A Note on the Anniversary of my Favorite Dream

Yes, I know, this site has (shall we say?) been rather quiet in recent years. The explanation, in part, is that I have been chasing down other rabbit holes and have been reluctant to burden it with the fruits of those explorations, which involve topics foreign to its official concerns. But, after turning in my grades for this semester and making a note of that accomplishment in my journal, I glanced at the other entries that I’d entered for this date and found that this is the seventeenth anniversary of one of the loveliest dreams I have ever had:

I am at home and the various members of the Frankfurt School (Adorno, Marcuse, Horkheimer) have appeared in my dining room, like spirits, or like the baseball players in Field of Dreams. They are pleasant enough people, Adorno is somewhat befuddled, Marcuse is rather cheerful and ironic. They talk with each other, and I try to insinuate myself into their conversation. I am the only one who can see them and I am aware that I must be very gentle with them, to prevent them from realizing that they no longer exist. Their appearing in my house strikes me as a wonderful miracle and makes me very happy.

Not least among its charms is that the dream I had seventeen years ago more or less describes how I’ve been spending my time during the last several decades — listening into the conversations of those who are no longer with us. The past is a foreign country — and it’s full of dead people.

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A Postscript to “What Was Theodor Adorno Doing in Thomas Mann’s Garden”

Back in 2013, I posted a discussion of the peculiar story that Katia Mann told in her memoirs about Theodor Adorno’s alleged demand that Thomas Mann rectify his failure to mention Max Horkheimer in his account of the writing of Doctor Faustus by writing a review of Dialectic of Enlightenment for the New York Times.  According to Katia, Mann attempted to read the book, but — unable to make any sense of it — farmed it off to his son Golo, who churned out a review that was published under Thomas Man’s name in the New York Times.

Katia Mann’s story has multiple holes in it, not least of which is fact that the New York Times never published a review of Dialectic of Enlightenment.  But a review of Paul Massing’s Rehearsal for Destruction by Thomas Mann did appear in the New York Times.  I went on to offer the following guess as to what might actually have happened:

Horkheimer could well have sent Adorno to Thomas Mann’s house with a copy of Rehearsal for Destruction, reasoning that Mann owed Adorno and the Institute a favor. But, pace Katia, it is hard to see why Mann would have found anything in Rehearsal for Destruction that might have proven difficult for him to understand (after all, he’d read Adorno’s Philosophy of New Music and known which passages were good to steal and also seems to have attempted to do the same thing with the Philosophische Fragmente). It is, on the other hand, quite easy to see why Mann might have had little interest in reading it: there was nothing in it that was relevant for his current writing. So, he could very well have farmed it out to his son Golo and then passed it off to the New York Times as his own work.

I recently picked up a copy of Thomas Mann’s diaries and decided to see what light, if any, they could shed on the matter.  It turns out that, wonder of wonders, I managed to get most of the story right, but missed a few twists.

Mann reports that on the evening of November 9, 1949, Horkheimer visited Mann, talked about Massing’s book, and extracted a commitment from Mann to review it. Horkheimer returned on the afternoon of November 17 and explained the book’s argument to Mann.  By November 18 it was clear to Mann that he was getting nowhere on the review and, four days latter, passed responsibility for the writing the review of Massing to Golo and began thinking about his earlier sketch of Felix Krull into a novel.

So, Katia’s claim about Mann having asked Golo to review of Dialectic of Enlightenment was, as I suspected, in fact a request for Golo to take over the chore of reviewing Massing’s book.  And, as I conjectured, Mann’s lack of interest in Massing’s book had less to do with its difficulties than with Mann’s desire to move on to other work.  Finally (and sadly), in place of Katia’s memorable image of Adorno trudging through the family’s garden, we have a far more prosaic visit from Horkheimer.

