theodor W. Adornoquotes

1903 - 1969

Photograph of Theodor W. AdornoConcerned primarily with the issue of human suffering, German philosopher Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969) significantly influenced German scholars and intellectuals after WWII. He earned his degree in Philosophy and spent two years studying music in Vienna. His early musical writings (The Fetish Character of Music and the Regression of the Listeners) were the first to reveal his long-term disdain for what he dubbed the “culture industry,” which makes people passive consumers instead of active participants.

While not Jewish himself, Adorno was forced to flee Germany for England and the U.S. during the Nazi occupation. Fascism and totalitarianism became strong themes in his writing as he critiqued civilization’s tendency toward self-destruction, and pondered the dark side of rationalizing humanity. Co-authored with his friend, Horkheimer, Adorno’s best-known work, Dialectic of Enlightenment, further developed the idea that rationalism had become irrational.

In Minima Moralia, he contemplated the dehumanization of civilization caused by the industrial era, and wrote that there was no chance to lead a good, honest life anymore. Mankind had become cogs in a machine, either playing the producer or the consumer, but neither one being free.

He argued that reason was a tool used to control people. Human emancipation, he said, could only be found through creativity and the pursuit of individual autonomy and happiness.

When he returned to Germany in 1949, he and his friend, Horkheimer, rebuilt the Institute for Social Research and the Frankfurt School of critical theory. His endeavors were central to Germany’s intellectual revival post-World War II.