By Alan How

This ebook examines the highbrow contribution made through Frankfurt tuition severe concept to our realizing of contemporary lifestyles. Thematically equipped and delivering a powerful mixture of ancient and modern fabric, it considers the paintings of either the 1st and moment iteration. whereas the paintings of the latter is usually taken to exceed that of the previous, the writer means that insights gleaned by means of either, concerning the human topic, supply an important substitute to postmodern rules.

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In Chapter 3 I want to explore how this ambiguity fed into Critical Theory’s changing view of the world. The main shift was from an early optimism in the 1930s about how the world might move towards socialism, to a thoroughgoing pessimism over its unchanging, controlling and ‘wholly administered’ nature, by the 1960s. The change in outlook was not solely the result of a theoretical flaw, indeed this ‘flaw’ enabled its authors to produce some of their most remarkable insights into the nature of social control in apparently democratic countries; also crucial in effecting the change was the rise of totalitarianism in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, of state capitalism and mass culture in democratic countries, all of which fuelled a fear that real human progress was grinding to a halt.

Equally, he warned against trying to read off human motivation from broad, abstract conceptions of society (1989a [1929]). It was the thinness of the Marxist account of motivation that prompted Fromm and Horkheimer to seek greater purchase on the psychic structure of the individual, via Freud’s work. Standardly, Marxists had tended to regard Freud’s work as something typically bourgeois and self-indulgent in its concern for inner mental life, when all around an exploitative capitalism romped on apace.

Nevertheless the brio with which Marcuse critiques life in modern industrial society is still quite stirring and it doesn’t take much imagination to mentally bring it up to date. Kellner’s (1984) study of Marcuse is comprehensive and the best supplement for a Marcuse enthusiast. Adorno’s Minima Moralia: Reflections From Damaged Life (1974), is even more acerbic and consists of short, terse fragments, which make it fairly accessible. Adorno’s The Culture Industry (1991) is also a good starting point, and has an informative introduction by Jay Bernstein that compares Adorno’s view of mass culture with that of postmodernists, finding in favour of the former.

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