What Makes Critical Theory
The toplc of this paper is the project of a critlcal theory of
society. It considers that project in the form it takes in the
work of its best known exponents, the theorists of the socalled ‘Frankfurt School’. The main question to be answered
is the question of how the critical character of this body of
work is to be understood. What constitutes it as a critical
and not simply an explanatory theory? This is a question
whlch gets Httle systematlc attention in the writings of the
critical theorists themselves, nor, surprisingly, has it occasioned much reflection by commentators. The tendency of
the literature has been for the critlcal claims of the theory
to be made and accepted, whlle the problem of how they
should be conceptualised is ignored or negotiated with vague
generalities . Yet it is perhaps the chief question of
phllosophlcal interest that arises in this area.
An issue that must loom large in trying to answer it is
that of the relationship between the Frankfurt School and
the tradition of sodal theory that derives from Marx. t1any
streams have fed the work of the School, and it might legitimately be studied in terms of any of them. But when one’s
interests are, in a broad sense, methodological, the connection with ‘v1arx rather than, say, Freud or Weber, is bound
to be especially signiflcant. For the founding members of
the School held that the methodologlcal character of their
work, its critlcal status, derives from the model of the critique of politlcal economy. It is true that the leading figure
of the second generation, JUrgen Habermas, looks outside the
Marxist tradition for the foundations of the critlcal project.
He is, however, dealt with here only to the extent needed to
poInt the contrast with the theorIsts who are our chief concern. These are Horkheimer, A.dorno and t1arcuse, the most
important members of the original Frankfurt School.
A text often given canonlcal status, both inside and outside the School, so far as the statement of a programme .is
concerned, is Horkheimer’s 1937 essay ‘Traditional and
Critlcal Theory’ . It .is, in spite of this status, or in partial explanation of it, remarkably elusive even on quite baslc
points. Nevertheless, the historlcal loyalties of the method it
advocates are clearly, even if half-heartedly, declared. The
term ‘crItical’, we are told in a footnote, ‘is used here less
in the sense it has in the idealist critique of pure reason
than in the sense it has in the dialectlcal critique of polltical economy’ . It will be convenient to borrow for these
contrasting elements in the idea of critique the labels ‘reconstruction’ on the one hand and ‘critlcism’ on the other
The idealist programme of reconstructive critique is one
of specifying the conditions of the possibllity of the exerdse of reason, either in general or in some speciflc practlce. The critique of politlcal economy has, however, to be
understood as critlcism; that is, as systematlcally groundect.
and elaborated negative evaluation. It seems from Horkheimer’s declaration that it is with this second version of
critique that we have essentially to deal.
The question posed at the start of the paper may now
be reformulated. What has to be conceptualised is a system
) of negative evaluation. Such a system, it may be assumed,
will necessarily involve some standards of evaluation. There
must be criteria of judgement mediating the transition from
the starting points of the enterprise to its practlcal conclusions. The question is what is the nature of the standards in
the case of the critlcal theory of society of the Frankfurt
It may be well to start by noting the most general ways
in which the critical theorists themselves characterise their
practice. The most general epithet of all has already been
encountered in the quotation from Horkheimer and is invoked
on innumerable occasions elsewhere: the critique is, first
and foremost, ‘dialectlcal’. This is standardly interpreted to
signify that it works in the mode of ‘immanence’. Adorno
speaks for all when he insists: ‘Dialectlc’s very procedure is
immanent critique’ . He is fully representatlve also when
he goes on to claim the authority of Hegel for the view. The
reference c.ited is from a section of the Science of Loglc
whlch offers one of Hegel’s most expllcit presentations of
dialectlc as immanent criticism. Its immediate concern is the
question of the correct approach to philosophical systems:
•.. the refutation must not come from outside, that
is, it must not proceed from assumptions lying outside
the system in question and inconsistent with it. The
system need only refuse to recognize those assumptions; the defect is a defect only for him who starts
from the requirements and demands based on those
Hegel goes on to make the comment quoted by Adorno:
‘Genuine refutation must penetrate the power of the opponent and meet him on the ground of his strength; the case is
not won by attacking him somewhere else and defeating him
where he is not’ .
The standards of dialectlcal criticism must not, it
appears, be externally imposed on the object, but must in
some sense arise within it. This is st1l1 not a persplcuous
requirement, and perhaps the best way to bring it into
sharper focus is to see how it is interpreted in practlce.
What is needed are some models of immanent method at
work. No attempt can be made here to follow up all the
many and varied hints dropped by the critical theorists as to
how sodal criticism might proceed. The discussion wlll have
to be confined to conceptions whlch have some substantial
presence in their writings. It should also be said that, although there is an element of chronologlcal order in what
follows, it is not an historical study and the baslc divisions
of the subject-matter are framed on conceptual grounds
The obvious place to start is with a procedure that seems to
apply the lessons of the Sdence of Loglc as directly as possible. It is advocated in Horkheimer’s ‘Notes on Institute
Activities’ of 1941, his most self-consdous attempt as
Director, to ‘summarize the research project’ of the Institute of Social Research. The question of standards is dealt
with in the following way:
The critical nature of sodetal concepts may best be
eluddated through the problem of value judgments
that animates current discussion among social sdentists…. Sodal theory may be able to circumvent a
sceptical spurning of value judgments without succumbing to normative dogmatism. This may be accomplished by relating social institutions and activities
to the values they themselves set forth as their standards and ideals…. If subjected to such an analysis,
the social agencies most representative of the present pattern of sodety will disclose a pervasive discrepancy between what they actually are and the
values they accept…. The ambivalent relation between prevalling values and the sodal content forces
the categories of sodal theory to become critical
and thus to reflect the actual rift between the sodal
reality and the values it posits.
On this model, immanent criticism llves off the gap between
what society professes and what it performs. Much of its
appeal, as Horkheimer’s account suggests, derives from the
way it appears to resolve the problem of standards without
the need for elaborate and d1£ficult theorizing. They are
constituted by values posited by the sodal reallty itself.
Thus, they are, as it were, taken ready-formed from the object of critidsm: it is made to condemn itself out of its own
There is a strong case for holding that such a conception was indeed central to the Institute’s work at this
period. It is often explicitly invoked by the leading theorists, and many of their illustrations of critical method are
intelligible only in terms of it. Characteristically, it is what
Adorno was later to call ‘llberal sodety’s pretensions to
freedom and equality’ that are the chief target . The
model is somewhat less prominent in Marcuse’s writings, but
he too declares:
The critical rationallty derives from the prindples of
autonomy which individuallstic sodety itself had
declared to be its self-evident truths. Measuring
these prindples against the form in which individualistic society has actuallzed them, critical rationality
accuses sodal injustice in the name of individuallstic
sodety’s own ideology.
A version of the same idea supplles, on the author’S own
account, the methodology of Soviet Marxism .
The practice of criticism conceived along these llnes has
flgured large in commentaries on the Frankfurt School. In
these works it is frequently subsumed under, and provides
the chief substance of, the category ‘critique of ideology’
(Ideologiekritik). It will help in exploring the subject to reflect on the misleading nature of this heading. As Marcuse’s
statement suggests, what we have here is not, in its standard employment by the critical theorists, a conception in
which ideology forms the object of criticism. Instead, ideology, in the shape of the values of sodety, is held constant
as the yardstick against which sodal reallty is measured. It
is, in Horkheimer’s words, a method for critidsing ‘social
institutions and activities’ in the llght of ‘the values they
themselves set forth’. Adorno is just as explldt: the ‘spokesmen’ of dialectical materiallsm ‘questioned not the ideas of
humanity, freedom and justice but rather the claims of bourgeois sodety to have realised those ideas’ . Thus, the
project is not one of a critique of ideology, but of what
might be called an ideological critique of society.
This issue opens the way to something more fundamental. It brings home the need to make explicit a condition
which must obtain 1£ one is to speak of critique here at all.
On the face of things, it may be said, all that the procedure
achieves is, in Horkheimer’s terminology, to ‘disclose a discrepancy’ or ‘reflect a rift’ between ideology and reallty.
Such a gap is, in itself, however, no more a deficiency for a
llberal society than it would be for any other. It would be
odd to assume that one must be criticising a community that
claims to follow the precept ‘thou shalt not suffer a witch
to live’ 1£ one shows that it does not in fact manage to kill
all the individuals meeting its requirements for being
witches. The difficulty here was anticipated by Hegel: it
concerns the ease with which the force of the criticism may
be evaded by stepping outside the assumptions that define
the fleld of immanence. The method has critical significance
only in so far as one accepts, however provisionally, the
ideology used as a yardstick. It will have greatest impact on
those who subscribe to it with fewest reservations, and are
most llkely to be outraged by seeing it flouted. Hence, the
method, as standardly employed by the Frankfurt School, is
in its deepest meaning a method of bourgeois self-criticism.
These points emerge clearly enough in Adorno’s discussion of the method in connection with ‘radical bourgeois
thought’ of the nineteenth century. At that time: ‘Critics
confronted bourgeois society not only economically but morally with its own forms’ . The representative figure is
the Ibsen of Hedda Gabler. Adorno’s discussion shows from
another aspect the basic llmitation of the ideological
method, its inabllity to enforce conclusions hostile to the
existing state of things. At best, its disclosure of the contradiction of ideology and reallty may be said to confront
its audience with a need to choose. In the case in question,
some of them at least were inclined to jump in the opposite
direction to the critics. Thus, the criticism ‘left the rullng
stratum … with no other defence than to reject the very
prindple by which society was judged, its own morality’
. Later in the same work Adorno sheds fresh llght on
the bourgeois character of the model by developing a refinement of it in terms of the notion of ‘irony’. The mode of
irony is not content with flatly confronting sodal reality
with its own ideology, but, more subtly, ‘convicts its object
by presenting it as what it purports to be’. It is a quintessentiall y insider sty le of cri tidsm whose ‘formal· a priori’
is agreement on ‘binding norms’ . Here the representative example is the work of Karl Kraus.