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The Source List for the 1790 Table of Usages of the Term “Aufklärung”

What follows is the “List of Examples” that appears at the start of Part II of the “Kritischer Versuch über das Wort Aufklärung (Beschluss),” Deutsche Monatschrift III (November 1790): 205–37.  Whenever possible, I have added links to the full text of the examples (I will continue to add additional links when I have the time) and, in those cases where subsequent scholarship has identified the authors of articles published anonymously, have inserted (in square brackets) their names.

The author preceded each of the entries on the list with a letter, which served as a way of referring to the text in the discussions of the differing usages that constituted the second part of the essay (I should confess that the rationale for the assignment of letters escapes me).  The letters J, V., and W. were not employed.

I’ll have more to say about what is (and, especially, what isn’t) on the list in a future post.

A. Berlinisches Journal für Aufklärung herausgegeben von G. N. Fischer und A. Riem. Berlin 1788. 89.

B. [Riem Andres], Über Aufklärung, 1tes und 2tes Fragment 4te Aufl. Berlin 1788

C. [Triebel, Johann C.], Beleuchtung der Schrift: Uber Aufklärung, 2. Aufl., Berlin 1788.

D. Fragment über die Aufklärung, von J. G. Schlosser. In dessen kleinen Schriften Th. 4, Basel 1785.

E. Philosophisches Magazin, herausgegeben von J. A. Eberhard, Halle 1788.

F Bemerkungen über das Preussische Religionsedikt, von Heinrich Würzer, Berlin 1788.

G. Wohlgemeinte Erinnerungen an ausgemachte, aber doch leicht zu vergessende Wahrheiten, von D. W. A. Teller, Berlin 1788.

H. Das Recht der Fürst über die Religion ihrer Unterthanen, Halle 1789.

I. Versuch über die Aufklärung des Landmannes, von R. Z. Becker, Dessau und Leipzig 1785.

K. [Bahrdt, Carl Friedrich] Über Pressefreyheit und deren Grenzen, Züllichau 1787.

L. Über Friedrichs des Grossen, von dem Ritter von Zimmermann, Hannover 1788.

M. Vertheidigung Friedrich des Grossen gegen den Grafen von Mirabeau, von dem Ritter von Zimmermann, Hannover 1788.

N. [Rochow, Friedrich Eberhard von, “Bemerkungen über die Abhandlung im März-Stück der Berliner Monatsschrift 1789, betitelt: ‘Verba valent, sicut nummi’: oder von der Wortmünze”], Braunschweigisches Journal, philosophischen, philologischen med pädagogischen Inhalts. Herausgegeben von E. C. Trapp, J. Stuve, C. Heusinger und J. H. Campe, Brannschweig 1788 f.

O. Väterlicher Rath für meine Tochter. Ein Gegenstück zum Theophron, von J. H. Campe, Braunschweig 1789.

P. Über die wahren Quellen des Nationalwohlstandes, Freiheit, Volksmenge, Fleiss, von August Hennings, Kopenhagen und Leipzig I785.

Q. Winke für gute Fürsten, Prinzenerzieher and Volksfreunde, von M[artin] Ehlers, Erster Teil, Kiel und Hamburg I786.

R. Über den Umgang mit Menschen, von A. Freiherr v. Knigge, 2 T., Hannover 1788.

S. Lehrbuch der Staatspolizeiwissenschaft, von I .H. Jung (Johann Heinrich Jung-Stilling), Leipzig 1788.

T. Skizze der Kultur und Aufklärung des achtzehnten Jahrhunderts im journal des Luxus und der Moden, August 1789.

U. Geschichte des menschlichen Verstandes, von Karl Friedrich Flögel, 3te Aufl., Breslau 1776.

X. Berlinische Monatsschrift. Herausgegeben von Gedike und Biester, Juni 1789.

Y. An den Verfasser der Fragmente: Über Aufklärung, von dem Reichsgrafen von G… Berlin 1788.

Z. Edikt, die Religionverfassung in den Preussischen Staaten betreffend, d. d. Potsdam, den 9. Juli 1788.

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The Word “Enlightenment”: A German Table of Usages from 1790

Discussions of  German attempts to answer the question “what is enlightenment?” have tended to focus on the debate launched in the pages of the Berlinische Monatsschrift by the clergyman Johann Friedrich Zöllner.  In the course of a December 1783 critique of an earlier article in the journal that had recommended that no longer having clergy participate in marriage ceremonies would benefit both “enlightened” and “unenlightened” citizens, Zöllner inserted a footnote that read:

What is enlightenment?  This question, which is almost as important as what is truth, should indeed be answered before one begins to enlighten!  And still I have never found it answered!

