Research Unit Politics

The Last Citizen

An Intellectual Biography of Max Horkheimer

Max Horkheimer (1895–1973), one of the most important founders of Critical Theory alongside Theodor W. Adorno, is biographically and historically deeply rooted in the nineteenth century, although his work had a strong impact on the twentieth century. His diagnostic acumen was the result of the conflict between historical experience and contemporary history. Horkheimer's though was characterized by an adherence to the experiences and concepts of the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie in the face of their eroding historical conditions. This adherence caused the historical experiences themselves to undergo a transformation: What appears to be Horkheimer's habitual conservatism proves rather to be an intellectual capacity for sociohistorical criticism. This biography of Horkheimer follows this constellation in three steps: The point of departure and the focal point are both Horkheimer's years since his remigration from the USA, first as director of the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt, followed by his years in retirement in Montagnola, Switzerland. Horkheimer's adolescence as a German Jewish upperclass son revolting against his origins, his temporary affinity to leftist socialism, and the transformation of these experiences during his exile are here reconstructed as preconditions of his later conservatism. Thus, the era of Konrad Adenauer is conceived as the key period of Horkheimer's intellectual and political work.

This research project is part of the research group »A New History of the Labor and Union Movement« funded by the Hans Böckler Foundation.