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The Frankfurt school, part 1: why did Anders Breivik fear them?

The Frankfurt school united Marx and Freud to become the most
influential thinkers of the 20th century left. The respectable right are
suspicious, and the far right loathes them

Peter Thompson
o theguardian.com, Monday 25 March 2013 08.00 GMT

When Anders Breivik launched his murderous attack in Norway in July 2011, he left behind a
rambling manifesto which attacked not only what he saw as Europe's Islamicisation but also its
undermining by the cultural Marxism of the Frankfurt school. So what is the Frankfurt school?
Has its influence has been as deep as Breivik feared and many of the rest of us have hoped?
Many will have heard of the most prominent names from that tradition: Theodor Adorno,
Herbert Marcuse and Max Horkheimer, but its reach goes much further, taking in many of the
20th century's most important continental philosophers and socio-political developments.
The Frankfurt school was officially called the Institute for Social Research and was attached to
the University of Frankfurt but functioned as an independent group of Marxist intellectuals who
sought, under the leadership of Felix Weil, to expand Marxist thought beyond what had
become a somewhat dogmatic and reductionist tradition increasingly dominated by both
Stalinism and social democracy. Most famously they sought to marry up a combination of
Marxist social analysis with Freudian psychoanalytical theories, searching for the roots of what
made people tick in modern consumer capitalist society as well as what made people turn to
fascism in the 1930s.
The Frankfurt school went back to Marx's early theoretical works from the 1840s and tapped
into his more humanist impulses found in the German-French Annals and in his correspondence
with Arnold Ruge. It is in these early writings that we find many of Marx's most important
writings on the role of religion in history and society. His ideas about the way materialism
worked in the world were still being formulated and he had not yet become the economic
theoretician he was later known as. It is not that Marx left ideas of religion behind after these
early years, but he felt he had dealt with them properly and could move on to more tangible
affairs. In a letter to Arnold Ruge in 1842 he wrote:
"Our motto must be: reform of consciousness not through dogmas, but by analysing the
mystical consciousness that is unintelligible to itself, whether it manifests itself in a religious or
a political form. It will then become evident that the world has long dreamed of possessing
something of which it has only to be conscious in order to possess it in reality. It will become
evident that it is not a question of drawing a great mental dividing line between past and
future, but of realising the thoughts of the past. Lastly, it will become evident that mankind is
not beginning a new work, but is consciously carrying into effect its old work."
But the idea that what was required was a reform of consciousness which had become
unintelligible to itself is the central working principle of the Frankfurt school. Religious thought,
which Marx saw as a part of false consciousness, was to be combated not by a full frontal attack
in some sort of Dawkins-like crusade, but by removing the social conditions that created it.
Marx was, therefore, not an atheist. Indeed he said of the term atheism that it "reminds one of
children, assuring everyone who is ready to listen to them that they are not afraid of the bogey
man". But the Frankfurt school did not believe that this reform of consciousness could come
about simply by changing the socio-economic base of capitalist society. Religion was, for them,
not only the opium of the people, but also a repository of hope that had become unintelligible
to itself.
Freud comes into the equation here because these critical theorists thought that his categories
of id, superego and ego, which were constantly interacting as the basis of the human psyche,
fitted well with the Marxist dialectic of historical struggle and resolution. If societies moved
forward historically as the result of class struggle, then individuals were constantly dealing with
a struggle between the reality of the world around them and what they thought about that
world. Paradoxically, the Frankfurt school saw this as necessary because of the relative success
of capitalism rather than its imminent collapse, as the more dogmatic Marxists proclaimed (and
indeed continue to proclaim). How was it, they argued, that the great mass of people could be
sucked into complicity with their own exploitation? With the emergence of fascism in the 1920s
and 30s the question became even more urgent. What led educated people to throw their lot in
with the barbarism of fascism? This, for them, was the ultimate in false consciousness. One of
the most influential works of the Frankfurt school to deal with this phenomenon was The
Authoritarian Personality, a work that purported to be a study of prejudice and that
documented the ways in which people, as individuals, were motivated to think and act as they
do in a social context, to form in-groups and to exclude others to the point of genocidal
Paradoxically it is that great enemy of the Frankfurt school, Breivik, who is the perfect example
of the authoritarian personality Adorno wrote about: obsessed with the apparent decline of
traditional standards, unable to cope with change, trapped in a hatred of all those not deemed
part of the in-group and prepared to take action to "defend" tradition against degeneracy.
More worryingly, especially set against the rise of groups like Golden Dawn in Greece and
widespread trends towards the fear of Islam in mainstream society, Adorno maintained that
"personality patterns that have been dismissed as 'pathological' because they were not in
keeping with the most common manifest trends or the most dominant ideals within a society,
have, on closer investigation, turned out to be but exaggerations of what was almost universal
below the surface in that society. What is 'pathological' today may, with changing social
conditions, become the dominant trend of tomorrow."

