Adorno’s “Wicked Queen of Snow White”: Paranoia, Fascism, and the Fate of Modernity in Dialectic of Enlightenment


This paper proposes a new reading of Dialectic of Enlightenment in terms of a detailed structural analogy with Freud’s conception of paranoia.  Though many commentators have noted the prominence of the concepts of paranoia and pathic projection in Adorno, a rigorous analysis of the pivotal structural role that the logic of paranoia and paranoid projection play in Adorno’s theory is still lacking.  However, such an analysis is essential for understanding the logical model that undergirds Adorno’s conception of the relation between modern rationality, the social world, and nature.   Moreover, the absence of a detailed study of how the logic of paranoia structures not only Dialectic of Enlightenment, but Adorno’s social theory generally, has had significant repercussions for the interpretation and evaluation of Adorno’s philosophy, both in its content and its method.  This paper makes the case for the centrality of the structural analogy with paranoia, taking as a focus its role in Dialectic of Enlightenment, and concludes with reflections on how this reading of Adorno’s social philosophy opens up a new perspective on the structure, consistency, and continued relevance of Adorno’s critical theory.


The Freudian influence on Adorno’s social theory is well-documented.[1]  However, commentators have under-appreciated the specificity of Adorno’s deployment of Freudian categories; in particular, his use of a structural analogy between the Freudian notion of paranoia and the social pathology he diagnoses in modern (Western) culture.  Though commentators have noted the prominence of the concepts of paranoia and pathic projection in Adorno, a rigorous analysis of the pivotal structural role that the logic of paranoia and paranoid projection play in Adorno’s theory is still lacking.  The absence of this kind of analysis has had strong repercussions for the interpretation and evaluation of Adorno’s critical theory as a whole, both in its content and its method.  The goal of this paper is to make the case for the centrality of the structural analogy with paranoia, taking as a focus the analysis of fascism in Dialectic of Enlightenment (DE).  After constructing the details of this reading of DE, I conclude with a discussion of how this reading opens up a new approach to the interpretation and appraisal of Adorno’s critical theory as a whole.

  The central sections of this paper aim to explain the logical structure of paranoid psychosis and show how the main components of Adorno and Horkheimer’s diagnosis of modernity’s pathology are embedded within that structure.  My discussion is divided into four sections that discuss: (1)  Adorno and Horkheimer’s diagnosis of a crisis of knowledge as a paranoid “loss of the external world,” (2) the mechanism of paranoid projection as the proximate cause of this crisis, (3) the structure of enlightenment rationality as a paranoid system of delusions, and (4) the development of pathology in enlightenment rationality as structurally analogous to the development of paranoia in an individual.  Though the details of my discussion remain tied to Freud’s categories, my ultimate goal is to extract from Adorno’s relation to Freud a logical model for re-appraising the ontological-logical structure that undergirds Adorno’s social theory.  The final section of the paper outlines how the reading presented here opens up a new way of evaluating Adorno’s philosophy as a whole.


1.  Crisis of knowledge

Adorno and Horkheimer famously claim that there is a crisis of knowledge in enlightenment rationality because knowledge has become self-defeating:  while it aims to know external objects, it achieves knowledge only of subjective categories and thus misses its target.  In DE, this point is made on the basis of Adorno and Horkheimer’s claim that enlightenment rationality is instrumental, so that it knows objects only to the extent that they can be manipulated in view of subjective goals.[2]  As a result, the “essence” of the object becomes that of an indeterminate substrate for the projection of subjective categories for the sake of manipulation, for domination: “Human beings purchase the increase in their power with estrangement from that over which it is exerted.  Enlightenment stands in the same relationship to things as the dictator to human beings.  He knows them to the extent that he can manipulate them.  The man of science knows things to the extent that he can make them.  Their ‘in itself’ becomes ‘for him.’  In their transformation the essence of things is revealed as always the same, a substrate of domination.”[3]  Accordingly, “Nature, stripped of qualities, becomes the chaotic stuff of mere classification, and the all-powerful self becomes a mere having, an abstract identity.”[4]  The relation of knowledge has become, in Adorno and Horkheimer’s view, a relation between an abstract subject that endows things with meaning and an indeterminate object that has no meaning in itself other than its being the matter that is conceptually ordered by subjective categories.  Thus they say, “The manifold affinities between existing things are supplanted by the single relationship between the subject who confers meaning and the meaningless object, between rational significance and its accidental bearer.”[5]  Thus the external world, as an independent bearer of meaning, and thus an active participant in the process of knowledge, is lost and becomes a mirror of the subject.

In psychoanalytic terms, this estrangement from external reality corresponds to the mechanism at work in the narcissistic neuroses, in which libido is withdrawn from the external world and redirected toward the ego.  Adorno himself puts the point in libidinal terms, suggesting that real knowledge requires the “longing” [Sehnsucht] of the concept for the thing [die Sache][6] and that the rescue of things [die Errettung der Dinge] “means the love of things”.[7]  Knowledge of what is truly external, truly other and a bearer of meaning (rather than an indeterminate substratum for the projection of meaning), requires a relation of desire and love for what is other, a relation lacking in the dominating relation to objects that Adorno and Horkheimer see in enlightenment rationality.  The idea that enlightenment rationality is deficient in part because it is not libidinally related to the external world but rather only to the self (to the mind, rationality itself) corresponds in psychoanalytic terms to a form of narcissistic neurosis. 


2.  The mechanism of projection

The mechanism that Adorno and Horkheimer describe as bringing about the loss of external reality discussed above is “paranoid projection” – the mechanism at work in the formation of paranoia, one of the narcissistic neuroses.[8]  Adorno and Horkheimer’s discussion of paranoid projection combines two lines of thought.  The first identifies projection with a mechanism by which the subject imputes the formal structure of its own mind to reality as a whole, so that external reality appears as a mirror image of the subject.  This is the mechanism that creates the epistemic estrangement from external reality discussed above.  The second train of thought identifies paranoid projection with the mechanism at work in fascist violence[9] against the Jews, homosexuals, Roma, women, and other persecuted or oppressed groups.[10]  On the basis of Adorno and Horkheimer’s text alone, and without recourse to Freud’s analysis of projection, it is not immediately evident how these two phenomena result from the single mechanism of paranoid projection.  However, by looking at Freud’s explanation of the mechanism of projection in paranoia, the connection between the two trains of thought becomes clear.

According to Freud, the mechanism of projection is a means for the repression of an infantile wish[11] through a two-step process:  the first step negates the wish, and the second projects the negated wish outward.  The result of this outward projection is that what has been repressed internally is thereupon experienced as externally encroaching on the subject.  In his most detailed analysis of paranoia, the analysis of Dr. Schreber’s written memoir, Freud discusses four ways in which a wish may be negated in paranoia, two of which involve projection.[12]  The wish, which for Freud is always a homosexual wish in the case leading to paranoia,[13] may be expressed as “I (a woman) love her (a woman).”[14]  The first way to deny this wish is

(1) to deny the verb, so that the wish becomes “I do not love her; I hate her.”  The wish is then transformed by projection into “She hates (persecutes) me, which justifies me in hating her.”  The unconscious feelings now appear as the consequence of an external perception:  “I do not love her; I hate her, because she persecutes me.”  This mechanism of denial thus causes delusions of persecution. 

The second way to deny the wish is

(2) to deny the object, so that it becomes “I do not love her; I love him” (someone else, this time of the opposite sex, so that it is an acceptable object of love to the super-ego).  This denial of the wish is projected outward as “I observe that he (the more ‘acceptable’ object put in place of the original object) loves me.”  The repressed wish is thus displaced to another object and encountered as an outward perception: “I do not love her – I love him, because he loves me.”  This way to deny the unconscious wish is characteristic of erotomania. 

The third way to deny the wish is

(3) to deny the subject: “It is not I who loves the woman – he (someone else) loves her.”  This is the mechanism at work in delusions of jealousy. 

Finally, the fourth way to deny the wish is simply to negate the whole sentence: 

(4)  “I do not love at all – I do not love anyone.”  This negation of the wish is then transformed into “I love only myself,” and is at the base of the megalomania that, according to Freud, always accompanies paranoia.


How does this account of the repression of infantile wishes in paranoia apply to the dialectic of enlightenment?  Adorno and Horkheimer hold that the progress of civilization and enlightenment has demanded the repression of ‘inner nature’ – of the basic, unconscious impulses of human beings for pleasure and happiness.  In order for thought to institute itself and grow in power, it had to establish a distance from nature, and also multiple mechanisms to prevent itself from returning to a state of communion with – or, better, abandonment to – nature.  On the one hand, this separation from nature first afforded the human animal distance from the dangers and cruelty of mere natural existence and set in motion the development of the individual (the ego) and civilization.  On the other hand, Adorno and Horkheimer argue, this ever more strict distancing from nature also enforced estrangement from a promise of happiness and non-domination inherent in unity with nature.  This promise of happiness exerts a strong attraction on the human being, who has always been tempted to return to nature, to abandon herself to instinctual desires and to escape the bonds of civilized society.  The infantile wish that must be repressed with the advance of civilization is thus the wish to be lost in nature, to be one with nature.

We could express the wish as “I wish to lose myself in nature.”[15]  If we apply to this wish the mechanisms of negation discussed by Freud, we get the following:

(1*)  Negation of the verb:  “I do not wish to be one with nature; I hate nature.”  The negated wish then undergoes projection and gives way to:  “I do not wish to be one with nature; I hate nature because it [or its representatives] persecute me.”


