on April 12, 2001
"Dialectic of Enlightenment", one of the most celebrated texts of the Frankfurt School, endeavours to answer why modernity, instead of fulfilling the promises of the Enlightenment (e.g. progress, reason, order) has sunk into a new barbarism. Drawing on their own work on the "culture industry", as well as the ideas of the key thinkers of the Enlightenment project, (Descartes, Newton, Kant) Horkheimer and Adorno explain how the Enlightenment's orientation towards rational calculability and man's domination of a disenchanted nature evinces a reversion to myth, and is responsible for the reified structures of modern administered society, which has grown to resemble a new enslavement. Furthermore, Horkheimer's and Adorno's treatise was one of the most ambitious attempts to synthesise Marxist economic analysis with Freudian psychoanalysis, and is developed with much complexity and skill. Their philosophical and psychological critique of the Enlightenment concepts of reason and nature (which they identify as the loci of domination) spans almost the entire history of Western thought up until recent times, from Homer to Nietzsche. The book was written in 1944, during a phase of the war when the threat of Fascist victory still hung ominously over Europe, and when Horkheimer and Adorno themselves had to flee Germany to America. "Dialectic of Enlightenment" thus represents one of the most pessimistic strands of Marxist thought, giving up all expectations of a people's revolution in Western Europe. This was, in addition to the outbreak of the Second World War, due to the meteoric rise of extremely right-wing reactionary parties in the twenties, and their subsequent popularity, which ruled out by fiat any chance of a popular support for the left. The proletariat, instead of embracing the cause of the people's revolution, opted to give their vote to the Fascists. In their psychoanalytic investigation of this phenomena, Horkheimer and Adorno identify the rise of Fascism with the return of the repressed.
on February 4, 2005
This Amazon page is a disaster. The sample pages are from the earlier, terrible translation published by Continuum. One of the reader reviews is (as it notes) actually a review of the earlier translation. What is it doing here?? In fact, all of the reviews predate the publication of the new translation.
By all means read the Dialectic of Enlightenment! But be sure to use only the new translation published by Stanford.
on July 6, 2000
These comments refer to the old Continuum edition (John Cumming, translator), NOT to the Stanford edition (Edmund Jephcott, translator), which is a fine translation ...
While not wishing to detract from what has been said about the importance of this book, it is worth mentioning that the English translation is scandalously bad and in need of replacement. I've had occasion to make extensive comparisons between the German original and the translation and the results are not encouraging. Much is simply flat-out wrong (e.g., sometimes the translator mistakes one German word for another) even more is unnecessarily clumsy. While Horkheimer and Adorno adopted a rather dense style of writing, nothing they produced is quite as cumbersome as what readers of this translation have had to endure.
One can sympathize with the translator -- he did the translation at a time when very little by Horkheimer and Adorno was in English and it appears that he worked under a rather tight schedule (it is possible to find errors piling up on a page and then suddenly ceasing -- suggesting that the poor fellow took a break and came back later on, with happier results). But there is no forgiving the publisher for leaving this text uncorrected for so long despite a long-standing consensus among students of the Frankfurt School that this is a deeply flawed translation. That anything of the power of the original makes it through the muck of this translation is a testimony to the force of Horkheimer and Adorno's ideas.
A new translation is long overdue. Until then, readers coming to the work of the Frankfurt School might want to seek out Max Horkheimer's Eclipse of Reason, a summary of the argument elaborated here which Horkheimer delivered in English at Columbia University at about the same time of as the publication of the German original of this book.
on November 10, 2006
Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, both prominents of the Frankfurter Schule of critical theory, wrote this work during WWII. In their own words, the purpose of the book was to explain why humanity, instead of entering a truly human state, is sinking into a new kind of barbarism. Obviously their experiences as Jewish intellectuals fleeing for the national-socialist regime to the United States was a strong impulse for this view, but the book is not limited to a critique of nazism or even totalitarianism altogether.
