Toward a Critical Theory: Max Horkheimer

  • Dick Howard
Part of the Political Philosophy and Public Purpose book series (POPHPUPU)


I contrasted Ernst Bloch’s concrete philosophical attempt to appropriate Marx creatively through the notions of concrete phantasy, labor, and the futurity of the present with the Critical Theory of Max Horkheimer. Since my concern was with Bloch, for purposes of exposition I did not treat the nuances in Horkheimer’s text. I now want to show that Horkheimer’s writings as well as the influence exercised through his self-declared ‘dictatorship of the director’ are more probing than they first appeared; the result is a concept of Critical Theory that is a research program with practical implications. Looking first at Horkheimer’s own explicit program will make clear that he fits clearly into the search for the Marxian legacy. However, as his project deepened philosophically, its socio-political concerns widened in the dark days of exile and war; the reflections that Horkheimer published in 1942 under the laconic title ‘Authoritarian State’ mark a turning point in his debate attempt to appropriate Marx for Critical Theory. The path toward pessimism opened; the vision of revolutionary politics dimmed before it disappeared.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dick Howard
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyStony Brook UniversityNew YorkUSA

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