How Theoretical Can Critical Theory Be

Introduction: Interdisciplinary materialism and “the historical course of the present epoch”

1 In the inaugural model of interdisciplinary materialism established in the Institute of Social Research in Frankfurt in the early 1930s, critique of political economy occupied the center of the constellation of disciplines, playing the role of a “common language” for research collaboration. In “Traditional and Critical Theory”, Horkheimer characterized the specific “human stance” (menschliches Verhalten) that opposes “theory in its traditional figure” as one that “will be characterized in what follows as ‘critical’. The word has here less to do with the idealistic Critique of pure reason than with the dialectical critique of political economy. It characterizes an essential property of the dialectical theory of society [1]”. Such a connection between the critical attitude and the critique of political economy is what distinguishes Traditional from Critical Theory [2].

2 This means basically two things. First, the critique of political economy was not a “discipline” among others. Or, as Herbert Marcuse put it some forty years later, “Marxist critique of political economy is not a single discipline, no one can erect it as a unique discipline in opposition to philosophical integration, whatever the latter term designates [3]”. That is to say, the critique of political economy worked both as a more general model for the critique of available knowledge and as the focus point for different disciplinary approaches. Secondly, the internal connection between the “critical attitude” and the critique of political economy also meant that “theory” was the result of “critique”, having the critique of political economy as its model. Or, as Horkheimer states in the same text, the “discussion led back to the question about in what theory would be more than political economy [Nationalökonomie]. This more has always been given by the fact that critique of political economy criticizes the whole of the social being [4]”.

3 These two main features of the inaugural distinction introduced by Horkheimer are in turn guided by the most eminent task of interdisciplinary materialism, which is to produce the most complex diagnoses of the present time possible. In the editorial note that introduced the first issue of the Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung in 1932, Horkheimer wrote that the Zeitschrift is engaged “foremost in a theory of the historical course of the present epoch [5]”. This guideline may be found in the opening words of this same editorial note, in that Horkheimer states that “The investigations in the most different domains of knowledge and levels of abstraction which matter here are held together with the intention that they shall foment the theory of present society as a whole [6]”.

4 These main guidelines show important affinities with the stance previously taken by Lukács in his 1923 History and class consciousness, in that he states that the Marxist method has as “its most eminent objective the knowledge of the present [7]”. But in comparison to the project of the Institute of Social Research, there is the decisive difference of interdisciplinary collaboration, which has neither been thought nor experienced by Lukács in terms of a theoretical consortium. An interdisciplinary collaboration which, in the case of Horkheimer’s inaugural proposal, does not mean reaching or presupposing consensus or even agreement around a particular position, but mostly bringing up different diagnoses of the times that are in a productive dispute over making themselves plausible, having always the critique of political economy as a common theoretical language. Not least, this is also one of the reasons why “Critical Theory” means both “Marxism” in a broad sense as a specific strand within Marxism, that is to say, the group gathered around the Institute of Social Research [8].

Four major assumptions of interdisciplinary materialism

5 These two main features and such most eminent task that guides the efforts of interdisciplinary materialism have at least four major assumptions that, taken together, constitute the claim that truth has always a “time core [9]”. The first major assumption is that “theory”, as a result of “critique”, cannot and should not be identified with the objectives of the theories that have been criticized, with what Adam Smith or David Ricardo had set as objectives. Marx engaged in a “critique of political economy”, and not in establishing an alternative that would be on the same foot as political economy itself. According to Marx’s famous characterization, “theory” is “the system of bourgeois economy critically presented […] through its critical presentation [10]”.

6 This stance lies at the center of Critical Theory’s claim not to be in competition with traditional contributions [11]. On the one hand, this claim is tied to the class perspective that comes together with the assumption of the union of theory and practice. In Lukács’ well-known formulation of this necessary class perspective: “a radical transformation of the standpoint is impossible on the soil of bourgeois society [12]”. On the other hand, this claim is tied to the perspective that, in contrast to other intellectual traditions such as utopian socialism, Critical Theory does not embrace emancipation as an ideal; rather, it embraces it as a real possibility that is inscribed in the actual logic of capitalism. In Marx’s words, the working class “has only to set the elements of the new society free, elements that have already developed themselves in the womb of the ruining bourgeois society [13]”.