The Frankfurt school, part 2: Negative dialectics
Unlike Hegel, Theodor Adorno rejected the idea the outcome of the
dialectic will always be positive, and preordained

o Peter Thompson
o theguardian.com, Monday 1 April 2013 09.00 BST

'Adorno criticised Hegel, above, for presenting a positive and affirmative dialectic in which
'everything that is real is rational'.'
Already in the comments about the first instalment of this series, a problem of traditions has
emerged. For a predominantly Anglo-Saxon audience, raised in the empirical and positivist
tradition, understanding a group of thinkers schooled in speculative Hegelianism and Marxist
dialectics is always going to require a leap of faith. This is also compounded by the fact that the
largely monoglot Anglo-Saxon tradition has to work with translations of these thinkers, which
are not always the best that can be achieved.
For example, terms such as Wissenschaft and Geist traditionally get translated into "science"
and "spirit", apparently irreconcilable opposites, whereas in philosophical terms the difference
between the two is much less marked. In fact, you might argue that in the original German they
could both be translated as "knowledge", albeit different types of knowledge bounded by
speculation. When it comes to the Frankfurt school, the Anglo-Saxon tradition is confronted
with all of its worst nightmares in one torrid night of speculative muscle flexing.
Theodor Adorno opens his treatise on negative dialectics with the statement that "[it] is a
phrase that flouts tradition. As early as Plato, dialectics meant to achieve something positive by
means of negation; the thought figure of the 'negation of the negation' later became the
succinct term. This book seeks to free dialectics from such affirmative traits without reducing its
determinacy." In other words, he asks us to reject the idea that the outcome of the dialectic will
always be positive but that we do so without leaving the dialectic behind as an explanatory
model. We simply have to make it an open rather than a closed process.
In Hegel the dialectic is widely seen as the means by which, through contradiction and tension,
human history represents the unfolding of human freedom as the expression of the Weltgeist,
or world spirit. Each age has its own zeitgeist (a sort of temporal appearance on Earth as the
expression of the absolute Christ as God come to Earth, if you like) but each of those ages is
linked and taken up into (aufgehoben) the next succeeding one. Thus history is not just "one
fucking thing after another", as Alan Bennett has it, but a gradual accretion through
contradiction of the necessary stages for the fulfilment of the absolute. As Ernst Bloch pointed
out, werden, or "becoming", was Hegel's password and history was simply the process of
becoming. The dialectic was thus the way to understand an old idea first put forward by
Heraclitus that everything is constantly in flux, or panta rhei, that the basic condition of the
world is change and not stability. But change towards what?
In Hegel it is the absolute and in Hegel's most famous follower, Marx, it becomes the liberation
of humanity in some form of communist society achieved by the conscious action of the
proletariat in overcoming the final dialectical hurdle by abolishing the ruling class and thereby,
logically, itself. The Marxist dialectic replaces the idealist Geist of a period working in
mysterious ways with the concrete materialist class struggle as the engine of history, constantly
present and constituting history as such.
As early as the end of the 19th century, this Marxist analysis had become "Hegelianised" in the
sense that it was increasingly presented as an automatic and inevitable fulfilment of a
preordained path. Adorno criticised Hegel for giving rise to this by presenting a positive and
affirmative dialectic in which "everything that is real is rational", in that everything that comes
about must contribute in some way to the workings of the absolute. To use a technical term,
this means that in Hegel there is an "identity of identity and non-identity". In more ordinary
language, Hegel is arguing that existence as a whole constitutes a unity of all opposites, in
which everything has its place and that the tension between these opposites gradually resolves
itself into pre-existing whole.
Negative dialectics turns this on its head and says that there is a "non-identity of identity and
non-identity" or that existence is incomplete, that it has a hole in it where the whole should be,
that history is not the simple unfolding of some preordained noumenal realm and that
existence is therefore "ontologically incomplete". It is here that we find the link between Marx
and Freud because, where Marx talks about the objective material factors at work in history
that condition our consciousness (being determines consciousness) even though we are not
necessarily conscious of them, Freud argues that it is our objective unconscious being, of which
we are equally unaware, that determines our conscious thoughts. The latent content of our
dreams is therefore equated with the latent but as yet unrealised possibilities in human history
(see Marx's letter to Ruge in my previous column).
Adorno's negative dialectics are designed to open up these as yet unrealised possibilities at
both the micro and the macro level, at the level of individual as well as collective psychology in
order to overcome both individual and social suffering. It is the very contradiction between
what is and what might be that allows us to overstep the boundaries with which we are
constantly presented in order to create our endpoint, rather than simply sleepwalk towards it.
This means that we move from necessity to contingency. In negative dialectics there is no
necessity for things to turn out in a certain way, and the future-orientated teleology that
Adorno claimed Hegel followed is replaced with retrospective teleology in which we can only
see that what has happened to get us to where we are had to happen to get us there, but that
there was no necessity for it happen in that way. Human beings are a product of evolution but
evolution is not there to create human beings. Walter Benjamin famously expressed this as the
angel of history moving backwards into the future with the debris of history piling up around his
feet. Negative dialectics are, in the end then, open dialectics conditioned by contingent events
and not by a pre-given endpoint.
Next week I will look at how this works out in terms of an attempt to break out of the snow
globe of western consumer capitalism. If you want to do some reading in preparation I would
suggest the Dialectic of Enlightenment.

