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Additional works on the Frankfurt School
• The Frankfurt School by T.B. Bottomore (Tavistock, London, 1984). Another history written by a sympathiser; you are better off with Jay or Wiggershaus.
• “The New Dark Age: The Frankfurt School and ‘Political Correctness’” by Michael Minnicino, in Fidelio, Vol. 1, No. 1, Winter 1992 (KMW Publishing, Washington, DC) One of the few looks at the Frankfurt School by someone not a sympathiser, this long journal article explains the role of the Institute for Social Research in creating the ideology we now know as “Political Correctness.” Unfortunately, its value is reduced by some digressions that lack credibility.
• Angela Davis: An Autobiography by Angela Davis (Random House, New York 1974) Angela Davis, a leading American black radical and Communist Party member, was described by Frankfurt School member Herbert Marcuse as “my best student.” She also studied in Frankfurt under Adorno. This book shows the link between the Institute for Social Research and the New Left of the 1960s through the eyes of a key participant.
• The Young Lukacs and the Origins of Western Marxism by Andrew Arato (Seabury Press, New York, 1979). The author is, as usual, a sympathiser, but this work shows the key role Lukacs played in the thinking of the Frankfurt School and, later, the New Left.
• The Origin of Negative Dialectics: Theodor W. Adorno, Walter Benjamin and the Frankfurt Institute by Susan Buck-Morss (Free Press, New York, 1977). An important book on the relationship of the Frankfurt School and Critical Theory to the New Left.
• Introduction to Critical Theory: Horkheimer to Habermas by David Held (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1980). Yet another history by a fan of the Frankfurt School, but valuable for its discussion of the impact of Nietzsche on key Frankfurt School figures.
• Adorno: A Political Biography by Lorenz Jager (translated by Stewart Spencer, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2004) This recent study of Theodor Adorno, the Frankfurt School’s most important “creative spirit,” offers a highly readable introduction to the origins of Political Correctness, perhaps the best available to the layman. Lorenz Jager is an editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine, one of Germany’s most influential newspapers. He is no uncritical admirer of the Frankfurt School, and thus offers a balanced treatment of Adorno instead of the usual hagiography.
Beyond these secondary works lies the vast literature produced by members of the Frankfurt School itself. Some key works were written in English, and many of those written in German are available in translation. As is usually the case with Marxist works, the prose style and vocabulary are often so convoluted as to make them almost unreadable. Further, the refusal of the Frankfurt School to make its own future vision plain led many of its members to write in aphorisms, which adds yet another layer of impenetrableness.
One work, however, is of such importance that it must be recommended despite its difficulty: Eros and Civilisation by Herbert Marcuse (Beacon Press, Boston, first paperback edition in 1974 and still in print). Subtitled A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud, this book holds center stage for two reasons. First, it completes the task of integrating Marx and Freud. While the Marxism is sotto voce, the whole framework of the book is in fact Marxist, and it is through the framework that Freud is considered. Second, Eros and Civilisation and its author were the key means of transmission by which the intellectual work of the Frankfurt School was injected into the student rebellion of the 1960s. This book became the bible of the young radicals who took over Western European and America’s college campuses from 1965 onward, and who are still there as faculty members.
In brief, Eros and Civilisation urges total rebellion against traditional Western culture – the “Great Refusal” – and promises a Candyland utopia of free sex and no work to those who join the revolution. About two-thirds of the way through the book, Marcuse offers this summary of its arguments:
Our definition of the specific historical character of the established reality principle led to a re-examination of what Freud considered to be universal validity. We questioned this validity in view of the historical possibility of the abolition of the repressive controls imposed by civilisation. The very achievements of this civilisation seemed to make the performance principle obsolete, to make the repressive utilisation of the instincts archaic. But the idea of a non-repressive civilisation on the basis of the achievements of the performance principle encountered the argument that instinctual liberation (and consequently total liberation) would explode civilisation itself, since the latter is sustained only through renunciation and work (labour) – in other words, through the repressive utilisation of instinctual energy. Freed from these constraints, man would exist without work and without order; he would fall back into nature, which would destroy culture. To meet this argument, we recalled certain archetypes of imagination which, in contrast to the culture-heroes of repressive productivity, symbolised creative receptivity. These archetypes envisioned the fulfilment of man and nature, not through domination and exploitation, but through release of inherent libidinal forces. We then set ourselves the task of “verifying” these symbols – that is to say, demonstrating their truth value as symbols of a reality beyond the performance principle. We thought that the representative content of the Orphic and Narcissistic images was the erotic reconciliation (union) of man and nature in the aesthetic attitude, where order is beauty and work is play.
