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History and Freedom: Lectures 1964-1965

ISBN: 978-0-7456-3012-0
368 pages
December 2006, Polity
History and Freedom: Lectures 1964-1965 (074563012X) cover image


Despite all of humanity's failures, futile efforts and wrong turnings in the past, Adorno did not let himself be persuaded that we are doomed to suffer a bleak future for ever. One of the factors that prevented him from identifying a definitive plan for the future course of history was his feelings of solidarity with the victims and losers. As for the future, the course of events was to remain open-ended; instead of finality, he remained committed to a Hölderlin-like openness. This trace of the messianic has what he called the colour of the concrete as opposed to mere abstract possibility.

Early in the 1960s Adorno gave four courses of lectures on the road leading to Negative Dialectics, his magnum opus of 1966. The second of these was concerned with the topics of history and freedom. In terms of content, these lectures represented an early version of the chapters in Negative Dialectics devoted to Kant and Hegel. In formal terms, these were improvised lectures that permit us to glimpse a philosophical work in progress.

The text published here gives us an overview of all the themes and motifs of Adorno's philosophy of history: the key notion of the domination of nature, his criticism of the existentialist concept of a historicity without history and, finally, his opposition to the traditional idea of truth as something permanent, unchanging and ahistorical.

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Table of Contents

Editor’s Foreword xii

Part I History

Lecture 1: Progress or Regression? 3

Notes: The relationship of the lectures to Negative Dialectics; the concept of freedom in Kant and Hegel; the diminishing consciousness of freedom; the meaning of history refuted by Auschwitz; the philosophy of history implies that there is a meaning; cultural morphology (Spengler) and idealism

Lecture 2: Universal and Particular 10

Trend and individual fact • Distance from and closeness to detail; progress as a particular • Rationality as a universal; rationality as the mastering of nature • The concept of universal history; rationality as a form of conflict; ‘Faustian technology’ and modes of production • Hegel’s concept of spirit [Geist]; spirit and technical rationality; spirit not primary, but a product • The immediate experience of the universal and the universal itself denounced as metaphysics; negativity as a universal

Lecture 3: Constitution Problems 19

The truth of facts • Immediacy and mediation; individuality and the ‘untrue’ universal • Simmel’s philosophy of history; the problem of constitution (I) • The problem of constitution (II) • De Maistre; the grounds of knowledge and grounds of reality • Hegel’s ‘world spirit’ and the spirit of the age • The logic of things and heteronomy

Lecture 4: The Concept of Mediation 29

Facts as a cloak • The experience of the speculative; experience of committees • Formal sociology; group opinion and social totality • French Revolution (I) • French Revolution (II); underlying cause and proximate cause: course of history and individual moment • French Revolution (III); primacy of the course of history: ‘economy based on expenditure’ instead of ‘economy based on acquisition’; the theory of historical categories

Lecture 5: The Totality on the Road to Self-Realization 39

Philosophy of history and historiography • Parti pris for the universal • Hegel’s class standpoint • In defence of Hegel • Reason as unreason; individual interest and species; humanity: ‘public company for the exploitation of nature’ • Conflict in the concept of reason • The odious totality

Lecture 6: Conflict and Survival 49

Ambivalence of totality; Marx’s optimistic view of history • Conflict and totality • Theodicy of conflict • Conflict and the reproduction of life • Conflict and prehistory; the economy or relations of domination • Contemplative and revolutionary conceptions of history; the problem of anarchism • Defence of nonconformism

Lecture 7: Spirit and the Course of the World 59

The concept of conformism • Critique of the hypostasization of concepts; the concept of reason; the irrationality of reason • Law and ‘emotional warmth’ in Hegel; universality in the particular • The course of the world and individual conscience; methesis [participation] of the spirit • Theodicy of rupture and concrete possibility

