The Eclipse of Reason by Max Horkheimer

Posted by Ali Reda | Posted in | Posted on 2/08/2015

In this important work, which explains the Frankfurt School doctrines, Horkheimer tries to answer the following question:
The present potentialities of social achievement surpass the expectations of all the philosophers and statesmen who have ever outlined in Utopian programs the idea of a truly human society. Yet there is a universal feeling of fear and disillusionment. It seems that even as technical knowledge expands the horizon of man's thought and activity, his autonomy as an individual, his ability to resist the growing apparatus of mass manipulation, his power of imagination, his independent judgment appear to be reduced. Advance in technical facilities for enlightenment is accompanied by a process of dehumanization. Thus progress threatens to nullify the very goal it is supposed to realize the idea of man.
He starts with an explanation of the Objective theory of reason then he explains its decline and the rise of subjective reason, which he gives a few ideological examples for it until we reach pragmatism. He then explains the effects of the subjective reasoning on the individual and the society, then he ends with his solution to this problem.

Objective Reason

An objective theory of reason aims at evolving a comprehensive system, or hierarchy, of all beings, including man and his aims. This structure is believed to be inherent in reality and that our behavior should reflect it. Socrates held that reason, conceived as universal insight, should determine beliefs, regulate relations between man and man, and between man and nature so that the degree of reasonableness of a man's life could be determined according to its harmony with this system. It was thought of as an entity, a spiritual power living in each man which acts as the supreme creative force behind the ideas and things to which we should devote our lives.
Socrates teachings implied the idea of absolute truth and were put forward as objective insights, almost as revelations. The daimonion in turn has changed into the soul, and the soul is the eye that can perceive the ideas. It reveals itself as the vision of truth or as the individual subject's faculty to perceive the eternal order of things and consequently the line of action that must be followed in the temporal order.
The theory of objective reason did not focus on the co-ordination of behavior and aim, but on concepts like the idea of the greatest good and on the problem of human destiny. Reason was regarded as the instrument for understanding the ends, for determining them. But for the ordinary people, it was important to reconcile the objective order of the 'reasonable' as religion and philosophy conceived it, with human existence, including self-interest and self-preservation. Plato, for instance, in his Republic proves that he who lives in the light of objective reason also lives a successful and happy life. Religion asserted the infinite value of each man by the very negation of the will to self-preservation on earth in favor of the preservation of the eternal soul.

When the great religious and philosophical systems were alive, thinking people behaved in a way which always showed humility and brotherly love, justice and humanity because they saw in them elements of truth, because they connected them with the idea of logos, whether in the form of God or of a transcendental mind, or even of nature as an eternal principle. Not only were the highest aims thought of as having an objective meaning, an inherent value. Not because that it was realistic to maintain such principles and odd and dangerous to deviate from them, or because these maxims were more in harmony with their supposedly free tastes than others.

The Collapse of Objective Reason

During the period of the Enlightenment, the divorce of reason from religion marked a step in the weakening of its objective aspect. The neutralization of religion, now reduced to the status of one cultural good among others, contradicted its 'total' claim that it contains the objective truth, and also weakened it. Instead of it, philosophers were formulating a doctrine of man and nature that could fulfill the function, that religion had formerly fulfilled, but in the boundaries of natural insight or reason, i.e. without revelation. Their doctrine stated that there was a fundamental structure of being linked to the concept of objective truth that could be discovered which manifested in the existence of certain innate ideas or self-evident intuitions and that a conception of human destination would be derived from it for harmonizing human life with nature both in the external world and within man's own being.
Socrates' affirmation of conscience raised the relation between the individual and the universal to a new level. The balance was no longer inferred from the established harmony within the polis; on the contrary, the universal was now conceived as an inner, almost self-authenticating truth, lodged in man's spirit. For Socrates, following in the line of the speculations of the great Sophists, to desire or even to do the right thing without reflection was not enough. Conscious choice was a prerequisite of the ethical way of life. 
Locke still spoke of natural reason's agreeing with revelation in regard to human rights. Both are supposed to teach that men are by nature all free, equal, and independent. So they retained God, but not his form of grace; in the philosophical and political systems of rationalism, Christian ethics were secularized. Kant said in his Critique of Practical Reason:
Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. I do not seek or conjecture either of them as if they were veiled obscurities or extravagances beyond the horizon of my vision; I see them before me and connect them immediately with the consciousness of my existence.
When philosophy began to supplant religion, it did not intend to abolish objective truth, but was attempting only to give it a new rational foundation. Although religion remained respected on the surface, its neutralization paved the way for its elimination as the medium of spiritual objectivity and ultimately for the destruction of the concept of objectivity itself. The philosophers of the Enlightenment attacked religion in the name of reason; in the end what they killed was not the church but metaphysics and the objective concept of reason itself, the source of power of their own efforts. They didn't understand that the contention in regard to the nature of the absolute was not the main ground on which meta-physicians were persecuted and tortured. They didn't understand that the real issue was whether revelation or reason, whether theology or philosophy, should be the agency for determining and expressing ultimate truth.