The Frankfurt school, part 3: Dialectic of Enlightenment
Adorno and Horkheimer wrote this key text during their wartime
exile, arriving at a pessimistic view of our place in a false system

o Peter Thompson
o theguardian.com, Monday 8 April 2013 09.00 BST

Theodor W Adorno and Max Horkheimer's Dialectic of Enlightment is 'perhaps the central text
of the Frankfurt school'. Photographs: Getty Images
The Frankfurt school came together and developed its theories in a world left shattered by the
first world war. The Weimar Republic was essentially a shell-shocked society in which many of
the old certainties had been smashed to pieces. Worse than that, nothing had arisen from the
ruins to give anyone any hope for the future.
As liberal democracy failed and Weimar spiralled down into Nazism, this school of almost
entirely Jewish-Marxist intellectuals were forced to flee a country which had turned against
them for reasons of both race and politics. One of their most cherished members, Walter
Benjamin, killed himself in 1940 on the French-Spanish border, an act which threw many of the
remaining members into even greater depression.
Changing their country more often than they changed their shoes, as Bertolt Brecht put it, they
ended up in the US during the Hitler years and although this was a refuge for them, it was not a
society they felt had anything to offer humanity. Ernst Bloch described the US as "a cul-de-sac
lit by neon lights" almost a template for a David Lynch film and they felt that a society
obligated to the pursuit of individualised happiness was the epitome of a world of shallow and
inauthentic surfaces and insincerity. In one of the most famous aphorisms from Minima
Moralia, published in 1951, philosopher Theodor W Adorno says that it is not possible to live a
true life in a false system.
Most important in this context, the thinkers of the Frankfurt school did not draw a great
distinction between various forms of capitalism, be they consumerist democracies or fascist
dictatorships. Although the surface appearance of oppressive mechanisms were obviously
different, for them, the underlying rule of capital was the same.
Dialectic of Enlightenment, perhaps the central text of the Frankfurt school, was written by
Adorno and Max Horkheimer during these years in exile. It arrives at a pessimistic view of what
can be done against a false system which, through the "culture industry", constantly creates a
false consciousness about the world around us based on myths and distortions deliberately
spread in order to benefit the ruling class.
This is, of course, not peculiar to capitalism, but in capitalism it finds its full commodified form
so that we become the willing consumers and reproducers of our own alienation by becoming
consumers rather than producers of culture. It is probably a good thing that they didn't live to
see The X Factor and OK! magazine. For Adorno and Horkheimer, authentic culture is not simply
to be equated with high culture, which is equally commodified. Authentic culture directly
resists commodification and punishes audiences for expecting to be entertained.
Leading on from the theory of negative dialectics, Dialectic of Enlightenment argues that
enlightenment values themselves are not automatically progressive and that the potentially
liberating process of the unfolding of human freedom, as Hegel and indeed Marx posited it, is
undermined by our enslavement within the totality of capitalist social relations.
Their view is that fascism, Stalinism and consumer capitalism all produced the widespread
socialisation of the means of production and the corporatisation of the economy, with a central
role for the state. This convergence had done away with the worst excesses of class exploitation
and replaced it with a sort of social complicity between the classes undergirded by recourse to
mythologies and ideological control.
This control is exercised not only through direct repression but through the apparently non-
ideological aspects of our everyday lives, in particular the ways in which modernity encourages
us to fulfil and pursue our desires rather than have them crushed and controlled. Here, de Sade
is brought in along with Nietzsche to demonstrate how modernity and the Enlightenment have
brought about the transvaluation of all values and undermined all traditions. Marx also noted
that in capitalism "all that is solid melts into air". What is often misunderstood on this point is
that the Frankfurt School were not the cause of the apparent breakdown of social values but
were drawing attention to the way in which capitalism was ineluctably smashing up the old
certainties. At the same time as making us enjoy the experience as an extension of our libido
we also feel guilty about and transfer the blame for it onto anyone but ourselves.
In an ironic twist, the Frankfurt School, which identified this mechanism of blaming, now
functions as the guilty men for those who seek someone to blame.
In the section on antisemitism they explain the ways in which myths about Jews are used by
both fascism and liberal democracies to create an outsider group which can be blamed for all
problems. This culminates in the Nazi theory that the world is being dominated by a Jewish
conspiracy in which rich Jewish bankers finance the communists in order to bring about the
dominance of finance capital over good old traditional national productivist values.
Freud is brought in here to say that hatred of the other (in this case Jews, but it can be any
other group) is actually a way to mask jealousy of what they have, not in terms of wealth, but in
their identifiable collective traditions and apparent social cohesion, which they maintain while
the "host" nation rots away around them. Fascism is thus successful not because it is repressive
but because it permits and encourages our deepest desires to find the culprit for our own

