(n-1)-thoughts, n=5: Freedom of speech, university statement on free speech, the late Steven Weinberg, and delayed autism research

Freedom of speech

Outside of science, one of my favourite things to study as a hobby is history. I also deeply enjoy and appreciate philosophy. One thing I’ve learned in my time studying history and philosophy is that, when judged alongside the human character (insofar that we may establish such a generalisation), democracy is a system that perhaps shouldn’t work but somehow functions in miraculous ways. The miraculous part of democracy is that, as a system, it is generally stable despite or, perhaps, because of multiple competing forces. How it stablises despite so many pressure points, is a very interesting question of political theory and systems theory. Admittedly, it is naive to think in the following way, but there are times when I am pulled to consider a newtonian, mechanical view of social systems and their configuration. In the context of social discourse, think of how a view or movement based on certain ideas and arguements often seems to evoke an equal, opposite view. Look at the social world as a distant observer might, and notice the pattern that oftentimes there is a movement and then a reaction. In conditions of increasing polarisation, concepts and ideas – viewpoints – can become extremised and so too do their opposite. If a person is not left, then they must be right. There are a number of books on political polarisation, including some that take a science view of bias, and they all hint toward combinations of structural, cognitive, and psychological factors.

I often look at the social world as the absence of reason. This might be a bit too classical and critical enlightenment, but in many ways I think we’ve lost touch with the concept of subtlety in the rational process: that there is nuance and subtlty to concepts and to formulating rigorously researched ideas about complicated topics. For example, am I a ‘climate denier’? No. But am I skeptical of a lot of the hysteria around climate change? Yes. (I think, for example, of anti-modern movements or those that organise themselves under the notion of Deep Ecology). Does this mean I completely reject climate science, or that I completely reject the notion of climate change, although in places I may be sceptical? No. It seems that in the world of concepts and of human ideas, more often than not views become extremised and concepts are taken to their ideological boundaries where irrationality transforms into unreason. We see it all the time, not just in politics where formally it is accepted that designations of left and right, along with their associated bias, may clash in debate without much objectivity. To me, it is an absurdity. But one thing that history has taught me, and, certainly, the history of science, is that it is important to constantly resist getting tied down to bias, prejudice, and the type of knowledge formation that comes with ideology in all its guises. Much of what the history of science teaches is about our utter stupidity as a species in thinking that, in whatever historical period, we may belive to possess all of the answers or have a complete grasp on the truth. It is thus only a matter of pure comedy that we may engage in politics in such a way as thinking ours is the righteous view.

If I may speak honestly, I find a lot about modern politics – by which I mean the nature of its structure and engagement – irrational. I’ve never understood why in modern British democracy we assign the role of secretary of education, for example, to a professional politician with no experience in the field of education. Why is evidence-based, expert driven governance made to seem like a concept associated with some alien-rational, futuristic, scientific utopia? I suppose when contrasted to the system of competing echo chambers known as party politics, the idea of evidenced-based policy appears futuristic. Given that we do not live in anything like a scientific society, I’m not sure an actual scientific society would be structured in such a way that non-experts are allocated important roles in the practice of democratic governance. I mean, what does it say about the prospect of a society predicated on, or at least hoped to be informed by evidence based policy, when professional politicians with pre-established agendas preside both over the evidence and the policy? To me, the hard truth seems to be that all of politics is based on subjectivism and, in some sense, with the loss of the rational process that strives to seek the objective. Discourse instead seems to manifest in ways that formalise false equivalence or the categorical fallacy of inconsistency. For any issue, at least two sides are portrayed as equally valid when there may in fact be asymmetry. In some or many cases, perhaps no two political reductions are even capable of capturing the total complexity of the matter at hand. But with the loss of the objective as a concept that ought to be strived toward, debate is reduced to subjective bias and political prejudice that is symbologic of the postmodern vacuum in which we find ourselves.

Maybe I am just pessimistic. Then again, think of Brexit. Rub away all of the dross and antics, all of the extremisms and prejudiced ideologies that sought to exploit the situation, one will see that there were logical arguments from both sides of the debate. There were arguments from both the left and right-wing to leave the EU, with the former emphasising democratic control and participation in a similar way as the sovereignty argument on the right. Likewise, arguments to Remain were not just a left versus right issue, although, as it is so often today, simplistic narratives tend to rule public discourse and political slogan design. What was most striking about the entire process is that, rarely if ever, one observed a politician or public intellectual change their mind. It’s as though people didn’t engage in debate, but instead focused on shutting the other down. Maybe it is a matter of polarisation in which two sides often emerge as set against each other, and then from there discourse seems to shut down. Or maybe there is something to that old Newtonian idea. What is clear is that there was no collective encircling of an issue (or it was an exception to the rule), no process of gathering information from all sides – taking in new evidence and data – and constantly working through rational arguments (often through a process of changing one’s mind or outlook). This is how a civilised democratic society, armed with science and modern technologies, was meant to function. Or, at least, that’s how I like to imagine it.

This brings me to another thing that history has taught me: a democratic society based on core liberal and enlightenment values is one that requires citizens in deeply fundamental ways to be able to disagree. But the concept of the enlightenment requires something still much deeper – and this relates directly to democracy – that individuals enter into a debate, or disagree, within the frame of reason. Think of it this way: If I disagree with someone about a mathematical matter, it doesn’t make sense that I debate with them outside of mathematics. I pick up a dry wipe marker and explain mathematically why I don’t agree. Debates about freedom of speech in modern western society seem to lose sight of key content within the concept: what gives it so much fundamental import as a social concept is that it is intrinscially rational. If, at my university, an individual was invited to give a talk on why they are sceptical about the interpretation of climate science data, I may or may not agree; but given that their argument is rigorously constructed, well-researched, and rationally presented I support the freedom to present the view. If I don’t agree, and if I think that their argument is logically inconsistent or wrong, then it is up to me to disprove their case. This, to me, is what freedom of speech means. Yes, on some simplistic and practical level one may deduce their right to say anything, as so often this is what the popular debate on free speech seems to imply: for example, I may in this moment conjour some fanciful theory about why alien hamsters control all of human society, and I may provide a provocative argument for why this is true. But freedom of speech isn’t freedom to be unreasonable or freedom to not engage rationally in the arena of rational ideas, should one wish to engage at all; and although one might conflate their right to free speech with an imagined right to be taken seriously, such a view is in fact tantamount to utter stupidity.

Freedom of speech requires responsibility – it requires that one be normatively critical of one’s own view and be capable of exploring openly the thoughtful argument of the other – and it seems we have somehow lost sight of this fact just as we have lost sight of the meaning of constructive debate.

Stephen Fry, one of my favourites, had a fantastic line recently which is paraphrased below: ‘on one side is the new right, promoting a bizarre mixture of Christianity and libertarianism; on the other, the “illiberal liberals”, obsessed with identity politics and complaining about things like cultural appropriation. These tiny factions war above, while the rest of us watch, aghast, from the chasm below. […] It’s a strange paradox, that the liberals are illiberal in their demand for liberality. They are exclusive in their demand for inclusivity. They are homogenous in their demand for heterogeneity. They are somehow un-diverse in their call for diversity — you can be diverse, but not diverse in your opinions and in your language and in your behaviour. And that’s a terrible pity.’

University of Nottingham statement on free speech

As mentioned in a past post, since the start of term I have struggled to keep up with my blog. One thing I meant to write about was the recent statement by my university on freedom of speech. It may have been updated since I read it in the summer, as the university was seeking collaboration and feedback at the time. I should go back and read it again, but my assessment at the time was that it seemed well-balanced. It struck me that, as written, it conveyed the intention to genuinely realise the meaning of inclusivity, diversity, openess, and respect. This is what should come from an institution that seeks to foster learning, intellectual exploration, rational debate, and the wonderful process of formal inquiry in the collective pursuit of truth.

A thought of existential variety

The late Steven Weinberg had a wonderful comment about life and the human condition in his book, The First Three Minutes: ‘The more the universe seems comprehensible,’ he wrote, ‘the more it also seems pointless.’ I’m sympathetic with his view about the god-of-the-gaps. Truth be told, I consider myself agnostic; I don’t know for certain that there isn’t a God and if there is I would be inclined revolt in typical Camus fashion. That needless suffering should exist under the watch of some supreme being is detestable, in my view. So, although not an atheist in the extreme, I’ve always found Weinberg’s reflections reasonable when talking about the absence of God and how science may contribute positively to human meaning. Speaking in an interview, he once reflected: ‘To embrace science is to face the hardships of life—and death—without such comfort’. Pertinently, he continued: ‘We’re going to die, and our loved ones are going to die, and it would be very nice to believe that that was not the end and that we would live beyond the grave and meet those we love again. Living without God is not that easy. And I feel the appeal of religion in that sense.’

I often think that I could be diagnosed with cancer next week and be dead within a month. There is an innate indifference about the human condition, and with that I think a deep human fear of death, as Ernest Becker noted, governs a lot of human social systems. We can of course speak on the grandest scales and describe the precise nature of our cosmic insignificance – that we are not even a speck of dust on the scale of the universe. But even on a microbial and biochemical level, there is much that dictates the course of our lives over which we have no control. We can of course do our best to limit the probability of contracting some horrible disease or illness, and therefore play the percentages. And yet, really good people by the best moral standards, who eat right and live healthy, can contract the most awful of illness. These thoughts may appear morbid, but they describe reality. We’ve each known this indifference and fundamental arbitrariness from birth – catapulted into existence with no choice as to our geography or time in human history, we set forth with the conditions of our lives quite plainly and starkly defined. We can of course choose to fill the gaps – what some philosophers call the god of the gaps – but I’ve never found that a helpful or reasonable idea.

What I have found really important in philosophy, is that one can think in this way and acknowledge the gap without succumbing to nihilism. In an odd way, there is also hope to be found. Human beings are meaning makers, if nothing else. One can discover a cool new mathematical object and dedicate the rest of his/her life to studying it. Why? Because it is interesting, exciting, and contributes to knowledge. Of course an asteroid could crash into the earth and wipe out that knowledge completely, but that doesn’t mean that such knowledge shouldn’t have existed in the first place. There is a fine line between recognising and embracing the arbitrary and meaningless nature of life on the grandest scales, and also creating meaning and enjoyment and pursuing interests – to take care of one another and provide better conditions for those of the future – in revolt of that very reality. I often come back to this thought, because within it is a deeply lovely lesson. As Weinberg put it, the deeper idea is ‘to make peace with a universe that doesn’t care what we do, and take pride in the fact that we care anyway.’

Autism genetic project paused

One last thought. Actually, on this issue there is much to say, but I will limit this entry to a simple expression of disappointment.

It was recently announced that an autism genetics study was paused due to backlash. From what I understand, criticism includes a failure to consult the autism community about the goals of the research and there are concerns that the research could be misused, which I assume to be a concern about eugenics. This is obviously a very complicated issue, and always there are ethical points that need to be considered; but I think the latter is a bit misunderstood and this is probably a failure of scientific communication. The genetics of autism is complex. For example, cystic fibrosis involves a single gene, so it easier to screen for it. And, when screen is done, it is has nothing to do with eugenics. In the case of autism, it is likely that there are multiple genes, if not thousands, such that prenatal screening seems incredably unlikely – not that this was an intended outcome of the research anyway. Furthermore, while I understand some have concerns about eradicating autism as though it were an illness, when, in fact, it also contributes many positive traits, from what I have read the proposed research has no such intentions.

As a person diagnosed with ASD, I am very much supportive of the research. I think that, as with anything, it is best to study and understand a phenomenon as deeply as possible. Indeed, we should strive to have more of a scientific understanding of autism. At the same time, I understand that some may have ethical concerns. In science, we always have to proceed cautiously and thoughtfully. It is important to hold all scientific research to the highest ethical standards, which should be a normative process, and to also think about all possible outcomes and potential future (mis)use; but, in this case, it seems mistrust was largely down to a failure in scientific communication.

*Edited for grammar and clarity.

Disenchantment and the anthropology of (re-)enchantment

I recently read an interesting essay by Egil Asprem entitled Dialectics of Darkness. Its original purpose was to serve as a review of The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences by Jason Josephson-Storm. I have yet to read Josephson-Storm’s book, so I shall have to reserve comment for another time. But I am certainly already familiar with its main subject and the history behind it, which is one reason I found great interest in navigating Asprem’s essay on the enlightenment (and thus, too, the notion of enlightenment reason) and the anthropology of active (re-)enchantment.

Additionally, following the publication of Asprem’s work, a number of other short essays and articles appeared directly in response. I list them as follows, The Enchanted World Today by Josephson-Storm with a reply by Asprem; The Reemergence of Magical Beliefs by Adam Possamai; and, finally, Models of (Re-)Enchantment by Dafydd Mills Daniel. 

The latter article by Daniel offers what I think to be a decent and certainly interesting reading of Bertrand Russell and Richard Dawkins, particularly their nuanced and deeply considerate approaches to naturalist philosophy as well as their attempts to satisfy the demands for ethical norms rooted in a naturalistic model. It is no secret that I enjoy a lot of Russell’s writing, and a short disclaimer would highlight at this point that Russell’s essay A Free Man’s Worship (referenced by Daniel) is perhaps one of my favourite pieces of humanist literature. However, while I think a review of the contents of Daniel’s contribution could, in itself, be the focus of an entire essay, I will save a few comments for the end.

In reading the essay by Asprem, and then the follow-up by Josephson-Storm with a reply by Asprem, one thing struck me in particular. Up to this point, I’ve tended to see the enlightenment not as some cultural totality or as a total cultural shift in a particular moment of time but as a historical process. From d’Alembert and Descartes to Leibniz, Pascal, and Newton (to name a few enlightenment thinkers) – I think there is also a kernel of insight to be retrieved from their respective notes on this issue. Indeed, for many notable enlightenment thinkers, not least Kant, there was no such enlightenment as a historical period that completely extinguished enchantment; it was instead perceived as an ongoing process of social, psychological or spiritual development in human history. (In fact, as an aside, I would be inclined to argue that the enlightenment philosophes are generally distinguishable by the very nature of their confrontation with the dichotomy between process vs. substance metaphysics, a point that I think is relevant here). The philosophes were or can be read as an attempt to formally describe this process and capture its positive implications. Indeed, I think for many enlightenment scholars this view would not be received contentiously. And so, I am inclined to perhaps warn against the view that the enlightenment should be seen as a period of total cultural disenchantment that may or may not have eventually regressed to an unfolding process of (re-)enchantment over time.

Moreover, an investigation into the objective validity of reason and of scientific knowledge discloses, I think, a sort of naivety that sometimes saturates our thinking with regards to the idea of the historical realisation of cultural enlightenment. In the essays cited above, Newton is mentioned because for all his mathematical and scientific genius he also studied alchemy. But when the enlightenment is seen as a process, which too must exist or manifest in given history with its own established domain of concepts and prejudices, the weight of this contradiction becomes more measurable. To generalise my complaint: it is no secret that many enlightenment thinkers, even some members of the radical enlightenment (as some scholars distinguish), maintained belief (personal or via organised religion) in God whilst championing secularised knowledge and humanistic values. However, I’m not convinced this should be seen as a failure or interpreted in the context of (re-)enchantment. Even today, I don’t think it is entirely false to say that some members of the scientific community maintain a belief in the superstitious, supernatural, or the divine. Famously, there were many significant and famous modern physicists who also carried superstitions beliefs or artefact beliefs in myth. Taking a broader view, we may objectively perceive and criticise such logical inconsistency, and perhaps for the benefit of reason take lesson from their example. One lesson to recognise is that myth – or perhaps its remnants depending on how we parameterise the theory – may persist in very organised or established ways as historical legacy or artefact. It is not at all controversial to say that human bias and prejudice may continue to exist despite evidence against whatever belief; and it would seem very appropriate to look at these issues in their sociohistorical context in order to establish as nuanced a view as possible.

So from my own reading and studies, my interpretation of the enlightenment project is as an ensemble of concepts not necessarily unique in category but realised uniquely in time. In a sense, my view has been shaped around the idea of the enlightenment as a unique realisation of concepts, the genesis of which dates back and through such pre-Socratic scholars as Anaxagoras and Democritus, Thucydides and the The Mytilenaean Debate, and then eventually the philosophical considerations of Plato onward. Such concepts include, in modern language, basic ideas of reason as set against myth and political realism.

In many of the grandfathers and fathers of modern science we see this much more in terms of a general shaping of epistemology, however much residues of myth and enchantment may be found (from one philosopher to the next), given that human history is saturated in the perpetuation of prejudice. Although such a course of discussion requires a fuller essay in itself, what I am trying to say, in different words, is how the enlightenment may be viewed as a certain continuation in the historical generation of ideas and that epistemology is perhaps the best site to study its development. In philosophy, particularly or especially philosophy of the subject, this may be expressed by way of a study of the genesis of the modern subject, which some trace as far back as Homer’s Odyssey. Perhaps more insightful is Bertrand Russell’s study of knowledge in The Problem’s of Philosophy (1912) in which, rather than considerations of metaphysics, epistemology is brought directly into focus. From this view – namely, from the study of epistemology – the genesis of well-known enlightenment values and ideas appear in different forms, under different guises, and through manipulations of different frameworks in the very seeds of philosophical thought in classical antiquity forward.

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave can very much be read as an investigation into epistemology not so dissimilar to the enquiry of enlightenment philosophes into the possibility of knowledge – rational and scientific or otherwise. The leading question for the enlightenment may be stated, ‘What even constitutes knowledge, let alone rational and objective knowledge?’. As a profound site of investigation, often ignored or not taken serious enough, it is one that can be traced back to pre-Socratic study which was, I am inclined to argue, eventually refocused with advent of the first Medieval universities and their systematic introductions of Aristotelian language, then in the humanist renaissance of the 14th and 15th centuries, and finally in the 18th century philosophes.

On the other hand, although the enlightenment project did not emerge simply out of nothing, there is something unique about it which continues to draw serious interest and consideration. In a sense, I think it may also be viewed a lexicalized concept. As such, it is unique in what it represents as a particular unification of ideas and values realised in such a way as to be epistemologically revolutionary. Taking this view, I think we can also begin to delineate different epistemologies and their significance with respect to the prospect of enlightenment knowledge.

Arguably, one of the last great philosophical efforts to answer the fundamental question of the status of knowledge and the possibility of knowing – and, really, the status and legitimacy of abstract concepts – was in the work of Kant. Interestingly, I think it can be strongly argued that Kant’s investigations, and likewise also Hume’s skepticism in which Kant seeks to overcome, are much more relevant to philosophical systems of knowledge than scientific systems of knowledge. There is, at a point, a divergence between traditional philosophical epistemologies and scientific epistemologies. For Kant, and also Hume, neither seem to be able to do justice to the unique epistemological domain of scientific enquiry, which, I think was clearly realised in the 20th century to be very different than the general philosophical domain of enquiry. Although, in my opinion, Kant comes extremely close in places, I would be inclined to expand that, at least in a Platonic sense of conceptual space, scientific knowledge can be cleanly and clearly differentiated from purely subjective reasoning, and that while Kant’s response to Hume’s skepticism is not entirely satisfactory, the latter can be overcome through explanation within scientific systems of reasoning. But with these matters put to one side, the deeper point is that I think one can see clearly this delineation of epistemologies not only in the progression of modern science but also in what it has to say about the prospects of reason and human rationality.

Mention has already been made of Russell. It would be terrific to write more about his works in both a critical and non-critical way, because his 1912 investigations are some of the best when it comes to late-modern encircling of these differences in epistemology by way of fairly systematic investigations into the nature of knowledge. That said, I think some of the most illuminating sites of reflection can also be found in the writings of many of the great 20th century physicists, who concerned themselves with such longstanding historical debates. Einstein, to offer one example, is noted to have spent time thinking about epistemological questions and engaging with debates on the nature and status of knowledge.


