CHAPTER 3
The Frankfurt School and the Transformation of
Critical Theory into Cultural Theory

The appeal of the Frankfurt School's critical theory to a young leftist of the late 1960s was based on a paradox expressed in the practice of both critical theory and the leftist. On the one hand, modern capitalist society seemed able to co-opt protest by integrating it into the dynamics of competitive business, creating a demand for the newest, most advanced, and most risqué products (a trend that continues today as cultural rebellion has became the motor of consumer society). On the other hand, that society was characterized by a spirit of revolt against its “one-dimensional” reduction of all use-values to their economic exchange-value that devalued politics and consecrated the tenets of liberalism (a trend that continues in the form of the reaction against globalization). In this context, a legacy from the past called “critical theory” appeared as a kind of guideline that pointed beyond the poles of integration or nihilism. This was all the more persuasive because established theory in those days had forgotten its past; its pragmatism led it to fight the War on Poverty without looking beneath its surface manifestations to see the embedded roots that made the metaphor of war a disguise for political vanity. Critical theory, a politics of theory and an appeal to the history

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