The main subject of the book, though that itself is already difficult to disentangle, is Enlightenment's betrayal of its own liberating capacity. Adorno & Horkheimer analyze this by means of various cultural metaphors, which in highly abstract, contradictory and aesthetic language (especially the parts by Adorno) trace the development of Enlightenment and its subsequent 'dark side' throughout an equally metaphorical history of culture and ideas. In a certain sense this may most remind readers not familiar with both authors of Foucault and his use of concepts like the Panopticon to express a view of power relations. The method of Adorno and Horkheimer is however not so much genealogical, as Foucault's is, as dialectical in its idealist form.
The book consists of an introduction, two "excursions" and two chapters on the Enlightenment itself, as well as a series of aphorisms provided at the end as "notes and sketches". Each part of the book consists of a very abstract, very metaphysical and almost entrancing analysis of, in turn, the development of Enlightenment as myth out of earlier myth, the form of modern Enlightenment as instrumental reason and mass deception, and the limits of Enlightenment to its own rationality, in the form of anti-semitism. The language of the book is extremely difficult, even in English, and in the best (and worst) traditions of continental philosophy it contains a very great amount of layers and meanings, not all of which are free of internal contradiction. Readers familiar to Situationist works are perhaps best prepared for the effect, which is somewhat similar in method, if not in style, to Guy Debord.
The introduction, "The Concept of Enlightenment", posits Enlightenment as thought liberating man from his natural shackles, and creating man as master of the earth. This process of liberation entails at the same time the possibility of man to protect himself from, and understand the workings of, nature, and also mankind's loss of being one with nature. In this process, the self is created as a subjectivity divorced from direct experience of the outside world. Man's memory of this is very vague and distant, but is present in everyone as a certain inchoate feeling of loss.
This is also the main subject of the first Exkurs, "Odysseus, or Myth and Enlightenment". The story of the Odysseia is here used in many ways to provide metaphorical expressions for the role of myth in and against Enlightenment. Myths are primitive descriptions of the world, and in being so are already classifications used as a form of instrumental reason, which is the seed of Enlightenment. The role of sacrifice to the Gods, for example, is presented as manipulation of those Gods, and in so doing already expression of an Enlightened mind avant la lettre. Odysseus' adventure with the Sirens is metaphor for man's loss as described above: Odysseus, the Enlightened ruler, knows his loss but is constrained by his knowledge from acting on it; and the shipmates, the great mass of modernity, is only vaguely aware of the loss, and are not affected. But Circe, the Cyclops, and many other themes are used besides.
The second Exkurs is "Juliette, or Enlightenment and Morality". The works of De Sade, in particular Juliette, here provide an expression of Enlightenments freeing and therefore contradictory character. Kant is contrasted with Juliette; where Kant is the restrained form of reason, reason as classifying and ordening power, Juliette is reason's destructive power of old orders. Because Enlightenment destroys the validity of any appeal to tradition, religion, etc., it falls pray to itself, in that Enlightenment's appeal to its own absolute values is undermined, in the same way that Juliette uses and is used by Catholicism in undermining it.
The third chapter is "Enlightenment as Mass Deception", covering the subject of the culture industry. Here Adorno rants against all the vapid and degraded culture forms he perceives in the United States, although he never states it as valid only for the US, of course. There are many interesting insights and observations about modern culture and still valid ones too in this chapter, but Adorno's general tone is that of the "hochbürgerliche" bourgeois annoyed about the offenses against good taste he sees. Yet to dismiss it based on that would be superficial, even if we cannot agree with Adorno's hatred for radio and jazz. His observations on American movies are very poignant, and in between his cultural criticism he hits on certain relations between the capitalist mode of production, its Enlightenment ideology, and the cultural superstructure that are very worthwhile for a patient radical.
The fourth chapter is called "Limits of Enlightenment", and addresses directly the subject of anti-semitism and fascism more generally. Fascism is posited as Enlightenment turned against itself (it must be noted Adorno & Horkheimer were among the first to state this, even if it is somewhat of a cliche now). Enlightenment's general instrumental reason knows only power as a measure of behavior. Therefore, it cannot tolerate the existence of groups that thrive, yet never have power, such as Jews and women. Whenever Enlightened society fails to satisfy the needs of its members, their anger is turned against such groups.
The last chapter, "Notes and Sketches", is as said a series of aphorisms, familiar to people who have read situationist works, or for example Walter Benjamin's notebooks.
