Theodor W. Adorno

As usual we have no intention to tell anything about the biography of Adorno. Those who are interested in this kind of information can go to wikipedia: Th.W.Adorno. By the way. Th.W. Adorno is so famoust, that one finds thousand of articles about him by putting Adorno on google.

We can read very often that Adorno is an author in the "marxist" tradition. (For instance the article on wikipedia affirms that.) Unfortunately the authors who affirms that never tell us why he is a marxist author. The mere fact that he is not a "capitalist", whatever the significance of this term may be, doesn't mean that he is a "marxist".

Actually marxism is an economic theory and Adorno doesn't express itself nor in favour of marxism nor against it. Adorno doesn't focus on the economic basis, but on the "administered world" and it is clear that he considers the "socialist" countries still more administered than the "capitalist" countries.

We have no intention to go into the details of the philosophy of Adorno. The basic question is as simple as difficult to answer. How it is possible that a country more or less civilized nation as Germany before 1933 could regress to a stadium of total barbarism. That is considered by Adorno as complete failure of culture, the education system and of the idea of the individuum as the bearer of individual values.

Hayek explains that with collectivism and collectivism is the result of governmental intervention in the economy. But if a government can induce people to construct concentration camps and torture more than 6 million people to death and kill other 25 millions in a war we have a problem that has nothing to do with economics. Hayek is simply mad, a complete idiot. However Hayek is not the problem, there are lot of poorly educated fools on earth. The problem is that a lot of people consider him relevant and even an "intelectual".

Economics is about efficiency. Almost all the chapters of this manual are about economics. Efficiency is measured in growth, unempolyment rat, allocation of resources etc.. This is not the topic addressed by Adorno. The topic addressed by Adorno is the question whether an economic system can lead to a situation where the reproduction of the economic system is the only goal of this system. The economy is in this case not the means, but the goal. It becomes kind of a robot whose goal is to produce robots and consumption is only a side effect.

It is true that the technological progress allows people to go anywhere, but actually they go, in the words of Adorno, with faster cars to places they already are, because there is little difference between the place they are and the place they go. Tourists guides leads them to a lot of different pyramids, in Egypt, Mexico or China and they visit palaces, churches and shopping malls all over the world, but none of them would be able to answer the question why they do it, beside taking photos.

Ten million tourists visit the Brandenburg Gate each year in Berlin, although it is the most boring monument on earth. It may be interesting from a historical point of view, but nobody cares about the history of the building.

It is normal that people look always for "something new". But a resort in Mexico, Thailand, France and Kenya is not new. People are looking for something, they already have. That's the phenomenon for which Adorno coined the expression "to go with a more and more faster car to a place they already are."

What is true for the tourismus industry is still more true for the culture industry, see the Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception, or the news industry. These industries satisfy needs they previously created themselves. Nobody would be interested in the love affaires of a football player if the news industry wouldn't spread this kind of information through the tv, radio, newspaper, internet. The relevance of an information is due to its omnipresence and not to its objective relevance.

Serving the different preferences of clearly defined groups from a marketing point of view, houwsewifes, youngsters, middle class / lower class, pseudo intellectuals etc. they produce specific products satisfying specific "wants": Reality shows, casting shows of different types, quizprogrammes etc..

Satisfying the previously created demand they betray the consumer. The culture industry and the news industry are kind of a communication and communication is only useful if there is an information gap between the sender and the receiver. If this information gap doesn't exist, we have in the best case entertainig gossip, but normally not even that, because it is boring. Even entertainment needs some kind of content and to the extent that this content disappears, nothing is left but effects. The car chases become more and more sophisiticated from a technical point of view and the reason why that happened more and more irrelevant. To say it with the words of Adorno: "The technical expense is inversely proportional to the esthetic materials used."

The fact that movies are more and more expensive and the technical effects more and more sophisticated is not a casuality, it is a logical consequence. There is not a big difference between a movie made fifty years ago and a movie made today, but there is a very big diference concerning the technic employed. The logic behind is simple to understand. A movie lasts 1½ hour and if this time can't be filled with content, more effects are needed. What is true for the culture industry is true for CNN and BBC. It is cheaper to fill 24 hours with effects than with content. If the goal is not information but entertainment, technical gadgets are cheaper.

The problem can be seen more easily in the news industry than in the culture industry, although both follow the same logic. Both have an interest to spread content for the broadest possible that can be obtained as the lowest possible price. Any other strategy is less profitable.

However in case of the news industry the problem is easier to understand. Democratic decision making depends on the qualification of the voters. Poorly informed voters can only trust in the personal integrity and the competence of the people they vote for, they have no chance to actually evaluate or control their politics. This gives space to manipulation.

Normally authoritarian regimes are criticized for a lack of press freedom. This freedom of press seems to be at stake, if we don't get all the details about the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. However if we don't get detailed information about the strategy followed in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, if there is one, press freedom is not at stake, because nobody is interested in getting fully informed and to obtain interesting information is expensive, risky and not very profitabel, although the consequences for the tax payer are much higher, than the problems of Prince Charles and Lady Diana.

Actually press freedom can only be defined from the demand side. If the consumers want more information than the government is willing to provide, press freedom is at stake. If people don't want more information than the government is willing to provide, the press is free. Press freedom is more a question of demand than of supply.

The more an information can be emotionalized, the more profitable it is. If people are against or in favour is irrelevant as long as it triggers strong emotions. Death soldiers brough back from Afghanistan in a coffin are more interesting than the question, to give an example, if the whole strategy followed in Afghanistan was correct. The information that trigger strong emotions is more profitable, than information that allow to evaluate a situation.

