Adorno and Horkheimer: Diasporic philosophy, Negative Theology, and counter-education

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The later Horkheimer presents mature Critical Theory as a Jewish Negative Theology. This change carries major educational implications hegemonic critical pedagogy has not yet dared to address until now and much less in the present era of the new anti-Semitism as the meta-narrative of the progressive circles. In Horkheimer's work the change from a Marxian Critical Theory to a Diasporic philosophy is paralleled by an articulation of Critical Theory as a new, Jewish, Negative Theology. Adorno's Negative Dialectics follows the same path, attempting to present 'counter-education' as a worthy addressing of the present absence of the quest for transcendence and meaning, and as a Diasporic form of awaiting as a self-education for the human stance of readiness to be called upon. The refusal to dwell in peace in the present order of things, the negation of the 'facts' of the actuality, are but a manifestation of the rejection of metaphysical violence and of all kinds of 'homes', dogmas, and self-satisfaction in a world of pain, injustice, ugliness, and betrayed love. Since Adorno and Horkheimer refused a positive Utopia, their mature thought could not promise a better world as a justification for resistance to normalizing education and the quest for pleasure, 'success', and hegemony. Homelessness and the moral importance of suffering are here grounded ontologically and become a religious way of life. In this the Frankfurt School thinkers followed Benjamin's lead: it is a kind of religiosity which is Messianic without a Messiah. As a counter-education it holds out no promise of salvation or of redemption. But it might offer a Messianic moment, which will overcome the violence of the governing 'nowtime' and open the gate to an alternative way of life. Adorno's and Horkheimer's later work offers a framework for counter-educational praxis whose religiosity is fertilized by the alarming resistance to educational optimism in light of an alternative, Diasporic co-poiesis and enduring responsible improvisation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)298-314
Number of pages17
JournalPolicy Futures in Education
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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