Adorno is plainly sensitive to the suspicion that the procedure achieves its immanence, its insider status, only at
the expense of its radicallsm, only by accepting the confines
of the bourgeois horizon. Thus, he insists that ‘the motives
of intransigent bourgeois self-critidsm coincide in fact with
those of materiallsm through which the former attain selfawareness’ . This claim seems in a general way unconvindng. The motives of materiallsm include the abolishing of
bourgeois society, and bourgeois self-critidsm, however intransigent, could hardly stretch so far without losing its
bourgeois identity: its self-awareness at that point would be
suicidal. In re la tion to our over all concerns, however, the
issue may best be pursued by direct reference to the work
of Marx. No extensive citation is needed to show that he did
not take bourgeois ideology as a guiding light, but instead
subjected it throughout his career to radical criticism. There
is, for example, the treatment of the doctrine of the ‘rights
of man’ in the early essay ‘On the Jewish Question’. The
objection is not that these rights fail to be realised in bourgeois society: it is directed against the entire tradition of
thought in itself . On this issue at least there is no
fallure of continuity between the young and the mature
Marx. This is sufficiently shown by the mockery directed in
the first volume of Capital at the sphere of commodity exchange as ‘a very Eden of the innate rights of man ••• the
exclusive realm of Freedom, Equallty, Property and
Bentham’ . No doubt the significance of Marx’s career
is open to many interpretations. But any tendency to assimilate him to the role of bourgeois ironist must surely be misconceived.
It may not be necessary to labour the difficulties faced
by ideological critique. For the model did not remain for
long at the centre of the Frankfurt School’s conception of
its project. It began to founder for reasons which were eloquently depicted in Adorno’s account of the fate of bourgeois irony:
Irony’s medium, the difference between ideology and
reality has disappeared. The former resigns itself to
conflrmation of reality by its mere duplkation. Irony
used to say: such it claims to be, but such it is; today, however, the world even in its most radical He,
falls back on the argument that things are like this,
a simple finding whkh coincides for it, with the
good. There is not a crevke in the cliff of the
establlshed order into whkh the ironist might hook a
With variations of idiom, this diagnosis is repeated by all
our subjects. In the era of liberal capitalism it was possible,
the argument runs, to confront reality with its own aspirations. But in the total, one-dimensional world of administered capitalism no such possibillty appears. Ideologkal
critique presupposes a gap between what thought projects
and what it actually performs. But thought has now become
a reflex of the establlshed order and projects nothing
beyond it; ideology in the original sense has evaporated.
Thus, the programme of ideologkal critique could not be
carried through because it proved incompatible with the
School’s central vision of the nature of contemporary society. It had to be given up and replaced by something else.
Resources of this were, of course, available. The fallure of
ideologkal critique is, nevertheless, ominous in its signalllng
of the problem of reconciling the explanatory thrust of the
School’s social theory with the ambition to be critkal.
Moral crit1que: contents and foundat1ons
It was noted above that critique as critk1sm requires an
element that sets standards of judgement. This cannot now
be constituted by ideals avowed by the object itself. It
seems natural, however, to suppose that whatever fiJJs the
role wlll have to have a simllar conceptual shape. This suggests that it should consist in a set of values which, as
before, function as princ1ples of SOCIal organi.sation and,
taken together, specify a state of human existence held to
be super10r to that obtaining 1n the present. It is not even
necessary In virtue of the coJJapse of ideologkal critique to
renounce the partkular values by whkh it had operated,
though it w1ll, of course, be necessary to conceptuallse their
claim to be immanent in a different way. It remains to be
seen whether th1s can be ach1eved. The first step towards
an alternative model is, at any rate, easy enough to take.
For the vision of a preferred state of soclety, of ‘the good
life’ for human beings, is a pervasive presence in the writings of the critical theorlsts. It will accord with a familiar
usage, and is encouraged by that of our subjects themselves,
if what is warranted by this vision is identified as a specificaJJy ‘moral’ version of critique .
The maIn questIons that arlse at thIS polnt may be dis;tinguished as foJJows. The first is slmply that of specifying
the Frankfurt School’s 1deal of human existence as precisely
as the eVIdence allows. The second concerns its foundational
aspect, the justifkation of the values it embodies. The
third, closely related to the other two, is the question of
how criticism in terms of such values can be immanent so
far as existing society is concerned. What hangs on thls is,
as we have seen, the claim of critkism to be part of, or
organkaJJy linked to, the tradition of dialectkal thought. It
is in the end the crucial issue for the present inquiry, but
something must be said on the others In order to clear the
ground for dealing with it.
The search for answers to the first questlon quickly runs
up against the notorlous reluctance of the members of the
School to speIJ out in any detail the features of the future
society. This reluctance reflects a tendency in Marxist
thought stemming from Marx himself, though with Adorno, in
partkular, it takes a pecullarly emphatk form, amounting
almost to a taboo. Nevertheless, the llterature of critical
theory contains enough in the way of characterlsatlon for
our immediate purposes. The society towards which the
theory is oriented, the first ‘truly human’ soc1ety, wlll be
structured in accordance with principles of freedom and jus_tice.
Beyond that, at the individual existential level,
Marcuse suppJles a reasonably rkh specifkation in terms of
the achievement of happlness. For Horkheimer too, at least
in some phases of his thought, critkal theory has ‘the happiness of all individuals as its goal’ . Adorno’s characteristk stance is perhaps best shown in his reaction to the fact
that ‘He who asks what is the goal of an emanclpated society is given answers such as the fulfilment of human posslbilities or the rkhness of life’ . What this elkits is an
immedIate condemnatIon both of the ‘lllegi timate’ character
of the question and the ‘repellent assurance’ of the answer.
Yet even in this very section of text Adorno Is w illlng to
provide some content for conceptions of everyday life 1n the
emancipated society. Admittedly, the note that is struck in
one not often heard in the precincts of Marxism:
Rien faire comme un bete, ly1ng on water and looking
peacefully at the sky, ‘being, nothing else, without
any further definition and fulfilment’, might take the
place of process, act, satisfaction and so truly keep
the promise of dialectical logk that it would culminate in its orlgln. None of the abstract concepts come
closer to fulfilled utopia than that of eternal peace.
There is also a contrast to be drawn between Adorno on
the one hand and Horkhelmer and Marcuse on the other as
regards the question of foundations. The sectlon of Mlnlma
Moralla whkh has just been clted offers a startlng point for
consldering Adorno’ distinctive vIews in thls area. Having
rejected both question and answer concerning the goal of an
emancipated soclety, he adds at once: ‘There is tenderness
only in the coarsest demand: that no-one shaJJ go hungry any
more.’ This ‘coarseness’ is, It may be said, the hallmark of
Adorno’s version of moral crltique. In Negative Dialectks he
envisages a soclety ‘so organised as the productive forces
would directly permit it here and now, and as the conditions
of production on elther side relentlessly prevent it’, and
comments: ‘The telos of such an organisation of society
would be to negate the physkal suffering of even the least
of its members, and to negate the internal reflexlve forms
of that suffering’ . Elsewhere in the work the drive
towards the great moral slmplkltles takes even starker
form: ‘It Is not in thelr nauseating parody, sexual represslon,
that moral questlons are succ1nctly posed; It is in llnes such
as: No man should be tortured; there should be no concentration camps .••• ‘ What is striking here from a foundational
vlewpolnt is the unwllllngness to allow these ‘llnes’ to be a
subject for theorizlng:
The lines are true as an Impulse, as a reactlon to the
news that torture is golng on somewhere. They must
not be rationalized ..•
Later on, the stakes are ralsed yet hlgher, and theory seems
stiJJ more out of place:
A new categorical Imperatlve has been Imposed by
Hitler upon unfree manklnd: to arrange thelr thoughts
and actions so that Auschwitz will not repeat itself,
so that nothing slmllar wlll happen. When we want to
flnd reasons for It, thls Imperative is as refractory as
the given one of Kant was once upon a time. Deallng
dlscursively with it would be an outrage, for the new
imperative glves us a bodily sensation of the moral
addendum – bodIly, because it Is now the practlcal
abhorrence of the unbearable physlcal agony to whlch
IndIvIduals are exposed even wIth IndIvIdualIty about
to vanIsh as a form of mental reflectIon.
ThIs refusal to be dIscursIve Is the most remarkable feature of Adorno’s posItIon. HIs wIsh Is, it appears, to assImIlate the relationship with the moral fundamentals to a purely
natural reactIon, an ‘Impulse’, a ‘bodIly sensatIon’. Many
phllosophers have, of course, granted the prImItIve status of
suffer ing and have placed It at the centre of theIr moral
unIverse. But they have generally been wllllng to represent
thIs vIew as, In some measure, the product of, and a flt subject for, ratIocInatIon, If only In order to regIster It as an
ultImate commItment or basIc postulate. Such a recognitIon
seems to Involve a degree of theoretlcal placIng, of conceptual medIatIon, that would be unacceptable to Adorno. HIs
stance appears by contrast as frankly Irrationalist. Having
regard to the factors that shaped it, the stance is in human
terms deserving only of deep respect. If, however, It is considered as an element in a foundational exercise, it can
hardly be accepted as satisfactory. The difflculty is that, as
wIth other forms of irratIonalism, It is open to an immediate
counter-thrust that has as much or as little authority as it
does itself. Unfortunately, we know enough of human psychopathology, and Adorno has contributed to these lnsights,
to realise that sympathy and indlgation cannot be counted
on as automatlc responses to agony. The supply of torturers
would not be what it is if there were not also at work spontaneous stir rings of a dIfferent kind. To acknowledge this is
not, of course, to suggest that Adorno’s humane and generous anger belongs on one footing with the evil cravings of
the sadist. But the differences do not emerge if they are
considered merely in their character as natural impUlses: to
br ing them out the willingness to find reasons, to deal discursively, is indispensable.
This willingness is much more marked in the writings of
Horkheimer and Marcuse. Indeed, the position that emerges
from them has a decidedly rationalist character, for In it
‘reason’ itself turns out to be the key foundational category.
The baslc claim is simply that the organisation of society
whlch realised justice, freedom and happiness would also be
its rational organisation. Beyond that, the tendency is to
assume, in keeping with the philosophlcal tradition, that
nothing need, or can, be said in its favour. For Horkheimer’s
views it may be most rewardIng to turn to the earlier period
before the development of the phllosophy ‘shared’ with
Adorno . In ‘Traditional and Critical Theory’ the critlcal project is consistently placed under the authority of reason. Cri tlcal theory of society is described as ‘a theory
dominated at every turn by a concern for reasonable conditions of life’. The goal at whlch crltlcal thought aims is ‘the
rational state of society’. More speciflcally, ‘the critlcal
theory in its concept formation and in all phases of its development very consciously makes its own that concern for
the rational organisation of human activity whlch it is its
task to illumine and legitimate’. At the same time, the project is also tied to various substantive social considerations
and primarily to ones of justlce: ‘the critlcal theory has no
speciflc Influence on its side, except concern for the abolition of social injustice’. Horkheimer taps in the final nail in
the argument by adding: ‘This negative formulation … is the
materialist content of the idealist concept of reason’ .
