Deborah Cook


In one of his many metaphorical turns of phrase – a leitmotif in The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity — Jürgen Habermas speaks of the path not taken by modern philosophers, a path that might have led them towards his own intersubjective notion of communicative reason. Habermas is especially critical of his predecessors, Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, because, he believes, they repudiated the rational potential in the culture of modernity. Whenever Adorno and Horkheimer heard the word ‘culture’, they apparently reached for their revolvers. By the 1940s, their confidence in modern culture had allegedly succumbed to bitter disillusionment. Indeed, on Habermas's view, the confidence of these early critical theorists had been shaken so badly by the emergence of Nazism and Stalinism that their scepticism finally embraced reason itself, ‘whose standards ideology critique had found already given in bourgeois ideals’. Consequently, Adorno and Horkheimer were forced to call into question their own immanent critique of modernity: ideology critique itself came ‘under suspicion of not producing (any more) truths’. These philosophers supposedly had little choice but to render their now suspect critique ‘independent even in relation to its own foundations’.