Now, “nature” and its primacy over behavior is visible in groups that retain traces of nature; that is, groups that recall “nature” because they are not smoothly and completely assimilated into mainstream society and its male, nationalist, heteronormative, and racial understanding of the “universal” social subject; groups like the Jews, “unassimilated” immigrants, homosexuals, and women.  The delusion of persecution explained in (1*) gives way to delusions of evil deeds on the part of these groups.  This is how the mechanism of projection paves the way for fascist organized violence, and it is why Adorno and Horkheimer claim that any group that represents untamed nature can become the victim of fascist aggression.  This element (the delusions of persecution and evil deeds from groups identified with nature) is of course not the whole explanation for fascism, but it is one of the main components.  Additionally, the libidinal energy in the self needs to be garnered for the destruction of nature, a process by which the energy-reservoir of inner nature in the self expends itself for the destruction of nature within and any symbolic reminders of nature without.  I will say more about the details of Adorno and Horkheimer’s conception of the psycho-dynamics of fascism in the course of this paper.  This first application of projection thus explains their idea that projection is a central mechanism at work in fascist excesses of violence and persecution against the Jews and other groups that are similar in that their alleged incomplete assimilation to civilization elicits the remembrance of nature and makes them possible objects of the repressed violence of the subject against nature.

(2*)  Negation of the object:  “I do not wish to be one with nature; I wish to be one with its opposite, which in this case is mind.”  The negated wish expunges inner nature from the subject; it says “I am only mind.”  By application of projection, this negation of the wish becomes “All reality is mind.”

This second example of projection corresponds to the problem of knowledge that I discussed above as the loss of external reality.  In order not to lose itself in nature, the subject replaces all of reality with the opposite of nature:  with mind, i.e., with subjective categories of reason.

(3*)  Negation of the subject:  “I do not wish to lose myself in nature; he/she [some other person or group] wishes to lose him/herself in nature.”

This negation of the wish is at work in (fascist) society’s constant need and search for a group to which longing for nature and scorn for the achievements of civilization against nature can be ascribed.  Though this mode of negating the repressed wish does not make use of projection, it paves the way for projection by choosing the victim to whom representation of nature will be ascribed. 

(4*)  Negation of the whole sentence;  “I do not wish to lose myself in anything; I am purely-self identical with myself and love only myself.”

This negation of the wish corresponds to megalomania, a pathological element that Adorno and Horkheimer find again and again in their analysis of modern philosophy, especially of Kant and German Idealism, where they see the Subject as glorified into an absolute admitting of no external other.  They also see megalomania at work in fascism:  The individual identifies with the fascist leader and with the collective because the leader’s display of absurd, almost super-natural strength satisfies the individual’s megalomaniac delusions of grandeur.[16]

The four mechanisms of negation described above are at work in Adorno and Horkheimer’s conception of what has become of enlightenment civilization, but the first two are the most important.  They exemplify the process of paranoid projection.  The first mechanism leads to delusions of persecution from representatives of untamed nature, who become eventually the victims of fascist violence, while the second leads to the delusion that reality is constituted fully by the mind – that is, the delusion at the root of the enlightenment’s loss of the external world.  This explains why for Adorno and Horkheimer the crisis of knowledge in enlightened reason and the catastrophic violence unleashed by fascist movements involve one and the same phenomenon:  the repression of an unconscious longing for nature through the process of paranoid projection, which process has the result that the nature repressed in the subject is experienced with hatred and resentment as returning from outside, and as needing to be once and for all expunged from reality in the name of a defense of civilization.  


3.  The paranoid symptom:  system and resistance to rational challenge

A third important way in which Adorno and Horkheimer’s diagnosis of the enlightenment’s pathology corresponds to Freud’s notion of paranoia is the systematic form that projective delusions take, and their strong resistance – in fact, virtual impermeability – to rational challenge.

Freud’s analysis of paranoia locates the beginning of illness proper in the loss of the world that the patient experiences through the withdrawal of cathexes from external objects and their redirection toward the ego.  But this state is not sustainable for long.  Eventually the paranoid patient attempts to recover her relation to objects and people in the world, and it is with this aim that the mechanism of projection is deployed.[17]  The delusional formations obtained through projection are incorporated into a well-ordered system, which offers the patient a new framework on the basis of which her libido can be re-invested in the world, and relations to objects can be established anew.  Some of these relations incorporate remnants from the patient’s normal (healthy) stage, but relations to key objects taken to represent or be implicated with what was abolished internally are hostile.  This of course follows from the fact that the framework is built in such a way that what was abolished internally returns as a hostile presence from without.  The system as a whole is fixed and all-encompassing, and its role is both to enable the patient to recreate a world, and to fashion that world as a whole in accordance with the patient’s delusions.  Even where remnants of a normal state remain, the libidinal investment of the patient in the world is as a whole driven by projection.

The system is symptomatic of the illness; it frames the manner in which delusions are rationalized through secondary revision and ordered in a fixed way along with the rest of the patient’s “reality.”[18]  In his analysis of Schreber, Freud quotes from a report written by the patient’s last doctor stating that the patient’s pathological ideas ultimately “formed themselves into a closed system; they are more or less fixed, and seem to be inaccessible to correction by means of any objective appreciation and judgment of the actual facts.”[19]  As we learn from Schreber’s own report of his ideas, the pathological delusions were built into an intricate theologico-philosophical system,[20] so that the framework of delusion whose goal is to repress the unacceptable wish becomes the determining principle of how reality as a whole appears to the paranoid patient in its most fundamental aspects.

It is in part because the repressive framework of delusion becomes the determining, highest principle ordering reality that an important characteristic of the system arises,  namely to be invulnerable to refutation by rational argument.  The system is created in such a way as to have built-in explanations for, and responses to, contradictions brought from without, so that the latter are explained always in terms of the system itself, and the final court of appeal is the determining principle of the system:  its functional role in repressing the unacceptable wish.  Importantly, the system’s impenetrability to rational challenge does not mean that it is impossible for the patient to note inconsistencies between given facts and the delusional framework, or to experience moments of doubt about her paranoid convictions, but inconsistencies can always ultimately be accounted for in terms of the delusional system, so that they are in themselves insufficient for calling into question the delusional world of the paranoid patient.[21]

Both the systematic character of paranoid delusions and their resistance to contradiction (their ability to re-interpret any inconsistency in terms of the system and the fact that the interpretation compatible with the system tends to win over other possible interpretations) correspond to characteristics that Adorno and Horkheimer ascribe to the systematic, reified view of reality woven by enlightened rationality:  “the diabolical system” [das diabolisches System].[22]  This system, they say, is “totalitarian,” in the sense that it does not permit contradiction through rational argument, for, according to enlightenment thought, rationality itself is defined by systematicity and rigor in accordance with fixed laws that exclude anything that does not already fit the laws.  Any argument that would be deemed “rational” and thus taken into account would already have to conform to the paranoid form of enlightened reason; otherwise, the argument does not qualify as a legitimate argument at all.[23]  “No matter which myths are invoked against it [enlightenment], by being used as arguments they are made to acknowledge the very principle of corrosive rationality of which enlightenment stands accused.  Enlightenment is totalitarian.”[24]  And, “[t]he plausibly rational, economic, and political explanations and counterarguments – however correct their individual observations – cannot appease it [the malady or pathology of civilization], since rationality itself, through its link to power, is submerged in the same malady.”[25]  Emphasizing the parallel between the paranoid system and the functional structure of enlightenment rationality, Adorno and Horkheimer say that the “mental acuteness” of paranoid individuals “consumes itself within the circle drawn by their fixed idea, as human ingenuity is liquidating itself under the spell of technical civilization.  Paranoia is the shadow of cognition.”[26]

Understanding the pathology of enlightened reason as structurally analogous to paranoia, whose main symptom is the creation of a fixed system of delusions that orders reality and overrules anything that does not fit with the system, allows us to understand one of the main problems Adorno and Horkheimer identify with modern rationality, namely its inability to incorporate insights about, or reflectively to experience, anything that is radically different, anything new – in brief, anything that does not fit the order imposed by the pre-determined system.  This is why Adorno and Horkheimer claim that, for enlightenment thought, nothing can be in principle unpredictable:  if not the material content of experience, at least the (delusional) form of experience becomes predictable to the extent that it is ultimately absorbed into the system; the latter determines how anything deemed meaningful can be rationally conceived.  The result is that any thought or experience that actually contradicts the principle of delusions according to which the system is ordered is from the start disqualified as irrational or meaningless; “Illusion has become so concentrated that to see through it objectively assumes the character of hallucination.”[27]


4.  Development of Illness

Finally, Adorno and Horkheimer’s diagnosis of the enlightenment’s pathology corresponds punctiliously to Freud’s discussion of paranoia in their description of the stages of development that result in illness.  I will briefly discuss the Freudian schema for these stages, and then show that it corresponds to Adorno and Horkheimer’s conception of the development of enlightened civilization’s pathology.

According to Freud, the development of illness (in both neurosis and psychosis) requires the conjunction of a number of conditions that are individually necessary but only jointly sufficient for illness.  To begin with, the development of the individual from infancy to maturity[28] might suffer one or more “fixations” at specific stages of the process.  A fixation, for Freud, is a passive process in which one instinct or instinctual component is inhibited:  its development stops at an infantile stage.  “The libidinal current at issue behaves in relation to the later psychological structures like one that belongs to the system of the unconscious, like one that is repressed”[29]  Fixation alone, however, does not result in illness; it only sets the stage for the possibility of illness.

