The Frankfurt School (German: Frankfurter Schule) refers to a school of neo-Marxist interdisciplinary social theory, associated in part with the Institute for Social Research at the University of Frankfurt am Main. The school initially consisted of dissident Marxists who believed that some of Marx's followers had come to parrot a narrow selection of Marx's ideas, usually in defense of orthodox Communist parties. Meanwhile, many of these theorists believed that traditional Marxist theory could not adequately explain the turbulent and unexpected development of capitalist societies in the twentieth century. Critical of both capitalism and Soviet socialism, their writings pointed to the possibility of an alternative path to social development.
Although sometimes only loosely affiliated, Frankfurt School theorists spoke with a common paradigm in mind, thus sharing the same assumptions and being preoccupied with similar questions. In order to fill in the perceived omissions of traditional Marxism, they sought to draw answers from other schools of thought, hence using the insights of antipositivist sociology, psychoanalysis, existential philosophy, and other disciplines. The school's main figures sought to learn from and synthesize the works of such varied thinkers as Kant, Hegel, Marx, Freud, Weber and Lukács.
Following Marx, they were concerned by the conditions which allowed for social change and the establishment of rational institutions. Their emphasis on the "critical" component of theory was derived significantly from their attempt to overcome the limits of positivism, materialism and determinism by returning to Kant's critical philosophy and its successors in German idealism, principally Hegel's philosophy, with its emphasis on dialectic and contradiction as inherent properties of reality.
Since the 1960s, Frankfurt School critical theory has increasingly been guided by Jürgen Habermas' work on communicative reason, linguistic intersubjectivity and what Habermas calls "the philosophical discourse of modernity". More recently, critical theorists such as Nikolas Kompridis have voiced opposition to Habermas, claiming that he has undermined the aspirations for social change which originally gave purpose to critical theory's various projects—for example the problem of what reason should mean, the analysis and enlargement of "conditions of possibility" for social emancipation, and the critique of modern capitalism.
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“A monarch, when good, is entitled to the consideration which we accord to a pirate who keeps Sunday School between crimes; when bad, he is entitled to none at all.”
—Mark Twain [Samuel Langhorne Clemens] (18351910)