In did. What are they going to
In order to fully comprehend The Frankfurt School’s work and the manner in which it was established, you must first paint a picture in the context of post World War Two Europe, and nothing better encapsulates it than when Friedrich Nietzsche regretfully proclaimed “God is dead. God remains dead, and we have killed him” (Nietzsche). He was not talking about the death of some deity, no, he was talking about the need for the idea of God was unneeded now. We no longer needed religion to be the source of value and morality in the universe when philosophy and science were busy doing that for us. With this new illumination, people began striving to find meaning in their lives. Nietzsche would say the throughout history, all the varying forms of religion and mythology have all been the same thing – brilliant human inventions used to solve a universal human problem of providing answers to life’s big questions. None bigger than “What is the meaning of my life?” We begin to ask ourselves “at what cost have these scientific advancements come?” It has become impossible to be both a reasonable person and believes that Zeus is up in the clouds holding a lightning bolt and is going to smite us because the Panthers beat the Titans. In a post-Darwin, post-Freud, and post-Newton world, you cannot use one of these human inventions anymore to solve the problem of searching for meaning. People are now attempting to fill this new void with something that accomplishes most of the things that religion formerly did. What are they going to fill it with? Nietzsche, quite ominously, predicted that in the next hundred years or so we would see millions of people die because of the environment that we would inevitably push ourselves into. He foresaw the beginning of the new century before it even happened. Out goes religion and in comes ideologies like Marxism, Nationalism, Capitalism, along with many others. The twentieth century has become, primarily, a system of competing ideologies in the aftershock of the death of God.Fast-forward fifty years to Nazi-occupied France, existential philosophers like Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean-Paul Sartre are tirelessly writing their ideas centred on individuality. Individuality is a foreign concept for the citizens of the world at this time. The identify themselves primarily as a member of some group first, and then, secondly, as an individual. “I am German. Germany is the greatest nation on Earth and we are going to bring liberty and justice to all! Make them pay for what they did to us with the Treaty of Versailles! It is Us vs Them”. People are thinking of themselves as a member of a group, rather than an individual human being. The reason this is so important to Camus and the other existentialists is that citizens are using this as justification to do terrible things, and then claiming they had no choice because their group made the decision to do so. If a Nazi soldier shoots an old lady in the head because the higher-ups gave the order. Is he morally justified or is there some personal responsibility not being taken? The existentialists are responding saying that “yes, you did have a choice and you could have been an active member in the resistance.” Yes, there may be some dire punishment for standing up for yourself, but the existentialist is not going to allow you to continue to pretend you are some mindless, droning member of some group that is vacant of individual autonomy. On the other hand, anthropologically speaking, it has always benefited the individual to become a member of a tribe. Especially one that they feel is striving for good things. This is the sort of ambiguity that we are having to manoeuvre in this post-scientific revolution world. And if you are not an honestly self-aware person, you could easily find yourself as a soldier of some tyrannical group and feeling completely, morally justified. Just like German citizens in the 30’s, we all carry this potential of becoming just a foot-soldier of an ideology. We cannot forget our individuality. One of the primary ideologies of the twentieth century that people are aligning themselves with is neo-Marxism and its varying forms. While these existentialists are busy doing their thing in France, a small group of neo-Marxist scholars have been quietly penning their ideas in the underbelly of Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany and later seeding their way into America and into Columbia University. Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, Erich Fromm, and Herbert Marcuse are the keynote members of what came to be known as The Frankfurt School. To set up where the mindset of a twentieth-century western neo-Marxist was at this time, you have to look at some of the ideas and predictions that Marx himself wrote about in his time. Marx, gleaning ideas from G.W.F. Hegel’s Dialectics, noticed that there has been a pattern throughout history and sought to make some bold predictions for the years to come. Marx writes “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” He notes that when people go to war or partake in some bloody revolution or civil war, it seems to be that their motivations are purely economic. As per the Dialectics, every system throughout history goes through a change. First, you have the Thesis, the ruling class and the way things are now, the Antithesis, the exploited class and their ideas on what “ought to be”, and finally once the exploited class attempts to overthrow the ruling class you have the Synthesis. The Synthesis becomes the new ruling class and the process repeats itself an innumerable number of times. During the Feudal System, there were the peasants and the Aristocracy. In a slave-based economy, there are