A history of the Frankfurt School
and the Institute of Social Research, 1923-1950
(University of California Press, 1973)
"One of the crucial questions raised in
the ensuing analysis was the relation of theory to practice, or more
precisely, to what became a familiar term in the Marxist lexicon,
praxis. Loosely defined, praxis was used to designate
a kind of self-creating action, which differed from the
externally motivated behavior produced by forces outside man's
control. Although originally seen as the opposite of
contemplative theoria when it was first used in Aristotle's
Metaphysics, praxis in the Marxist usage was
seen in dialectical relation to theory. In fact, one of the earmarks
of praxis as opposed to mere action was its being informed by
theoretical considerations. The goal of revolutionary activity
was understood as the unifying of theory and praxis,
which would be in direct contrast to the situation prevailing under
capitalism." (page 3-4)
"....the Frankfurt School was to become a major force in the
revitalization of Western European Marxism in the postwar years. In
addition, through the sudden popularity of Herbert Marcuse in
the America of the late 1960's, the Frankfurt School's Critical
Theory has also had a significant influence on the New Left
in this country." (4-5)
"On June 22, 124, the Institut's freshly completed building was
officially opened. Grunberg [its first director] gave the dedicating
address.... Grunberg concluded his opening address by clearly stating
his personal allegiance to Marxism as a scientific methodology...
Marxism would be the ruling principle at the Institut.[sic] ... True
Marxism, he continued, was not dogmatic ; it did not seek eternal laws.
With this latter assertion, Critical Theory as it was later developed
was in agreement. (11-12)
"With the introduction of psychoanalyses to the Institut, the Grunberg
era was clearly over.... The change this symbolized was given further
impetus by the acceptance of a new member in late 1932, Herbert Marcuse,
who was to become one of the principal architects of Critical Theory.
Marcuse was born in 1898 in Berlin, into a family of prosperous
assimilated Jews, like most of the others.... In 1919 he quit the
Social Democratic Party... in protest against its betrayal of the
proletariat.... His first book, Hegel's Ontology and the
Foundation of a Theory of Historicity, appeared in 1932, bearing the
marks of his mentor Heidegger.... Their relations became strained....
the political differences between the Marxist oriented student and the
increasingly right-wing teacher."
"With the Nazi assumption of power of January 30, 1933, the future of
an avowedly Marxist organization, staffed almost exclusively
by men of Jewish descent-- at least by Nazi standards -- was
obviously bleak.... Adorno... maintained a residence in
Germany... he spent most of the next four years in England staying at
Merton College, Oxford." (28-29)
"Once in America... the Institut's members became more sensitive to
the Jewish question. Adorno, for example, was asked by
Pollock to drop the Wiesengrund from his name, because there were too
many Jewish-sounding names on the Institut's roster. ... Assimilation
was paradoxically more difficult in America than it had been in
pre-Nazi Germany, at least so many Institut members felt....
"Jurgen Habermas has recently argued that a striking resemblance exists
between certain strains in the Jewish cultural tradition and in that of
German Idealism, whose roots have often been seen in Protestant
Pietism. One important similarity, which is especially crucial for an
understanding of Critical Theory, is the old cabalistic idea
that speech rather than pictures was the only way to approach God....
This, so Habermas has argued, parallels the idealist critique of
empirical reality, which reached its height in Hegelian dialectics."
"Institut will also be used as coterminous with the "Frankfurt School"
in the period after 1933." (34)
"After the Institut's resettlement at Columbia University,
however, this tone underwent a subtle shift in a pessimistic direction.
Articles in the Zeitschrift scrupulously avoided using words
like 'Marxism' or 'communism,' substituting 'dialectical
materialism' or 'the materialist theory of society' instead.... These
changes were doubtless due in part to the sensitive situation in
which the Institut's members found themselves at Columbia. They were
also a reflection of their fundamental aversion to the type of Marxism
that the Institut equated with the orthodoxy of the Soviet Camp. But in
addition they expressed a growing loss of that basic confidence,
which Marxists had traditionally felt, in the revolutionary potential
of the proletariat."...