The idea of Popper that we have a democracy if only people can get rid of their government by democratic elections is completely foolish. We have only a democracy if critical thinking, questioning the facts, transparency is actively promoted on all levels of society. Democratic elections are the most trivial part of the game.

Concerning the techniques used and the business concept there is a strong similarity between news industry and the culture industry. For both it is completely irrelevant if the content they spread "broaden the horizon" of the people. Their interest is to make money. That is not to be criticized, because they have no alternative. An investigative, lonesome journalist or an author with artistic tastes can only survive, if he had inherited money.

Both have an interest to sell content to the maximum possible amount of people they can be produced at the lowest cost possible. That's like that in any business and is hard to see why it should be different in the news and culture industry.

It is often said, that the news industry is the fourth pillar of democracy, however it is completely unclear why this should be the case. Nobody can expect the news industry to do an expensive in depth research, if they can earn much more money with the marriage of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.

It is easy to understand that this a problem in a democratic decision making process, because an effective control of the government is only possible if people are willing to control it.

However Adorno doesn't focus on the news industry, but on the culture industry, especially movie and television. It can be said that it is irrelevant what they produce and that it is enough that they entertain the people. Concerning the culture industry the discussion is a little bit more "philosophical".

For Karl Popper it is enough that at least in theory there are alternatives. Every kind of utopia is the beginning of totalitarism, although the term utopia is never really defined. He argues in favour of a step by step improvement, but he never defines the still accptable size of a single step nor the direction. Is the unconditional basic income already an utopia that leads to totalitarism or still a little step in the right (?) direction. He tells us that socialism doesn't work. That's interesting to know, but we already knew it.

Utopia is for Karl Popper a monstrous word. For an unknown reason he assumes that there can only be one at the same time and people try to realize it. The truth is, that there can be hundred of utopias at the same time, but without any utopia there is no progress and that's the point of Adorno and Bloch. Where people get their visions for a better world from?

The culture industry is for Adorno a symbol of the administered world. By satisfying the wants of the people, it confirms the world. People remain where they are and beyond there is nothing. To be precise: It is even worse. People are the result of the circumstances they live in and the culture industry are the confirmation of what they are.

It is more probable that utopists end up in a madhouse than that they impose their vision on society as Popper assumes. The society without any utopia is more realistic than the society where an utopia is imposed. Popper is completely wrong.

The slogan " the road to hell is paved with good intentions would" that appears very often in public debate is meaningless. Those who assume that Hitler, Stalin, Franco, Mussolini, Videla, Pinochet etc. has good intentions should read their biography. They didn't try to impose a political order they considered to be the best, but to get to power. The ideology behind was just a means. Popper errs completely. The content of the ideology is irrelevant for authoritarian or totalitarian regimes, see Karl Popper.

If we want to understand the position of Adorno from which the culture industry is criticized we have to understand its concept of art. Art is a criticizim of society, however not in a trivial sense. Trivial would be a direct criticizism as it is done for instance by Bertold Brecht. This kind of criticizm is based on "rational" concepts. We can say for instance that a very unequal distribution of income is problematic, if that leads to a situation where money is withdrawn from circulation and invested in a speculative way.

The content of art cannot be expressed otherwise. If that were possible, it would be better to express it in plain words. The famous question "What the author intended to say?" is foolish. If he wanted "to say" something he would had better said it in plain words. No need for riddles. If the only sense of art is to unravel riddles, art is boring.

Art is somehow janus-faced. It can only be understood by people who have the same historical background. It is obviously difficult to write a novel about the working conditions at the beginning of industrialisation before industrialisation happened. However it reflects a very personal position toward the ensemble of the social relationships. There is a surplus in art and this surplus, the reflection of "the ensemble of the social relationships" in the consciousness of a subject, is what distinguishes art from the artefacts of the culture industry.

The essay the Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception was first published in 1947, in other words immediately after the end of world war II as part of the book, dialectic of enlightenment, aiming to explain the reason for the relapse to barbarism ocurred in the time between 1933 and 1945.

The essay is somehow "visionary" because in these times the impact of television, radio and the film industry on the consciousness of the people was low. At least in Germany. Very few germans had a tv immediately after world war II and private channels are allowed in Germany only since 1984. The stunning phenomenon is that private tv stations were prohibited in Germany since 1984, because it was feared that they their influence on public opinion could be too strong. Concerning this point, the influence of the mass media, they agreed with Adorno, although for different reasons. They were afraid that private channels were not under the control of the government.

The impact of tv on the consciousness of the people can hardly be denied. Germans watch television 216 minutes per day on average, on average US Americans watch television almost 5 hours a day, spaniards 4 hours. If these figures are correct or not is irrelevant. In any case it is obvious that tv has an heavy impact on the consciousness of the people. The news that are not spread by the mass media, don't exist.

There is great probability that all the problems on earth would be already resolved if people invested these three hours in informing themselves and working for the solution of upcoming problems. Probably they will even find that this is much more interesting and fun. Dull entertaining would be substituted by real adventures, live in colour.

In theory public financed channels have an educational mandate. They are financed by the public, the tax payer or by compulsory contributions, because they should "broaden the horizon" of the people and not just satisfy "wants". If they do the same thing as private channels, they can be as well be financed privately.

Satisfy "wants" at first glance seems to be very democratic and it is obviously true for socks and similiar things. If people want yellow socks and not blue socks, the companies has to produce yellow socks and not blue ones and in a market economy they will produce yellow socks or disappear from the market. It is not the task of the industry to convince people that blue socks are better than yellow socks.