A second condition that must take place in order for illness to occur is that an intolerable frustration be met with in the life of the individual.  That is, a situation must occur in which the satisfaction of pleasure (or, what is the same: the satisfaction of the infantile wish for pleasure) is frustrated to the extent that the individual is unable to find any fulfillment in external reality.  Frustration arises because external reality makes the satisfaction of the infantile wish impossible, or because the super-ego, as the representative of the demands of external reality (social and parental pressures), does so.[30]  The frustration constitutes a psychic conflict to which the organism must react.  There are various ways in which the psyche can compensate without becoming ill, for instance by replacing the object desired by one more easily attainable, by replacing the component instinct that cannot obtain satisfaction by one that can, by a process of sublimation, etc.  But “the amount of unsatisfied libido that human beings on the average can put up with is limited.”[31]  If frustration becomes intolerable for the individual, illness almost certainly ensues.[32] 

The onset of illness comes with the stage of repression or regression, which is a direct response to the intolerable frustration encountered in external reality.  Unable to find fulfillment in the external world, the individual turns inward for satisfaction:  she looks for an internal source of gratification to replace the external one.  In this internal search for satisfaction, the libido usually regresses to the stage of fixation.  In the transference neuroses, the individual chooses an internal object to satisfy her wish in place of the external object (a process called “introversion”), and the libido regresses to an earlier stage of development, usually oral (resulting in hysteria) or anal (resulting in obsessive neurosis).  However, in the narcissistic neuroses, to which paranoia belongs, regression does not lead to introversion because the point of fixation to which the libido regresses predates object choice; it is the narcissistic stage.  In this case, the result of regression is the withdrawal of libido from external objects and its re-investment in the ego – that is, secondary narcissism.

The regression of the libido leads to the last and final stage of illness, the “return of the repressed.”[33]  This is the stage of symptom formation.  The symptom offers relief for the desires of the id – a kind of satisfaction – but in a way that is distorted so as to supersede the conflict that prevented satisfaction in the first place.  In paranoia, the conflict that takes place is between the ego and the external world, partly in its representation by the super-ego.  The ego feels pressure from the demands of the id, but they are irreconcilable with external reality and with demands imposed by the super-ego.  The psyche responds to the conflict with the ego’s turning away from reality and subsequently reconstructing a new framework for external reality in accordance with a system of delusions through the mechanism of projection.  This system allows the ego to re-attach itself to external reality in a way that is acceptable to the super-ego (since, as we have seen, the delusions constitute negations of the repressed wish that the super-ego could not withstand), and in a way that gives outward expression to what was repressed, the infantile wish of the id (since that which was repressed constantly returns from without, so that it finds expression within reality without the individual’s feeling responsible for it). 

Thus, Freud’s theory of paranoia – especially as developed in the Schreber case (1911) – involves the stages of fixation at the narcissistic stage, the development of a conflict with the external world that becomes intolerable, regression, and the return of the repressed.  However, one word of caution is in order regarding the stage of fixation.  Though in his early theory Freud viewed narcissism as a distinct stage in the development from auto-erotism to object-love, later, starting with his paper “On Narcissism” (1914), he begins to conceive of narcissism more as a structure of the ego than a distinct stage.  Freud comes to endorse a principle of conservation of the original libidinal cathexes of the ego, such that the original reservoir of libido is maintained, and there is a net balance between how much of it is cathected to the ego (ego-libido) and how much of it is cathected to objects (object-libido), so that an increase in one entails a decrease in the other.  This theoretical change still conceives of the narcissistic neuroses, and paranoia in particular, as a depletion of object cathexes accompanied by a recathecting of the ego.  But in the later view the development of narcissistic neurosis, and in particular paranoia, no longer requires fixation at a narcissistic stage.  Rather, the possibility of responding to intolerable conflict with the external world by a withdrawal of cathexes from objects and the re-investment of libido on the ego is an ever-present danger.

I will now lay out the main ideas of Dialectic of Enlightenment as a reconstruction of Western civilization’s fall into pathology along the lines of Freud’s conception of the progress of paranoia.  To this end, I will reconstruct Adorno and Horkheimer’s view of the pathological development of enlightened reason through (i) an account of the development of civilization and enlightenment, (ii) an element analogous to fixation at the stage of narcissism – or, alternatively, an explanation of the structural ever-present possibility of an analogous process, (iii) a conflict that is brought to intolerable dimensions, (iv) regression, and finally (v) the return of the repressed in the formation of symptoms.


(i)  Development of civilization

Adorno and Horkheimer trace the development of civilization along successive stages.  I will reconstruct this development beginning with a stage that they do not explicitly talk about, but that is implied, as a theoretical construct rather than historical fact, by their theory.  We can call this initial stage “primary mimesis” – a stage analogous to primary narcissism in that human beings and nature are undifferentiated (mind is fully nature, and behavior is fully naturally directed) – proceeding with a gradual differentiation of thought or mind from nature, and culminating with the drastic separation of the two in modernity.

The initial stage, what I am calling “primary mimesis”, can be conceived as a stage in which human beings are fully one with their inner nature.  In this stage, there is no gap between impulse and action, no gap between the surrounding world and the “self” – in fact, there is strictly speaking no “self”.[34]  Under these conditions, the organism is infinitely vulnerable to the vicissitudes of desire and inner urges, as well as to the dangers of external nature.  Despite the dangers, however, primary mimesis also offers experiences of immediate pleasure, since there is no delay of gratification for the sake of achieving specific goals.  Fear and pleasure are unmediated and overwhelming.

Though this stage of unity with nature and complete subservience to natural instincts may not be a “fact of history”, it represents the archaic prehistory of human civilization, analogous to primary narcissism as the prehistory of the individual.  Adorno and Horkheimer see the process of separation from nature, the process by which primary mimesis is set aside, as a response to the fearfulness of nature that attempts to control and subdue both inner nature – which otherwise directs all animal behavior to pleasure without concern for self-preservation – and outer nature, which threatens survival.  The development of thought required the establishment of distance from immediate natural circumstances both within the psyche and in relation to outer nature in order to calculate action, to weigh consequences, and to determine one’s behavior in accordance with the course likely to achieve desired effects in the external world.  The initial distancing from nature is thus driven by self-preservation – or, rather, it was the institution of self-preservation as the driving principle of the organism’s activity.  This distancing is moreover a necessary condition for the development of the self, the ego, as well as for the development of socially coordinated action, a precondition for the establishment of civilization.  These two achievements – the creation of the subject and the creation of civilization – brought with them tremendous advantages, chief among them increased survival and power.  Yet at the same time it was a costly process, for distance from nature entailed not only appeasing the terrors of nature, but also forsaking the uninhibited pleasure that unity with nature afforded.  Establishing distance from the wish of abandonment in nature was done only under the promise that renunciation would one day be compensated by the achievement of happiness in and through socially mediated life.

The first stage of distance that Adorno and Horkheimer discuss is the stage of animism.  During this stage, human beings tried to control and appease nature through the magic ritual:  “The magician imitates demons; to frighten or placate them he makes intimidating or appeasing gestures.”[35]  Sacrifice was an additional method of control, used to persuade gods, demons, or natural spirits in order cunningly to get them to steer nature in a specific direction.  There was already in this stage a certain distance between subject and object, a distance not present in primary mimesis, for the magic ritual works through representation.  Something done to a symbol is expected to cause the action to befall the object or person symbolized:  for instance, using the hairs of a person and doing something to them would signify what one wants to happen to the person herself.  And sacrifice works through symbolic representation also, as the thing sacrificed constitutes a symbol for something else that the god or spirit covets. 

Although the symbolic representation characteristic of animism establishes some distance between subject and object because symbol and symbolized are differentiated, still the distance is bridged by the fact that the symbol necessarily refers to a particular object, and this attachment to the object is not arbitrary but rather guaranteed by the specific qualities of the symbol, on the one hand, and the qualities of the symbolized, on the other.  The signifier (the symbol) is attached to the signified (the signification or meaning) in a non-arbitrary but rather necessary manner, and the signified is likewise necessarily attached to the thing designated.  For example, the ‘hairs’ of the person involved in a magical ritual symbolize the particular person to whom they once belonged, and are thus necessarily attached to a particular sense or signified that picks up a particular individual, while this sense in turn corresponds to the particular individual designated:  the actual, living person.  In sacrifice, similarly, the thing coveted by the god or spirit is conceived as necessarily attached to a particular sense or signified (for example, the first-born as the head representative of common identity in the family or tribe) that is in turn necessarily attached to the thing sacrificed (e.g. the first-cast animal as the best representative of its pack, and thus as a suitable stand-in for the first-born).

So, magical rituals and sacrifices in the stage of animism are characterized by a form of representation in which the symbol is necessarily connected with the thing designated, even though there is some separation between subject and nature insofar as symbolic representation’s role in magical rituals is motivated by the wish to control nature, to persuade it to develop in a certain direction, for the sake of human purposes.  The method of “control” in this case is mimesis[36] – a process in which subject and object are not undifferentiated (as in primary mimesis), but they are nonetheless very close,[37] for the subject tries to control the object by becoming like the object:  thus the requirement that the symbol be non-arbitrarily attached to a specific signification that is in turn also non-arbitrarily attached to the particular object symbolized.

The first excursus in DE traces the next stage of development, in which animism begins to lag behind:  the stage of mythology.  Sacrifice, which was already “a human contrivance intended to control the gods,”[38] is gradually replaced by rational cunning.  Adorno and Horkheimer articulate this transition through a re-interpretation of the Odyssey that reads Odysseus’s story in terms of the gradual replacement of sacrifice and magical ritual by rational calculation and rationalized cunning.[39]  The story of Odysseus is cast as a struggle of the early self to be free from the vicissitudes of fate and external nature, as well as from the temptation of instinctual drives (internal nature), in order to get its way:  to retain its unity as a self, preserve its integrity, and ultimately achieve the promise of a return to happiness, a return “home.”[40]  Through the various stages of his journey home, Odysseus is constantly trying to establish the unity of the subject against the diversity that threatens it from without and from within.  To ensure his self-preservation and maintain his ego together, he uses what can already be seen as instrumental reason:  he often resorts to cunning, following the letter of the law but cheating the other to get his way, denying his own identity in order to achieve his goal of survival (for instance in the encounter with the Cyclops), denying his instinctual desires to preserve himself (for instance when he is tied to a mast of the ship in order both to hear the song of the sirens and not to succumb to it), and gaining mastery over nature by refusing to submit to it (in the myth of Circe).