These essays, especially the one by Asprem which ignites a wonderful chain of contributions and perspectives, are undoubtedly stimulating. The one thing that stands out to me, given the above reflections, is the risk that one may easily take a viewpoint that is too binary, lacking the complexity of a systems view of human society and the general types of behaviour it fosters. Disenchantment and re-enchantment seem less like fundamental processes than epiphenomena. In many ways, I think the antimony often defined between disenchantment and enchantment can be broken down into very basic elements of the epistemological study of reality versus appearance, from which Russell for example delineates two forms of knowledge: by description and by direct acquaintance. The latter is very much akin to the best of existential phenomenology of the 19th and 20th centuries, in which intimate description of the phenomenal world of direct experience and sense data is given. Often these movements neglect the abstract and theoretical or are simply unable to conceptualise it. Russell, on the other hand, is able to substantiate the validity of logicism and logical reasoning – indeed, we may even extend his analysis today to theoretical knowledge – whilst maintaining ample recognition of the experiential and the phenomenological. Preservation of the recognition of the type of knowledge by direct acquaintance is important in terms of secularised ethical and moral foundations; but doing so while maintaining a concept of the objective and not regressing to subjectivism is no easy task. Much of contemporary post-modern philosophy, for instance, sinks into the muddied confusion of pure subjectivism and at a great cost.

But if we decide that the disenchantment-enchantment model is not satisfactory, what I want to say is that, as I have been alluding, perhaps the more fundamental site of enquiry is the study of epistemology, from which any and all discrepancy between disenchantment and (re)-enchantment may emerge. And, in few words, I think this and the paragraph immediately above describe why Daniel’s essay touches on something very important in his reference to the compelling arguments by Russell and also Dawkins, respectively. Intentionally or not, they both present fairly convincing approaches principled, firstly, on the foundations of knowledge and the validity of objective knowledge. From this, and as modern science would also indicate, (re-)enchantment is reduced to the domain of cognitive human bias, dogma and superstition; the persistence of myth played out in daily human life has its roots here, just as the violence and irrational ideologies that define the contemporary political domain are often a projection of the unreasonable on the basis of the prejudiced nature of the subject’s interaction with the world. If, as some scholars describe, the contemporary political domain may be generally depicted as a polarised space for the practice of bias and prejudice, with the establishment of echo chambers and irrational subjective pursuits of ideological ends as opposed to rational, disclosing, truth-giving processes – I take it from the view of Russell that such a space is merely the continuation pathological epistemologies.

What is also significant about both Russell and Dawkins is that, rather than completely rejecting the human existential inclination to search for meaning, it is acknowledged and reformulated positively. They argue that there is no deeper source of meaning than that which is naturally disclosed within the epistemological domain of science, and that through science and its many lessons the human need and thirst for meaning may be quenched, even in the face of our own cosmic insignificance. Unlike romanticism for example, in which meaning and inspiration is deduced purely subjectively and with emphasis on the primacy of the individual, which completely prefigures the notion of the subject by neglecting the objective; what we see in the better parts of Russell and Dawkins is a positive, evolving notion of enlightenment meaning-giving process that in many ways may begin to answer Camus’ deep (and certainly valid) conundrum.

For these reasons, I agree and sympathise with Daniel’s assertion that, in many ways, Russell and Dawkins successfully carve a path a forward, transcending the pitfalls of the romantics so often tied to (re-)enchantment and anti-modern movements, whilst preserving the existential depth of what it means to be human and in search for meaning. Through this lens, I think the picture of total enlightenment disenchantment from the perspective of cultural anthropology becomes something of a myth. Allow me to explain.

In certain strands of contemporary philosophy, the projection of some complete realisation of reason and the crystallisation of rational society (such as in Weber’s construction) would seem to rely in some way on a view of cultural enlightenment as a sort of final development. In that sense, it too would seem predicated in places on the myth of cultural enlightenment and hence the achievement of solid rational outcome. But I would argue that history has witnessed neither, and even the best examples of contemporary society fail satisfy the demands of both concepts.

Furthermore, many of the critical philosophes of the 20th century, most of which were rooted in or indebted to the enlightenment, placed great importance on reason, its historical genesis, and the ongoing struggle in its realisation. That is to say that the genesis of the modern subject was a central point of focus, and with this focus many provocative debates on knowledge and reason may be found. Crucially, the concept of enlightenment reason is not perceived as a given. The concept of enlightenment reason may have historically crystallised in a unique way – or at least some framework was formalised to better describe it – and hence concepts of rational society may have begun to spring forth. But we learn in the critical philosophies that the parameters in which reason and notions of rational (thus disenchanted) society may be historically realised can be more or less pathological, and that generally in the social and communicative domain it is reason’s absence that continually defines humanity’s historical struggle. In Weber’s construction, then, one could argue that the concept of reason is essentially utilised in a less than rational way. There is, in other words, an ongoing classical distinction between form and content, and their lack of synthesis, that I would argue underlies much of the struggle for reason that continues to the present day.

Such a viewpoint reinforces the idea – indeed, the acute observation – that we do not presently live in a rational, scientific society. Evidence of this can easily be found in the very structure of contemporary debates and the issues they concern. Instead, it would seem much more akin to a society that uses notions of reason or quasi-systems of reason and science at its convenience, without complete subscription to its logical and rational demands. So, in a way, I think there is a deeper truth to Josephson-Storm’s study. I would say that some enlightenment disenchantment has been achieved but only up to a point within a particular epistemological domain that exists within broader social-pathological and enchanted parameters. I think the subtlety and nuance of such a viewpoint carries forward what may have been deemed the radical enlightenment based largely on the assessment that, following a lexicalized concept of the enlightenment, the reality of the process of enlightenment reason is much more akin to a struggle for reason and for a future rational society against the forces of its absence.

One last comment, to conclude this already lengthy engagement. If the enlightenment is seen more as a unique configuration of concepts and ideas, as part of a larger history, which triggered a process (against myth, prejudice, etc.) in the development of reason, science and ultimately fundamental secularised values – from this point of view, reason and human rationality may be perceived within the scope of a theory of society that recognises how, and in what way, such important concepts must be socially fostered. The notions of disenchantment and enchantment, if the binary is correct to construct, discloses a tremendous conflict: namely, the legacy of historical and cognitive biases, in addition to general irrational human tendencies and inclinations which reject the objective. That a society may, in recent time, promote itself as disenchanted only to then be said to have regressed to (re)-enchantment and myth – or only for (re)-enchantment and myth to continue propagate – would seem one of the central themes of Dialectic of Enlightenment. At the same time,  modern science continues to push the boundaries of human thought, and its special epistemological domain of enquiry is generally irrefutable. The influence and demands of enlightenment reason continues to challenge, even scientists, to normatively check one’s biases and to continue to struggle for a clearer recognition of objective knowledge within the historical context of constraints of that knowledge at any given time.

However, in that the promise of enlightenment reason – the promise of reason and human rationality – may exist and yet simultaneously be folded into a human social world of continued and renewed enchantment – and hence, myth and the irrational confluence with the rational – this is akin to acknowledging that differentiated spheres of society may each be affected differently. It is this fragile and precarious existence of reason and its unrelenting possibility of betrayal that seems to be one of the essential features of today’s social world, so much so that in continued enchantment reason can take on the appearance of a disfigured form that is, in fact, absent of any rational content.

The struggle is to see reason and unreason, solid as the ground beneath one’s feet or as the material objects in one’s daily life. Even those who believe they command reason often, in their certainty, fall guilty of its opposite. It is notable that most major cultures and religions to have crystallised in human history possess a concept of good and bad, in moral philosophical terms; light and dark in religious language; or reason and unreason, in epistemological terms. With no exception, none have reconciled these ideas however much one may faithfully believe the contrary. This is as close to an objective view that may be accessed, and almost always whatever lesson one may wish to glean such fleeting objectivity can quickly turns subjective through the simple demand of interpretation. This was as much a struggle for Plato as Aristotle and the 18th century philosophes. In the modern lens, it was as much a struggle for Kant and Hegel as Adorno or alternatively the opposing attempt to formulate the post-modern.

One thing I can speak to is that in mathematics, ideally, we follow the systematic through to the result, and then we ascertain whether the logic is true or not. But this space of concepts and of thought would seem different to the world of social occupations, in which concepts – like policy – can be reasonable, unreasonable, or both simultaneously. This is why there is no realised fundamental moral theory, because the space of concepts is saturated in the subjective stuff of daily human life. The point is not to say that the objective is in accessible, but oftentimes its fleeting and precarious nature cannot be trusted in the eyes of human beings. Even when solid objects are attempted to formed in words, such as God, or in symbols, such as peace, one can easily feign through solid and rigid representations the opposite of its conceptual substance. People have killed in the name of religion or the idea of a just politics without any awareness of the indignation of the contradiction. I think here, too, Russell and Dawkins serve important lessons and insight as we continue to reflect on the importance of the enlightenment and its realisation.

**Image: Projection of the Enlightenment by Anshu Kumar.

An Engagement with Dialectic of Enlightenment

[Originally published by Heathwood Press – 10 July, 2015]

Note: This is the second essay of a collection by R.C. Smith that examines certain key concepts of Adorno’s social philosophy, with a mind toward discerning which of these concepts are still alive and relevant to 21st Century critical theory. Heathwood will be publishing each essay of the collection online, as a series. The series will also be edited and published as a book sometime in 2016/2017, complete with additional notes, a few new essays, as well as a lengthy introduction and afterward.
By R.C. Smith


In spite of the fact that one of the primary aims of Dialectic of Enlightenment (1964/2002) is not to do away with the liberating force of the Enlightenment,[1] it nevertheless remains important that we address concerns about the totalizing propensity of Horkheimer and Adorno’s “domination of nature” (Naturbeherrschung) thesis,[2] which threatens to undermine whatever prospect of a positive concept of the enlightenment[3] that might available in their work.

For the engaged reader, it may be recalled that in the first essay of this series I discussed the general problem of Adorno’s totalizing of theory and transformation. Although this same point will resurface time and again throughout the following article, it should be noted that Dialectic of Enlightenment presents us with a more particular issue of what I describe as theoretical totalizing, one which evokes an intriguing question regarding the validity of Adorno and Horkheimer’s theory of domination, among other things.

My aim in this work is to therefore address this issue and several others, focusing discussion mostly around the dialectic of enlightenment and Adorno and Horkheimer’s “domination of nature” thesis. In the process, I intend to consider what I see as some of the more fresh challenges against Adorno, providing in turn a reading which I argue assuages a few recent points of critique while supporting the advancement of Dialectic of Enlightenment’s key arguments.

1) Critical Social Systems Theory and the Existential Factor

To begin, in Dialectic of Enlightenment it is without question that domination is perceived as the overwhelming trend with regards to the practice and development of modern and historic society. And yet, while Adorno and Horkheimer’s account offers us vital insights regarding a critical theory of society and the broad social-historical basis from which the production and reproduction of social and natural domination (systemically speaking) might emerge, recent criticisms in Critical Ecologies and elsewhere[4] evoke the following question: does Adorno and Horkheimer’s seminal and widely acknowledged study allow for enough space to recognise the cracks within a dominant and coercive social history, for the practice and experimentation of a non-dominant and non-coercive form of organisation? Ultimately, it is this question which reveals, for me, to what degree Adorno and Horkheimer’s account might possess truly progressive critical capacities for the benefit of supporting both foundational critique and the prefigurative development[5] of an emancipatory social world.

Admittedly, there are several particularly problematic passages and formulations in Dialectic of Enlightenment and elsewhere in Adorno’s work, which, arguably, risks putting his overall project in doubt. One of the biggest issues, at least with regards to Dialectic of Enlightenment, is what Adrian Wilding describes as the book’s “positing of a transhistorical will to mastery of nature on the part of the human species.”[6] This issue comes into particular focus throughout the Critical Ecologies anthology, which I already introduced in the first essay of this series.

So what is the problem about this apparent transhistorical will to mastery of nature found in Dialectic of Enlightenment? In Critical Ecologies we read a suspicion, for example, that “the domination of nature”, when considered in the context of contemporary environmental crises, is inclined to emphasize the anthropogenic – as in anthropogenic climate change – as opposed to a critique of concrete social relations – i.e., the social, historical and economic forces behind humans’ relation with each other and the natural world.[7] This suspicion or accusation not only concerns key theses presented in Dialectic of Enlightenment, but also arguments in other important works by Adorno, including Negative Dialectics (1966/2004), Minima Moralia (1957/2001), and Aesthetic Theory (1970/1997). The general thrust of such a line of criticism can be summarised, for instance, in the opening paragraph of Adrian Wilding’s review of Critical Ecologies:

Not only in Adorno and Horkheimer’s writings of the 1940s but also in the post-war writings of Marcuse, the idea of nature having been controlled or dominated in such a way that would react back destructively on the species was predicted with uncanny accuracy. But while this observation points to the topicality of Frankfurt School reflections on nature, it also represents a problem, because the idea of “anthropogenic climate change”, an idea in many respects reminiscent of Dialectic of Enlightenment’s key concept of “the domination of nature” (Naturbeherrschung) is frustratingly abstract. While emphasising the “anthropogenic” may laudably help persuade a sceptical public that our current environmental crisis is no “natural” phenomenon but something dangerously unprecedented in the planet’s history, it falls far short of being analytically concrete and thus politically useful. Because it lays the blame at the feet of an abstraction – man (anthropos) – and lacks any sense of the historical, social and economic forces that shape humans’ interactions with the natural world and which have led to the current crisis. In fact, to adapt what Marx said in criticism of Feuerbach, the abstract Anthropos is really the ensemble of social relations: particular men and women embedded in definite historical and geographical contexts and driven by particular economic imperatives to exploit their environment.[8]

I take Wilding’s criticisms here, and also those from the various authors in Critical Ecologies, to present an ultimately fresh line of debate which raises important and intriguing questions about the continued relevance of the Frankfurt School – or Adorno in particular, as he is the main focus of my series – not only in relation to contemporary environmental crises, but also more generally. In the course of their collective project, there is certainly a lot of focus in Critical Ecologies on Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment. If one can be so general, one of the main arguments has to do with, as Wilding summarised, what is perceived as the problematic status of the “metahistorical” element of Adorno and Horkheimer’s “domination of nature” thesis. Even if only implicit at times, it is this point that many of the authors in Critical Ecologies seem to want to come to grips with, not to mention what tends to be seen as the “simplistic and often one-sided aspect of [Adorno and Horkheimer’s overall] analysis.”[9] Although there is much to be said and systematically worked through with regards to the several fresh points of critique in Critical Ecologies, in this essay I will limit myself only to a few, while reserving others for later articles in my series.

Picking up on Wilding’s criticism, firstly, I find his concern that Dialectic of Enlightenment sways toward the anthropogenic, or, indeed, a sort of anthropocentrism, to be understandable. It is understandable in the sense that, when one considers certain passages in Dialectic of Enlightenment, it would seem that Adorno and Horkheimer, in their theory of the transhistorical will to dominate nature, are inclined towards laying the blame at the feet of the abstract Anthropos.

On the other hand, I find this line of criticism to also be potentially avoidable, if we consider the “domination of nature” through the lens of an existential critique. Moreover, what I would like to propose in this essay is a certain exercise in critical retrieval. Following the path already laid out in Lambert Zuidervaart’s Social Philosophy after Adorno (2007) and David Sherman’s Sartre and Adorno: The Dialectics of Subjectivity (2007), I would like to revitalize the potentially revolutionary transhistorical dimension of the dialectic of enlightenment by way of making explicit connections to an existentialist line argument. In another way, I would like to intervene in current debates by arguing that the transhistorical dimension of Adorno and Horkheimer’s dialectic of enlightenment possesses a deeply revolutionary insight; it is only that this revolutionary insight is hindered by the tendency of their “domination of nature” thesis to end in abstraction. By grounding their thesis with regards to the “domination of nature” in an explicitly existential account of Adorno’s notion of self-preservation drives, for instance, I argue that this concern of the presence of abstract Anthropos fades. I also argue that from the basis of this intervention, might we consider a more thoroughly synchronized account of the dialectic of enlightenment in conjunction with a simultaneous structural, systemic critique of the economic forces currently driven toward exploitation of the natural world. Allow me to explain.

i) The existential dimension

To strike the point quick and early, the main argument I would like to present in response to the account of Dialectic of Enlightenment that sees Adorno and Horkheimer lay blame at the feet of an abstraction – i.e., man (anthropos) – is based on two things: 1) my claim that an existential dimension needs to be more thoroughly developed in order to ground Adorno and Horkheimer’s main thesis and 2), why an existential critique of the “domination of nature” highlights the importance of preserving a transhistorical account of domination, as opposed to discarding such an account altogether.

Moreover, I appreciate the concerns presented in Critical Ecologies that Dialectic of Enlightenment moves ever further away from Marx. I also appreciate the fear that, in Adorno and Horkheimer’s analysis concerning the “domination of nature”, there’s a significant risk in losing sight of the importance of a fundamental critique of the social, historical and economic forces that help shape human beings’ relationship with nature and each other. However, with that said, I should like to raise an additional concern. To reject entirely what is labeled as the “anthropogenic” element of the dialectic of enlightenment in favour of a purely structural or economic critique, ultimately this results in an opposite extreme of a one-sided account of the incredibly complex and many-sided issues we face with regards to contemporary crises – a complex and many-sided reality that Adorno’s social philosophy as a whole goes some way to revealing. Furthermore, as I have frequently argued in a number of other places: what is required today is a far more holistic, multidimensional and interdisciplinary line of study and critique. To consider the ensemble of social relations behind contemporary crises – the social, historical, cultural and economic context of forces that help shape human relations – must one not also consider, to whatever degree, the anthropogenic dimension of that very social reality? Is it not possible to consider the anthropogenic reality of existing crises in the context of holistic social, structural critique? On my reading of Dialectic of Enlightenment, it is clear that the “domination of nature” thesis – the very basis of this social reality, including a critique of the modern genesis of what is termed instrumental reason – refers simultaneously to the systemic workings of capitalism as well as one of the most basic existential theses regarding human fear and anxiety (i.e., Adorno’s notion of ‘self-preservation gone wild’). Or at least I claim that this is the case, if one rejects the idea that Adorno and Horkheimer are concerned with abstract Anthropos or a purely anthropogenic view. No doubt there are problems when it comes to their analysis concerning the “domination of nature”. But I argue that by inserting an explicitly existential line of critique into their analysis, what we ultimately achieve is the construction of a more concrete bridge that connects their transhistorical thesis and a critique of the systemic workings of late-capitalism, therefore alleviating some of the recent criticisms their work has faced.

How might I qualify this? To be sure, one of my tasks in this paper will be to develop just such an account of Dialectic of Enlightenment. But to start, as I push toward a more substantial engagement with Adorno and Horkheimer’s analysis, it will prove beneficial if I sketch out my position a little more and introduce a brief discussion on this notion of I what I shall describe as the “existential dimension” of the dialectic of enlightenment.

I would like to go on the limb here and say that the highest achievement of humanistic psychology[10] and existential-phenomenology (the latter of which represents, for me, Sartre and onward), not to mention the progressive line of study of 4th wave psychoanalysis after Kohut, can be applied to Dialectic of Enlightenment, supporting and even corroborating the practical arguments found within this work, while also affirming the concrete existence of the existential dimension I claim lies beneath Adorno and Horkheimer’s “domination of nature” thesis. I shall move forward from the basis of my research in these different areas, as I make my claim toward the need to expose or uncover the full potential of the transhistorical dimension of Dialectic of Enlightenment.