The rest (as they say) is history:  the following September, the journal published Moses Mendelssohn’s attempt to answer Zöllner’s question and, three months later, Immanuel Kant weighed in.  Other responses followed, none of them remotely as famous as those of Kant and Mendelssohn.

I’ve been spending a good part of the last year to revisiting German discussions of the question “what is enlightenment?” over the course of the two centuries that separate Mendelssohn and Kant’s answers from the aborted “debate that never was” between Jürgen Habermas and Michel Foucault.  In the course of my work, I’ve spent some time trying to make sense of a text that I’d cited in passing and briefly discussed at the close of an earlier post on this blog:  “Kritischer Versuch über das Wort Aufklärung, zur Beylegung der darüber geführten Streitigkeiten” [“Critical Inquiry Regarding the Word Aufklärung: Towards a Settling of the Leading Disputes”], an anonymous article that appeared in two parts in the Deutsche Monatschrift (Part I appeared in the September 1790, pp. 11–44 and Part II in November 1790: 205–37).  One of the virtues of this peculiar article is that tends to complicate the account of the eighteenth-century German discussion of the question “what is enlightenment?” that I, along with others, have been offering.

What I’d like to do in this post is to lay out some of the material that I’ve been working on in the hope of prompting a broader discussion of an article that, while not entirely unknown, has yet to receive the attention that it deserves.  In this post I’ll begin by saying a few things about the structure of the article and then offer a translation of what its author clearly viewed as the article’s most significant achievement:  its systematic table of usages of the term Aufklärung.  Future posts may take a deeper dive into some of the issues raised by the table of usages and, more generally, by the article itself.

A Brief Overview

As its title indicates the author saw the article as an attempt to settle the “leading disputes” involving the meaning of the word Aufklärung. Drawing on twenty-three books and articles published between 1776 and 1789, the diverging ways in which term had been used were laid out in outline form at the close of the first part of the article.

The article opened with a brief sampling of some of the ways in which the term had been used and concluded that:

thousands and thousands of German men and women have used it, but without any conventions. Almost everyone has given another meaning, which are sometimes more and sometimes less related.

Proceeding from the premise that new words enter a language as a way of designating new concepts, the author proceeded to work backward to the “sentiments and representations” that the word Aufklärung was allegedly attempting to capture: namely, an extension of representations of water (i.e., clear vs murky) and sky (clear vs cloudy) — both of which presupposed an eye sharp enough to perceive these differences — to the domain of cognition. What was ultimately at issue in the question “what is enlightenment?”, then, was the question of whether a further clarification of human cognitive capacities was “possible or impossible, useful or harmful.”

With these preliminaries out of the way (and I should note that my summary cuts quite a bit from what is a rather prolix discussion), the first part of the article concluded with a table of usages that it is both perplexing and fascinating.


The Table of Usages

The table is laid out in the form of outline that, beginning with a distinction between the use of Aufklärung as a way of designating a “quality, situation, [or] condition” that certain entities possess and uses of the term to refer to an “activity” or “ongoing action” that sought to bring about a certain condition, proceeds to trace the various ways in which the term had been used.  Twenty-one of the entries on the table end with Roman numerals that direct readers to the similarly-numbered discussions of these usages that constituted the second part of the article.  The result is likely to strike present-day readers as hopelessly obscure — and not just because of a system of outlining that is quite different from any of the conventions that we currently use.

Here is the table that readers of Deutsche Monatsschrift would have confronted when they turned to the closing pages of the first part of the article:

(NB:  The above version of the table corrects errors in the version that was initially posted).