In a companion piece to Horkheimer’s essay, Marcuse
lays most stress on the connection between reason and freedom:
… the concept of reason contains the concept of
freedom as well…. Hegel was only drawing a conclusion from the entire philosophical traditIon when he
identified reason and freedom.
Elsewhere in the essay the goal of the ‘rational organisation
of society’ is expllcitly linked with ‘concern for human happiness’, and ‘man’ is understood as ‘a rational being’ that
‘requires freedom’ and has happiness as ‘his highest good’
. Another essay of the period strongly emphasises the
‘Inner connection’ of happIness and freedom:
HappIness, as the fulfIlment of all potentialitIes of
the individual, presupposes freedom: at root, It Is
freedom. Conceptual analysIs reveals them to be ultimately ldentlcal.
In plottIng the internal ties that bind the concepts of reason, freedom and justice, Horkheimer and Marcuse were, as
they well knew, drawIng on powerful themes In the Western
phllosophlcal tradition. Freedom and justlce have standardly
been regarded there as the prImary medlations through
which reason makes its presence felt In the world: freedom
Is the indIspensable medium of all attempts to implement its
demands, and justlce is the guarantee that their implementatIon bears no trace of arbitrariness; that is, of the irrational. The connections are less transparent in the case of happiness and Marcuse has to engage in more elaborate discussion to establish them. Nevertheless, the overall strategy is
clear. What is offered is, in the end, a foundational theory
in whlch the social ideal is specified in terms of principles
that are themselves to be seen as artlculations of reason.
This is an entrenched and, wIthIn its limits, persuasive pattern of argument, and it will not be challenged here. HavIng
fixed It as baCkground, attention may now be shifted to an
issue which is raIsed In an acute form by Horkheimer’s and
Adorno’s rationalism. TheIr foundational strategy had relied
on abstract, conceptual considerations not specially linked
to any partlcular set of historical circumstances. The difficulty is to see how critlcism in the light of standards established in that way can possIbly qualify as immanent. But this
issue is bound to become more pressing in the course of the
move from ideologlcal to any form of moral critique.
Moral critique: Adorno
A response may be formulated in terms of a category whlch
has a central place in dialectical tradition and. recurs constantly throughout the writings of the critlcal theorists. It
offers the most suitable heading under whlch to draw together the diversity of their vIews. The key category is
potentiality. Criticism may intelligibly be said to be immanent provided that its object is, as It were, pregnant with
its goal. But potentiality is notoriously a slippery notion,
and the risks were obvious to our subjects. Thus, it is an
organising principle of Marcuse’s essay on ‘Philosophy and
Critlcal Theory’, and yet he is careful to warn ‘ … in phantasy one can imagine anything. But critlcal theory does not
envision an endless horizon of possibilities’ . In an essay
written slightly later, Adorno, having insisted that dialectlcs
‘would renounce itself in renouncing the idea of potentiality’, goes on to ask: ‘But how is potentiality to be conceived
if it is not to be abstract and arbitrary, like the utopias
dialectlcal philosophers proscribed’ . The danger in the
idea is that it may give way under pressure and fail to place
any significant controls on one’s imaglnings. It is then easy
to drift into the possIble worlds of the logicians, the accommodating domain of the not-Ioglcally-impossible. The potentialities that ground the immanence of dialectical critique,
however, must be in some stronger sense real, objective possibilitIes of the material. The task for theory Is to discipline
the idea so as to achieve this. There are, it may be suggested, three main guidelines or forms of constraint at work in
the writings of the Frankfurt School.
The fIrst is a direct legacy of historlcal materialism.
Genuine possibilities are warranted by the level of development of the productive forces. Signiflcantly, this is the immediate recourse of both Marcuse and Adorno In the essays
that have been cited. The second constraint derives from
phllosophlcal ontology. The limits of what is truly possIble
are set by the nature of whatever it is whose development
is in question. In cri tlcal theory, the typical focus of such
concern is, variously, the individual human subject, society
or humanity as a whole. The third requirement may be seen
as a distlllation of the flrst two, their politlcal expression,
so to speak. It holds that there must be actual forces or
· tendencies at work in existing society which may be taken
as the bearers of the possiblllty of its transformation. These
guidellnes are, of course, not mutually incompatible, but are
readily found in association with one another. There are,
however, significant variations of emphasis in the way they
are treated in the different reaches of critical theory.
The variations emerge primarily in the treatment of the
ontological guidellnes. The his tor ical mater iallst requirement
tends to be assumed by all the critical theorists, but not in
a way.that differentiates them substantially. In relation to
the modern period, it is usually taken as carrying the promise of the conquest of scarcity, which is itself the precondition of all the other achievements of the emancipated
society. Accepting this requirement can, however, only be
the starting point for an understanding of potentiallty.
Theorists who claim any kinship with Marx will, after all, be
unllkely to see much point in speculating about social possiblllties which lack any roots in human productive powers. To
dellmit them significantly, one has to consider the nature of
the subjects of historical change.
Adorno’s work in this area involves a theme that seems
to offer a powerful response to the crisis of ideological
critique. At least, it promises the smallest break with the
origins of dialectical, method. The attempt to base critique
on values professed by the object itself turned out to be a
failure. But it was in any case a procedure of limited scope
which captured only a part of the Hegellan enterprise. To
capture it fully one has to do justice to the diversity of
working models of dialectic it contains. In particular, one
has to move beyond the llmitations of the model which was
the basis for ideological critique, that of the immanent
approach to philosophical systems. It is by no means the
case that Hegel’s dialectic is tied to objects with a level of
consciousness capable of yielding standards for criticism
ready-formed. The means through which its range is extended beyond such instances are mainly ontological. Thus, the
historical dialectic has as its ‘presupposition’ the idea that
‘reason governs the world, and that world history is therefore a rational process’. As such, it is ‘the rational and necessary evolution of the world spirit’ . The significance
of this ontological commitment for immanent method is that
it introduces a fresh element to serve as a pole of the oppositions on which the method depends. This element is the
rational which stands opposed to the real and which yet,
since the two are articulated together through the life of
spirit, is inherent within it as potentiality. Method is not
now llmited to finding a gap between the object’s self-image
and its present existence. It may focus instead on that between one or both of those moments and the object as it is,
in its concept and in truth; that is, in the fulfilment of its
role in the development of rational spirit. The difficulties in
this conception have sponsored a vast llterature, but they
need not concern us in detall here . What has to be
noted is the new world it promises to open up for criticism.
This is no longer confined to objects that may be said to
possess their own ideology. Even what is most inarticulately
locked ‘in itself’ may be posited in opposition to the rational
form of its own existence. Thus, one arrives at the conception of a method of complete generality, a generallty echoed
in many of Adorno’s formulations of his immanent dialectic;
[ie ‘confrontation of concept and reallty’, the ‘cogitative
confrontation of concept and thing’ .
It is scarcely surprising that Adorno feels able to retain
such formulations, for he is far from any outright rejection
of Hegellan ontology and, in particular, its problematic of
the subject. An indication of how he wishes to rework that
problematic is given in his contribution to the Positivismusstreit. The hallmark of positivist sociology is taken to be its
treatment of ‘the subject of all knowledge – society, the
bearer of logical generality’ as if it were simply an object:
Here lies the innermost difference between a critical
theory of society and what is commonly known as
sociology … critical theory is oriented towards the
idea of society as subject, whilst sociology accepts
The most explicit development of this idea is to be found in
Negative Dialectics. What is proposed there is a materialist
unmasking of Hegelian Geist, an unmasking from which it
emerges as identical with society:
Alfred Sohn-Rethel was the first to point out that
hidden in ..• the general and necessary activity of
the mind (der allgemeinen und notwendigen Tatigkeit
des Geistes) lles work of an inallenably social nature…. Beyond the philosophy of identity’s magic
circle the transcendental subject can be deciphered
as society, unconscious of its own self (als die ihrer
selbst unbewusste Gesellschaft).
The theme recurs later in the work:
In the name of ‘world spirit’ the spirit is affirmed
and hypostatized only as that which it always was in
itself •.. what society worships in the world spirit is
itself, the omnipotence of its own coercion.
This ontological thesis has, as might be expected, its implications for method. It is in the light of it tl1at one should
read the statement that negative dialectics assumes, ‘tel
guel, the abrupt immediacy, the formations which society
and its evolution present to our thought; and it does this so
that analysis may bare its mediations, according to the standard (nach dem Mass) of the immanent difference between
phenomena and that which they claim to be in themselves
(was sie von sich aus zu sein beanspruchen) . Here, as in
Hegel, the evolution of the subject is made to yield the
standard for universal critique. It gives a purchase to the
crucial idea of the tension between what things immediately
are and what they implicitly (von sich aus) claim to be. In
Adorno’s version, however, difficulties begin to thicken
when one considers how the process of history, through
which alone such claims may be realised, is conceived.
The issue may be introduced by returning to the historical materialist constraint on potentiallty. For Adorno, as for
the other critical theorists, the key factor in the productive
forces is technology. The development of this factor is subject to a historical dialectic, the ‘dialectic of enlightenment’: technology is the ‘essence’ of the knowledge that
constitutes enllghtenment . The programme of enllghtenment is ‘the disenchantment of the world’ through the exercise of reason . What is involved is, hoyever, a limited,
‘formallsed’ conception of reason whose ,most significant
feature for present purposes is its instrumentality . It
would be difficult to exaggerate the scope of the claims
Adorno makes for the movement of disenchantment: ‘As far
back as we can trace it, the history of thought has been a
dialectic of enlightenment’ . Given that enlightenment
is, in essence, technical knowledge, history now appears as a
unitary process, the ‘history of the progressing mastery of
nature’ . Seen in this way, it invites a complex
Universal history must be construed and denied. After
the catastrophes that have happened, and in view of
the catastrophes to come, it would be cynical to say
that a plan for a better world is manifested in history and unites it. Not to be denied for that reason,
however, is the unity that cements the discontinuous,
chaotleally splintered moments and phases of history
– the unity of the control of nature, progressing to
rule over men, and finally to that over men’s inner
nature. No universal history leads from savagery to
humanitarianism, but there is one leading from the
s!lngshot to the megaton bomb.
Thus, the progressing mastery of nature brings in its wake
domination over human beings and over nature in human
beings. Adorno goes on to display the reflection of this view
of history back on the ontology that underlies it:
History is the unity of continuity and discontinuity.
Society stays allve, not despite its antagonism, but
by means of it…. What historically made this possibility may as well destroy it. The world spirit, a
worthy object of definition, would have to be defined
as permanent catastrophe.