Theoretically and clinically, moreover, the existential fear or anxiety – the angst toward diversity, divergence, and the unknown[11] rooted in the basic experiential level of the human relation with nature, with the phenomenal world – which is found in humanistic psychology, not to mention across other disciplines, including anthropology[12], is also explicitly present in certain key passages of Dialectic of Enlightenment as well as in Adorno’s thorough treatment of a critique of the genesis of the bourgeois subject.[13] The basic premise is simple.

Driven by a deeply pitted sense of fear or existential terror (as I have already discussed throughout much of my past existential-phenomenological studies), the general thrust of Adorno and Horkheimer’s critique is that enlightenment has been betrayed and the false copy of social reason (what they call instrumental reason) or, better yet, the bourgeois subject, displays a profound anxiety toward nature. Dialectic of Enlightenment opens by stressing this very point: “Enlightenment, understood in the widest sense as the advance of thought, has always aimed at liberating human beings from fear and installing them as masters.”[14] What is the practical and theoretical basis of this fear? Admittedly, Adorno and Horkheimer only offer glimpses of an explanation. But, if we consider an existential line of critique, then, in the simplest of terms, it is an existential fear or anxiety against the experience of an indifferent universe. Generally speaking, it is also a fear of the unknown; a sense of angst against that which cannot be controlled (i.e., death); and an anxiety toward one’s precarious dependence on the natural world.[15] In other places, such as in humanistic psychology, accounts of this existential dimension of human experience is expressed as a fear or anxiety against diversity; against the process of time, duration and development; and the possibility of ‘otherwise’ (i.e., the basic reality of ‘change’).[16] It is a fear or anxiety, to give yet another account, that has a very real concrete experiential dimension, which certainly also relates to one’s emotional and psychological existence.[17] This general existential level of fear or anxiety, which I described in the past as being born in response to a world not up to the task of “absolute orientation”[18], is also social and ultimately becomes political. It is a general anxiety or angst which, as the best of existential-phenomenology shows, can be projected or transferred on to almost anything: from the very concept of the Other to a fear of social-political, economic change.[19] Such is the power or, revolutionary insight, of the existential thesis: it at once penetrates the deepest levels of human experience, while also acknowledging the role existing social, historical, and economic contexts might play in reinforcing fear, terror and the increasing ‘closedness’ or repression of the subject.

To be sure: in highlighting the existential dimension which I claim implicitly underlines Adorno and Horkheimer’s dialectic of enlightenment, at no point am I putting emphasis on any sort of strictly or purely anthropogenic view of contemporary environmental or social crises. Quite the contrary. The argument instead is that this existential dimension is incredibly important when it comes to understanding the historic genesis of the institutional structures and systems of modern capitalism – as well as the genesis of the bourgeois subject which reinforces those structures and systems – and, therefore, in turn, the development and even broad acceptance or denial of contemporary crises in society today.

But as it stands, my account can be taken a step further: the importance of inserting an existential level of critique in the dialectic of enlightenment is because, apart from grounding Adorno and Horkheimer’s analysis, it also helps us explain the social aspect which finally comes into being. Indeed, it is no coincidence that one of the more basic arguments presented in Dialectic of Enlightenment and, certainly, in Adorno’s hypothesis with regards to the psychology of civilization, is that the irrational fear or anxiety described above ultimately translates along social lines. How does the domination of nature or, at this point at least, the drive to dominate nature, translate into dominant patterns in social life? According to Adorno, and as I will discuss later, the domination of human beings’ natural environment on a systemic level was made possible by controlling human beings’ inner nature, which thus ultimately leads to a limitation of the human horizon to self-preservation and power.[20]

…the justifying idea of a divine commandment to subdue the earth and to have dominion over all creatures reduces the sensitivity of civilized humans for the conditions of their violent domination of nature organized in and by society. Finally, the internalized violent domination of nature also facilitates the use of force in social life. Adorno’s hypothesis with regard to a psychology of civilization means that man’s brute force against nature encourages him to use violence against other human beings as well.[21]

In the most simple of accounts, we read in Dialectic of Enlightenment how the impulse toward domination was first ignited in response to the raw precarity of the human condition, by which I mean human beings’ precarious dependence on the natural world, which ultimately translates into a reactionary (or irrational) course of action or praxis. Deeply entwined, in Adorno and Horkheimer’s view, in the historical human project for “progress” and “development”, the drive to overcome precarious existence – and thus also Myth – developed not only along epistemological lines, but also anthropological and cosmological ones.[22] In other words, it developed along the entire spectrum of philosophy. This insight is key, in fact, when it comes to grasping Adorno’s social philosophy as whole, which, in following Zuidervaart, I don’t mean as “a subdiscipline of philosophy that can be neatly arrayed alongside other subdisciplines such as epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics.” The foundational element to Adorno’s entire oeuvre, what gives his project its revolutionary thrust, is precisely the holistic nature of his critique and its many intersections. Thus by “social philosophy” I mean to describe “the entirety of philosophy as it addresses the challenges and prospects of society as a whole. As Adorno demonstrated, such a philosophy is inherently interdisciplinary.”[23] Because Adorno’s critique in Dialectic of Enlightenment and in other works wants to encircle the negative bases of the modern civilising process, his social philosophy “interacts with other disciplines in order to undertake a dialectical critique of society, and it necessarily crosses the boundaries of epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics, even as it address topics within each of these fields.”[24] But what ultimately grounds Adorno’s critical social philosophy, considering that his critical theory primarily comes from the “third-person perspective” as opposed to a phenomenological one,[25] is how the “general structure” of his project is committed to a dialectical standpoint regarding the particular and the individual.[26] As Sherman has endeavoured to show, Adorno’s social philosophy is not incompatible with (Sartrean) existential-phenomenology, even in spite of the difference of in angle of approach (i.e., first – and third-person perspectives).[27]

On this understanding, Adorno’s (and Horkheimer’s) argument that the Enlightenment has been betrayed and society has regressed to Myth not only through thought, but ultimately through the development of structure and systems as well, is far from being purely anthropogenic. If anything, it is existential. And in it being existential, or, in our inserting an explicitly existential thesis into their hypothesis, Dialectic of Enlightenment opens up history to the reader, revealing what I will later describe as the “hidden trend” behind the production and reproduction of dominant social systems.[28]

Additionally, even though I would argue that a significant aspect of Adorno and Horkheimer’s “domination of nature” thesis already exists in the existential-phenomenological tradition; what gives Dialectic of Enlightenment its actual social-critical thrust or capacity is precisely in how it translates this basic existential thesis socially. In my own work, I mapped this out along phenomenological lines by first looking at the very basis of such existential fear or anxiety or threatenedness, tracing the connection between the anxious human drive to seek a (false) sense of “ultimate security” in a world not up to the task of the absolute, and the social organising of “totalized experiential orientations” or, more practically, “totalized worldviews”.[29] Contained within this study, relying to a great extent on Dialectic of Enlightenment, is a foundational ideology critique and an attempt to understand the construction of dominant social systems from the earliest irreducible point of organisational development. In my most recent book on a critique of Slavoj Žižek’s Lacanian theory of the subject, for example, I offered a critical review of his notion of the “symbolic order” against my existentially-rooted, Adorno-inspired notion of “totalized experiential orientations”.[30] The point was almost entirely identical to the one I am making now: that in response to existential fear or anxiety, human beings push toward totality – that is, toward securing an “ultimate vision of life” or “dominant systemic framework” (note the theological character of language here).[31] In this push for a (false) sense of “ultimate security” evidenced by the earliest development of Idols and, indeed, in Myth, social systems were born based on the principle of the hegemonic integration of all dimensions of life under the pretense of a socially constructed absolute (or absolutes).

Later I will expand on this point in a discussion on the historic Idol of Fertility. For the time being, with regards to Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, the connection between the above existential account and their central thesis is quite clear. If what motivates today’s disaster is a blind patter of domination driven by irrational fear[32], what we end up with is not a purely anthropogenic view of contemporary crises, but an extremely progressive and concrete account regarding the development of crisis capitalism and its systemic reproduction. Moreover, as Zuidervaart summarises:

According to Horkheimer and Adorno, the source of today’s disaster is a pattern of blind domination, domination in a triple sense: the domination of nature by human beings, the domination of nature within human beings, and, in both of these forms of domination, the domination of some human beings by others. What motivates such triple domination is an irrational fear of the unknown: “Humans believe themselves free of fear when there is no longer anything unknown. This has determined the path of demythologization … . Enlightenment is mythical fear radicalized” (DE 11). In an unfree society whose culture pursues so-called progress no matter what the cost, that which is “other,” whether human or nonhuman, gets shoved aside, exploited, or destroyed. The means of destruction may be more sophisticated in the modern West, and the exploitation may be less direct than outright slavery, but blind, fear-driven domination continues, with ever greater global consequences. The all-consuming engine driving this process is an ever-expanding capitalist economy.[33]

To pick up on this point and evoke an old thesis of mine: this pattern of blind domination exists both in enlightenment and pre-enlightenment society – it extends beyond the agricultural turn and is evidenced in (pre)historical formations, albeit often in different forms.[34] On the same token, I have argued in the past that the very reductionism of modern economic thought – i.e., to reduce the phenomenal world to the status of mere economic ‘objects’ – is an example of ideology in its most primitive form (a point I will expand on later). The reason I suggest this is mainly due to how, as far as I can tell, in Myth there is a similar epistemological leaning toward the reduction of and abstraction from phenomena (toward absolutism in what is called modern instrumental economic rationality.

ii) The Hidden Trend

However, the point that I would like to pick up on in these opening notes, is how the fundamental drive to secure dominion over all dimensions of natural life (i.e., Adorno’s notion of ‘self-preservation gone wild’) ultimately reduces the sensitivity of human civilization, which thus assists in not only establishing but also maintaining the type of institutionalised social conditions that manifest violently as the very principle of mass (social) organisation today. Think of the insistence on hierarchy, for instance, which permeates and pervades everywhere. For me, this is ideology at its utmost irreducible point: i.e., the hidden trend of society based on the existential principle of domination. In my opinion, this view helps us explain from a foundational perspective not only the developmental drives of capitalist society as well as other forms of dominant society. This line of critical analysis highlights the manner in which the modern social universe is generally defined by the mind bound in its attempts to capture the absolute conceptual determination of matter, wherein the very notion of human sovereignty becomes enmeshed or bound up in the epistemology of ‘absolute knowing’ which, when externalised socially, becomes a solid nucleus of power. In other words, rather than dubbing the “fundamental dimension of ideology” as “a kind of realty which is possible only on condition that the individuals partaking in it are not aware of its proper logic” , which Slavoj Žižek does in The Sublime Object of Ideology (1989), we should look to a less abstract theory of ideology – one which is rooted in a conception of domination based on the consciously self-deceptive characteristics of the human project (i.e., Sartre’s notion of “bad faith”)driven by the existential need for a sense of ‘dominant certainty’ and ‘ultimate security’. In history, as I have argued, such a view of ideology is affirmed time and again.[35]

Besides, what is the power of capitalism if not in how as a total system it gives one a sense of ultimate security, of knowing where one stands in the world by way of its absolute relation to all things? Does such a view not help explain why, in the midst of deep crises, a large part of the general populous fervently defend the existing social-economic system? Does Walter Benjamin’s view of “capitalism as religion” not strike the same chord here? Additionally, what was ideological about past communist attempts to install its own social system? Was it not the very basis of the authoritarian logic employed: that people will once again have to adapt to the new system in place. Is this not the essence of social domination?

I remember speaking to a young student at my local University one day after a seminar, and they mentioned to me a paper they were writing about failed communistic politics in the middle-east. The view presented, along with an empirical study on communist politics in Afghanistan for instance, was fascinating to me. Most importantly, it affirmed the point I am striking here: the ideology of the worst of past communist projects was revealed, in part, in the logic of and belief in a sort of top-down ‘total social integration’ which forces a more or less totalised single (ideological) model onto society without considering the differences of people’s needs in each particular sociohistorical-cultural context. Here, the universal is just as damaged as it is in global capitalism or the sham of representative democracy in the era of neoliberalism. A single vision of a ‘revolutionary alternative’ is forced onto every society, coercively and even sometimes self-dominantly, bending people at will and creating an entirely new ‘subordinate populous’. Regarding this last point, wasn’t Erich Fromm correct in his critique of communist party politics that the disaster waiting to happen is rooted in the (unhealthy and ideological) dependency that surfaces between the fetishisation of organisation – of the (false) bond between people and Leader, people and Party? When the Leader or Party is taken away, when ‘revolution’ happens and fades, ultimately chaos ensues in the form of the re-emergence of the same fundamental antagonisms of ‘(bad) society’ that the revolution sought to overthrow because, prefiguratively speaking, the Revolution was ultimately based on a lie of what it truly wanted to be.[36]

Keeping to the main path, capitalism can be considered along the same lines in the sense that in many quarters of society it is held as a functional, totalised worldview.

Consider, for instance, the most fervent believers in capitalism as an economic system. I recall several conversations I’ve had with people, who I would consider representative of a larger portion of the general populous, in which an unwavering faith in the capitalist system is held. In these discussions, no matter how much evidence was presented against the system of capital – no matter how many shocking examples of systemic oppression, corruption, inequality, violence and environmental destruction I provided – the idea that capitalism itself was the problem was almost always rejected. The fervent belief in the existing economic system leads one to ask: just what exactly is one holding onto? Is it not reasonable, in confronting the blind faith which pervades contemporary capitalist society, to posit an existential hypothesis? Is it not reasonable to attempt to explain the very reality of this blind faith – this measure of “bad faith” as Sartre would call it – through an examination of the presence of fear and anxiety, of psychological and emotional insecurity, and/or the practical fact that for many people, to challenge capitalism as a system is to challenge capitalism as the basis in which one’s orientation in life has developed – in which one’s self is so deeply entwined?

Along the same lines, this is more or less the general point that Simon Clarke presented at the end of his paper on the ideological foundations of neoliberalism, in which Clarke describes how the model of neoliberalism is essentially forced onto the world.[37] In truth, we can encircle the underlying problem in any number of ways. But ultimately, not only does capitalism represent the (global) system of absolute identity (i.e., Adorno’s critique of identity) on behalf of the concept of ‘universal exchange’ (Adorno again), which really is the heart of the notion of “totalized administered society” (Adorno again). It also represents a particular mode of subjectivity that is inherently dominating and totalitarian.

Although Adorno’s approach may not look very much like Western Marxism or traditional Hegelian-Marxism in places – perhaps instead moving closer to Nietzsche, Freud and Weber – is it not demanded of contemporary critical theory to simultaneously consider a critique of systems and structures as well as a critique of subjectivities? That which should be advanced in Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, is precisely that which is currently at risk of being abandoned. Wilding is right, moreover, that Marx’s critique has to be a bigger part of the picture. But it is not as though the dialectic of relations of production and productive forces is entirely absent in Adorno and Horkheimer’s study. In fact, one could argue that a critique of labour is very much present in the dialectic of enlightenment and, indeed, in their analysis of the “domination of nature”. Additionally, I do not agree that the dialectic of the domination of nature in the sense of the radical hypothesis of a prehistorical connection between the domination of nature and barbarity in social life, necessarily runs against a progressive Hegelian-Marxist critique of society. Hegalian-Marxism represents a large part of Adorno’s philosophical orientation.

Is the existential dimension I propose to be inserted more explicitly in Dialectic
of Enlightenment
enough, by itself, to support a fundamental critique of capitalism, its systems and structures, as well as explain why capitalism still continues today in spite of the rise of injustice, inequality and environmental crises? No. But does it offer significant potential for the development of a view that supports a more thorough and holistic critical theory – a view that also develops Dialectic of Enlightenment in a way that progresses some of its central theses along the lines of fundamental ideology critique? Yes. Ideology, in the sense I use the term, represents today the unity of fibers in the structure which, once spawned from the shutters of human anxiety, determines thought as an appropriated system of (social) organisation and action according to the standards of economic dominion. Indeed, in the spirit of capturing everything unknown, the concepts of sovereignty, democracy, and freedom over time become that of instrumentality, bureaucracy, technology (i.e., technicism) and commodification. Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, especially their “domination of nature” thesis, provides us with a significant part of the foundation in this regard. Indeed, if this essay is taken to its logical conclusion, then capitalism, as an ideologically developed system, is understood to deliver exactly what it was supposed to: a deeply repressed, closed-circuited, instrumentally totalized administered world.

iii) A structural, systemic critique

Although I have already alluded that by inserting an explicitly existential thesis into the dialectic of enlightenment, the result is actually a heightened social-systemic trajectory of critique, this point nevertheless requires further clarification before moving forward.

It may at first seem counter-intuitive to claim that an existential thesis ultimately deepens fundamental, structural, systemic critique. But this is precisely why Sartre is so valuable. His existential-phenomenology possesses a revolutionary potency precisely because it ultimately translates along social lines, as the subject is always inextricably a part of the social world.[38] In many ways, as Sherman explains, “Sartre’s (phenomenological) concept of the subject is structurally analogous to Adorno’s”.[39] In my own studies and research with regards to their respective philosophical projects, I tend to agree with Sherman’s systematic analysis that Sartre’s phenomenological standpoint ultimately supports and even strengthens Adorno’s critical theoretical one (and vice versa), with each in fact representing two poles of a foundational emancipatory social analysis.[40]

To take things a step further: my contention is that an existential analysis with regards to the “domination of nature” actually provides a much needed reinforcing framework for the benefit of a richer critical social systems theory. If we consider how today’s crises are not isolated or random, as any good line of systems thinking would contend, the idea then is that crises flow out in patterned forms from the deepest structures of our society and may be conceived as the rationale for the political economy upon which this society is based.[41] Understanding this, what I am angling toward here is a re-configured notion of “systemic change” largely inspired by the Frankfurt School: namely, the fundamental transformation of the “whole” of society. To put it differently, systemic change as I see it is defined by the genuine alternation of the totality of society’s social coordinates and therefore systems and subsystems.[42] It pertains to a transformation of the deepest, most fundamental structures of society. But this fundamentally social course of transformation also has, I argue, discernable existential characteristics. On this point, it is my view that any theory of systemic change worth its salt has to look structurally at the need for societal transformation, while also considering societal transformation on the level of the subject.

Further, can it be said that my proposed inclusion of an existential dimension into the dialectic of enlightenment be anti-critical theoretical? Is it not the case that “systemic change” in the early tradition of the Frankfurt School is often described through a critique of the “linkages between the economy and the political, social, cultural, and psychic realms while stressing the relative autonomy of the superstructures”?[43] One of the earliest accounts of Critical theory laid out by Max Horkheimer describes precisely how social philosophy strives to elucidate the “fate of human beings, insofar as they are parts of a community, and not mere individuals. It concerns itself above all with the social life of people: state, law, economy, religion, in short, with the entire material and spiritual culture of humanity”.[44] In short, from the beginning the task was to develop a, “theory of contemporary society as a whole.” This theory would focus on or aim at “the entirety of the social process. It presupposes that beneath the chaotic surface of events one can grasp and conceptualize a structure of the effective powers”.[45] Indeed, the very task of critical theory concerns: “the mediations, or interconnections, between these spheres as well as the contradictions,” and thus, as Doug Kellner reflects, develops a theory of what might be called a “mediated totality”.[46] In other words: “Inasmuch that critical theory asks “which interconnections exist in a definite social group, in a definite period of time and in a definite country, between the role of this group in the economic process, the transformation of the psychic structures of its individual members, and the totality of the system that affects and produces its thoughts and mechanism” (ibid: 44)”, it seeks to describe “the complex set of mediations that interconnect consciousness and society, culture and economy, state and citizens,” structure and agency.”[47]

As I have already alluded in these opening notes: My concern, then, with the push back against the early Frankfurt School, is that their progressive view on the importance of recognising the subject risks being abandoned on behalf of a purely structural, economic critique. For me, such a line of critique is only one dimension of a total systemic view of society’s potential transformation. Indeed, if a deeper vision of systemic change concerns the fundamental transformation of the existing social “totality”, this revolutionary alteration of the existing social landscape also includes a many-sided human transformation process.[48]At first this may sound overly philosophical, but it captures a very important, if not crucial, insight. As I wrote in a recent paper on the development of a critical social systems theory: “in a play on von Bertalanffy in his development of General Systems Theory, “totality” describes the systemic whole in which exist ‘models, principles, and laws that apply to the generalized system and its subclasses or subsystems, the nature of their component elements, and the relationships or “forces” between them’.”[49] But this only represents one side: structure. What, then, of agency? If the ‘bad social totality’ represents the integration of all facets of the anatomy of society, does this not involve necessarily as an antecedent condition some form of recognition of the subject, alive and active, producing and reproducing, within the existing social system? The short answer is that it should. Thus the ‘bad social totality’ we are currently up against represents not only the shape and structure of society, its parts and historical genesis on a systemic level, but also the subjectivities that are produced by and even reproduce that system. Therefore, on the basis of this understanding, a critical social systems theory sees in a progressive reading of Adorno not only a critique of the ‘big picture’ – i.e., the social whole, and how all of the different social parts are interrelated – but also the status of the subject in the midst of it all. This is an insight Adorno affords us precisely because of his commitment toward the particular, without also losing sight of the universal. And it is also an insight central to his and Horkheimer’s “domination of nature” thesis.

