Critique of Instrumental Reason by Max Horkheimer

By Max Horkheimer

Those essays, written among 1949 and 1967, concentrate on a unmarried topic: the triumph within the 20th century of the state-bureaucratic equipment and ‘instrumental cause’ and the concomitant liquidation of the person and the elemental social associations and relationships linked to the person.

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Only today, however, are people beginning to grasp the factors involved in the connection of which we are speaking. It does not take a sociologist to recognize that a mother who is pressed by other cares and occupations has a different effect than the one she wants. In the first year of life, before the human being is able to reflect and to distinguish himself properly from his surroundings, he is already in good measure being determined by society, right down to those aspects of his being which will develop only much later.

6 The vague profundity of the philosopher and, to no lesser degree, the popular idea that man will rescue us turn attention away from the real totality with its injustice and from the diversified interaction, overt and covert, between society and the individuals who are determined by society and determine it in turn, and direct that attention to the promising symbol of authentic reality. The symbol is then all too easily given its specific meaning by the great historical periods; theology is not indeterminate enough for the purpose.

As outcome of and further impulse to science and enlightenment the machine was a factor in the bourgeois ascendancy and points to a legitimate condition of mankind. The machine indeed gives a new dimension to productive and destructive force, to the salvation and ruin of society. 15 It is certain that a slowdown or even a failure to advance can only increase the material and spiritual wretchedness which by means of the machine is not only being prevented from increasing but is even being lessened.

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