Adorno’s politics: Theory and praxis in Germany’s 1960s
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Theodor W. Adorno inspired much of Germany’s 1960s student movement, but he came increasingly into conflict with this movement about the practical implications of his critical theory. Others – including his friend and colleague Herbert Marcuse – also accused Adorno of a quietism that is politically objectionable and in contradiction with his own theory. In this article, I reconstruct, and partially defend, Adorno’s views on theory and (political) praxis in Germany’s 1960s in 11 theses. His often attacked and maligned stance during the 1960s is based on his analysis of these historical circumstances. Put provocatively, his stance consists in the view that people in the 1960s have tried to change the world, in various ways; the point – at that time – was to interpret it.
This article was originally conceived as part of Adorno’s Practical Philosophy and should be considered as integral to it.
described alternative (but merely a sense that things could and should be different), it is consistent with his negativism. See, for example, Adorno, Critical Models, pp. 190, 268. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p. 365. Adorno, ‘Society’, p. 275. Richter, ‘Who’s Afraid of the Ivory Tower?’: 17: see also ‘Correspondence’, Adorno to Marcuse, ‘06/08/1969’, p. 136. Adorno, Critical Models, p. 269. ibid.: 292. ibid.: 270. ibid.: see also ‘Correspondence’, Adorno to Marcuse, ‘05/05/1969’, p. 128 and
materially integrated into capitalist society by way of higher living standards. Second, the proletariat has been integrated in terms of its consciousness24 – in fact, generally the social control of late modernity extends to people’s minds. Thus, while the class structure persists objectively, class consciousness is largely lacking and has been diminishing since the 1920s and early 1930s.25 Specifically, Adorno repeatedly highlights the use of mass media and culture (the ‘culture industry’, as
to Adorno, is also praxis in at least two other senses – theory is praxis-as-resistance;79 and it is even a constitutive part of practice-as-revolutionary-activity.80 As far as the first is concerned, what I said under thesis 4 reapplies here: thinking is resistance in both (1) not accepting Downloaded from psc.sagepub.com by Chris Jones on October 13, 2014 Freyenhagen 11 states of affairs for what they are or appear to be;81 and (2) its capacity to immunize us from the distorting influences
should not be subjected to the demands of practical applicability (as measured and shaped by the current social world), but retains nonetheless a connection to the possible practice of a freed humanity, which is its orientating interest. In this way, ‘The theory that is not conceived as an instruction for its realization should have the most hope of realization’;92 and philosophy ‘ effects change precisely by remaining theory’.93 7 Democracy has only shallow roots in postwar [West] Germany This
in Frankfurt in protest against the war in Vietnam and the complacency about this war among the German public. Beyond his moral objections, Adorno also thought it foolish to import guerrilla tactics into the western democracies, remarking in 1969 that ‘[m]odels that do not prove themselves even in the Bolivian bush cannot be exported’.112 But even those who did not want to realize Adorno’s theory with Molotov cocktails, but only with sit-ins and occupations, came into opposition to him.113 He