If there is a common problem with social theory today, with general critique in popular left media even, it is always how either the social whole goes without question on behalf of a critique of the individual (or vice versa), or recognition of the individual subject is abandoned on behalf of a critique of social structures. Moving away from a purely structural point-of-view or a purely subject-oriented point-of-view, critical theory – and, indeed, some of the central theses in Dialectic of Enlightenment – can help us understand the genesis of the institutional structures of modern capitalist societies, which, in turn, can offer insight into how deep a critical social systems theory must go to really be philosophically coherent. As Zuidervaart summarises in light of Adorno: “Society and culture form a historical totality, such that the pursuit of freedom in society is inseparable from the pursuit of enlightenment in culture. There is a flip side to this: a lack or loss of freedom in society – in the political, economic, and legal structures within which we live – signals a concomitant failure in cultural enlightenment – in philosophy, the arts, religion, and the like. The Nazi death camps are not an aberration, nor are mindless studio movies innocent entertainment. Both indicate that something fundamental has gone wrong in the modern West.”[50]

A little later I will consider Zuidervaart’s formulation of Adorno and Horkheimer’s “domination of nature” thesis as “domination in a triple sense”. Meanwhile, the general thrust is how, if “Humans believe themselves free of fear when there is no longer anything unknown”, which “has determined the path of demythologization” insofar that the betrayal of the “Enlightenment is mythical fear radicalized”,[51] then systemically speaking, “in an unfree society whose culture pursues so-called progress no matter what the cost, that which is “other,” whether human or nonhuman, gets shoved aside, exploited, or destroyed.”[52] The means of destruction may be more sophisticated in the modern West, and the exploitation may be less direct than outright slavery; but blind, fear-driven domination continues, with ever greater global consequences.[53] This all-consuming engine driving the process behind an ever-expanding capitalist economy, is not only manifest in the existing social, historical and economic forces that help shape human activity, but also by human activity which helps shape and indeed produce those structures and forces.[54] The issue is, in other words, double-sided. And, if anything, what is required today is not a complete rejection of Adorno and Horkheimer’s “domination of nature” thesis for being too “transhistorical” or for being too committed, as it is claimed, to abstract Anthropos. Rather, what is required in the exercise of critical retrieval is a far more dialectically focused view of radical social philosophy, which sees the crucial existential dimension beneath their thesis as being integral to a more holistic critical theory of societal transformation. This is, if nothing else, the underlying argument that underlines the whole of my essay.

2) The Domination of Nature: No Exit?

Systemic cycles of domination between human beings have long been a feature of history. One could argue that the trend very much remains the norm today, with “group conflict and group-based inequality …/ pervasive in human existence.”[55] Felicia Pratto, Jim Sidanius (et al.) strike this point in the opening paragraph of their widely acknowledged study Social Dominance Orientation: A Personality Variable Predicting Social and Political Attitudes (1994): “Currently, every continent is enduring some form of ethnic conflict, from the verbal debate over multiculturalism in the United States and Canada to civil war in Liberia and Bosnia. Other conflicts between groups are ancient: the European persecution of Jews, “Holy Wars” waged by Christians and Muslims around the Mediterranean, imperialism in South America, and anti-Black racism in northern Africa and else-where.”[56] For the authors of Social Dominance Orientation, their theory postulates in a way not so different from Adorno’s own suspicions that societies minimize group conflict by creating a hierarchical consensus on ideologies, which promote the superiority of one group over others.[57] It is argued that this dominant logic promotes or maintains group inequality, providing the tools that legitimize discrimination.[58] To work smoothly, these ideologies – or, better yet, this ideological campaign to establish hierarchy – begins to appear as self-apparent truths or, as Pratto (et al.) call them: “hierarchy-legitimizing myths”.[59]

Of course one must consider how economic forces also play a vital role in fostering or supporting the development of the sort of dominant ideologies that the authors of Social Dominance Orientation systemically dissect. Although Pratto, Sidanius (et al.) critique doesn’t go far enough in this regard, their study highlights how social dominance orientation nevertheless plays a vital role in the production and reproduction of systemic levels of domination, including contemporary political-economy.[60]

“By contributing to consensual or normalized group-based inequality, legitimizing myths help to stabilize oppression. …/ For example, the ideology of anti-Black racism has been instantiated in personal acts of discrimination, but also in institutional discrimination against African-Americans by banks, public transit authorities, schools, churches, marriage laws, and the penal system. Social Darwinism and meritocracy are examples of other ideologies that imply that some people are not as “good” as others and therefore should be allocated less positive social value than others.[61]

It is fitting to begin a discussion on Dialectic of Enlightenment by citing this empirical research of Pratto, Sidanius (et al.), because their analysis further identifies what I previously termed “the hidden trend” of historical and modern society. Offering a sharp, if not penetrating, critique of social conservatism and the development of dominant ideologies, Social Dominance Orientation can be read almost as the social translation of the sort of theory of domination read in Adorno and Horkheimer’s historical account. In other words, Social Dominance Orientation sets the stage perfectly for a return to Dialectic of Enlightenment and a consideration of recent criticism against Adorno and Horkheimer’s “domination of nature” thesis.

However, before we begin, a few comments are necessary. It is important to acknowledge that, although the totalizing propensity of Dialectic of Enlightenment is in question, my own view is not one that sees domination as absolutely pervasive (a reference to the first essay of this series). In other words, Wilding is absolutely correct to suggest that any respectable sociologist or anthropologist will assert that not every instance of social relations in western history has been principled on domination. Though Adorno and Horkheimer’s famous passage that “disaster triumphant radiates across the wholly enlightened earth” is gripping, and, indeed, revealing of a specific systemic trend in the west, one must take into account that “domination” – or the “domination of nature” – is not absolute. In another way: in considering the deeply negative critique in Dialectic of Enlightenment, one must also simultaneously take into account the everyday spaces, the everyday movements and struggles, the subtle moments and experiences, in which “disaster triumphant” is resisted or overcome (however fragile or fleeting). It is one thing to focus on systemic trends; it is another thing to sink into the neurotic-like pits of absolute negative philosophical despair.

But if domination, instrumental reason, is not an absolutely unwavering reality, we can still be sure that contemporary society is in general deeply negative. All one needs to do is walk through any western city with their eyes wide open, to see the antagonistic, negative and deeply troubling realities around them.

Concerning the need for a necessary balance in perspective when pursuing a critical retrieval of Adorno: generally speaking, friend and colleague Arnold de Graaff is always very good here, arguing that any totalized theory of history, of society, fails to acknowledge the cracks and crevasses, the moments of ‘otherwise’ – the times when domination is resisted or not present. On this point, in considering Adorno and Horkheimer’s argument in Dialectic of Enlightenment, the following questions must be raised: Were all societies throughout history characterised by domination (of nature, of other humans)?[62] Is it the case that all societies and groups around the world today are so characterised?[63] It is along these lines – i.e., a totalization of theory – that their study can and should be criticised because, in truth, neither question can be answered affirmatively. Counter-examples, even if they are small exceptions, like little islands in the vast sea of human history, can and should be raised. In our everyday lives, there are instances, however fleeting or fragile, of relations which escape the reproduction of social domination and coercion. These moments or experiences are, no doubt, the exception. But as Wilding once suggested to me in private conversation, even a small exception means we need nuance. Does every example of modern peasant movements, particularly in association with Via Campesina for example, evidence dominant social relations? With their emphasis of sustainable farming techniques, can they be said to dominate nature in a destructive way? What about organic, low-input agricultural alternatives? In quite the same way, albeit on a larger scale, can genuinely progressive participatory democratic movements, with an emphasis on horizontality and non-dominance, be considered as dominating, instrumental or ideological? [64] What about the well documented rapid increase of commons-based initiatives – think of solidarity kitchens, democratic participatory community initiatives, social clinics, self-managed workplaces, Transition towns, mutual aid networks, alternative currencies, non-profit social assistance projects, and so on?

In spite of the fact that what Adorno and Horkheimer had in mind in Dialectic of Enlightenment was the ‘bigger picture’ – that is, the systemic context of modern society and its historical unfolding – they do not allow for much, if any, nuance. The moments when their account of domination for example is at its most ambiguous, its most totalizing or absolute, significant room is left for a reading that sees domination as the total, unwavering pulse of society and of modern life. In these moments, it is true that Horkheimer can easily become seen at his most Schopenhaurian and Adorno at his most Nietzschean.[65] The lack of nuance or, better yet, the inclination toward the totalization of theory and transformation without a doubt leaves Horkheimer and Adorno’s respective critical theories in a terrible state. This state of total or absolute negativity, of pure hopelessness even, not surprisingly propagates across websites and throughout social media dedicated to the Frankfurt School or a parody thereof. It is not uncommon, moreover, to witness projects dedicated to critical theory stew in the idea of a wholly negative universe that they have been left to merely contemplate. There is so much academic text and research, which seems unable to break out of a totally negative view, reproducing an image of utter hopelessness in time when, to borrow the words of Doug Kellner, critical theory must be revitalized by way of creating connection with new progressive social movements and existing political struggles.

Furthermore, when reviewing Adorno and Horkheimer’s dialectic of enlightenment for the benefit of application within our contemporary social circumstance, their study can feel like an alienated masterpiece in places.[66] Dialectic of Enlightenment can be, at once, so revealing and insightful and then, in a flash, it can feel so distant and removed and even abstract. It is rare for a book of such magnitude, one which reveals so much foundational insight regarding the broader processes of society, to also seem so withdrawn in certain passages. It makes me question just how dialectical the book is in its totality, particularly when one compares their negative critique against the whole of the contemporary social landscape. Even if the social universe is nigh perfect dark in many places, it remains the case that if one looks closely enough fireflies, scattered and luminous, still emerge as symbols of hope, as symbols of the sort of efficacious agency Adorno’s philosophy of the subject works toward.[67] No doubt that at the time when Dialectic of Enlightenment was originally written, the social landscape was overwhelmingly bleak. Leading Adornian scholars are correct to cite this point when discussing the book, suggesting too that we must also recognize that the historical context has changed since the time Horkheimer and Adorno originally formulated their seminal study. If the advent of the Second World War and the horrors of Auschwitz comprise of much of the social reality that the Frankfurt School sought to understand and critically explain, the overwhelmingly negative universe that we read, in which we are all left inclined to “hope in the midst of hopelessness”[68], doesn’t entirely match the same social reality that we observe today, at least in terms of the transformative potentials clearly available to us and the mass gathering of people inspired and mobilized by the idea of radical (or actual) democracy, egalitarianism, equality and justice. Indeed, even though I am perhaps one of the worst of sceptics regarding the possibility of societal transformation and actual systemic change, I nevertheless understand that we must resist the implicit or explicit totalizing of transformation: that “the whole is not wholly false” instead of “the whole is the false”.[69] We must do justice to the millions of people engaged with actual democratic, participatory movements in struggle for the possibility of an emancipatory society. Moving beyond Adorno in this regard, to see the “whole as not being wholly false”, necessary space is left within an overwhelmingly bleak social universe to recognise the existence of the “mediating ego”[70], of the efficacious subject, as well the daily acts, efforts and potentials for fundamental transformation.

The important question, today, then, is about how much alternative or transformative space is afforded in critical theory, theoretically and practically. Even though Adorno and Horkheimer’s theoretical analysis has more to do with a foundational critique about the way we as humans have historically related to ourselves, the world and each other very generally; it is hard to argue that they don’t lose sight of the alternative spaces or cracks (to borrow John Holloway’s term) in which their critique isn’t entirely applicable. Moreover, even though Adorno is personally committed to the general-particular dialectic, he’s undeniably guilty of losing site of the macro, of the particular instances and examples that go against the “grain of insanity”. So while insightful in terms of broad trends and in terms of explaining why we might organise our institutions, societies and belief systems in the ways that we do; it is understandable that concerns have been raised over the decades suggesting Adorno’s account is too negative.

In this regard, and in moving forward, it is worth noting that I take Zuidervaart’s analysis to be correct: to disalienate the dialectic of enlightenment, to turn mastery toward differential transformation, this would be a sign of hope in the face of “disaster triumphant”[71] (see the first essay of this series). A retrieval of Adorno in this capacity would, in a sense, almost represent a continual development of Adorno’s project by rescuing it from the moment of its own collapse. In other words, an exit from cycles of domination might be formulated. It is on this point that I think Critical Ecologies might play an important role.

In this book, we read several essays which, in one way or another, attempt to confront the totalizing propensity of Adorno and Horkheimer’s “domination of nature” thesis. In each essay, particular concerns are raised that, when held together, provide a stunning account of how we might begin to rescue and sharpen Adorno’s project. For example, the first essay of the volume by William Leiss, which was appropriately titled “Modern Science, Enlightenment, and the Domination of Nature: No Exit?”, introduces the reader to a critique of Adorno and Horkheimer’s treatment of nature, ultimately leading to question their concept of “domination”. Within this discussion, as Wilding has noted, one picks-up on an implicit line of criticism against Adorno and Horkheimer’s transhistorical theory of the will to master nature.

Although I have already started to introduce a reply in my opening notes, it is worth developing this discussion further. In his essay, moreover, Leiss identifies three different sets of key concepts in Dialectic of Enlightenment that he notes to be worthy of attention. These concepts include: 1) the dialectic of enlightenment, 2) the opposition of objective versus subjective reason, and 3) the “domination of nature”.[72] While a complete treatment of these concepts can be read in Zuidervaart (2007)[73] and Sherman (2007)[74], Leiss focuses on summarising the latter – the “domination of nature” in relation to Horkheimer and Adorno’s critique of scientism. In doing so, he offers a noteworthy discussion, referring at the outset to a quote by Horkheimer (extracted from a separate work) as a statement to affirm the excessive or totalized nature of the dialectic of enlightenment and what Leiss describes as the “insoluble dilemma” left for social theory.[75]

Identifying a particular weak point in Adorno and Horkheimer’s account, Leiss asserts for instance: “[o]ne of the main difficulties created by this overly expansive concept of instrumental reason is encountered in the indiscriminate use of the word ‘domination’ in the phrase ‘domination of nature’.”[76] In other words, one of Leiss’ concerns has to do with how Adorno and Horkheimer’s “domination of nature” thesis becomes subsuming. As a concept, the “domination of nature” appears for Leiss as supra-historical – a term used by Christoph Görg in his own essay that follows Leiss – a point he then builds from to criticise Dialectic of Enlightenment for being abstract, if not conceptually fallible.[77] Arguing that their account of the domination of nature is not theoretically applicable to premodern civilizations, Leiss writes moreover:

…those words [‘domination’ in the phrase ‘domination of nature’] make no sense when applied to what Horkheimer refers to as the ‘primitive’ state of Homo sapiens, presumably meaning before the time of early agriculture and settled societies (as opposed to purely hunter-gatherer societies). Nor do they make much better sense when applied to premodern civilizations, because in those, there was very little control over nature to speak of. In those times nature was fate, especially for women, on account of their role in childbearing; before the age of modern medicine and public health, as many as half of all newborns died in the first year of life, and pregnancy and childbirth represented severe risks of death for women (as is still true today in many places in the world).[78]

While I appreciate the general trajectory of Leiss’ essay, especially when it comes to his later discussion on positive enlightenment movements (something I’ll touch on later), this particular line of critique strikes me as mistaken. It does so for several reasons.

First. It may seem pedantic, but Leiss’ use of a quote by Horkheimer as affirmation of his own critique of the “domination of nature” is problematic. In reference to comments made by Horkheimer later in his career, Leiss suggests that: “in locating this dialectic [i.e., ‘the disease of reason is that reason was born of man’s urge to dominate nature’] within the ‘human condition’ as such – in particular, the very nature of human reason – Horkheimer …/ places the key issue in human development entirely outside of history and presents it as a constant and essential feature of the species in all its manifestations over time.”[79] However, it must said: there is a marked difference between how Horkheimer and Adorno expand, develop, interpret, and reinterpret key concepts in Dialectic of Enlightenment in the progression of their respective academic careers. This is especially so if we consider that Critical Theory is “divided crudely along two lines – a theory of society based on mediating a historical convergence of philosophy’s theoretical norms and (social) scientific facts as they manifested themselves in practices (Horkheimer, Marcuse) and an imminent critique of philosophy’s norms and the culture of which they are a part, but with little expectation that social practices would make good philosophical theory (Adorno, Benjamin).”[80] From an Adornian perspective, Leiss’ reading strikes me as narrow or constrained. Indeed, while Horkheimer may be open for criticism, Adorno treats the issue in a way which deserves particular consideration.

Second. Another issue I have with regards to Leiss’ critique has to do with his lack of satisfactory recognition of certain key concepts in Dialectic of Enlightenment: mimesis and regression, particularly in relation to Adorno’s thesis concerning the historical genesis of the bourgeois subject, which is one of the central points of analysis in “Odysseus or Myth and Enlightenment”[81] and certainly also underlines much of the “domination of nature” thesis that Leiss’ takes issue with. Moreover, as Kellner rightly suggests, “Dialectic of Enlightenment is best read as a history and pre-history of the bourgeois subject and that subject’s domination of nature, rather than as an ontological history of the relationship between the human species and nature.”[82] On this point, there are moments in Leiss’ essay which strike me as confused or searching – perhaps even at pains – because, for me, it seems like he’s not sure what to do with what I have already identified as the existential dimension of Dialectic of Enlightenment. It’s surely transhistorical; but, from an Adornian perspective, is the “domination of nature” and the “key issue in human development” actually placed “entirely outside of history”, and therefore presented “as a constant and essential feature of the species in all its manifestations over time”? I am not entirely convinced that, for Adorno, the argument completely matches Leiss’ description here. On my reading of Adorno’s project, he is clearly dealing with historical tendencies as opposed to unchanging categories, and I think this is something Leiss’ doesn’t quite recognize. And while this last point doesn’t absolve Adorno and Horkheimer for their inclination toward the totalization of theory, it highlights why Leiss’ might overemphasize the issue regarding the transhistorical aspect of their thesis as being horribly abstract.

