Dialectic of Enlightenment's Critique of the Civilizing Process As Aufhebung of a Debate

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 6:00 PM
Room: Booth 49
Oral Presentation
Ricardo PAGLIUSO REGATIERI , Sociology, University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil

During November and December 1941, the Institute of Social Research delivered a series of public lectures at Columbia University on the question of how National Socialism should be characterized. The positions within the debate could roughly be divided in two major groups: on the one hand stood the conclusion that capitalism had gone through major transformations, leading to a new order, that of State Capitalism (Pollock); and, on the other hand, a depiction of the current capitalist system as a totalitarian-led monopoly economy (Neumann and the others). Dialectic of Enlightenment – written by Adorno and Horkheimer in 1944 in exile in the USA but first published in 1947 by the small and actively anti-Nazi Querido Publisher in Amsterdam – followed this debate and is, in a way, a response to the questions posed in 1941, developing however yet another interpretation. I would like to argue that the book does not make use of the State Capitalist thesis, as forwarded by most literature, but can rather be understood through two largely unexplored keys: the racket theory and dialectical anthropology. As early as the 1940’s, one can recognize a growing emphasis on a critique of the civilizing process in Horkheimer and Adorno’s texts. Dialectic of Enlightenment condenses these efforts and can be considered an Aufhebung (sublation) of the Columbia debate from 1941. This paper will go about reconstructing the 1941 debate, follow various texts written by Adorno and Horkheimer in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, analyze letters between them and approach Dialectic of Enlightenment in order to analyze its political answer to the Columbia debate, which is itself based on a critique of the civilizing process founded on a theory of rackets and on dialectical anthropology.