Overall, this book is an extremely complex, but very worthwhile philosophical critique of modern culture, and a very pessimistic and negative analysis of Enlightenment and its possibilities. It is hard work to get to the bottom of it, but nevertheless rewarding for any student of philosophy.
on January 23, 2010
Most educated people think of the Enlightenment as an era that ushered in a much desired trend toward rationalism and cultural progress. In "DIALECTIC OF ENLIGHTENMENT," Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer counter with the startling proposition that the Enlightenment, far from advancing the cause of modernity, progress, reason, and order instead created a new age of barbarism whose basis was centered on a tyrannical manipulation of every aspect of each citizen's life, habits, and environment. Such an interpretation begins with the founding of the Frankfurt School in Germany in the 1920s with Adorno, Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin, and Georg Lukacs as the creative Marxist core. Originally located in Germany, its creators first thought of calling their school the Institute of Marxism, but wisely concluded that such a name would render widespread acceptance of its name as unlikely. They then settled on the harmless sounding Institute for Social Research. After Hitler became Chancellor, the Institute moved to New York, and then, after 1945, back to Germany. The Institute was determined to advance Marxism as the dominant political and economic theory in the world, but its founders were wise enough to recognize that Marxism, as it was then constructed, was simply not up to the task. Classical Marxism was based solely on its undiluted appeal to workers as a marginalized class beset by a cabal of greedy capitalists. The Frankfurt School widened the net of victims by including women, gays, and assorted ethnic minorities as the newest downtrodden. To accommodate this widening net, Adorno and the other founders dreamed up what they termed "Critical Theory," which as its name implies was a criticism of nothing less than society itself. Out went capitalism as the Marxist bogeyman. In came anti-Semitism, sexism, racism and homophobia as the newest allures for converts. Thus, the Frankfurt School melded Marxism, which was originally designed solely as an economic philosophy, to a series of competing philosophies like the psychological theories of Freud, the emerging range of literary theories just then spreading, and a variety of multi-disciplinary schools, none of which shared any common ground except that their totality could be used as a club to bash western style capitalism.
When the book was published in 1944, it called into question a two thousand year tradition that reason must eventually lead the way to a golden age. Reason, they argued, did quite the opposite by encouraging the growth of a fascist mentality that was then raging in Europe. This mentality that leads to the destruction of true human freedom is based on the pairing of traditional opposites: freedom/tyranny, man/woman, urban/rural and the like. They argue that rationalists of the Enlightenment see a sharp dividing line between the left and the right pair. One must be either one or the other. Not so, say Adorno and Horkheimer. At various points, the one merges into the other to such an extant that it is only a myth that they are truly separate. Critical theorists maintain that neither side of the slash holds the preferred position. Rather the source of frustration seemingly caused by identifying with one side or the other is in actuality a result of underlying tension which emanates from an overpowering sense of dislocation and alienation, both of which are the deliberate goals of the Inner Party of the industrial/military/consumer cabal. Using Orwell's terms again, it is the Outer Party and the Proles who suffer the most while paradoxically are misled into thinking that they are not suffering at all. Adorno and Horkheimer suggest that the de-evolution of society into fascist conformity and thus into inexplicable alienation has its roots in the ability of the economic Powers That Be into seducing an entire generation of consumers into producing a false sense of individuality while at the same time masking a stifling sense of conformity.
In the book's most well-known chapter, "Enlightenment as Mass Deception," the authors take the classic Marxist view that all consumers are essentially interchangeable cogs in a multi-national machine that brags of individuality even as it ruthlessly stamps it out. The key to this stamping out of individualism is the insidious role of culture, which classifies, organizes, and labels consumers to the point that their reactions can be pinpointed as accurately as science fiction author Isaac Asimov described in his FOUNDATION series. To accomplish this Cassandra-like level of accuracy, Adorno and Horkheimer assume the legitimacy of several questionable basics. First, they see broadcast programs as "exactly the same." This must come as a surprise to ratings companies which identify quantifiable differences among them. Second, they envision a movie audience whose reactions can be precisely identified in advance. This too must come as a surprise to producers of costly films that tank at the box office. Third, they make statements about the relation of consumers to products that simply make no sense. What, for example, do they mean when they write "Amusement under late capitalism is the prolongation of work"? Finally, they write of consumers as sheep with no power to resist blatant advertising. The advertising industry is replete with failed policies that did not foresee a fluctuating consumer response to advertising. The authors mask their leaky ideology behind some heavy paradoxes that promise much meaning but emerge as devoid of such. Such paradoxes are usually pithy fortune cookie utterances: "The perfect similarity is the absolute difference:" "Chance and planning become one and the same thing;" and "Everybody becomes an employee." Those who read this book and intone that it "made them think twice at the apparently simplistic world in which we live" are probably unaware that the complexity of this world need not be limited to the bashing of capitalism to which both Adorno and Horkheimer had long been committed.