As I have already said, while the transhistorical aspect of Dialectic of Enlightenment is in need of retrieval, it would be a mistake to discard this dimension of their analysis altogether. To further expand on the issue, let us now consider Leiss’ reading of Dialectic of Enlightenment from the point where he critiques how: “there is no sensible way in which ‘primitive objectification’ can be regarded as the first step on the road to the modern epoch and the form that the domination of nature takes there. This error is compounded in critical theory when the phenomenon of enlightenment is ‘generalized’ and presented as a historical constant, applicable equally to ancient Greece and eighteenth- century Europe.”[83]

i) Mimesis, regression, primitive objectivity and self-preservation

In considering these words, it is likely that a majority of anthropologists would agree. The notion of a transhistorical will to mastery of nature can easily be seen, if left abstract, to be on the way to resulting in a totalized theory of history. In particular, one should ask: just who or what is “dominating” the natural world?[84] Are all human beings responsible? Can our faculty of reason (an overweening “belly become mind” as Adorno called it) really be the cause of this?[85] If so, as Wilding questions in his review of Critical Ecologies, what hope is there of avoiding catastrophe?[86] Admittedly, on Leiss’ reading, there is little to no hope. If Horkheimer and Adorno’s thesis is to be seen at its most frustratingly withdrawn, it is here where an emphasis on the purely “anthropogenic” and on an overwhelmingly general supra-historical theory might be found. From such a perspective or account, Dialectic of Enlightenment certainly falls short of being analytically concrete, politically useful[87], and relevant to the serious ecological, political, social, economic, cultural and philosophical problems we face today. On this view, moreover, Adorno and Horkheimer’s “domination of nature” thesis lacks “any sense of the historical, social and economic forces that shape humans’ interactions with the natural world and which have led to the current crisis.”[88]

However, on my view, Leiss’ reading does not actually do enough justice to Adorno and Horkheimer’s analysis regarding the “domination of nature”. This is not to say that I wholly disagree with Leiss. But for me there is still much to be said about Adorno’s position in all of this, which, if anything, eases some of the burden of Leiss’ criticisms and concerns (as well as those of others in Critical Ecologies).

If the “earliest conversion of Myth – from explanation of the world to potential control and use of that world – took the form of magic” as a precursor of absolute economic reduction,[89] this is because even though premodern society didn’t evidence much or any actual physical control over nature, it nevertheless demonstrated a clear control in what we may describe as conceptual forms of authoritative or regulative or dominating influence over phenomena. I therefore disagree with D. Bruce Martin’s view in his essay also part of the Critical Ecologies anthology: namely that, “within magic, nature was not organized conceptually”.[90] Moreover, it is true in a sense that in magic there is not always a direct mastery or control over nature, like with test animals or the industrial slaughterhouse or even the advent of modern agriculture at the turn of the Neolithic era. Martin is right to therefore suggest: “the specificity or uniqueness of the object of magic was constitutive of the priest’s or shaman’s efforts to influence events …/ It is not the invisible power of nature as a whole (its ‘laws’) that the magician seeks to influence; instead there remains in shamanistic ritual the recognition of specific qualities of the object influenced”.[91] But the fact nevertheless remains that, even in shamanistic ritual, there is an epistemological and cognitive process which transforms the representation of phenomena and evidences a degree of conceptual distortion. A cow may be transformed into an Idol of fertility, and in that transformation there is, no doubt, evidence of the sort of exchange that Horkheimer and Adorno hypothesize. What I mean by this, to play on the words of Adorno and Horkheimer, is that Myth evidenced a certain conceptual stranglehold over the world in not such a different way to instrumental rationality. “Mythology itself set in motion the endless process of the enlightenment [betrayal] by which, with ineluctable necessity, every definitive theoretical view is subjected to the annihilating criticism that it is only a belief, until even the concepts of mind, truth, and, indeed, enlightenment itself has been reduced to animistic magic.”[92]

What is one of the most striking points of Horkheimer and Adorno’s account in Dialectic of Enlightenment is their historical framework; because while incomplete, it provides, as I mentioned in the introduction, an overwhelming picture regarding the genesis of human society as established according to a deeply distorted epistemological pattern (paradigmatically speaking). As they observe in typically striking fashion: “power and knowledge are synonymous”.[93] Power and knowledge become synonymous insofar that the coercive element indigenous to instrumental reason manifests itself in a reductionistic, instrumental approach to how one perceives, interprets and engages with the phenomenal world, ourselves and each other. If there is any more of a penetrating account of the violent epistemology of modern capitalism, I have yet to see it. As Horkheimer and Adorno write:

The human mind, which overcomes superstition, is to hold sway over a disenchanted nature. Knowledge, which is power, knows no obstacles: neither in the enslavement of men nor in compliance with the world’s rulers …/ What men want to learn from nature is how to use it in order wholly to dominate it and other men. That is the only aim. Ruthlessly, in spite of itself, the betrayal of the Enlightenment has extinguished any trace of its own self-consciousness. The only kind of thinking that is sufficiently hard to shatter myths is ultimately self-destructive.[94]

Indeed, as I will elaborate in a later essay, any positive concept of social reason, a reclaiming of the enlightenment, must break away from a contradictory recognitive[95] view of nature, in which phenomena are reduced to the status of mere ‘objects’ to therefore be economically dominated and controlled. As an alternative, a positive or transformative concept of reason and social use of science must then evince a mutually recognitive[96] view of nature, in which natural phenomena – or objects –are also seen as subjects.[97] This general observation will be raised again further down when addressing concerns with regards to the notion of “patterns of blind domination”. Meanwhile, although Adorno’s concept of mimesis should be considered as intriguing here, another way to offer a broad-stroke theoretical account of a positive concept of reason would simply be through an integral, complex and objective notion of rationality that also exists, in some sense, on both the subject-object and subject-subject level. I often use the example of humans’ relation with animals to explain this line of argument.[98]

And yet, while Myth – or, better yet, magic – maintained a degree of mimesis, and, in the case of humans’ relationship with animals, would have been more inclined to acknowledge agency in other creatures, the modern drive to dominant nature, to dominate the phenomenal world of experience, still, in many ways, can be said to have root in ‘primitive objectification’. One might consider past nature-based religions, for example, in which the world of things was subsumed in one way or another by a universal, ultimate vision of life, evincing to whatever degree cognitive bias as absolutization.[99] As Martin writes, moreover:

For Horkheimer and Adorno, sacrifice is a prototypical form of exchange: even while honoring the uniqueness of the individual as it attempts an influence that opposes the mythic or fated character of the world (the repetition of nature), shamanistic magic reduces nature to category and example. Science demythologizes or disenchants the world, but at the expense of individual uniqueness. Though a precursor to science [what they seem to suggest as scientism, which is science reduced to economic ends], magic retained an affinity for individuality by its use of mimesis …/ The shaman’s mimetic magic still recognized affinities or similarities between self and other, between the human and the ‘other’ in nature. The essence of science, as it is for magic, is the identification and control of nature, and this involves a further transformation of the mimetic potential. Science [scientism] ultimately extends its control of nature to ‘human nature’ [or ‘internal nature’] as well, and in so doing acquires the characteristic of the mythic nature it first attempted to control. In a society dominated by the ‘exchange principle’ broadly understood, science transforms the individual into yet another example of universal processes, merely another specimen available for control and manipulation. Historic progress from magic to science, from myth to enlightenment, is therefore also a story of regression, of return into the mythic, of renewed confrontation with fateful necessity.[brackets mine][100]

As other scholars have pointed out, the use of the word “science” here refers to scientism rather than actual science – that is, the misuse of science for exploitative ends. What’s most important to acknowledge here, when considering Leiss’ criticisms, is an issue that Martin doesn’t entirely address but at least flirts with: namely, Adorno’s (and Horkheimer’s) critique of instrumental reason as a sort of cognitive architecture operating in behind the active, participating subject. J.M. Bernstein notes in his widely explored study Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics (2001) that in Negative Dialectics Adorno’s concern is with an analytic structure rather than a historical process.[101] This is partly true and certainly lends to a better overall reading of Adorno’s work. It is also revealing of certain key dimension of Adorno’s dialectic of enlightenment. Sherman expands on this point in a way I think does the most justice to Adorno’s position, than what many recent critiques have achieved in recent time: if for Adorno the critique of “enlightenment reason” is concerned specifically with a certain mutation of reason, this is because his aim, as I’ve already alluded, is to describe the pitfalls of a certain cognitive or analytic schema.[102]. In a sense, his aim was to critique the betrayal of the enlightenment and the less than enlightened exploitation of human rationality. It is not the case, in other words, that all reason or the very nature of reason itself is discounted. [103]

Concerning Leiss’ critique in particular: the idea, moreover, that a form of ‘primitive objectification’ can or should be regarded as the first step on the road to the modern epoch, and that the origins of the “domination of nature” find root here, is accurate insofar that we give Adorno and Horkheimer’s thesis a concrete existential foundation. Instrumental rationality, which is a closed and absolutizing epistemology driven to achieve an existentially-based (false) sense of security, mediates perception or guides response in a certain way. Accordingly, Adorno’s critique of instrumental reason confronts the basis of an analytic model in which everything – the phenomenal world of experience – becomes reduced tio an object of bias. Everything is to become according to instrumental reason (and similarly to Myth), conceptually strangled and therefore not only absolutely in identity but also available for utilization. Here, within such a cognitive paradigm, irrationalism prevails.[104] Hence Adorno’s emphasis on the particular, on the priority of the object[105], for the benefit of the subject,[106] as the “objectivity produced by identity thinking performs the subject’s world, and subjectivity becomes a mere function of it.”[107] In passage that Sherman also cites, Adorno’s argument becomes even clearer in this regard:

In negative dialectics not even the transmission of essence and phenomenality, of concept and thing, will remain what it was: the subjective moment in the object. What transmits the facts is not so much the subjective mechanism of their pre-formation and comprehension as it is the objectivity heteronomous to the subject, the objectivity behind that which the subject can experience. This objectivity is denied to the primary realm of subjective experience. It is preordinated to that realm. Wherever, in the current manner of speaking, judgment is too subjective at the present historical stage, the subject, as a rule, will automatically parrot the consensus omnium. To give the object its due instead of being content with the false copy, the subject would have to resist the average value of such objectivity and to free itself as a subject. It is on this emancipation, not on the subject’s insatiable repression, that objectivity depends today. The superiority of objectification in the subjects not only keeps them from becoming subjects; it equally prevents a cognition of objectivity. This is what became of what used to be called “the subjective factor.” It is now subjectivity rather than objectivity that is indirect, and this sort of mediation is more in need of analysis than the traditional one.[108]

As we can see here, Adorno is arguing in a sense toward reason, toward objectivity in terms of an analysis of the status of the subject. Before moving any further, while Leiss’ provides strong and justified criticism toward Adorno and Horkheimer’s view of the enlightenment, especially in relation to natural science, it is important to acknowledge, because a lot of scholarship seems misguided here, that they are “only dealing with a particular historical unfolding of science [within specific historically contingent circumstances in terms of what seems to me be a critique of the exploitation of science toward biased ends].”[109].
To approach the issue differently: Leiss is definitely right to point out that Horkheimer and Adorno fail miserably when it comes to acknowledging the internal dialectic of the Enlightenment.[110] Leiss is also correct to point out, in rather brilliant fashion, how their lack of engagement in Dialectic of Enlightenment with such French Enlightenment thinkers as Marquis de Condorcet (1743-1794) is detrimental to their cause. And for that, Horkheimer and Adorno’s critique of modern enlightenment thought is, or can be seen, terribly one-sided at times. They fail to acknowledge, as Leiss argues, the internal conflicts of the earliest modern enlightenment thinkers, which more or less centered on the aspiration to draw a theory of critical progress transformative science.[111] As Leiss concludes:

“[f]or how could one not fully recognize, for example, the force and range of Condorcet’s account of the struggle waged by enlightenment thought against regressive and oppressive forms of law and social custom? Critical Theory’s failure to acknowledge the true significance of what the modern sciences of nature contributed in this regard is one of its greatest failings. Condorcet’s profound insight – that ‘scientific errors’ supply one of the strongest supports for the errors in thinking that prop up oppressive social relations – was entirely overlooked.”[112]

Horkheimer and Adorno’s account is without a doubt confusing. But most leading scholarship suggests that their critique “science” is “actually an attack on scientism, the substitution of science for Wissenschaft.”[113] In further affirmation of the overall position I am drawing here, Sherman expands: “In making this argument, I am not attempting to dilute Adorno and Horkheimer’s position that enlightenment thought inherently contains coercive elements, which means that I am not saying that they buy into the sunny (but ultimately coercive) systematicity of Hegel’s Wissenschaft. To the contrary, I am saying that it is exactly because emancipatory enlightenment thought harbours a coercive element that it requires self-reflection on the meaning of our goals and activities – non-scientific and scientific alike – which is just what a more modest notion of Wissenschaft would presuppose..”[114]. I would personally be inclined to say that enlightenment thought doesn’t inherently harbour a coercive element, but rather so much depends on how the enlightenment is realized in a coercive social world.

Moreover, the problem Leiss’ identifies above comes down to a few things, most notably how, in my own words, Adorno and Horkheimer struggle to wholly capture and maintain a nuanced analysis of of the betrayal of the enlightenment and the many conflicts surrounding it, in the same way the Dialectic of Enlightenment struggles to do justice to the positive history of natural science and the the enlightenment value of reason. What I mean, moreover, is that while they were correct to identify basic historical trends and offer a critique of those trends, too often their study can be read, as I have said a number of times already, as a totalizing critique. Adorno and Horkheimer’s study could have really done with a more complex view, differentiating between a critique of a society that has betrayed the enlightenment and regressed to myth and irrationality and the actual enlightenment itself. By thoroughly differentiatin, this would have allowed them to do more justice to their goal of providing a positive concept of enlightenment reason and social use of science. For this reason, I think it is best to read their account on this level as a critique of the betrayal of enlightenment values, leaving space therefore for recognition of the internal conflicts and struggles for power within the enlightenment project and its historical processes leading up to contemporary western society. But to dig a little deeper into the matter, let us consider the following.

In an especially emblematic passage, Horkheimer and Adorno write in Dialectic of Enlightenment that, if the Enlightenment was supposed to emancipate humanity, today the “fully enlightened earth radiates disaster triumphant”.[115] In a particularly favourite phrasing of mine, Zuidervaart encircles a similar question: How could it be that “the progress of modern science and technology, which promised to liberate people from ignorance, disease, and brutal, mind-numbing work help create a world where people willingly swallow fascist ideology, knowingly practice deliberate genocide, and energetically develop lethal weapons of mass destruction?”[116] For Horkheimer and Adorno, “reason became irrational.”

Firstly, what does it mean for reason to become irrational? In spite of the fact that the Enlightenment tried to overcome or supersede the mythic world, Horkheimer and Adorno claim that mainstream society and social thought has since become a sort of excrescence of myth. Indeed, the Enlightenment promised and, in many respects, its principles continue to promise, social emancipation, or, in the least, to free humanity from its precarious existential condition. As we have already discussed: the “Enlightenment’s program was the disenchantment of the world. It wanted to dispel myths, to overthrow fantasy with knowledge.”[117] But somehow and somewhere the social world, as we read in Horkheimer and Adorno’s account, eventually regressed as a sort of counterfeit of the emancipatory force. They seem to have sought to describe, while in the general and popular social world reason remains a value, outside of a few remaining sectors of society, the “bourgeois” idea of reason is reason not yet realized. It is “instrumental”, reason toward ends instead of reason that is critical and reflective as a means. At the same time, they seem to suggest that this counterfeit still styles itself as the opposite of Myth, but is motivated more or less by the same fundamental drives of the mythic world. This is what ultimately led Horkheimer and Adorno to write: “Humans believe themselves free of fear when there is no longer anything unknown. This has determined the path of demythologization …/ Enlightenment is mythical fear radicalized”.[118] They write: “It is the identity of mind and its correlative, the unity of nature, which subdues the abundance of qualities. Nature, stripped of qualities, becomes the chaotic stuff of mere classification, and the all –powerful self becomes a mere having, an abstract identity.”[120]

To Leiss’ point, it does sound at times in Dialectic of Enlightenment as though Adorno and Horkheimer are attacking all forms of reason. Likewise, there are particular passages which evoke a sense of worry that their analysis does not actually leave any room for a positive concept of positive social reason (a la Habermas’ critique). To that, it is important to emphasize that the best reading of Dialectic of Enlightenment is one that doesn’t see it as a critique aimed at the very nature of reason itself, or at science, but at a sort of counterfeit or distortion of human reason.[121] Support for such a reading is found in the opening pages of their study where they write that they do not want to abandon or do away with enlightenment reason or science. “The first essay, the theoretical basis of those which follow, seeks to gain greater understanding of the intertwinement of rationality and social reality, as well as of the intertwinement, inseparable from the former, of nature and the mastery of nature. The critique of enlightenment given in this section is intended to prepare a positive concept of enlightenment which liberates it from its entanglement in blind domination.”[122]

To drive the point home, Sherman, a scholar of Adorno, clarifies the point further.[123] He makes the point that Dialectic of Enlightenment is, as a matter of self-acknowledged principle, geared toward a retrieval of enlightenment reason. “Far from “surrendering …/ to an uninhibited scepticism regarding reason,” Dialectic of Enlightenment tries to do justice to the most basic impulses of enlightenment rationality. …/ Notwithstanding their piercing critique of how enlightenment rationality and subjectivity has played out to this point in time, moreover, there is no reason to think that Adorno and Horkheimer change their minds about the need for enlightenment thinking once they get beyond the Introduction.”[124] It goes without saying, too, that even “[i]n the last pages of their opening essay (“The Concept of Enlightenment”), they speak in hopeful terms about the enlightenment’s ability to bring about the material conditions for a world that is free of coercion: “While bourgeois economy multiplied power through the mediation of the market, it also multiplied its objects and powers to such an extent that for their administration not just the kings [or middle classes] are necessary, but all men. They learn from the power of things to at least dispense with power” (DOE, p.42). In the last line in the last section of their theses on anti-Semitism (which immediately precedes the book’s concluding notes and drafts), Adorno and Horkheimer declare: “Enlightenment which is in possession of itself and coming to power can break the bounds of enlightenment” (DOE, p.208).”[125] Indeed, if there is any doubt about Adorno’s commitment to developing a social philosophy which recognises the liberating potential of Enlightenment, it is worth pointing out that he was actually writing a book on a positive notion of enlightenment morality before he died,[126] which, as an aside, “belies the contention that he saw enlightenment reason as necessarily coercive”.[127]

Whether Horkheimer and Adorno successfully introduce or formulate a positive concept of enlightenment, a theory of “emancipatory reason”, is an important question. My reply is that they do not offer anything comprehensive in this regard, which certainly seems to be an opinion shared by many. Perhaps if Adorno did manage to finish his study on a positive notion of enlightenment morality, the situation would be different. That said, it is worth acknowledging that Horkheimer and Adorno do lay some key blocks to the foundation for a liberating concept of enlightenment rationality, particularly if we read, as Sherman brilliantly identifies, Dialectic of Enlightenment as “nothing other than a critique of reason by (dialectical) reason – that is a critique of verstehen by vernunft.”[128] Adorno’s Negative Dialectics as well as his various other works, also offer us some key insights in this regard. In a following essay, I will look to explore this line of discussion more thoroughly.

In the meantime, if it is the possibility of enlightenment becoming self-conscious or, reversing the trend of extinguishing “any trace of its own self-consciousness” within a less than enlightened society that seems to lay claim to the enlightenment, which Adorno and Horkheimer signal as a course toward realizing a positive concept of the Enlightenment,[129] then I think they all the more confirm my contention that we must see their critique of the “domination of nature” along existential lines. In other words, on my reading, which I will develop in more detail in a following essay on a positive notion of enlightenment reason, standing in the way of such revolutionary transformation are not only structural transformations but also the existential dimension of the dialectic of enlightenment I introduced in my opening notes. It is this existential dimension or reading which signals a deeper level of reconciliation other than the social or economic.