Philosophy's concept of objective truth was weaker than the religious one, it was easier to be manipulated by prevailing interests and more adaptable to reality as it is. Idealism, the main Enlightenment's doctrine, glorified the merely existent by representing it as nevertheless spiritual in essence; it veiled the basic conflicts in society behind the harmony of its conceptual constructions, and in all its forms furthered the lie that elevates the existing to the rank of God.

Man emerged as an individual when society began to lose its cohesiveness and he became aware of the difference between his life and that of the seemingly objective truth. Death took on a stark and implacable aspect, and the life of the individual became an irreplaceable absolute value. To Hamlet, the individual is both the absolute entity and completely futile. All these consequences were contained in germ in the bourgeois idea of tolerance, which is ambivalent. On the one hand, tolerance means freedom from the rule of dogmatic authority; on the other, it furthers an attitude of neutrality toward all spiritual content, which is thus surrendered to relativism. Reason as an organ for perceiving the true nature of reality and determining the guiding principles of our lives has come to be regarded as obsolete. Relativism paved the way to subjective reason.

Subjective Reason

Subjective reason is the ability to calculate probabilities and thereby to co-ordinate the right means no matter what the end is. It takes for granted that the purposes and ends are reasonable in the subjective sense, i.e. that they serve the subject's interest and self-preservation. According to such theories, thought serves any particular endeavor, good or bad. The acceptability of ideals, the criteria for our actions and beliefs, the leading principles of ethics and politics, all our ultimate decisions are made to depend upon factors other than reason. The ideals are supposed to be matters of choice and the objective truths are supposed to be subjective i.e. relative depending on the subject. In the American Constitutional Convention of 1787, John Dickinson of Pennsylvania contrasted experience with reason when he said:
'Experience must be our only guide. Reason may mislead us.'
In the following section, we will give three ideological examples of subjective reasoning, ending with pragmatism.
In the formalistic aspect of subjective reason, stressed by positivism, its unrelatedness to objective content is emphasized; in its instrumental aspect, stressed by pragmatism, its surrender to heteronomous contents is emphasized.


For example, despite Darwin's own personal religious feeling, in popular Darwinism, the good is the well-adapted. The rejection of the spirit in Darwinism entails the rejection of any elements of the mind that transcend the function of adaptation and consequently are not instruments of self-preservation. The concept of the survival of the fittest is merely the translation of the concepts of subjective reason into the realm of natural history. There is no need of reason unless it is a servant of natural selection.
According to a current interpretation of Darwin, the struggle for life must necessarily, step by step, through natural selection, produce the reasonable out of the unreasonable. In other words, reason, while serving the function of dominating nature, is whittled down to being a part of nature; it is not an independent faculty but something organic, like tentacles or hands, developed through adaptation to natural conditions and surviving because it proves to be an adequate means of mastering them, especially in relation to acquiring food and averting danger. 
Naturalism, more specifically Darwinism, is almost always accompanied by an element of contempt for mankind, a contempt that is at the bottom of so many forms of semi-enlightened thinking. When man is assured that he is nature and nothing but nature, he is at best pitied.


In positivism, theory is reduced to a mere instrument, all theoretical means of transcending reality become metaphysical nonsense. Reality is conceived as devoid of all objective character that might, by its inner logic, lead to a better reality, so it is glorified. This concept is close to Hegel's "World Spirit". Science is made to look like truth, while in fact science is only an element of truth. Positivism makes it possible to do justice to the problems of metaphysics indicated by such topics as mind, consciousness, self, etc. Also it fails to offer a plausible theory of value.

