The Concept of the Alternative in Benjamin, Horkheimer, and Adorno


What distinguishes important philosophers is that their thoughts are still worthy of close study in different times and under changed circumstances. My essay begins by exploring the meaning and etymology of the term “alternative” (section 1). The article focuses in particular on the concept of alternative in the context of the Frankfurt School. I restrict myself primarily to remarks by Walter Benjamin, Max Horkheimer, and Theodor W. Adorno (sections 2 to 4). Benjamin and Horkheimer had to deal with disappointments about ostensible alternatives whose potential they overestimated over a long period of time, but which did not hold water. Among the abovementioned philosophers, Adorno is the one who argues most emphatically for the indispensability of alternatives to the status quo.

Horkheimer, who since 1930 was the director of the Institute for Social Research, substantiates that the work of the institute aims to launch a new type of social science, interdisciplinary and oriented toward the most advanced forms of knowledge. In his essay “Traditional and Critical Theory” (1937), Horkheimer still formulates such political and scientific-political claims, which then are no longer maintained in the same way in the Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944/1947). In the 1950s and 1960s, Horkheimer regards science and politics as separate spheres with an irresolvable tension between them. Since the 1950s, Horkheimer no longer relies on fundamental alternatives to the status quo, but rather on preserving the – in his view – threatened remnants of European culture. Horkheimer is a skillful organizer of large-scale scientific projects, whereas Adorno is a philosopher for whom searching and finding alternatives belongs to the core area of philosophical and political thinking. Adorno’s model of a radical critique transforms alternatives dialectically. His critique of the pseudo-natural forms of culture, of authoritarian mentalities and attitudes is continued by, for example, Alfred Schmidt, Oskar Negt, Alexander Kluge, and Helmut Dahmer.

The Concept of the Alternative in Benjamin, Horkheimer, and Adorno

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24 ALTERNATIVE December, 2019 - Autore:  Condividi


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