on June 13, 2009
Gunzelin Schmid Noerr, the editor of the Stanford edition of DIALECTIC OF ENLIGHTENMENT, has taken a dense, difficult book and made it more work to read. Horkheimer and Adorno's "philosophical fragments" reward the reader not only with sustained analyses of capitalist culture, but also with pithy one-liners worthy of the authors' role as the philosophical Statler and Waldorf heckling Euro-American civilization. But Noerr's pedantry constantly gets in their way and yours.
The edition has two problems: insufficient translation and worse-than-useless endnotes. First, the translation. Edmund Jephcott does what I can only assume is an admirable job translating (nearly) all of the original German into English. Unfortunately, he does not translate the French, the Latin, or the Greek (though, to his credit, he does render the latter in the Roman alphabet). That would be fine if I read those three languages, but I don't, and neither do most Anglophone readers of this book. Classicists aren't the major audience for Frankfurt School culture criticism, so you'd think that Noerr would do us a favor and get somebody to translate the dead languages with the living. Nein. When Horkheimer and Adorno quote Seneca, you're on your own.
Second, the endnotes: never have so many endnotes been of so little use to so many readers. Noerr preserves H & A's original endnotes, putting them not at the end of each fragment, but at the end of the book. Fair enough. But interlarded among these are Noerr's much more copious endnotes, with their own numbering system, notes that deal almost entirely with the publication history of variant editions of DIALECTIC OF ENLIGHTENMENT. What percentage of readers wants this information? Ten? Five? Anybody writing a dissertation on this book is reading it in German anyway, and has the different editions ready to hand. To a general audience, these textual notes are clutter. Putting them in a different location within the book would at least have spared readers the labor of sorting through them.
Were these the only endnotes that Noerr provided, one could ignore them altogether (difficult, considering their ubiquity on the page). But Noerr sometimes provides content-related notes--for example, explaining the idiom "white trash" as a "derogatory expression for white workers" (267). So all that Latin, all that Greek, and all that French Noerr left for you to puzzle out on your own, but when a familiar American English idiom appears in a book published by an American university press, Noerr opens the lantern shutter and dazzles us.
A second example should convey the stunning inutility of Noerr's endnotes. On page 102 appears this sentence: "Even before Zanuck acquired her, Saint Bernadette gleamed in the eye of her writer as an advert aimed at all the relevant consortia." This is the first time either name appears in the book. Now, a great many readers of DIALECTIC OF ENLIGHTENMENT are students of mass culture who will at least recognize producer Darryl F. Zanuck's last name as connected to Hollywood, if not to 20th Century Fox. But in case we don't, Noerr helpfully supplies a note saying as much. But Saint Bernadette? No endnote. Noerr does not tell us that she was 1) a 19th century Frenchwoman canonized for her visions of the Virgin Mary, or that she was 2) the subject of a now-forgotten 1942 bestseller, or that 3) 20th Century Fox produced a film adaptation of the novel in 1943, a film that netted four academy awards, despite being forgotten in subsequent decades.
My question is this: who is so steeped in Hollywood lore that he or she can follow Horkheimer and Adorno's oblique, dated reference here--to a 1940s hagiography exploited by a big-five studio into a successful but forgotten biopic--yet at the same time needs a footnote to decrypt the name of Zanuck? Nobody. Endnote both names, endnote neither, or endnote the MORE obscure of the two, but don't endnote ONLY the LESS obscure! Can an editor possibly write worse endnotes than this, short of supplying counterfactual notes? ("Zanuck": Zanuck IV, Martian conqueror of the thirty-ninth century, CE.)
