'Myth is already enlightenment; and enlightenment reverts to mythology' (Dialectic of Enlightenment XVI) Adorno and Horkheimer's obscure and nihilistic text Dialectic of Enlightenment (DoE) is an attempt to answer the question 'why mankind, instead of entering a truly human condition, is sinking into a new kind of barbarism' (DoE, p. xi). The result is a totalizing critique of modernity; a diagnosis of why the Enlightenment project failed with no attempt to prescribe a cure. This is achieved by a historical-philosophical study of the mythic world-view of animism and anthropomorphism and the Enlightenment attempt to dissolve myth through objectification and instrumental reason. DoE also uses Homer's Odyssey as a metaphorical interpretation of this historical change, where Odysseus is the prototype of the bourgeois man. This study reveals for Adorno and Horkheimer the failure of the Enlightenment project.
Enlightenment has no claim to being less a myth than the mythology it failed to escape. This new myth is defined for them by the drive to dominate nature at the expense of alienation of man from nature and from his own inner nature. They follow the appearance of the subject as it is objectified alongside nature, and is dominated with it. The subject becomes an object and his intellect becomes instrumental, and all instinct and sensory experience that fails to be productive in the pursuit of domination is repressed, man becomes mechanized.
They also assert that class domination is a direct and inevitable consequence of the attempt to dominate nature, and is therefore inescapable. Background to the text. Adorno and Horkheimer, members of the Frankfurt school in Germany, wrote DoE (which was completed in 1944) while Fascism, a kind of barbarism never seen before, was threatening Europe. They viewed this as the epitome of the self-destructive nature of enlightenment, the final evidence that it would never result in 'a truly human condition'. They wrote in the introduction to DoE that 'the indefatigable self-destructiveness of enlightenment... requires philosophy to discard even the last vestiges of innocence in regard to the habits and tendencies of the spirit of the age' (p.
xi), hence the intensity of their critique. Being part of the Frankfurt school, Adorno and Horkheimer were influenced by Marxist theory. Their critique can be seen as a generalization of the Marxist critique of capitalism to the whole of civilization#. Stalinist Russia, the Fascist threat in Europe and American capitalism are equal indications of the regressive process of Enlightenment, and all fall under the jurisdiction of their critique. We will see the extent of this influence when class domination is considered, but what is already clear is that Adorno and Horkheimer find the Marxist ideology untenable. From myth to enlightenment: the substitution of domination for mimesis.
The motivation for enlightenment was already present in myth, it 'originates in human fear, the expression of which is explanation, ... man imagines himself free from fear when there is no longer anything unknown'# (p. 15-16). However, the mythic reaction to this fear differs from that found in enlightenment. Myth attempts to make the unknown known through animism and anthropomorphism, that is, it attributes a human explanation to the unknown forces of nature#. In myth the subjective is not confined to man but is extended to the world and the objective and purely independent is not yet realized#.
The magician and shaman use ritual magic to influence nature but never to dominate it. The tool of the shaman is mimesis (imitation in an attempt to influence) and sacrifice. 'The magician imitates demons; in order to frighten them or appease them, he behaves frighteningly or makes gestures of appeasement' (p. 9) but neither this nor sacrifices are attempts to control nature but are pleas to animistic forces of nature that the shaman considers more powerful than himself. The gradual move from myth to Enlightenment is the move from reaction to nature to interaction with nature. Enlightenment is the attempt to directly dominate and control nature instead of a mere mimetic reaction it.
Adorno and Horkheimer describe Enlightenment as that 'which compounds the animate with the inanimate just as myth compounds the inanimate with the animate#' (p. 16). The world's, and preparation for domination, requires the objectification of reality to repeatable and law governed experience and the reduction of the 'multiplicity of forms' to mere 'position and arrangement' in a unified whole (p. 12).
Animism is replaced by reification (the changing of mental entities to objective things). Knowledge becomes equated with power over nature and reason becomes solely instrumental in the pursuit of domination. As Adorno and Horkheimer write 'Enlightenment behaves towards things as a dictator towards men. He knows the in so far as he can manipulate them. The man of science knows things in so far as he can make them' (p. 9).