7 The second major assumption is that critical theorists adopt a critical “behavior”, a critical “attitude” or even a critical “stance”, depending on the decision on how to translate the German term “Verhalten”. In Horkheimer’s words:


In the case of the subjects of the critical behavior, the divided character of the social whole in its current figure develops in conscious contradiction. By recognizing the current economic formation and the culture on which it is based as a product of human labor, as the organization that humanity at this time gave itself and to which it was up to, these subjects identify themselves with this whole and understand it as will and reason; it is their own world. At the same time, they experience that society is comparable to extra-human natural processes, mere mechanisms, because the cultural forms that rest in struggle and oppression do not testify to a self-conscious will; this world is not theirs, but that of capital [14].

9 Critique is therefore an attitude guided by the point of view of emancipation from domination. That is why such characteristic also represents the main divide to Traditional Theory, which considers domination as an inevitable structural feature of living in society. The critical theoretical attitude consists in assuming that a society without domination, and more specifically, capitalist domination, is not only possible but desirable and necessary. It is such an attitude that constitutes first and foremost knowledge and research in critical theoretical terms.

10 According to Horkheimer, there are


no general criteria for Critical Theory as a whole; because they are always based on the repetition of events and thus on the existence of a self-reproducing totality. Nor is there a social class to which it would be sufficient to adhere. Under the present conditions, the consciousness of every social layer can be ideologically cramped and corrupted, even though its situation is determined regarding truth. Critical Theory, in spite of the insight of the individual steps and the correspondence of its elements with the most advanced traditional theories, has no specific instance for itself than the interest in the abolition of class rule linked to itself. This negative formulation, put in an abstract expression, is the materialistic content of the idealistic concept of reason [15].

12 This attitude also allows the investigations of historical tendencies of development in the present in terms of their blocking or favoring emancipation. This may be found, for instance, in Horkheimer’s discussion of the role of experience in the knowledge of the contradiction involved in producing the world in a capitalist society. In this context, he claims that


there is a difference between Traditional and Critical Theory in terms of the role of experience. The points of view that Critical Theory takes from historical analysis as goals of human activity, above all the idea of a rational social organization that corresponds to universality, are intrinsic to human labor without being present in the correct form to individuals or to the public spirit. It needs a determinate direction of the interest to experience and perceive these tendencies [16].

14 A third major assumption of interdisciplinary materialism is that collaboration, interdisciplinarity in the way it practiced by Critical Theory, is not an option, but a requirement. Specialization can only represent real advance in knowledge if practiced in such a way that the traditional results of the work executed in individual disciplines may be completed and corrected not only by critique, but also by one another, having the “whole” of society as a horizon. This is one of the main organizational features to avoid pathologies as “economicism”, for instance. In Horkheimer’s words,


Economicism to which Critical Theory is reduced in some places where it is appealed to does not consist in taking the economical as being excessively important, but rather in taking it as too narrowly. Its original meaning, which aims at the whole, disappears behind the appeal to delimited phenomena [17].

16 Understood as a “common language for interdisciplinary collaboration”, critique of political economy in interdisciplinary materialism provided a common ground towards which disciplines were oriented and correspondently organized according to the relation they established to it and to one another. One of the important consequences of such interdisciplinary requirement is the peculiar position of critical-theoretical empirical exploits: together with critique, they also aim at filling in the lacunae of traditional contributions, and they can do it only through interdisciplinary collaboration. Taking this requirement seriously means, for instance, that different critical models may presuppose different interdisciplinary arrangements or, according to the formulation favored here, different interdisciplinary constellations.