Readers who are not used to dealing with Fraktur fonts (I had the good fortune of going to a  high school that, since it lacked the resources to purchase new textbooks, made do with outdated textbooks that still employed them) may find Zvi Batscha’s modernized version edition of the text (which appears in his Aufklärung und Gedankenfreiheit : Fünfzehn Anregungen, aus der Geschichte zu Lernen (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1977), 45–94) somewhat more readable.  But, unfortunately, Suhrkamp opted not to indent any of the entries, thus defeating the rationale for casting the table in the form of an outline and producing a text that is rather difficult to follow (there are also other errors in the text).

Part A (Batscha)Part B (Batscha)

Finally, let me attempt a translation, which has benefitted from discussions with my friends Manfred Kuehn and Ken Haynes (who, of course, are not responsible for my blunders;  I have had, for example, grave misgivings about my rendering of Masse as “masses” in Α) 1) a) α) (b) and (after helpful suggestions from Ken and from Kevin Hilliard) have made modifications in the translation, which remains a work in progress.  In response to a suggestion from a reader, the current version adheres to the author’s outlining convention (an earlier version of the post had used a modern convention), which employs Greek letters at the fourth level, italicized lower-case letters at the sixth level, and italicized Greek letters at the seventh level. I’ve attempted to make it somewhat easier to follow by using different colors for the different levels of the outline (sadly, I haven’t figured out a way to remove the bullets that WordPress uses in its construction of outlines).

  • Α) Quality, Situation, Condition
    • 1)  of a human being, namely:
      • a) a persisting possession
        • α)  historical or common knowledge
          • (1)  determined by the masses degree I.
          • (2)  determined methodically by kind.  Namely, historical knowledge
            • (a)  of biblical religion II.
            • (b)  of Deism, associated with immorality III
        • β)  rational knowledge
          • (1)  of objects in general IV.
          • (2)  of certain specific objects V.
        • γ)   an unrestricted knowledge of all objects VI.
      • b)   a result of the successive growth of clear concepts VII.
    • 2)    of things other than human beings, namely
      • a)   of the state and its institutions, namely
        • α) useful public institutions VIII.
        • β) freedom of thought, speech, and the press IX.
      • b)   of the sciences in the objective sense
        • α) the perfection of sciences in general X.
        • β) perfection of certain specific sciences XI.
        • γ) the incorporation of heterodox religious beliefs XII.
        • δ) unspecified didactic objects
  • Β)  As an activity, an ongoing action, which is related to the condition brought about by it as
    • 1) an effective cause, namely:  the activity of subjective reason XIII.
    • 2) a means of advancement. The means of advancement occurs
      • a) through private effort, which aims
        • α) at the refinement of mankind, namely
          • (1) through the development of the understanding.  Here the expression ‘enlightenment’ refers to
            • (a) different forms of knowledge, and refers to the means of their advancement
              • (α)  subjective cognition in general XIV
              • (β)  rational cognition in particular XV
            • (b) different methods of instruction which are
              • (α)  the explanation of visible things XVI
              • (β) the explanation foreign words XVII
              • (γ) the articulation of opinions XVIII
          • (2) through the cultivation of the heart  XIX
        • β) at the development and integration of the sciences in the objective sense XX
      • b) through public institutions and instruction. XXI


I’ve included the Roman numerals that the anonymous author inserted as a way of directing readers to the more detailed discussions undertaken in the second part of the article.  Retaining them will allow me to set up links from the outlines to any later discussions I might wind up posting.

But, for the moment, it may be enough simply to lay out this table and see what readers of the blog might make of it.  I’d be interested in any corrections or comments that readers might have about my translation of the Table.  And, should anyone be interested enough to attempt translations of the discussions in Part II of the article, I’d be more than happy to post them here.

