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‘The more justice, the less freedom’: Max Horkheimer on Critical Theory

Published in Frankfurt School, Latest Posts by Mark Murphy on October 3, 2014

Wise words from Max Horkheimer, the original Director of the Institute for Social Reasearch, or the Frankfurt School as it came to be known – this is him speaking in 1969, making a distinction between Marxism and Critical theory while also identifying the aims of critical theory:

This sociology went beyond the critical theory of society concived by Marx in order to reflect reality more adequately. One point is very important. For Marx had the ideal of a society of free human beings. He believed that this capitalist society would necessarily have to be overcome by the solidarity spelled by the increasing immiseration of the working class. This idea is wrong. This society in which we live does not immiserate the workers but helps them to build a better life. And apart from that. Marx did not see that freedom and justice are dialectical concepts. The more freedom, the less justice and the more justice, the less freedom. The critical theory which I concieved later is based on the idea that one cannot determine, what is good, what a good, a free society would look like from within the society which we live in. We lack the means. But in our work we can bring up the negative aspects of this society, which we want to change.”

[Image sourced from Bernal Saborio]
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About the author /


Mark Murphy is a Reader in Education and Public Policy at the University of Glasgow. He previously worked as an academic at King’s College, London, University of Chester, University of Stirling, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, University College Dublin and Northern Illinois University. Mark is an active researcher in the fields of education and public policy. His research interests include educational sociology, critical theory, accountability in higher education, and public sector reform.

1 Comment

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    when i was in college and a sociology student Max Horkheimer theory was one of most critical theory for me. But when i understood it i feel equally joy as difficulty before.

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