For Horkheimer and Adorno, the development of distance from nature through the domination of inner and outer nature continued until the rational cunning already shown in the Odyssey became the fully instrumentalized system of rationality characteristic of modernity.  In this latest stage, rational calculation becomes total, or nearly so.  Instead of approaching the object by trying to become like it, as in mimetic representation in the stage of animism, thought approaches the object by subsuming it under ever more general concepts and laws.  This method affords much greater control over nature, but at the cost of greater distance and estrangement from it.  In conceptual representation, the term that expresses the concept in language and its reference (the thing designated) are not tied to each other by their necessary attachment to a common sense or signified, as was the case in symbolism.  On the one hand, the term is a more or less arbitrary sign for the sense (i.e., the signifier is arbitrarily assigned to the signified), and so it is only contingently related to the reference (the thing designated).  On the other hand, the relation between the sense or signified, and the reference or thing signified, also becomes more or less arbitrary, for the thing becomes conceived as a mere exemplar of the sense that it exhibits, rather than as uniquely tied through its particularity to this sense.  While in animism the symbol is a representative of a unique particular, in enlightenment thought “[r]epresentation gives way to universal fungibility.  An atom is smashed not as a representative but as a specimen of matter, and the rabbit suffering the torment of the laboratory is seen not as a representative but, mistakenly, as a mere exemplar.”[41]  The particularity of the object is no longer essential; what matters is only that it exemplify a general concept; thus the signification and the thing signified (sense and reference) come apart.  Similarly, the relation between the signifier and the signified (between the term and its sense, the concept), becomes arbitrary; the signifier is no longer a symbol but rather a mere sign.  The process of establishing ever greater distance from nature thus corresponds to the growth of distance between thought and object.

For Horkheimer and Adorno, the model that conceives of thought as classification into general categories has become the dominating model in modernity because it is the most efficient for the control of nature.  The principle driving the progress of rationality, from its beginnings in mimesis to its enlightened stage is the idea that grasping everything conceptually will put an end to humanity’s fears.  Eventually, nothing is allowed to escape; everything comes to be seen as in-principle knowable and controllable.  Threatening, wild nature is pushed ‘outside’ until, in the final stage, it is basically annulled through the powers of reason (at least insofar as reason’s self-understanding is concerned).[42] The development of enlightenment civilization and enlightenment thought thus follows definite stages, beginning with primary mimesis, then going through animism, mythology, and finally resulting in the full-fledged subject-object relation of distance and manipulation that characterizes the apex of enlightenment.  We are now ready to examine these stages in terms of Freud’s theory of paranoia.


(ii)  Humanity’s Longing for a Return to Nature

Dialectic of Enlightenment views the promise of infinite pleasure that was only possible through loss of the self in nature (in primary mimesis) as a desire that human beings never completely superseded, an infantile wish whose pull on the self – a pull for disintegration into nature – was never overcome and in fact became stronger and stronger as civilization called for the ever greater sacrifice of instinctual desires.

For civilization, purely natural existence, both animal and vegetative, was the absolute danger.  Mimetic, mythical, and metaphysical forms of behavior were successively regarded as stages of world history which had been left behind, and the idea of reverting to them held the terror that the self would be changed back into the mere nature from which it had extricated itself with unspeakable exertions and which for that reason filled it with unspeakable dread.  Over the millennia the living memory of prehistory, of its nomadic period and even more of the truly prepatriarchal stages, has been expunged from human consciousness with the most terrible punishments.  The enlightened spirit replaced fire and the wheel by the stigma it attached to all irrationality, which led to perdition.[43]


The creation of the self and of civilization is presented in DE as a painful process that required extreme sacrifice and exertion.  All this exertion was for the sake of survival and a future promise of re-gaining pleasure, of acquiring a sort of compensation for the sacrifices required by finding an Odyssean “return home” – a return to nature that is not unmediated, and so does not entail the destruction of civilization, but that offers a mediated satisfaction of the wish for happiness.  As this compensation became ever more remote and unattainable, the pull of unsatisfied instinctual desires clamoring for the satisfaction of pleasure became ever stronger, and so became the exertions necessary to extirpate the memory of lost happiness.  Just like primary narcissism is a stage of plenitude and utter undifferentiation from its surroundings, primary mimesis is a stage of overwhelming pleasure and undifferentiation from nature; and just like primary narcissism must be repressed for the development of the ego but nonetheless constitutes an ever-present pull for the development of secondary narcissism (for the withdrawal of cathexes from external objects and their re-investment in the ego), the ever-increasing repression of humanity’s longing for unity with nature constitutes an ever-present threat for the integrity of civilization.


(iii)  Intolerable frustration

DE suggests that the moment of intolerable frustration in the history of Western enlightenment came about at the point where the development of civilization, through the development of its technical powers over the forces of nature, was finally able to cease demanding the increased repression of instincts, and it became possible to order society in a way that would afford human beings some more satisfaction in the external world – for instance, through the reduction of alienated labor and the facilitation of individual self-actualization, through collective work for the betterment of human conditions rather than for the creation of profit at the expense of human potentialities, or through the establishment of a new relation with inner nature’s desire for happiness as well as with external nature.  But civilization failed to deliver. 

A glimpse of this idea is already present in the discussion of the myth of the sirens in DE, where Adorno and Horkheimer interpret Odysseus’ escape from the lure of the sirens’ song by listening to the call of pleasure without being able to submit to it, and the rowers’ stoppage of their senses in order not to even hear the call of pleasure, as a dialectic of compulsion that plays itself over and over in civilization: 

The servant is subjugated in body and soul, the master regresses.  No system of domination has so far been able to escape this price, and the circularity of history in its progress is explained in part by this debilitation, which is the concomitant of power.  Humanity, whose skills and knowledge become differentiated with the division of labor, is thereby forced back to more primitive anthropological stages, since, with the technical facilitation of existence, the continuance of domination demands the fixation of instincts by greater repression.[44]


Note, in particular, Adorno and Horkheimer’s use of the concept of fixation [Fixierung] in this passage.  As I have noted before, an application of the category of fixation to the social-theoretic application of paranoia is not indispensable – which relieves us from some theoretical difficulties – but it is noteworthy that the concept appears explicitly in the text.  What is essential for us, however, is Adorno and Horkheimer’s view that the frustration exacted from individuals by the development of civilization involves the mechanism of repression, and that it becomes intolerable – and thus leads to regression – when the technical capabilities of humanity concretely open possibilities for the reduction or partial lifting of repression, but these possibilities are forsaken.  The idea that this moment marks a change in the history of civilization is made explicit in Horkheimer’s Eclipse of Reason – a book he wrote contemporaneously with his co-authoring of DE  – where Horkheimer argues that the degree of repression enforced under modern technological conditions has become irrational because it has become divorced from the promise of happiness, and so also from its initial raison d’être, the enhanced survival of the species, so that it now continues seemingly only for its own sake.[45]  Horkheimer suggests that the repression demanded of individuals in advanced capitalist societies is neither necessary for survival nor conducive to happiness but rather seems aimed at the reproduction of the capitalist structure for its sake alone, and it is this turn of affairs that renders repression irrational and unbearable.  Repression no longer upholds the promise of a future compensation, for the concrete potentialities to begin bringing about that compensation have already been actualized, and yet the idea of consciously ordering society for the sake of this compensation – for the sake of happiness and liberation from unnecessary repression – has not been pursued.  In his Lectures on Negative Dialectics, Adorno traces the pathology of the creation of reality as a rigid and “totalitarian” system to the failure of the promises of the bourgeois revolutions.[46]  It is difficult to place the moment at which frustration became intolerable precisely, but it is clear that Adorno takes it to be tied to the unrealized possibilities for liberation from coercive work that the scientific revolution afforded, and the forsaken promises contained in the bourgeois liberal ideas of the seventeenth century:  promises of emancipation and new possibilities for happiness that were never fulfilled.  Instead, the social conditions of life continued to require ever greater renunciation from the masses and, even for those in power, the small capitalist class that did not have to pay through sacrificial labor and the inhibition of pleasure, their privileged position bore the cost of maintaining and increasing humanity’s distance from nature.  At this point, the repression of nature not only became intolerable in that it made satisfaction of instinctual desires impossible, but moreover it became independent of its initial justification as a sacrifice to be compensated in a future that would manage to recover the lost promise of happiness from the stage of primary mimesis.  “The way of civilization has been that of obedience and work, over which fulfillment shines everlastingly as mere illusion, as beauty deprived of power.”[47]


(iv)  Regression/ Repression proper

As I have already noted, psychoanalytic theory holds that when frustration reaches intolerable dimensions the psyche first tries to change the external world in order to solve the conflict, but, if this proves impossible, a number of reactions can take place:  a re-organization of leading component instincts, or sublimation, or perversion, or regression, etc.  In paranoia, the attempt to change the external world fails, and the organism responds by withdrawing its libidinal cathexes from external reality and attaching them to the ego.  The process of pathology in the history of the enlightenment follows a structurally analogous pattern.  The first significant thing that happened when humanity was faced with intolerable frustration in the realm of social reality, for Horkheimer and Adorno, was that the attempt actually to change the social order so that it may afford some satisfaction to human beings – a satisfaction of the old wishes for happiness and freedom – failed, and we can correlate this failure specifically with the failure of a genuine Marxist revolution to occur and take hold.  Since the external world whose structure had become a cause of intolerable frustration was not changed, cathexes were removed from external reality and attached to the ego, producing megalomania.[48]