So be warned: this edition is extremely labor-intensive. You'll have to look up a lot of dead words, internet-search a lot of names, and grit your teeth through Noerr's vanity-project endnotes. Let's hope Stanford puts out a more useful edition as an apology for this one.
on November 14, 2006
"Myth is already enlightenment, and enlightenment reverts back to mythology" (xviii). This statement is likely one of the most explosive philosphical theses penned in the 20th century, for not only did it give expression to much of the suspicion and pessimism that people experienced in the early 20th century, particularly under the Nazi regime, but this statement set into motion much of the later suspicion concerning the Enlightenment project and its relation to not just freedom, but domination under freedom's guise.
Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments is the most important work ever written by any of the members of the Frankfurt School; it stands as a type of manifesto really for the possibility of Critical Theory as a post-positivistic discipline. It is easy to miss, but this is not just a work of philosophy - it is not a work written by old men with elbow patches on their jackets pondering various ideas in a scientific and socio-historical philosophical vacuum. Quite the opposite: this is a book that drew upon then-current sociology and anthropology (particularly pertaining to religion), in addition to the history of philosophy and philosophical currents such as Marxism (Western Marxism, to be specific). This is a book that draws - obviously - on history; it is a book that has much to say about media and the effects of what Adorno called "The Culture Industry".
Several authors, such as Jurgen Habermas and Leszek Kolakowski, have noted the the structure of the book - what we might call its "poetics" - is quite abnormal for a work of philosophy. The subtitle of the book comes well into play here as a means of understanding the book; "Philosophical Fragments" very much describes what it is like reading this work. The genuinely fragmentary nature of the book - it begins with an essay titled "The Concept of Enlightenment" before two excurses (one on Odysseus and the other on Marquis de Sade), the chapter "The Culture Industry", a series of theses titled "Elements of Angi-Semitism: Limits of Enlightenment", and the closing section "Notes and Sketches" (which is anything but smooth) - only adds to the sense of urgency.
The attempt to ascertain "why humanity, instead of entering a truly human state, is sinking into a new kind of barbarism" (xiv) animates the work. This regression ultimately has to do with the very nature of myth, which is "obscure and luminous at once" (xvii). It is with positivism that science believes it can banish all mystery from the world such that humans become masters of it (1); art itself has fallen prey to this myth (14). Perhaps surprisingly, this does not begin in the 18th century European Enlightenment, but with one of our most ancient of founding myths: Odysseus. The deceptive nature of the sacrifice in Odysseus is the beginning of our journey towards enlightenment, for it places us on a similar footing with the gods. The attempt of persons such as Sade to advocate a world without superstition not only turns us into beasts with "the innocence of wild animals" (77), but means that we still must hold onto one myth: that we can actually live in a world where all is entirely as it seems. Transgression of the previous morality (Catholicism) is the necessary mythical supplement to this view; it brings no pleasure but only violence. Both the Culture Industry and Anti-Semitism ultimately have the same totalitarian goal: to make everyone the same, as economic cogs in the machine, devoid of their individuality. Thus Enlightenment is necessarily violent against the Other, who doesn't fit in. The book ends with Notes and Sketches in a kind of anti-climax; Dialectic of Enlightenment is left open.
In many ways, this edition by Stanford University Press, in their uber-fine series "Cultural Memory in the Present", is like a critical edition in English. Dialectic of Enlightenment was printed various times and in various editions from 1944 thru 1969; this edition collects each of the prefaces for the various editions, and notes every single textual variant for each edition, some of which are seen as rather unimportant, but others of which show that the text was very much a continual work in progress for Horkheimer and Adorno. In addition to an Editor's Afterword, there is an essay appended at the end of the book titled "The Disappearance of Class History in "Dialectic of Enlightenment": A Commentary on the Textual Variants (1944 and 1947)", which many will likely to find insightful reading. This is an important addition to the library of many different fields - political thought, intellectual history, philosophy, theology, religious studies, and social theory, among others - regardless of how it has been produced. Stanford University Press should really be commended for producing it in such a way that it is a fine addition to one's library as well.