Marcuse continues after this summary to lay out the erotic content of the “reality beyond the performance principle,” i.e., a new civilisation where work and productivity were unimportant. “The basic experience in this (aesthetic) dimension is sensuous rather than conceptual,” that is, feelings are more important than logic: “The discipline of aesthetics installs the order of sensuousness as against the order of reason.”
“In German, sensuousness and sensuality are still rendered by one and the same term: Sinnlichkeit. It connotes instinctual (especially sexual) gratification… No longer used as a full-time instrument of labour, the body would be re-sexualised… (which) would first manifest itself in a reactivation of all erotogenic zones and, consequently, in a resurgence of pre-genital polymorphous sexuality and in a decline of genital supremacy. The body in its entirety would become an object of cathexis, a thing to be enjoyed – an instrument of pleasure. This change in the value and scope of libidinal relations would lead to a disintegration of the institutions in which the private interpersonal relations have been organised, particularly the monogamic and patriarchal family.”
This in a book which Marcuse dedicated to Sophie Marcuse, his wife of fifty years!
It is easy to see how this message – “If it feels good, do it” – published in 1955 resonated with the student rebels of the 1960s. Marcuse understood what most of the rest of his Frankfurt School colleagues did not: the way to destroy Western civilisation – the objective set forth by George Lukacs in 1919 – was not through abstruse theory, but through sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. Marcuse wrote other works for the new generation that spawned the New Left – One Dimensional Man (1964), Critique of Pure Tolerance (1965), An Essay on Liberation (1969), Counterrevolution and Revolt (1972). But Eros and Civilisation was and remains the key work, the one that put the match to the tinder.
Other central works by members of the Frankfurt School include:
• The Authoritarian Personality by Theodor Adorno (Harper, New York, 1950). This book is the basis for everything that followed that portrayed conservatism as a psychological defect. It had enormous impact, not least on education theory.
• Dialectic of Enlightenment by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer (trans. By John Cumming, Verso, London, 1979). A complex philosophical work written during World War II largely in response to Nazism (and extensively devoted to discussions of anti-Semitism), this work seeks to find a kernel of “liberating” reason in the ruins of the Enlightenment.
• Minima Moralia: Reflections from a Damaged Life by Theodor Adorno (trans. E.F.N. Jophcott, New Left Books, London, 1974). A book of aphorisms, almost entirely incomprehensible, but the effective conclusion of Adorno’s work.
• Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm (Farrar & Rinehart, New York, 1941, still in print in paperback) Fromm was the Institute’s “happy face,” and this book was often required reading at colleges in the 1960s. The thesis is that man’s nature causes him to throw his freedom away and embrace fascism unless he “masters society and subordinates the economic machine to the purposes of human happiness,” i.e., adopts socialism. At this point Fromm was in the process of breaking away from the Institute and his subsequent works cannot be considered as part of the Frankfurt School corpus.
• Eclipse of Reason (Oxford University Press, New York, 1947). Essentially a sequel to Dialectic of Enlightenment, the book is heavily the work of Adorno and other Frankfurt School personages, although only Horkheimer’s name appeared on it. Its contents are based on a series of lectures Horkheimer gave at Columbia University in 1944. The prose style is surprisingly readable, but the contents are odd; there is throughout a strong nostalgia, which was normally anathema to the Frankfurt School. The key chapter, “The Revolt of Nature,” reflects a strange Retro anarchism: “The victory of civilisation is too complete to be true. Therefore, adjustment in our times involves an element of resentment and suppressed fury.”
• Critical Theory: Selected Essays by Max Horkheimer (trans. Matthew O’Connell, Seabury Press, New York, 1972). The essay, “Traditional and Critical Theory” is especially important.
This small bibliography will be enough to get an interested reader started; the full literature on and by the Frankfurt School is immense, as the bibliographies in Jay’s and Wiggershaus’s books attest. What has been missing from it, at least in English, is a readable book, written for the layman, that explains the Frankfurt School and its works in terms of the creation of Political Correctness. This short volume is at least a start in filling that gap.
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