In his Lectures on Negative Dialectics, Adorno claims that the philosophical systems of the late eighteenth and nineteenth century express the megalomania resulting from regression, since they represent the ego – that is, the transcendental or constitutive rational subject in Kant and German Idealism – as all-powerful, and the external world as defined by the categories imprinted on the world by the subject.  But this philosophical notion emerged, in Adorno’s view, as a response to real (and contingent) socio-historical conditions.  From its inception, the bourgeois mind sought emancipation, but it continually renounced real liberation and instead affirmed the existing order.  To compensate for its shortcomings in changing the real conditions of life, bourgeois thought undertook to construct an intellectual order free of all the contradictions, inconsistencies, and deficiencies of lived social conditions.  Adorno suggests that bourgeois thought exaggerated its autonomy at the level of its own theoretical self-understanding in order to compensate for the unfreedom of the individual in practical life[49]  Ideology at the beginning of bourgeois society required that reality be taken to be permeated by the freedom that was being in fact denied.  Humanity’s yearning for emancipation from social and economic oppression, its longing for satisfying the promise of happiness of the past, was appeased with a thought-construction rather than with real change in the conditions of life.  In other words, the satisfaction that was sought-for in external reality was instead satisfied with thought’s creation of its own substitute reality, in which its absolute freedom reigned supreme.  In this process, thought moved away from the real conditions of reality and cathected instead the subject, transfigured into a transcendental and constitutive self whose form institutes a free and logical world. 

I am proposing to understand this phenomenon, in which philosophical reflection comes to represent thought as all powerful and as the creator of what counts as meaningful objectivity, and in which the external world is reduced to an indeterminate beyond, as the process of withdrawing cathexes from an external reality that offers no satisfaction and re-directing them to the subject, the ego – in this case, the transcendental ego.  Just as, in paranoia, the psyche attempts to compensate for the satisfaction that it seeks but cannot find in external reality by regressing to the stage of primary narcissism and instituting a secondary narcissism, I interpret Adorno’s idea of how the transcendental ego comes about as a process in which humanity’s self-understanding (captured in philosophical thought) regresses to primary mimesis and cathexes the ego.  Satisfaction is now sought not in something external but rather in the creations of the mind alone.  It is moreover at this stage that the pathological process of drastic separation from the object – from nature – sets in.  The whole world appears as a creation of thought; it becomes meaningful and accessible only by being subsumed under the classifying categories of the mind.  The object loses significance and the mind, now suffering from megalomania (as is characteristic in paranoia) stands supreme as the legislator of what counts, meaningfully, as real.  “The self which learned about order and subordination through the subjugation of the world soon equated truth in general with classifying thought, without whose fixed distinctions it cannot exist.  Along with mimetic magic it tabooed the knowledge which really apprehends the object.”[50]  Thus for Adorno the movements in philosophy that defend the notion of a transcendental or constitutive subject (Kant, German Idealism, even Husserl) show the onset of regression at the level of humanity’s theoretical self-understanding.  We are now at the stage of the formation of symptoms.  As I discussed above, in paranoia symptoms are formed in an effort to rebuild the world, to re-establish rapport with objects and things.  But the mechanism by which the world is rebuilt is projection, and it leads to the re-construction of the world along a framework in which paranoid delusions hold “the world” together in a rigid system that admits of no contradiction from without.  In the onset of paranoia in enlightened reason, nature had to be repressed, and the promise of happiness from the stage of primary mimesis was finally frustrated so greatly that thought turned to itself alone in order to gain satisfaction.  But the world then needs to be rebuilt through projection.  The system of projected delusions (as is the role of all paranoid systems of delusions) directly contradicts the repressed wish, and so directly contradicts the wish to reunite with nature and even the existence of nature as something that goes beyond the system, that is meaningful in its own right, and that is not merely the passive “stuff” of classifying thought, but rather itself an active agency in human life and human reality.  The world in which we, as enlightened “thinkers” and minds live, is for Adorno and Horkheimer a closed system that encompasses and organizes reality in accordance with a rigid framework imposed by thought alone, in its pathological effort to repress the unfulfilled wish for happiness promised by nature.[51]  The goal of the system of delusions, namely to repress and “expunge” nature from the real, is enforced by how it deals with anything that does not fit the systematic structure:  it is either re-interpreted in terms of the system, or excluded as meaningless.  Adorno puts the point thus,

Whenever things that are to be comprehended resist identity with the concept, the latter are forced into grotesque exaggeration to prevent doubts arising about the coherence and rigor of the intellectual product.  Great philosophy was taken possession of by the paranoid zeal that forbids the wicked queen in Snow White to tolerate anyone more beautiful than she – another person, in short – even at the uttermost ends of her realm, and that drives her to pursue that Other with all the wiles of reason, while the Other constantly retreats in the face of that pursuit.[52]


In this extirpation of the other, of nature as in its own right meaningful, from reality, thought regresses to primary mimesis, but in reverse form:  whereas the first stages of detachment from primary mimesis sought to know nature by becoming like the object, enlightenment knowledge seeks to reduce the meaningful content of all of nature to its own conceptual framework, to the formal structure of the transcendental ego, of instrumental reason.  Stepping outside the system becomes the greatest taboo of enlightened reason:

For the scientific temper, any deviation of thought from the business of manipulating the actual, any stepping outside the jurisdiction of existence, is no less senseless and self-destructive than it would be for the magician to step outside the magic circle drawn for his incantation; and in both cases violation of the taboo carries a heavy price for the offender.  The mastery of nature draws the circle in which the critique of pure reason holds thought spellbound.  Kant combined the doctrine of thought’s restlessly toilsome progress toward infinity with insistence on its insufficiency and eternal limitation.  The wisdom he imparted is oracular:  There is no being in the world that knowledge cannot penetrate, but what can be penetrated by knowledge is not being.[53]


This is why the system is “totalitarian.”[54]  Only what the system manages to incorporate into the rigid structure of its “mythic web” [sein mythisches Gewebe] is allowed the dignity of being real, meaningful, rational, and knowable.[55]

(v) Return of the repressed

           The system of delusions, built through paranoid projection, re-creates the world in such a way that what has been repressed, the extirpation of which is the system’s single aim – i.e. nature – constantly returns from without.  Moreover, the return of repressed inner nature[56] is the deep cause that Adorno and Horkheimer ascribe to fascist and proto-fascist movements as well as other expressions of racism, xenophobia, and intolerance.  The more nature is repressed in the self through the method of projection, the more the menace of nature is re-encountered from without in the system of projective delusions that orders the world.  The representative of nature is seen as the enemy threatening to destroy everything dear to civilization:  the Jew that conspires with international banking, or the immigrant that is solely responsible for the decrease in economic well-being, are images woven by the paranoid zeal.

           Since the desire for happiness in nature has been repressed and transformed into the invective to destroy all threatening nature, which is seen as persecuting civilization from the outside, the unconscious affective forces of modernity are constantly galvanized in the service of movements whose goal is to destroy any remnants of the natural, of that which has not been totally “civilized,” of all that is perceived as a trace of untamed nature.  These traces of not-fully tamed nature are particularly noticeable in groups that stand in a relationship of some distance with totally-ordered civilization.  In their analysis of the horrors of the Third Reich, Adorno and Horkheimer ascribe the organized persecution of Jews, homosexuals, Roma, and other groups[57] to the fact that these minorities exhibited characteristics of an incompletely or insufficiently “civilized” nature, thus reminding the “civilized” individual of the primitive world, its fearfulness, and also its happiness.  Gestures, religious beliefs, and modes of behavior that are not completely in line with the totalized system are reminiscent of that which stands “outside” the system (of the fact that there is an outside at all); they are traces of the nature that has been so painfully expunged from reality in the process of civilization and through the paranoid projection from which reified reality itself emanates.  Adorno and Horkheimer see even the subjugation and oppression of women as rooted affectively in the same drive to eliminate the remembrance of untamed nature:

But woman bears the stigma of weakness; her weakness places her in a minority even when she is numerically superior to men.  As with the subjugated original inhabitants in early forms of state, the indigenous population of colonies, who lack the organization and weapons of their conquerors, as with the Jews among Aryans, her defenselessness legitimizes her oppression. … Man as ruler refuses to do woman the honor of individualizing her.  Socially, the individual woman is an example of the species, a representative of her sex, and thus, wholly encompassed by male logic, she stands for nature, the substrate of never-ending subjection on that reality.  Woman as an allegedly natural being is a product of history, which denatures her. … To eradicate utterly the hated but overwhelming temptation to lapse back into nature – that is the cruelty which stems from failed civilization; it is barbarism, the other side of culture. … The signs of powerlessness, hasty uncoordinated movements, animal fear, swarming masses, provoke the lust for murder.  The explanation for the hatred of woman as the weaker in mental and physical power, who bears the mark of domination on her brow, is the same as for the hatred of the Jews.  Women and Jews show visible evidence of not having ruled for thousands of years.  They live, although they could be eliminated, and their fear and weakness, the greater affinity to nature produced in them by perennial oppression, is the element in which they live.  In the strong, who pay for their strength with their strained remoteness from nature and must forever forbid themselves fear, this incites blind fury.  They identify with nature by calling forth from their victims, multiplied by a thousandfold, the cry they may not utter themselves.[58]


The success of fascist society – which, it is worth noting again, for Adorno and Horkheimer does not designate only the explosion of Nazism in the Third Reich but the latent character of advanced capitalist Western society in general – is due to the fact that it creates, through its pathological system of delusions, an external projection of the nature that is repressed within, and in this externalization of nature, individuals in the sick society achieve a double satisfaction.  First, they enact again and again their expunging of nature from the world; they repeat the obsessive-compulsive[59] ritual in which they act as defenders of civilization in the ritual killing of nature.  Although the process fails in finally eliminating nature (which cannot be eliminated from the process because the very system of delusions created to eliminate it replicates it as an external presence), it is repeated as a magical ritual. 