The Frankfurt school, part 4: Herbert Marcuse
Marcuse's optimism, that the alienating effect of commodification
could be overcome, greatly influenced the 1960s counterculture

Peter Thompson
o theguardian.com, Monday 15 April 2013 07.00 BST

'How was it, Marcuse asked, that the totalising administered state, which he saw at work in
western societies, got away with it?' Photograph: Associated Press
When the student generation took off in the 1960s across Europe, in Germany at least it
was Herbert Marcuse who had the greatest influence. This is because whereas Adorno, with his
highly pessimistic philosophical statements about historical development, could talk about a
negative progression of humanity from the "slingshot to the megaton bomb", Marcuse
continued to maintain a more optimistic view of what could be achieved. Indeed, when 1968
happened, Marcuse said that he was happy to say that all of their theories had been proved
completely wrong. Also, Marcuse wrote in a far more accessible way about the ways in which
philosophy and politics were intertwined.
Whereas the French structural Marxist philosopher Lois Althusser had been at pains to draw a
clear dividing line between early and late Marx, Marcuse maintained that the themes of the
early works of Marx, concerned as they were with estrangement and alienation, were carried
over and indeed deepened in the later, more economic texts. As he puts it: "if we look more
closely at the description of alienated labour [in Marx] we make a remarkable discovery: what is
here described is not merely an economic matter. It is the alienation of man, the devaluation of
life, the perversion and loss of human reality. In the relevant passage, Marx identifies it as
follows: 'the concept of alienated labour, ie of alienated man, of estranged labour, of estranged
life, of estranged man.'"
Marcuse linked economic exploitation and the commodification of human labour with a wider
concern about the ways in which generalised commodity production (Marx's basic description
of a capitalist society) was at one and the same time creating a massive surplus of wealth
through economic and technological development and an acceleration of the process of
reducing humanity down to the level of a mere cog in the machine of that production.
How was it, Marcuse asked, that the totalising administered state, which he saw at work in
western societies, got away with it? It did this through what he called "repressive tolerance".
This is the theory that in order to control people more effectively it is necessary to give them
what they need in material terms as well as to let them have what they think they need in
cultural, political and social terms.
Parliamentary democracy, he maintains for example, is merely a sham, a game played out in
order to give the impression that people have a say in the way that society works. Behind this
facade however, he maintained that the same old powers were still at work and, indeed, that
through their tolerance of dissent, debate, apparent cultural and political freedom had
managed to refine and increase their exploitation of human labour power without anyone
really noticing.
Constitutional liberty and equality was all very well, he argued, but if it simply masked
institutionalised inequality then it was worse than useless. As he put it in One-Dimensional
Man: "Free election of masters does not abolish the masters or the slaves. Free choice among a
wide variety of goods and services does not signify freedom if these goods and services sustain
social controls over a life of toil and fear that is, if they sustain alienation. And the
spontaneous reproduction of superimposed needs by the individual does not establish
autonomy; it only testifies to the efficacy of the controls."
This instrumentalisation of humanity could only be reversed, Marcuse maintained, by
challenging the social processes which had led the governing value system to change from
pleasure, joy, play and receptiveness to delayed satisfaction, the restraint of pleasure, work,
productiveness and security.
Drawing on Freud, he maintained that this switch from the pleasure principle to the reality
principle was stunting human potential just at the point where the objective economic
conditions for human liberation had reached their high point. Again, this is where Marxist
historical materialism is married up with the dialectic and he sees the two as inseparable by
pointing out that the switch from the pleasure principle to the reality principle was absolutely
necessary for the development of civilisation but that, in the process, the Eros of human
fulfilment had to be sublimated.
In this dialectical sense, civilisation is both a negative and a positive step forward. However, the
positive civilising process cannot be seen as the end of the dialectic, what Francis Fukuyama
later called "the end of history", as long as the dialectic of human liberation was incomplete. As
he puts it: "the true positive is the society of the future and therefore beyond definition and
determination, while the existing positive is that which must be surmounted."
It is easy to see how this forward-looking and optimistic philosophy could appeal to the political
radicalism of the 1960s generation, and how the call for the liberation of humanity as both
individual and collective could help to unleash new social movements who no longer had any
faith in the ability of the traditional and conservative parties of the left to bring about
significant political change in either east or west.
Next week I shall track back to take a look at the work of Walter Benjamin, the lost prophet of
the Frankfurt school.

