Dialectic of Enlightenment (German: Dialektik der Aufklärung), is the core text of Critical Theory explaining the socio-psychological status quo that had been responsible for, what the Frankfurt School considered, the failure of the Enlightenment.
In essence, Adorno and Horkheimer argue that the Enlightenment turned "magical" culture, which looked for associations, analogies, and relationships, into a scientific culture, which sought to reduce everything to the irreducible, to base units of measurement, to the smallest particles, and as often as possible to numbers. This resulted in an inability to address problems of relationships, and often of anything to do with the irrational (e.g., sexuality, emotion, etc.), as well as larger cultural concerns that could not be reduced to the individual. The ideological structure had the tendency, common to most political ideologies, of arguing for its own accuracy. This kind of enlightenment thinking, they argue, always implicitly claims that anything that is not reducible or quantifiable is simply not worth paying attention to. It is immaterial in the metaphorical sense: it might as well not exist. Thus, concepts as divergent as subjectivity (which cannot be measured or objectified) and collective action (which is always understood as merely the action of many individuals) cannot be understood because precisely what needs to be understood is relational and/or subjective. This "magical" versus "scientific" thinking is easily recognizable in the two solitudes of contemporary Humanities and Sciences research in universities.
Written by Frankfurt School philosophers Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, the book made its first appearance in 1944 under the title Philosophische Fragmente by Social Studies Association, Inc., New York. A revised version was published in 1947 by Querido Verlag in Amsterdam with the title Dialektik der Aufklärung. It was reissued in 1969 by S Fischer Verlag GmbH. There have been two English translations: the first by John Cumming (New York: Herder and Herder, 1972) and a more recent translation, based on the definitive text from Horkheimer's collected works, by Edmund Jephcott (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002). It has had a major effect on 20th century philosophy, sociology, culture, and politics, inspiring especially the New Left of the 1960s and 1970's.
The work contains: