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The inception of the Frankfurt school
The failure of communism in throughout Europe, led the foundation of Frankfurt school in Germany in 1923 to present the Marxist views. The Frankfurt school was founded by Felix Weil, a young orthodox Marxist He looked at the scientific aspect of Marxism and put emphasis on the need of research in the field of history and social system through this institute.
The initial period of the institute was devoted mainly to the conventional historical research. Georg Lukacs wrote a book called ‘History of Class Consciousness’, which was published in 1923. This book provided a great inspiration for the work of Frankfurt school (Lassus, 2001).
His work, suggests that it is necessary to be free from the Communist Party to promote authentic theoretical work. It was directed by a firm believer in Marxism, Carl Grunberg from 1923 to 1930 (Lassus, 2001).
The four development stages of the Frankfurt school
Ever since the classical theory of Marx came into existence, there were many changes seen in the Western society that promoted theories related to capitalism. The great theorists like T. Adorno, Max Horkheimer, etc. were actively participating in making crucial accounts to ensure and establish the impact of mass culture and communication in their critical social theory.
This was the first phase of the development of the Frankfurt school during which it “generated one of the first models of a critical cultural studies that analyzes the process of cultural production and political economy, the politics of cultural texts, and audience reception and use of cultural artifacts”( (Kellner 1989 and 1995as cited in Kellner, n. d. Para 1).
Friedrich Pollock took over as the director of the institute after the death of Carl Grunberg. He was associated with the institute right from the initial period. Max Horkheimer, who became the director of the institute in the later years, was the leading representative of the Frankfurt school. Due to his efforts, the institute could initiate the study of the cultural facets of the growth of capitalism.
The era of 1930s is marked with the development of a new critical, trans disciplinary approach to the studies of culture and communications by the Frankfurt School (Kellner,n.d.).
In 1931 and 1932 many psychoanalysts including Franz Borkenau, Erich Fromm, Karl Landauer, William Reich and Heinrich Meng started working systematically with the institute and led the Marxist theory in an utterly new trend that is still persistent in the social theory.
Erich Fromm was one of the initiators of socialist humanism. Wilhelm Reich built up his own set of principles related to sexual liberalism to deal with the issue of conformism, with respect to politics, present in the society and to confront social psychosis.
Kurt Lewin and Adolph Lowe were the two prominent communist intellectuals who were associated with the Frankfurt school and played important roles in the development of social theory. Kurt Lewin introduced the group- dynamics and social action theory and Adolph Lowe involvement to the development of political economy is of great significance.
Leo Lowenthal was mainly involved in the sociology of literature along with the Hegelian philosopher Herbert Mercuse who became the most renowned personality in the 1960s among political activists (The Frankfurt School and “Critical Theory”,n.d.).
The Frankfurt school was closed down in Germany moved to the United States when Hitler came into power. Here, they found the media culture predominantly controlled by the big companies in the U.S. (Kellner, n. d.).
The participants of the institute continued their work in New York and kept on publishing in German. In the post war era the Institute came back to Frankfurt. The two of the leading theorists of the Frankfurt school in this era were Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin. They were distinguished for their studies in literature and mass culture.
In the post war era Jurgen Habermas became one of the prominent figures in developing critical theory as per the Hegelian convention like Adorno and Marcuse. The development of the theory of networks is the contribution of this phase. However, after some time, Habermas separated from the Marxist convention and the Hegelian tradition and laid emphasis on the expansive principles following the tradition of Immanuel Kant.
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The third generation of the Frankfurt school is following the convention of Jurgan Habermas and to some extent that of Hegel. The proponent of this generation is Axel Honneth. Nancy Fraser, Agnes Heller and Seyla Benhabib are the prominent women who represent the present-day generation of the Frankfurt school.
Frankfurt school was established with an aim to develop Marxist Theory within the institute and in the political scenario as well. In the process of its development, it assimilated with the bourgeois ideology and Freudian ideology during the post second world war period.
Despite all the amalgamation, the Frankfurt school stands for the tradition of orthodox Marxism in the history of social theory (The Frankfurt School and “Critical Theory”, n. d.).
Critics of Frankfurt School
The critiques of the Frankfurt school represented by Adorno and Horkheimer suggest that they believed in the notion that the modern society is captivated in an iron system influenced by capitalism and Enlightenment ideas. They were quite pessimistic about any liberation from this control and thought that there was no hope for any social transformation.
They believed that it was impossible to get out of the iron cage created by the powerful Enlightenment in the modern society as it prevailed in every part of our lives. They also suggested that the culture industry is engaged in enslaving the individual and restraining the society and the people themselves back up this system. Their pessimism is also obvious in their criticism of traditional Marxism (Yaman, 2011).
The prime feature of the Frankfurt school was the culture and social analysis. However, its weakness lies in the “dichotomy between high culture and low culture (it) is problematical and should be superseded for a more unified model that takes culture as a spectrum and applies similar critical methods to all cultural artifacts” (Kellner as cited in Becerra, 2012,Para 8).
Habermas of the third generation of Frankfurt school faces the criticism because he idealizes the bourgeois community subject by presenting it as a medium of lucid debate and argument. The exclusion of various social groups and women is also a point of criticism.
However, many classes emerged in opposition to the bourgeois public sphere simultaneously, raised their voices, and stood for their interests (Kellner, n. d.). The notion of public sphere remained simply Utopian. It remained “an inclusive and egalitarian vision of society worthy of pursuit, but never fully realized” (Habermas and Frankfurt School Critical Theory, n.d. p.12).