The Frankfurt school, part 5: Walter Benjamin, fascism and the future
For Benjamin, religion was a vessel that contained within its
authoritarian history and structures the spark of liberation

o Peter Thompson
o theguardian.com, Monday 22 April 2013 08.00 BST

Walter Benjamin: "The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the 'state of emergency' in
which we live is not the exception but the rule" Photograph: EPA
Quoting Hegel, Walter Benjamin reminds us that before all philosophy comes the struggle for
material existence: "Secure at first food and clothing, and the kingdom of God will come to you
of itself Hegel, 1807", or as Brecht Benjamin's greatest and closest friend put it "first
bread, then morality". But this precisely did not mean that abstraction, speculation and thought
per se had to be rejected in favour of an entirely mechanistic historical materialism. What sets
all of the thinkers in this series apart from many of their more orthodox Marxist
contemporaries is precisely their concern with those issues which cannot be measured, tested
and decided upon but which remain undecided and undecidable.
As Benjamin puts it in his On the Concept of History: "The class struggle, which always remains
in view for a historian schooled in Marx, is a struggle for the rough and material things, without
which there is nothing fine and spiritual. Nevertheless these latter are present in the class
struggle as something other than mere booty, which falls to the victor. They are present as
confidence, as courage, as humour, as cunning, as steadfastness in this struggle, and they reach
far back into the mists of time. They will, ever and anon, call every victory which has ever been
won by the rulers into question. Just as flowers turn their heads towards the sun, so too does
that which has been turned, by virtue of a secret kind of heliotropism, towards the sun which is
dawning in the sky of history. To this most inconspicuous of all transformations the historical
materialist must pay heed."
On this reading, history escapes a linear or teleological path around a fixed point and becomes
a mixture of points at which possibilities are either realised or rejected but never disappear
completely. Again, this continues the theme that Marx took up in his 1844 letter to Ruge, which
I have quoted before, about the realisation of a long-held human dream. Benjamin calls this
"messianic time" in which historical possibility is resurrected over and over again in order to
inform our choices at specific historical junctures. For this reason his historical materialism
called upon the services of theology, which, however, had to be kept well-hidden from public
view even though it was often pulling the strings. To those who criticise communism and
Marxism as "merely" a new form of religious belief, Benjamin's position as with Ernst Bloch,
whom I shall look at next week was that religion was actually a vessel that contained within its
authoritarian history and structures the spark of liberation which could only be fully realised
through historical materialist transformation. In that sense religion is "merely" an old form of a
future and as yet unrealisable dream.
Until this unrealisable future becomes realisable its traces have to be read into the symbolic
forms of human expression in various different historical epochs. To return to Adorno's take on
history in Negative Dialectics, Benjamin's position is that we find the solution to the apparent
non-identity of the material and the transcendental within the symbolic. We can see here quite
clearly another point of contact between Marx and Freud where transcendental thoughts exist
not as something separate from material reality but as something both produced by and also
affecting and influencing that material reality. In Marx this is the interpenetrating relationship
between base and superstructure, to put it at its simplest, and in Freud it exists in the
relationship between the conscious and the unconscious realms. In Freud the symbolic plays
the role of expression of that which is unknown to us but which we secretly know; namely, the
unconscious. In Marx this symbolic expression is present in ideology, which, far from being a
straightforward linear relationship between base and superstructure is constantly in flux and
which can be captured and changed by the attempted realisations of human possibility. Ideas
change as society changes but ideas also create social change.
For Benjamin the role of the symbolic in art thus takes on a transitional historical role. His work
on the Baroque, for example, posits it as the turning point between medieval religiosity and
renaissance secularisation and the Trauerspiel (Mourning-Play) of that period, with its
obsession with violence and death, reflects the growing yet still largely unconscious realisation
that there is no happy end in heaven and that as Bloch puts it death becomes the harshest
of all anti-utopias. Art and culture in his era though, in the era of what he hoped was the
transition from capitalism to socialism, had to grasp the dual possibilities of technology so that
it could be harnessed not to master nature but to master the relationship between humanity
and nature.
This means that art had to take on a political role in increasing the awareness of what was at
long last the real human potential for the realisation of the old dreams. It could go either way
though; down the Adornian route from the slingshot to the megaton bomb or onwards and
upwards to the sunlit uplands of social liberation. Art and technology therefore become
interlinked and politicised, predominantly in film. The "aura" of traditional art may have been
destroyed by modernity but the future "aura" of liberated humanity as a living work of art had
to take its place. If fascism represented the aestheticisation of politics then the fight against
fascism had to involve the politicisation of aesthetics and the active creation of the aura of
This is why Benjamin states that "the tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the 'state of
emergency' in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception
of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realise that it is our task to
bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against
fascism." In other words, all class society is a permanent state of emergency in which the rulers
are always under threat. Fascism is thus not some sort of breakdown of tradition but a
continuation of traditional class rule by other means. Overcoming it thus requires not just anti-
fascist attitudes but also a destruction of its roots in class oppression. Or, as Horkheimer put it
in 1939: "If you don't want to talk about capitalism then you had better keep quiet about