This is implicetely the logic of Karl Popper and similiar lines of thinking. We have an open society if the "wants" of the people are satisfied, however this wants arosed and wherever these wants come from. Any attempt to change the wants is kind of a manipulation.

The problem is easy to see concerning the news industry and less easy to see concerning the culture industry. If intransparency allows certain lobby groups to make deals with the government at charge of the interests of the society as a whole for instance, the tax payer will pay the bill. Everybody understands that in this case "broadening the horizon" is useful even if people are reluctant to consider an issue more in detail.

The problem is, that there is no supply for this kind of information if there is no demand, because expensive researches are only possible, if there is a real demand for these information. Furthermore in the case that the information are really relevant, someone will have a strong interest in not seeing them published. The publisher of these information can only publish them, if he is backed by the society. If the next election in the United States depended on the question whether Edward Snowden can go back to the United States or not, he could go back.

The open society only exists if there is a difference between an imagined ideal state and the status quo. If there is no difference, the open society is actually a closed society, although Karl Popper assumes the opposite. A prison is only a prison if people want to leave. If they are happy prisoners, it is not a prison. That's obvious.

A "surplus" is needed to keep people going forward. Even the complete refutation of the status quo, is a "surplus". The film industry considers itself very often as a "Dream Factory", however the dreams are pure entertaining, if there is any dream, and still less there are dreams that empowers reality, dreams that can be put into practice or dreams that makes reality more interesting. The film industry is more about tickling basic instincts.

The essay The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception was written almost 70 year ago. (We are still in 2015). It tends to be a black and white portrait of the culture industry, especially the film industry. Since than things have changed. There are lot of independent filmmakers, that very often can trigger a public debate. If we take into account the internet, the description of Adorno is still less true nowadays. In any aspect the internet is completely different, from a technical point of view, regarding regional limitations, regarding the costs of production and distribution of content, regarding interactivity, regarding spontaneity, regarding promotion, regarding refinanciation etc.. On the internet we see as well services that satisfy wants previously produced, but we see a lot of other things as well.

Furthermore the criticism of Adorno goes further. Adorno not only criticizes that the culture industry follows the same rules as any other industry, what is incompatible with art, if we assume that art has a subjective truth and doesn't satisfy objective wants.

If it were true that the only problem is that the culture industry follows the "logic of the market", the publicly financed television stations should be different. The are not obliged to follow "the logic of the market", they don't depend on the audience. They are in the same position as the public education system. If we want to understand why they are publicly financed, we have to understand that politics consider them as kind of an "elite", otherwise it is unclear why they should be publicly financed. This assumed "elite", teachers and programm makers, have the "task" to educated the people. However it is unclear why these people should be better trained than the rest of the world. The only thing that qualifies them is the fact that they stick to the canonized culture, otherwise they wouldn't get the job.

We have this kind of canonized culture in every country, see The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception, but this kind of culture is so far away from what Adorno means with culture as the artefacts of culture industry. The problem can be described in a very philosophical way, that's the approach of Adorno. This is the correct approach, but we have no intention to recapitulate here the whole Aesthetic Theory of Adorno. That's definitely to far away from our topic.

[ However everybody understands that culture is a process, not a result. The artefact has a personal history and only if the recipient has similar experiences, communication is possible. To put it very simple. Death of Saleman by Arthur Miller is very easy to understand for people who spend their lifes selling something they don't identify themselves with and difficult to understand for a happy farmer who sells the most beautiful apples on earth and makes his customers happy. To give an example. Another example: The Divina Commedia by Dante Alighieri is hard to understand for anyone living in the 21st century. Dante had a lot of problems, normal people don't have and a picture of Picasso would had been completely incomprehensible for someone living in the medieval times.]

The more practical approach is this one. Canonized culture taught in school is a merchandise. Teacher teach it because they are paid for doing it and students learn it, because they are obliged to do it. There is no need that anyone finds that relevant, interesting, "horizon broadening", allowing people to judge on their own, to strenghten the sense of moral and social responsibility or whatever, although this is expected otherwise there is no need to invest hundred of millions of dollars teaching this stuff.

However if we have a look on german history, we can say that culture doesn't have none of this effects. The seizure of power by Hitler and what follows was a complete failure of the education system. Whatever is meant by culture, the national-socialism is the exact opposite.

If someone don't understand what Adorno want to say, it is enough to ask him for a definition of culture and then asks him if he thinks that the last 200 years proved that there is a progress if this definition is applied. At the end he or she will agree that something is going wrong. History is what Adorno calls an "infernal machine".

If we take into account the complete works of Adorno, especially Education for maturity and responsibility, the criticism of the education system is more important than the criticism of the culture industry.

Publicly financed radio and television stations and the education system relies on the same basic assumptions. If the they are financed by the public and therefore independent from their audience, the quality is "higher", although it is completely unclear why this should be the case. The mere fact that someone gets money independently from his performance doesn't meant that the performance is better and the mere fact that a station is controlled by the government, doesn't mean that it is more objective or more willing to control the government.

The only thing we can say is that there is no desincitive for a more in depth research due to lack of demand for further information, but we can't say that there is an incentive for a more in depth research. We can assume that a public financed station as well as a private station will go the path of least resistance and that is actually the case. Both stations have a preference for things like "talk shows", where some famous, however arbitrarily selected people talk about a topic they are considered for any reason to be "experts".

Concerning the education system the situtation is similar. It is assumed that this system improves the "cultural level" of the students, although there is no evidence for that and there is not even an attempt to verify this thesis. What we have are international tests on basic skills needed for the job market, allowing to compare the educational systems in the different countries of the world, the famous PISA test for instance, but nobody ever tested if the schooling system had an impact on the awareness of the people.

