Adorno’s politics: Theory and praxis in Germany’s 1960s
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Theodor W. Adorno inspired much of Germany’s 1960s student movement, but he came increasingly into conflict with this movement about the practical implications of his critical theory. Others – including his friend and colleague Herbert Marcuse – also accused Adorno of a quietism that is politically objectionable and in contradiction with his own theory. In this article, I reconstruct, and partially defend, Adorno’s views on theory and (political) praxis in Germany’s 1960s in 11 theses. His often attacked and maligned stance during the 1960s is based on his analysis of these historical circumstances. Put provocatively, his stance consists in the view that people in the 1960s have tried to change the world, in various ways; the point – at that time – was to interpret it.
This article was originally conceived as part of Adorno’s Practical Philosophy and should be considered as integral to it.
licensed only the weapons of criticism, not criticism by weapons. 10 Assigning primacy to political activity, actionism [Aktionismus] is the true resignation in the face of our social world By eschewing much political activity and insisting on doing theory instead, Adorno was accused by the student movement, and others outside it, of resignation. Many of those inspired by his critical theory felt betrayed by what they perceived as a failure to draw the practical consequences from this very
to characterize what Adorno means by philosophy (or ‘theory’) in a way that is both accurate and succinct. However, it might help the reader to note that philosophy is not seen by Adorno as radically distinct from or discontinuous with sociology, history and other theoretical endeavours (in this way he remains indebted to Horkheimer’s interdisciplinary programme). His thesis that philosophy survives extends, thus, not only to what would be traditionally recognized as philosophy. Having said this,
undertaking in the current circumstances (Adorno, Critical Models, pp. 271, 273, 275; see also Adorno, GS 20.1:399; and Richter, ‘Who’s Afraid of the Ivory Tower?’: 17); an illusionary aim (ibid.: 16, see also Adorno, GS 20.1:399). 121. Adorno, Critical Models, p. 276, with reference to Marx. 122. ibid.: 264, 266, 271 f. 123. ibid.: 275. 124. See, for example, Adorno, Problems of Moral Philosophy, lecture 14, esp. pp. 137–41; and Max Horkeimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment,
say that Ohnesorg should have not gone demonstrating in the first place, but merely to note that such acts of peaceful non-conformity do not guarantee right living, partly because they can have – however unintended – negative consequences that detract from any unqualifiedly positive appraisal of them. Even when we move along the spectrum to more ordinary politics, to reformist attempts of ameliorating current conditions, Adorno suggests that we will fall short of right living. He thinks that the
rooms for a meeting to discuss their future actions, having been thwarted in (re-)occupying the sociology department. Still, they refused to leave despite being repeatedly asked to do so by Adorno and his co-directors.) This episode and the subsequent trial of the perceived leader of this group – Adorno’s own PhD student Krahl – accelerated the already simmering fall-out with the students, who subsequently twice disrupted Adorno’s Downloaded from psc.sagepub.com by Chris Jones on October 13,