If one now permits this image of the historleal subject to be
reflected back still further, onto the project of critique, the
entire structure of thought is revealed to be fundamentally
This is so because its elements will not fit coherently
together. The crux of the matter is that, assuming the ontology and the philosophy of history, critique may be either
immanent or emancipatory, but not both. Yet both are necessary if it is to keep within the orbit of dialectleal social
thought. It seems a minimal requirement of coherence to
retain the bond between the ontologleal and the historleal
visions. This is to allow that what the phenomena claim to
be has some effleacy in the world and that history is in
some measure the record of its progressive satisfaction. But
then, given the character of that record as depleted by
Adorno, what the phenomena claim must merit condemnation
as a harbinger of tyranny, not freedom. Critique focused on
the gap between aspiration and achievement would be anticritique, whleh might well function immanently but only in
the servlee of immanent catastrophe. If, however, one insists
on the emancipatory role, critique will have to give up its
immanence. Cut off from the mallgnant purposes of things
and the course of events whleh embodies them, it must confront those realities as the most abstract Sollen, not simply
as extrinsic, but as wholly antithetleal. A critique that sets
itself in that way in opposition to the movement of spirit is
dialectically an absurdity. Within the framework of dialectical thought, the critleal project cannot, it seems, be reconciled with the vision of history as universal domination. The
dialectic of enlightenment annuls dialectleal critique. Thus,
it might be concluded that Adorno’s ve’rsion of moral critique comes to grief in much the same way as did ideologleal
critique: it proves to be incompatible with the critle’s deepest sense of what is actually going on in society. Once
again, the critleal and the explanatory dimensions of critical
theory fall apart. This time, however, the obstacle to immanent critleism is not the character of a partleular period, of
administered as opposed to liberal capitalism. It is rather
the logic of human enlightenment itself, a logle of domination that has been operative since the dawn of history.
Immanent moral critique turns out in the end to be a delusion for the reason declared in Dialectle of Enlightenment:
The conclusion that terror and civlllsation are inseparable •.• is well-founded…. It is impossible to
abolish the terror and retain civillsation.
From one standpoint, Marcuse’s intellectual career appears
as a sustained resistance to this conclusion, a systematic
attempt to reclaim civilisation for ‘pacified existence’.
Before considering this attempt, reference should be
made to Adorno’s treatment of the third constraint on
potentiality, the need for its polltical expression. The position already outlined may be said to involve a response to
this need. It is one that envisages the embodiment of the
possibility of change as nothing other than the historleal
subject, society itself. Admittedly, it could be conceived of
as a response only of a rather abstract and schematle kind.
Instead of addressing the suggestion at length in its own
terms, however, it may be more useful, in the llght of our
overall concerns, to refer it directly to the views of Marx.
What is encountered there is a consistent and forceful rejection of the ‘society as subject’ idea. In The German
Ideology it is condemned as a ‘speculative-ideallstic, i.e.,
fantastle conception’, and Max Stirner’s partiallty to it
forms an important part of the case against him . The
Grundrisse warns: ‘To regard socIety as one single subject is
••• to look at it wrongly; speculatively’ . The specifle
terms and context of this rejection give an extra resonance
to Adorno’s admission that in the critleal theory of society
‘one is forced back almost inevitably to the standpoint of
Left Hegelianism, so scornfully criticized by Marx and
Engels’ . It is reasonable to suppose that an aspect of
what is, for Marx, unacceptably Left Hegelian about the
society-subject idea is its tendency to undermine any prospect of organleally llnking theory with radical practlee. To
be told that society as a whole is the subject of change is
!lttle help to groups that have to struggle within society as
it is: theory confronts practlee here with a blank wall.
Adorno was, of course, notoriously indifferent to the question of the objectifleation of his ideas in action. Hence, it
might be claimed that the problem being discussed is at
least not the source of serious internal tension in his work.
In this respect too, Marcuse presents a signifleant contrast.
Moral critique: Marcuse
It has been shown that Adorno’s ontology will not ground a
form of potentiality suited to the needs of emancipatory
critique. What is grounded there is rather a potentiality for
domination and disaster. With Marcuse matters proceed more
straightforwardly in this respect. The main features of his
position are familiar enough from his own accounts and the
many excellent commentaries that a brief recapitulation
should sufflee. The prime object of his ontologleal concern
is, as he usually puts it, ‘man’: he is from first to last an
unrepentant philosophleal anthropologist.
emphasis is captured early on in the review of the Economle
and Philosophical Manuscripts when ‘the definition of man’
is said to be ‘the basis of the critique of politleal economy’
. From the Manuscripts Marcuse retained the themes of
freedom as man’s essential nature and of labour as the process through which freedom is realised. To this anthropology
he was later to add elements drawn from Freud’s theory of
instincts. The strategic purpose of the additions was to show
that ‘Freud’s own theory provides reasons for rejecting his
identifleation of civillsation with repression’ . This may
be taken, for present purposes, as a rejection of the same
identifleation in Horkheimer and Adorno. Hence, one should
not expect to find that their transhistorleal pessimism is
shared by Marcuse. He is not concerned to show that the
logic of repression is inseparable from civlllsation as such
and must disfigure the civilisation of the future. It may be
antleipated that the diffleulties confronting dialectleal cr itique in his system will not stem primarily from its basle
philosophleal disposition, its ontology and theory of history.
As a first approximation, it may be said that they cluster
instead around the politleal component of potentiality, the
need for it to be demonstrable in real forces and tendencies.
There seems no room for doubt as to the ser iousness
with which Marcuse views this requirement, a seriousness
that sets him apart within critleal theory. A central claim
of the essay on ‘Philosophy and Critleal Theory’ is that ‘unlike philosophy critleal theory always derives its goals from
the present tendencies of the social process’ . Many
years later, this characteristle was to be spelled out still
more forcibly in terms of the ‘governing principle of dialectleal thought’ that negation should be determinate:
The negation is determinate if it refers the established state of affairs to the basle factors and forces
whleh make for its destructiveness, as well as for the
possible alternatives beyond the status quo. In the
human reality, they are hIstorIcal factors and forces,
and the determInate negatIon Is ultImately a politIcal
Thus, It appears that the dIalectIcal approach to the establIshed state of affaIrs Is posIted on the polltIcal negatIon of
that state of affaIrs. Later stIll, however, the programme
implIcIt In thIs vIew was to come under severe straIn, as
Marcuse developed a systematIc understandIng of the socIety
establIshed around hIm.
The Issue may be Introduced by notIng a persIstent
ambIvalence, Indeed equIvocatIon, whIc~ characterises the
writIngs from One-DImensIonal Man onwards. It has two
aspects. The first Is whether contemporary society actually
contaIns elements that carry the posslblllty of its transformation. The second concerns the implIcations for the status of
theory If the fIrst question is answered in the negative.
Equivocation on these matters runs so deep that the body of
work as a whole displays signs of structural tension, even of
an intellectual equivalent oJ trauma.
The key text here is
ne-Dimensional Man Itself. Its
exemplary value derives in part from the fact that both
forms of equivocation are acknowledged in it. The first is
depIcted bluntly: ‘One-DImensional Man will vacillate
throughout between two contradictory hypotheses: (1) that
advanced industrial society is capable of containing qualitative change for the foreseeable future; (2) that forces and
tendencies exist whIch may break this contaInment and explode the society’ . The second gets a more muted
recognitlon, though one that Ilnks it explicitly to the flrst.
Marcuse writes of an ‘ambiguous situation’ In connection
with an ‘attempt to recapture the critIcal intent’ of social
categories. It ‘appears from the outset to be regression from
a theory jolned with historIcal practlce to abstract speculative thought’. Yet, at the same time:
••• the posltlon of theory cannot be one of mere
speculation. It must be a historIcal position in the
sense that it must be grounded on the capabilities of
the given society.
The ambigulty, as the discussion tacitly admits, is nowhere
resolved in the text. Since the questions it raises are our
chief concern at present, it may be well to look more closely at the background to Marcuse’s statement of it.
At the start of One-Dimensional Man critIcal theory is
presented in terms, characteristIc of its moral employment,
of potentiallty for a better human exlstence. It is ‘a theory
which analyzes society in the light of its used and unused or
abused capabillties for Improving the human condition’ .
The notlon of capabilities is then given the ‘politIcal’ gloss
familiar from early Marcuse:
The ‘possibillties’ must be within the reach of the
respective society; they must be definable goals of
practIce. By the same token, the abstractlon from
the establIshed institutions must be expressive of an
actual tendency – that is, theIr transformation must
be the real need of the underlylng population. Social
theory Is concerned with the historIcal alternatlves
whIch haunt the establlshed society as subversive
tendencies and forces.
This specifIcatlon at once encounters, however, the fundamental truth of establlshed society as it is experlenced in
But here, advanced industrial society confronts the
critique with a situation whIch seems to deprive it of
its very basls. TechnIcal progress, extended to a
whole system of domination and coordination, creates
forms of life (and of power) whIch appear to reconclle the forces opposing the system and to defeat or
refute all protest in the name of the historIcal prospects of freedom from toil and domination…. This
containment of social change Is perhaps the most
singular achievement of advanced industr lal society.
Thls may well strike one as a suffIciently clear stand on the
first set of issues that were said above to be subject to
equivocation. It also hlnts at implications for the second set
whIch are then drawn out with what seems equal plainness:
Confronted with the total character of the achievement of advanced industrial society, critIcal theory Is
left without the rationale for transcending this
socIety. The vacuum empties the theoretlcal structure itself •.•.
It might now appear that the critical project is left wholly
pointless or refuted. But this is a conclusion on whIch
1arcuse is never willing flnally to settle.
The ‘Introduction’ to One-Dimensional Man offers another, less drastic, way of reading the lessons of the integrated society. It is admitted that: ‘In the absence of
demonstrable agents and agencies of social change,- the critIque Is •.. thrown back to a hIgh level of abstraction’.
Nevertheless, ‘this absence’, it is implied, does not suffIce
to ‘refute’ the theory . In the ‘Conclusion’ of the work,
Marcuse returns to the topIc, and comes down more firmly
In favour of optimism. ‘DialectIcal theory,’ he asserts, ‘is
not refuted but it cannot offer the remedy’ . He refers
again to the contrast between the present situatIon of the
theory and that whIch confronted its founders, when there
were ‘real forces (objective and subjective) in the established society whIch moved (or could be guided to move)
towards more rational and freer institutions’:
Without the demonstration of such forces, the critique of society would still be valld and rational but
it would be incapable of translating its rationallty
into terms of historIcal practice. The conclusion?
‘Liberation of Inherent possibillties’ no longer adequately expresses the historIcal alternative.