Moreover, the concept was restrained to the interests of a limited group of men who were highly educated in spite of its claims to attain common good or common interest through shared culture (Habermas and Frankfurt School Critical Theory, n.d).
The “media culture was never as massified and homogeneous as in the Frankfurt school model” (Kellner,n.d., Para 10).There is an argument that there were weaknesses in the model even at the time of its origin and it had less influence than the other models such as the models developed by Walter Benjamin, Siegfried Kracauer, Ernst Bloch etc.(Kellner, n.d.).
Traditional Marxism and the Frankfurt School
The conventional Marxists considered the Frankfurt School somewhat as pragmatic since according to them, this theory condemned economism and unpolished materialism and partly they criticized it because of its heterogeneity. According to Curran et al. (1982), there was no scope for the study of real media (Chandler, 2000).
Marcuse (as cited in Bennet, 1982) mentions
“The means of…communication…, the irresistible output of the entertainment and information industry carry with them prescribed attitudes and habits, certain intellectual and emotional reactions which bind the consumers…to the producers and, through the latter to the whole (social system).
The products indoctrinate and manipulate; they promote a false consciousness which is immune against its falsehood…thus emerges a pattern of one-dimensional thought and behavior” (p.43).
In the last hundred years most of the philosophical, social and economic traditions were focused in Germany. These traditions were in-built throughout modern life. During 1920s and 1930s the Frankfurt School had a great impact and its theorists and philosophers escaped from Nazism and spread their rebellious thoughts everywhere around the world and mainly in the United States (Brace, 2002).
The rise of Frankfurt School in Germany was in particular a response to the modern life. Marxism believes in crisis and according to them everything is in crisis, whether it’s a family, class or race but instead of this Frankfurt School do not accept this theory of crisis as a social concept as they believe it is an anthropological concept and it is not reducible to economic materialism.
They also believe that it exists in the mind of reactionaries (Bowden, 2012).
The important thing about Marxism is its complete break with the past and religious ideas. No supernatural element is there. They are just human theories and are mingled with other language. Everything is based on present and contains materialistic principles to define every aspect of life (Bowden, 2012).
So the initiative taken by the Frankfurt School was to first criticize Marxism and then to renew more refined form of dialectic, which was usable in modern era (Bowden, 2012).
Adorno’s several psychological theories got developed once the Frankfurt School was closed down by a disreputable government of that time. He developed some interesting theories specially related to the present audience. He developed the theory of ‘F’ scale where ‘F’ stands for Fascism. It’s a kind of personality test, which is used even today under a different name (Bowden, 2012).
The theorists of Frankfurt School believed that Marxism has some good elements in it, which could be used to develop an advanced social theory. “But even beyond that they were committed to developing and formulating an entire theory of life, human history and social ethics which would eventually need no recourse to European Christian civilization in any area of life” (Brace, 2002, Para 6).
The Frankfurt School openly challenged the entire societies to make its theories influential. Many supporters of ‘gay rights’ have been attracted towards the teachings of the Frankfurt School (Brace, 2002).
Key Pillars of the Frankfurt School:
Essentially, Frankfurt School believed that if a person is full of beliefs, he can solve any social issue.. The recommendations of the school were following (Matthews, 2009):
- Emptying the churches
- Big colonization to abolish identity
- The advertising of excessive drinking
- Dependency on the state or state benefits
- The creation of racism offences
- Control and dumbing down of media
- Continual change to create confusion
- Encouraging the breakdown of the family
- The deflation of the authority of the schools and teachers
According to school, there were two types of revolution: political and cultural. The theorists observed it to be a long-term project and openly they focused on the education, media, family and popular culture (Matthews, 2009).
“One of the main ideas of the Frankfurt School was to abuse Freud’s idea of ‘pansexualism’- which was the misuse of the differences between sexes, the search for desire, to tell about the traditional relationships between men and women” (Matthews, 2009, Para 5). Matthews (2009) mentions that their aim was to:
- Challenge the authority of father and define the particular roles of father and mother and seize the rights from the family the role of educators of their children.
- Remove differences in the education of girls and boys
- Remove all types of male dominance
- Proclaim men as oppressors and women as oppressed class (Matthews, 2009).
The Frankfurt School seems to be a bit complicated as it has some element of pessimism which cannot be found in Marxism. The other unusual thing in this school was the Germanic forms of Marxism which were extended by Adorno, Neumann and some others who were prominent in the school. They linked those forms to the forms of Anglo-saxon, American and imperialist thoughts (Bowden, 2012).
According to Munzenberg (as cited in Matthews, 2009) who abridged the idea of Frankfurt School’s long term operation, “We will make the West so corrupt that it sinks” (Para 5).
Becerra, Maria Jose Juarez 2012. The Frankfurt School. Retos Internacionales. Web.
Bowden, Jonathan 2012. Marxism and the Frankfurt School. Web.
Brace, Robin, A 2002. The Influence of the Frankfurt School on Modern Liberal Thought. Web.
Chandler, Daniel 2000. Marxist Media Theory. Web.
Habermas and Frankfurt School Critical Theory. Web.
Kellner, Douglas. The Frankfurt School. Web.
Lassus Arnaud de 2001. The Frankfurt School: Cultural Revolution. Web.
Matthews, Timothy 2009. The Frankfurt School: Conspiracy to corrupt. Free Republic. Web.
Yaman, Burcu 2011. Critics of Adorno and Horkheimer on Modern Society: A Pessimistic Approach. Tojsat. Web.