Dialectic of Enlightenment
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Dialectic of Enlightenment

Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, Gunzelin Schmid Noeri, Edmund Jephcott

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eBook - ePub

Dialectic of Enlightenment

Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, Gunzelin Schmid Noeri, Edmund Jephcott

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Dialectic of Enlightenment is undoubtedly the most influential publication of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory. Written during the Second World War and circulated privately, it appeared in a printed edition in Amsterdam in 1947. "What we had set out to do, " the authors write in the Preface, "was nothing less than to explain why humanity, instead of entering a truly human state, is sinking into a new kind of barbarism."

Yet the work goes far beyond a mere critique of contemporary events. Historically remote developments, indeed, the birth of Western history and of subjectivity itself out of the struggle against natural forces, as represented in myths, are connected in a wide arch to the most threatening experiences of the present.

The book consists in five chapters, at first glance unconnected, together with a number of shorter notes. The various analyses concern such phenomena as the detachment of science from practical life, formalized morality, the manipulative nature of entertainment culture, and a paranoid behavioral structure, expressed in aggressive anti-Semitism, that marks the limits of enlightenment. The authors perceive a common element in these phenomena, the tendency toward self-destruction of the guiding criteria inherent in enlightenment thought from the beginning. Using historical analyses to elucidate the present, they show, against the background of a prehistory of subjectivity, why the National Socialist terror was not an aberration of modern history but was rooted deeply in the fundamental characteristics of Western civilization.

Adorno and Horkheimer see the self-destruction of Western reason as grounded in a historical and fateful dialectic between the domination of external nature and society. They trace enlightenment, which split these spheres apart, back to its mythical roots. Enlightenment and myth, therefore, are not irreconcilable opposites, but dialectically mediated qualities of both real and intellectual life. "Myth is already enlightenment, and enlightenment reverts to mythology." This paradox is the fundamental thesis of the book.

This new translation, based on the text in the complete edition of the works of Max Horkheimer, contains textual variants, commentary upon them, and an editorial discussion of the position of this work in the development of Critical Theory.

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Social Sciences


[Bracketed numbers are the page numbers on which asterisk notes appear; other numbers refer to the numbered notes. “It. tr.” = from the Italian translation.]


[vii] “Pollock” / 1944: Pollock for his fiftieth birthday on 22 May 1944; 1947: “Pollock for his fiftieth birthday.”


[xiii] “Preface to the Italian Edition”: Translated from the Italian by Philipp Rippel with reference to the German draft by M.H. and T.W.A.
[xiv] “When” / 1944/47: “When, two years ago.”
[xiv] “a ... of ” / 1944: “renewed.”
[xiv] “with an increasing” / 1944: “readily with the.”
[xiv] “The tireless ... humanity” / 1944: “The end of enlightenment by its own hand, hypocritically celebrated by crude advocates of the totalitarian order in their propaganda speeches and naively executed by the smart attorneys of the victims in their respective branches of the culture industry.”
[xv] “friendship” / 1944: “friendship, in the Action Française.”—“Action Française”: extreme right-wing movement in France between 1898 and 1944.
[xv] “place in ... sun”: allusion to an imperialist slogan coined in Wilhelmine Germany.
[xv] “liquidating ... completely.” / 1944: “repudiating the thought to which they owe their place in the sun before it has had time to prostitute itself completely in the service of those now basking there.”
[xvi] “the regression” / 1944: “its reversal.”
[xvi] “headlong” / 1944: “in such a way.”
[xvi] “rational” / 1944: “a rational.”
[xvii] “In the ... increase” / 1944: “The powerless and pliability of the masses increase.”
[xvii] “Today, however,” / 1944: “In the name of enlightenment.”
[xvii] “increased sufferings” / 1944: “increased exploitation.”
[xvii] “melting down ... crucible” / 1944: “application of the national melting pot to all cultural entities.”
[xviii] “Volkswagen” / 1944: “chewing gum.”
[xviii] “curtain” / 1944: “veil.”
[xix] “demonstrates” / 1944: “defines.”
[xix] “fragmentary” / 1944: “fragmentary. Large parts, written long before, need only final editing. In them the positive aspects of mass culture will also be dealt with.”—The second part of the chapter, not finally edited at that time, has now been published with the title “Das Schema der Massenkultur” as an appendix to Dialektik der Aufklärung in Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. III, Frankfurt am Main 1981, pp. 299ff.
[xix] “empirical ... Research” / 1944: “the research project of the Institute of Social Research.”
[xix] “anthropology” / 1944: “anthropology.
In selecting the fragments from the work of the previous two years we opted for those with clear internal coherence and unity of language. We excluded all English works produced in the same period, regardless of their thematic connection to the fragments. We would mention the lecture series “Society and Reason”; the essays “Sociology of Class Relations” and “The Revival of Dogmatism”; the extensive analysis of anti-Semitic propaganda, “The Psychological Technique of Martin Luther Thomas’ Radio Addresses,” and our other studies in contributions to the project on anti-Semitism. Collaboration in this study carried out in New York, Los Angeles, and Berkeley took at least half our time.—Of the German preliminary studies to the whole work, which include the fragments themselves, we left out the pieces on logic, among others. The already formulated parts of the planned section concerned with a critique of sociology are also omitted.
If the good fortune of being able to work on such questions without the unpleasant pressure of immediate purposes should continue, we hope to complete the whole work in the not too distant future. We are encouraged to believe this by the confidence, undeflected by the vicissitudes of the time, of the person to whom the part completed so far is now dedicated.”
“Society and Reason”: under this general title Horkheimer gave five lectures at Columbia University, New York, in February and March 1944. They were later used as the basis of Eclipse of Reason (New York 194...