It is diffIcult not to feel that Marcuse is here shrinking
from the logIc of his own analysis, from a conclusion whose
grounds he had himself decisively establlshed. If a theory
professing a dialectIcal character is thrown back to a high
level of abstraction, cannot be translated into historical
practice and ceases to be focused on inherent possiblllties it
is surely not just suffering from a regrettable weakness, but
is damaged in the very core of its being. It is a theory
whose claim to be dialectical is bogus. Such a verdict is
supported by Marcuse’s reading of dialectical tradition.
Reference has already been made to his account of the
‘governing principle’ of determinate negation as requiring
polltical negation through destructive factors and forces in
established society. It is difficult to see how a theory that
refuses to base itself on what is inherently possible could
claim descent from such origins. It is equally difficult to see
how an admission of untranslatability into practice could be
accommodated to them. In V1arcuse’s understanding of Marx,
practice is standardly taken to have a vital, indeed constitutive, significance for theory, to be a condition of its very
posslblllty. Thus, Marx’s brIngIng together of the masterservant dialectIc and the crItIque of polltlcal economy
‘proves Itself to be a practIcal theory, a theory whose
Immanent meanIng ••• Is partIcular praxIs’ . A theory cut
off from praxIs and thrown back to abstractIons could hardly
claIm affInIty wIth thIs model. It may be, however, that the
most effective way to crystalllze doubts about Marcuse’s
fidellty to hIs own dIalectIcal InsIghts Is In terms of the
treatment of the subject In hIs exegetIcal work. The theme
is gIven strong, perhaps excessIve, emphasIs In hIs InterpretatIon of Hegel . Moreover, none of Marx’s commentators
have more firmly InsIsted that hIs revolutIonary theory presupposes a revolutIonary subject, the class that Is the ‘absolute negatIon’, the’ llvIng contradIctIon’ of capItallst society
. The contInuIng valldity of this lIne of thought seems
to be affirmed in One-Dimensional Man: ‘Society would be
rational and free to the extent to whIch it is organised, sustained and reproduced by an essentIally new hIstorIcal Subject.’ Significantly, however, the theme has here moved into
the subjunctive, and is, In any case, immedIately overtaken
by the usual gloomy acknowledgement of reallty. The exIsting system ‘denies thIs exIgency’, and Its domInant characteristics ‘milItate against the emergence of a new Subject’
. Marcuse’s grasp of dIalectIcal traditIon should, strIctly
speakIng, have ruled out the optImIsm over the viablllty of
dialectical th,eory that he permIts hImself in thIs situation.
It Is one in whIch a basic assumption of the tradItion, that
theory moves In harmony wIth the movement of reallty, Is no
This dIscussIon needs to be related to developments
after One-DImensIonal Man. The question of socIety’s revolutIonary potentIal as It figures In the later wrItings may be
consIdered first. Marcuse’s ambivalence In this area Is not
of great interest in Itself, but only as background to hIs
thInkIng about the role of theory. To avoid the danger that
one is sImply chartIng legItimate shifts of opInIon over a
perIod, it may be well to conduct the dIscussIon wIthIn the
framework of IndIvIdual texts. The case of Counterrevolution and Revolt is partIcularly InterestIng. It is marked by a
dualism in whIch optimIstIc and pessImIstic formulations are
laId down close together In an Inert opposItIon without
either mutual reflectIon or movement of synthesis. Thus,
capItalism is saId to create transcendIng needs whIch It cannot meet, yet existing needs are, It seems, transformed only
In the socIallst revolutIon. Freedom is rooted in the human
sensibill ty, so that the senses are the basis for the transformatIon of reallty. Yet existing society Is reproduced not
only in the mind, the consciousness, of men but also In theIr
senses. On the one hand, the fetIshism of the commodity
world Is wearIng thin, people see behind it; Communist partIes and unIons are mass organIsations with a potentIally
revolutionary force; the exIstential protest threatens the
coherence of the social system. On the other hand, sociallst
I1arxist theory and practIce have no solI, no ‘suffIcIent reason’, among the large majority of the workIng popUlation;
the cultural revolution appears as the abstract negation
rather than the historical heir of bourgeoIs culture; In any
case, the potential mass basis for social change may become
a mass basIs for Fascism .
What Is evident here Is not so much readIness to
embrace full-blown contradIctIons, as a dIversIty of Interpretation that suggests simply an Inabllity to make up one’s
mind. So powerful an impression as the text conveys of facing in different directions at once could scarcely have been
lost on Marcuse himself. Indeed, the nature of the issues is
such as mIght be thought to bring them within the scope of
the confession of vacillation In One-DImensional Man. Some
admirers have wished to interpret the tendency as a testimony to the dialectical character of his thought . But
he makes no attempt himself to represent It in such a light.
In terms of hIs wholly orthodox understandIng of dIalectic as
a dynamic process of resolvIng contradictions, it would be
hard to Imagine anythIng less dialectical than continuous
vaclllation between their opposing poles, the intellectual
equivalent of running on the spot. Elsewhere in Marcuse’s
wr itIngs the unhappy, self-critical tone with whIch thIs area
of tension Is explored is strongly marked. In An Essay on
liberatIon, he refers to the ‘vicious cIrcle’ consIsting In the
fact that ‘the rupture wIth the self-propellIng conservatIve
continuum of needs must precede the revolutIon which is to
usher In a free society, but such rupture itself can be envIsaged only in a revolutIon’ . Simllarly, he speaks In
Five Lectures of ‘what is unfortunately the greatest dIfficulty’ in theorisIng social transformation:
.•• for new, revolutIonary needs to develop, the
mechanisms that reproduce the old needs must be
abollshed. In order for the mechanisms to be abollshed there must fIrst be a need to abolish them.
He concludes sadly: ‘That is the cIrcle In which we are
placed, and I do not know how to get out of it’ .
The circle may be said to have a vicious aspect in the
everyday as well as the technIcal sense. There can be no
doubt of Marcuse’s life-long hostlllty to capitallsm and of
his commitment to its transformation into socIalism. Moreover, he constantly sought to locate and identify with whatever elements of opposition offered prospects of advancing
that end. In this way he remaIned always a political being to
an extent unparalleled among the critical theorists •. Thus, in
human terms, hIs inability to see a way out of the cIrcle
may be thought to have a cruel, even tragic, sIgnificance.
Such a judgement is acceptable up to a point, but it cannot,
wIthout sentImentallty, be allowed to stand as a final verdict. The need for qualificatIon arises when one begins to
consider the consequences of the situation for the status of
theory: that is, when one turns from questions concerning
the assessment of revolutionary potentIal to questions concernIng the viability of critIque. It has then to be admitted
that the tragic tension had been well dissipated by the time
the vIcIous circle was acknowledged. The tension Is partIally
maintained in One-DimensIonal Man owing to the continued
reliance on formulations that reflect the earller conception
of potentIallty as determInate, that is, polltIcal, negatIon.
But already these formulations cannot be said to represent
the dominant straIn. That Is represented by the tendency to
combIne optimistic conclusions about the possibility of
theory with pessImistic ones about the possibllIty of practIce. Such a tendency itself presupposes a conception of
theory and of its relation to practice which is not that of
classical dIalectIcs. Thus, the slackening of tension occurs
because the traditional requirements for dIalectIcal theory
became eroded. This development gathers pace In Marcuse’s
Its most striking expression is the advIce that critical
theory should not, in contemporary circumstances, be afraId
to be ‘utopian’, in deliberate contrast to its own past and to
traditional MarxIsm. In a ‘Foreword’, wrItten shortly after
One-DimensIonal Man, to a collection of Marcuse’s essays
from the thirtIes, he compared the earller situation with
that obtaInIng at the tIme of writIng:
Today critical theory Is essentIally more abstract
than it was at that time…. In view of the capacity
and productivity of organIsed capItallsm, should not
the ‘first phase’ of socialism be more and qualitatively other than it was projected to be in Marxian
The lesson to be drawn is:
••• thought in contradiction must become more negative and more utopian in opposition to the status quo.
This seems to me to be the imperative of the current
sItuatIon in relation to my theoretical essays of the
The meaning of this proposal may be made more precise wIth
the help of our preceding discussion. What it amounts to is
the dropping of political conditIons for potentlallty in favour
of relying on the contribution of the productive forces. The
background of FreudIan-MarxIst anthropology continues to
be assumed, but its effective significance is the negative
one of serving to guarantee that domination is not destiny
and that a non-repressive civlllsation is theoretically conceivable. The character of the position that results is
revealed in the opening passage of An Essay on Liberation:
Up to now, it has been one of the pr1nc1pal tenets of
the critical theory of society (and particularly Marxian theory) to refrain from what might be reasonably
called utopian speculation…. I believe that this restrictive conception must be revised, and that the
revision is suggested, and even necessitated, by the
actual evolution of contemporary societies. The dynamic of their productivity deprives ‘utopia’ of its
traditional unreal content: what is denounced as ‘utopian’ is no longer that which has ‘no place’, but
rather that which is blocked from comIng about by
the power of the established societies. Utopian possiblllties are inherent in the technical and technological forces of advanced capitallsm and sociallsm •.•
Once adopted, the utopian strain was to haunt Marcuse’s
thought to the end . In one of his last pieces of writing,
an essay on Rudolf Bahro, he insists that ‘sociallsm shows
itself to be a real possibillty, and the basis of utopia is
revealed in what already exIsts, only when the most extreme, 1ntegral, “utopIan” conception of sociallsm informs
the analysis’ .
The utopian turn has important implications for the
nature of critical theory. Even when the claim to be dealing
in inherent possibilities is retained, what they turn out to be
inherent in is simply the ‘technical and technological
forces’, regardless of how they are blocked by the reallties
of power. Potentiality has itself become almost entirely
technical here, and not to any significant degree polltical.
What results is a species of moral critique without political
mediat1ons. In 1t judgement 1s formed 1n the Ilght of a state
of society represent1ng the fulfilment of human nature
whose material requ1rements can in principle be met with
ex1st1ng technology. As Marcuse 1s, at least somet1mes, wllling to admit, this conception involves a definite break with
Marxist theory. The conclusion seems inescapable that it is
precisely what the presentation suggests, a version of the
utopian socialism that was so roundly condemned by Marx
and Engels. Indeed, it involves a break with any form of dialectic that can claim descent from Hegel. Its merely utopian
poss1bllIties will not meet the required conditions of immanence. They must confront the present as an ideal and a
rebuke, not as the revelation of its natural bent and the
conclus1on of its 1nner logic.
Some additional llght may be shed by considering how
the theme of the subject develops in Marcuse’s later work.
