Book Review of Critical Theory: A very short introduction.
What the heck is Critical Theory? I was trying to understand Critical Race Theory, this bête noire of modern right-wing hysteria, when it occurred to me that I might want to start with this antecedent. Of course this led down the rabbit hole to Marx, Hegel, Nietzsche and a whole fight club of similar philosophical scoundrels, but, for the moment, I stopped with the above VSI.
Critical Theory originated in the 1920s in the so-called Frankfurt School, a group of young Jewish Marxist academics inspired by the success of the Russian Revolution. They were especially concerned with alienation and reification.
Critical theorists noted with alarm how interpreting modern society was becoming ever more difficult. Alienation and reification were thus analyzed in terms of how they imperiled the exercise of subjectivity, robbed the world of meaning and purpose, and turned the individual into a cog in the machine.
Bronner, Stephen Eric. Critical Theory: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (pp. 4-5). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
Disillusion with Communism followed the rise of Stalin, and with mass movements in general after Hitler and Auschwitz. Most of them fled to the US.
So, if philosophically minded academics were not to lead the proletarian revolution, what would they do? Well, they would write books, of course. Books on art, philosophy, psychoanalysis, sociology and much else. Above all they were critical of Western capitalistic civilization, liberalism, the enlightenment, popular culture and everything that regimented or limited freedom and subjective experience.
I found the book pretty interesting as a look into the minds of fundamentally alien creatures. I remain deeply skeptical of their project but slightly more sympathetic to the ideas motivating them. They are at war with cruelty and regimentation, and those aren’t bad things to be at war with.
A very short and cheap book (130 pg, $6.99, Kindle).