Dialectic of Enlightenment: The Eclipse of the Emancipatory Vision
Explanations of the world as all or nothing are mythologies, and guaranteed roads to redemption are sublimated magic practices. The self-satisfaction of knowing in advance and the transfiguration of negativity into redemption are untrue forms of resistance against deception.
Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno Dialectic of Enlightenment, 24
Horkheimer and Adorno Dialectic of Enlightenment has been referred to as "the quintessential distillation" of a new stage of Critical Theory, 1 a stage Helmut Dubiel labeled the "Critique of Instrumental Reason." According to Dubiel, it was during this third stage of its development that Critical Theory was "re-philosophized" and the Marxian theoretical tradition abandoned. Because the development of a politically significant class consciousness on the part of the proletariat was regarded as impossible, the connection between the political orientation of action and the hope for a better world was severed, and consequently, the political role of theory was given only negative formulation. 2 In Horkheimer and Adorno's reading of history and analysis of contemporary conditions, the dilemma created by Lukács, when he at once affirmed the proletariat's revolutionary role and denied its capacity to fulfill this role, ceased to be an issue. The debilitation of the proletariat was rendered complete and the issue of revolutionary agency made moot by Horkheimer and Adorno's resolute dismantling of the vision of history as the road to redemption. Not only are there no "guaranteed roads to redemption" to be found in the Dialectic, there are barely any faint footpaths. An image of a better world, and claims concerning agents and action which might realize such a world, are almost entirely absent. Amid the wreckage of the Marxian emancipatory vision, one finds little but despair, and what traces of optimism can be found bear little