankfurt School The Explanation for Fascist Submission (and American Conformism): Individual Freedom without Social Change

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modern european intellectual history

Modern EuropeanIntellectual History

Lecture 26

The Frankfurt School: Modernism between Program and Utopia

  • Intro
  • The Origins of Western Marxism and the Frankfurt School
  • The Explanation for Fascist Submission (and American Conformism): Individual Freedom without Social Change
  • Theodor Adorno: The Administered World and the Refuge of Modernist Art
  • Conclusion
the frankfurt school
The Frankfurt School

Max Horkheimer (1895-1973)

T.W. Adorno (1903-1969)





origins and diffusion
origins and diffusion
  • Georg Lukács (1885-1971)
  • History and Class Consciousness (1923)
  • Max Horkheimer (1895-1973)
  • Theodor W. Adorno (1903-69)
  • Others: Walter Benjamin, Franz Neumann, Herbert Marcuse, Otto Kirchheimer, Leo Löwenthal
  • Nicholas Murray Butler
  • 429 W. 117th St.
  • Pacific Palisades, California
fromm s synthesis
Fromm’s synthesis
  • Escape from Freedom (1941)
  • Studies on Authority and the Family (1930s)
  • Adorno et al., The Authoritarian Personality (1950)
  • Methodology: The “Marriage of Marx and Freud”
  • “The most beautiful as well as the most ugly inclinations of man are not part of a fixed and biologically given human nature, but result from the social process.”
  • human nature not “infinitely malleable”
a history of individualism
a history of individualism
  • problem: how did an age of slavery – European fascism and American conformism – follow from a long period of increasing freedom?
  • -history as the abolition of “primary ties”
  • primary ties “imply a lack of individuality, but they also give security and orientation to the individual.”
  • -history as the loss of belonging
  • -the possible responses to aloneness vary in different modern societies
  • “one side of the growing process of individuation is the growth of self-strength. The limits of the growth of individuation and the self are set, partly by individual conditions, but essentially by social conditions. For although the differences between individuals in this respect appear to be great, every society is characterized by a certain level of individuation beyond which the normal individual cannot go.”
  • “He is alone and free, yet powerless and afraid. The newly won freedom appears as a curse; he is free from the sweet bondage of paradise, but he is not free to govern himself, to realize his individuality. … The growing individuation means growing isolation, insecurity, and thereby growing doubt concerning one’s own role in the universe, the meaning of one’s life, and with all that a growing feeling of one’s own powerlessness and insignificance as an individual.”
moral aloneness and capitalism
moral aloneness and capitalism
  • “moral aloneness is as intolerable as the physical aloneness, or rather … physical aloneness becomes unbearable only if it implies also moral aloneness.”
  • “When one has become an individual, one stands alone and faces the world in all its perilous and overpowering aspects.”
  • “if the economic, social, and political conditions on which the whole process of human individuation depends, do not offer a basis for the realization of individuality…, while at the same time people have lost those ties which gave them security, this lag makes freedom an unbearable burden.”
  • -capitalism versus socialism
  • “Once man was ready to become nothing but the means for the glory of a God who represented neither justice nor love, he was sufficiently prepared to accept the role of a servant to the economic machine — and eventually a ‘Führer’.”
  • monopolistic capitalism
  • the analysis of participation in production and consumption
  • “As a matter of fact, these methods of dulling the capacity for critical thinking are more dangerous to our democracy than many of the open attacks against it…”
alternative views of capitalism
alternative views of capitalism?
  • The Wall Street Journal: “adventures in capitalism”
  • consumerism as living out the infinite or multiple self through serial consumption
  • “This feeling of individual isolation and powerlessness … is nothing the average normal person is aware of. It is too frightening for that. It is covered over by the daily routine of his activities, by the assurance and approval he finds in his private or social relations, by success in business, by any number of distractions, by ‘having fun,’ ‘making contacts,’ ‘going places.’ But whistling in the dark does not bring light. Aloneness, fear and bewilderment remain; people cannot stand it forever.”