the slaves and the slave owners. To Marx, capitalism is nothing new. There are business owners that control the resources and the means of production, and then there’s the exploited working class.The question that Marx is about to ask goes on to change the course of human history. “Why does it have to be this way?” How many have to die before we begin coming up with a way that people do not need to be exploited? Might there be an economic system that we could put in place that does not end in this inevitable process of revolution and bloodshed? Here is the prediction Marx makes… there is an industrial revolution taking place in Europe and it is in these high production areas that people are being exploited heaviest. The workers in this capitalist system, just like the peasants under the Feudal System, are going to rise up and overthrow the means of production. It is at this point Marx suggests we should implement an economic system that does not exploit its citizens. Fast-forward to the interwar period in Germany. The Frankfurt School, looking at this newly industrialized society in the west and noticed that Marx’s predictions were not coming true. If the exploited class always rises up and overthrows the ruling class, why hadn’t there been a workers revolution in the west by the time of the interwar years in Germany? The answer that the Frankfurt School gives is that Marx was wrong. They soon realize that Marx does not take into account individual human psychology and individualism. You can not try and explain all of history and the whole dialectical change solely in terms of economics. What if, they ask, the exploited class does not feel like they are being exploited? Maybe there is some way to convince a peasant in the feudal system that they are free and everything around them is peachy. Would there be any revolts from the exploited class in that society? The majority of the intellectual thinkers of the time still believed in the world Marx wrote about, but they were still HIGHLY sceptical of him. The Frankfurt School believed that, overall, Marx was right, but his work needed some serious retooling. Especially if they wanted to implement it in western countries such as The United States. The main reason, they believe, that there has not been a workers revolution in the west as of yet is something they refer to as “class consciousness”. Blinded by all the cool new stuff that we are able to efficiently produce, they now measure their economic system on how efficiently things are being produced. They are born thinking that this is is just the way things are now, all the while being brainwashed to think they are foremost a worker and consumer. Media tells them what to buy, how to think, how to feel and programs into them these false needs and then sells them a product to satiate those needs. It presents them with an illusion of political justice and freedom, and through many different types of persuasion gets them never to question the fact that all of this fast technological progress is only made possible by the exploitation of others. The workers of the west no longer look like the free-thinking proletariat that Marx talked about rising up. They’ve been programmed to “love their chains”. Although The Frankfurt School are fans of this Enlightenment style thinking, they do notice that these are some of the consequences. Herbert Marcuse, one of the more predominate members of the Frankfurt School, says that when you look closely at the United States, and the government and culture pressuring its citizens, the illusion of political input given to the citizens, and when you look at the barriers put up to keep radical ideas form coming forth, the United States begins to resemble a Totalitarian system enslaving its citizens. Instead of the “Ultimate Goal” being that our leader gets to hang out with Dennis Rodman, the goal of OUR totalitarian system is a hyper technological advancement. This illusion of political involvement Marcuse is talking about is one of the inevitable byproducts of a capitalist system, the conflation of political power and money. It’s all around us and it is always happening, just in private. Business owners and companies are always going to be able to pay politicians to gain leverage and push legislation in their favour. Put this together with the correlation of the billions in campaign advertising dollars spent and the number of people voting for a candidate. Even if the Jesus Christ himself, reincarnated, wanted to run for Congress, he would have to spend twenty years or more sitting in Congress, twenty years fundraising because you need money. That’s how you win elections, with smear ads of the other guy you are running against. The link from money to power is obvious. Hypothetically, if you were a trust-fund billionaire that has never spent a day in Congress in his life, and has no idea of the inner workings of politics, you could theoretically fund your own campaign and stand a VERY good chance of winning. You could be elected the President of the United States simply because you ran a bunch of television ads and the citizens only had two choices. Another member of the Frankfurt School, Theodore Adorno sees this and along with his understanding that Fascism is the inevitable end result of Enlightenment style, reason-based thinking, comes up with a set of questions aimed at spotting a person with authoritative, fascistic tendencies. This test came to be known as the California ‘F’ Scale. Rife with criticism, The ‘F’ Scale has been brought up frequently with the election of Donald Trump. With this election, American authoritarianism is on the verge of being realised. It’s characteristics has been mapped by modern-day sociologists that have “updated” the once flawed scale.