Second, through the ritualistic venting of fascist destructiveness against what represents nature, the repressed wish to be one with nature achieves a distorted satisfaction:  it achieves unity through destruction.[60]  The destruction of nature and its representatives is in fact driven by the (unconsciously negated) wish for nature and ultimately by the remnants of nature (its violence as well as its betrayed promise of happiness) in the self. Fascist violence against nature and its representatives is fueled by the strength and the violence of the repressed nature in the self, and this is why Adorno and Horkheimer understand fascism as a phenomenon that brings the forces of repressed nature into the service of the violent elimination of nature.  Fascist violence is enacted in abandonment to the destructive irrational rage of repressed nature and in this way achieves a satisfaction of the repressed wish for unity with nature, albeit in a damaged way ultimately doomed to fail.  Fascism (and demagogy) offers the unconscious reward of allowing people to carry on their fight against nature toward a nature

outside instead of inside themselves.  The superego, impotent in its own house, becomes the hangman in society.  These individuals obtain the gratification of feeling themselves as champions of civilization simultaneously with letting loose their repressed desires.  Since their fury does not overcome their inner conflict, and since there are always plenty of others on whom to practice, this routine of suppression is repeated over and over again.  Thus it tends toward total destruction.[61]


As Horkheimer puts it, fascism reveals “the fatal intimate connection between domination of nature and revolt of nature.”[62]  By allowing an outlet for pent-up resentment and rage through violence, fascism garners the energy of repressed nature and directs it into actions that maintain and enforce the repression of nature.  “Fascism is also totalitarian in seeking to place oppressed nature’s rebellion against domination directly in the service of domination.”[63]


5.  Conclusion

My main goal in this paper has been to propose a detailed interpretation of DE, focusing on an element that has, surprisingly, been given only marginal attention:  namely, the fact that Adorno and Horkheimer’s diagnosis of the pathology of Western civilization is specifically a diagnosis of paranoia, in accordance with the Freudian conception of this illness and, importantly, of the method of projection by which symptoms are produced.  For better or worse, I hope to have shown that the logic of paranoia is a central structural component of the theory developed in DE.  And there is plenty of evidence, though I do not have the space to lay it out here, that paranoia and the logic of projection are an essential component of Adorno’s general social theory, and remain an essential component throughout his later writings. 

In conclusion, I wish to say something about why I take the structural analogy with paranoia to be of extreme importance for understanding and evaluating Adorno’s social theory, both at the first-order level of the theory’s content, and at the meta-level of the theory’s method and its presuppositions. 

With respect to content, the reading of DE I have developed goes against the grain of a widespread interpretation that reads Adorno’s theory as a negative teleology.  According to this reading, Adorno views the very dynamics by which the ego arises, and by which civilization is established, as already fully accounting for the descent into the “new kind of barbarism”[64] of the present, since these dynamics require the domination of inner and outer nature.[65]  This is a teleological reading because it views the end-point of the process (the barbarism of the present) as already built into the starting point (the production of the ego and the establishment of civilization), specifically because the starting point requires the domination of nature, which in its growth inevitably leads to the present state of things.  However, if one is attentive to the structural analogy with paranoia, it becomes clear that for Adorno the domination of nature required from the beginning is only a necessary, not a sufficient condition, for descent into pathology.  Importantly, other necessary conditions (intolerable frustration in the social order, regression, and projection) correspond in the analogy to contingent historical developments: the failure of bourgeois ideals to materialize.  Thus the ending-point of pathology is not built into the starting-point.  And, more importantly still, the element of regression constitutes a reversal in the development of civilization, since it institutes a change from the increasing domination of nature to a nearly total submission to nature – albeit to a nature that has become pathological.  Recall that the paranoid social system is driven by the projective denial of repressed nature, and is therefore determined by this very nature; and, moreover, the instinctual energy that drives the system is garnered from repressed nature.  Thus the “barbaric” social order of paranoid civilization does not actually continue the trend of the growing domination of nature but is rather itself (blindly) dominated by the nature it is obsessed to repress.  The shift from the growing domination of nature to a blind submission to repressed nature is a reversal, a turning point into full-fledged pathology, and one that cannot be accounted for by teleology, but only by genealogy, in Nietzsche’s and Foucault’s sense of the term.  Thus, a reading that gives central weight to the structural analogy of paranoia leads to a different interpretation of the logic driving Western civilization’s development into pathology, and this interpretation avoids well-known criticisms that see Adorno’s theory as aporetic and quietist because it allegedly attributes the social ills of the present to necessary conditions for the development of the ego and of human society in general.

But I also think that the structural analogy with paranoia has consequences for how we should understand the method of Adorno’s social theory in general.  In fact, the logic of paranoia and paranoid projection can fruitfully be deployed as model for reconstructing the logical structure of negative dialectics, and it is most useful in that it offers a framework for modeling how two seemingly incompatible elements of Adorno’s conception of dialectics come together.  The first is his genealogical conception of modern reason and social reality as the result of a contingent, non-teleological, and specifically pathological development in mediation with inner nature.  The second element is a Hegelian conception of a holistic, systematic, and (indeed) teleologically ordered structure that governs both conceptual thinking and the social order under conditions of advanced capitalism:  i.e., Adorno’s transmutation of Hegel’s Geist into the category of the social “totality”.[66]  In my reading, the logical structure of paranoia and paranoid projection is the architectonic that holds together the genealogical account of pathology and the rise of the systematic “totality”, for the totality arises as the delusional system symptomatic of paranoia.  This reading provides a framework to theorize Adorno’s Aufhebung of Hegelian dialectics by locating the rise of the Hegelian system – reinterpreted as the social totality – as an emergence embedded within a genealogical narrative that follows the logic of paranoia.  The reading also accounts for Adorno’s view of Hegel’s system as all too real and yet wrong, or delusional:  the rise of the system is the symptom of paranoid illness, and is therefore delusional, but the system remains the actual framework through which paranoid humanity connects to a “world”, and is therefore real and actual.  Thus, in my view, the logic of paranoia is what ultimately bridges Adorno’s “Hegelian” analysis of the social totality and his genealogical diagnosis of the totality as a product of pathology, and is therefore essential for understanding the dynamics of Adorno’s negative dialectics.  But in-depth arguments to this effect must await a different paper.  For now, I hope to have shown that the Freudian conception of paranoia and pathic projection is not only a peripheral concept in the social theory of DE, but rather a central meta-theoretical structural framework that holds the theory’s various components together and orders the pathological thought-nature relation that Adorno and Horkheimer consider paramount in advanced capitalist society.



Adorno, T.W. :

              (2003a) Negative Dialektik in Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. 6. (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp).

              (2003b) Vorlesung über Negative Dialektik in Nachgelassene Schriften, Division IV, Vol. 16. R. Tiedemann, ed. (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp).

              (2003c) “Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda” in Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. 8, R. Tiedemann, G. Adorno, S. Buck-Morss, and K. Schultz, eds., pp. 408-433 (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag).

              (2008a) Lectures on Negative Dialectics Tiedemann, R., ed.; Livingstone, R., trans. (Cambridge: Polity Press).

             (2008b) Negative Dialectics (Cambridge: Polity Press).  

Adorno, T.W. and Horkheimer, M. :

            — (2002) Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments, G. Schmid Noerr, ed.; E. Jephcott, trans. (Stanford: Stanford University Press).

            — (1997) Dialektik der Aufklärung, in Max Horkheimer: Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. 5, A. Schmidt and G. Schmid Noerr, eds. (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag).

Benhabib, S. (1986) Critique, Norm, and Utopia: A Study of the Foundations of Critical Theory (New York: Columbia University Press).

Benjamin, J. (1977) “The End of Internalization: Adorno’s Social Psychology”, Telos 32: 42-64.

Berman, R. (2002) “Adorno’s Politics” in Adorno: A Critical Reader, N. Gibson and A. Rubin, eds., pp. 110-131. (Malden and Oxford: Blackwell).

Freud, S. :

            — (1982) “Neurose und Psychose.” in Sigmund Freud: Studienausgabe, Vol. 3: Psychologie des Unbewußten, J. Strachey, ed., pp. 331-337. (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag).

            — (1974) “Neurosis and psychosis”, SE, 19, pp. 4063-4068.

            — (1974) “Psycho-analytic notes on an autobiographical account of a case of paranoia”, SE, 12, pp. 2385-2447.

            — (1955) “Über einen autobiographisch beschriebenen Fall von Paranoia” GW, VIII, pp. 239-320.

            — (1969) Vorlesungen zur Einführung in die Psychoanalyse, GW, XI.

            — (1949) “Zur Einführung des Narzißmus”, GW, X, pp. 137-170.

Habermas, J. (1990) “The Entwinement of Myth and Enlightenment: Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno” in The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, pp. 106-130. (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press).

Haynes, P. (2005) “‘To rescue means to love things’: Adorno and the re-enchantment of bodies”, Critical Quarterly, 47: 64-78.

Horkheimer, M. (1974) Eclipse of Reason (New York and London: Continuum).

Jay, M. (1996) The Dialectical Imagination (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press).

Laplanche, J. and Pontalis, J.B. (1973) The Language of Psychoanalysis, M. Khan and R. Masud, eds. D. Nicholson-Smith, ed. (London: The Hogarth Press).