In their moral philosophy the positivists, sons of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, turn out to be disciples of Socrates, who taught that knowledge necessarily produces virtue, just as ignorance necessarily implies wickedness like Dewey, who also said that scientific changes usually cause changes in the direction of a better social order. But they are wrong. It is true that science, like a thousand other factors, has played a role in bringing about good or evil historical changes; but this does not prove that science is the sole power by which humanity can be saved. They misinterpret the interaction of economic, technical, political, and ideological forces which affect science's direction. Industrial culture has always organized research on a competitive basis. At the same time this research is strictly supervised and made to conform to established patterns. There is the same underlying purpose of mastering reality, not at all of criticizing it.
By its identification of cognition with science, positivism restricts intelligence to functions necessary to the organization of material already patterned according to that very commercial culture which intelligence is called upon to criticize. Such restriction makes intelligence the servant of the apparatus of production, rather than its master. 
There is no clear-cut distinction between liberalism and authoritarianism in modern science. The statement that justice and freedom are better in themselves than injustice and oppression is scientifically unverifiable and useless. It has come to sound as meaningless in itself as would the statement that red is more beautiful than blue, or that an egg is better than milk. So like any existing creed, science can be used to serve the most diabolical social forces. One would never imagine that such enemies of mankind as Hitler have actually any great confidence in scientific methods, or that the German ministry of propaganda consistently used controlled experimentation, testing all values by their causes and consequences. 
Any dogmatic philosophy, tries to stop thinking at a certain point, in order to create a preserve for some supreme being or value, be it political or religious. The more dubious these absolutes become the more staunchly do their partisans defend them, and the less scrupulous are they about promoting their cults by other than purely intellectual means—by resort, if necessary, to the sword as well as the pen. 
But isn't the positivist doctrine as dogmatic as the glorification of any absolute? Empiricism abolishes the principles by which science and empiricism itself could possibly be justified (Hume's Skeptcism). In other words, in refusing to verify their own principle—that no statement is meaningful unless verified—they are guilty of dogma. Doubtless the logical fallacy at the very root of the positivist attitude merely betrays its worship of institutionalized science which is characterized by the supposed neatness and logical purity of statements. This weakness of positivism is covered by the success of science in describing reality so they assume that the general empirical procedures used by science correspond naturally to reason and truth.
The positivists have no right to look down on intuitionism. These two antagonistic schools suffer from the same disability: at a certain point both block critical thinking by authoritarian statements, whether about the supreme intelligence or about science as its surrogate. Each camp undoubtedly expresses a truth, under the distortion of making it exclusive. 
But in a way, even the irrational dogmatism of the church is more rational than a rationalism so ardent that it overshoots its own rationality. An official body of scientists, according to positivist theory, is more independent of reason than the college of cardinals, since the latter at least try to justify their principles on the basis of what they call revelation, intuition, or primary evidence.


Subjective reason achieves full form in pragmatism by assigning to anything and anybody the role of an instrument, not in the name of God or objective truth, but in the name of whatever is practically achieved by it. It is the ultimate triumph of the means over the end by translating any understanding into an action. According to pragmatism, truth is to be desired not for its own sake but in so far as it works best. It made the satisfaction of the subject the criterion of truth. For such a doctrine there is no possibility of rejecting or even criticizing any species of belief that is enjoyed by its adherents. It reflects a society that has no time to remember and meditate. As Dewey summarizes it:
'Knowledge is always a matter of the use that is made of experienced natural events, a use in which given things are treated as indications of what will be experienced under different conditions.'

The Eclipse of Reason

The neutralization of reason that deprives it of any relation to objective content and of its power of judging the latter, and that degrades it to an executive agency concerned with the how rather than with the what, transforms it to an ever-increasing extent into a mere dull apparatus for registering facts.