"Like other twentieth-century contributors to the
revitalization of Marxism -- Lukacs, Gramski, Bloch,
Sartre.... they were influenced at an early stage in their careers
by more subjects, even idealist philosophies. Horkheimer, who set the
tone for all of the Institut's work, had been interested in Schopenhauer
and Kant before becoming fascinated with Hegel and Marx."
"Although attacking the idea of a
or mass soul, Fromm felt that individuals were never
entirely isolated from their social situation. The real task was to
supplement and enrich the basic Marxist framework, which he accepted as a given. Marxism, he argued,
had incorrectly been charged with having a simplistic psychology of
acquisitiveness; here he pointed an accusing finger at Bertrand
Russell.... for wrongly seeing economic self-interest as
the basis of Marx's view of man."
"By the late thirties, however Fromm and the other Institut
members began to go along separate paths.... Walter Benjamin... was not
really a member of the Institut's inner circle..."
"Well before the
forced emigration, it [Frankfurt Institut]
had turned its attention to problems of authority. Critical Theory was developed partly in response to the
failure of traditional Marxism to explain the reluctance of the
proletariat to fulfill its historical role. One of the primary reasons
for Horkheimer's early interest in psychoanalysis had been
the help it might give in accounting for the psychological
"cement" of society. Accordingly, when he assumed the reins of
the Institut in 1930, one the first tasks he announced was an
empirical study of the mentality of workers in the Weimar
Republic.... Erich Fromm was the project's director."
"Horkheimer, accompanied by
Adorno, ...moved to
Pacific Palisades near Santa Monica, California, in early 1941....
In moving westward to California, Horkheimer and Adorno gave
symbolic confirmation of the [Frankfurt] Institut's increased
distance from its European origins. In February 1940
while still in New York, Horkheimer, Pollock, Marcuse
and Lowenthal had taken out naturalization papers. By the end of the
war almost all the Institut members had become American citizens.
with Punishment and Social Structure in 1939,
all the Institut's published work appeared in its adopted language.
In the forties the Studies in Prejudice picked up....but now
the focus was on American forms of authoritarianism....
"Authoritarianism in America appeared in
different guises from its European counterparts. Instead of
terror or coercion, more gently forms of enforced conformism had
been developed. Perhaps the post effective of these were to be found
in the cultural field. American mass culture thus became one of
the central concerns of the Frankfurt School in the forties. In
the next chapter we shall turn to the extensive and penetrating work
of Adorno and Benjamin in the context of the Institut's treatment
of... 'affirmative culture.'"
"...the Frankfurt School, like other para-Marxists, shared
the "Engelian" distinction between realism and naturalism that
Lukacs did so much to develop.... Whatever the disagreements that
separated them in subsequent years... the Institut and Lukacs spoke to
similar questions from within a common tradition."
"The principle that Adorno attributed to the symbolists also informed
their work: 'Defiance of society includes defiance of its language.'...
Adorno himself indicated his purpose indirectly when he wrote of
Schonberg's music: 'It requires the listener spontaneously to compose
its inner movement and demand of him not mere contemplation but
praxis.. As Adorno once suggested, Benjamin saw himself as the
vehicle for the expression of objective cultural tendencies.... Benjamin strove to give his words a richness and
resonance that normal prose lacked. His interest in the Talmud and the
Cabala may have led him tot the conviction that multiple levels
of meaning exist in every sentence. "176
"Benjamin's keenest interest was in the Cabala, the
most arcane of Jewish mystical works... If Benjamin responded to the
revelatory elements in Judaism, he was equally sensitive to its
redemptive strains. The messianic current in Jewish through,
which was appropriated in a secularized from by Marxism, ran
through his writings form beginning to end. ... One of the last essays
he wrote, the posthumously published 'These on the philosophy of
History,' made this every evident. It was here that Benjamin most
clearly articulated his distinction between homogenous empty time and
the messianic Jetzteit (the fulfilled time of the
present) that the revolution was supposed to usher in."
Lewin, “Group Decision and Social Change” and