The Frankfurt School04 Sep 2020 15:08
(Mostly written in the 1990s, last major revision 24 February 2004)
Early- to- mid-twentieth century school of social philosophy and cultural criticism, originally centered around the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research (hence the name). A highly unorthodox school of Marxism, strongly influenced by Hegel and Freud. Its period of greatest social influence was the late 1960s and early 1970s, when one of its members (Marcuse) was much cited by student radicals, perhaps with more enthusiasm than genuine understanding. (Another leader of the school, Adorno, becaming notorious for setting the police on student protestors who disrupted his classes.) Jürgen Habermas is the last living representative of the school, being from a younger generation than the founders, and a very different order of scholar.
At some point I might try to summarize the leading ideas of the school. They are very extreme examples of ways of thinking about society, both normatively and descriptively, for which I have very little sympathy, yet are closely affiliated to ideas I am receptive to. (E.g.: so far as I can see, they were all what Marxists would call "idealists", which is not a compliment, yet they claimed to be Marxists, even historical materialists!) My interest in them is thus interest in my notorious and embarrassing ideological cousins...
Perceptions by outsiders. Ties to US gov't, military, industry, academy. (Marcuse, for instance, worked for the OSS during the Second World War, and by the end of it was something like their number two man for Europe; Lowenthal worked for Voice of America; and I think Adorno did something like that too. N.B., working for Allied intelligence was not a bad thing.) Role in right-wing conspiracy theories (see Alpers below).
- Recommended, big picture, primary sources:
- Walter Benjamin, Illuminations [Compare the last chapter, on the philosophy of history, with e.g., The German Ideology, and tell me how this man could think of himself as a Marxist? A remarkably stylist, yes...]
- Erich Fromm ["The Feuerbach of our time" --- Kolakowski], Escape from Freedom
- Recommended, big picture, secondary sources:
- Ernest Gellner, "Positivism against Hegelianism", in his Relatvisism and the Social Sciences
- Leszek Kolakowski, Main Currents of Marxism, vol. III The Breakdown. [A chapter on the school in general, and another on Marcuse in particular. Deservedly withering.]
- Alasdair MacIntyre, Herbert Marcuse: An Exposition and a Polemic
- Eliseo Vivas, Contra Marcuse [Almost inspires sympathy for the poor man.]
- Recommended, close-ups, primary sources:
- Theodor Adorno, "The Stars Down to Earth"
- Leo Lowenthal and Norbert Guterman, Prophets of Deceit: A Portrait of the American Agitator [Right-wing American demagogues of the '30s and '40s. Lowenthal seems to be a drop-out from the school: too empirical, too sane, and too well-adjusted to being a professor at Berkeley. The book deserves to be read with care, because these people are now a substantial fraction of Congress. See "Mother of All Conspiracies". (When I first wrote this in the mid-1990s, I said "a majority of Congress"; they may be again.)]
- Karl Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism [A magnificent work of scholarship. Unfortunately it has no connection to anything else the school has produced, and subsequent research has proved that much of its factual basis is just wrong.]
- Recommended, close-ups, secondary sources:
- Ben Alpers, "The Frankfurt School, Right-Wing Conspiracy Theories, and American Conservatism"
- Carl Sachs, "Why Did the Frankfurt School Misunderstand Logical Positivism?", Journal of the History of Ideas Blog, 5 August 2020 [Comments under Logical Positivism]
- Not exactly recommended, primary sources:
- Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, The Dialectic of Enlightenment
- Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man
- Not exactly recommended, secondary sources:
- Stuart Jeffries, The Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School
- To read:
- Adorno et al., The Authoritarian Personality [Largely rendered obsolete by subsequent work by people like Altemeyer, but interesting, and fascinating as an essay by Adorno at exactly the kind of empirical research under scientific protocols which The Dialectic of Enlightenment portrays as so horrid, and a mostly-successful one at that. I really should finish reading it one of these years.]
- Raymond Guess, The Idea of a Critical Theory: Habermas and the Frankfurt School
- Jürgen Habermas
- Communications and the Evolution of Society
- Knowledge and Human Interests
- Theory of Communicative Action
- Towards a Rational Society
- Martin Jay, Dialectics of Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, 1923--1950
- Gertrude J. Robinson, "The Katz/Lowenthal Encounter: An Episode in the Creation of Personal Influence", The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciencce 608 (2006): 76--96
- Franz Neumann, Herbert Marcuse & Otto Kirchheimer (ed. Raffaele Laudani), Secret Reports on Nazi Germany: The Frankfurt School Contribution to the War Effort
- Thomas Wheatland, The Frankfurt School in Exile
- Richard Wolin
- Walter Benjamin: An Aesthetic of Redemption
- Heidegger's Children: Hannah Arendt, Karl Löwith, Hans Jonas, and Herbert Marcuse