germany escape mechanisms
Germany: escape mechanisms
  • sado-masochism
  • masochism: the loss of self
  • sadism: the illusion of mastery
  • the solutions fail: “The masochistic strivings are caused by the desire to get rid of the individual self with all its shortcomings, conflicts, risks, doubts, and unbearable aloneness, but they only succeed in removing the most noticeable pain or they even lead to greater suffering.”
  • Mann’s “Mario and the Magician”
  • Destructiveness
  • “Sadism aims at the incorporation of the object; destructiveness at its removal.”
  • Fromm historicizes the death instinct: “The assumption of the death instinct is satisfactory inasmuch as it takes into consideration the full weight of destructive tendencies, which had been neglected in Freud’s earlier theories. Bu it is not satisfactory inasmuch as it resorts to a biological explanation that fails to take account sufficiently of the fact that the amount of destructiveness varies enormously among individuals and groups.”
american escapism
American escapism
  • “automaton conformism”
  • pseudo-individualism
  • “inner restraints, compulsions, and fears … tend to undermine the meaning of the victories freedom has won against its traditional enemies.”
  • problem: how to tell whether or not any particular person is truly an individual
  • “Although there are true individuals among us, this belief is an illusion in most cases and a dangerous one for that matter, as it blocks the removal of those conditions that are responsible for this state of affairs.”
  • “Most people are convinced that as long as they are not overtly forced to do something by an outside power, their decisions are theirs, and that if they want something, it is they who want it. But this is one of the great illusions we have about ourselves.”
  • “We know of individuals who are — or have been — spontaneous, whose thinking, feeling, and acting were the expression of their selves and not an automaton. These individuals are most known to us as artists. As a matter of fact, the artist can be defined as an individual who can express himself spontaneously.”
is fromm an existentialist
Is Fromm an existentialist?
  • “one of the most difficult problems any human being has to solve, … a task we frantically try to avoid by accepting ready-made goals as though they were our own.”
  • “Our own era simply denies death and with it one fundamental aspect of life. Instead of allowing the awareness of death and suffering to become one of the strongest incentives for life, the basis of human solidarity, and an experience without which joy and enthusiasm lack intensity and depth, the individual is forced to repress it.”
is it plausible
Is it plausible?
  • What to Reject from Fromm’s View
  • -the apparent equation of German Nazism and American conformism
  • -the reduction of social psychology to solely economic factors
  • -no institutions after all
  • What to Take from This View
  • -modernism as wrapped up in a much larger story of the history of Western individualism
  • -modernism and isolation: look for “a relationship that connects the individual with the world without eliminating his individuality.”
  • -the validity of the criticism of American society?
  • -critique of Keynes: the problems with attempting to realize modernism within liberal capitalism
adorno administered world and the refuge of art
Adorno: administered world and the refuge of art
  • Adorno, The Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947) (co-written with Horkheimer)
  • Negative Dialectics
  • Aesthetic Theory
  • the “culture industry.”
  • “an administered world”
  • Musicology: late Beethoven, Stravinsky, jazz
modernism as a message in a bottle
modernism as a message in a bottle
  • “The uncompromisingly critical thinker, who neither subordinates his conscience nor permits himself to be terrorized into action, is in truth the one who does not give up… Open thinking points beyond itself. For its part, such thinking takes a position as a figuration of praxis which is more closely related to a praxis truly involved in change than is a position of mere obedience for the sake of praxis.”
  • Jürgen Habermas: Adorno as offering a “strategy of hibernation.”
  • Adorno’s interpretation of modernism: difficulty as the last refuge of utopia
  • “A splinter in your eye is the best magnifying glass.”
  • “a message in a bottle”
adorno s last word
Adorno’s last word
  • “Philosophy, which once seemed obsolete, lives on because the moment to realize it was missed.”