One does well to remember that this work should not be simply taken at face value. In their 1969 Preface, Horkheimer and Adorno mention that they ascribe a "temporal core to truth" (xi), which means that as an older text, what remains applicable in it should be used today, and what no longer applies should be left alone as having been applicable at one time in the past. Neither author ever endorsed the irresponsible usage of their work in the 1960s by protesting students who had become little more than mobs; that they have been linked to irresponsible New Left anti-politics (via their friend Herbert Marcuse) is not their fault. Rather, what Horkheimer and Adorno endorsed then (and would continue to endorse, were they still alive) is not a brutal application of a particular theory, but a sustained, thoughtful and well informed engagement of theory with the whole of the modern world. "As a critique of philosophy, it does not seek to abandon philosophy itself" (xii). In short, they believed in wisdom: and this is what philosophy is ultimately all about.
on May 6, 2007
Adorno and Horkheimer are associated with the Frankfurt school of thought in post-WWII Germany. In this book, Dialectic of Enlightenment, the two thinkers disect the post-war condition looking at all aspects of cultural identity as based on ancient enlightenment-esque ideals. This book illuminates the devestating results of progressivist models of history in late capitalism. Probably the most famous essay deals with the culture industry and how, in post-war capitalism, movies, books, television all become tools of subjegation through which a falsified sense of individuality is produced and commodified to the ends of keeping the consumers of this industry distracted enough to ignore the insideousness of that which we allow to control us.
A very dense read, poetic in areas, but challenging throughout. Adorno is often criticized for being a cynic, but I think that under his often scathing view of modern culture is a message that through exacting self-reflection change of the "total system" can occur.
These themes are expanded on in Adorno's other works: Minima Moralia, and Negative Dialectic.
on March 9, 2009
One of the most famous pieces of Finnish prose is 'Seitsemän veljestä' by our national iconic author Aleksis Kivi. Some people even describe it as the first real novel in our literature history due to its self-reflexiness. Within 'Seitsemän veljestä' one can find a scene depicting the agrarian village-school where adult men are learning how to read and write in order to get a licence to marry. The authoritarian teacher shouts out letters one by one and the stupid lot reluctantly repeat it with loud voice. "A," says the schoolmaster. "A," bellow the tortured fellers. "B" spoken leads to a roomful of "B"'s and so forth. Eventually one of the pupils can't take it anymore and escapes through a window, breaking the glass.
Reading Adorno & Horkheimer is bit like this. Despite their brilliancy one feels sometimes that he is reduced to go trough the same irritating formula time after time - too many times. "Thesis," shouts Adorno. One replies obediently. "Antithesis", shouts Horkheimer. A reply follows. "Synthesis," bellows the schoolmasters. Again, an answer imitates the curriculum. It works for a while. But after a couple of hundred pages illustrating the philosophical alphabets of the Frankfurt school one does feel like breaking & exiting. Maybe the reader in questin is slow-witted. But then again, the frustratingly repetive teaching method in question might not be so effective, either. Tools should be used to achieve an end or another, not to be the end in themselves.
on January 1, 2000
One of the more important, and somewhat more readable, founding texts of the Frankfurt school of critical thought, this book (probably because of the influence of Max Horkheimer) is more readable than Negative Dialectics (by Theodore Adorno) but less readable than Adorno's book of short essays, Minima Moralia. Its orange cover, and alarming, intellectual, title, make Dialectic of Enlightenment somewhat of a chick magnet :-).
The unreadability of Frankfurt School texts is an artifact of the very phenomena they criticize. Educated people in America at the time Dialectic of Enlightenment was written were influenced, directly and indirectly, by the pragmatism of John Dewey and English Logical Positivism as mediated by Bertrand Russell and A. J. Ayer. A bit later, the Continental school of Logical Positivism came to America fleeing Fascism.
Pragmatism is the homegrown American philosophy that the useful is the true and the true, useful. Logical Positivism in Britain and on the Continent is the view that the meaningful is only the verifiable statement of natural science. Both traditions are completely inimical to the older Continental views of Adorno and of Horkheimer, based as they are on those of Hegel, Freud and Marx.
