Adorno, Theodor Wiesengrund (1903–69)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD001-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved February 29, 2024, from

2. For and against Marx

Adorno’s philosophy is a response to his understanding of the social world he inhabited. Adorno never doubted that advanced, Western societies were structured by capitalist relations of production as analysed by Marx. In particular, he accepted Marx’s account of commodity fetishism and the domination of use values by exchange value. Adorno also accepted the proposal that the same mechanisms structuring the economy were effective in structuring cultural practices. While domination and poverty (broadly speaking, injustice) are the central consequences of capital’s rationalization of the economy, alienation and meaninglessness (broadly speaking, nihilism) are the central consequences of its rationalization of culture (see Alienation; Nihilism).

However, against the background of the rise of fascism in Europe and the dissolution of workers’ movements, later augmented by the events of the Holocaust, Adorno came to doubt that there really were significantly progressive tendencies latent in the economic and social fabric of the modern world. On the contrary, he came to believe that the rationalization of modern societies was all but complete, and hence came to view Marx’s theory of history, with its commitment to an intrinsically progressive developmental sequence of social formations, as drawing on the same structures of rationality as those governing capitalist processes of production. If it is those structures of reason and rationality that are at the roots of the deepest dilemmas of modernity, then the crisis of modernity is primarily a crisis of reason. What is thus required before all else is a critical diagnosis of modern reason; in criticizing this formation of reason Adorno is simultaneously criticizing the world it engenders and providing the terms for a radical transformation of that world.

Citing this article:
Bernstein, J.M.. For and against Marx. Adorno, Theodor Wiesengrund (1903–69), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DD001-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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