Horkheimer and Adorno’s vs Habermas’s theorization of the Englightenment

Jurgen Habermas

Jurgen Habermas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How is Jurgen Habermas’s theorization of the Enlightenment a very different one from that of Horkheimer and Adorno? In what sense is Max Habermas (according to Outram’s description) a far more positive theorist of the Enlightenment than Horkheimer and Adorno?

According to Outram, Jurgen Habermas adopted many of Max Horkheimer’s and Theodor Adorno’s insights about the way that “the Enlightenment consumed culture, turned culture into a commodity, and turned knowledge into information” (7). Given these views, Horkeimer and Adorno argued that it was the Enlightenment’s use of reason and rationality that enabled the stripping away of society’s humanity which facilitated the Holocaust, the systematic killing of millions people. Unlike Horkeimer and Adorno, Habermas argued that many of the ideas of the Enlightenment were still worth pursuing because the Enlightenment “contained potential for emancipating individuals from restrictive particularism in order to be able to act, not as ‘Germans’ embattled by adherence to particular national or cultural ethos, but rather as human beings engaged in a common search with other human beings for universal values such as freedom, justice and objectivity” (7). Habermas was a far more positive theorist of the Enlightenment than Horkheimer and Adorno because he viewed the Enlightenment as the creator of the public realm. A public realm is the concept that a public opinion could come about and “start to question privileged traditional forces” (7). This space is similar to Kant’s notion of private realm, a place where men could escape from the role of subjects and gain autonomy by exchanging their own opinions and ideas (7).

Dorinda Outram, The Enlightenment, 2nd ed., Cambridge Univ. Press, 2005. ISBN: 9780521546812

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