Frankfurt School (the Frankfurt school witnessed the rise of Communism in Russia and Fascism in Italy, and they saw the devastation caused by WWI and WWII.  They took classical Marxist theories and adapted them 'or came up with their own fix' for modern application - a new set of measures that modern society needs to meet)

Neo-Marxism:  The Frankfurt School is a school of neo-Marxist social theory, social research, and philosophy.

Horkheimer and Adorno blame the fear of capitalist domination as the reason for the rise of the Nazis in Germany. (Dialectic of Enlightenment)

The following information was found at:,

The Frankfurt School, officially known as the Institute for Social Research at the University of Frankfurt, was basically a German Marxist critique of capitalism in ideological terms (as opposed to economic terms) with some Freudianism thrown in for good measure.

Apart from anything else, the Frankurt School provides a theoretical bridge between traditional Marxist scholarship and cultural orientation of, e.g., the Birmingham School of British Cultural Studies.

 I. Origins of Frankfurt School

1.) Started out as a post-WW I (formed in 1923), Marxist-based reaction to the crises of war, revolution, and upheaval in Europe. Although Marxist based, it was also critical of orthodox Marxism.

2.) Set up in 1923 by Felix Weil as an interdisciplinary institutional center for research into political economy (in German Weimar republic) for research into political economy and cultural production.

3.) Based on a critique of then-standard Marxist doctrine: Lukacs, for example, (a central figure of the Frankfurt School) was against what he called deterministic Marxism. He said you had to activate the proletariat first before you can have action. This reflected the deep contemporary splits in the communist/socialist parties of Russia and Europe.

4.) From 1931, the school was under Max Horkheimer and moved its focus to philosophy, culture, and the media (this became the main focus for European intellectuals from the 1930s to 1940s).

5.) In the 1930s, the most of the Institute's members fled Germany and moved to the United States, where they continued their research (becoming a major center for exiled European intellectuals in the 1930s and 1940s).

This is probably important >> Most of the Institute's scholars had had experience of a mass society turning to Hitler and Nazism, under the influence of media and propaganda, and had to flee from that oppressive environment. (Some, like Walter Benjamin, didn't make it out in time!) This collective experience undoubtedly chad some impact, coloring their opinions and ideas about the very nature of society.

II. Ideas

1.) The Frankfurt School's position broadly was that people are easily fooled by capitalism ("false consciousness") and the culture industry: An analysis of Freud's work can be one way of understanding why. (Mass psychology of Marxism.)

2.) Frankfurt School idea of "reality" was that of bourgeois society controlling almost everything under capitalism -- culture is processed through "culture industry" (see over). It criticized Enlightenment ideas of progressive culture, harmony, authenticity, and culture encompassing the best creative efforts of people who are authentically free.

3.) Ideology not a function of authentic individual beliefs, instead characterized as distortions of reality whose purpose is to camouflage and legitimate unequal power relations.

4.) While mostly negative, most Frankfurt School scholars did recognize (as did Gramsci) that an authentic "culture"/cultures could exist outside of the capitalist elites -- it was just very difficult for this culture to sustain itself or communicate (see Culture industries).


This includes, in media terms all mass media (in 1920s, 1930s, newspapers, magazines, the movies, radio) plus most other means of cultural production (theater, opera, artistic exhibitions, etc.). Applied to the present day, it could of course cover all the other mass media in society, such as television and the Web. (See also under subject index C)

1.) All these forces of media/cultural production are intertwined: a system.

2.) Culture industry is intricately linked with the present-day dominant models of the economy/culture; e.g. capitalist production, distribution, exchange, consumption. So culture is produced in just the same way as, say, automobiles or refrigerators.

3.) Media serve only to maintain culture industry (as below).

production >>>>>>(artistic) composition

distribution >>>>>>reproduction

Exchange >>>>>>>culture creation

consumption >>>>>reception

(Note: Think about the role of the individual author in all this. Is the author the creator of a unique individual work -- the Classical liberal/Romantic idea -- or is s/he simply reproducing the ideas and values of a system over which s/he has no control?

4.) The masses are thus systematically manipulated and progressively unable to criticize their society effectively; they may have some authentic types of cultural expression, but the mass media/cultural industries prevent culture from being effectively communicated in any authentic form -- unless it has first been commodified and changed to fit the capitalist system.

5.) The culture industry thus commodifies and standardizes art (music, fashion, etc.) then fools people into thinking it's "original" in order to sell it.

6.) The only people left who can still meaningfully critique Enlightenment ideas, capitalism and the culture industry are the avant-gardes (i.e., the artistic elites -- could be anything from James Joyce to rap music).

7.) But even "authentic" culture (as defined by bourgeoisie) has difficulty surviving against capitalism; avant garde expression tends to quickly get swallowed up by society and become commodified itself.


~ Food for thought? ~

Think about how you can apply the ideas of the Frankfurt School scholars to more recent articulations of cultural expression, such as rock 'n' roll, punk, or rap/hip-hop music, or the Hippie movement in the 1960s. Are these examples of "avant-garde" or "authentic" cultural production that have simply been gobbled up by consumer society and "commodified"? What other examples can you think of?

Frankfurt School prominent members included:

* Max Horkheimer;
* Theodor Adorno;
* Herbert Marcuse;
* Walter Benjamin;
* Siegfried Krakeus.

Major Influences:
1) Hegel - saw history as the history of human ideas.
2) Marx - concentrated on political economy (Lukacs drew Hegel's and Marx's ideas together).
3) Weber - said that world had lost its magic and enchantment because of industrialization.