Frankfurt school
The critical Marxist school emerging in Frankfurt in the 1920s and 1930s, and centred upon the Institute for Social Research, founded in 1923. Its principal philosophical members were Max Horkheimer (director, 1931–58), Adorno, Marcuse and Benjamin . Its leading later representative is Habermas . Their approach is sometimes known as critical theory . Its aim was to provide a version of Marxism uncontaminated by positivism and materialism, and giving due role to the influence of the superstructure, or the culture and self-image of people in a historical period, as a factor in social change. The Frankfurt school was faced both with the degeneration of Soviet Marxism into Stalinism, and the failure of communism to inspire the working classes of the West. In response it combined a Kantian preoccupation with the conditions for the possibility of reason and knowledge, with a Hegelian emphasis on the historical conditioning of all thought; both these elements led to a sceptical stance towards the prevailing ideologies, or distortions of thought that emerge from, and conceal, actual social inequalities. The Frankfurt school emphasized the interlocking role of aesthetics, psychoanalysis, and popular culture in reinforcing the prevailing western condition of a passive, depersonalized acceptance of the status quo (‘the system’), with its commodity fetishism, fascism, and nationalism. With most individuals at the mercy of such forces, there is no prospect of an inevitable revolution, as classical Marxism predicts, and the role of an enlightened leadership in the struggle for emancipation becomes correspondingly greater. Similarly, since it is the need for a transformation through increased understanding that is stressed, psychoanalysis offers a model for emancipation, since it offers the hope that by becoming aware of hidden aspects of our psychologies we gain the power to overcome them. The school was a major influence on the New Left and other radical movements of the 1960s.

Philosophy dictionary. . 2011.

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