[We agree that this couldn't be done in such an objective way as the PISA test that examines knowledge in an objective way. A result in a math test is either wrong or correct. However it could be done indirectly, for instance by asking the people if they have the impression that education at school had any impact on their awareness, if it helps them to get access to literature, music, art, if they remember what they had learned at school etc.. The answers would be subjective, but would however give an insight what actually happens at school.]

The fact that in most european countries we had fascist mouvement and that in three countries fascism got to power is a complete failure of the education system. However we didn't have a public debate about this system after world war II.

Politicians assigns to culture certain values, although we don't know which and very probably they don't know it themselves. Furthermore they assume that teachers are able to "teach" culture, although nobody really knows how they do that and if they can do it. They assume as well that the teaching of culture is a success story, because otherwise they would stop it or modify something. The thesis that education was a success story is refuted by Adorno, see Education after Ausschwitz.

Culture as an arbitrary canon, actually any nation has its own canon, that has to be learned, risks to be reduced to a mere exchange value. Students learn it in order to get good marks; to put it simple. As a mere exchange value it only has a systemic relevance and can't therefore strenghten the personality. Culture in the sense of Adorno is a conglomerate of visions, values, identification models, sensibilities, aesthetic tastes the individual sticks to even if the "system" doesn't share his culture. It is therefore something very individual with no systemic value. To put is simple: If someone is "nice" without expecting a compensation, it is not a systemic value. If someone is nice, because he expects a compensation, his kindness is a merchandise. Or: If someone studies philosophy to obtain clarification about some issues, although he loses a lot of time and money doing it, it is culture. If he does it to get a job, it is a merchandise.

However even as pure exchange value the canonized culture has a value. As an exchange value it is at least present and some people may be induced to get acquainted with it, at least to the extent needed for a small talk. If it even disappears as an exchange value, what is more and more the case, it is completely lost.

The term english, french, spanish, italian, german etc. culture is actually strange, because it insinuates a limitation. The idea of culture is to make a personal choice, consciously and inconsciously, between all the options available. If he can only make a choice between the options available in its country, it is a limitation. By the way: Very few people are bound to their national culture in a globalised world.

It is a strange fact that every nation has its own canon. They stick to this canon because there are always groups interested in conserving this canon, because they make a living teaching it.

We have no intention to enter here in the details of the esthetique ideas of Adorno. However this author believes that if would be helpful from a didactical point of view if future teachers understand the role of art in the society, how it is created and the dynamic between art and the recipient of art. This would allow a more in depth discussion how culture should be taught at school and at the university.

The only reason for having public financed television / radio stations is the assumption that these station don't depend on their customers. They are not obliged to satisfy wants. However there is no evidence that the programm makers of the publicly financed stations are more qualified. Furthermore following this logic there should exist as well publicly financed newspapers, something that never exists.

[From that we can deduce that politicians share the opinion of Adorno that the television / radio station have a big impact on public opinion and a big manipulation capacity, something they assume to be less in the case of the print media. The assumption is true. Television and radio stations have a bigger impact on public opinion. However it is definitely not true, that the mere fact that they are publicly financed is a guarantee for "higher" quality, whatever that means in this context. Independency from the audience may be a necessary condition, but it is not a sufficient condition.]

Cultural inheritance is important, although the notion german, french, spanish, italian, english culture doesn't make a lot of sense and is in practice irrelevant. People read the books they find interesting, hear the music they like and go to the museums wherever they are independently whether the author is chinese, russian, swede, peruvian or whatever.

Patriotism is often defined as "love for ones country" in opposition to nationalism, the hatress against other nations. However if this were true, people should prefer to go on holiday in their own country, prefere the typical food of their country, hear the music of their country and so on. None of that is true. Germans for instance eat more pizza than italians and most germans spend their holiday in foreign countries. It seems that patriotism doesn't need a concret object. It can be better explained by group dynamic.

Global culture allows obviously a greater variety of identification models. It is hard to see why the education models in the different countries focus on a "national culture". It is argued, that this is necessary, because people have to know "where they come from". However what really happens is different. An education system based on a national canon doesn't teach the people "where they come from", but "where they go to". This is similar to the technic used by the culture industry. First they create wants, and then they satisfy them. That allow them to say that they only supply what the people want. The education system first creates a national identity and once created, it is argued that people should be aware of this national identity. We understand that there are groups who make a living out of that, but it is kind of a circular reasoning.

The reader has already realized that the way of thinking of Adorno and Horkheimer is completely different from all what we have seen in the previous chapters. The previous chapter were about things that could be measured with money and in this kind of thinking everything that cannot be measured with money is irrelevant. It seems that Hayek and Friedman find that a little bit dull and therefore they enriched the pure neoclassical thinking, see Léon Walras, with freedom. The market economy is not only the guarantor of an efficient use of resources, but the guarantor of freedom as well. There is no need to discuss this thesis again, see Hayek.

The concept of rationality that underlies the classical / neoclassical theory is what Adorno / Horkheimer call the instrumental rationality.

As we already said we have no intention to present the whole philosophical background of Adorno or the School of Frankfurt. Adorno is not trivial as Popper, Hayek, Friedman that can be resumed in one page. If we want to put it simple we can put it this way.

The goals of economic activities is never reflected in economic theory as Alfred Marshall stated already in a very precise way. We can measure with money the strength of an impulse, but not the motive of an impulse and for the mere economic theory the motiv is is irrelevant. If someone is willing to pay 1 million for a painting of Van Gogh we know that he is willing to pay a lot of money for it, but we don't know why and for a pure economic analysis we don't need to know that.