17 Finally, given that “theory” in critical-theoretical practice is the same as producing critical diagnoses of the times, a fourth assumption of interdisciplinary materialism is that participants of one and same critical-theoretical consortium may – as they usually do – produce different diagnoses of the times based on the similar set of available experiences and results. But each diagnosis of the times that result from collaborative work based on all these features and requirements remains bound to this collaborative work. As summarized, for instance, in the abstract in English of “Traditional and Critical Theory”: Critical Theory’s


content is the description of present society in terms of a development towards a rational form. Critical theory, therefore, always remains intimately linked up with the reality of existence. It needs for its development in each and every instance the existence and assistance of the various scientific disciplines. Its logical structure, however, is more complicated than that of theory in the traditional sense, because it does not regard its objectives as a separate and foreign province [18].

19 Critical Theory’s content is concretely bounded to the moment and to the conditions which it tries to grasp, a constellation that only violently may be reduced to the abstract and vague claim that “all theory is historically situated” and the like.

What characterizes critical theoretical disputes

20 Critical disputes around the most accurate and plausible diagnosis of the present time lead in their turn to disputes over making explicit the basis of such controversies, that is to say over making explicit and systematizing the theoretical exploits that underlie a diagnosis of the times [19]. In the original formulation of Critical Theory, a “theoretical dispute” meant making explicit the different appropriations of the critique of political economy in view of presenting an original diagnosis of the times. This also means that the common language for collaboration was itself a permanent work in progress, one that must accompany the many changes in the different diagnoses of the present time.

21 And yet if this peculiar arrangement made it possible for interdisciplinary materialism to pose in a new way Critical Theory’s specific claim not to be in competition with Traditional Theory, Horkheimer’s formulations established a certain primacy of theory over praxis, at least in the sense that practice was mainly defined in relation to theory, a practice that assumes in the text the very abstract sense of an “attitude” oriented to and by emancipation: “An attitude directed to such emancipation, which aims to change the whole, may well make use of the theoretical work executed within the rules of existing reality. However, it leaves behind the pragmatic character that results from traditional thinking as a professional work useful to society [20]”.

22 Accordingly, in order to be “Critical”, “Theory” requires to be necessarily oriented by and to practice, since “Truth is a moment of the correct practice [21]”. But practice itself, in an emphatical sense, was then out of reach. That is why practice in Horkheimer’s text is thought primarily in its relation to theory, and not in the strong dialectical sense that it had and could have had under different circumstances, under circumstances that would allow both moments to be considered as a unity, as in the classical idea of the union of theory and praxis. This inaugural characteristic of Critical Theory has proven to be a long-lasting one, although, as I will argue, with different shapes and meanings than it has in this inaugural moment of interdisciplinary materialism.

23 In the context of rising authoritarianism and repression, in a moment in which the worker’s movement was split into two different and often incompatible strands, the very idea of the union of theory and practice lost its evidence. In his writings from the 1930s, Horkheimer sublimated the union of theory and practice into an orientation to emancipation, into an attitude that, in the end, was maintained in a prudent distance from direct action. This is a feature that, in all its diversity, largely characterized the critical theoretical field ever since, as well as the non-concurrence claim has remained a distinguishing feature of critical, rather than traditional, theories. At least until Habermas’s Theory of Communicative Action, published some fifty years after Horkheimer became the head of the Institute of Social Research in Frankfurt: “Critical social theory does not relate to established lines of research as a competitor; starting from its concept of the rise of modern societies, it attempts to explain the specific limitations and the relative rights of those approaches [22]”.

24 At the same time, it was such an attitude that allowed in my view interdisciplinary materialism to press on in the vein of the subjectivation of domination, as inaugurated by the young Marx and developed by Lukács in his History and Class Consciousness. This is not, however, the way in which a work as acute as Helmut Dubiel’s sees Horkheimer’s position in his 1937 essay. In accordance with Wolfgang Bonss’s view that the proletariat had then the position of an “addressee” of theory [23], Dubiel adds that Horkheimer himself would see his position as a questionable one, in the following terms:


When Horkheimer introduced the term critical theory in 1937, he defended the extreme thesis that, for the sake of the clarity of the theoretical view, the critical intellectual must be able to keep a social distance from those to whom the political theories are directed. But he also realized that the forging of moral solidarity between the intelligentsia and actual social movements – while maintaining distance from the immediacy of the latter’s empirical forms of consciousness – is questionable to the extent that the communicative horizon between the theoretical subject and theoretical addressee fades away [24].

