Thanksgiving Is Ruined

The Personal is Political. The Political is Personal.

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May 16, 2007
How not to confuse readers in the USA

In the summer of 1944, as Leo Lowenthal edited for publication in the USA the manuscript that eventually became the book Dialectic of Enlightenment, he wrote to one of the authors, his friend Max Horkheimer, to say that the manuscript's writing style was so convoluted that, without careful editing, the book

may bring about the impression that democratic society is everywhere conceived as a preceding stage to fascism, and with formulations which, if taken out of contex, and used maliciously, may create the impression that the program of free love is proclaimed.

Wait, you mean, it isn't?

[TiR disappointedly shuffles DoE further down from the top of the stack of reading material.]

Removing tongue from cheek (for one entire paragraph), it can be said in all non-semiseriousness that the article in which I found the above, by James Schmidt, entitled "The Eclipse of Reason and the End of the Frankfurt School in America" (.pdf) (New German Critique # 100, winter 2007) is tremendously well-researched and fascinating.

Then again, how dare I link to an article about writers who equated democracy with fascism? Or, better put, how dare I link to an article about writers, who happened to be German-speaking, whom readers in the USA with hair-trigger emotional responses, in the midst of a war against Germany, could have misinterpreted as equating democracy with fascism?

After all, is not democracy always a good thing?

And, if it is, is not, then, "democracy" also always a good thing?

And if that is so, is not, then also, "'democracy,'" with, you know, two layers of quotes, always a good thing? And so on?

How could any sentence with the word "democracy" in it end on a bad note? How could any package with the word "democratic" anywhere on the label ever contain a product that's less than totally healthy and wholesome for everybody, at all times, everywhere? Especially if it's people in the USA who package, label and export the product? What kind of sicko could propose anything otherwise?

Besides, what kind of statement could any author make, even if the remark were grossly misread, that could be taken to mean that "democracy leads to fascism"? How could any sentence about a society that claimed to support "democracy" say also that the fruits of such a society could, perhaps, be anything other than peeance, freeance and ponies?

The answer is, perhaps, statments like the following:

The people at the top are no longer so interested in concealing monopoly: as its violence becomes more open, so its power grows.

Movies and radio need no longer pretend to be art. . . .

The need which might resist central control has already been suppressed by the control of the individual consciousness.

The step from the telephone to the radio has clearly distinguished the roles. The former still allowed the subscriber to play the role of subject, and was liberal. The latter is democratic: it turns all participants into listeners and authoritatively subjects them to broadcast programs which are all exactly the same. No machinery of rejoinder has been devised, and private broadcasters are denied any freedom. . . .

The ruthless unity in the culture industry is evidence of what will happen in politics.

Then again again, I wasn't there in 1944, so what do I know?