A t the level of officIal doctrine, as it were, attachment to
it never wavers. Its meanIng wIthin the overall structure of
thought was, however, to shift considerably. There is continuing qualitative change, along the llnes foreshadowed in
One-DimensIonal Man, in the significance of the theme for
theory. In the original conception of Hegel and Marx, as
Marcuse had shown, the consciousness and agency of the
subject had been the 1ndispensable med1um of existence of
dialectic. They have nothing resembling that status in the
position Marcuse was to evolve under the pressure of the
total society. Thus, An Essay on Liberation continues to use
the language of the subject to pose the problem of social
transformation, but it is now, it appears, impossIble to
specify who the agents of such transformation might be, and
futlle to try . Inablllty to identify the subject has become a difficulty, even ‘the greatest difficulty’, for theory,
but stlll by no means what the naive student of dialectical
tradition might expect, its death sentence. Clearly, the
tradition has become seriously diluted at this point.
Another form of dllut10n appears in the way the concept
of the subject begins to lose its original boundaries of reference. The result is that the concept becomes increasingly
insubstantial and indeterminate. Already in An Essay on
Liberation, there is a crucial shift of emphasis from the subject, in the old sense, to SUbjectivity . Thus, the ’emergence of the new subject’ is spoken of as if it were simply
identical with ‘radical change In consciousness’ . Moreover, the main event celebrated in the work is that the ‘new
sensIblli ty has become a poll tical factor’, demanding to be
taken account of by critical theory . This new sensibllity, even if it cannot be located in any specific agents of
change, is Itself praxis . Against this background, it is
not surprisIng that Marcuse should have seized so enthusiastically on Bahro’s notion of ‘surplus consciousness’. This is
‘that free human (psychische) capacity which is no longer
absorbed by the struggle for existence’ . It is not ‘the
consciousness of a particular class’, but ‘the consciousness
of individuals from all strata’ comprising a ‘diffuse, almost
organizationless opposition’ wIth ‘no mass base’. Marcuse
presents this thesis In the famIliar IdIom: the Individuals
from all strata are ‘the potential subject of an oppositlonal
praxIs’ . But the concept of the subject has surely here
reached its limit1ng case. For what we are deal1ng wIth 1s so
amorphous as to be scarcely intelllgible as an Individual
centre, even a ‘potential’ centre, of thought and action.
Some help with the problem is provided elsewhere in the
Bahro essay. Marcuse cites, and accepts, the claim by Bahro
that surplus consciousness as ‘transforming power’ is ’embodied’ in the ‘intellectual layers of the collectlveworker’,
and only beyond this does it exist ‘In all strata of the independent population, in an obstructed and InactIve form’
. He goes on to spell out and defend the thesIs of the
‘lead1ng role’ of the IntellIgentsIa, even 1n the provocat1ve
form of socIalism’s alleged need for an ‘ellte of Intelllgence’
. These references to the Intelllgentsla are the nearest
he comes to the identifIcatIon of a determinate group sustaining the new consciousness. Belief in the leading role of
Intellectuals as a group in promotIng social change has had
consIderable appeal for Intellectuals in modern times. In
spite of Its durablHty, it Is a belief which has difficulty
mustering sIgnificant theoretical, not to speak of empirical,
support. Marxism seems almost the last source where such
support might be expected. Indeed, when Marcuse achieves
his bellef in a new consciousness embodied in the intelllgentsIa it is hard to avoId the sense of a great circle closing in the history of ideas. The echoes of the revolutIon of
consciousness which was proclaimed by the Left Hegelians,
with themselves as its representatIves, and was excorIated
by Marx and Engels, seem unmistakable. To note this is to
Invoke another image of a pattern of thought closing in on
itself, this time wIthin critical theory. Given Adorno’s identificatIon with Left Hegelianism noted earlier, the development we have been tracIng 1n Marcuse’s work seems a reflection of the ultimate coming together of the views of the
two most prominent critical theorists. In this as in other
aspects what results is a moment not of true Aufhebung but
rather of assimllation and loss of identity on Marcuse’s part
The difficulties encountered by Marcuse’s version of
moral critique have a famlllar ring. Critical immanence has
once more proved unable to find a fingerhold in reality. As
in the case of ideological critique, the impregnable reallty is
that of contemporary, adm1nistered society. Just as it destroys Ideology in the sense required to yield standards of
criticism, so it eliminates the posslblllty of its own political
negation. In these circumstances, cr1tIque 1s 1ndeed thrown
back to abstractions, to an appeal to the needs of human
nature and the technical feasiblllty of their fulfllment. This
in turn leads to changes in metatheory, to Marcuse’s abandonment of the criteria of immanence he knew to be cruclal
for classical dialectics, and to his attempt to equip critique
for survival as a utopian enterprise. His concern with oppositional elements remains, but only as a biographical particularity, a survival of polltical instincts, no longer as the
expression of a theory necessarlly llnked to practice. Here
the entire project of renewing the Hegellan Marxist tradition by means of a critical theory of soclety may be seen as
running honourably into the sand.
The conclusion of this discussion is that the Frankfurt
School’s programme of critique cannot be carried through in
any of its main variants, whether ‘ideological’ or ‘moral’. In
all of them the immanent emancipatory evaluation of reallty
proves to be incompatible with, and is systematically subverted by, its understanding. Against this background it
appears natural that someone who retained critical ambitions
for social theory should seek to realise them under different
theoretical auspices, to move the methodology out of the
shadow of Hegel. This may, at any rate, serve as a rough
characterlsation of Habermas’s early work in critical theory.
The divergence from the first generation is expressed prlmarily in his foundational strategy. It is one in which critique
as reconstruction is, so to speak, revived in order to bear
the we igh t of cr i tique as criticism. The standards of cri ticism are reconstructed by means of a transcendental argument as presuppositions of discourse . Clearly, the intellectual ancestor of this strategy is Kant, rather than
Hegel. Hence, one may speak of a shift in basic orientation
whose consequences extend to all the concerns of this discussion. It is, of course, only superficially a paradox to suggest that transcendental arguments may yield immanent conclusions. For they establlsh what is required in virtue of the
nature of the object if it is to be intelligible. Thus, the
standards transcendentally establlshed for critical theory
,nay be said to be always immanent to the object of criticism. But this result, as so often with Kantian method, must
appear from a Hegellan standpoint as too easlly won, by a
process that omits the painful, detailed labour of the negative. What the standards are held to be intrinsic to is the
nature of language, and hence of soclal action, as such.
They are not intrinsic to anyone soclety or period in a way
that distinguishes the relationship conceptually from that
obtaining for any other. All human practices operate, as it
were, at the same logical distance from the standards, even
1£, as a matter of fact, they differ in the extent to which
they manage to reallse them in practice. Immanence in Hegel
and V1arx is more determinate than this, shaped to the specificlty of the object and not simply attributable to it in
common with everything else. Their theory is a thoroughgoing historicism in which standards of reason have llfe and
meaning only in the movement of socleties, and are not independently accessible to timeless, transcendental reflection.
It seems a pity of a body of thought with such a distin-
guished past were now to be given up without a struggle.
Hence, it is tempting to explore the possibllity of taking the
opposite path to that of Habermas. If Hegellan Marxism
proves unsuitable as a framework for critical theory of soclety, one might propose to retain the framework whlle dropping the assumption that within it soclal theory must be
conceived as criticism.
Marx and critique
The proposal may be focused in the following way. An obvious diagnosis of Marcuse’s pllght lles to hand. It sees him
as committed to revolutionary theory on Marxist llnes, yet
unable either to accept the cruclal identification of the revolutionary subject as the proletariat of advanced capitallsm
or to find a credible alternative, and, hence, as unable to
avoid the antinomies witnessed above. This view of the situation now needs to be given a further twist. For one must
ask whether if Marcuse had located his subject, it could
have rescued the integrity of his thought. Doubts on this
score have implications for the Frankfurt School as a whole.
So far the discussion has seemed to point towards the fa ml1iar, and faclle, verdict that the theory of the School is
‘Marxism without the proletariat’ . Such a verdict is
possible, however, only on the most superficial reading of
intellectual history. It appears to assume that Marxism may
be viewed as a simple aggregate of elements of which the
proletariat is one. But the proletariat is not so loosely inserted in the original structure of thought as to make this
What is ultimately in question here is whether the relationship of revolutionary subject to revolutionary theory can
ever be adequately conceived on the model of that of critique to its audience. The suggestion to be pursued is that
the attempt so to conceive it encounters systematic incongruity. Such a large-scale conceptual mismatch may be expected to show itself in numerous individltalanomalies.
There is space at present to consider only one of the more
significant of these . It arises from what might be
called the universalist rationalism of the critique idea. The
critique of society is most naturally understood as dealing in
considerations which are binding on all in so far as they are
rational. Thus, the goal of freedom, justice and happiness is
to be thought of as having an authority that provides every
individual agent equally with a reason for seeking it. Marx’s
theory is not, however, to be taken as addressed to the universe of rational beings as such. In its self-conception, it is
formulated from, is expressive of, and, in turn, reflexively
transforms the standpoint of the proletariat. What the critique thesis cannot allow for is this possibility of categorial
distinctions of status between different groups in relation to
its procedures and findings. Its abstract rationalism must
dissolve the speclfici ty of the link between a class and its
theory. It may, of course, acknowledge that members of the
proletariat are more likely in fact to feel the force of
Marxist reasoning. But this is a contingent matter. The concession does nothing to redeem the internal character of the
connection between theory and subject. The problem is that
a critique of society must always be too indiscriminate, too
mediated, to achieve the necessary intimacy. This is to suggest that it can never be immanent enough to comprise a
A claim such as this needs immediate support from the
sources of modern dialectical thought. Thus, something
should be said on the question of Marx’s dealings with the
concept of critique as criticism. The story is complicated in
its details, but the main lines are distinct enough. It cannot
be denied that the early writings show a commitment to the
critique of various aspects of social reality, and that providing it is taken to be the responsibility of radical theorists
. It is also evident that critique in that sense contributes nothing of significance to the later work. The commitment to critique is retained, and indeed highlighted, but the
characteristic form it takes is the critique not of soclety
but of political economy. This project became central to
Marx’s self-conception, as the titles or subtitles of so many
major writings testify. From the earliest references to political economy, it is plain that what he has effectively in
view is ‘the science of political economy’, or, as he terms it
with a different emphasis, ‘the ideology of the political
economists’ . Political economy is, for Marx, the most
intellectually formidable version of bourgeois ideology,
authoritatively embodying that ideology’S’ grasp of capitalist
socIety. Thus, he may be said to have seen his life-work as
bound up with the critique of bourgeois ideology, the enterprise often associated with, but never seriously attempted
by, the Frankfurt School. More specifically, his aim was to
destroy the cognitive core of that ideology, as it found expressIon in political economy. To achieve this, it was necessary, as with all critical critique, to employ standards of
evaluation. The standards Marx required for his purposes
consisted of cognitive values, the values constitutive of inquiry in science and logic. These are, indeed, the only values that play an integral role in his mature work. Recent
discussion in this area has tended to be bedev Wed by the
largely semantic question of his relationship to ‘morality’
. There are many places in the writings, early and late,
where expressions of what it seems pointless to deny is
‘moral’ outrage are wrung from him by what he witnessed all
around. It is also the case, however, that he consciously and
consistently refused to rely on appeals to a conception of an
alternative human existence to supply the practical significance of socialist theory . Yet, as the case of the
Frankfurt School shows, some such conception would have
been needed to be the ultimate ground of the theory, if its
status were that of social crItique. So far as exIsting society was concerned, what Marx postulated of the revolutionary subject was cognitive, rather than moral, achievement:
its essential weapon was understanding, not criticism. The
question to be asked is how he could have supposed that this
was an adequate recipe for revolutionary theory.