Meaningless Values

Justice, equality, happiness, tolerance, all the concepts that were in preceding centuries supposed to be inherent in reason, have lost their intellectual roots. They are still aims and ends, but there is no rational agency authorized to appraise and link them to an objective reality. In a world where truth is subjective and the behavior of people decides the meaning of a concept, who can say that any one of these ideals is more closely related to truth than its opposite? It has become meaningless to speak of truth in making practical, moral, or ethical decisions. Since ends are no longer determined in the light of reason, it is also impossible to say that one economic or political system, no matter how cruel and despotic, is less reasonable than another. Russell says:
"I see no property, analogous to "truth", that belongs or does not belong to an ethical judgment. This, it must be admitted, puts ethics in a different category from science."
Reason has become an instrument which is completely harnessed to the social process. Its operational value, its role in the domination of men and nature, has been made the sole criterion. The more ideas have become automatic, instrumentalized, the less does anybody see in them thoughts with a meaning of their own. They are considered things, machines. Under the pressure of the pragmatic reality of today, man's self-expression has become identical with his function in the prevailing system, the quality of the human that precludes identifying the individual with a class is 'metaphysical' and has no place in empiricist epistemology. It follows from this rule that if the world should reach a point at which it ceases to care not only about such metaphysical entities but also about murders perpetrated behind closed frontiers or simply in the dark, one would have to conclude that the concepts of such murders have no meaning, that they represent no 'distinct ideas' or truths, since they do not make any 'sensible difference to anybody.' How should anyone react sensibly to such concepts if he takes it for granted that his reaction is their only meaning? Ostwald said:
"All realities influence our practice, and that influence is their meaning for us."
In the view of subjective reason, an activity is reasonable only if it serves another purpose, e.g. health or relaxation, which helps to replenish his working power. The activity is merely a tool, for it derives its meaning only through its connection with other ends. Hobbies have become an institution. The children may imitate the father who was addicted to long walks, but in the times of subjective reason, they will consider that they have done their duty by their bodies if they go through a set of gymnastics to the commands of a radio voice. A hike that takes a man out of the city to the banks of a river or a mountain top would be irrational and idiotic, judged by utilitarian standards; he is devoting himself to a silly pastime.

A work of art once aspired to tell the world what it is. Today it is completely neutralized. Subjective reason transforms works of art into cultural commodities, and their consumption into a series of haphazard emotions divorced from our real intentions and aspirations. For example, Films today are being ultimately gauged in every detail by something that is not art, be it box-office or propaganda value. Art has been severed from truth as well as politics or religion.
Take, for example, Beethoven's Eroica symphony. The average concertgoer today is unable to experience its objective meaning. He listens to it as though it had been written to illustrate the program annotator's comments. The composition has been reined, made a museum piece, and its performance a leisure-time occupation, an event, an opportunity for star performances, or a social gathering that must be attended if one belongs to a certain group. But no living relation to the work in question, no direct, spontaneous understanding of its function as an expression, no experience of its totality as an image of what once was called truth, is left. This reification is typical of the subjectivization of reason. 

Transvaluation of values

Subjective reason conforms to anything and can be made to conform with anything. It lends itself as well to the uses of the adversaries as of the defenders of the traditional humanitarian values. According to subjective reason, despotism, cruelty, oppression are not bad in themselves; no rational agency would endorse a verdict against dictatorship if its sponsors were likely to profit by it. The more the concept of reason becomes emasculated, the more easily it lends itself to ideological manipulation and to propagation of even the most blatant lies. Later the concepts became so emptied of substance that they could be used synonymously to advocate oppression. For example, justifying racism using Darwinism.
If a group of enlightened people were about to fight even the greatest evil imaginable, subjective reason would make it almost impossible to point simply to the nature of the evil and to the nature of humanity, which make the fight imperative. Many would at once ask what the real motives are. It would have to be asserted that the reasons are realistic, that is to say, correspond to personal interests, even though, for the mass of the people, these latter may be more difficult to grasp than the silent appeal of the situation itself.

Conforming with a reality similar to industrial process

The objective mind in our era worships industry, technology, and nationality without a principle that could give sense to these categories; it mirrors the pressure of an economic system that admits of no reprieve or escape. Even ruling groups, intent above all upon defending their particular interests, must stress universal motifs in religion, morality, and science. Formerly reality was opposed to and confronted with the ideal, which was evolved by the supposedly autonomous individual; reality was supposed to be shaped in accordance with this ideal. Today such ideologies are compromised and skipped over by progressive thought, which thus unwittingly facilitates the elevation of reality to the status of ideal.

