Sociology Index

Max Horkheimer

Max Horkheimer was a leader of the Frankfurt School, a group of philosophers and social scientists associated with the Institute of Social Research in Frankfurt am Main. Horkheimer was the director of the Institute and Professor of Social Philosophy at the University of Frankfurt from 1930–1933, and again from 1949–1958. Max Horkheimer was a German philosopher and sociologist who was famous for his work in critical theory as a member of the Frankfurt School of social research.

Max Horkheimer addressed authoritarianism, militarism, economic disruption, environmental crisis, and the poverty of mass culture using the philosophy of history as a framework. This became the foundation of critical theory. Friedrich Pollock and Max Horkheimer moved to Montagnola, Ticino, Switzerland, although Pollock held a position as professor Emeritus at the University of Frankfurt until 1963. Max Horkheimer's most important works include Eclipse of Reason (1947), Between Philosophy and Social Science (1930–1938) and, in collaboration with Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947).

Through the Frankfurt School, Max Horkheimer planned, supported and made other significant works possible. In 1926 Max Horkheimer was an "unsalaried lecturer in Frankfurt." Shortly after, in 1930, he was promoted to professor of philosophy at Frankfurt University.

In the same year, when the Institute for Social Research's directorship became vacant, after the departure of Carl Grünberg, Horkheimer was elected to the position "by means of an endowment from a wealthy businessman". The Institute had had its beginnings in a Marxist study group started by Felix Weil, a one-time student of political science at Frankfurt who used his inheritance to fund the group as a way to support his leftist academic aims. Pollock and Horkheimer were partners with Weil in the early activities of the Institute.

Horkheimer worked to make the Institute a purely academic enterprise. As director, he changed Frankfurt from an orthodox Marxist school to a heterodox school for critical social research. The following year publication of the Institute's Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung began, with Horkheimer as its editor. Horkheimer intellectually reoriented the Institute, proposing a programme of collective research aimed at specific social groups that would highlight the problem of the relationship of history and reason. The Institute focused on integrating the views of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. The Frankfurt School attempted this by systematically hitching together the different conceptual structures of historical materialism and psychoanalysis.

In 1940, Horkheimer received American citizenship and moved to the Pacific Palisades district of Los Angeles, California, where his collaboration with Adorno would yield the Dialectic of Enlightenment. In 1942, Horkheimer assumed the directorship of the Scientific Division of the American Jewish Committee. In this capacity, he helped launch and organize a series of five Studies in Prejudice, which were published in 1949 and 1950. The most important of these was the pioneering study in social psychology entitled The Authoritarian Personality, itself a methodologically advanced reworking of some of the themes treated in a collective project produced by the Institute in its first years of exile, Studies in Authority and Family.

In the years that followed, Horkheimer did not publish much, although he continued to edit Studies in Philosophy and Social Science as a continuation of the Zeitschrift. In 1949, he returned to Frankfurt where the Institute for Social Research reopened in 1950. Between 1951 and 1953 Horkheimer was rector of the University of Frankfurt. In 1953, Horkheimer stepped down from director of the Institute and took on a smaller role in the Institute, while Adorno became director. Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno were seen as the fathers of the Institute.