26 The real problem here is not in my view that of some “communicative horizon” that the “earlier” Critical Theory would lack, but rather a more profound change that took place afterwards, the change from the interdisciplinary materialism model of the 1930s to the critical model of the Dialectic of Enlightenment. The intent here is not to romanticize the interdisciplinary materialism model. That would be not only historically inaccurate but also adversary to any critical-theoretical perspective. The point here is to emphasize a major change in the broader field of Critical Theory that occurred with the decline of political economy as a common language for collaboration and that proved to be long-lasting in the posterity of critical theoretical efforts.

The decline of the critique of political economy and the disputes for its substitutes

27 My main claim here is that the decline of the critique of political economy as a common language for collaboration gave rise to a long-lasting dispute about its best substitute as the common ground for interdisciplinary research. And this dispute over the “best theory” in the critical-theoretical field overshadowed its “most eminent aim”, which has always been one of producing acute diagnoses of the times. In this new framework, diagnoses of the times have become not only secondary vis-à-vis the search for the “best theory”, they also were relegated to the position of mere “illustrations” of the “theory”.

28 The absence of these crucial elements characterizes the account of the experience of interdisciplinary materialism given by Dubiel. Such an absence also explains in my view why Dubiel attributed to philosophy – and not to the critique of political economy – in this period the role of “a problem sensitive, integrating medium of scientific disciplines”, a role of “presentation” (Darstellung) rather than “investigation” (“Forschung [25]”). In the case of Horkheimer, I think that John Abromeit has already introduced some necessary corrections in such a characterization [26]. Furthermore, this classical image of interdisciplinary materialism is misleading in the sense that it does not consider the simultaneous tasks of producing both a diagnosis of the times as accurate and complex as possible as well as elaborating a common language for the interdisciplinary work, which was then the role of the critique of political economy. These were the moments that combined resulted in a social critical theory.

29 More than that, Dubiel’s characterization of this “‘earlier’ and undeniably more radical version of critical theory” is one that features it in almost only functionalistic terms. “According to this conception”, writes Dubiel,


the actual driving forces of historical processes are not acting collectives but institutional facts or functional imperatives to which such collectives merely respond mechanically. The observed empirical behavior is reconstructed from the immanent necessity for systems of coercion to reproduce themselves. Subjects are merely the means for executing a will that is extrinsic to them; indeed, that is the opposite of their concept [27].

31 To say that the position of the “earlier” Critical Theory is insufficient in regard to the agency of individuals and groups seems a fair critique of such position. As Axel Honneth has put it,


The theory of culture, the third component of the research project envisaged by Horkheimer, would have been the place to force open the closed functionalism of such an analysis of society. Here, it could have been demonstrated that socialized subjects are not simply passively subjected to an anonymous steering process but, rather, actively participate with their own interpretative performances in the complex process of social integration [28].

33 At the same time, this should not overshadow the fact that this inaugural version of Critical Theory opened for the first time in Marxism a door to empirical research on the subjectivation of domination. Such a move has been crucial in preparing the ground for a two-way door approach, so to say, that would characterize most of Critical Theory’s approaches from Habermas on. This novelty notwithstanding, it seems fair to say that this door has been a one-way door when we look just to the Dialectic of Enlightenment, at least if we look, for instance, to passages of the book like the following:


The individual is reduced to the universal’s ability to mark so fully (ohne Rest) the contingent that it can be preserved as the same […]. Pseudoindividuality is a prerequisite for understanding and taking away from its tragedy its virulence: it is only because individuals are no longer individuals, but mere crossroads of the tendencies of the universal, that it is possible to reintegrate them without fractures (bruchlos) in universality [29].

35 Be as it may, for the argument developed here what is important is to stress that there is no straight line connecting the early 1930s and the mid-1940s. Quite on the contrary, there has been a major shift in this regard in Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s positions, to mention just these two authors. This shift certainly includes changes in the diagnosis of the times in view of the dreadful events of the period, as well as the U.S. experience of the members of the Institute. The point here is to highlight the specific change that occurred in the very concept of “theory” and interdisciplinary collaboration.