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The Making and the Marketing of the Philosophische Fragmente (Part II)

The first installment of my investigation into the making and marketing of the Philosophische Fragmente — the preliminary version of Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment — closed with the ever-faithful and constantly over-worked Leo Lowenthal waiting for Max Horkheimer to give him permission to send the émigré bookseller Marianne Salloch a summary of the book she could include in a catalog that would announce its availability to the general public. At the beginning of August 1944, Horkheimer — annoyed by Lowenthal’s increasing anxieties and perplexed “why all this had to become the subject of a telegraphic message” — decided to postpone any action on the matter for a month. This left Lowenthal sweltering in the New York heat while, in Los Angeles, a “very tired and physiologically nervous” Horkheimer attempted “to do some work.”1

During the long hiatus between that post and this one I, like Horkheimer, have been trying to get some work done, most of it devoted to a further exploration of the confusions and reservations that various eighteenth-century Germans seem to have had about the newly popular term Aufklärung. But from time to time, depending on the caprices of location and time, I’ve slipped into various archives and done my best to pin down further details about the final arrangements for the distribution of the Philosophische Fragmente. While these efforts have not answered all of my questions, I’ve reached the point where I doubt (for reasons that will soon become clear) that I’m likely to learn anything beyond what I’ve been able to find out. This post might, then, best be regarded as a final report on an investigation that still has quite a few lacunae. I would, of course, welcome any further details that readers (especially those at universities with large collections of antiquarian book catalogues dating from the 1940s) might be able to contribute. But, at least for now, this is, as they say, a “cold case” and I have other fish to fry.

Horkheimer’s Reservations

Horkheimer’s letter to Lowenthal of August 5, 1944 suggests that he had multiple reasons for suspending the plan to sell copies of the Philosophische Fragmente though the émigré booksellers William and Marianne Salloch. As discussed at the close of my previous post, he had reservations about Lowenthal’s plan to solicit endorsements of the book from other members of the émigré community, endorsements that Lowenthal intended to use in the ultimate marketing of the book. In the telegram he sent to Lowenthal in advance of his August 5 letter, Horkheimer observed that the “names on your list are not the right ones.” The letter that followed explained what was wrong with them: “it seems to me that almost all the names you mentioned belong to persons who are definitely supposed to be the targets and not the sponsors of the book.”

It would appear, however, that Horkheimer’s misgivings went beyond whatever reservations he had about soliciting endorsements from the likes of Thomas Mann, Paul Tillich, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Charles Beard.

Seriously speaking, I thank you for the thought you have devoted to the subject, but I think it is really better to skip it for a couple of weeks. There is a chance, though only a slight one, that I might really make another trip to New York in September (please treat it very confidentially).

Horkheimer did, in fact, travel to New York and, in meetings with representatives of the American Jewish Committee, finalized plans for the research project that would produce the “Studies in Prejudice” series.

Beyond offering Horkheimer the opportunity to engage in the sort of interdisciplinary research project in which the Institute had been engaged prior to its exile, the project solved a number of the Institute’s more pressing concerns. The supporting grant from the AJC went a long way to addressing its continuing financial needs and the projected series of studies promised to rebut the increasing concern among some members of the Sociology department at Columbia that the Institute had failed to live up its promise since arriving in America.2 But the new project was not without its costs.

First, and most immediately, the increased demands that it placed on Horkheimer and Adorno posed a challenge to their continued collaboration on the revision and completion of the Philosophische Fragmente, a concern that would grow ever more intense over the next year. At the same time, it is conceivable that it may have heightened Horkheimer’s concern that, even with further censoring by Lowenthal, the publication of the uncompromisingly critical Fragmente might present the Institute and its Director in a rather different light from the image that was being carefully cultivated in the final weeks of September 1944.3The grant also weakened the chief rationale for taking the unusual step of “publishing” a mimeographed edition of what remained an unfinished work: the idea was to use the profits from its sales to cover the cost of producing the “deluxe” edition that would be distributed to select members of the Institute. Since the prospect of AJC funding increased the potential risks of following through with the plan while, at the same time, undercut the rationale for pursuing it, the ever-cautious Horkheimer might well have wondered whether the potential benefit still outweighed the potential risks. But, at the very moment when Horkheimer was entering into the final phase of negotiations with the AJC, the option of cancelling the distribution of the paperbound edition of Fragmente was taken out of his hands.