However a goal can be very irrational. If someone for instance pays 1 million dollars for a painting of Van Gogh only to impress his friends, the motiv is irrational. In this case the painting has not a value on itself, it is reduced to a pure exchange value. Economists will find that this is not irrational, it is a legitimate motive. Normal people would say that this is madness. If he needs to impress his "friends" this way, he has no friends.

However the term "instrumental rationality" has a deeper meaning. Say assumes, see Say's law, that people only work if they want to buy something. This would be a rational behaviour. People want to have a basquet of goods and in order to buy it, they have to produce something that have an equivalent value, therefore, this is the message of Say's law, supply can never exceed demand. However for a lot of people the goal is to earn money, without any intention to spend it. In other words, the means become a goal. A machine that is conceived to satisfy needs, is the final goal and not a means to satisfy goals.

The concept of the 'instrumental rationality' is closely connected to the term objectified consciousness. If the economic structure requires people to do something, they will end to like what they have to do anyway. They will not adapt the machine to their needs, but their needs to the machine, something that happens more easily, if they don't have a vision that life could be different. It very likely that people accept the logic of the system, if they have no alternative. They became part of the system.

Actually neoclassic theory is kind of behaviorism. Behaviorism is a line of thinking inside psychology that only takes into account human behaviour to the extent that the reaction to an incentive could be measured. That works as long as only basic instincs or physiological processes are analysed and it is not casual that most of the examples used in microeconomics to illustrate something are taken from this sphere. This kind of approach is very similar to the one used to study the behaviour of animals. Chimpanzees for instance resolve a problem and get some food for compensation. Animals don't reflect about the goals, they react on incentives.

This kind of approach has the clear advantage that it can be modelled mathematically, see methodological approach, but for obvious reasons the explanatory power is very restricted even in a purely economic context.

For most people the term 'objectified consciousness' is hard to comprehend, we will return on the issue later, see the Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception. However by reading texts from neoclassical authors we can understand what it is. In the neoclassical theory we don't have human beings, we have capital and labour and capital and labour react like any animal to incentives.

The easiest way to understand what is meant by objectified consciousness is the theory of David Ricardo. "The capital", not the capitalists or other human beings, accumulates itself, although nobody knows actually why it wants to do that. If the "capitalists" would accumulate capital, we can assume that one day they want to spend their money. However the "the capital", never wants to spent anything. (The same is true by the way for Karl Marx. The three thick volumes are called "The Capital", not the "The Capitalists".) "The Capitalists" and "The Capital" is the same thing. Or to put it straightforward: The capitalists are a thing. They are nothing than an attachement to a machine.

The goal of this thing is completely irrational. The goal is the misery of a maximum of people. "Labour", not the workers, will never get a wage, in this theory, beyond the subsistence level. They will increase in number, but they will never improve their situation. It would be much better, under this perspective, if the "capitalists" would enjoy their lifes and stop accumulating capital. (What they actually don't do: Capital accumulates itself.) Workers would stilll have a miseralbe life, but at least there would be less of them.

David Ricardo invests a lot of perspicacity in analysing the impact of taxes on the accumulation of capital, but there is no reflection about the final goals.

To take another example: The nazis were very efficient in murdering people, but they never reflected on the final goals. We can even they, there was none.

[The last dimension of the the term instrumental rationality is very difficult to grasp. For Adorno myth, religion, enlightment and science is due to the fact that human beings want to understand and dominate nature. To pray for God and ask him to spare them from lightnings and to install a lightning conductor on the roof is the same thing. They look for causal relationships in order to intervene. However this rationality is opposed to the nature of human beings. Something we learn at school. Discipline is required in order to achieve something. People can only survive, if they oppress their emotions, if they consider themselves as a means to obtain something. Adapting themselves to what is objectively necessary, eliminates them as individuals. They become instruments.]

Economics assumes that the goals shouldn't be reflected nor questioned. In a liberal society everybody can follow the goals he or she wants to follow. From a liberal point of view the government shouldn't try to manipulate the people, although, see above, it does it. Adorno is considered by a lot of people as a "leftist" philosopher, what is actually strange, because almost all politicians in almost all industrialised countries consider public financed television and radio stations necessary. It is assumed that just satisfying wants is not enough.

This liberal assumption can be questioned and is actually questioned by the founder of liberalism, John Stuart Mill. People can only make a conscious (or inconscious) choice if they are aware of the alternatives. It can be argued that this is not a big problem in western countries. Everybody can read the books he wants, hear the music he wants, go to the theater / ballet / opera etc. and instead of going to a resort in Mexico, France, Thailand he can study spanish, french and thai and getting more in touch with the country, what is more interesting than getting abroad what he has at home.

However if the dynamic of society, especially of the economic systems, leads to uniformity and the horizon is more and more narrowed this argumentation can be questioned. With the same logic it could be argued that the circumstances someone lives in have no impact on his or her visions, goals, preferences and abilities. Freedom supposes that there are concrete objective and subjective alternatives and not only theoretical ones.

If the economy first creates the wants it satisfies afterwards we can't they that there is a free choice. With the same argumentation we could say that youngsters who got drugs from the dealers for free at the beginning and had to pay for them once addicted had a choice.

Neoclassical theory is the perfect illustration of the "instrumental rationality". It's all about efficiency. The homo oeconomicus can do nothing but satisfying the immediate wants of his customers in the most efficient way, otherwise he disappears as an entrepreneur. His decisions are based, in the best case, on facts, data obtained from previous experiences. Try something new is a risky enterprise, therefore in general he won't do it. If someone was successful with making a movie based on Carmen by Bizet, other people will do it.

