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August 6: Theodor Adorno

Lawrence Bush
August 5, 2016

Philosopher Theodor W. Adorno, a member of the Marxist Frankfurt School of critical thought who strongly influenced the European post-war left, died at 65 on this date in 1969. Adorno left Germany in 1934 and lived out the Nazi era in Oxford, New York, and southern California, where he wrote his best-known books, Dialectic of Enlightenment (with Max Horkheimer), Philosophy of New Music, The Authoritarian Personality, and Minima Moralia. According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Adorno believed that “reason had become entangled with domination and suffering” and “lamented that the human race had gone from understanding the world through myth to understanding it through scientific reasoning . . . He felt that the entertainment industry of modern society is just as mechanical, formulaic, and dominating as the workplace. He argued that humans in modern society are programmed at work and in their leisure, and though they seek to escape the monotony of their workplace, they are merely changing to another piece of the machine –- from producer to consumer.” According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Adorno “was the most prominent challenger to both Sir Karl Popper’s philosophy of science and Martin Heidegger’s philosophy of existence. Jürgen Habermas, Germany’s foremost social philosopher after 1970, was Adorno’s student and assistant. The scope of Adorno’s influence stems from the interdisciplinary character of his research . . . the thoroughness with which he examined Western philosophical traditions, especially from Kant onward, and the radicalness to his critique of contemporary Western society.”

“An emancipated society . . . would not be a unitary state, but the realization of universality in the reconciliation of differences.” --Theodor W. Adorno

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.