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Max Horkheimer and the Foundations of the Frankfurt School

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About the Authors
  • This book is the first comprehensive intellectual biography of Max Horkheimer during the early and middle phases of his life (1895–1941). Drawing on unexamined new sources, John Abromeit describes the critical details of Horkheimer's intellectual development. This study recovers and reconstructs the model of early Critical Theory that guided the work of the Institute for Social Research in the 1930s. Horkheimer is remembered primarily as the co-author of Dialectic of Enlightenment, which he wrote with Theodor W. Adorno in the early 1940s. But few people realize that Horkheimer and Adorno did not begin working together seriously until the late 1930s or that the model of Critical Theory developed by Horkheimer and Erich Fromm in the late 1920s and early 1930s differs in crucial ways from Dialectic of Enlightenment. Abromeit highlights the ways in which Horkheimer's early Critical Theory remains relevant to contemporary theoretical discussions in a wide variety of fields.

    • The first comprehensive intellectual biography of Max Horkheimer during the crucial early and middle phases of his life
    • Based on sources that were unavailable to previous scholars who had written on this topic
    • Provides important new perspectives on the origins and development of Frankfurt School critical social theory as a whole
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    Reviews & endorsements

    "Abromeit’s book is the most exhaustive study of Horkheimer to date. His critical examination of the secondary literature is unparalleled, and his extremely detailed archival work, citation of sources, and textual exegesis, is exceptional. Indeed, it is hard to imagine anyone in the future adding much more to what he has accomplished here. This book will be the benchmark by which future Horkheimer scholarship will be measured."
    David Ingram, Loyola University of Chicago

    "John Abromeit has written what will be the standard work on Horkheimer and early Critical Theory. This superb study deepens our understanding of Horkheimer’s central significance for the constitution of Critical Theory in the 1920s and 1930s, clearly distinguishing his theoretical approach prior to 1941 from that later expressed in Dialectic of Enlightenment. In so doing, it argues powerfully that a sophisticated critique of capitalism is centrally important to an adequate critical theory of the modern world, one that could get beyond the limits of the ‘cultural turn’ in the human sciences."
    Moishe Postone, University of Chicago

    "Abromeit’s ambitious study of Horkheimer will become the standard secondary work in English on this important figure. Part intellectual biography, it is also an intervention in contemporary debates over the direction of Critical Theory in the Frankfurt tradition. Abromeit’s goal is nothing less than to vindicate Horkheimer’s distinctive vision of Critical Theory by placing his anthropology of the bourgeois epoch in the foreground and by reconstructing the unfinished project of a dialectical or materialist logic that Horkheimer himself abandoned in Dialectic of Enlightenment."
    John McCole, University of Oregon

    "In what will likely become the definitive study of the life and work of Max Horkheimer, John Abromeit illuminates as never before both the singularity of this surprisingly neglected thinker and, at the same time, his towering intellectual presence during the creation and development of Critical Theory as a distinctive school of thought. In analyzing Horkheimer’s critical appropriation of Hegel, Freud, and, above all, Marx, Abromeit reinterprets Critical Theory in its classical phase as a continuing source for the critique of modern capitalist society."
    Kevin Anderson, author of Marx at the Margins

    "John Abromeit’s Max Horkheimer and the Foundations of the Frankfurt School is the most thorough study yet of Horkheimer’s life and work up to 1941 … Abromeit has written an excellent intellectual biography of Horkheimer that will be necessary reading for scholars of the Frankfurt School for some time to come."
    Philosophy in Review

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    Product details

    • Date Published: November 2011
    • format: Adobe eBook Reader
    • isbn: 9781139119870
    • contains: 8 b/w illus.
    • availability: Adobe Reader ebooks available from
  • Table of Contents

    1. Coming of age in Wilhelmine Germany
    2. Student years in Frankfurt
    3. A materialist interpretation of the history of modern philosophy
    4. The beginnings of a critical theory of contemporary society
    5. Horkheimer's integration of psychoanalysis into his theory of contemporary society
    6. Horkheimer's concept of materialism in the early 1930s
    7. The anthropology of the bourgeois epoch
    8. Reflections on dialectical logic in the mid 1930s
    Excursus I. The theoretical foundations of Horkheimer's split with Erich Fromm in the late 1930s: Fromm's critique of Freud's drive theory
    Excursus II. Divergence, estrangement, and gradual rapprochement: the evolution of Horkheimer and Adorno's theoretical relationship in the 1930s
    9. State capitalism - the end of Horkheimer's early critical theory
    Epilogue: toward a historicization of Dialectic of Enlightenment and a reconsideration of Horkheimer's early critical theory.

  • Instructors have used or reviewed this title for the following courses

    • Controversies in Anthropology
    • Critical Theory and Society
    • Theory in Sociocultural Anthropology
  • Author

    John Abromeit, State University of New York, Buffalo State
    John Abromeit is an assistant professor in the Department of History and Social Studies Education at the State University of New York, Buffalo. He is the co-editor of Herbert Marcuse: Heideggerian Marxism (2005) and Herbert Marcuse: A Critical Reader (2004), and his articles and book reviews have appeared in Theory and Society; Theory, Culture and Society; Radical Philosophy and Constellations. Professor Abromeit previously held a Harper–Schmidt postdoctoral position in the social sciences in the University of Chicago Society of Fellows.

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