Adorno would probably see straight through the question begging that goes on in both Pragmatism and Logical Positivism. Both these philosophies fail to self-apply, in a logical failure which is also a failure to exhibit the intellectual virtue of humility. If we ask the Pragmatist about the utility of his view that truth is utility he cannot answer. Similarly, Logical Positivism's own claim, that meaningful statements are either verifiably true or verifiably false using the procedures of science, fails, even less than Pragmatism, to self-apply, because we simply can't verify the nonexistence of a meaningful but unverifiable statement. This result, which conclusively has shown nearly all major-league philosophers that Logical Positivism is deep nonsense, has been generalized in recent years to show that there are even apparently scientific statements, such as statements as to what transpires inside black holes, which are not verifiable.
However, the nonsense of Pragmatism and of Logical Positivism had in the period 1930 to about 1980 much influence, again direct and indirect, on educated Americans. Directly, they were exposed to it in undergraduate survey courses and of course as philosophy specialists. Indirectly the ideas were in the air, and they have had strong influence on the management, and the mismanagement, of America's economy and its foreign policy.
For this reason, and because of the deconstruction of a decent educational system, contemporary post-moderns in America find actual post-modern classics including Dialectic of Enlightenment tough going.
But to be constructive. "Dialectic" in the title refers to a form of logic which commencing with the early 19th century German philosopher Hegel. It is presented, superficially, in survey classes as a weird kind of pseudo-logic in which things become their opposite, and then the thing and its opposite "synthesize" to form a higher, more involved thing.
But this superficial nonsense fails to account for the dialectic at all. The dialectic is a response, in the real material conditions that have obtained in developed societies since the end of the 18th century, to the fact that mere traditional logic is a closed system. Mere traditional logic seems to the ordinary person verbal games and, strikingly, it is the same to the evolved modern mathematician if he's of the "formalist" school. You merely have to change the axioms to get the results you want in mere traditional logic.
Tradtional (and modern) logic is like a machine for accomplishing our purposes that it becomes (in indeed a dialectic fashion) the opposite of what we need. The 17th century philosopher Leibniz was so impressed by the apparent power of primitive forms of modern logic that he thought that any dispute would be by now, at the close of the millenium, settled in gentlemanly fashion with "let us calculate, sir." As what would now be termed a high-paid "consultant" to the CEOs of his time and place (petty, and small-minded, German princelings) Leibniz included political and social matters in this view.
Leibniz saw in logic a machine that would remove decisionmaking from passion and self-interest and indeed logic, and its technological, embodied form the modern digital computer, does so with such thoroughness that the "fair" decision machine becomes its opposite. We merely have to change the program to get the results we want, whether those results be true and fair and just, or deep nonsense.
Hegel, Marx and Freud were healthy and human reactions to this manipulative spirit, and dialectical logic, far from being anti-modern-logic (as its more hysterical opponents like Quine seem to feel), actually rescues traditional and modern logic from criminal manipulation. For example, in human and in social affairs, the very fact that each actor is not a thing and has capabilities to react to features of the system in totality, consistently makes social planning self-defeating. In the Five Year Plans of the Stalin era, the very fact that factory managers were more or less informed of the direction of the whole caused the numerical decision procedures used in determining whether those targets would be met to be distorted towards optimism that caused famine and war. In the Reagan White House, the commitment of an autistic Chief Executive to meeting impossible economic targets likewise caused his budget director, David Stockman, to fudge the numbers using a primitive spreadsheet and what Stockman called "the magic asterisk" to identify needed savings, not yet identified, that would balance the books.
Traditional and modern logic is a babe in the woods as regards such chicanery. But the dialectic, centering human over technical relationships, sees and can account for this behavior. Its overall procedure is to weigh irreconcilable interests against each other, to predict the synthesis that will result. In Horkheimer and Adorno, the dialectical claim is that the very science and technology produced by the 18th century enlightenment would over time produce its opposite. Kant's individual freedom to be a knower (a scientist or independent entrpreneur) would turn, amid the pressure of real human events, into a higher form of enslavement.