Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Frankfurters for Breakfast

These days the Frankfurt School is conservative Enemy #1, on account of “Cultural Marxism” and political correctness. But I have been reading a book about Horkheimer and Adorno written in the 1970s, The Frankfurt School: The Critical Theories of Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, by Zoltán Tar.

Those were the days before the fall of the Soviet Union and before the ideas of the Frankfurt School had been enthusiastically taken up by every lefty activist in the culture war on everything to do with ordinary middle-class culture.

Horkheimer was the long-time head of the Frankfurt School -- the Institute for Social Research at the University of Frankfurt in Germany -- starting in 1931, and Adorno was his colleague and collaborator.

Dr. Tar views the head of the Frankfurt School as a straying Marxist, a guilty haut bourgeois intellectual with independent means infected by the pessimism of another bourgeois intellectual with independent means, Arthur Schopenhauer.

But Tar's bigger problem with Horkheimer is the central argument of Dialectic of Enlightenment, that domination is the problem in human society, whether domination of man by man or domination of nature by man. You can see why. The whole point of the leftist program is that political power and domination are needed to counter the domination of the market and the capitalists. But is it? There is no doubt that the market bosses everyone of us around. But is that worse than politicians and activists bossing us around? Or kings and noble lords? Our lefty friends just assume that they are on the side of the angels, and that their program will usher in an age of justice, emancipation from domination and liberation from work: in a word, equality.

Of course this last is rubbish. It is true that the idea of social animals is a reduction of force, but it is clear that no society has been without hierarchy, or ever will be. And no humans are ever likely to be free of the need to work, or rely on the work of others. But that is the essence of the left's program.

Politics, the left says, can reverse the domination of capitalists and employers over their subordinate workers. Oh yeah? You mean that the domination by people that do not have explicit government power is likely to be more dominatory than the domination by people armed with the power of the state? If you think that, I gotta bridge to sell you.

Politics, the left says, can lift the burden of work from the brow of labor. Oh yeah? Then who is going to produce the product? The tooth fairy?

At least Max Horkheimer raised the question about the universal problem of domination of man by man and of nature by man. I would say that he failed to answer his question, but at least he raised it. The domination of nature has become, of course, the great issue of environmentalism and climate change.

Horkheimer and Adorno wrote Dialectic of Enlightenment during World War II, a response of lefty intellectuals to the horror of fascism. After the war they collaborated on The Authoritarian Personality, a book that blamed the lower middle class for fascism. Certain people, you see, are prone to succumb to the authoritarian politics of fascism, making fascism the natural end point of capitalist democracy. Dr. Tar takes this seriously. Adorno and his collaborators set out to show that certain people, those inclined to conventionalism, authoritarian submission and aggression, superstition and stereotyping, power and toughness, destructiveness and cynicism, projection, and concerns about sex: these kind of people are susceptible to fascism.

Yes, it was easy to write about fascism then, before the feminist fascists, the Black Lives Matters fascists, and the LGBT fascists, with their appetite for authoritarian aggression and concerns about sex, had appeared on the American scene.

What these lefties do not recognize is that fascism, of the eevil right-wing kind, rears its ugly head whenever center-left governance screws up the economy and people start to get desperate. That's what happened in the 1920s in Germany and so the lower middle class turned to a strong leader that promised to fix things. That is what has happened in post crash America and so the lower middle class is looking for a leader to Make America Great Again. This has nothing to do with authoritarian personalities, but a natural and instinctive human response to things going wrong. When you are stuck in a jam, you look for a leader to get you out of the jam.

Since the 1970s the left has discovered that it really likes the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School as an all-purpose tool to beat up the bourgeoisie. The new game is the idea that white males are the dominant hegemons of the world and that the left is called on to oppose their domination and liberate and emancipate all the groups subordinated to white males during the last 500 years of white patriarchal hegemony.

Again, nobody is allowed to ask whether the domination of leftist politicians and activists is any less of a domination than the domination of patriarchal white males. The left is on the side of the angels and you are a racist, sexist homophobe if you disagree.

I'd say that the verdict is already in. The white males of the patriarchy, for all their faults, were and are not that interested in power. The bourgoisie of the 19th century was quite happy to give the workers the vote and bring them inside the tent. The capitalists of the 19th century, feared by the haut bourgeois intellectuals of the Class of 1848, turned out to be amiable philanthropists. First they built corporations to cut the price of oil by 90 percent and steel by 66 percent. Then they retired and went off and founded medical schools and built libraries. The Class of 1848 and today's lefty politicians and activists? They care about nothing but power, and they have spread death and disaster wherever they have seized power.

That is because they have completely missed the point. The best society is not the society that has found the magic bullet to end oppression now. The best society is the society that has found a new way to reduce the need for political power and its inevitable domination and oppression.

Next we will look at the Theory of Society sociology that Adorno outlined in the 1950s and 1960s.

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