The Frankfurt school, part 6: Ernst Bloch and the Principle of Hope
Bloch differed from the Frankfurt school over fascism and saw
religious expression as part of the human desire for liberation

o Peter Thompson
o theguardian.com, Monday 29 April 2013 09.30 BST
"We must believe in the Principle of Hope. A Marxist does not have the right to be a pessimist"
We cannot count Ernst Bloch as being among the central figures of the Frankfurt School. Indeed
they maintained a distance from each other for many different reasons. However, Bloch was
perhaps a figurative intellectual influence on many members of the Frankfurt School. Born in
1885 he was old enough to have already been a member of the Simmel and Weber circles
before the first world war and went on through the Weimar Republic, exile in the US under
the Nazis, a return to East Germany in 1949 and flight to the west in 1961 where he died in
Tbingen in 1977 to publish 16 highly influential volumes of philosophical works. He was close
friends with Walter Benjamin, Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weil, Georgy Lukcs and Adorno. The latter,
for example, said that there was nothing that he had written that did not in some way refer
back to Bloch's Spirit of Utopia published in 1918 and he was later to say that Bloch had
restored honour to the concept of utopia.
Bloch's magnum opus was a three-volume compendium entitled The Principle of Hope in which
he lays out the myriad ways in which hope and the human desire for liberation and fulfilment
appear in our everyday lives. As we can see from the quote above he did not agree with
Adorno's increasing cultural pessimism, never gave up on the idea of the transformative power
of political action by the working class and the new social movements and was, as a result, even
more of a darling of the 1968 movement than was Herbert Marcuse. However, Bloch did not
approach hope and utopia from a naively optimistic standpoint. He was well aware of the
problems that faced those who wish to negate the negation and move forward. His book on the
rise of fascism in the 1930s, Heritage of Our Times, attacked both the orthodox Marxist left and
his friends in the Frankfurt school for not realising that fascism was, in his words, a perverted
religious movement which won people over with quasi-utopian ideas about the wonders of a
future Reich. He pointed out that the very term Third Reich is taken from the works of Joachim
da Fiore, who posited that it would only be attainable with the return of Christ.
In this way he differentiated himself from the Frankfurt school and indeed they distanced
themselves from him because he was not prepared to take the standard Freudian line on the
rise of fascism. He criticised Freud for his obsession with trauma and nightmares about a
repressed past and instead maintained that actually what drives us on are our daydreams of a
better and brighter world. Indeed, The Principle of Hope was originally to be called Dreams of a
Better Life. It is an extraordinary book which deals with the ways in which we both hide and
express our hopes in dreams and fairytales, sport, music, love and that all of these are
expressions of hopes which cannot yet be realised. His central operator was precisely this idea
of the Not Yet. He speaks of an "Ontology of Not-Yet Being" in which we are continually
building a concrete utopia. He uses the word concrete here in its Hegelian sense as a con
crescere, a growing together of tendencies and latencies within the relationship between
material reality and human intervention which are always full with potential but which cannot
be realised because the material conditions for their realisation is not yet complete.
However, he also pointed out that this process of attaining utopia was a self-generating one. As
he put it: "processus cum figures, figurae in processu" (The process is made by those who are
made by the process), so that he restored honour to the idea of utopia by seeing it not as a pre-
existing programmatic state which had to be reached under wise and all-knowing leadership
either of the party or the church, but as an autopoietic process driven by the labouring, creating
and producing human being driven on by their material hunger as well as their dreams of
overcoming that hunger. The society we ended up with would therefore be the product of the
process of getting there. This turns on its head the traditional understanding of utopia as a
Telos, a pre-existing ideal state. In this he agreed explicitly with Marx's rejection of utopian
communism. Most importantly, perhaps his most significant impact on intellectual debate was
the way in which he treated religious expression, though not its authoritarian structures he
pointed out for example that religion means re-ligio or binding back as an essential part of the
expression of the human desire for liberation. His book Atheism in Christianity is about religion
as exodus and the transcending of real material conditions without the need for a
transcendental realm outside of material reality. In this sense the death of God is an essential
part of the religious experience.
For these reasons he maintained a belief in the Enlightenment and modernity as well as the
enlightened religious impetus in human beings all as expressions of the human "invariant of
direction" which would eventually carry us forward to a place, as he put it, where we had never
yet been but would feel at home. Along the way we would be stripped of our belief in gods and
reinvest that belief back into ourselves and only then could we fully realise our potential. The
belief in gods and the transcendental, however, was not some sort of delusion or junk DNA but
was an essential carrier of the utopian ideal for as long as the world was not yet ready for it.
Indeed he maintained that the communist idea of the withering away of the state was merely a
secular version of the idea of loving your neighbour and a putting into practice of the old
religious phrase, adopted by Marx too, of "from each according to their ability and to each
according to their needs".

