Critical Theory

In “The Culture Industry,” Horkheimer and Adorno presented a dense description of their interpretation of the “culture industry” in which there is no true culture, but rather, what is perceived to be culture is actually just a replication of previous works made to appeal to the masses. The authors argue that there is no true expression in the modern-day culture because people mindlessly consume whatever is popular, so the work of artists is to produce what will make money rather than what reveals their interpretation of the human condition. Thus, culture becomes capital, aligning with Marx’s argument that capitalism becomes that which underlies all other features of society.


Upon reading this work the first time I felt that it had a pretentious tone, and I did not understand its meaning fully because of the specificities the authors present. After analyzing the reading I began to see how their ideas are reflected in modern-day society in that all media is essentially a replication of what previously existed. Yet, I still find myself wondering the purpose of this message. Horkheimer and Adorno did not present an alternate world in their work that would replace the current state of culture, leaving me to believe that it may not exist. Additionally, if this alternate world did exist, what exactly would it look like, and how would it be so different from the current state of society?


My analysis is that there is a reason culture has turned to be this way. It is the result of the natural human process, even if it was perhaps driven by capitalist-minded individuals who intended to uproot culture to replace it with something people mindlessly consume. With billions of people in the world I wonder how Horkheimer and Adorno imagine life if everyone were still “transcendent” individuals, which I believe is simply impossible based on the nature of human life. We are social beings who, as the authors state, really are not individuals. We are all the product of those who raised us and others who had influence along the way. Therefore, while we are not exact replicas of any one individual, we take our place in the existing social space by adopting that which we learn from those who preceded us. Thus, while perhaps society would be in a different place had we maintained the author’s idea of the true form of culture, I believe it to be unrealistic, and the state we are in is the result of the natural social process.


The authors of “The Authoritarian Personality” are concerned with deciphering the personality type that allows people to support fascism. The line in which the authors said “the task of fascist propaganda, in order words, is rendered easier to the degree that antidemocratic potentials already exist in the great mass of people” stood out to me (10). It was interesting to think that there is a portion of the population that is predisposed to fascism, although the majority of people probably would not admit it. When a fascist leader comes forth, such as Hitler, the regime just has to figure out the general predisposition of the population in order to gain support. By manipulating the public into believing fascism is a good thing, particularly those who already had fascist tendencies, an authoritarian regime is able to take dominance over the political arena. This explanation of how fascism takes hold is interesting because in hindsight many of us cannot understand how so many people supported Hitler, but at the time he presented himself as the leader they were looking for, leaving the public unaware of his agenda. I am left wondering if this tactic can be applied to other situations in politics, such that perhaps a socialist regime could take over if it were able to appeal to the masses through personality assessment.


Part of the authoritarian personality is ethnocentrism, or the belief that one’s way of life is superior to others. At one point the authors said “we should have to share the destructive view…that since all ideologies…derive from non-rational sources there is no basis for saying that one has more merit than another,” which I found to be confusing (11). The authors seemed to be in opposition to fascism, but in this quote they essentially say that one ideology can be the best, and the modern-day assumption that all ideologies are equal is problematic. I was struck by this because initially the authors seemed to be critical of fascism, but here they were supporting one of the most fundamental views it holds. While I may not personally agree with their statement, it did make me think of how one political type is not necessarily wholly right or wrong, and that there are many places people can be along the spectrum of support for or dissidence against a regime.


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