To break the paradigmatic cycle, to smash the hegemonic seal that instrumental reason has secured over the world, reconciling the existential dimension – taken to be a reflection of the most basic, primal levels of fear and anxiety – would be a central requirement. On some level, perhaps this is already what humanistic psychology acknowledges: that the emancipatory thrust of psychotherapy is based on opening the subject up to the world, no different than Sherman’s account of Adorno’s “mediating subject”. Admittedly, this view makes the possibility of revolutionary transformation feel much more complex than what a purely economic critique might hold, especially if we consider how, today, capitalism replaces older raw existential conditions with a political-economic context representative as the source of a powerful and tremendously real fear: that of an indifferent economic system. Rather than creating conditions which may foster an open, free-flourishing subject, modern political-economy orchestrates the reverse: deepening repression, which unequivocally strengthens the cycle of regression. Perhaps this is what Sherman is signalling when he comments how the individual subject not objectified into character would:

“…be a work of art ceaselessly in progress. And, indeed, it is each individual constantly reworking his self (and, impliedly, the collective of which he is a part), that is the essence of the notion of the mediating subject. In contrast, what impels the individual to hypostatize the “old particularity” in its present existing form …/ is the fear that …/ he will die under the weight of an indifferent economic system. Under the right state of affairs, there would be no such fear, and the individual would free himself up to the world …/ Openness to a world to which the individual can actually afford to be open is therefore the very condition of the liberated subject, not his demise.[131]


Why is this line of thought important when reviewing Leiss’ essay, as well as others in Critical Ecologies? Considering, here, the betrayal of the Enlightenment as a continuation of the impulse toward identity and mastery, which is rooted in the existential dimension I’ve introduce and, thus, in self-preservation drives gone amok,[132] the basic impetus of “instrumental rationality” or, indeed, a distorted and economically mutated form of “reason”, is to essentially attack the very thing it is supposed to serve. Instrumental reason coupled with the hardened, closed nature of “constitutive subjectivity” employs the cognitive tactics of the domination of the object and of one’s self for the benefit of increasing control of (internal and external) nature.

On a social level, then, systemic domination emerges precisely in the organised system empowered to achieve a limitation of the human horizon in the form of a social circuit of self-preservation and power.

But the enlarged social apparatus that is required to refine, enlarge, and administer control over nature takes its revenge, for ‘the power of the system over human beings increases with every step they take away from the power of nature’. Enlarged, collective domination over nature is matched at every stage by a comparably heightened domination by some people over others.[133]

The point that I would like to pick up on, requires that we reach back to the argument I presented in the opening notes of this essay. Without sounding too repetitive: in the introduction, the reader may recall, I mentioned how the fundamental drive to secure dominion over all dimensions of natural life (i.e., ‘self-preservation gone wild’) ultimately reduces the sensitivity of human civilization, which thus assists in not only establishing but also maintaining the type of institutionalised social conditions that manifest violently as the very principle of mass (social) organisation. I also mentioned, on the back of this analysis, that it is along this line of critique where ideology is found at its utmost irreducible level. To expand on this discussion, what ideology does, how it performs, is as an attack. Even if only cognitively at times, it is an epistemological attack against the world of multifarious phenomena. It is an attack in the sense of reducing everything to the status of economic objects. Thus Horkheimer and Adorno explain:

“The rites of the shaman were directed at the wind, the rain, the snake outside or the demon inside the sick person, not at materials or specimens. The spirit which practiced magic was not single or identical; it changed with the cult masks which represented the multiplicity of spirits. Magic is bloody untruth, but in it domination is not yet disclaimed by transforming itself into a pure truth underlying the world which it enslaves. The magician imitates demons; to frighten or placate them he makes intimidating or appeasing gestures. Although his task was impersonation he did not claim to be made in the image of the invisible power, as does civilized man, whose modest hunting ground then shrinks to the unified cosmos, in which nothing exists but prey. Only when made in such an image does man attain the identity of the self which cannot be lost in identification with the other but takes possession of itself once and for all as an impenetrable mask. It is the identity of mind and its correlative, the unity of nature, which subdues the abundance of qualities. Nature, stripped of qualities, becomes the chaotic stuff of mere classification, and the all-powerful self becomes a mere having, an abstract identity. Magic implies specific representation. What is done to the spear, the hair, the name of the enemy, is also to befall his person; the sacrificial animal is slain in place of the god. The substitution which takes place in sacrifice marks a step toward discursive logic. Even though the hind which was offered up for the daughter, the lamb for the firstborn, necessarily still had qualities of its own, it already represented the genus. It manifested the arbitrariness of the specimen. But the sanctity of the hic et nunc, the uniqueness of the chosen victim which coincides with its representative status, distinguishes its radically, making it non-exchangeable even in the exchange. [135]

For me, when giving deep consideration for Adorno’s concepts of mimesis and regression, the existential dimension I claim lies beneath Dialectic of Enlightenment and its views on nature, begins to take rich form. While there is certainly a transhistorical element, again I do not see this as a problem. As Görg writes: “In a chapter from the appendix …/ the authors declare that a philosophical interpretation of world history must explain an ever more complete mastery of nature. But what is meant by a critique or a negative philosophy of history? Most readers interpret Dialectic of Enlightenment as a negative, pessimistic philosophy of history, one in which progress in history leads not to a positive future but rather to the catastrophes of the twentieth century. The problem with this interpretation, though, is that Adorno and Horkheimer do not want to abandon emancipation, critique, and enlightenment. On the contrary, they want to provide a ‘positive concept of the enlightenment’ that might guide us to another future. In this regard, the authors often maintain that the alternative between controlling nature or being controlled amounts to a metahistoric law that has guided human history from the beginning. But that law is also the object of Horkheimer and Adorno’s critique; and in that sense, they deconstruct it is as a metahistorical law. So it seems more appropriate to focus on the …/ argument that there is no universal logic of history. Accordingly, no possibility exists to create a philosophy of history as a unique entity or a single law of human activity. Following this argument, we have to deal with social reflexivity, which always changes the way of history and thereby generates historical differences.”[136]

To Görg’s point I could not be more sympathetic. And while he goes on to cite Marx, it should be added that for Adorno, the subject is historical inasmuch as the subject is not bound to history; the subject is seen to be able to transform. This is why Adorno and Horkheimer see the modern subject as both the creator and product of the Enlightenment’s philosophy of history.[137] In this sense, they show that the subject is historical or, better yet, rooted in history, which is “representative of the genealogy of the bourgeois individual” insofar the process of the betrayal of the Enlightenment “relocates context, meaning, and life entirely within a subjectivity which is actually constituted” by “this relocation”.[138] Thus societal transformation is an extremely deep process, one which I’ve previously characterised as being akin to a transitory healing process; because “through internalization and identification,” another aspect of the existential dimension, “the subject attempts to form a coherent self” and, also, impliedly, a coherent sense of social relations, “for whom life and meaning emerge” within the existing ‘bad’ social context. Socially, then, the general argument of how “control”, “repression”, and “exploitation” characterise a significant part of the history of Western society, also suggest a significant part of many people’s basic orientations in the world.[139] At no point can this not be overcome. However, even here the existential impulse is present and active – the anxiety to achieve some sense of ultimately security manifests, in a sense, in the blind faith in the existing social order. Domination, then, too, is seen to operate both on a structural and systemic level and also on the level of experience. Like the man with a dominant personality, who expresses a neurotic need for a sense of control in his relationships, there is always the possibility of transformation with the right therapy.[140] In terms of treating and transforming systems, our diagnosis must simultaneously factor both the structural and systemic levels of domination, and the reproduction of the repressed subjectivities that lay in behind and produce and reproduce dominant sociohistorical-cultural realities. I think, to a certain extent, the complex whole of Adorno’s social philosophy indicates as much, especially if we recognize the importance of the existential dimension that I’ve described throughout.

ii) Transhistorical critique

Moving forward, if I am right in my assertion that Dialectic of Enlightenment is best read as an account of the human inclination to constantly drive toward establishing a sense of (existentially-centered) dominant security in the name of the absolute, then already have I offered a thorough reply to one of Leiss’ main criticisms. In the example he cites concerning the experience and suffering of women in premodern civilizations to illustrate how there was no control over nature – that, Adorno and Horkheimer’s “domination of nature” thesis was misguided – the reply is already clearly laid out. As I wrote in my study in Consciousness and Revolt[141] and as was explained above: in premodern civilizations – in mythic society – nature was fate insofar that one’s existential circumstance was so utterly precarious, fate represented or characterized the limits of the human relation to the world. Indeed, there may have not been direct or physical control over nature, or, for that matter, over one’s precarious existential condition. Conceptually, however, attempts to control nature were present and this, for me, is the point of particular significance when I read Dialectic of Enlightenment. In other words, the “domination of nature” thesis is not always about direct domination; it is also about the futile attempts to achieve domination, physically or conceptually. In some sense, this account provides an even more radical basis for Sartre concept of “bad faith”.

To expand on this point and on my comment in a previous discussion regarding the primitive objectification present in past nature-based religions, let us consider one of the examples I used in Consciousness and Revolt concerning the Idol of Fertility.

If I am right in my assertion that Dialectic of Enlightenment is best read as an account of the human inclination to constantly drive toward establishing a sense of (existentially-centered) dominant security in the name of the absolute, there is no better example of primitive objectification than in how certain nature religions, especially those who, in response to nature as fate, deified “fertility”. In this case, “fertility” was made absolute – it was universalized as an absolute faith-based principle – while the other dimensions of life were perceived as inferior or secondary. The objective of such deification? To master nature, or, at least, achieve a sense of mastery over nature. Was it possible that nature be actually mastered? No. But the existence of the drive to do so is precisely what is important to acknowledge. Moreover, the mythic concept of fertility in the past was really an effort to obtain a (false) sense of control over pure fate, not only in terms of pregnancy and childbearing, but also in terms of an attempt to control the fate of future harvests, and so on.[142] Thus human beings turned the concept of fertility into the god of Fertility – into an Idol, an absolute or “totalized experiential orientation” in order to achieve a (false) sense of ultimate security in the midst of extremely precarious life.

It is one the basis of this analysis in which I introduced the concept of the “transhistorical ideology of domination” in a past paper, which I believe is an incredibly important aspect of Horkheimer and Adorno’s analysis. This idea of the “transhistorical ideology of domination”, based entirely on Adorno and Horkheimer’s dialectic of enlightenment, is, as I see it, rooted in history. In the same way that the deification of the concept of fertility resulted in the securing of a “totalized experiential orientation”[143], so too does the drive of instrumental reason aim toward a certain totalized and reductionistic approach to the phenomenal world. Adorno’s critique of the principle of “universal exchange” is more than telling in this regard. In the case of both myth and instrumental reason, it has already been described how everything tends to get reduced to the status of mere ‘object’ which can therefore be manipulated and controlled – where everything can be absolutely accounted for. Thus the statement by Horkheimer and Adorno that the enlightenment confuses “the animate with the inanimate, just as myth compounds the inanimate with the animate”.[144] More tellingly, for me, what this analysis discloses or reveals is a foundational critique of epistemology which, in a manner of speaking, is one of the most significant and useful parts of any potential transhistorical aspect of the dialectic of enlightenment moving forward. As this critique of epistemology would surely, to my mind, strengthen Adorno’s philosophy of history without necessary succumbing to or necessitating a “totalized theory of history”.

My claim, again, is that this historical continuity – a sort of transhistorical ideology witnessed in a critique of epistemology – between Myth and the Enlightenment, is represented by an unreconciled level of anxiety that is rooted in the experience of the world’s lack of an absolute framework: i.e., how the phenomenal world of experience does not offer us ‘absolute certainty’ or ‘ultimate security’.[145] One responds, as I have already noted, to the phenomenological-basis of a lack of an “absolute experiential orientation” in several ways or in no ways at all. For example, the inclination to be resistant to diversity, divergence or “otherness” as well as the commonly described universal trait of the “human resistance to change”, are expressions of the sort of existential angst I am alluding to. But if there is any sense of ontology being implied, it is strictly a phenomenological-ontology which remains open to Horkheimer and Adorno’s emphasis on not hypostatizing historical tendencies or categories as unchanging, while also not rejecting universal history on behalf of pure discontinuity.[146] Moreover, a common error of reading in the existential-phenomenological is to interpret basic existentials of life as unchangeable universal laws[147]. Adorno was more than critical of such an unfortunate theoretical error, especially in his critique of Heidegger and the existential tradition;[148] but at no point am I claiming to subscribe to such a view.

Furthermore – and this point I would like to stress – the existential dimension of the dialectic of enlightenment does not necessarily have to always be a response to nature, or to the phenomenal world. I am under no illusion that the existential thesis can, if allowed, become removed from a socio-historical point of critique. Thus I should like to emphasise that existential fear or threatenedness – the impulse to close-down to the world and therefore take distance from phenomena, including other people, and thus open space for dominating social paradigms – can also be a response to existing ‘bad’ sociohistorical-cultural conditions. And, to say it again, I do not see this claim to run against the arguments presented in Dialectic of Enlightenment.

Admittedly, then, I’ve often found a certain concept of the transhistorical useful, precisely when we ask: what actually is the continuity between pre-modern and modern society? What underlines that historical, empirical reproduction of dominating social conditions or systems – not in the sense of a total theory of history, but more so in terms of Western trends or even outside western capitalist trends? Hence my previous reference to Social Domination Orientation, because what interests most is a foundational level of critique: what is it precisely that drives or underpins the historical shift from systems of direct domination to systems of in-direct domination (the latter being capitalist societies)? For me, there is something transhistorical beneath the surface, which propels or indeed fosters the genesis of dominating social conditions (hierarchy, power-dynamics, etc.) and underpins the historical birth of the systemic dominance of capital.

But if the line of thought that I have illustrated is still not enough, let us address Leiss’ and other’s concerns from another angle. Concerning any potential issue regarding Adorno and Horkheimer’s study being guilty of an irreparably totalized philosophy of history that posits a single law of human activity – even after my present exercise of critical retrieval – perhaps it is worth noting that Adorno is very clear in Negative Dialectics and elsewhere about the pitfalls of a frustratingly general view of history. Similar to young Marx’s materialism, Adorno clearly states for example:

Even philosophical hypostasis has its empirical content in the heteronomous conditions in which human conditions faded from sight. What is irrational in the concept of the world spirit was borrowed from the irrationality of the world’s course, and yet it remains a fetishistic spirit. To this day history lacks any total subject, however construable. Its substrate is the functional connection of real individual subjects: “History does nothing, does not ‘possess vast wealth,’ does not ‘fight battles’! It is man, rather, the real, living man who does all that, who does possess and fight; it is not ‘history’ that uses man as a means to pursue its ends, as if it were a person apart. History is nothing but the activity of man pursuing his ends.” But history is equipped with those qualities because society’s law of motion has for thousands of years been abstracting from its individual subjects, degrading them to mere executors, mere partners in social wealth and social struggle. The debasement was as real as the fact that on the other hand there would be nothing without individuals and their spontaneities. Marx stressed this antinominalist aspect time and again, though without admitting its philosophical consistency.[149]

Although Adorno is generally committed to the particular “over which a bad social totality runs roughshod,” he is also generally committed to the “Hegelian-Marxist view that these particulars must be understood within the context of the bad social totality in which they exist”.[150] In fact, it is quite clear that Adorno’s social philosophy is ultimately grounded in history and set against “the process of abstraction that is begun for universality’s sake”.[151] Just because his social philosophy sets forth a philosophy of history, even positing metahistorical theory, particularly in relation to the genealogy of the subject, does not necessarily mean that he is guilty of subscribing to an abstract supra-historical perspective. This point is as clear as day in passage on freedom, where Adorno writes: “Where freedom will hide out at any moment in history cannot be decreed once and for all. Freedom turns concrete in changing forms of repression, as resistance to repression. There has been as much free will as there were men with the will to be free. But freedom itself and unfreedom are so entangled that unfreedom is not just an impediment to freedom but a premise of its concept”.[152] In history, the same could be said of non-dominance: non-dominant organisation exists as a concept precisely because domination, which is overwhelmingly universal (albeit not absolute), serves as its premise. In just a few sentences it is clear that Adorno’s view of history provides ample room for acknowledgement that not everyone dominates nature in irrationally destructive ways, even if he doesn’t explicitly communicate the point as such. Further, his criticism of Hegel is also notable here as his negative dialectics splits with Hegel in part by preferring to emphasize the particular rather than the universal, which also has implications with regards to Adorno’s overall history model.[153] However, again, whether Adorno is always successful at explicitly acknowledging, for instance, that not every human being or instance or interaction involves domination is a better-phrased question than different points of critique found in Critical Ecologies.

Görg makes a similar point when he cites Marx’s famous statement: ‘men make their own history’ – an argument not at all far from Adorno’s own position.[154] Görg summarizes in precise terms that, “our interpretation of history is part of history, and ‘we’ produce history as a performative act what we call the laws of history. Historical differences, then, are the reasons for what [Horkheimer and Adorno] call the ‘historical index of theory’: we inevitably reflect the specific historical conditions in which we produce interpretations, and in that way we are involved in making history”. Furthermore, as I have elaborated elsewhere, the development of a progressive and radical philosophy of the subject was vital to Adorno’s overall philosophical project.[155] In turn, inasmuch that for Adorno theory is rooted in history; at the same time, theory is not bound to history insofar as we’re not ontologically unable to think through and transform our current situation, as is ultimately the problem with positivism. Instead, Adorno makes clear that the concern of critical theory is with sociohistorical-cultural circumstances (as opposed to a negative universal history),[156] which, in turn, also means that his theory may one day become obsolete (hence, too, the need to constantly re-evaluate the very notion of critical theory, its concepts and application within the changing nature of our contemporary circumstances).

Following Sherman, if we abandon Adorno’s idea of “totally administered society” – i.e., his totalization of theory and transformation – then Adorno’s view on history becomes all the more revolutionary and progressive. This is especially so if we consider, once more, that when Horkheimer and Adorno assert that “myth is already enlightenment, and enlightenment reverts to mythology”,[157] what they mean by this observation, on my reading, is not that enlightenment necessarily reverts to mythology. As Zuidervaart reflects, it is clear that Horkheimer and Adorno are analysing historical tendencies and not asserting unchanging categories.[158] The point, again, is really how a regressive form of thought that is actually anti-enlightenment has a tendency to complete a reversion to myth, because, in my own words, the underlying impetus of instrumental rationality is the same as that which once drove myth. And while Horkheimer and Adorno don’t explicitly assert an existential thesis per se, it nevertheless proves not to be incompatible to make that existential dimension explicit. In doing so, as I have hopefully indicated, one can actually help ground their analysis, providing a richer level of socio-historical critique.

In turn, by making explicit the existential dimension which underlies the dialectic of enlightenment, we gain important insights into why dominant social systems are historically reproduced and, also, crucially, how we might break the cycle and conceptualize an emancipatory concept of enlightenment.

3) From Patterns of Blind Domination to Liberation

In Görg’s article, which I’ve already introduced, we read in parts a fairly strong argument toward how, as humans, we cannot avoid exploiting and transforming nature. Görg even goes so far to explain that a certain degree of exploitation and transformation of nature is a “natural” aspect of human society. In light of Adorno and with Dialectic of Enlightenment in mind, Görg asserts that, if contemporary critical theory is going to grasp a critical ecology, we must understand that “society is …/ always dependent on its material conditions of existence, which are anchored in nature.”[159] He then presents a striking discussion on how society can no longer ignore that such dependencies exist,[160] calling, in turn, for a more advanced understanding of the mastery of nature, which, fundamentally speaking, requires that we “distinguish among the appropriation of nature for human needs” , the “destruction of nature”, and the “mastery of nature”.[161] For Görg, and I quite agree, “the former two are to some degree necessary”, “whereas the mastery of nature refers to a neglect of the non-identity of nature.”[162]

Regarding this last point, the “non-identity of nature” is in reference to Adorno’s negative dialectics, something I will pursue in depth another time. However, for the sake of continuing the current engagement in this essay, it is important to note that what Görg is pursuing in his application of Adorno is a critique of the “total subsumption” of nature under societal aims (i.e., under capitalist forms of appropriation), which essentially functions without respecting that nature has its own meaning.