That which cannot be dominated is renounced as illusion. Enlightenment, however, since its knowledge is equated with power and domination must give up its claim to universal validity. The distinction between rationality and irrationality is purely for instrumental purposes, and is no more concerned with truth than the myths use of magic and mimesis. Enlightenment has realised this as it progressed, as Adorno and Horkheimer write 'every specific theoretic view succumbs to the destructive criticism that it is only a belief - until even the very notions of spirit, of truth and, indeed, enlightenment itself, have become animistic magic' (p. 11). In the following sections I will elaborate on why the Enlightenment is considered mythic and a regression of civilization.
The negative aspects of the mythic Enlightenment are threefold: The alienation of man from nature, the objectification and repression of the self and the domination of men over men. Man's alienation from nature. In mythic times the gulf between subject and object was not finely distinguished, as already stated man's subjectivity extended itself to nature through animism. Mythic man understood nature in the same intimate way as he understood his own mind. However, in Enlightenment the domination of nature is paid for by alienation from nature. Only an objectified world can be wholly dominated, so the object becomes separated from the subject.
Hence, 'men pay for the increase of their power with alienation from that over which they exercise their power' (p. 9). As it becomes reified, all the subjective concepts of meaning and purpose are drained from nature - the 'sensible manifold', the quality, is reduced to mere quantity and formal rule. That which cannot be formalized is denied existence.
'On the road to modern science, men renounce any claim to meaning. They substitute formula for concept, rule and probability for cause and motive' (p. 55). Man is faced with a reality in which he can see no meaning, as Honneth puts it, formalization of nature 'is paid for by the neutralization of its sensible manifold and variety, that is, at the cost of the exclusion of living nature' (Honneth, p. 42). Life becomes self-preservation, which is adaptation to a formalized reality.
In the next section we will see how this adaptation entails the mechanization of man. The reification of the self. The move to enlightenment destroys the self, 'animism spiritualized the object, whereas industrialism [i. e. , the later stage of enlightenment, ] objectifies the spirit of men' (p. 28).
In myth the self spreads itself on nature but in enlightenment the self must conform to nature. The result of this is twofold: Thought becomes restricted by the laws it applies to nature and the instinctual and sensual parts of man are internalized and repressed. Adorno and Horkheimer write 'What appears to be the triumph of subjective rationality, the subjection of all reality to logical formalism, is paid for by the obedient subjection of reason to what is directly given' (p. 26).
Since the sole aim of man in Enlightenment becomes the domination of nature, rationality becomes merely instrumental to this end. All thought which goes outside the formal laws of nature is condemned as meaningless, hence, thought must conform to nature, 'it is the servant that the master cannot check as he wishes' (p. 37). Our control over the self diminishes as enlightenment progresses, until it becomes an 'automatic, self-activating process'.
In this process not only has man restricted the self to pure instrumentality but also he has completed his alienation from nature. Thought projects itself onto nature in order to control it but the process is reflective. The formal rules it applies to nature, in order to control it, are reflected back onto thought thus restricting it. 'Thought becomes mere tautology' (p.
27). Thought, and hence man, is totally alienated from nature and must give up the claim to know nature in any way other than in its manipulation (p. 18) #. The second result of the self's conforming to objectified nature is the repression of its inner nature, the instinctual and sensible aspects of the self, which are repressed in the focus of all rationality to instrumental ends. As Honneth summarises Adorno and Horkheimer's position: Individuals must forcibly constrict their capacity for sensory experience as well as their organic instinctual potential in order to realize the discipline of instrumental control... [as] human subjects systematically increase their instrumental control over nature, they at the same time gradually forfeit their inner nature, since they must treat it the same way as external nature.
(Honneth, p. 48) Our inner nature, our instinctual drive and our capacity for sensual experience is impoverished in the name of self-preservation, which has become the adaptation to a formalized reality. The Enlightenment process was supposed to be of service to the nature of man, our 'truly human condition', but the process discarded that which it served and the means became the end. The absurdity of the enlightened man is that 'all the aims for which he keeps himself alive - social progress, the intensification of all his material and spiritual power, even consciousness itself - are nullified' (p. 54) in the very process that is supposed to preserve them#. Adorno and Horkheimer illustrate the destruction of the self by Odysseus's cunning escape from the powerful song of the Sirens.
