Dialectic of Enlightenment

Marcel Stoetzler's picture

Dear all
some of you might find the following piece of interest:
Best, Marcel Stoetzler (Bangor University)
Abstract: Seventy years ago, Querido Verlag, Amsterdam, published a densely written book that went on to become a rather unlikely key title of modern social philosophy. Underneath its surface of granite pessimism elements of a strangely sanguine theory wait to be discovered. Unsurprisingly, given that it was written during WW2 in American exile and published at the beginning of the Cold War, it does not carry its Marxism on its sleeves, but it gives clear enough hints: in the preface, Horkheimer and Adorno state that the aim of the book is ‘to explain why humanity, instead of entering a truly human state, is sinking into a new kind of barbarism’. This addresses the dialectic referenced in the title of the book. The important bit here is the ‘instead of’: the reality of barbarism was undeniable and clearly visible, but the originality of the formulation lies in its implication that humanity could have been expected to enter ‘a truly human state’ sometime earlier in the twentieth century, leaving behind its not so human state. The promise of progress towards humanity, held by socialists (and some liberals), blew up in their faces. It would have been easy and straightforward then to write a book arguing against the holding of such hope, but this would not have been a dialectical book; Dialectic of Enlightenment undertakes to rescue this hope by looking at why progress tipped over into its opposite.