The Frankfurt school, part 7: what's left?
Habermas and Honneth represent both a break with the Frankfurt
school and continuity around the theme of reification

o Peter Thompson
o theguardian.com, Monday 6 May 2013 08.00 BST

German philosopher Juergen Habermas. Photograph: Martin Gerten/epa/Corbis
Although I have concentrated very clearly on the big names of classical Frankfurt school history
and their relationship to fascism, capitalism and the conditions created by the Weimar
Republic, the Frankfurt school still exists today. Its influence, largely through Jrgen Habermas
and Axel Honneth, remains considerable. From early Adorno to late Habermas and on to
Honneth is a very great distance but there are certain threads running through all of this work.
As Axel Honneth himself points out, one of these threads is the idea of reification. He goes back
to Georgy Lukacs's work on this concept in his History and Class Consciousness from 1925 to
point out that although the term went out of fashion in the postwar period, apart from its
short-lived rediscovery by the 1968 movement, it has never really gone away and is beginning
to re-emerge today.
Reification in one form or another has been the determining concept of western Marxism since
the Bolshevik revolution. It defines the early Frankfurt school attempts to understand fascism
as the externalisation of repressed desires; it underpins Walter Benjamin's aesthetic theories in
which he describes fascism as the "aestheticisation of politics"; equally, it forms the base of
Herbert Marcuse's concept of the one-dimensional man, that dimension representing merely
the reified desires of consumer culture.
However, when we talk of the second and third generations of the Frankfurt school,
represented by Habermas and Honneth respectively, we are speaking more of a break within
the tradition rather than continuity. This is, of course, not that surprising. The world of Weimar
and fascism in which the first generation grew up was a very different one to the apparent
glittering success of "classless" liberal democratic (West) Germany.
Honneth goes back beyond Lukcs and Marx to early Hegel and locates the basis of reification
not in social, economic or structural terms but in the problem of "recognition" or what Plato
called Thymos which, alongside reason and eros form the three basic parts of our psyche. Of
course this platonic triad could be said to be equal to the Freudian division into id (eros), ego
(reason) and superego (thymos) and in that sense, reification continues the psychoanalytical
tradition within the Frankfurt school. But Honneth also de-ideologises it by removing structural
economic factors and foregrounding individual psychology.
Thymos is also at the root of Fukuyama's theory of the end of history in that he believed that
there can be no new stage beyond liberal democracy precisely because it is liberal democracy
which guarantees the greatest possible level of recognition of the individual. This means that
rather than seeking to be rid of reification by overthrowing the structures of the capitalist
system which bring about our alienation and exploitation, we have to concentrate on improving
and ameliorating the conditions of capitalism and liberal democracy to the point where we can
gain full individual recognition as human subjects. So Fukuyama's theory turns on its head
Adorno's dictum that there can be nothing true within a false system and maintains that not
everything in a modern liberal capitalist democracy can be said to have a reifying and alienating
effect but that the system itself is potentially open to constant reform and improvement.
With the triumph of consumer capitalism in the west during the 1950s and 60s and the absence
of any serious crisis of capitalism and resulting proletarian uprising, questions about identity,
politics and ideology had to be seriously rethought. Critical theory had to develop an
explanatory power to deal with that absence and the realisation that to paraphrase Marx
consumerism had replaced religion, but this time as the sigh of the unoppressed creature in a
non-hostile world.
Habermas originally based himself in a critical Hegelian Marxist approachbut by the late 1960s
had moved away from the concerns of the first generation. By 1979 he said that he did not
share "the premise that instrumental reason has gained such dominance that there is really no
way out of a total system of delusion in which insight is achieved only in flashes by isolated
Rather than maintaining that nothing could be done to improve conditions until capital had
been dislodged and replaced by a socialist system he was much more interested in finding ways
in which the public sphere could be gradually transformed into a space where domination by
the media and the big ideological apparatuses of the system could be replaced by interactive
and intersubjective dialogue from below. This "discourse theory" led to his major work The
Theory of Communicative Action (1981) in which he asks how the first generation were able to
step outside of the totality of repressive relations in order to be able to criticise those relations.
If they were so totalising then surely those applying critical theory to them were also part of the
repressed totality.
This is a long way from the glory days of Marxo-Freudian critique but Habermas's main concern
is to maintain the defence of reason, science, modernity, and universal human values against
what he sees as the perennial threat of slipping back into irrational regressive fears.