The Sirens song is of such beauty that any man who hears it loses himself in it and throws himself into the sea. So that that Odysseus's ship can pass the Sirens, and he can hear their song unharmed, he orders his men to bind him to the mast and to close there own ears with wax. Through his cunning Odysseus has succeeded to pass the Sirens and to conquer their song but at the cost of restricting himself, since he is bound his desire for the song and his instinct to react to it are repressed (p. 32 and 58-60). He has repressed his inner nature for an instrumental end. Domination of nature leads to the domination of men over men.
The third disastrous result of enlightenment Adorno and Horkheimer consider is a political one. They believe class society is an inevitable consequence of man's attempt to dominate nature. This is a result of the need for intensive labour in domination of nature and the reification of man. Man's bias towards instrumental rationality for the end of the domination of nature have, as discussed above, repressed any consideration of quality, meaning and inner nature.
This bias encourages men to treat men as objects that can be used as means towards the end of the domination of nature. The labourer becomes the object the dominant class uses as a means to the domination of nature. The task of labour, which is the means to the domination of nature, is the division of labour at the industrial stage of enlightenment (p 22). The labourers complete conformism to the instrumental means of domination, ('the labourers must be fresh and concentrated as they look ahead, and must ignore whatever lies to one side' (p.
34) ), his complete dedication to labour and his ignorance of the workings of all but his own task means he cannot concern himself with his own preservation but must rely on a dominant other. This requires a class of administrators and enforcer to ensure no deviation. Any behaviour not conducive to domination of nature 'suffers the force of the collective, which monitors it from the classroom to the trade union' (p. 28).
Deviation from the direction of the collective is either a crime of an act of madness. This is also illustrated by the myth of the Sirens. To escape the Siren's song Odysseus has one solution for himself and another for the men he masters. They must concentrate on their labour to keep the ship under control with their ears are blocked with wax so they can't hear the Sirens sensuous song, while Odysseus, the proto-bourgeois man, abstains from labour and may listen to their song unharmed. The paradox of a totalizing critique. In Habermas's essay 'The Entwinement of Myth and Enlightenment: Re-Reading Dialectic of Enlightenment' he poses a problem for the possibility of a totalizing critique, such as Adorno and Horkheimer's in the DoE.
He writes that in DoE: Critique becomes total: it turns against the reason as the foundation of its own analysis. The fact that suspicion of ideology becomes total means that it opposes not only the ideological function of the bourgeois ideals, but rationality as such, thereby extending critique to the very foundations of an immanent critique of ideology (Habermas, p. 22). The DoE, in an attempt to undercut the ideological movements of modernity, criticise the bases of all and any such ideologies, i.
e. they criticise rationality - which for them, as shown above, is inescapably tainted by its instrumental relationship to power and domination; it is a dogma and has no claim to universal validity. The unfortunate fall back of this critique is that the critique is itself based on the rationality it attempts to undermine. Adorno and Horkheimer were aware of this 'unavoidable p reformative contradiction', however, they still felt it was a justified method of critique. In Negative Dialectics (ND) Adorno explains why he endorses this method.
Adorno's justification comes from his version of the Hegelian dialectic - the negative dialectic. Like the Hegelian dialectic it is based on the notion that all concepts necessarily posit their own antithesis. Adorno rejects Hegel's belief that the contradiction (between the thesis and antithesis) is resolved through the synthesis of the opposing concepts, where the synthesis, 'as a guiding and supreme idea' (ND, p. 156), indicates a necessary progression. History, as we have seen, is not necessarily a progression for Adorno and Horkheimer but has, since the time of myth, been a regression.
For Adorno the dialectic is neither a transcendent and necessary concept nor an inherently progressive concept. Adorno's negative dialectic can be better understood through his conception of 'non identity'. As we have seen, enlightenment rationality strives to unify reality; it attempts to make everything identical in one 'vast analytic judgement' (ND, p. 155). Adorno claims that identity is the 'primal form of ideology'. Reality, he asserts, is not unified it is, rather, in a state of non identity, it is an 'un pacified whole'.