Rosen, M. (1996) On Voluntary Servitude: False Consciousness and the Theory of Ideology (Harvard University Press).

Sherratt, Y. (1998) “Negative Dialectics: A Positive Interpretation”, International Philosophical Quarterly 38 : 55-66.

Wiggershaus, R. (1995) The Frankfurt School (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press).

Whitebook, J. (1996) Perversion and Utopia (Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press).



      For historical accounts on the importance of psychoanalytic theory for the early Frankfurt School, and Adorno in particular, see Martin Jay’s The Dialectical Imagination (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1996), esp. chapter 3, and Rolf Wiggershaus’s The Frankfurt School (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1995), which discusses divergent attitudes to psychoanalytic theory among members of the Institut für Sozialforschung, esp. in chapters 3-6.  The most incisive analysis and critique of the relation between psychoanalysis and social theory in Adorno remains Joel Whitebook’s Perversion and Utopia (Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 1996).  See esp. chapter 3.  A shorter but influential analysis of Adorno’s deployment of psychoanalytic theory can be found in Jessica Benjamin’s “The End of Internalization:  Adorno’s Social Psychology” (Telos, No. 32 (1977): 42-64).  Benjamin’s critique is reiterated by Seyla Benhabib in her Critique, Norm, and Utopia (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), esp. chapter 6.

      In Eclipse of Reason, Horkheimer provides vivid examples of how even the perception of external reality has become instrumental:  a landscape appears as a possible space for an advertising billboard; even the moon is perceived as an advertisement for something or as an object to be exploited for profit.  In these cases, external nature is perceived in terms of its utility for advancing and securing the individual’s well-being in market society and, in this sense, for the sake of self-preservation.  See Eclipse of Reason (London and New York: Continuum, 2004), p. 69:  “The story of the boy who looked up at the sky and asked, ‘Daddy, what is the moon supposed to advertise?’ is an allegory of what has happened to the relation between man and nature in the era of formalized reason.  On the one hand, nature has been stripped of all intrinsic value or meaning.  On the other, man has been stripped of all aims except self-preservation.  He tries to transform everything within reach into a means to that end.  Every word or sentence that hints of relations other than pragmatic is suspect.   … Though people may not ask what the moon is supposed to advertise, they tend to think of it in terms of ballistics of aerial mileage.”

      Adorno and Horkheimer, DE 6 (Dialectic of Enlightenment (Stanford:  Stanford University Press, 2002), p.6).  Original German: DA 31 (Dialektik der Aufklärung, in Max Horkheimer: Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. 5 (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1997), p.31)

      DE 6/ DA 32.

      DE 7/ DA 33

      Adorno 2003a, p.152..

      Ibid., 191.  On the importance of love in Adorno’s conception of philosophical thinking (and knowledge), see Haynes, Patrice 2005, pp. 64-77.

      Nosographically, the illnesses that Freud called “narcissistic neuroses” in earlier writings correspond to the functional psychoses (i.e. those not caused by somatic lesions, see Laplanche and Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis (London:  The Hogarth Press, 1973), p.258).  These include paranoia, schizophrenia, and delusions of jealousy.  Later (“Neurosis and Psychosis” 1924 [1923]), Freud reserves the label “narcissistic neurosis” for melancholia, as opposed to the psychoses.  However, the earlier nomenclature fits Adorno and Horkheimer’s diagnosis better, so I will stick with it.

      Importantly, Adorno and Horkheimer do not limit the phenomenon of fascism to the historical systems of fascist rule, typically Hitler’s Third Reich, Mussolini’s rule in Italy and Franco’s rule in Spain.  Rather, they see these systems as specific and poignant eruptions of political and cultural currents latent in advanced capitalist society, therefore in the Western world as a whole.

      The mechanism of paranoid projection is discussed in detail in what is perhaps the most important of the “theses on anti-semitism” – thesis VI – in DE 154-165/ DA 217-230.

      Neuroses and psychoses always arise from the frustration of a childhood wish, either by external reality full stop or by the super-ego, which takes over representing the demands of reality (Freud 1982, p.335).

      See Freud’s  analysis of the Schreber case in Freud, GW VIII, pp. 299-302. (SE 12, pp.2432-3.)

      Horkheimer and Adorno also identify the infantile wish at issue in the pathology of enlightenment rationality with a homosexual repression (DE 159/ DA 223), but I will not linger on this aspect of the diagnosis here, as it is of little interest and leads to no significant new discoveries or deeper understanding of the pathology of reason.

      Freud of course discusses the wish in male terms only (“I [a man] love him [a man]”).  I use the feminine pronoun, but the theoretical point remains the same.

      This is precisely the wish that is expressed by the singing of the sirens in Adorno and Horkheimer’s interpretation of the Odyssean myth.  “Their [the sirens’] allurement is that of losing oneself in the past” (DE 25/ DA 55).  The sirens’ song holds the promise of pleasure in oneness with nature.  But to succumb to this ultimate pleasure – to lose oneself in nature once again – would be the end of civilization and of the hard labor by which humanity has forged the ego.

      Adorno and Horkheimer’s analysis of the lure of the fascist leader is of course more complex.  The leader combines characteristics of the “everyday, ordinary person” at the same time as he exhibits super-natural strength:  he is, in Adorno’s words, “a composite of King-Kong and the suburban barber” (“Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda” in Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 8 (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1969), p.420).  The leader’s ordinary and even absurd characteristics (those characteristics that individuals thinks they have in common with the leader and make him or her an “ordinary person”, “one of us”) allow the ego to transfer to the leader the cathexes that remained attached to the individual, while the leader’s display of supernatural strength attracts the attachment of the self to its megalomaniac ego-ideal.

      See Freud, GW VIII , pp.307-8/SE 12, p.2437.

      Freud, GW VIII, p.396.

      Ibid. p.246.  Translation modified.

      Ibid., 254-259.

      The degree to which the patient’s delusional world is called into question by “facts” that contradict it depends of course on the degree and advancement of the illness.  At the limit, an advanced patient would not even consider consciously any contradiction or experience any doubt about her delusion, even in the face of contradictory evidence, for the evidence would be immediately incorporated into an explication based on the system of delusions itself.

      DA 217.

      This does not mean that there is no form of thinking and of expression that contradicts the claims of the system, but only that, since the system and its fixed structure have a monopoly over what counts as rational argumentation, all real challenges to the system are automatically denied recognition as rational.

      DE 4/ DA 28.

      DE 139/ DA 200.

      DE 161/ DA 225.

      DE 170/ DA 235-6.  Again, this does not mean that experiences external to the system (experiences that do not abide by the fixed rules of the system) are not available, but only that they are immediately disqualified as meaningless and irrational by socially prevalent rationality.

[28] That is, from primary narcissism to a genital organization of the libido.

      Freud, GW VIII, p.304.  See Freud’s discussion of the three stages of repression leading to paranoia in the Schreber Case in Ibid., pp. 303-316.

      See Freud 1982, esp. pp. 335-6.

      Freud, GW XI p.358.

      Though not necessarily.  For example, a return to the perversions, if tolerated by the super-ego, allows the individual to find other forms of satisfaction without regression, and so without becoming ill.

      Freud, GW VIII, pp. 304-306.

      Precisely because there can be no distinct self at this stage, the stage is a theoretical construct rather than a “fact” of history.  However, as I explain later, Adorno and Horkheimer view the development of civilization as always threatened by human beings’ longing to “return” to full unity with nature.  This longing could also be interpreted in terms of Freud’s notion of the death drive, which can be seen as the consequence of fully satisfying the drives, since pleasure is for Freud defined as the cessation of stimulus, and the total cessation of stimulus results in an abandonment of the self to nature that the psyche can only see as death.  However, the death drive is not repressed but rather defused, by the sensori-motor apparatus in the individual, and by technology in civilization, in order to sublimate wants which would otherwise destroy the organism.  Since Adorno and Horkheimer claim that humanity’s primordial wish for unity with, or abandonment to, nature is actually repressed in modern civilization, a translation of what I am calling “primary mimesis” into the language of the death drive is not helpful for understanding Dialectic of Enlightenment.  It seems to me that the notion of primary mimesis as a developmental stage analogous to primary narcissism is inescapable in order to reconstruct the ideas of this text.  Thanks to Daniel Allen for insightful comments on this topic.

      DE 6/ DA 32.

      For a discussion of mimesis, see  Sherratt 1998, pp. 57-66.

      Against Freud’s idea that there is an “omnipotence of thought” in animism, Horkheimer and Adorno view animism as involving differentiation between subject and object, but within a relation of proximity where the mind tries to become like nature.  They argue that “It [magic] certainly is not founded on the ‘omnipotence of thought, which the primitive is supposed to impute to himself like the neurotic; there can be no ‘over-valuation of psychical acts’ in relation to reality where thought and reality are not radically distinguished” (DE 7/ DA 33).  According to Horkheimer and Adorno, the very idea that there is an autonomy of thought in controlling the world actually applies to industrial society rather than to animism.

      DE 40/ DA 73.

      Thus, Horkheimer and Adorno see cunning as? the sublation of sacrifice.  “Cunning is nothing other than the subjective continuation of the objective untruth of sacrifice, which it supersedes” (DE 41/ DA 75).

