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Reading List June 25, 2019

A Century of Critical Theory

Happy birthday, Habermas!
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Jürgen Habermas, one of the original members of the Frankfurt School, turned 90 years old this week! With a career that spans almost seven decades and books that have been translated into more than forty different languages, Habermas continues to work to this day, addressing our state of democratic decay and nationalist nostalgia.

To celebrate, we have delved into our archive and returned with a host of essays on critical theory and the Frankfurt School. From Herbert Marcuse’s relationship with Heidegger, to Erich Fromm’s “humanist socialism,” this reading list features stellar analysis from the likes of Seyla Benhabib, Vivian Gornick, Peter Linebaugh, and others.

—Rosie Gillies


Habermas and the Fate of Democracy
by William E. Scheuerman

“Habermas was the first philosopher to take on Heidegger and other intellectuals who had embraced Nazis. His public political interventions have been key in shaping our understanding of democracy.”

• • •

Below the Asphalt Lies the Beach
by Seyla Benhabib

“In 1968, we hoped for liberation from the spirit of consumerism, the shackles of the patriarchy, bourgeois family, nationalism, and much else. No tradition captured this as well as the critical theory of the Frankfurt School.”

• • •

Marcuse Today
by Ronald Aronson

“When One-Dimensional Man appeared fifty years ago, it was a revelation. For many of us Marcuse reflected our own feeling of alienation from an increasingly totalitarian universe that trumpeted its freedom at every moment.”

• • •

The Lives of Erich Fromm
by Vivian Gornick

“During the Frankfurt School’s early years, Fromm wrote essays that joined the principles of psychoanalysis to those of historical materialism, analyzing instinctual drives in relation to the alienation brought on by modern capitalism.”

• • •

Taking Ideas Seriously
by Seyla Benhabib

A new biography of “Heidegger’s Children” argues that Marcuse and other students of the Nazi-aligned philosopher fail to live up to their Jewish identities. But who gets to decide whether a Jewish life is sufficiently “authentic”?

• • •

The Gong of History
by Peter Linebaugh

For Fromm, Marcuse, and others, “humanist socialism” serves as an antidote to alienation. Here, Linebaugh uses their ideas to concur that “capital is not an inert thing of economic progress but a human relation of exploitation.”

Our weekly themed Reading Lists compile the best of Boston Review’s archive. Previews are delivered to members every Sunday. Become a member to receive them ahead of the crowd.

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