Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Max Horkheimer on Montaigne

Max Horkheimer's take on Montaigne is far harsher than that of Ivan Sviták. (See previous post and Sviták's essay on Montaigne.)

Horkheimer, Max. "Montaigne and the Function of Skepticism" (1938), in Between Philosophy and Social Science: Selected Early Writings, translated by G. Frederick Hunter, Matthew S. Kramer and John Torpey (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1993), pp. 265-311.

Horkheimer sees skepticism, especially in the bourgeois period, as fundamentally conservative. He lays out the contemporaneous situation viz. the rising bourgeoisie, intensification of labor exploitation, the rise of Protestantism and its effect on Catholicism, the indictment of Montaigne by fellow-reactionary Pascal. Horkheimer analyzes skepticism as bourgeois inwardness, religion as the indispensable irrationalist undergirding of bourgeois rationalist existence, Hume's skepticism as liberal bourgeois status quo, the skeptical ego (290) esp. from the early bourgeois to the imperialist epoch, skepticism's adaptation to tyranny, transformation of skepticism into conformism, nationalism and fascism in 1938, hatred of the masses and celebration of Montaigne in the 19th century, Nietzsche's admiration for Montaigne (303-4), Dilthey's conservatism and advocacy of Montaigne, D.F. Strauss's demythologization of Christianity and its compatibility with authoritarianism, Hegel's dialectics as a way out, materialist dialectics vs. the unity of thought and history.

Here are a few choice quotes:

 "Just as bourgeois individuals reserve philosophy for their leisure hours and thus turn it into idle thought, knowledge and critique are isolated in the society as particular aspects of business." [p. 289]

"The idiocy of the notion that an individual or collectivity can save itself or the world by conciliation with the spreading rule of violence has now become so patently obvious that it can only be understood as a thinly veiled sympathy with that rule, or as an anxiety about sunk capital." [p. 293]

"The further society develops, the more obviously this principle [bourgeois equality], and with it that of bourgeois freedom, reveal their internal contradictions. The continued dominance of this principle, the skeptical rejection of revolutionary activity, and the hostility toward critique of the totality thus have something cynical about them. They reveal subordination to irrational relations, not integration into rational ones." [p. 295]

"Skepticism is a pathological form of intellectual independence: it is immune to truth as well as to untruth." [p. 307]


"To be sure, it is typical of skepticism, as well as of the dominant character as such, to ascribe the vulgar motives--according to which alone the rulers of the world act--not to them and their principle, but to the idea of humanity itself. The difference here is that the critical theory which we espouse, in contrast to skepticism, does not make an antitheoretical absolutism of the insight into the inadequacy of things as they are and the transitoriness of cognition. Instead, even in the face of pessimistic assessments, critical theory is guided by the unswerving interest in a better future." [p. 311]

For noteworthy philosophical generalizations see esp. pp. 270-4, 278-9, 284-5, 290, 295.

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