Neoclassical theory assumes that the goal is irrelevant. If normal people were asked, they would put it the otherwise round. First there must be a debate about the goals, and then about the means to obtain it. Adorno is considered as one of the most difficult to understand philosophers. The author would say, there is lot of common sense in the writings of Adorno.

To put it short and simple: Economist suppose preferences as something given, something that can't and shouldn't be questioned. Actually it is pretty obvious that the preferences are the result of social proces. The preferences commands the demand and therefore the production structure. It is obvious that the economic structure would be better if people spend less money in cars, furniture, watches etc. etc. and more in personal services like education, training, sport, parties or whatever. Liberty defined in abstract terms, as in the concept of Hayek, doesn't mean anything. Liberty is the concrete choice, consciously or inconsciously, between different option. If there are no alternative, there is no choice.

Hayek talks a lot about the market as an exploration mechanism. Adorno assumes that the market has a tendency to merely reproduce itself ad calendas graecas, no exploration and breakthrough into a new dimension nowhere, and concerning the culture industry this is obviously true. What we see is a more and more sophisticated technic, but the esthetic materials, are shrinking. (Although it must be said the situation is more complicated today. The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception was written 70 years ago. The situation is different today. However it is 100 percent true for the news industry and the news industry is a real problem, see preliminaries.)

It could be said Adorno overestimate the impact of the mass media and the culture industry and that personal relations had a much greater impact on the awareness of the people. However the data contradict this thesis. The average german consumes almost 8 hours a day the products of the culture industry and the mass media and the situation is similar in all industrialised countries.

There is no need to assume that the culture and the news industry manipulate consciously, that all the channels are in the hand of a view people, although this is actually true, who manipulates public opinion. It is enough to assume that they want to earn money in order to see the problem. What people know, believe, feel, like or dislike, their dreams, concerns and hopes is influenced by the mass media and the mass media have an interest to satisfy wants and to emotionalize issues.

In the before the internet era it was almost imposible to get all the information needed to evaluate a situation. We need a lot of information for instance to evaluate the politcal and military strategies followed by different western countries and as we see, we are still in the year 2015, the results of these strategies are almost always different from what was expected. The situation has improved in the internet era, but is far away from being rersolved.

Beside that objective difficulty there is subjective problem. People tend to only accept the information that fit with their basic instincts, beliefs, visions, moral concepts etc.. They are more interested in information that affirms their point of view, than in inforamation contradicting their opinions. From an economic point of view it is therefore more interesting to confirm the opinions of the people than contradicting them. No mass media will play the big hero fighting against public opinion, because there is a big chance that the do that only one time. Emotionalising issues is economically more interesting than objective information.

An article about the sexual relationship between Keynes and Duncan Grant would find a much greater audience, is easier to produce and therefore more profitable than an article about its concept of money. Keynes was a genious in economics, but a zero in marketing. It is chrystal clear that a book with the title "Road to Serfdom" (Hayek) or "Capitalis and Freedom" (Friedman), that is easy to read sells much better than a book with the title "General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money", that is in addition very difficult to read.

What is true for the news industry, is true as well for the culture industry, although in this case it is less clear and the problem is more difficult to grasp.

Economists futhermore abstracts from the "colletaral damage" of a free market economy. There is no doubt that the free market economy is the most efficient economic system from a purely economic point of view, at least as long the goals are not questioned and questioning the goals is considered as an attack on "liberty". It is obvious that any other system that is not controlled by the market mecanisms, see perfect market. Everybody agrees on that. If we put the word bureaucracy in youtube we get almost 60 000 hits of all kind. Some of them really funny, at least as long someone is not directly concerned.

As long as the culture industry and the news industry is controlled by a few groups, they will play the game. Not because they want to actively manipulate public opinion, something that can happen as well though, but because they satisfy "wants" they previously created. Furthermore they depend on news and artefacts that can be produced easily. In depth research is economically not profitable and furthermore they will be cut off from their sources. If they critisice the government, they will find it more and more diffecult to get cheap information. The economic logic tends to a narrowing of the horizon.

That explains the pessimism of Adorno an his reluctance to support the student protests in the sixties of the last century. There is no force, and the least the public financed culture, that can oppose the mainstream and most of all socialism is not the alternative. That would be even worse. A total 'burocratisation' of the whole society.

Individuality and spontaneity may be accepted in some economic niches, but in general it is more profitable to offer, produce and like what the market need. Once this locomitive is put on rails, the best thing is to follow or to be inside. The market economy has its own logic. It produces what people want, but it requires on the supply side that people want as well what they produce. If someone wants to sell smartphones, he must know the little differences between one smartphone and another and in order to become a top saleman, he must even be enthusiastic about these little differences. People become a merchandise themselves. They like, feel and think what the market commands them to like, feel and think.

Competition makes a market economy very efficient. Everybody has no choice but to offer the best product at the lowest price, being a prodct himself. This is the positive view of the game. The negative view is that competition is the price to be paid for efficiency. Competition reduces the individuum to the relevant qualities. Those who are not willing to participate in the game disappear. "Artistic tastes" are a hindrance, those who stick to it are idiots. We get neutralised subjects, who only take systemic relevant values seriously.

However the situation wouldn't change if we substitute the market for a bureaucracy. The only difference between the culture bureaucracy and the culture industry is the fact, that the first ones are less flexible. Adorno didn't trust either of them and if we consider the last seventy years since the the Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception was first published, we have seen more innovation in the private financed sectors than in the public financed culture industry.

(We can see there the same mecanisms as in the academic economics. They teach the same thing they taught 100 years ago, what is logic. It is the academics staff that decides on the academic career and this staffs sticks to the canon. It is not a good idea to critisice this canon.)

