Adorno, Habermas, and the Search for a Rational Society

Adorno, Habermas, and the Search for a Rational Society

Adorno, Habermas, and the Search for a Rational Society

Adorno, Habermas, and the Search for a Rational Society

Synopsis

Exploring the premises shared by Adorno & Habermas, along with their disagreements about social conditions today, this book defends Adorno against Habermas' criticisms. It is written for researchers & students of critical theory, political theory & the works of both scholars.

Excerpt

Following the Marxist tradition, Adorno and Habermas claim that their theories have a practical intent: their critiques of late capitalism are meant to contribute to the implementation of positive change. Specifically, the practical intent of critical theory is to provide the theoretical basis for surmounting reification by examining its nature and its damaging effects on human life while locating the rational potential in reified reality that points beyond it. However, both theorists deny that the course of human history led necessarily to reification, and neither believes that reification will inevitably be overcome. With more than a dash of irony, Adorno observed that the drive for self-preservation had led to the coercive domination of exchange relations around the globe and the attendant threat of total annihilation by military and environmental means. Adorno also questions whether social conditions will ever improve in such a way that they finally nourish and enhance all human life. Prospects for resistance to these conditions are exceedingly slim owing in part to the psychological damage suffered by individuals under late capitalism. Accompanying the spread of reification in the West during the twentieth century is the loss of class-consciousness under the (now crumbling) welfare state compromise, the emergence of authoritarianism in the form of fascist tendencies that remain visible in the West even today, and the decline of the family which once fostered resistance to the status quo. These factors now stultify the forces of opposition that could contribute to changing them.

Like Adorno, Habermas denies that reification was the necessary outcome of historical development. Although history followed a course such that the economic and political subsystems were uncoupled from the lifeworld, and established themselves as autopoietic systems with their own distinct form of integration which now threatens social integration, the uncoupling of system and lifeworld could equally have enabled the lifeworld to exert greater influence on the economy and the state. Even now, [the institutions that anchor steering mechanisms such as power and money in the lifeworld could serve as a channel either for the influence of the lifeworld on formally organized domains of action or, conversely, for the influence of the system on communicatively structured contexts of

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