The age of vast industrial power, by eliminating the perspectives of a stable future due to economic and social pressures, is in process of liquidating the individual. The deterioration of his situation is perhaps best measured in terms of his utter insecurity as regards his personal savings. In the era of free enterprise, individuality was most completely subordinated to self-preserving reason. In that era, the idea of individuality seemed to shake itself loose from metaphysical trappings and to become merely a synthesis of the individual's material interests. The individual must prove his value to one or other of the groups engaged in the struggle for a greater share of control over the national and the international economy. The individual's self-preservation presupposes his adjustment to the requirements of the system. He no longer has room to evade the system, which is decided in the by the planning minority. By having been subjected to a continuous barrage of propaganda, the people were prepared to adapt themselves passively to new power relations, to allow themselves only the kind of reaction that enabled them to fit into the economic, social, and political setup. The mass of subjects must deliberately adjust themselves. Therefore adjustment becomes the standard for every conceivable type of subjective behavior.

Nowadays, to be reasonable means to conform with reality as it is. The principle of adjustment is taken for granted. Concepts have become 'streamlined,' rationalized, labor-saving devices. It is as if thinking itself had been reduced to the level of industrial processes, subjected to a close schedule—in short, made part and parcel of production. Toynbee has described some of the consequences of this process for the writing of history. He speaks of the 'tendency for the potter to become the slave of his clay. The patterns of thought and action that people accept are ready-made from the agencies of mass culture and every instrumentality of mass culture serves to reinforce these pressures upon individuality, removing all possibility that the individual will somehow preserve himself in the face of all the machinery of modern society.
Quite different degrees of freedom are involved in driving a horse and in driving a modern automobile. Aside from the fact that the automobile is available to a much larger percentage of the population than the carriage was, the automobile is faster and more efficient, requires less care, and is perhaps more manageable. However, the accretion of freedom has brought about a change in the character of freedom. It is as if the innumerable laws, regulations, and directions with which we must comply were driving the car, not we. There are speed limits, warnings to drive slowly, to stop, to stay within certain lanes, and even diagrams showing the shape of the curve ahead. We must keep our eyes on the road and be ready at each instant to react with the right motion. Our spontaneity has been replaced by a frame of mind which compels us to discard every emotion or idea that might impair our alertness to the impersonal demands assailing us.
The complete transformation of the world into a world of means rather than of ends is itself the consequence of the historical development of the methods of production. Modern mass culture, although drawing freely upon stale cultural values, glorifies the world as it is. Motion pictures, the radio, popular biographies and novels have the same refrain: "This is reality as it is and should be and will be". Even the words that could voice a hope for something besides the fruits of success have been pressed into this service. The idea of happiness has been reduced to a banality to coincide with leading the kind of normal life that serious religious thought has often criticized. The very idea of truth has been reduced to the purpose of a useful tool in the control of nature, and the realization of the infinite potentialities inherent in man has been relegated to the status of a luxury. Thought that does not serve the interests of any established group or is not pertinent to the business of any industry has no place, is considered vain or superfluous. Also, philosophical adaptations of established religions perform a function that is useful for the powers that be: they transform the surviving remnants of mythological thought into workable devices for mass culture.
Language has been reduced to just another tool in the gigantic apparatus of production in modern society. Every sentence that is not equivalent to an operation in that apparatus appears to the layman just as meaningless. Meaning is supplanted by function or effect in the world of things and events. In so far as words are not used obviously to calculate technically relevant probabilities or for other practical purposes they are in danger of being suspect as sales talk of some kind. At the same time, language takes its revenge, as it were, by reverting to its magic stage. As in the days of magic, each word is regarded as a dangerous force that might destroy society and for which the speaker must be held responsible. Correspondingly, the pursuit of truth, under social control, is curtailed. The difference between thinking and acting is held void. Thus every thought is regarded as an act; every reflection is a thesis, and every thesis is a watchword. Everyone is called on the carpet for what he says or does not say. Everything and everybody is classified and labeled.
Pamphlets on how to improve one's speech, how to understand music, how to be saved, are written in the same style as those extolling the advantages of laxatives. Indeed, one expert copywriter may have written any one of them. In the highly developed division of labor, expression has become an instrument used by technicians in the service of industry. A would-be author can go to a school and learn the many combinations that can be contrived from a list of set plots. A novel is written with its film possibilities in mind, a symphony or poem is composed with an eye to its propaganda value. Once it was the endeavor of art, literature, and philosophy to express the meaning of things and of life, today, the story of the boy who looked up at the sky and asked, 'Daddy, what is the moon supposed to advertise?' is an allegory of what has happened to the relation between man and nature in the era of formalized reason. On the one hand, nature has been stripped of all intrinsic value or meaning. On the other, man has been stripped of all aims except self-preservation. He tries to transform everything within reach into a means to that end. The triumph of subjective reason is also the triumph of a reality that confronts the subject as absolute, overpowering.

Contradiction between the Ideal and the Real

Thus originates the contradiction between the existent and ideology, a contradiction that spurs all historical progress. What fills the adolescent with distress is, above all, that he feels the gap between the ideals taught to him and the expectations that they arouse in him on the one hand, and the reality principle to which he is compelled to submit on the other. This discovery may add either one of two important elements to the character of the individual who makes it: resistance or submission.
[Socrates] clashed with the Athenian judges, who represented hallowed custom and cult. His trial seems to mark the point in cultural history at which the individual conscience and the state, the ideal and the real, begin to be separated as by a gulf.
The resistant individual will oppose any pragmatic attempt to reconcile the demands of truth and the pragmatism of reality. Rather than to sacrifice truth by conforming to prevailing standards, he will insist on expressing in his life as much truth as he can, both in theory and in practice. His will be a life of conflict; he must be ready to run the risk of utter loneliness. He does not shrink from persistently confronting reality with truth, from unveiling the antagonism between ideals and actualities.
Edgar Allan Foe said about greatness: 'That individuals have so soared above the plane of their race, is scarcely to be questioned; but, in looking back through history for traces of their existence, we should pass over all biographies of "the good and the great," while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows'.
The other element, submission, is the one the majority is driven to take on. Those who are too weak to make a stand against reality have no choice but to identify with it. They are never rationally reconciled to civilization. Instead, they bow to it. These people willingly embrace or force themselves to accept the rule of the stronger as the eternal norm. Their whole life is a continuous effort to suppress and abase nature, inwardly or outwardly, and to identify themselves with its more powerful surrogates—the race, fatherland, leader, cliques, and tradition. For them, all these words mean the same thing—the irresistible reality that must be honored and obeyed. By echoing, repeating, imitating his surroundings, by adapting himself to all the powerful groups to which he eventually belongs, by transforming himself from a human being into a member of organizations, by sacrificing his potentialities for the sake of the ability to conform to and gain influence in such organizations, he manages to survive. It is survival achieved by the oldest biological means of survival, namely, mimicry. But if this attitude does not promise to lead to the fulfillment of man's potentialities, this impulse will always lie in wait, ready to break out as a destructive force.

This resentment, if repression were abolished, would be turned against the whole social order, which has an intrinsic tendency to prevent its members from gaining insight into the mechanisms of their own repression. Throughout history, physical, organizational, and cultural pressures have always had their role in the integration of the individual into a just or unjust order. People's undeveloped minds are continuously being filled with the products of mass culture that hammer the industrialistic behavior patterns into their eyes and ears and muscles during their leisure time as well as during working hours.
Fascism used terroristic methods in the effort to reduce conscious human beings to social atoms, because it feared that ever-increasing disillusionment as regards all ideologies might pave the way for men to realize their own and society's deepest potentialities; and indeed, in some cases, social pressure and political terror have tempered the profoundly human resistance to irrationality—a resistance that is always the core of true individuality.

Illusion of Democracy

In relinquishing his prerogative of shaping reality in the image of truth, the individual submits himself to tyranny. As the ordinary man withdraws from participation in political affairs, society tends to revert to the law of the jungle, which crushes all vestiges of individuality.
Deprived of its rational foundation, the democratic principle becomes exclusively dependent upon the so-called interests of the people, and these are functions of blind or all too conscious economic forces. But if desires of people as they really are is the only truth criterion, conditioning them by the whole social system under which they live is a conditioning of the truth itself. So under any system, it is doubtful if their desires are actually theirs. If these desires are accepted in an uncritical way, they do not offer any guarantee against tyranny. If powerful economic groups find it useful to set up a dictatorship and abolish majority rule, no objection founded on reason can be opposed to their action. The only consideration that could prevent them from doing so would be the possibility that their own interests would be endangered, and not concern over violation of a truth, of reason.

Once the philosophical foundation of democracy has collapsed, the statement that dictatorship is bad is rationally valid only for those who are not its beneficiaries, and there is no theoretical obstacle to the transformation of this statement into its opposite. The more the judgment of the people is manipulated by all kinds of interests, the more does public opinion appear a substitute for reason. The workers will join in any persecution of a capitalist or politician who has been singled out because he has violated the rules of the game; but they do not question the rules in themselves. They have learned to take social injustice as a powerful fact, and to take powerful facts as the only things to be respected.

 The End of Reason

In the end, even the advantages of subjective reason are lost, all of the spontaneity, creativity and the power to discover, loses its subjectivity.
Like a too frequently sharpened razor blade, this 'instrument' becomes too thin and in the end is even inadequate for mastering the purely formalistic tasks to which it is limited. 
Aldous Huxley's negative Utopia expresses this aspect of the transformation of reason into stupidity. Huxley attacks a monopolistic state-capitalist world organization supported by a self-dissolving subjective reason conceived as an absolute.
In it, the techniques of the brave new world, and the intellectual processes connected with them, are represented as tremendously refined. But the aims they serve—the stupid 'feelies' that allow one to feel a fur projected on a screen, the 'hypnopaedia' that inculcates the all-powerful slogans of the system in sleeping children, the artificial methods of reproduction that standardize and classify human beings even before they are born—all these reflect a process taking place in thinking itself that leads to a system of prohibition of thinking and that must end finally in subjective stupidity, prefigured in the objective idiocy of all life content.Thinking in itself tends to be replaced by stereotyped ideas. These are on the one hand treated as mere convenient instruments to be opportunistically abandoned or accepted, and on the other as objects of fanatic adoration.

The Way Out


In their view, action seems to represent the fulfillment of our eternal destiny. Now that science has helped us to overcome the awe of the unknown in nature, we are the slaves of social pressures of our own making. When called upon to act independently, we cry for patterns, systems, and authorities. If by enlightenment and intellectual progress we mean the freeing of man from superstitious belief in evil forces, in demons and fairies, in blind fate—in short, the emancipation from fear—then denunciation of what is currently called reason is the greatest service reason can render. 

A residue of the past

It is true that although the progress of subjective reason destroyed the theoretical basis of mythological, religious, and rationalistic ideas, civilized society has been living on the residue of these ideas. But they tend to become more than ever a mere residue and are thus gradually losing their power of conviction. These large number of ideas that we have been taught to cherish and respect from our earliest childhood aren't justified by reason alone but also by almost universal consent like tradition, old taboos, myths, and devotions, it would seem that they cannot be affected by the transformation of reason into a mere instrument. They draw their strength from our reverence for the community in which we live, from men who have given their lives for them, from the respect we owe to the founders of the few enlightened nations of our time. These old forms of life smoldering under the surface of modern civilization still provide, in many cases, the warmth inherent in any delight, in any love of a thing for its own sake rather than for that of another thing. For example, the pleasure of keeping a garden goes back to ancient times when gardens belonged to the gods and were cultivated for them.
The sense of beauty in both nature and art is connected, by a thousand delicate threads, to these old superstitions. If, by either flouting or flaunting the threads, modern man cuts them, the pleasure may continue for a while but its inner life is extinguished.

The Critical Path

Socrates died because he subjected the most sacred and most familiar ideas of his community and his country to the critique of the daimonion, or dialectical thought, as Plato called it. In doing so, he fought against both ideologic conservatism and relativism masked as progressiveness but actually subordinated to personal and professional interests. In other words, he fought against the subjective, formalistic reason advocated by the other Sophists. He undermined the sacred tradition of Greece, the Athenian way of life, thus preparing the soil for radically different forms of individual and social life.
Kant's maxim, "The critical path alone is still open", which referred to the conflict between the objective reason of rationalistic dogmatism and the subjective reasoning of English empiricism, applies to the present situation. Since isolated subjective reason in our time is triumphing everywhere, with fatal results, the critique must necessarily be carried on with. While conformism presupposes the basic harmony of the two and includes the minor discrepancies in the ideology itself, philosophy makes men conscious of the contradiction between them.
Philosophy aimed at an insight that was not to serve useful calculations but was intended to further understanding of nature in and for itself.There is no definition of philosophy. Definition of it is identical with the explicit account of what it has to say.
Philosophy can function as a corrective of history. Thus ideological stages of the past would not be equated simply with stupidity and fraud like the verdict brought against medieval thought by the philosophy of the French Enlightenment. Sociological and psychological explanation of earlier beliefs would be distinct from philosophical condemnation and suppression of them. They would serve to cast light upon the current course of humanity. In this function, philosophy would be mankind's memory and conscience. It should be admitted that the basic cultural ideas have truth values, and philosophy should measure them against the social background from which they emanate and in their historical context. Philosophy should deny claims to regard these values as ultimate and infinite truth, to attempt to salvage relative truths from the wreckage of false ultimates by exposing their historical relativity. Philosophy should oppose the breach between the ideal and the real, between theory and practice by criticizing both of them and the relation between them so it can transcend them.
The more these artificial renaissances strive to keep intact the letter of the original doctrines, the more they distort the original meaning, for truth is forged in an evolution of changing and conflicting ideas. Thought is faithful to itself largely through being ready to contradict itself, while preserving, as inherent elements of truth, the memory of the processes by which it was reached. The task of critical reflection is not merely to understand the various facts in their historical development but also to see through the notion of fact itself, in its development and therefore in its relativity.
On one hand, the social need of controlling nature has always conditioned the structure and forms of man's thinking and thus given primacy to subjective reason. On the other hand, society could not completely repress the idea of something transcending the subjectivity of self-interest, to which the self could not help aspiring. By its self-critique, reason must recognize the limitations of the two opposite concepts. Just as subjective reason tends to vulgar materialism, so objective reason displays an inclination to romanticism. The proponents of objective reason are in danger of lagging behind industrial and scientific developments. And as vulgar materialism, subjective reason can hardly avoid falling into cynical nihilism. The idea of self-preservation, the principle that is driving subjective reason to madness, is the very idea that can save objective reason from the same fate. Applied to concrete reality, this means that only a definition of the objective goals of society that includes the purpose of self-preservation of the subject, the respect for individual life, deserves to be called objective. The systems of objective reason express in partly mythological form the insight that self-preservation can be achieved only in a supra-individual order, that is to say, through social solidarity.

What is lacking are men who understand that they themselves are the subjects or the functionaries of their own oppression. The realization that at this very moment everything depends upon the right use of man's autonomy should rally those who have not been silenced to defend culture against threatened debasement at the hands of its conformist fair-weather friends or annihilation at the hands of the barbarians within the gates.
An intelligent man is not one who can merely reason correctly, but one whose mind is open to perceiving objective contents, who is able to receive the impact of their essential structures and to render it in human language; this holds also for the nature of thinking as such, and for its truth content. 

Comments (1)

  1. I deal with (subversively created?) "LONELINESS" by dropping the "L" so it is Oneliness, a oneliness that anticipates connection as unconditional hope, unconditional love, with skills involving unconditional language of humor and chiasmus. Are you a philosophy major? Do you have an advanced degree? I really want to learn more about you, because I have just recently discovered an intense affinity for Horkheimer,Adorno, etc., and Critical International Relations Theory, and I wish I could be immersed in it (or perhaps CIRT could be immersed in me? lol I would like for you to consider collaborating and writing with me. Perhaps we could do reviews about Horkheimer's, Adorno's, books, do Literature reviews, research, articles, etc., and submit them to magazines, websites that might be interested, if there are any such sites? lol Or perhaps we can design another blog together with a focus on how instrumentality can be transcended by "irrational", but blissful unconditional love, unconditional hope and/or unconditional (i.e., limitless, politically INCORRECT) humor?. My email is, and my phone contact info is Home: 973 484-1023 (land line so texting is unabailable on this phone.) Cell: 6468536669 (for texting and/or calling)

Post a Comment