The revolutionary character of the theory is closely
associated by Marx with its being dialectical. More precisely, it is held to be revolutionary in virtue of employing a
dialectical method . Hegel is always acknowledged as
the founder of that method. Hence, at this point it is natural to turn to the second source of the modern debate over
dialectics. Above all, it is natural to turn to the Phenomeno’logy of Spirit, the work that is for Marx ‘the true point of
origin and the secret of the Hegelian philosophy’ . The
basic dialectIc in the Phenomenology is the dialectic of consciousness which is, Hegel insists, always consciousness of
something. Thus, the general form of the contradictions 15
that of a conflict between the idea of the object by which
the subject consciousness is initially possessed and the object as it is actually encountered in experience . The
concept of critique is not required to theorise thIs process.
In Hegelian phenomenology transitions are not effected
through negative evaluations of the successive moments.
Such evaluations could only represent a superfluous layer of
mediation here. The source of movement is the discovery,
not that the moments are as such undesirable or inadequate,
but that they involve contradictions . This discovery is
assumed to be of directly practical significance for a subject consciousness meeting minimal conditions of rationality.
Such a consciousness cannot rest In the awareness of its
own contradictions but is necessarily driven beyond, towards
In Marx’s appropriation of the scheme, the phenomenological subject becomes the social class and the dialectic of
consciousness becomes a dialectic of class consciousness.
For a subject class, at least in the earlier stages of the dialectic, the basic content of its view of the social world is
drawn from ‘the ruling ideas’, which Marx tells us are the
ideas of the ruling class. The subject class, that is to say, is
subjected to the ruling ideology. It is the claim of the ideology to provide a correct picture of social reality that must,
on the phenomenological model, come in conflict with, and
be refuted by, comprehended experience. The strategic
importance of the critique of political economy has to be
seen agaInst this background. In exposing the cognitive failure of bourgeois ideology, the contradiction between its projections and the reality, it serves as the trigger of the dialectic of class consciousness. Thus, theory is practl’cal in
virtue of being formative of the consciousness, and thereby
the agency, of the subjects who make history. In being so, it
is itself a form of historical change, not a device for securing a base for ratiocination about its desirability. This peculIar immediacy and immanence is assumed throughout Marx’s
scattered moments of methodological self-consciousness. It is
captured in such formulations as that which holds that the
‘theoretical conclusions of the Communists .•• merely express
in general terms actual relations springing from an existing
class struggle’ . Formulations of this kind were to be
eagerly taken up by the major figures of the revival of
Hegelian Marxism in the early twentieth century. They are
echoed in Karl Korsch’s assertion that ‘the Marxist system
is the theoretical expression of the revolutionary movement
of the proletariat . They are echoed also by Lukacs:
‘the theory is essentially the intellectual expression of the
revolutionary process itself’ . History and Class Consciousness elaborates this thesis with a consistency and
complexity not achieved by Korsch. Indeed, the original conception seems at times almost submerged there by the
weight of theory. This impression reflects the remarkable
system of conflations that crowns the theoretical achievement of the work. Historical materialism, as the intellectual
expression of the revolutionary process, is, in the end, identical with the true ‘imputed’ class consciousness of the proletariat. This is in turn identical with the ideological maturity of the class and, to complete the circle, the struggle for
that maturity simply is the revolutionary process itself
. These fusions are surely reminiscent not so much of
the spirit of Hegel’s system as of the Schelllngian night in
which all cows are black. Lukacs himself came, of course, to
be critical of the entire scheme, and, most of all, of the
ontology of identity that underpins it, the view of the proletariat as the identical subject-object of history. A nonmythological, truly materialist and dialectical theory would,
as he realised, have to rest on a different social ontology.
What was required was a properly articulated account of the
nature of the revolutionary subject which would render
intelllgible its role as the agent of a materialist dialectic of
history. This was the chief problem bequeathed by History
and Class Consciousness to Marxist theory.
The challenge was not to be seriously taken up in the
West. In this vital respect the work was an end not a beginning. Hence, the view of ‘Western Marxism’ as a Lukacsinspired engagement with the central phllosophical tasks of
the Marxist tradition is an amiable fantasy . The members of the Frankfurt School were perhaps the natural inheritors of the Lukacsian problematic. Its adoption by them
was, however, ruled out by a feature associated with ‘Western Marxism’ which they genuinely do exhibit, its remoteness
from political practice and, specifically, the practice of the
working class movement. Unable, for complex reasons, to
identify with, and give theoretical expression to, the standpoint of the proletariat, they functioned as socialist intellectuals whose link with socialism had to be mediated
through reasons for acting of universal validity. Ethics had,
in the manner outlined in this paper, to substitute for Marxist ontology. Their situation bears out, what is in any case
evident on grounds of Marxist theory itself, the strangeness
of speaking of a Marxism which is characterised by a divorce from practice. It suggests also the theoretical nulllty
of a category of historical understanding that has that divorce as a constituting principle. For the divorce from practice must surely infect the essence of the theory, placing it
outside the limits of what can significantly be designated as
Marxism. A tendency to overlook this among students of
post-classical Marxism seems to .indicate that the shape of
the tradition that is their professed concern has become
obscure and its requirements have become dead letters. Such
a failure of historical sense should by no means be attributed to the critical theorists. On the contrary, they were
wel1 aware of where they had come from and of the direction in which they were heading.
In this context ‘Traditional and Critical Theory’ is once
again a seminal document. For one thing, it contains several
impeccably Lukacsian formulations. It advocates a conception in which ‘the theoretician and his specific object are
seen as forming a dynamic unity with the oppressed class’,
and so ‘his profession is the struggle of which his own thinking is a part and not something self-sufficient and separable
from the struggle’. What is opposed to traditional ideas of
theory 1s the ‘idea of a theory which becomes a genu1ne
force, consist1ng in the self-awareness of the subjects of a
great historical revolution’. At the same time, however,
some positions occup1ed in History and Class Consciousness
have begun to be abandoned. This is most ev1dent in the
pers1stent concern to detach the fate of critical theory from
that of the proletar1at: ‘even the sltuat10n of the proletariat
is, in th1s society, no guarantee of correct knowledge’.
There 1s no ‘social class by whose acceptance of the theory
one could be guided’. The conclusion is that, 1n words already quoted above, ‘the critical theory has no specific influence on its side, except concern for the abolltion of
social injustice’ . The key to the enigmatic qual1ty of
the essay surely lles here: it subscribes to a concept1on of
theory as the self-awareness of revolutionary subjects; yet
on the identificat10n of these subjects it has suffered a
complete failure of nerve. The essay is a transit10nal work,
marking the high point of Lukacs’s influence on the Frankfurt School and pointing towards its inexorable decline, as
pess1mism over the proletariat deepened. Some members of
the School were able to cope with th1s sltuat10n with more
equan1m1ty than others. The special poignancy of Marcuse’s
response was noted above. Yet he too had a keen sense of
what was being left behind, as is witnessed by his enduring
belief that Korsch and Lukacs represented the ‘most authentic’ current of Marxism . Adorno was perhaps least
affected, as the one least impressed by this current and its
v ision of the proletar ia t. In some respects, however, he
shows the deepest awareness of the overal1 contours of the
movement of ideas in which critical theory was lodged. It is
typically expressed not in extended historical exposition but
in aphorisms and asides. It is in this llght that one should
. view his taking to task the attitude to criticism that Marx
had developed by the time of the ‘Theses on Feuerbach’:
In his youth he had demanded the ‘ruthless criticism
of everything that exists’. Now he mocked criticism.
But his famous joke about the Young Hegellans, his
coinage ‘critical criticism’ was a dud and went up in
smoke as nothing but a tautology.
If it is assumed that Adorno understood Marxist theory as a
critical theory of society, he is presumably to be regarded
here as rebuking Marx for not being in his mature work
Marxist enough. But this would be a fatuous opinion to
attribute to Adorno. It is surely better to take the passage
as another sign of his awareness that the theory is not
essentially social crit1que and that the project of such a
cri tique is a reversion to Young Hegellan positions that
Marx had left behind in youth, to a pre-Marxist conception
of ,how thought is to be radical in relation to society.
The chief exception, and most philosophically penetrating general work
on the Frankfurt School is D. Held, Introduction to Critical Theory:
Horkheimer to Habermas, London, 1980.
M. Horkheimer, Critical Theory: Selected Essays, trans. M. J. O’Connell
and others, New York, 1972 (subsequently CT), pp. 188-252.
CT, p. 206.
The immediate source of this borrowing is P. Connerton, The Tragedy
of Enlightenment: An Essay on the Frankfurt School, Cambridge, 1980,
T. W. Adorno, Against Epistemology: A Metacritique, trans W. Domingo,
Oxford, 1982 (subsequently AE), p. 5.
G. W. F. Hegel, Science of Logic, trans. A. V. ‘v1iller, London, 1969, p.
AE, p. 5.
M. Horkheimer, ‘Notes on Institute Activities’, Studies in Philosophy and
Social Science, Vol. 9, No. 1, p. 122.
T. W. Adorno and others, The Positivist Dispute in German Sociology,
trans. G. Adey and D. Frisby, London, 1976 (subsequently PD), p. 115.
H. Marcuse, ‘Some Social Implications of Modern Technology’, The
Essential Frankfurt School Reader, ed. A. Arato and E. Gebhardt, New
York, 1978 (subsequently EFSR), p. 147.