36 If we follow this path, it will allow us to see that the aforementioned two-way door did not remain closed until Habermas opened it in a new way with his Theory of communicative action – that being Dubiel’s assumption, an assumption also shared by Honneth. By the way, it was Habermas who created the version according to which Adorno only repeated the model of the Dialectic of Enlightenment until his last writings and made him a kind of symbol of Critical Theory from the 1930s and 1940s to the 1960s [30]. To follow the path proposed here means to see the profound change in Critical Theory represented by the Dialectic of Enlightenment, a change that also reaches Habermas’ work in its core. The change from the critical model of interdisciplinary materialism to the model of the Dialectic of Enlightenment represented not only a change in the way Critical Theory produced knowledge, but also a change in how it understands “theory”.

37 To put it in a nutshell, Horkheimer and Adorno aimed at replacing the critique of political economy with an “anthropology”. As stated in the “Preface”, in the passage in which they characterize the last part of the Dialectic of Enlightenment, “Notes and drafts”: “The last part of this book contains notes and drafts which belong in part to the circle of thought of the foregoing essays without finding their place there, and in part tentatively circumscribe problems to be treated in a forthcoming work. Most of them relate to an anthropology [31]”. The reference to a “forthcoming work” shows just how much such an “anthropology” lies at the heart of the book.

38 In the 1940s, political economy lost its centrality in the interdisciplinary constellation, producing the need for a new basis for critique itself. And this one is that of a new anthropology, which is thought by Horkheimer and Adorno as a proposal of a new common language, a new theoretical environment in which different disciplines may come together and communicate. The very first feature of this new anthropology is that it should not be understood as a single discipline, that it should not be confused with an already existing discipline, but it should consist in what we call today “social anthropology” or the systematical modern philosophy in Europe called “philosophical anthropology”. Since it is the very idea of interdisciplinarity which is in question in the Dialectic of Enlightenment, the answer must be a new way of understanding “anthropology”.

39 With the new social theory, with the “new anthropology” they introduced, Horkheimer and Adorno intended to present an interdisciplinary model in which no single discipline is central, in which collaboration between disciplines becomes possible through the reference to a “common language”, to a kind of “translation space” they would share. This shared language would be then that of an “anthropology”, which therefore should not be considered as a “discipline” (even a “new” one), but as a shared environment for collaboration [32]. And yet, at the same time, such a “theory” remained only a horizon, a project, a programmatic intent. Put this way – so goes on the argument here at least – it is not surprising that the diagnosis of the times presented by the Dialectic of Enlightenment was far more influential than the “theory”, the “new anthropology” that underlies it. Among other evidence for this way of evaluating the posterity of the book, there is a symptomatic gap between the “anthropology” of the Dialectic of Enlightenment with its claim of replacing the critique of political economy as a common language for collaboration and the empirical work realized in that same period and afterwards.

40 This gap notwithstanding, the fact remains that Critical Theory continued to produce empirical researches in an impressive amount, quality, and originality, from the 1940s to the 1960s, the Group Experiment of 1955 being maybe the emblem of such approaches [33]. The Group Experiment is representative not only of such a two-way door, but also of the fact that the most important feature of the Dialectic of Enlightenment for posterity was precisely its diagnosis of the times and not its “theory”. Theses directly linked to the diagnosis of the present time of the book like those of the “total integration” and of the “liquidation of the individual” have been scrutinized and empirically tested – if “test” would still be an adequate expression in this case. They were incomparably more important for posterity than its underlying “theory”, its “anthropology”. They remained also the main focus and support of the critique of the available traditional knowledge in much of the work done afterwards.

