Critique of Instrumental Reason by Max Horkheimer

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By Max Horkheimer

Those essays, written among 1949 and 1967, specialize in a unmarried subject: the triumph within the 20th century of the state-bureaucratic gear and ‘instrumental cause’ and the concomitant liquidation of the person and the fundamental social associations and relationships linked to the person.

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The clarity and penetration which are replacing experience show their presence more quickly than experience did and at an earlier age. The search for such qualities as used to require a lengthy and, as it were, organic maturation is becoming less important as rationalization increases. Those qualities are now being sacrificed to the very principle which originally led to their development, and they are now receiving the kind of reverential tribute we give to museum pieces. The chemistry which is now outmoding age even biologically is simply ratifying the thrust of the economy.

A woman’s “false step” has lost its tragic character and no longer puts her into an irremediable state. This does not mean that a woman’s professional prospects today are equal to man’s; society is still a man’s society. It does mean that though she has not won emancipation, woman in our manipulated society can make decisions like those of men. It is no longer the traits which once enabled her to avoid reduction to object-status, but those which today requires, that develop in the explicit forms modernity calls for.

Thus not only the old social classes but even the pre- and post-marital states are becoming less differentiated. In marriage the relations between the partners must, above all, be rich in results, like those of teams in industry and sport. If a marriage proves burdensome it can be dissolved, and a person may perhaps be more successful with a new partner. Each partner is evaluated in terms of function, and this affects even the relations of the sexes before marriage, so that these relations become more uniform, more practical, less charged with momentous significance.

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