‘This study attempts to evaluate some main trends of Soviet Marxism in
terms of an “immanent critique”, that is to say it starts from the
theoretical premises of Soviet Marxism, develops their ideological and
sociological consequences and reexamines the-· premises in the light of
these consequences’. Soviet Marxism: A Critical Analysis, London, 1958,
T. W. Adorno, Prisms, trans S. and S. Weber, Cambridge, !lass., 1981
(subsequently P), p. 65.
T. W. Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life, trans.
E. F. N. Jephcott, London, 1978 (subsequently MM), p. 93.
MM, p. 93.
rvlM, pp. 210-11.
!I M, p. 95.
K. Marx, Early Writings, trans. R. Livingstone and G. Benton,
Harmondsworth, 1975 (subsequently E W), pp. 212-41.
K. Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, trans B. Fowkes, Harmondsworth, 1976, p. 280
MM, p. 221.
For a sample of Adorno’s dealing with ‘morality’, see discussion below.
For Marcuse, see, e.g., An Essay on Liberation, Harmondsworth, 1969
(subsequently EL), pp. 18-19; Five Lectures: Psychoanalysis Politics and
Utopia, London, 1970 (subsequently FL), p. 96. Horkheimer’s status as
the Institute’s ‘moralist’ was well recognised. See letter from Adorno
quoted in S. Buck-Morss, The Origin of Negative Dialectics: Theodor W.
Adorno, Waiter Benjamin and the Frankfurt Institute, Brighton, 1977, p.
236. See also associated discussion by Buck-‘vIorss.
CT, p. 248.
MM, pp. 155-56.
‘vI!I, p. 157.
T. W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, trans. E. B. Ashton, London, 1973
(subsequently ND), pp. 203-04.
ND, p. 285.
N D, p. 365.
MM, p. 18. See also M. Horkheimer, Eclipse of Reason, New York, 1947,
CT, pp. 199, 245, 242.
H. Marcuse, ‘Philosophy and Critical Theory’, Negations: Essays in
Critical Theory, Harmondsworth, 1968 (subsequently N!, PP .• 136-37, 135,
‘On Hedonism’, N, p. 180.
N, p. 154.
P, pp. 92-93.
G. W. F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, trans. H.
B. Nisbet, Cambridge, 1975, pp. 27, 29.
A central difficulty may, however, be posed in terms, relevant to the
present discussion, of the traditional distinction between immanence and
transcendence. It seems essential to Hegel’s conception that the
dialectical subject be, in some sense, immanent, that it should not
confront the historical movement in blank externality and that its
purposes be realised only in and through that movement. Yet its
purposes are not simply exhausted in, or identical with, the historical
details, and it must have enough transcendence to be intelligible as the
source of the teleological energy on which the movement as a whole
depends. It is not easy to see how, or whether, these requirements can
PD, p. 23; N, p. 144.
PD, pp. 33, 34.
First sentence in the passage is rendered in accordance with ND, p.
177. Translation of the second is from M. Rosen, ‘Critical Theory:
Between Ideology and Philosophy’, The Need for Interpretation, ed. S.
Mitchell and M. Rosen, London, 1983, p. 100. German text is Negative
Dialektic, Frankfurt am Main, 1966, pp. 176-77. My discussion of the
theme in connection with Negative Dialectics is influenced by Rosen’s
ND, p. 316.
ND, p. 38; translation amended, see Negative Dialektik, p. 46.
T. W. Adorno and ‘v1. Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. J.
Cumming, London, 1979 (subsequently DE), p. 4.
DE, p. 3.
DE, pp. 3-4, 104. In general, the hallmark of formalised reason is the
adjustment of details within a framework taken for granted. Thus, as
well as instrumentality it is also sUbsumption under principles; DE, p.
82. Clearly the whole field owes more to Weber than to Marx.
ND, p. 355.
ND, p. 320.
ND, p. 320.
DE, p. 217.
K. Marx and F. Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 5, London, 1976
(subsequently CW), pp. 52, 206.
K. Marx, Grundrisse, trans. M. Nicolaus, Harmondsworth, 1973, p. 94.
PD, p. 128.
H. Marcuse, ‘The Foundation of Historical Materialism’, From Luther to
Popper, trans. J. De Bres, London, 1973 (subsequently FL TP), p. 26.
H. Marcuse, Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud,
New York, 1962, p. 4.
N, p. 143.
‘A Note on Dialectic’, EFSR, p. 449. This essay was written in 1960 as
a new Preface to Marcuse’s Reason and Revolution. The claim quoted
here may be seen as implied by the interpretation of Hegelian ‘real
possibility’ in that work. See Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the
Rise of Social Theory, London, 1967 (subsequently R R), pp. 150-52.
H. Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced
Industrial Society, London, 1964 (subsequently ODIvI), p. xv.
OD,M, pp. xiv-xv.
ODIvI, p. x.
ODM, pp. xi-xii.
ODM, p. xii.
001, p. xiv.
ODVI, p. xiii.
ODVI, p. 253.
ODVI, pp. 254-55.
FL TP, p. 40.
RR, e.g. pp. 52, 259. For the suggestion that ‘Vlarcuse has a quite
Fichtean-Kantian reading of Hegel which stresses the absolute
sovereignty of the subject’, see D. Kellner, Herbert Marcuse and the
Cr isis of Marxism, Basingstoke, 1984 (subsequently HVI), p. 443, n. 10.
RR, p. 435; ODVI, p. 31.
ODIvI, p. 252.
Counterrevolution and Revolt, London, 1972 (subsequently CR), see in
succession, pp. 16, 71, 21, 41, 82, 31,93, 25.
See, e.g., B. Katz, Herbert Marcuse and the Art of Liberation: An
Intellectual Biography, London, 1982, p. 165, n. 8.
EL, p. 27.
FL, p. 80.
N, p. xvi.
N, p. xx.
EL, p. 13.
What appear to be exceptions are so only in a verbal sense. See, e.g.,
FL, p. 64. The position that lvIarcuse there denies to be ‘utopian’ is
elsewhere taken by him to be the essence of the utopian strain, i.e.,
complete reliance on purely ‘technical possibility’.
‘Protosocialism and Late Capitalism: Toward A Theoretical Synthesis
Based on Bahro’s Analysis’, Rudolf Bahro: Critical Responses, ec. U.
Wolter, New York, 1980 (subsequently RB), p. 26.
EL, pp. 58-59, 82.
See HM, pp. 317-18 and p. 467, n. 95. There is some tension between
Kellner’s position in the note, where he accepts that in lvIarcuse’s late
writings the revolutionary subject becomes revolutionary subjectivity
and his position in the main text, where this is represented as a shift
that I1arcuse should have made but did not.
EL, p. 59.
EL, p. 31.
EL, p. 33.
RB, p. 27.
RB, p. 39.
RB, pp. 28-29.
RB, p. 32.
A useful index to the process is provided by the increasing influence on
1arcuse of Adorno’s aesthetic theory; for instance of his obsessive
anti-identitarian stance and of the view of autonomous form as the sole
carrier of the radical significance of art. See, e.g., CR, p. 198; The
Aesthetic Dimension: Towards a Critique of Marxist Aesthetics, London,
1978, pp. xi, 8, 13.
J. Habermas, Knowledge and Human Interests, trans. J. J. Shapiro,
London, 1972, esp. pp. 301-17. For a discussion of the transcendental
method, see B. Stroud, ‘Transcendental Arguments’, The Journal of
Philosophy, Vol. lxv, No. 9, 1968, pp. 241-56; C. Taylor, ‘The Validity of
Transcendental Arguments’, Aristotelian Society Proceedings, 1979, pp.
L. Kolakowski puts it more precisely: ‘ … the main principles of “critical
theory” are those of Lukacs’s Marxism, but without the proletariat’;
Main Currents of Marxism, Vol. 3, Oxford, 1978, p. 355. It is, however,
not clear what this formula could mean for Kolakowski. As he
demonstrates, Lukacs’s lvIarxism is tied definitionally to the proletariat;
see, e.g., p. 269.
Another is discussed in the final section of J. McCarney, ‘Recent
Interpretations of Ideology’, Economy and Society, Vol. 14, No. I, 1985,
see pp. 90-92.
‘The criticism of religion is … in embryo the criticism of that vale of
tears of which religion is the halo’, E W, p. 244; ‘All communist and
socialist writers .. , subjected tFi’e real foundations of contemporary
society to incisive criticism.’ K. Marxand F. Engels, The Holy Family,
or Critique of Critical Criticism, Moscow, 1975, p. 99.
‘English Political Economy, i.e. the scientific reflection of the state of
the economy in England’, E W, p. 406 ‘his (the political economist’s)
ideology’, C, p. 931.
For an introduction to the debate, see K. Nielsen and S. C. Patten
(eds.), Marx and Morality, Guelph, 1981.
To cite some well known examples: ‘Communism is not for us a state of
affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality (will) have
to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes
the present state of things.’ CW, p. 49; ‘ … the working class have no
ideals to realise, but to set free the elements of. the new society with
which old collapsing bourgeois society itself is pregnant’, The Civil War
in France, Moscow, 1972, p. 58.
C, pp. 102-03.
Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Moscow, 1974, p. 127.
For an illuminating discussion see G. Rose, Hegel Contra Sociology,
London, 1981 (subsequently HCS), pp. 45-47, 83:91, 107, 122.
‘Hegel does not condemn this. To do so would be to stop outside the
phenomenology and to impose another abstract definition of what the
experience should be on the will. The discrepancy between the natural
will’s definition and its experience, the social reality presupposed by
the definition, itself transforms the inequity.’ HCS, p. 85.
‘Vlanifesto of the Communist Party’, The Revolution of 1848,
Harmondsworth, 1973, p. 80.
K. Korsch, Marxism and Philosophy, trans. F. Halliday, London, 1970, p.
G. Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness, trans: R~ Livingstone,
London, 1971 (subsequently HCC).
See discussion in J. McCarney, The Real World of Ideology, Brighton,
1980, Ch. 3, esp. pp. 125-26.
For ‘Western 1arxism’ see, e.g., P. Anderson, Considerations on
Western Marxism, London, 1976; A. Arato and P. Breines, The Young
Lukacs and the Origins of Western Marxism, London, 1979; R. Jacoby,
Dialectic of Defeat: Contours of Western Marxism, Cambridge, 1981.
CT, successively pp. 215, 216, 231, 213, 242, 212.
Reported in HIvI, p. 69.
T. W. Adorno, ‘Resignation’, Telos, Spring 1978, p. 166.
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