Tuesday, April 28, 2020

On The Predictions of the Frankfurt School

The advanced nations are “happily and calmly” committing economic and cultural harakiri in the name of fighting a flu virus—why are they self-destructing? I am revisiting the Frankfurt School’s psychoanalysis of modernity, and I realize that, in the last fifty years, many predictions made by this school have come true. The Frankfurt School theorists (Marcuse, Adorno, Horkheimer, Fromm, and a few other names) have claimed that capitalism, which is essentially state capitalism, is dedicated to creating a mass society with standardization and social conformity. They were among the first theorists to view Hollywood films, radio, TV, mainstream media, and advertising as instruments for engendering social control and mass culture. The 1947 book by Adorno and Horkheimer, The Dialectic of Enlightenment, is a popular text of the Frankfurt School—while it’s a critique of the Enlightenment, it has something noteworthy to say about capitalism: every capitalist society eventually becomes massified and fascistic, and the new generations often become slavish and cruel. Another useful book of the Frankfurt School is Erich Fromm’s Escape from Freedom (1941); Fromm makes a distinction between "freedom from” (negative freedom) and “freedom to” (positive freedom). The third book of the Frankfurt School that I will mention is Herbert Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization (1955) which combines Marxist and Freudian worldview to propagate (and analyze) the rise of a counterculture of revolt, disobedience, and libertinism in capitalist societies.

No comments: