Saturday 20 June 2020

Birth of the Frankfurt School.

April 1964: Horkheimer (front left), Adorno (front right),
Habermas (background, right), Landshut (background left). [A]

In the last few years -- much to my surprise -- the Frankfurt School has become a hot topic of discussion.

Those discussions, however, often lack in understanding of the subject being discussed. I find the extended excerpt the Internet Marxists Archive offers of Prof. Martin Jay’s 1973 book “The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, 1923-1950” invaluable to fill that void.

Jay knows what he is talking about. He has shown a lifelong interest in social and critical theories and cultural criticism, dating apparently from the time when, as a young man, he published on the history of the Frankfurt School.

There is much to recommend that excerpt. It covers the period between the Institut’s foundation in Frankfurt in 1923 to its exile in Geneva, after the Nazis came to power in 1933. Jay writes about the backgrounds and possible motivations of the members of the School (their sociology, one could say), the relationship they saw between their theoretical work and political praxis, their attitude towards orthodox Marxism and reformism. His research undoubtedly must have benefited enormously from his acquaintance with some of the protagonists of his story.

Unfortunately, there is something important, in my opinion, left out in that text, as presented by MIA. Although Jay does mention the post-Geneva period and specifically the Institut’s American residence, little beyond the reference itself is added.

That leaves a lot out of the picture, for, in the case of many “Frankfurters”, their American stay extended well beyond 1950.

In particular, one needs to look elsewhere for the praiseworthy if unorthodox contributions they made to the American war effort against the Nazis, during World War II or, more controversially, after the war ended.

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