Lecture 8: Psychology 69

The concept of the character mask • Individuation and socialization • Identity and the semblance of reconciliation • ‘Sowing one’s wild oats’ • Intellectual forms of self-preservation and human breakdown; identification with the aggressor • Acquiescing in selfdestruction; concretism; psychology as cement

Lecture 9: The Critique of Universal History 79

The course of the argument • The concept of universal history (I) • The concept of universal history (II) • False mastery and vindication of induction; Hegel’s theory of history • Freedom and the individual in Hegel • The individuality in antiquity and the early modern age • History from the standpoint of the victor

Lecture 10: ‘Negative’ Universal History 89

Benjamin’s XVIIth thesis • Temporal core and non-identity • Continuity and discontinuity • History as a gigantic exchange relationship • The total state and the rule of competing cliques • Dialectic of the particular • The concept of chance; the utopia of knowledge • Hegel’s critique of the totality; course of the argument

Lecture 11: The Nation and the Spirit of the People in Hegel 99

Notes: Spirit of the people and universal spirit; universal history as universal tribunal; pseudo-concreteness; repressive archaisms; anti-Cartesian elements in Vico, Montesquieu, Herder and Hegel; cult of the nation

Lecture 12: The Principle of Nationality 105

The nation: a bourgeois form of organization; departure from natural forms of association • The path to delusions of race • Progressive aspects of the nation • The principle of nationality and natural history • The equality of the organization of life today • Hegel’s theory of national spirit viii contents obsolete; decentralization through technology • Germany ‘the belated nation’ • Predominance of the universal over the individual; objective reason split off from subjective reason • ‘Infernal machine’; natural history in Hegel

Lecture 13: The History of Nature (I) 115

Notes: Nature and history; history as spirit; the history of nature as a critical concept; Marx, the ironical Social Darwinist; mythical nature of history; first and second nature

Lecture 14: The History of Nature (II) 120

The concept of second nature • Nature and history mediated • Critique of ‘historicity’; meaning and chance • Philosophy as interpretation (I); transience and allegory; philosophy’s transition to the concrete; history as secularized metaphysics • Philosophy as interpretation (II); hermeneutics • Practice thwarted; critique of the metaphysics of time

Part II Progress

Lecture 15: On Interpretation: the Concept of Progress (I) 133

The history of nature, allegory, criticism • Secularized melancholy; theory of interpretation; Hölderlin’s The Shelter at Hardt • Immediacy as the product of history; Hegel and Marx; art • The pleasures of interpretation • The concept of progress as a link between philosophy of history and the theory of freedom • Critique of nominalism • ‘Whether progress exists’

Lecture 16: On Interpretation: the Concept of Progress (II) 142

Towards conceptual synthesis • Progress as a way of averting catastrophe; the global social subject • Kant’s idea of humanity • Benjamin’s critique of progress • Progress and redemption in St Augustine • Escaping the trammels of the past • Progress mediated by society • Reconciliation and conflict in Kant; progress as absolutely mythical and anti-mythical

Lecture 17: On Interpretation: the Concept of Progress (III) 153

Jugendstil, Ibsen • Decadence and utopia; bourgeois coldness and privileged happiness; dialectics of individuation • Decadence and the defamation of sex; Jugendstil and expressionism • The domination of nature and the flowering of reason; Kant and Hegel’s concepts of reason; myth and demythologization in one • The idea of progress in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries • Two concepts of progress • The dialectics of inwardness; critique of the decisionism of existentialist spontaneity • Spirit as the repository of progress

Lecture 18: On Interpretation: the Concept of Progress (IV) 164

Static elements of the spirit • Progress and mastery of material • Philosophical progress • Programme of reflection on the nature of philosophy • The concept of exchange; exchange and myth • Correcting progress • Speaking on my own behalf

Part III Freedom

The concepts of freedom and the spell; concentration on free will; freedom as the epitome of resistance to the spell

Lecture 19: Transition to Moral Philosophy 177

Non-existence of freedom in history • Individual freedom, social unfreedom • Freedom as a historical concept • The possibility of freedom in unfreedom • The current state of the forces of production • Reason and freedom • Model and constellation; free will and interiority