In short, for Görg, we can effect change within our current sociohistorical-cultural circumstances and, indeed, we must alter our way of doing things.[163] However, the fundamental issue we face today – or at least one of the fundamental issues we face – does not necessarily pertain to the will to dominate or master nature; rather Görg sees the problem as being in the pervasive manner in which capitalism drives to accumulate. In this respect, he is partly right. One of the most destructive parts of capitalism, as we increasingly witness, is its lack of concern with regards to natural limitations. Hence one of the basic arguments by green movements regarding the insanity of ‘pursuing constant growth on a planet of finite resources’. The logic of critique here speaks clearly for itself.

For Adorno, too, it should be recognized that within the critique of the “domination of nature” also resides the disputed relation between subject and object. In considering this disputed relation, “the question of normative judgements about economic systems” comes to the fore.[164] As Zuidervaart rightly asserts: “the subject-object relation and the question of normative critique are at work in “The Concept of Enlightenment”,”[165] which is the first essay in Dialectic of Enlightenment. Zuidervaart goes on to explain:

This can be seen from the prominence given to a pattern of blind domination when Adorno and Horkheimer explain the “disaster triumphant” that has befallen “the wholly enlightened earth.” In their account, blind domination occurs in three tightly interlinked modes: as human domination over nature; as domination over nature within human existence; and, within both of these modes, as the domination of some human beings by others. To provide terminological markers for these three modes of domination, I shall use the terms “control”, “repression,” and “exploitation,” respectively. Critics of Adorno either downplay one of these modes or argue that they are not tightly interlinked in the manner he suggests. My own response is that all three modes do actually characterize modern Western societies and that understanding their interlinkage is crucial for a transformative social theory.[166]

In pursuing his analysis of these three interlinked modes of domination, Zuidervaart rightly claims that each requires its own form of normative critique.[167] Indeed, if Dialectic of Enlightenment “hovers near the trap of totalizing critique”, this is because “it does not differentiate sufficiently in its critique of domination”.[168] Accordingly, Zuidervaart contributes constructively to the retrieval and advancement of Dialectic of Enlightenment by showing why:

1) For Adorno and Horkheimer, violence is systemic[169], particularly insofar that “this systemic violence has emerged in a specific configuration, namely, in the imbrication of control (Naturbeherrschung) with repression and exploitation.[170]

2) Why the differentiation of cultural spheres, and particular advances within science, art, and morality, are neither separate from nor reducible to societal tendencies.[171]

3) If developments within the cultural sphere are to “deliver what they promise – for so-called progress not to be cursed with “irresistible regression” – systemic violence needs to be recognized and resisted”, a point which, for Zuidervaart, is the truth to Adorno’s “remembrance of nature”.[172]

If, however, a recurring theme within Critical Ecologies is an attempt to sharpen or advanced what’s best in Dialectic of Enlightenment by way, for instance, of a critique of the “domination of nature” thesis and, therefore, too, Horkheimer and Adorno’s critique of scientism and instrumental reason, one senses at times a particular struggle underlining the author’s collective exploration. This struggle, I think, has to do with how it becomes difficult to “recognize and resist” systemic violence if, to borrow the words of Zuidervaart, “control, repression, and exploitation become fused in the critical concept of “domination”.”[173] This struggle comes out – and here I am thinking of Görg’s essay in particular – as certain author’s attempt to undertake the delicate balance between, for instance, a critique of control – i.e., the control of nature – and the need for some sort of control.

In return to Görg’s essay, moreover, his argument could be strengthened by Zuidervaart’s sufficient differentiation in his analysis of Adorno’s critique of domination. For Adorno, as Zuidervaart argues, not all control of nature is illegitimate.[174] “In fact, [Adorno] regards some control to be necessary if human freedom is to be possible.”[175] But, as in Görg’s essay, the question that ultimately arises concerns, “how the distinction should be drawn between legitimate and liberating control, on the one hand, and illegitimate and destructive control, on the other.”[176] I’m not convinced that Görg or others in Critical Ecologies satisfy the need for a normative point of critique in this regard.

Zuidervaart, on the other hand, offers one possible intervention. He argues that if enlightenment mastery gets distorted in being driven by fear, then an alternative to this fear would presumably be a form of recognition, which Adorno’s Eingedenken der Natur suggests.[177] And yet, as Zuidervaart reflects, “it cannot be a straightforward recognition of “nature” as “other”,” which, in places, is present in Critical Ecologies (barring one or two essays, which will be discussed another time). Similarly, nor can this recognition “be merely a recognition of nature’s power as the object of fear”.[178] Instead, and here lies one of the central points of my own argument, this recognition must be a form of “mutual intersubjectivity of human beings with other creatures in the dimensions of life they share”.[179] Indeed, while I am tempted to recite here several important books in the tradition of humanist psychology, the very general proposition I would like to make is how: if the existential dimension of the dialectic of enlightenment is crucial to acknowledging the possibility of revolutionary transformation, it is precisely because of this need for an alternative anthropology, epistemology and cosmology.[180] It is no coincidence that this was the basic argument I presented in my study Consciousness and Revolt. It is also a point I continually formulate in my ongoing series on an “alternative philosophy of systemic change”.

Furthermore, after clarifying the notions of “repression” and “exploitation” as the second and third modes of domination respectively, Zuidervaart reaches the following conclusion, which I suggest will only strengthen Görg’s main thesis and will also provide a tentative sketch of the grounds for a break from systemic domination. He writes, moreover, that having distinguished three forms of systemic violence in Western societies (control, repression, and exploitation), and having posited the basis for the normative critique for each:

The control of nature becomes violent when it does not promote the interconnected flourishing of all creatures but promotes human flourishing at the expense of all other creatures. The formation of the self becomes violent when it represses urges and desires that would lead to the satisfication of basic needs. And the social distribution of power becomes exploitative, and therefore illegitimate and destructive, when it persistently promotes the apparent flourishing of one group at the expense of another.[181]

This formulation, to my mind, represents a key aspect of the practical synthesis of Adorno’s critical social theory. In a certain sense, it translates along political lines into how: what a critical social theory must address is not only why hunger, poverty, and other forms of human suffering persist despite the technological and scientific potential to mitigate them or to eliminate them altogether. [182] In the struggle to come to grips with climate change, critical social philosophy must lead the pursuit in addressing how, while preserving an emancipatory concept of society, a progressive theory of systemic change might unfold across all dimensions of social and existential life, including, importantly, an existential form of reconciliation with nature beyond the recognition of nature’s power (as an object of fear). Differential transformation is, indeed, a key concept here (see the first essay of my series). But a more accessible and progressive view of science, society and nature, not to mention a retrieved concept of “progress”, should coincide with transformative social philosophy of the enlightenment which supports a confrontation with the pressing issue of climate change structurally, while also recognizing the existential dimension and how this dimensions might be reconciled in light of a foundational vision of an actual democratic, egalitarian society. Climate change is not only an environmental problem or an ecological problem. It necessarily brings into question the need for the reorganisation of political-economy, as well as basic social and relational life. Movements centred around sustainability, whether on a community or industrial level, offer glimpses of technological potential. But this potential will not become part of a systemic solution, unless it also coincides with transformation across all social and existential spheres.

Moreover, it is undoubtedly the case that climate change and the modern ecological crisis must move into the forefront of critical theory today. But, in tackling these problems and, too, in assisting in the formulation of alternatives – such as alternative agriculture systems in relation to post-capitalist forms of organisation – we must not lose sight of what, to my mind, is the foundational goal of critical theory: the elimination of needless social suffering. In other words, critical theory must ask, normatively, what transformations in society, philosophy, and culture would be “both possible and required in order for needless suffering to end”.[183] Just as in Adorno’s proposal of “a new ethical imperative”[184] and in his analysis of the philosophical pursuit of truth[185], the need to let suffering speak is crucial for the future of environmental philosophy[186] and for ensuring the basic existential needs of people.

A clear first step would be a form of recognition of the indescribable suffering caused by capitalism, wherein human flourishing – or, at least, production and development of society – arise at the expense of all other creatures. This is an area a number of author’s formulate in some detail in Critical Ecologies, and it is certainly an area of real specificity when it comes to critical theoretic engagements with the current global ecological crisis. What this discussion calls out for, however, is a more focused discussion on actual alternatives – that is, a systematic and detailed analysis of possible alternative forms available in the here and now, with a mind toward the emancipatory “not yet” (to play on Bloch) symbolic of the greater transitory process moving forward into the future. Such a discussion extends beyond the scope of this series of essays, but it is one I have begun exploring in a series on transitioning to alternative agricultural systems.[187]

If we are to take seriously a retrieval of Adorno and Horkheimer’s dialectic of enlightenment, then such a provocative philosophical project must continue to defend Enlightenment ideals, like the historical principle of emancipation; freedom from necessary labour; egalitarian democracy; the use of technology to advance liberation; and science-based study. In assisting progressive and radically democratic movements across all spheres of society, an engaged critical social philosophy must assist in working through defend, retrieving and advancing the Enlightenment. Coming down on the side of freedom, Adorno knew all too well that antinomies still remained had to be worked through, as evidenced in his “freedom model” which Sherman wonderfully illustrates. Working through these antinomies would further free and progress toward a deeper realization of the enlightenment.

In terms of engaging with the development of post-capitalist alternatives, the concept of “societal relationships with nature” must be front and centre. Görg’s article already sets us on the right path. But what of that crucial existential dimension so often referenced throughout the entirety of this work?


The title of this work is “Systemic Cycles of Domination and Imagining the Horizon of Liberation: An Engagement with Dialectic of Enlightenment”. Inasmuch that the issue of domination has been explored, what of the other side: liberation. I have already started to introduce a few points throughout this essay, most recently in the context of Zuidervaart’s analysis. And while there is not enough space to develop a thorough account of liberation here (something I’ll save for later), especially its social-political and economic dimensions, there is room for one comment before addressing my argument regarding existential reconciliation. Considering Adorno believed like Marx that labor disfigures human beings, I’ve always read Adorno’s critical theory as being concerned, in part, with then a fundamental reconceptualization of labor. The idea being here the possibility to one day pass beyond the limits of labor or, better yet, beyond a social condition in which labor is imposed on human beings as well as an existential condition in which labor is necessary. Perhaps I am guilty of putting too much of a utopian spin on Adorno’s thinking, but the broad sentiment I would like to highlight, as I did in my paper on alternative agricultural systems, is the continued importance of emancipating human beings from “necessary labor” inasmuch as this emancipation is essential to breaking systemic cycles of domination. It’s indeed hard to imagine a world free of labor, especially “necessary labor”, but isn’t this what Adorno’s negative dialectics demands?

With regards to the notion of existential reconciliation, on the other hand: if “a clear first step” would be a form of recognition of the indescribable suffering caused by capitalism, the same should be posited regarding the basic sufferings of life (outside political-economic produced suffering). By reconciliation, not only do I mean to reference the relation between society and nature, but more precisely: the existential impulse to master nature, to respond to nature in a reactionary, insecure and dominant way. Reconciliation here also implies emancipation, if we consider that the existential dimension of the dialectic of enlightenment also pertains to the earliest necessity of human labor and, moving forward, its potential alleviation.

Moving on, as Görg writes: “what is needed …/ is a new concept of social emancipation, one that addresses the emancipation of human beings but not at the cost of nature. In other words, it is not nature we need to master, but rather our societal relationships with nature – that is, we need to control the impact of those relationships have on nature, with all the societal repercussions they entail.”[189] Görg expands, by also suggesting “this idea became paradigmatic for Horkheimer and Adorno in their Dialectic of Enlightenment”, writing:

The common feature here [in Dialectic of Enlightenment] is that enlightenment’s purpose is to remove fear of nature that humans experience. But this is precisely what leads to a return of mythical fears and real threats. The reason for this is a false alternative in the concept of enlightenment.[190]

Zuidervaart takes things a step further, however, providing the most progressive theoretical sketch of reconciliation that I have seen in some time from an Adornian scholar. To expand on Zuidervaart’s account, I should like to add that the sort of recognition that he postulates, which isn’t all that different to the sort of “mutual recognition” Richard Gunn and Adrian Wilding formulate in light of Hegel,[191] would, to some degree, require as prerequisite therapeutic reconciliation of the existential distress of the subject. It would require, in another way, a sort of healing and reconciliation both in terms of the repression experienced at the hands of modern political-economy and also on a deeper level, with respect to human suffering in a precarious world. It is not a coincidence, moreover, that the sort of “mediating subject” hypothesised by Sherman in light of Adorno, is evidenced in situations in which the subject seems to convey a certain degree of emotional security in being open to the world. In past writings I am always quick to reference Summerhill School in this regard, where the ethos set by A.S Neill, who just so happened to be friends with Erich Fromm (among others), is to provide democratic, non-dominant, and mutually recognitive conditions in which the individual subject can develop openly, freely, fluidly, and therefore with a healthy centre to thus confidently face the world in a manner more close to the subject-subject paradigm. In other words, emphasis is on healthy subject-formation, which obviously runs directly against the sort of subject-formulation propagated in modern capitalist societies. It is truly amazing to compare the children at Summerhill with those who attend the average state school. In some sense, what we observe in progressive and more reconciled schools like Summerhill are educational environments that exhibit much more integral, critical and experientially coherent visions of life and politics.[192] In these schools one often witnesses an alternative anthropology, epistemology and cosmology in practice (however fragile in the face of a dominant social-historical, cultural context outside the school).

Additionally, along political lines, the general trajectory of my argument in this essay follows that which has been developed in Heathwood’s ongoing research on Occupy-style movements, radical (or actual) democracy, and emancipatory politics. In short, to borrow Gunn and Wilding’s thesis: the emphasis here is on a radical shift from “contradictory recognition” – i.e., the subject-object paradigm, systemic alienation, hierarchy, authoritarianism, and one-way circuits of power – toward the emancipatory horizon of “mutual recognition” – i.e., intimate subject-subject relations, horizontality, participatory democracy, and, to borrow from Carl Rogers, a repair of the structural deficit of empathy.[193] This line of thought certainly also reinforces Zuidervaart’s description of revolutionary transformation in the form of “mutual intersubjectivity of human beings with other creatures in the dimensions of life they share”. It also reinforces my own observations with regards to progressive, radical alternative education.

What this general theoretical trajectory builds toward or, in the very least, supports, is precisely the idea I described earlier with regards to an alternative philosophy of systemic change. In truth, I have already developed quite a bit on such an account of systemic change in a number of other places. In general, if one could set a few markers in terms of identifying key points of the theoretical and practical horizon, one of the first points to acknowledge would have to be a theory of the open, mediating, and efficacious subject – i.e., the free-flourishing subject[194] – who would no longer feel inclined to resort to totalized political frameworks and a hardened instrumental rationality. To those who might be quick to respond that I am putting the cart before the horse – that structural transformation must occur first, either through party or leader – I offer the following refutation: do we not already see such an account of emancipatory, grassroots, prefigurative politics and subjectivity throughout the world today? What is it, moreover, about Occupy-style politics or movements, which are so deeply progressive and emancipatory, if not the manner in which they already evidence a degree of mutual recognition.[195] If the ultimate goal or rationale of such progressive democratic movements is seen as the emancipatory activity of mutual recognition, which commonising entails in the field of participatory public engagement,[196] then already, to paraphrase Sherman, the type of “mediating subject” that Adorno wants to work toward is evidenced in action.[197] The very ideal of Adorno’s liberated subject, “which continues to inspire innumerable acts of resistance,” testifies to the existence of such movements inasmuch as it also testifies to the potential horizon which sees, in essence, patterns of blind domination – that is, the “domination of nature” – potentially overcome.[198] The method of the “mediating subject”, which I have argued in the past is evidenced generally in Occupy’s “mutually recognitive” politics, is furthermore a testament to understanding our knowing, our relating to the phenomenal world, as a matter of persistence, insofar that each individual, each phenomenon, is constantly revealing itself and no longer oppressed by “constitutive subjective” (again, however fragile or fleeting).[199]

In therefore contemplating Adorno and Horkheimer’s analysis, including the deep systemic and existential inclination toward the “domination of nature”, and how this issue might be overcome, Jessica Benjamin is right to suggest that we can begin by imaging: “that some form of development toward sociability would occur in the presence of other subjects who do not exercise coercion”.[200] Thus, in recognizing the prefigurative spaces opening up all over the world, whether through small student occupations or larger factory or public occupations, not only are promissory notes of a better world pinned onto the ledger of history’s narrative;[201] but it is notable how much of a social-collective process is at play with regards to re-configuring the problematic existential paradigm that has for so long plagued humanity.

Capitalism, which is alienating, only deepens the existential dimension of the dialectic of enlightenment. And yet, however tentatively, the sort of radical non-dominant, grassroots, participatory, prefigurative political movements today create a space which, not only supports the opening up of the subject; it supports a deeper exploration of emotional, psychological, existential and social transformations. In doing so, these movements, collectively, fosters conditions in which the individual subject, no longer alone, may begin to feel less fear and trepidation in the face of the world. It is thus precisely the social character of what it means to be human beings in the world – it is in that coming together – where the possibility of a certain existential reconciliation might also be found which, generally put, could potentially strengthen “a new concept of social emancipation – one that address the emancipation of human beings but not at the cost of nature” or other human beings.[202] In other words: emancipatory change must be, from the start, a living reality. If it is to be possible, if a positive concept of enlightenment is to be realized, if the systemic trend of the “domination of nature” is to be reversed, and, indeed, if mutual recognition is to be possible, the goal has to exist in the present.[203] As Gunn, Wilding and I once wrote: for emancipation to be emancipation, it must start as it aims to go on.[204]

Notes and References

[1] Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), p. xviii

[2] Lambert Zuidervaart, Social Philosophy after Adorno (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 108-131

[3] Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), p. xviii

[4] Several important, engaged and progressive critiques of Dialectic of Enlightenment have emerged in recent years. My main focus is on the following texts: Critical Ecologies: The Frankfurt School and the Contemporary Environmental Crisis, ed. Andrew Biro (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011); David Sherman, Sartre and Adorno: The Dialectics of Subjectivity (New York: SUNY Press, 2007); Lambert Zuidervaart, Social Philosophy after Adorno (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

[5] The notion of prefiguration here refers to the ongoing research series at Heathwood on radical (or actual) democracy and emancipatory politics.

[6] Adrian Wilding, Review: Critical Ecologies: The Frankfurt School and Contemporary Environmental Crises (Heathwood Press, 2015): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/review-critical-ecologies-frankfurt-school-contemporary-environmental-crises/

[7] Ibid

[8] Adrian Wilding, Review: Critical Ecologies: The Frankfurt School and Contemporary Environmental Crises (Heathwood Press, 2015): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/review-critical-ecologies-frankfurt-school-contemporary-environmental-crises/

[9] Ibid

[10] A wonderful overview of the dialectics of humanistic psychology can be found in John Rowan’s book Ordinary Ecstasy : The Dialectics of Humanistic Psychology (Brunner-Routledge, 2001). My general reference to “humanistic psychology”, however, is broad and representative of such key thinkers ranging from Abraham Maslow, Rollo May, Carl Rogers, Gordon Allport and James Bugental to Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse and others.

[11] R.C. Smith, Consciousness and Revolt: An Exploration toward Reconciliation (Holt: Heathwood Press, 2011)

[12] Ibid

[13] David Sherman, Dialectic of Subjectivity: Sartre and Adorno (New York: SUNY Press, 2007), pp. 181-198

[14] Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment trans. Edmund Jephcott (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), p. 1; emphasis added

[15] R.C. Smith, Consciousness and Revolt: An Exploration toward Reconciliation (Holt: Heathwood Press, 2011); also see John Rowan’s book Ordinary Ecstasy : The Dialectics of Humanistic Psychology (Brunner-Routledge, 2001) for a terrific overview.

