The New Yorker on The Frankfurt School

In The New Yorker, Alex Ross profiles the Frankfurt School, the circle of Jewish émigrés who arrived in America after WWII and whose Marxist orientation (combined with their Jewish antagonism to Protestant morales) upended culture production:

Nazism sundered the lives of the critical theorists, almost all of whom were Jewish. Benjamin committed suicide on the Franco-Spanish border, in 1940; the others escaped to America. Much of their work in exile focussed on totalitarianism, although they assessed the phenomenon from a certain remove. For them, the genocidal state was not merely a German problem, something that resulted from listening to too much Wagner; it was a Western problem, rooted in the Enlightenment urge to dominate nature. Raymond Geuss, in the preface to a new edition of the Frankfurt School’s U.S.-government-sponsored wartime intelligence reports, notes that Nazi Germany, with its barrage of propaganda and of regulated entertainment, was seen as an “archetypally modern society.” Anti-Semitism was, from this perspective, not merely a manifestation of hatred but a means to an end—a “spearhead” of societal control. Therefore, the defeat of Mussolini and Hitler, in 1945, fell short of a final defeat of Fascism: the totalitarian mind lurked everywhere, and America was hardly free of its influence.

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