Max Horkheimer 1895-1973
German sociologist and philosopher.
The following entry provides criticism on Horkheimer's career from 1977 through 1995.
Horkheimer is primarily remembered as one of the founders of Critical Theory and the director of the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research during the 1930s and 1940s. Critics note that he played an important role in the development of not only Critical Theory but also twentieth-century Marxist thought. Written with colleague Theodor Adorno, his Philosophische Fragmente (1944; Dialectic of Enlightenment) is regarded as one of the most influential works on modern critical theory.
Horkheimer was born on February 14, 1895, in Stuttgart, Germany. As a student, he studied philosophy and psychology in Munich and Frankfurt and became acquainted with Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, and Walter Benjamin. In 1931 he was appointed director of the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research. Founded in 1924, the Institute was established as a forum for left-wing thought and discussions of class, cultural, and political issues. When Horkheimer assumed leadership of the Institute, he wanted the Frankfurt School to be the platform for an interdisciplinary critique of society, which would draw from sociology, economics, philosophy, psychology and history. The eventual aim of the Institute was to inspire and implement radical social change in the Marxist vein. In 1933 the Institute moved from Frankfurt when Hitler came to power. In 1934, after a brief stint in Geneva, it reestablished itself in the United States, where it was at first associated with Columbia University in New York City. In 1941 ill health prompted Horkheimer to move to California. His colleague, Adorno, joined him at Pacific Palisades, becoming part of an expatriate community that included Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Bertolt Brecht, and Alfred Doeblin. In 1949 the Institute for Social Research returned to Frankfurt, and Adorno was appointed director. Horkheimer became rector of the University of Frankfurt in 1953. He died in 1973.
Horkheimer's best-known works are those that focus on his concept of Critical Theory, which draws on Marxist dialectics, the philosophical thought of Hegel and Kant, and the insights of psychoanalysis and modern sociology. Its aim was to provide a technique for the analysis and criticism of ideologies, free from false theories and inherited assumptions. Commentators contend that Critical Theory played an important part in the postwar revitalization of Western European Marxism and in the student movement in the United States in the 1960s. Horkheimer's most prominent work, Dialectic of Enlightenment, was written with Theodor Adorno. Selling more than 70,000 copies, it is regarded as the most widely read work of the Frankfurt School. In this study, Adorno and Horkheimer provide a scathing indictment of capitalist society and Western civilization. The authors contend that authoritarianism and fascism are a direct result of reason and growing enlightenment. Moreover, they argue that Western Europeans had allowed themselves to be exploited by authoritarian governments and fascist leaders. Horkheimer's later work, Eclipse of Reason (1947), places the concept of reason within the history of Western philosophy, defining true reason as rationality. Horkheimer maintains that reason is often misunderstood and misapplied; if people would rationally critique their societies, they would be able to correctly identify and solve society's problems. Also, Horkheimer theorizes that culture and consciousness are partly independent of economic factors, and his ideas about consumer society continue to influence contemporary empirical sociologists.
For the most part, Horkheimer has been remembered as the director of the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research and as a colleague of Theodor Adorno. Since 1980, however, there has been a resurgence of interest in Horkheimer's work, especially in Germany. Critics have debated Horkheimer's role in integrating philosophy and social science, which defined the Frankfurt School. Moreover, commentators investigated his attitude toward and association with Marxism, and how that relationship impacted his overall philosophy. They trace the maturation of his thought, from his early work building a new relationship between philosophy and the social sciences and his later development of a critical social theory. Recent critics have maintained that the works of the Frankfurt School, particularly Dialectic of Enlightenment, have become irrelevant. Some view the volume as dark and pessimistic. Commentators note that Horkheimer and Adorno's argument remains incomplete, as a sequel was intended but never completed. Yet the work of the Frankfurt School is recognized as an important contribution to twentieth-century thought and a significant influence on sociologists and political thinkers.
Anfänge der bürgerlichen Geschichtsphilosophie (philosophy) 1930
Dämmerung: Notizen in Deutschland [Dawn & Decline: Notes 1926-1931 and 1950-1969] (nonfiction) 1930; revised as Notizen 1950-1969 und Dämmerung, 1974
Philosophische Fragmente [Dialectic of Enlightenment] [with Theodor W. Adorno] (philosophy) 1944; revised as Dialektik de Aufklärung: Philosophische Fragmente, 1947
Eclipse of Reason (philosophy) 1947
Survey of the Social Sciences in Western Germany: A Report on Recent Developments (nonfiction) 1952
Kritische Theorie: Eine Dokumentation [Critical Theory: Selected Essays] (philosophy) 1968
Traditionelle und kritische Theorie (philosophy) 1970
Sozialphilosophische Studien: Aufsätze, Reden und Vorträge, 1930-1972 (essays) 1972
Aus der Pubertät: Novellen und Tagebuchblätter, 1914-1918 (essays) 1974
Critique of Instrumental Reason: Lectures and Essays since the End of World War II (lectures and essays) 1974
Gesammelte Schriften (essays and lectures) 1988
Between Philosophy and Social Science: Selected Early Writings (philosophy) 1993
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SOURCE: Tar, Zoltán. “The Critical Theory of Max Horkheimer.” In The Frankfurt School: The Critical Theories of Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, pp. 16-71. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1977.
[In the following essay, Tar traces Horkheimer's work as director of the Frankfurt School and places his Critical Theory within the context of twentieth-century sociological, psychological, and political thought.]
