The following essay on the relation of sociology and psychology should serve as a long overdue introduction of the work of Theodor Adorno to an English audience. While the English reader will be familiar with the writings of Herbert Marcuse (cf. nlr 30 and 45), who, along with Adorno and Horkheimer, is a founder-member of what has come to be known as the ‘Frankfurt School’, the only work of Adorno’s that was until recently available in English-speaking countries is his contribution to The Authoritarian Personality. (An English translation of one of his most important volumes, Prisms, has however now been published by Neville Spearman.) This essay has been chosen not merely for its intrinsic merit and its critique of developments relevant to the English context, but also on account of the particular timeliness of its theme. At least since the publication of the first volume of Sartre’s Critique de la Raison Dialectique, which in its methodological introduction focuses on the ‘problem of mediations’, the inter-relations and complementarities of ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’ approaches, Marxism and existentialism, sociology and psychology, have been acknowledged as one of the central issues with which a developing Marxist theory will have to grapple. Adorno’s text represents the prolegomenon to an investigation of the relations between microcosmic and macrocosmic social dimensions sketched out at a recent congress by R. D. Laing. Precisely because of the need to do away with the monopolistic practices of academic guilds, however, the courses in inter-disciplinary studies presently offered at the new universities should be all the more closely studied for signs of the helplessness that Adorno (who can himself hardly be accused of being a jealous specialist) claims to detect in recent inter-departmental fads.
In view of the range and complexity of their work—Adorno alone has written over 20 books, on philosophy, sociology, music and literature —it is not possible in the space of a few paragraphs to give more than a merely biographical and bibliographical account of the Frankfurt school, and a simplistic sketch of some of the specific emphases which relate the following text to Adorno’s whole philosophy.
The Frankfurt school came into being in the early 1930’s around Max Horkheimer and his Institute for Social Research. Its early work can be studied in its legendary, but relatively inaccessible journal, the Zeitschrift
The Frankfurt school has consistently, but without regressions into some pre-specialist feudalism, opposed the intellectual division of labour, while acknowledging its relative validity. Within the social sciences the practical upshot of this has been such works as Studies in Authority and the Family (published in German in Paris in the late ’thirties) and The Authoritarian Personality. The following essay draws the theoretical conclusions from this long effort to think through the relation of psychology and sociology. Frankfurt sociology has, further, remained as philosophical as its philosophy has always been social, and it is one of the triumphs of Adorno’s style that it has developed a terminology which freely, yet rigorously, expresses the constant interplay of otherwise compartmentalized approaches. Given the tendency of the dominant positivist orthodoxy in England to dismiss the history of philosophy as so much verbal muddle, and the tendencies in the Marxist tradition to dismiss philosophy as so many merely interpretative ideologies, it will doubtless be the philosophical dimension of the Frankfurt school that will be most foreign to the English reader. If the unfamiliar phenomenon has at all costs to be catalogued, it may be called a Hegelian materialism that is constantly redefining itself in both, close and polemical relation to Hegel’s idealist dialectics; neither uncritically immanent nor abruptly external, its ‘determinate negation’ of Hegel neither stops at the eleventh thesis on Feuerbach nor falls behind
But if Frankfurt philosophy resists bald definition and bureaucratic classification, this is not because it makes a virtue of elusiveness. It is true that as a critic of the deductive, reductive idealism of philosophical systems Adorno writes mostly essays, of a mutually allusive and reciprocally explanatory character which often presuppose some familiarity with the philosophical, sociological, psychological and aesthetic traditions he is working in and against. His recently published Negative Dialektik (1966) was partly written to justify and develop in sustained philosophical argument the premises and implications of his past work. When, however, Adorno writes in that book that ‘philosophy cannot be summarized’, he is not arguing in the name of some philosophical poetry it would be heretical to paraphrase. He neither denies nor hypostatizes the distinction between art and philosophy and indeed accuses Heidegger, the centre of the opposite school in contemporary German philosophy, of blurring it. What he advocates is a ‘negative dialectics’ which opposes the quasi-imperialist reductionism that Western philosophy, including Hegel’s positive dialectics, has hitherto committed in justification of Western social practice. This inextricability of reason and violence, philosophy and domination, is the central theme of Dialektik der Aufklärung, which argues that Western reason has never liberated itself from myth (itself already a form of rationality) and has in recent history rapidly, but immanently, reverted to it: the dialectic is a largely Freudian one and it is, as always, with a vengeance that the repressed returns. It is because, on this argument, the constitution of human (or at least Western) identity, the control of nature and the domination of man by man have hitherto interacted as the inseparable moments of one long fatal syndrome, that such central categories of the Frankfurt school as ‘identity’ and ‘nonidentity’, and the domination of the latter by the former, refer simultaneously to the relation between society and individual, man and nature, ego and id, male and female, concepts and their objects. If this in turn sounds reductive, it is the reductiveness of history itself, which philosophy, the logic of domination, has helped codify. Walter Benjamin, the philosopher and aesthetician who was closely associated with the Institute until the most murderous system of our time caught up with him,footnote1 once wrote that whereas historians traditionally identify with the victors the historical materialist must write history ‘against the grain’ (Schriften, Vol. 1, p. 498). Frankfurt philosophy, likewise, is a permanent critique of the theory and practice of ‘Identitätsphilosophie’, and its aim is the rescue of the non-identical. But justice can be done to the non-identical only in, through and against identity itself, the abstract negation of which would be literally tantamount to complete
It is within the context of this very schematically presented conception that the following essay takes its place. The critique of reductionism is the invisible thread that links what might initially appear to be aphoristic asides. It is behind the serious pun that Freud’s drive towards the totalization of concepts is totalitarian (not only, needless to say) and behind the analysis of psychoanalytic reductionism as analagous to homosexual indifference towards women. Lack of differentiation is associated with hostility, abstractness with brutality, and, conversely, ‘love’ and ‘humanity’, as synonyms for openness to the non-identical and the capacity to differentiate, are rescued from their ideological misuse. The passage on the impact of big ideas exemplifies the characteristic interplay of usually dissociated dimensions mentioned above. The claim that the subconscious foots the bill of progress and the section on rationality and sacrifice refer back to central motifs from Dialektik der Aufklärung. The notion of the Utopian relativity of rationality itself points forward to the argument in Negative Dialektik that dialectics, by turning formal logic against itself, remains bound to it and would ideally wither away along with the state.