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A Critical Theory of Culture: on Myth, Technique, Culture and Totalitarianism in Cassirer, Horkheimer and Adorno


We intend to investigate some methodological and thematic common points and contrasts between two of the main philosophers from the first generation of Critical Philosophy - Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer -, on the one side, and Ernst Cassirer, heir of the Marburger School of Neokantianism on the other side. With special attention to Cassirer's The Myth of the State, from 1946, and The Dialectic of Enlightenment, published in 1947 by Adorno and Horkheimer, we aim to bring close their approach to the general philosophical question of culture and the emergence of the totalitarianism: in both perspectives we find a critic of their time as one in which the reason - by then already instrumentalized - is subdued by the power of mythical thinking, what leads the philosophers to reconsider the modern and illuminists expectations of emancipation and freedom. The general feature of transdisciplinary approach in both cases also shows us some proximity, although it may reveal us clearly their mutual contrasts, not only in the methodological orientation (psychoanalytic-sociological approach in the case of Adorno and Horkheimer, phenomenologic-anthropological in the case of Cassirer), but also in the way it makes them follow different paths to the understanding of their historical time and the task of Philosophy in front of it: the understanding of the development of capitalist way of production and its specific shape during the early decades of the 20th century, the following arise of the cultural industry and the massification of people on the one side, and the search for a phenomenology of human culture and the specific relations amongst the symbolic forms that drove to the creation of the modern political myths. Such a contrast may provide us a more accurate perspective about the main concepts in both projects, what is profitable both to the development of the critical theory as to the critic of culture. (AU)