With the rise of Nazism, Stalinism, monopoly capitalism during the interwar period in Europe, a group of intellectuals came together to examine and diagnose some of challenges that came with this modernity—the rise of bureaucracy, mass politics, capitalism, and the culture industry. But more importantly, their inquiry focused on the question—where emancipation lay? While they were hugely influenced by Hegel, Marx, Weber, Freud, among others, their analysis moved beyond traditional approaches in political and social theory. Focusing on the transformative and revolutionary potential of theory, the writings of Max Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Jurgen Habermas—as critical theory—has influenced disciplines as varied as political science, sociology, gender studies, film and cultural studies, comparative literature among others.
Apart from reading the texts of these first generation Frankfurt School intellectuals, in the course we will simultaneously study the responses to the development of their thought, particularly their migration to America, and their impact on the New Left.