Quotes and Excerpts

"The Dialectical Imagination

A history of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, 1923-1950

University of California Press, 1973

Note: The last section focuses on authoritarianism -- an obstruction to the the dialectic proccess. In fact, the goal of this process is to eliminate traditional authorities such as the father, the pastor and the Bible. These represent intolerable absolutes ( a father's "no," a pastor's "thou shalt not," and the Bible's unchanging guidelines. The masses must be freed from such authorities and, instead, learn to follow their own inner guidance. But that inner guide must be shaped by trained facilitators and the dialectic process. It must be taught -- through PRAXIS -- to submit to an ever-evolving group consensus.

"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. ... 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." (pages 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)

"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. ... 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.

"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." (28)


"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... 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.....

     "One important similarity [between certain strains in the Jewish cultural tradition and in that of German Idealism], 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." (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."


"Although attacking the idea of a group 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." (92)


"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 it historical role." (116)


"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....


"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.'" (172)

"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.'"


"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 [not Biblical redemption] 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... 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."

See also The Dialectic Process | Frankfurt Institute & Adorno

Dialectic and Praxis: DIAPRAX and the End of the Ages

Brave New Schools, Chapter 3: A New Way of Thinking

Caution: The Dialectic Process at work by D. L. Cuddy, Ph.D

Training students to rethink God's Word

What is the Hegelian Dialectic? | Brainwashing in America