Critical Theory of Society

The “Critical Theory” developed by the so-called “Frankfurt School” is a subtle form of the rejection of existence per se. Marx’s own critical theory had presented itself, in its day, as a “critique of political economy”. It had expressed a belief that it was possible to prove, by reference to unalterable laws of development, that our presently existing society was “pregnant” with another and better one and would, inevitably, at some point “give birth” to this latter. Despite all increases in productive power, however, this society “entirely other” to our present one was born not as a paradise of true humanity but rather as this latter’s “deformed twin”: namely, as the Stalinist state capitalism, or “barracks socialism”, of societies such as the Soviet Union on the one hand and as the “national socialism” of Hitler’s Germany on the other. In the rest of the world the capitalist system achieved consolidation on a global scale. The Frankfurt School’s “Critical Theory”, therefore, as successor form to Marx’s 19th-century “critique of political economy”, could speak henceforth only of the hope of the survival of autonomous individuality even in a society in which “the whole had become the false”. The “entirely other” became, in this 20th-century heir to classical Marxism, something that could, for the present, only be conceived of theoretically, not practically implemented. Indeed, in the most refined and reflective products of Frankfurt School theory, the sole remaining path to the experience of this “entirely other” lay through the aesthetic realm and the rarified air of avant-garde art.

But why, one must ask oneself, did Critical Theory lapse, with the Frankfurt School, into such a fatalistic attitude? Why did its practitioners content themselves with the role of passive observers while more and more human beings were delivered up to barbarism? Why did they not make it their concern to cut the umbilical cord of the supposedly natural continuance of the species? The answer is: Adorno, Horkheimer and Marcuse proved, in the end, incapable of performing the intellectual act of recognizing this supposedly natural continuance as a systematic structure of (self-)delusion and of proceeding to contribute to its severing by pushing forward to the adoption of an antinatalist position qua the sole true overcoming of the “false whole” that is human society.

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