9781784785680-9796358450c0f1b57e206b59b41c957eJarret Middleton at the Quarterly Conversation:

While many at the time made calls to politicize academia, the Frankfurt School set out to academize politics, an abstract move when real political struggle was occurring all around them and rank-and-file unions and revolutionary parties were fighting in the streets of many countries around the world, struggles in which revolutionaries paid a heavy price, from surviving the repression of fascist regimes to facing torture, prison, and death, all for the ultimate cause of human freedom. The School’s relentless critique prompted criticism not only from adversaries but from perceived allies, ranging from German communists to Bertolt Brecht to Hungarian Marxist philosopher Gyorgy Lukacs, who coined the term “Grand Hotel Abyss” when referring to the School’s precarious position perched “on the edge of an abyss, of nothingness, of absurdity.” Lukacs conceived of the Frankfurt School’s project as a theory so devoid of practice that they were in danger of permanently isolating themselves and the fruits of their intellectual labor, so much so that their position could be perceived as anti-revolutionary, one of orthodox Marxism’s greatest sins.

Taking a closer look at their original mission, the scholars of the Frankfurt School concluded that the communist revolution failed among Germany’s working class because the country had retained a healthy amount of the conservative social mores that had been established with the rise of the petit-bourgeoisie, even as their economic prowess began to decline after World War I and the era of hyperinflation. The resulting devastation of Germany’s economy, and the humiliation of so much of the formerly middle- and working classes, created a brand of reactionary populism and nationalist fervor that fueled the rise of Nazism.

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