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Critical theory

Stephen Eric Bronner


Critical theory as a philosophical tendency was formed within German culture, but the term was actually coined in the United States. It was in the Institute for Social Research, founded in 1923 in Frankfurt, that the “critical” project took shape. The first director of the institute, Carl Grunberg, and many of its early members – like Henryk Grossman, Fritz Sternberg, and Felix Weill – were primarily interested in the study of political economy, imperialism, and the history of the socialist labor movement. Max Horkheimer, who took over as the new director in 1930, changed this orientation. Seminars of an interdisciplinary sort were organized among the members of his “inner circle” and, ultimately, they would produce the major works of “critical theory” normally associated with the “Frankfurt School” after the institute moved to Columbia University in 1934 following the Nazi seizure of power. That circle was comprised of Leo Lowenthal – an expert in literary criticism – who joined the institute in 1926; and Theodor W. Adorno – who was considered valuable for his knowledge of music – and who began his collaboration with the institute in 1928, but only became an official member ten years later. Then there was Erich Fromm , a gifted psychologist, who started his nine-year collaboration in 1930; Herbert Marcuse , a philosopher and former student of Martin Heidegger, who joined ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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