Non identity cannot be resolved, that is, identified, in a synthesis. Adorno writes 'non identity is the secret telos of identification. It is the part that can be salvaged; the mistake in traditional thinking is that identity is taken for the goal' (ND, p. 149). Adorno believes identity is a practical necessity of thought, however, he believes it should become self-reflective. The critique of the DoE# (the antithesis the enlightenment posits) is a 'means to break the compulsion to achieve identity, and to break it by means of the energy stored up in that compulsion' (ND, 157).
Such a critique forces enlightenment thought to become self-reflective, to recognize that it is myth and therefore not to hold so strongly to its faith in its instrumental rationality but to allow for a 'qualit ive change' that may end the enlightenment's regression#. Through the perspective Adorno proposes in Negative Dialectic the totalizing critique becomes a legitimate critique. It is based on the rationality it undermines and therefore creates a contradiction, but this is the desired effect - it shows the 'non identity' of enlightenment rationality, that is, it makes enlightenment thought realise that it includes this contradiction. It still succeeds in showing enlightenment thought that it is not the way to universal validity but is, rather, as mythical as the myth it replaced. Footnotes: # This interpretation can be seen in Habermas, p. 21, and Therborn, p.
103-108. # My italics. # For example, the cycle of spring and autumn is explained through the kidnapping of Pere phone (p. 27). # This can be seen in the primitive belief in the of the word or concept and the object, the name was the thing.
Man's language mirrored instead of conceptually represented nature. (Found at p. 17 and in their interpretation of the myth of Polyphemus, p. 60-70, - the primitive Polyphemus is tricked by the bourgeois Odysseus who goes under the name 'Udeis' or nobody, Odysseus becomes nobody for the primitive giant because he doesn't distinguish name and object) # This process of de-animism can be seen as reaching one of its heights in Hume's rejection of causation as the invalid application of a merely psychological process to nature and his assertion that error often arises because 'the mind has a great propensity to spread it-self on external objects' Treatise on Human Nature, p. 167.
# The process of the reification of the self can be seen in Cartesian dualism and, perhaps, brought to its final stage in the reductionism of Ryle and Denne t, and especially the Church lands - who believe our language should be reduced to descriptions of our neurological states, therefore eliminating any subjective or qualitative talk of emotions, beauty, beliefs etc. # As an interesting aside: Adorno and Horkheimer, if rather obscurely, define the process of the restriction and repression of the self as the internalization of sacrifice. Basically put, their argument here is that while primitive man sacrificed animals or other men in the attempt to influence the natural forces, enlightenment man has internalized this process - sacrificing his inner nature in the attempt to control external nature (mainly p. 50-56). # Which is called 'determinate negation' and is the type of criticism that follows from the negative dialectic. It is briefly dealt with on p.
24 of DoE. # I should mention that Habermas, who was a student of Adorno's and member of the Frankfurt school, does not accept Adorno's solution. He believes Adorno is being too nihilistic in [continued next page] allowing no way to escape instrumental rationality. Habermas's main philosophical project has been to resolve this problem, to allow for the possibility of substantive rationality (i. e. rationality that is not aimed at power and domination but, rather, validity) and, thus, to save the project of the Enlightenment.
The result is a theory of open communication that is aimed at an 'ideal speech situation', that is, at a discourse not tainted by instrumental aims. Bibliography: Theodor Adorno and Maw Horkheimer: The Dialectic of Enlightenment (Verso: London, 1997). Theodor Adorno: Negative Dialectics (Routledge: London, 1990) Jurgen Habermas: The Entwinement of Myth and Enlightenment: Re-reading Dialectic of Enlightenment, in Jay Bernstein (ed. ): The Frankfurt School: Critical Assessments vol. 3 (Routledge: London, 1994). Axel Honneth: The Critique of Power: Reflective Stages of Critical Social Theory (M.
I. T: Boston, 1991). G"oran Therborn: The Frankfurt School, in New Left Review (ed. ): Western Marxism: a Critical Reader (New Left Books: Norfolk, 1977).