The Frankfurt school, part 8: where do we go from here?
Our current state of economic dislocation and rise of the far right
mirrors the school's two periods. We must overcome with reason

o Peter Thompson
o theguardian.com, Monday 13 May 2013 08.00 BST

A demonstration by the Greek far-right Golden Dawn party in Athens. The 'loss of hope about a
better world is the most depressing outcome of the current crisis'. Photograph: Alkis
The final question for this series is whether any of the issues brought up by the Frankfurt school
still have any currency or importance. There are two distinct periods in the work of the
Frankfurt school. On the one hand there is the attempt to explain and understand fascism as it
was arising during the Weimar Republic. This was a period of social, economic and political
dislocation that brought to the fore very real material concerns on the part of workers that
could easily be channelled into a traditional search for scapegoats and simple explanations.
During this period, however, there continued to exist a powerful workers' movement in the
form of social democracy and communism which, had it been able to overcome the timidity of
the former and the strategic incompetence of the latter, could have functioned as a bulwark
against the rise of the extreme right.
The second period is that of the postwar years, in which there was a social consensus that was
formed under the umbrella of the cold war and rising prosperity (what the French call Les
Trente Glorieuses) and in which it was declared that class and class struggle had come to an
end. Frankfurt school theories about commodification, alienation, reification and false
consciousness were revived by the 1968 movement as a way of explaining away the apparent
passivity of the working class. Indeed, it was during this period that the working class began to
be seen as part of the problem rather than the solution. The forward march of labour was
halted, social democratic and communist parties accommodated to the new consensus and, as
the philosopher Andr Gorz had it, it was "farewell to the working class".
Since the mid-70s, however, we have again been living in a different world in which the
automatic prosperity and growth of the postwar decades have disappeared. Real wages have
fallen at the same time that productivity has risen, thereby transferring unimaginable wealth to
the richest in society. Estimates of how much money is stashed in offshore accounts vary
between $12 and $32tn enough wealth to wipe out almost all the social problems of poverty
in one fell swoop were it to be confiscated, socially invested and redistributed.
The problem now is that the two original periods that characterised the battleground for the
Frankfurt school exist at one and the same time. We have the economic dislocation of the
Weimar period with rates of unemployment in Europe rising constantly (Spain, for example, has
reached over 50% youth unemployment), which is feeding into a rise of neo-fascist and
rightwing parties from Golden Dawn to Ukip. At the same time there is a supine centre-left
which is tied into the neoliberal agenda, while a fractured and fragmented "communist"
movement (for want of a better word) has failed to put together a convincing alternative.
The great recession since 2008 has stripped away a lot of the illusions people have about the
society they live in. When a government needs to proclaim that "we are all in this together",
then it is clear what the true subtext actually is.
But perhaps even more seriously, the planet itself can no longer afford the constant expansion
required by capital. We have the technological and financial means to solve pretty well all of
the basic problems of humanity. What we don't have is the political will. But that is only missing
because even our hopes for the future have become privatised and commodified. Our dreams
have been bought up and sold back to us as glittery tat and royal weddings. It has often been
said that it is easier now to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine a better one.
But this was true at the start of the Frankfurt school. Theodor Adorno wrote:
"The prospective fascist may long for the destruction of himself no less than for that of the
adversaries, destruction being a substitute for his deepest and most inhibited desires He
realises that his solution is no solution, that in the long run it is doomed. Any keen observer
could notice this feeling in Nazi Germany before the war broke out. Hopelessness seeks a
desperate way out. Annihilation is the psychological substitute for the millennium a day when
the difference between the ego and the others, between poor and rich, between powerful and
impotent, will be submerged in one great inarticulate unity. If no hope of true solidarity is held
out to the masses, they may desperately stick to this negative substitute."
That loss of hope and optimism about a better world is the most depressing outcome of the
current crisis and it is no wonder that many seek refuge in the false nostalgia of an unspoiled
world before the ravages of capitalism prompted "all that is solid to melt into air".
But there is no way back, not least because the golden age never existed and the golden dawn
will never come. The only way is to push forward using science, reason, intelligence and hope.
Weak power may be good enough for now but at some point someone is going to have to flex
muscle. Let's make sure that it is the good guys and not the fascists again.