Lecture 20: What is Free Will? 187

Notes: Inside and outside reciprocally mediated; will and freedom not to be hypostasized; on pseudo-problems [Scheinproblem]; will and freedom synthesize individual impulses

Lecture 21: Freedom and Bourgeois Society 190

Towards a definition of will: the substratum of freedom • Will as the ordered unity of spontaneous and rational impulses; will and a strong ego; non-ego as model of the ego • Freedom and emancipation of the bourgeoisie; freedom and psychology • The scientific impulse versus demystification; bourgeois ambivalence • Theory of freedom as Sunday sermon • Freedom in the service of oppression; the psychoanalysis of the super-ego

Lecture 22: Freedom in Unfreedom 200

Freedom as problem and cliché • Auschwitz as absolute negation of freedom • Guilt • Freedom and excessive demands • ‘Evil’ as unfreedom • The ageing of moral categories; society and the individual

Lecture 23: Antinomies of Freedom 209

The narcissistic interest in freedom • Conformity as the dark side of freedom • Impulse, mimesis, irrationality • Kant’s concept of spontaneity • Spontaneity as something transcendental • The dialectics of spontaneity; Marx, Rosa Luxemburg • Obsessional neurosis; the egoalien ego

Lecture 24: Rationality and the Additional Factor 219

Freud’s theory of repression; blindness of the ego • Ideology of inwardness • The ‘sphere of absolute origins’ and the subject • Critique of the experimenta crucis • Kant’s ‘gallows in front of the house’ • Kant’s card-sharp • A priorism or the empirical as determining factor; the construction of the intelligible character

Lecture 25: Consciousness and Impulse 229

Consciousness versus causality • Without consciousness, no will • Hamlet (I) • The medieval ordo: critique of Romanticism; Hamlet (II) • Hamlet (III); the additional or the irrational factor • The archaic element of the will • The archaic transformed • Reason and impulse

Lecture 26: Kant’s Theory of Free Will 239

Evidence of impulse • The problem of theory and practice in Kant; lectures as a genre • Kant’s historicization of reflections on the moral law • Freedom as the determinate negation of unfreedom; Kant’s doctrine of freedom as fiction • Freedom a paradox in Kant; natura naturans and natura naturata • Kant’s ‘borrowed’ ideas of goodness; mediation repressive in Kant • Freedom as consciousness of the law

Lecture 27: Will and Reason 249

The dual character of Kant’s concept of reason • The ontologizing of the will in Kant • Kant’s false definition of will • Defence of formalism, misuse of the concrete; Scheler • The concept of character • Character and the ‘dissolute’ [Aufgelöste] • Will and reason

Lecture 28: Moral Uncertainties 258

Ontological validity and ontic genesis mediated • Voluntarist and intellectual elements • Morality as self-evident; good and evil • Will and violence; no moral certainty • Solidarity and heteronomy in matters of conscience • Universal and individual in moral philosophy • Free and unfree • Lectures on ‘Metaphysics’

Notes 267

References 334

Index of Names 337

Index of Subjects 343

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Author Information

T. Adorno, Frankfurt School

Translated by R.Livingstone

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The Wiley Advantage

  • A new volume from one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century.

  • This important book gives the reader an overview of all the themes and motifs of Adorno’s philosophy of history.

  • Includes Adorno’s critique of the Existentialist concept of “historicity”.

  • Includes Adorno’s writings on theories of truth, and his criticism and opposition to the traditional idea of truth as something permanent, unchanging and ahistorical.
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"In an age once more in search of the big picture, Adorno's lecture course on 'History and Freedom' reminds us again of the astonishing contemporaneity of his thought. Combining dialectical agility with a refreshing candour and directness, these lectures represent a major thinker’s most open engagement with the meaning of human history, and the disastrous ambiguity of progress."

Peter Dews, University of Essex

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