Max Horkheimer and the Foundations of the Frankfurt School

Max Horkheimer and the Foundations of the Frankfurt School

John Abromeit

Language: English

Pages: 456

ISBN: 1107006953

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


This book is the first comprehensive intellectual biography of Max Horkheimer during the early and middle phases of his life (1895-1941). Drawing on unexamined new sources, John Abromeit describes the critical details of Horkheimer's intellectual development. This study recovers and reconstructs the model of early Critical Theory that guided the work of the Institute for Social Research in the 1930s. Horkheimer is remembered primarily as the co-author of Dialectic of Enlightenment, which he wrote with Theodor W. Adorno in the early 1940s. But few people realize that Horkheimer and Adorno did not begin working together seriously until the late 1930s or that the model of Critical Theory developed by Horkheimer and Erich Fromm in the late 1920s and early 1930s differs in crucial ways from Dialectic of Enlightenment. Abromeit highlights the ways in which Horkheimer's early Critical Theory remains relevant to contemporary theoretical discussions in a wide variety of fields.

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specific sense that he describes in more subtle detail the social and psychological manifestations in the concrete individual of the “laws” that govern monopoly capitalism. This procedure of Horkheimer is illustrated clearly, for example, in an ­aphorism entitled “The Little Man and the Philosophy of Freedom,” in which he offers a suggestive reformulation of Marx’s theory of commodity fetishism. Horkheimer writes: The businessman is subject to laws which neither he nor any power with such a

Horkheimer’s ambivalent attitude was reflected from the beginning in his relationship to Cornelius. He may have won Cornelius’s respect and affection right away, but Horkheimer was slow to return this recognition. In a letter to Riekher in the summer of the following year, Horkheimer mentions that he had been meeting with Cornelius every week to discuss problems in moral philosophy. About Cornelius he says, “Our views diverge greatly. I owe him more than I can say, but precisely for that reason I

the sort of neo-Kantianism represented by Cornelius” (p. 4). This interpretation also gives Heidegger too much credit for alerting Horkheimer to the shortcomings of Cornelius’s philosophy, of which he was already aware. It also overlooks the fact that it was precisely in the period after his encounter with Heidegger that Horkheimer vigorously defended Cornelius’s philosophical standpoint, in his dissertation and Habilitationsschrift. 37 38 Student Years in Frankfurt 59 indicates, Horkheimer

rote Fahne.45 However, the first concrete evidence that Horkheimer was seriously studying Marxist theory dates from his stay in Freiburg: Several notebooks from the spring of 1921 are preserved in the Horkheimer Archive.46 They contain Horkheimer’s reading notes from Gustav Landauer’s Aufruf zum Sozialismus,47 A.W. Cohn’s Kann das Geld abgeschafft werden?,48 Karl Vorländer’s Marx, Engels und Lasalle als Philosophen, Friedrich Engels’s Ludwig Feuerbach, und der Ausgang der Klassischen Deutschen

exemplifies the critical impulse of Enlightenment materialism, which he sums up as the “struggle against the bad status quo and the effort to change it.”75 In addition to the philosophes’ critical concept of reason, Horkheimer also devotes a significant amount of attention to the closely related topic of their discovery of society and history. Regarding the former, he first examines the lumieres’ sensualist theory of knowledge, which takes Locke’s empiricism as its point of departure, and is

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