41 Unfortunately, this impressive reservoir has not been duly explored until today by intellectual reconstructions [34]. Nevertheless, it seems quite clear that the impressive achievements of critical empirical research work in the post-war period had as a common basis the interest in confirming, rebuking, or nuancing the diagnosis of the times put forward by the Dialectic of Enlightenment, be it through a specific analysis or through a team research work [35]. No “common language for interdisciplinary collaboration” replaced the role once played by the critique of political economy. Not the least the “new anthropology” that the Dialectic of Enlightenment intended to introduce. What effectively remained and moved collaborative critical research was its diagnosis of the times – and all that comes along with it. In the development of Critical Theory, this consequence is troubling for many reasons. First and foremost because “theory” – the “new anthropology” in this case – does not come directly as the determinate negation of Traditional Theory. But it is also troubling because it started a competition in the critical-theoretical field not for the most complex diagnosis of the present time, but for the “best theory”.

Concluding remarks

42 Such long lasting disputes for the “best theory” radically inverted the founding terms in which Critical Theory established itself. From the Dialectic of Enlightenment on, theoretical disputes receded from the dispute between different diagnoses of the times to disputes about the common language for collaboration, ascribing collaboration and the production of diagnoses of the times a secondary role. From the Dialectic of Enlightenment on, one is required to adhere to a specific “theory” before collaborating and elaborating diagnoses of the times – a theory which is not given from the beginning as the necessary common ground and point of departure. Or one is required to formulate her own “theory” for others to adhere and enter the interdisciplinary research program it projects. This change altered the very purpose and meaning of Critical Theory.

43 Habermas is an exemplary case of this change. He frequently uses the expression ‘diagnosis of the times’ and similar ones, he even edited a two-volume book that brought together researchers from various disciplines and different backgrounds to sketch just such a diagnosis [36]. At the same time, Habermas has been the only critical theorist who ever published a major work that has the word ‘theory of’ in its title. Moreover, Habermas presented a ‘theory of action’ (the Theory of communicative action), which was an even stranger element to the critical theoretical tradition up to that point.

44 From the Dialectic of Enlightenment on, “theory” does not come as a direct consequence of the critique of traditional contributions, of the most advanced traditional theory produced at that time. On the contrary, a previously chosen theoretical standpoint leads to the critical examination of traditional theory. At the same time, however, given the weight attributed to the diagnosis of the times both in the 1947 book as in the research done in the following decades after its publication, the Dialectic of Enlightenment occupies also a singular position as a reference point for new interdisciplinary arrangements to produce new plausible and interesting diagnoses of the times – and not only as exercises resulting from a choice among competing “theories”.

45 What makes the Dialectic of Enlightenment so unique and so influential until today is the radical and complex diagnosis of the times that underlies it, that is at its core. Only when we look back at the project of the interdisciplinary materialism of the 1930s such core feature becomes visible, setting aside the “theory” that the Dialectic of Enlightenment intended to put forward. This should also be reason enough to set aside the competition for the (traditional-theoretical) illusion of presenting the “best theory” and get back to the first and most eminent task of Critical Theory, which is that of producing the most complex and accurate diagnoses of the times possible.


