Theodor Adorno, despite his Marxist credentials, seems to get mistaken for a conservative rather often. I recall being in a politics seminar in which we discussed his idea of a ‘culture industry’ — that popular culture is a capitalist industry pacifying the working classes. Admittedly, I doubt anyone read the chapter in any depth. But the general impression was something like, ‘man, this guy’s conservative’. If you don’t like Hollywood, jazz or popular culture, you must be a conservative, so the logic goes. And indeed, were he to come out with these ideas today, he would surely be vilified. It is a delicious irony, then, that Adorno and the Frankfurt School have since been used to validate popular culture. You have to love the way history sweeps men and their ideas from any intended course.
I write this because I just started reading Philosophy of New Music. One should know one’s enemies and all that. Actually, that’s somewhat unfair. I kind of like Adorno, once past the ideological guff. He’s definitely not a conservative, but he might just be a reactionary underneath it all. I’ll leave you with an extract from his Minima Moralia, which is a collection of brief but interesting reflections in this vein. Compared to this, I’m a liberal:
Melange. – The usual argument of tolerance, that all human beings, all races are equal, is a boomerang. It opens itself up to easy rebuttal by the senses, and even the most compelling anthropological evidence for the fact that Jews are not a race at all, will in the case of a pogrom hardly change anything at all, since the totalitarians know very well who they want to kill and who not. If one wished to proclaim the equality of all those who bear human features as an ideal, instead of establishing it as a fact, this would be of little help. The abstract utopia would be all too easily reconcilable with the most devious tendencies of society. That all human beings would resemble each other, is exactly what suits this latter. It regards factual or imagined differences as marks of shame, which reveal, that one has not brought things far enough; that something somewhere has been left free of the machine, is not totally determined by the totality. The technics of the concentration camps was designed to turn prisoners into guards, the murdered into murderers. Racial difference was absolutely sublated, so that one could abolish it absolutely, if only in the sense that nothing different survived anymore. An emancipated society however would be no unitary state, but the realization of the generality in the reconciliation of differences. A politics which took this seriously should therefore not propagate even the idea of the abstract equality of human beings. They should rather point to the bad equality of today, the identity of film interests with weapons interests, and think of the better condition as the one in which one could be different without fear. If one attested to blacks [Neger], that they are exactly like whites, while they are nevertheless not so, then one would secretly wrong them all over again. This humiliates them in a benevolent manner by a standard which, under the pressure of the system, they cannot attain, and moreover whose attainment would be a dubious achievement. The spokespersons of unitary tolerance are always prepared to turn intolerantly against any group which does not fit in: the obstinate enthusiasm for blacks meshes seamlessly with the outrage over obnoxious Jews. The “melting pot” [in English in original] was an institution of free-wheeling industrial capitalism. The thought of landing in it conjures up martyrdom, not democracy.