The Frankfurt School

21 Apr 2023 21:28

(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).

See also: the Authoritarian Personality; Historical Materialism; the Left; Modernity, Post-Modernity and All That; Karl Popper; Positivism