  • [1]
    “Traditionelle und Kritische Theorie”, in: Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, no. 6, vol. II, 1937, p. 261 (Munich: DTV, 1980). In this same text, Horkheimer refers to his characterization of the “logical structure of the critique of political economy” that he had developed in his 1935 essay, “Zum Problem der Wahrheit” (Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, no. 4, 1935, Reprint in 9 volumes, Munich: DTV, 1980, p. 277, note).
  • [2]
    In “Philosophy and Critical Theory”, Horkheimer summarized his own essay by saying that it “pointed out to a distinction between two ways of knowing; the one grounded on the Discours de la Méthode, whose 300th anniversary has been celebrated this year, the other on the critique of political economy” “Philosophie und Kritische Theorie”, Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, no. 6, vol. II, 1937, p. 625 (Munich: DTV, 1980).
  • [3]
    “Theory and Politics: A Discussion with Herbert Marcuse, Jürgen Habermas, Heiz Lubasz and Telman Spengler”, in: Telos, no. 38, Winter 1978-1979, p. 128. Marcuse response was a reaction to a quotation made by Habermas of the book by Helmut Dubiel that was at the time about to be published, Wissenschaftsorganisation und politische Erfahrung. Studien zur frühen Kritischen Theorie, Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1978. On Dubiel’s interpretation, see below.
  • [4]
    Id,, p. 638. On the points discussed so far, see also Marcos Nobre, “La controverse sur le langage commun de la collaboration interdisciplinaire: le modèle durable de la Dialectique de la Raison”, in: K. Genel (org.), La Dialectique de la Raison: sous bénéfice d’inventaire, Paris: Éditions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 2017.
  • [5]
    Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, no. 1, 1932, p. III (Munich: DTV, 1980).
  • [6]
    Id., p. I.
  • [7]
    Georg Lukács, Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein: Studien über marxistische Dialektik, in: Werke, vol. 2, Darmstadt: Luchterhand, 1977, p. 51.
  • [8]
    See for instance “Philosophy and Critical Theory”, “Philosophie und Kritische Theorie”, in: Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, no. 6, vol. II, 1937, p. 630 (Munich: DTV, 1980).
  • [9]
    See, for instance, “Zum Problem der Wahrheit”, op. cit., pp 277ss. The expression “time core” famously appears in Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s 1969 note to the new edition of their Dialectic of Enlightenment. See Horkheimer, Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 5, op. cit., p. 16.
  • [10]
    K. Marx, Briefe Januar 1856 zu Dezember 1859, Marx-Engels Werke, vol. 29, Dietz: Berlin, 1984, p. 573. On the possibility of reclaiming this original Marxian attitude through a renewed reading of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, see Marcos Nobre, Como nasce o novo. Experiência e diagnóstico de tempo na Fenomenologia do espírito de Hegel, São Paulo: Todavia, 2018. An overview of the argument pertaining to the proposed reading of the Phenomenology of Spirit may be found in Marcos Nobre, “La Phénoménologie de l’esprit en tant que modèle philosophique”, in: I. Aubert, É. Djordjevic, G. Marmasse (Eds.), La Pensée et les normes. Hommage à Jean-François Kervégan, Paris: Éditions de la Sorbonne, 2021.
  • [11]
    On the “non-concurrence claim” characteristic of Critical Theory, see Marcos Nobre, “How Practical Can Critical Theory Be?”, in: S. Giacchetti Ludovisi (Ed.), Critical Theory and the Challenge of Praxis: Beyond Reification, Farnham e Burlington: Ashgate, 2015.
  • [12]
    Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein, op. cit., p. 286.
  • [13]
    Der Bürgerkrieg in Frankreich, Marx-Engels Werke, vol. 17, Berlin: Dietz, 1973, p. 343.
  • [14]
    “Traditionelle und Kritische Theorie”, op. cit.. p. 262.
  • [15]
    “Traditionelle und Kritische Theorie”, op. cit.., p. 291-292.
  • [16]
    “Traditionelle und Kritische Theorie”, op. cit., p. 267.
  • [17]
    “Philosophie und Kritische Theorie”, op. cit.., p. 629.
  • [18]
    “Traditionelle und Kritische Theorie”, op. cit.., p. 293.
  • [19]
    Among innumerous examples of such disputes within the Institute of Social Research that could be mentioned in this context, perhaps it would be illustration enough to recall the famous debate that opposed Friedrich Pollock and Franz Neumann on the late 1930s and early 1940s about the nature of capitalism and of the Nazi regime. Such disputes were also what led to the production of the most complex diagnoses of the present time. Not only because they were the object of mutual harsh criticism but also because they were debated in an interdisciplinary environment that had the critique of political economy as a common language for collaboration.
  • [20]
    “Traditionelle und Kritische Theorie”,op. cit.., p. 263.
  • [21]
    “Zum Problem der Wahrheit”, Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, no. 4, 1935 (Munich: DTV, 1980), p. 345.
  • [22]
    Jürgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, vol. 2, Boston, MA: Beacon, 1989, p. 375.
  • [23]
    W. Bonss, “The Program of Interdisciplinary Research and the Beginnings of Critical Theory,” in W. Bonss, S. Benhabib and J. McCole, J. (Eds.), On Max Horkheimer: New Perspectives, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993), especially p. 111.
  • [24]
    H. Dubiel, “Domination or Emancipation? The Debate over the Heritage of Critical Theory”. In: A. Honneth, T. McCarthy, A. Wellmer, C. Offe (eds.), Cultural-Political Interventions in the Unfinished Project of Enlightenment, Cambridge (Mass.) and London: MIT Press, 1992, p. 12. The expression “communicative horizon” is obviously totally strange to the universe of Critical Theory before Habermas. And Dubiel does not really invoke and discuss here Horkheimer’s (or Theodor W. Adorno’s for that matter) texts that would prove his point on the issue. In my view these two deficits make Dubiel’s position on this point much less plausible than it could have been.
  • [25]
    H. Dubiel, Wissenschaftsorganisation und politische Erfahrung, op. cit.., p. 145.
  • [26]
    See J. Abromeit, Max Horkheimer and the Foundations of the Frankfurt School. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011, especially p. 258-259.
  • [27]
    Id., p. 13.
  • [28]
    “Critical Theory”. In: Anthony Giddens e J. H. Turner (eds.), Social Theory Today, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987, p. 355.
  • [29]
    M. Horkheimer and T. W. Adorno, Dialektik der Aufklärung, op. cit., p. 181-182.
  • [30]
    Against this common view, see Marcos Nobre, A dialética negativa de Theodor W. Adorno. A ontologia do estado falso, São Paulo: Iluminuras, 1998. Some of the elements of this book pertaining to the points raised here may be found in Marcos Nobre “Les limites de l’immanence: un exercice de dialectique négative”, in: Isabelle Aubert e Katia Genel (Eds.), Adorno: Dialectique et négativité, Paris: Vrin, 2023.
  • [31]
    M. Horkheimer and Th. W. Adorno, Dialektik der Aufklärung, op. cit.., p. 23. In the 1969 version, “anthropology” receives the qualification of “dialectical anthropology”.
  • [32]
    The specific argumentation on these points may be found in Marcos Nobre, “La controverse sur le langage commun de la collaboration interdisciplinaire: le modèle durable de la dialectique de la raison”, op. cit.. The main argument states that the “new anthropology” results from a radical appropriation of Freudian motives. With quite a different purpose and development, K. Genel, Autorité et emancipation: Horkheimer et la Théorie Critique, Paris: Payot, 2013, especially p. 155-164) also stresses the importance of such an anthropology, based on radically transformed psychoanalytical motives. It will not be possible to search here for the roots of the theme in Horkheimer’s development, especially in relation to the project of an “anthropology of the bourgeois epoch” in the 1930s. On the central importance of this essay for early Critical Theory and its resonance in the Institute’s work, see J. Abromeit, Max Horkheimer and the Foundations of the Frankfurt School, op. cit.., chapter 7, especially pp. 261-282.
  • [33]
    See F. Pollock, T. W. Adorno and colleagues, Group Experiment and Other Writings – The Frankfurt School on Public Opinion in Postwar Germany, edited, translated and introduced by A. J. Perrin and J. K. Olick, Cambridge (Mass.) and London: Cambridge UP, 2011.
  • [34]
    Notable exceptions in this respect are represented by some texts by Olivier Voirol – see for instance his “Matérialisme interdisciplinaire et critique de la culture”, in: P.-F. Noppen and G. Raulet (Eds.), Les Normes et le possible: héritage et perspectives de l’École de Francfort, Paris: Éditions de la MSH, 2012 – and Adriano Januário – as in his “The Role of Empirical Research in Theodor W. Adorno’s Thought: A Personal Experience at the Archive of the Institute for Social Research”, in: Isabelle Aubert and Marcos Nobre (Eds.). The Archives of Critical Theory, Springer Cham: N. York, 2023.
  • [35]
    Besides the already mentioned Group Experiment of 1955, one can just consider, for instance, researches of the Institute like the one on the marriage of princess Beatrix of Netherlands to the German diplomat Claus von Amsberg, in 1966; or consider books as different as Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization or Habermas’ The Structural Change of the Public Sphere for that matter.
  • [36]
    Stichworte zur ‘Geistigen Situation der Zeit’. Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1979.