Adorno, Theodor W.


Adorno, Theodor W.
(1903–1969)
   Adorno was a key figure in the influential Marxist Frankfurt School, and wrote extensively on a variety of subjects, including several works widely considered to be classics in their fields. Born in Germany, Adorno studied at the University of Frankfurt, developing an interest in philosophy, music and psychology. He taught philosophy at Frankfurt before leaving Germany when the Nazis came to power. After four years in England he moved to the United States where he joined the Institute for Social Research in New York in 1938. The Institute had had a previous incarnation in Frankfurt, Germany before relocating to the United States in response to the rise of the Nazis. After World War II Adorno along with the Institute returned to Frankfurt. Adorno became director of the Institute in 1959 and was a key contributor to the “critical theory” developed there.
   Adorno’s key publications include Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947 with Max Horkheimer), The Authoritarian Personality (1950), and Negative Dialectics (1966). In these and other works Adorno applied and developed Karl Marx’s ideas particularly relating to the dominance of commodity production in the contemporary world and its impact on culture. Adorno sought to highlight the destruction of personal freedom and the capacity for critical thinking in a world characterized by authoritarianism, bureaucracy, administration, technocracy and instrumental reason. In his work he aimed to help stimulate and cultivate independent critical thought and a desire for and belief in the possibility of radical change. For example, he described the creation of a “culture industry” based on the commodification of art and culture. The culture industry standardized culture, impeded the development of individual critical thinking, diverted and distracted people, and generally served the ends of the existing social order. For Adorno, the pervasiveness of political economy in all aspects of society meant that Marxism must focus not just on the economic base, but also on the superstructural elements of ideas and culture. In this and in his openness to non-Marxist theorists such as Sigmund Freud and Max Weber, Adorno departed from orthodox Marxism. Adorno, along with his Frankfurt School colleagues, was also prepared to criticize the authoritarian Marxism of Josef Stalin.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.