Who were Max Horkheimer and Theodore Adorno?

Max Horkheimer (1893-1973) and Theodore Adorno (1903-1969) were founding members of the Frankfurt School and they were its leaders in exile. Horkheimer was a cultural critic and social philosopher; Adorno was a cultural critic and musicologist. Horkheimer's ideal was a general understanding of the place of human beings in society. He thought, contrary to orthodox Marxists who often viewed society from the standpoint of the proletariat, that no social class at that time escaped distortions in its social world view. Adorno thought that Austrian composer Arnold Shonberg's atonal music supported human autonomy or freedom, and he strongly condemned jazz as a form of "music for the masses," in contrast.

In a way, given their shared view that Marxism should not be culturally centered on the proletariat, it is not surprising that Horkheimer and Adorno collaborated, producing Dialectic of Enlightenment (1974). They argued that the progress sought in the Enlightenment could not be achieved and that instead the result would be either mass capitalistic vulgarity in a consumer economy, or totalitarian brutality.

Who was Walter Benjamin?

Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) is highly regarded for the ways in which he combined Jewish religious insights with Marxism. He died from taking morphine pills in Pourtbou on the French-Spanish border, while traveling with a group of intellectuals escaping from the Nazis. Different theories have been advanced about his death: that he committed suicide to avoid torture by the Gestapo for himself and his colleagues, or that Stalinists killed him. Benjamin was Hannah Arendt's (1906-1975) first husband's cousin. Before he died he gave Arendt the manuscript to his The Concept of History (1939), which she gave to Theodore Adorno (1903-1969), who had it published in the United States.

In his major work The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936), he combined Jewish mysticism with Marxism. Benjamin thought that logic was limited as a philosophical tool because in modern times the philosophical is best accessed through literature and music. He was studied mainly for his theories in musicology, until his work was recognized to be highly relevant for postmodernism in the late-twentieth century.

Who was Hannah Arendt?

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) was a German-American social and political philosopher, who taught at The New School after World War II. She attended the University of Marburg, where she began the affair with Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) that was to become a lifelong relationship. They broke up and came together repeatedly. Arendt wrote her dissertation on Saint Augustine with Karl Jaspers (1883-1969) at Heidelberg University. She was married to the philosopher Günther Anders (1902-1992) in 1929, but they divorced in 1937. She was not allowed to continue her habilitation because she was a Jew; after beginning an investigation on anti-Semitism, she was questioned by the Gestapo. She then went to France, and worked with Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) in helping Jewish refugees. Her own imprisonment at Camp Gurs ended with her escape.

In 1940 Arendt married Heinrich Blücher (1899-1970), a poet, philosopher, and former Communist. With Blücher and her mother, she escaped to the United States from Vichy, France on phony visas (with the assistance of Hiram Bingham IV, an American diplomat). After World War II, Arendt testified for Heidegger in a de-Nazification hearing, and she wrote an admiring essay about his work in a philosophical celebration of his eightieth birthday.

Arendt was director of research for the Commission of European Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, which led to frequent returns to Germany after 1944. In the United States she taught at the University of California at Berkeley, Princeton University, Northwestern University, and The New School. She was not particularly progressive in the American social context, supporting racial segregation at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement, and refusing to be identified as a feminist during the period of "women's liberation." Her main works are The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), The Human Condition (1958), On Revolution (1963), On Violence (1970), Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), and The Life of the Mind (1978).

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