In a situation of competetion dominates the intrumental rationality. The musicien, the author of a novel, the film director who doesn't produce for a well defined market, will end up as the Poor Poet of Carl Spitzweg. No publisher will publish his works, if the audience is not perfectly defined and the result predictible, if it is something really new. A competitor doesn't want to make the world better, broaden the horizon, enrich reality or whatever. He wants to make money and in order to this, he will satisfy any demand even problematic preferences.

The situation can be reversed and actually has been reversed by the internet. It the costs of distribution are very low, experiments are possible. Well possible that the publishers don't like that, but in this case nobody asks them either.

In textbook about microenconomcs competition exists only in a very abstract form, we can even say, that it doesn't exist at all. Actually it can't exist, because we have no subjects in microeconomics. We have supply, but no suppliers. If a more competitve supply enters the market, the supply curve shift to the right. That's all.

However the problem cannot be resolved by the "socialisation" of supply. That would be even worse. Public financed "research institutes" and "think tanks" can produce as much never discussed discussion papers as they want, their activities can be completely useless, they are financed anyway. This is the other extreme. If an entrepreneur is obliged to accept the preferences of the people as a fact, these people can ignore them completely, what doesn't mean that their products have any relevance.

If we want an example for instrumental rationality we can go back to Vilfredo Pareto. All what is beyond a pure stimulus, any kind of value, is religion and "unscientific". Beyond satisfying basic instincts the economy has actually no goal at all. The topic of Vilfredo Pareto is efficiency, but unfortunately he doesn't explain us WHAT goal has to be efficiently realised. He is only interested in the means, but not in the goal. This is a perfect illustration of the instrumental rationality. In other words. This is madness. To keep it simple: What economists call value-free science, normal people call lack of character.

The problem with liberals and neoliberals of the Mont Pélerin Society, Karl Popper, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman etc. is that they talk a lot about freedom and the open society, but they never precise these terms, or better, they only define it negatively. They assume that there is a horizon and a choice, but they never explain us where this horizon should comes from. The thesis of Adorno is, that there is none. The open society of Karl Popper is very closed and freedom consists in wanting to do what one has to do anyway.

Economics is about the optimal allocation of resources and efficiency. This is without any doubt an important issue. However it can be much more efficient to realize the right goals inefficiently than realizing wrong goals efficiently.

To illustrate this with an example: It may be an improuvement in efficiency if the news that people already receive by tv, radio, television, newspapers and internet are as well spread through an app on the smartphone. Then people are perhaps informed 5 minutes earlier about the last love affaire of some celebrity. However it would be more useful to spend the money spent in the programming of the app and the infrastructure to more valuable information.

The theory of Adorno doesn't supply any lever allowing to "change the world". We cannot even say that he is criticising the "capitalist world", because he is not criticising the "capitalist world", but the intrumental rationality. Socialism and capitalism are both forms of the administered world. The instrumental rationality leads to a narrowing of the horizon.

Although he doesn't offer any lever to "change the system", that's what he and the Frankfurt School was blamed for by the students in the sixties, his theory is useful to concretise the terms. The use of abstrace terms like collectivism, freedom, open society are actually meaningless. All these terms suppose individuality, spontaneity, horizonts, but never concretise what that is and where it should come from.

The supposed nexus between competition, the main characteristic of a market economy, and liberty is a recent concept. In the classical theory competition is a means to reach efficiency, but nothing else. In the austrian school and similar lines of thinking, neoliberalism, ordoliberalism etc.. competition becomes connected to freedom.

One possible reason that could explain that, is the fact that the free market economy was not a success model, although Milton Friedman tells the opposite. Free market economies like the one we had at the beginning of industrialisation were politically very instable and had therefore been modified to the mixed systems we have nowadays in all industrialised countries. Economic efficiency was therefore not enough to justify this system and something else had to be added.

Beside that with the introduction of a new value, freedom, we get another problem, if it is unclear whether efficiency is more important or freedom. If freedom, a term never concretised, is more important than efficiency, than a system that guarantees freedom, although less efficient, is preferable.

Hayek, see paragraph below, is just gossip. Freedom doesn't "leave room for the unforeseeable and unpredictable". The unforeseeable and unpredictable must be already there. Then freedom is needed to make use of these opportunities. The culture industry don't want the success of their products unforeseeable and unpredictible. If they spent several million dollars in a movie, they want their money back with profit. They want the outcome very foreseeable and predictable. They want to satisfy clearly defined existing wants and not create new ones. Perhaps they want to satisfy these wants in a technically more efficient way, that's what innovation is all about.

Freiheit ist wesentlich, um Raum für das Unvorhersehbare und Unvoraussagbare zu lassen; wir wollen sie, weil wir gelernt haben, von ihr die Gelegenheit zur Verwirklichung vieler unserer Ziele zu erwarten. Weil jeder einzelne so wenig weiß und insbesondere, weil wir selten wissen, wer von uns etwas am besten weiß, vertrauen wir darauf, daß die unabhängigen und wettbewerblichen Bemühungen Vieler die Dinge hervorbringen, die wir wünschen werden, wenn wir sie sehen.

Die Verfassung der Freiheit
Liberty is essential in order to leave room for the unforeseeable and unpredictable; we want it because we have learned to expect from it the opportunity of realizing many of our aims. It is because every individual knows so little and, in particular, because we rarely know which of us knows best that we trust the independent and competitive efforts of many to induce the emergence of what we shall want when we see it.