The beginnings of the institutional matrix of the Frankfurt School date back to 1923, when the Institute for Social Research (Institut für Sozialforschung), affiliated with the University of Frankfurt, was founded. Felix J. Weil first proposed the idea of an institute of social research along Marxist lines. His father, Hermann Weil, had previously left Germany for South America to become a wealthy Argentinian grain dealer and financially supported the socialist ambitions of his son. Felix J. Weil, born and raised in Argentina, went to Frankfurt and earned his Ph.D. in 1921.1
Carl Grünberg, professor of political economy in Vienna and editor of a journal devoted to the history of socialism and the labor movement (Archiv für die Geschichte des Sozialismus und der Arbeiterbewegung or Grünberg Archiv), became the first director of the institute and held that position until 1928. An economist of the...
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SOURCE: Simon-Ingram, Julia. “Alienation, Individuation, and Enlightenment in Rousseau's Social Theory.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 24, no. 3 (spring 1991): 315-35.
[In the following essay, Simon-Ingram finds parallels between Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment and the philosophical thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.]
In their landmark study Dialectic of Enlightenment1 Horkheimer and Adorno put forth a strikingly pessimistic interpretation of reason and enlightenment. They maintain that despite the advantages gained through reason's capacity to explain and ultimately to control nature, there is a dark side to the process of enlightenment. The cost of this process, they argue, is in the growth of domination.
Knowledge, which is power, knows no obstacles: neither in the enslavement of men nor in compliance with the world's rulers. … Technology is the essence of this knowledge. It does not work by concepts and images, by the fortunate insight, but refers to method, the exploitation of others' work, and capital. … What men want to learn from nature is how to use it in order wholly to dominate it and other men. … Power and knowledge are synonymous.
Horkheimer and Adorno's portrait of the development of enlightenment stresses the emergence of bourgeois capitalist...
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SOURCE: Becker-Cantarino, Barbara. “Patriarchy and German Enlightenment Discourse: From Goethe's Wilhelm Meister to Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment.” In Impure Reason: Dialectic of Enlightenment in Germany, edited by W. Daniel Wilson and Robert C. Holub, pp. 48-64. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1993.
[In the following essay, Becker-Cantarino examines the role of patriarchal thought in Goethe's Wilhelm Meister novels and Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment.]
Patriarchy is deeply ingrained in German Enlightenment discourse and in one of the most influential works in the German literary canon, Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship (Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre). This novel depicts a (mostly) conciliatory, orderly, at times repressive, yet productive, in short a benign, image of enlightened patriarchy1 as the natural order. The father/son dyad with the absent mother represents the symbolic order, while in realistic terms the Wilhelm-Felix duo moves to the center of the novel's plot and remains there throughout the sequel, Wilhelm Meister's Travels (Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre). The hero's trials and tribulations all happen and are resolved within this symbolic order; confrontational situations and subversive characters that threaten or question this benign, seemingly natural, patriarchal order...
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SOURCE: Schnädelbach, Herbert. “Max Horkheimer and the Moral Philosophy of German Idealism.” In On Max Horkheimer: New Perspectives, edited by Seyla Benhabib, Wolfgang Bonß, and John McCole, pp. 281-304. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1993.
[In the following essay, Schnädelbach investigates Horkheimer's moral philosophy by contrasting his writings on the subject with the concept of German idealism.]
Horkheimer's work contains many passages concerning moral and morally relevant problems, but one searches in vain for a completely elaborated moral philosophy. The rudiments of one may be found primarily in “Materialism and Morality” (1933) and in various passages of the “Juliette” portion of Dialectic of Enlightenment. These could be quickly summarized but would not thereby be adequately elucidated. If the matter were to remain with the mere reproduction of these thoughts, one would have to reach the regrettable conclusion—given the paucity of texts—that early critical theory had an ethics deficit. Any attempt to read Horkheimer in such a way that the relevant passages open one's vision to an implicit moral philosophy—one amenable to reconstruction—must rely upon other approaches. For my own part, I choose the method of contrast: with the ethics of German idealism. In this connection, the concept of German idealism is construed broadly so as not to...
(The entire section is 10305 words.)
SOURCE: Alway, Joan. “Horkheimer and Adorno: Despair and Possibility in a Time of Eclipse.” In Critical Theory and Political Possibilities: Conceptions of Emancipatory Politics in the Works of Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, and Habermas, pp. 49-70. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995.
[In the following essay, Alway contrasts Horkheimer and Adorno's attitude toward social change, focusing on their response to and appropriation of Marxist thought.]
When optimism is shattered in periods of crushing defeat, many intellectuals risk falling into a pessimism about society and a nihilism which are just as ungrounded as their exaggerated optimism had been. They cannot bear the thought that the kind of thinking which is most topical, which has the deepest grasp of the historical situation, and is most pregnant with the future, must at certain times isolate its subject and throw him back upon himself.
—Max Horkheimer “Traditional and Critical Theory,” 214
Dialectic of Enlightenment is an expression of shattered optimism in a period of crushing defeat. It offers, as we have seen, only the faintest hope for social change. In examining Horkheimer's and Adorno's later work, we will find that while Adorno maintained this faint hope, persisting in a belief that a better world was at least a possibility, Horkheimer lapsed into...
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Stirk, Peter M. R. Max Horkheimer: A New Interpretation. Boston: Barnes & Noble Books, 1992, 266 p.
Full-length critical study of Horkheimer's work.
Additional coverage of Horkheimer's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Contemporary Authors, Vols. 41-44R; and Literature Resource Center.
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