      For a very lucid discussion of Adorno’s conception of the formation of the individual through the repression of inner nature, and the place that the interpretation of the Odyssey plays in this conception, see Joel Whitebook’s Perversion and Utopia, esp. pp. 140-152.  However, my point of disagreement with Whitebook is that I read Adorno as holding that the subject’s renunciation (repression) of inner nature for the sake of achieving mastery over external nature (and thus enhance its own survival) was done for the sake of a future promise of happiness that would be socially mediated, just as Odysseus  engaged in rational cunning for the sake of a return home.  This is important, because – as I read Adorno – this promise is only given up and repressed (in secondary repression) when the possibility of fulfilling the promise is forsaken: when, despite the development of technical capacities that would allow for an easing up of social repression, the latter keeps on growing seemingly for its own sake, and no longer for the sake of an Odyssian return home.  Thus, in my reading, pathology sets in at this point – which, as I argue below, corresponds to the failure of revolution to alter the logic of capitalist expansion after the Bourgeois revolutions (French and American).  By contrast, Whitebook argues that the initial repression of inner nature that Adorno conceptualizes through his interpretation of the Odyssey already represents a renunciation of inner nature and its ability to achieve happiness, and thus  already represents a full-fledged renunciation of the promise of happiness, the initial goal for which mastery over external nature was sought in the first place.  Thus, in Whitebook’s reading of Adorno, the very dynamics that make ego-development possible already make the achievement of a socially-mediated happiness impossible, and this constitutes an inescapable aporia at the heart of Adorno’s theory.  In my reading, the dynamics of ego-development contain the potentiality for a final renunciation of the promise of happiness, but the final renunciation of this promise required contingent socio-historical developments , so that there is no inevitable (necessary) aporia .  See Perversion and Utopia, p. 148.  I develop my position below in sections (iii) “Intolerable Frustration”, and  (iv) “Regression/ Repression Proper.”  See footnote 49 below for another discussion of my disagreement with Whitebook.

      DE 6-7/ DA 32.

      See DE 11/ DA 38:  Humans believe themselves free of fear when there is no longer anything unknown.  This has determined the path of demythologization, of enlightenment, which equates the living with the nonliving as myth had equated the nonliving with the living.  Enlightenment is mythical fear radicalized.  The pure immanence of positivism, its ultimate product, is nothing other than a form of universal taboo.  Nothing is allowed to remain outside, since the mere idea of the ‘outside’ is the real source of fear.

      DE 24/ DA 54.

      DE 27-28/ DA 58, italics mine

      See Eclipse of Reason, p.64: Domination of nature involves domination of man.  Each subject not only has to take part in the subjugation of external nature, human and nonhuman, but in order to do so must subjugate nature in himself.  Domination becomes ‘internalized’ for domination’s sake.  What is usually indicated as a goal – the happiness of the individual, health, and wealth – gains its significance exclusively from its functional potentiality.  These terms designate favorable conditions for intellectual and material production.  Therefore self-renunciation of the individual in industrialist society has no goal transcending industrialist society.  Such abnegation brings about rationality with reference to means and irrationality with reference to human existence.  Society and its institutions, no less than the individual himself, bear the mark of this discrepancy.  Since the subjugation of nature, in and outside of man, goes on without a meaningful motive, nature is not really transcended or reconciled but merely repressed.

      Adorno 2008b, pp.122-6.

      DE 26/ DA 57.

      My interpretation of Adorno’s view of modernity’s fall into pathology contrasts strongly with what I call the “negative teleological” reading of Adorno’s social theory.  The latter views the fall into pathology as already determined by the very dynamics that produce the ego and make civilization possible, and which (as we have seen) require repression of inner nature.  As I have already mentioned in a previous footnote, Joel Whitebook’s reading can be seen as an example of this type of interpretation insofar as he sees Adorno’s idea that ego-formation requires the renunciation of inner nature as entailing the renunciation of the very capacity for happiness.  However, if one pays careful attention to Adorno’s structural analogy with paranoia, I think it becomes clear that there was no necessity for illness to develop, for illness requires not only fixation or repression, but also the encounter with an intolerable conflict that cannot be resolved, an obstacle that makes satisfaction of the infantile wish impossible in external reality; and, further, illness requires that the organism respond to intolerable frustration by turning inward: removing cathexes from the external world and re-attaching them to the ego alone through projection (a secondary form of repression).  For other versions of the “negative teleological” reading (which similarly, I think, can be refuted through careful attention to the analogy with paranoia), see Jessica Benjamin, “The End of Internalization:  Adorno’s Social Psychology” and Seyla Benhabib, Critique, Norm, and Utopia, pp. 166-7; and, for the same charge couched in terms of the view of history and social development in DE, see  Russell Berman, “Adorno’s Politics,” in Gibson, Nigel and Rubin, Andrew, eds., Adorno:  A Critical Reader (Malden and Oxford:  Blackwell, 2002), p. 110; Martin Jay, The Dialectical Imagination, p.256; Rolf Wiggershaus. The Frankfurt School, p.334, and of course Jürgen Habermas, “The Entwinement of Myth and Enlightenment:  Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno,” in The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (Cambridge, MA:  The MIT Press, 1990), pp.106-130.

      See Adorno 2008a, p. 124: “It [the bourgeois mind] sensed that it had achieved not freedom in its entirety but only a caricature.  Because of that it was forced to exaggerate its own autonomy at the level of theory, expanding it into a system that resembled its own coercive mechanisms.”

      DE 10/ DA 36.

      Of course, this does not mean that every single, finite element of our world is pathological and delusory.  Many of the results of modern science are probably true and, in themselves, not delusional.  The point is rather that the structure of the world as a whole is delusional.  This structure orders all elements of our world in terms of a total structure (system) of relations that is itself delusional because it rules out from our conception of meaningful or “rational” reality anything that would challenge the structure’s organizing principle, namely the repression of nature through projection. 

      Adorno 2008a. p. 126/2003, p. 170.

      DE 19/ DA 48.

      DE 18/ DA 46-7.

      See DE 157/ DA 220: “Because paranoiacs perceive the outside world only in so far as it corresponds to their blind purposes, they can only endlessly repeat their own self, which has been alienated from them as an abstract mania.  This naked schema of power as such, equally overwhelming toward others and toward a self at odds with itself, seizes whatever comes its way and, wholly disregarding its peculiarity, incorporates it in its mythic web.  The closed system of perpetual sameness becomes a surrogate for omnipotence.  It is as if the serpent which told the first humans ‘Ye shall be as gods’ had kept his promise in the paranoiac.  He creates everything in his own image.”

      Here I concentrate on the “return” of inner nature, which is after all the most important element in Horkheimer and Adorno’s conception of “nature”.  However, it is interesting to see that a certain notion of the “return of nature” can be seen even with respect to outer nature.  No matter how much modern society seeks to keep wild and uncontrollable nature outside – by filling all spaces with human habitats, by keeping “wild spaces” controlled, by leaving no corner of the earth unexplored, getting energy resources at any price through processes like hydraulic fracturing and mountain top removal, etc – nature’s power is ultimately uncontrollable, and this point is more visible than ever in the ecological crisis now under way, in which our civilization’s s ways are coming dangerously close to bringing about ecological catastrophe.  The fury with which we attempt to dominate nature returns with fury that threatens to destroy us.

      See DA 200, where Adorno says that for fascism and the anti-Semitic spirit, “die Opfer untereinander auswechselbar sind…Vagabunden, Juden, Protestanten, Katholiken… [the victims are interchangeable… vagrants, Jews, Protestants, Catholics…].”

      DE 86-8/ DA 133-6.

      Recall that in paranoia, delusional projections tend to be produced in the manner of obsessive-compulsion, at least according to Freud’s analysis.  In paranoia, there are three main kinds of phenomena:  residual phenomena representing what remains of a normal stage, phenomena representing detachment of the libido from objects (megalomania), and phenomena representing the attempt at restoration, where the libido attempts to re-attach to objects but does so in the manner of obsessional neurosis (by contrast, in other forms of psychosis, the attachment is different, for instance in schizophrenia the attachment is done in the manner of hysteria). So, the symptoms exhibit for example the repetition of rituals that the individual follows often without knowing their reason (cause) or purpose.  See Freud, GW X, p.153.

      See DE 164-5/ DA 229: “No matter what the makeup of the Jews may be in reality, their image, that of the defeated, has characteristics which must make totalitarian rule their mortal enemy:  happiness without power, reward without work, a homeland without frontiers, religion without myth.  These features are outlawed by the ruling powers because they are secretely coveted by the ruled.  The former can survive only as long as the latter turn what they yearn for into an object of hate.  They do so through pathic projection, since even hatred leads to union with the object – in destruction.”

      Horkheimer 1974, p.82.

Ibid., 84.

      DE 152/ DA 215

      “What we had set out to do was nothing less than to explain why humanity, instead of entering a truly human state, is sinking into a new kind of barbarism” (DE xiv/  DA 16).

               This reading has been influential in generating a widespread evaluation of Adorno’s social theory as inherently aporetic, and it is also connected (though not as the only reason for it) to the view of Adorno as a political quietist, for, if the social ills of modern society are built into the very production of the individual and of human civilization, then activism seems futile.  For versions of the “negative teleological” reading, see Seyla Benhabib, Critique, Norm, and Utopia, pp. 166-7; Jessica Benjamin, “The End of Internalization:  Adorno’s Social Psychology,” pp. 132-142; Russell Berman, “Adorno’s Politics,” p. 110; Jürgen Habermas, “The Entwinement of Myth and Enlightenment:  Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno,” pp. 106-130; Martin Jay, The Dialectical Imagination, p. 256; Joel Whitebook, Perversion and Utopia, pp. 148-152; and Rolf Wiggershaus. The Frankfurt School, p.334.

      The genealogical element is often mistakenly read as a negative teleology, thus as the inverse image of a Hegelian reconstruction of historical development.  On Adorno’s transformation of Hegel’s Geist into the social totality, see for instance Michael Rosen 1996, pp.226-234.

Published by I.S.A.P. - ISSN 2284-1059