The Constitution of Liberty

Hayek assumes in the The Constitution of Liberty that freedom is the condition for economic growth and not the other way round. This is obviously nonsense. There is no liberty in poor countries and people don't care about abstract liberties. If there is no basic infrastructure, if people simply struggle to survive, they don't care about freedom. It may be true that even in this case the market economy is the best system to promote economic growth, although China proves the opposite, but that has nothing to do with freedom. The price signals and the coercion to adapt to the price signals are the relevant point, not freedom. Freedom is not the result of efficiency, it is the price to be paid for efficiency.

That a price is to be paid for efficiency is obvious. Normal people call that discipline. But if discipline converts the subject in a pure means of production and if any spontaneity, individuality and therefore any goals are suffocated, we have a problem. To put it simple: If discipline not only suppresses happyness for a certain time, but leads to a situation where the subject not even knows what it is, there are no goals and people who not even have an idea of happiness are easier to manipulate, than people who know what that is. That explains the slogan of the spanish falangismo "Viva la muerte", ~Long Live Death. These people had little to lose.

The essay the Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception is the most famous essay of Adorno and Horkheimer. This essay focus on the culture industry. However if consider the whole work of Adorno it is obvious that he criticises as well the canonized culture, what is normally called 'general education'. In the 'general education' culture survives as sciolism or half-education.

The relationship between half - education and education is similiar to the difference between a telephon book and a novel of James Joyce. Half - education is not a final goal, like education, it is a means to obtain something else, for instance a job as a teacher.

The half - educated person dominates a certain "jargon" that allows him to identify himself in certain social contexts as a 'cultivated' person. His motivation is extrinsic but not intrinsic. He knows that one should know.

It can be explained in a different way. Culture is a process and cannot be transmitted as a result of a process. If a child learns a word, it can happen that this word has no meaning for him or her at all or only the meaning that it had in the context he learned it. Love for instance is probably assigned to the relationship he or she has with his parents. During his lifetime he will assign a lot of very different meanings to this word. The same thing happens with culture in general.

In the original words of Adorno.

Geist wird davon affiziert, daß er und seine Objektivation als Bildung überhaupt nicht mehr erwartet werden, damit einer gesellschaftlich sich ausweise. Das allbeliebte Desiderat einer Bildung, die durch Examina gewährleistet, womöglich getestet werden kann, ist bloß noch der Schatten jener Erwartung. Die sich selbst zur Norm, zur Qualifikation gewordene, kontrollierbare Bildung ist als solche so wenig mehr eine wie die zum Geschwätz des Verkäufers degenerierte Allgemeinbildung. Das Moment der Unwillkürlichkeit, wie es zuletzt in den Theorien Bergsons und dem Romanwerk Prousts glorifiziert ward, und wie es Bildung als ein von den Mechanismen gesellschaftlicher Naturbeherrschung Unterschiedenes bezeichnet, verdirbt im grellen Licht der Überprüfbarkeit.

Theodor W. Adorno, Theorie der Halbildung, page 9
Spirit is affected by the fact, that its objectivation as culture is no longer expected in order to be socially accepted. The popular substitution of culture, the culture testified by an exam, is only a shadow of this expectation. Culture as a norm, as a qualification, the controlled culture, is nothing more than the gossip of the seller of a degenerated general culture. The moment of spontaneity we find in the theories of Bergson or was glorified in the novels of Marcel Proust, the moment that opposes to the mechanism of social domination of nature, gets lost in the harsh light of controllability.

[In the case that someone wants to understand that in detail. Adorno refers to the novel 'A la recherche du temps perdu' by Marcel Proust. (Who was inspired by the philosophy of Henry Bergson.) During seven volumes the author of the book, in this case Marcel Proust himself, tries to get back to a former stage of his life without interference of the experiences he made during his lifetime. In other words, he wants to feel exactly the same way as he felt before all his experiences were deformed by other experiences and without the deformation of his feelings by reflection. In the words of Adorno he is looking for authenticity. In the last volume he succeds it by putting a madeleine in his tea. The taste of the madeleine brings back an experience of this childhood, directly and without any distorting reflection. Marcel Proust plays an important role in the thinking of Adorno, because the whole novel is about authenticity. The author, Marcel Proust, discovers his 'vrai moi', his real personality during his lifetime, because only the experiences that fits with his subjectivity, left a lasting impression. In other way the only way to find one's identity is to live.]

It can be put in a more simple way: To take exams makes no sense in this context, because there are only two possibilities. Students are convinced that culture enriches their live, in this case there is no need to take exams, or they find it useless, in this case an exame doesn't change the situation. Examination means, that culture becomes a means, but not a goal.

[It must be admitted that in english speaking country there is more concrete reflection about how to teach literature than in european countries. There are a lot of pages like this New ways of teaching literature that actually addresses concrete problems and who reflects more in detail about the function and impact of literature.]

Actually the illiterate shows more individuality and spontaneity than the half - educated. An illiterate person can be very honest and refutes the "great works of art" because he don't like them, because they don't mean anything to him. This can be the expression of an independent mind. He doesn't care about the 'general opinion'. The half - educated person will never admit that he find the "great works of art" just boring. He will stick to public opinion.

However even as a pure exchange value, art is already present in public and is an alternative identification model. If it disappears even as an exchange value, there will be no way to find it.

return to the top of the page ...


ES        DE

The administered world

Economists argue in a systemic way. The behaviour of the individuals is steered by parameters or an economic order. They abstract from the repercussion of these parameters / the economic order on the individuals.

Following Hayek the established order, it remains unclear who established or is going to establish this order, guarantees the freedom of the individuals and protects against individualism.

The Frankfurt School assumes exactly the opposite. Collectivism is the result of this order. Under the domination of the economy the individuum is dissolved.

infos24 GmbH