[16] R.C. Smith, Consciousness and Revolt: An Exploration toward Reconciliation (Holt: Heathwood Press, 2011)

[17] Ibid

[18] Ibid

[19] Ibid

[20] Kirsten Fischer, In the Beginning was the Murder: Destruction of Nature and Interhuman Violence in Adorno’s Critique of Culture (Heathwood Press, 2013): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/in-the-beginning-was-the-murder-destruction-of-nature-and-interhuman-violence-in-adorno-critique-of-culture/

[21] Ibid

[22] Ibid

[23] Lambert Zuidervaart, Social Philosophy after Adorno (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 6-7

[24] Ibid

[25] David Sherman, David Sherman, Sartre and Adorno: The Dialectics of Subjectivity (New York: SUNY Press, 2007), pp.6-7

[26] David Sherman, David Sherman, Sartre and Adorno: The Dialectics of Subjectivity (New York: SUNY Press, 2007), p. 271

[27] David Sherman, Sartre and Adorno: The Dialectics of Subjectivity (New York: SUNY Press, 2007)

[28] R.C. Smith, Revolution, History and Dominating Social Systems: Notes on a foundational approach to systemic change (Heathwood Press, 2014: http://www.heathwoodpress.com/revolution-history-and-dominating-social-systems-notes-on-a-foundational-approach-to-systemic-change-lecture-notes-2013-2014/

[29] Ibid

[30] R.C. Smith, The Ticklish Subject? A critique of Zizek’s Lacanian theory of subjectivity, with emphasis on an alternative (Holt: Heathwood Press, 2014).

[31] R.C. Smith, Consciousness and Revolt: An Exploration toward Reconciliation (Heathwood Press, 2011)

[32] Lambert Zuidervaart, “Theodor W. Adorno”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.): http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2011/entries/adorno/

[33] Lambert Zuidervaart, “Theodor W. Adorno”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.): http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2011/entries/adorno/

[34] Felicia Pratto and Jim Sidanius (et al.), Social Dominance Orientation: A Personality Variable Predicting Social and Political Attitudes (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1994)

[35] R.C. Smith, Consciousness and Revolt: An Exploration toward Reconciliation (Heathwood Press, 2011)

[36] This paragraph is largely take from an old paper of mine titled “Revolution, History and Dominating Social Systems: Notes on a foundational approach to systemic change”. You can find it here: http://www.heathwoodpress.com/revolution-history-and-dominating-social-systems-notes-on-a-foundational-approach-to-systemic-change-lecture-notes-2013-2014/


[37] Simon Clarke, The Neoliberal Theory of Society: The Ideological Foundations of Neo-liberalism (Heathwood Press, 2013): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/the-neoliberal-theory-of-society-the-ideological-foundations-of-neo-liberalism/

[38] David Sherman, Sartre and Adorno: The Dialectic of Subjectivity New York: SUNY Press, 2007), p. 77

[39] David Sherman, Sartre and Adorno: The Dialectic of Subjectivity New York: SUNY Press, 2007), p. 77

[40] David Sherman, Sartre and Adorno: The Dialectic of Subjectivity New York: SUNY Press, 2007)

[41] Robert King, Food Shortages, Social unrest and the low-Input Alternative (Heathwood Press, 2013): http://tinyurl.com/o3sjpab; R.C. Smith, Crisis, Social Transformation and the Frankfurt School: Toward a Critical Social Systems Theory and an Alternative Philosophy of Systemic Change (Spanda, Vol. VI, 1, 2015)

[42] R.C. Smith, Crisis, Social Transformation and the Frankfurt School: Toward a Critical Social Systems Theory and an Alternative Philosophy of Systemic Change (Spanda, Vol. VI, 1, 2015)

[43] Douglas Kellner, Critical Theory and the Crisis of Social Theory (Heathwood Press, 2014): http://tinyurl.com/of3ylom

[44] Max Horkheimer, “The State of Contemporary Social Philosophy and the Tasks of an Institute for Social Research” in Critical Theory and Society: A Reader, ed. Stephen Eric Bronner and Douglas Kellner (New York and London: Routledge, 1989)

[45] Max Horkheimer, “Vorwort.” Zeitschrift fur Sozialforschung. Vol. 1:i-iv; quoted by Douglas Kellner, Critical Theory and the Crisis of Social Theory (Heathwood Press, 2014): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/critical-theory-and-the-crisis-of-social-theory-douglas-kellner/

[46] Ibid

[47] Ibid

[48] See my past papers on an “alternative philosophy of systemic change”, including discussions on Occupy-style politics, radical democracy, and emancipatory politics.

[49] R.C. Smith, Crisis, Social Transformation and the Frankfurt School: Toward a Critical Social Systems Theory and an Alternative Philosophy of Systemic Change (Spanda, Vol. VI, 1, 2015)

[50] Lambert Zuidervaart, “Theodor W. Adorno”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.): http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2011/entries/adorno/

[51] Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), p. 11

[52] Lambert Zuidervaart, “Theodor W. Adorno”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.): http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2011/entries/adorno/

[53] Ibid

[54] Ibid

[55] Felicia Pratto and Jim Sidanius (et al.), Social Dominance Orientation: A Personality Variable Predicting Social and Political Attitudes (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1994), p. 741

[56] Ibid

[57] Ibid

[58] Ibid

[59] Ibid

[60] Ibid, pp. 743-745

[61] Ibid, p. 741

[62] Adrian Wilding first posited these questions during an informal discussion with R.C. Smith.

[63] Ibid

[64] R.C. Smith, Promissory notes of a better world: Occupy, radical democracy and the question of revolutionary politics (Heathwood Press, 2014: http://www.heathwoodpress.com/promissory-notes-better-world-occupy-radical-democracy-question-revolutionary-politics/)

[65] Adrian Wilding, Review: Critical Ecologies: The Frankfurt School and Contemporary Environmental Crises (Heathwood Press, 2015: http://www.heathwoodpress.com/review-critical-ecologies-frankfurt-school-contemporary-environmental-crises/#)

[66] Lambert Zuidervaart, Social Philosophy after Adorno (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 131

[67] David Sherman, Sartre and Adorno: The Dialectics of Subjectivity (New York: SUNY Press, 2007)

[68] Lambert Zuidervaart, Social Philosophy after Adorno (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)

[69] Ibid

[70] David Sherman, Sartre and Adorno: The Dialectics of Subjectivity (New York: SUNY Press, 2007)

[71] Ibid

[72] William Leiss, “Modern Science, Enlightenment, and the Domination of Nature: No Exit?” in Critical Ecologies: The Frankfurt School and the Contemporary Environmental Crisis, ed. Biro, A. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011), p. 24

[73] Lambert Zuidervaart, Social Philosophy after Adorno (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)

[74] David Sherman, Sartre and Adorno: The Dialectics of Subjectivity (New York: SUNY Press, 2007)

[75] [75] William Leiss, “Modern Science, Enlightenment, and the Domination of Nature: No Exit?” in Critical Ecologies: The Frankfurt School and the Contemporary Environmental Crisis, ed. Biro, A. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011), p. 25

[76] William Leiss, “Modern Science, Enlightenment, and the Domination of Nature: No Exit?” in Critical Ecologies: The Frankfurt School and the Contemporary Environmental Crisis, ed. Biro, A. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011), p. 25

[77] Adrian Wilding, Review: Critical Ecologies: The Frankfurt School and Contemporary Environmental Crises (Heathwood Press, 2015: http://www.heathwoodpress.com/review-critical-ecologies-frankfurt-school-contemporary-environmental-crises/#)

[78] William Leiss, “Modern Science, Enlightenment, and the Domination of Nature: No Exit?” in Critical Ecologies: The Frankfurt School and the Contemporary Environmental Crisis, ed. Biro, A. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011), p. 25

[79] Ibid

[80] David Sherman, Sartre and Adorno: The Dialectics of Subjectivity (New York: SUNY Press, 2007), p. 204

[81] David Sherman, Sartre and Adorno: The Dialectics of Subjectivity (New York: SUNY Press, 2007), p. 184

[82] Douglas Kellner, Critical Theory, Marxism, and Modernity (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989), pp. 87-88; emphasis added

[83] William Leiss, “Modern Science, Enlightenment, and the Domination of Nature: No Exit?” in Critical Ecologies: The Frankfurt School and the Contemporary Environmental Crisis, ed. Biro, A. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011), pp.25-26

[84] Adrian Wilding, Review: Critical Ecologies: The Frankfurt School and Contemporary Environmental Crises (Heathwood Press, 2015: http://www.heathwoodpress.com/review-critical-ecologies-frankfurt-school-contemporary-environmental-crises/#)

[85] Ibid

[86] Ibid

[87] Ibid

[88] Ibid

[89] D. Bruce Martin, “Sacred Identity and the Sacrificial Spirit: Mimesis and Radical Ecology” in Critical Ecologies: The Frankfurt School and Contemporary Environmental Crisis (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2011), p. 117

[90] Ibid

[91] Ibid

[92] Max Horkheimer and Theodow Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), p. 7

[93] Ibid, p.2

[94] Ibid

[95] Richard Gunn and Adrian Wilding, Revolutionary or Less-Than-Revolutionary Recognition? (Heathwood Press, 2013: http://www.heathwoodpress.com/revolutionary-less-than-revolutionary-recognition/)

[96] Ibid

[97] Lambert Zuidervaart, Social Philosophy after Adorno (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)

[98] Lambert Zuidervaart, Social Philosophy after Adorno (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007); R.C. Smith, Consciousness and Revolt: An Exploration toward Reconciliation (Holt: Heathwood Press, 2011)

[99] R.C. Smith, Consciousness and Revolt: An Exploration toward Reconciliation (Holt: Heathwood Press, 2011)

[100] D. Bruce Martin, “Sacred Identity and the Sacrificial Spirit: Mimesis and Radical Ecology” in Critical Ecologies: The Frankfurt School and Contemporary Environmental Crisis (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2011), pp. 117 – 118

[101] J.M. Bernstain, Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001)

[102] David Sherman, Sartre and Adorno: The Dialectics of Subjectivity (New York: SUNY Press, 2007)

[103] Ibid.

[104] D. Bruce Martin, “Sacred Identity and the Sacrificial Spirit: Mimesis and Radical Ecology” in Critical Ecologies: The Frankfurt School and Contemporary Environmental Crisis (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2011), pp. 116

[105] Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialectics (London and New York: Routledge, 1990), p. 163, 346

[106] David Sherman, Sartre and Adorno: The Dialectics of Subjectivity (New York: SUNY Press, 2007), p. 276

[107] Ibid

[108] Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialectics (London and New York: Routledge, 1990), pp. 170-171

[109] David Sherman, Sartre and Adorno: The Dialectics of Subjectivity (New York: SUNY Press, 2007), p. 201

[110] William Leiss, “Modern Science, Enlightenment, and the Domination of Nature: No Exit?” in Critical Ecologies: The Frankfurt School and the Contemporary Environmental Crisis, ed. Biro, A. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011), p. 30

[111] Ibid, pp. 26-30

[112] Ibid, pp. 26-30

[113] Ibid

[114] David Sherman, Sartre and Adorno: The Dialectics of Subjectivity (New York: SUNY Press, 2007), pp. 201-202; also quoting Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (New York: Continuum, 1991), p. 5

[115] Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), p. 1

[116] Lambert Zuidervaart, Social Philosophy after Adorno (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)

[117] Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), p. 1

[118] Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), pp. 10-11

[119] Ibid, pp. 5-8

[120] Ibid, p. 6

[121] David Sherman, Sartre and Adorno: The Dialectics of Subjectivity (New York: SUNY Press, 2007); Lambert Zuidervaart, Social Philosophy after Adorno (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)

[122] Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), p. Xviii; emphasis added.

[123] David Sherman, Sartre and Adorno: The Dialectics of Subjectivity (New York: SUNY Press, 2007), p. 183

[124] Ibid

[125] Ibid; quote also Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002)

[126] David Sherman, Sartre and Adorno: The Dialectics of Subjectivity (New York: SUNY Press, 2007), p. 200

[127] Ibid

[128] Ibid, pp. 183-184

[129] Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (New York: Continuum, 1991), p. 5; a point David Sherman also makes.

[130] Max Horkheimer and Theodow Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), p. 8

[131] David Sherman, Sartre and Adorno: The Dialectics of Subjectivity (New York: SUNY Press, 2007), p. 281

[132] Deborah Cook, Adorno on Nature (New York: Acumen, 2011)

[133] William Leiss, “Modern Science, Enlightenment, and the Domination of Nature: No Exit?”, in Critical Ecologies: The Frankfurt School and the Contemporary Environmental Crisis, ed. Biro, A. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011), pp. 24; quoting also Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002)

[134] D. Bruce Martin, “Sacred Identity and the Sacrificial Spirit: Mimesis and Radical Ecology” in Critical Ecologies: The Frankfurt School and Contemporary Environmental Crisis (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2011), pp. 117-118

[135] Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), pp. 6-7

[136] Christoph Görg, “Societal Relationships with Nature: A Dialectical Approach to Environmental Politics”, in Critical Ecologies: The Frankfurt School and Contemporary Crises, ed. Andrew Biro (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2011), p.47; emphasis added

[137] Astrid Oesmann, Staging History: Brecht’s Social Concepts of Ideology (New York: SUNY Press, 2005), p. 13

[138] Ibid

[139] Lambert Zuidervaart, Social Philosophy after Adorno (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 121

[140] Carl Rogers, A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy: On Becoming a Person (London: Constable and Company Ltd, 1993); Carl Rogers, Client-Centered Therapy (London: Constable and Robinson Ltd, 2002)

[141] R.C. Smith, Consciousness and Revolt: An Exploration toward Reconciliation (Holt: Heathwood Press, 2011)

[142] Ibid

[143] R.C. Smith, Consciousness and Revolt: An Exploration toward Reconciliation (Holt: Heathwood Press, 2012)

[144] Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002)

[145] R.C. Smith, Consciousness and Revolt: An Exploration toward Reconciliation (Holt: Heathwood Press, 2011)

[146] David Sherman, Sartre and Adorno: The Dialectics of Subjectivity (New York: SUNY Press, 2007), p. 186

[147] R.C. Smith, Consciousness and Revolt: An Exploration toward Reconciliation (Holt: Heathwood Press, 2011)

[148] David Sherman, Sartre and Adorno: The Dialectics of Subjectivity (New York: SUNY Press, 2007), pp. 40-45

[149] Ibid, pp. 304-305

[150] David Sherman, Sartre and Adorno: The Dialectics of Subjectivity (New York: SUNY Press, 2007), pp. 244

[151] Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialectics (London and New York: Routledge, 1990), p. 162

[152] Ibid

[153] David Sherman, Sartre and Adorno: The Dialectics of Subjectivity (New York: SUNY Press, 2007), pp.237-240, 248-272

[154] Ibid.

[155] David Sherman, Sartre and Adorno: The Dialectics of Subjectivity (New York: SUNY Press, 2007); R.C. Smith, The Ticklish Subject? A critique of Zizek’s Lacanian theory of subjectivity, with emphasis on an alternative (Holt: Heathwood Press, 2013)

[156] David Sherman, Sartre and Adorno: The Dialectics of Subjectivity (New York: SUNY Press, 2007), p. 200

[157] Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), p. xviii

[158] Lambert Zuidervaart, Social Philosophy after Adorno (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)

[159] Christoph Görg, “Societal Relationships with Nature: A Dialectical Approach to Environmental Politics”, in Critical Ecologies: The Frankfurt School and Contemporary Crises, ed. Andrew Biro (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2011), p.49

[160] Ibid

[161] Ibid

[162] Ibid

[163] Ibid

[164] Lambert Zuidervaart, Social Philosophy after Adorno (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 120

[165] Ibid

[166] Lambert Zuidervaart, Social Philosophy after Adorno (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 121

[167] Ibid.

[168] Ibid

[169] Ibid

[170] Ibid

[171] Ibid

[172] Ibid

[173] Ibid

[174] Ibid

[175] Ibid

[176] Ibid

[177] Ibid

[178] Ibid

[179] Ibid

[180] R.C. Smith, Consciousness and Revolt: An Exploration toward Reconciliation (Holt: Heathwood Press, 2011)

[181] Lambert Zuidervaart, Social Philosophy after Adorno (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 124

[182] Lambert Zuidervaart, Social Philosophy after Adorno (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)

[183] Lambert Zuidervaart, Social Philosophy after Adorno (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 53

[184] Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialectics (New York: Continuum, 1992), pp. 365

[185] Ibid, p. 358

[186] Ibid, pp. 17-18; Kate Schick, To lend a voice to suffering is a condition for all truth’: Adorno and International Political Thought (Heathwood Press, 2014: http://www.heathwoodpress.com/to-lend-a-voice-to-suffering-is-a-condition-for-all-truth-adorno-and-international-political-thought/)

[187] See: R.C. Smith, Exploring the Transition to Alternative Agricultural Systems (Part 1): ‘The Commons, Issues of Labour and Emancipatory Requirements’ (Heathwood Press, 2015: http://www.heathwoodpress.com/exploring-transition-alternative-agricultural-systems-commons-labour-emancipatory-requirements/)

[188] Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialectics (New York: Continuum, 1992), pp. 277

[189] Christoph Görg, “Societal Relationships with Nature: A Dialectical Approach to Environmental Politics”, in Critical Ecologies: The Frankfurt School and Contemporary Crises, ed. Andrew Biro (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2011), p. 46

[190] Ibid.

[191] Richard Gunn and Adrian Wilding, Revolutionary or Less-Than-Revolutionary Recognition? (Heathwood Press, 2013: http://www.heathwoodpress.com/revolutionary-less-than-revolutionary-recognition/)

[192] R.C. Smith, The Ticklish Subject? A critique of Zizek’s Lacanian theory of subjectivity, with emphasis on an alternative (Holt: Heathwood Press, 2014).

[193] Richard Gunn and Adrian Wilding, Revolutionary or Less-Than-Revolutionary Recognition? (Heathwood Press, 2013: http://www.heathwoodpress.com/revolutionary-less-than-revolutionary-recognition/)

[194] David Sherman, Sartre and Adorno: The Dialectics of Subjectivity (New York: SUNY Press, 2007)

[195] Richard Gunn and Adrian Wilding, Occupy as Mutual Recognition (Heathwood Press, 2013): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/occupy-mutual-recognition/

[196] Adrian Wilding, R.C. Smith, and Richard Gunn, Alternative Horizons: understanding occupy’s Politics (openDemocracy, 2013): http://tinyurl.com/qxj7qr5

[197] David Sherman, Sartre and Adorno: The Dialectics of Subjectivity (New York: SUNY Press, 2007)

[198] David Sherman, Sartre and Adorno: The Dialectics of Subjectivity (New York: SUNY Press, 2007), p. 282

[199] R.C. Smith, The Ticklish Subject? A critique of Zizek’s Lacanian theory of subjectivity, with emphasis on an alternative (Holt: Heathwood Press, 2014)

[200] Jessica Benjamin, “The End of Internalization: Adorno’s Social Psychology” (Telos no. 32, 1977)

[201] R.C. Smith, Promissory notes of a better world: occupy, radical democracy and the question of revolutionary politics” (Heathwood Press, 2014): http://tinyurl.com/qhsho7n

[202] Christoph Görg, “Societal Relationships with Nature: A Dialectical Approach to Environmental Politics”, in Critical Ecologies: The Frankfurt School and Contemporary Crises, ed. Andrew Biro (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2011), p. 46

[203] Adrian Wilding, R.C. Smith, and Richard Gunn, Alternative Horizons: understanding occupy’s Politics (openDemocracy, 2013): http://tinyurl.com/qxj7qr5

[204] Ibid