Enter Miss Rosenberg

When Margot von Mendelssohn laid out the general plan for the production to the mimeograph to Lowenthal in her letter to Lowenthal of May 2, 1944 she raised the possibility of “selling them through maybe Salloch or other agents.” While Marianne Salloch waited for Lowenthal to send her the blurb he had promised, one of these “other agents” announced the forthcoming publication of the book.

In a letter dated September 22 that, for the most part, was devoted to summarizing the agreement that had been reached with the AJC, Lowenthal offered the following aside:

By the way I did wrong to Miss Rosenberg. Her new catalogue contains an announcement of your book. I have not seen it yet but was told so by her. I shall write a prospectus in the next days. Don’t you think we could now send the copies to Mrs. Salloch? Sales will start without and before a prospectus will have been released.

With the publication of the book now announced, the question of whether or not to publicize the book had been rendered moot: “Miss Rosenberg” had taken the decision out of Horkheimer’s hands.

Mary S. Rosenberg had arrived in New York in November 1939.4 The daughter of the Bavarian bookseller Georg Rosenberg, she had begun working in her parents’ store as a teenager and assumed responsibility for the firm after his death in May 1933. The store’s stock was almost immediately confiscated by the National Socialist regime as part of its actions against Jewish-owned business. Permitted to sell books to Jewish customers only, she continued to operate a mail order business from her home until the outbreak of hostilities, at which point she escaped to England and then to the United States, where she opened an antiquarian bookstore in her apartment in January 1940, buying books from émigrés in need of money and selling them to émigrés with a need for books. She went on to become one of the more successful émigré booksellers and, by 1944, had established a close working relationship with the Los Angeles émigré publishers Felix Guggenheim and Ernst Gottlieb.

Like Rosenberg, Guggenheim and Gottlieb were German Jews who fled Germany in 1939. They met after having made their way to Los Angeles, where their common interest in book collecting led to the establishment of the Pazifische Presse, an independent publisher that,  in 1942, launched an unusual and ambitious publishing program. Drawing on the contacts they had established with émigré authors who had settled in Los Angeles (e.g., Gottlieb, who had been making a living as a portrait photographer, had become Thomas Mann’s photographer of choice) they solicited subscribers for a series of books, in German, by Thomas Mann, Franz Werfel, Bruno Frank, Leonhard Frank, Alfred Neumann, Friedrich Torberg, Alfred Doblin, and Lion Feuchtwanger.

Subscribers received “deluxe” editions, which were numbered, published in a limited run of 250 copies, bound with leather around the spine, and signed by their authors. Arrangements were made with authors for a subsequent “trade edition” of at least 750 volumes. The books were printed by the Plantin Press, a small firm that had been established in 1931 by the Polish émigrés Saul and Lillian Marks and had made its reputation by producing fine quality antiquarian book catalogs. The total cost for the first seven volumes was $12.75.5 Guggenheim and Gottlieb handled the distribution of the deluxe editions, but sent the trade editions to German booksellers in New York for distribution, with Rosenberg becoming the sole distributor of the series in 1944.

The arrangements for publication of the Philosophische Fragemente, with its production of both a “deluxe” edition to be distributed to friends and associates of the Institute and a cheaper paper-covered edition to be sold on the open market, mimics — albeit at a considerably lower level of quality — the practice at the Pazifische Presse. The similarity does not appear to have been accidental: Guggenheim was in contact with Herbert Herz, the printer responsible for producing the Fragmente and Adorno was in contact with Guggenheim.6 The Fragmente had at least one other thing in common with the Pazifische Presse series: the overriding concern in both cases was to establish a clear copyright claim for German texts.  Under the regulations in force at this point, copyright could be granted to German language publications only if they had been  “manufactured in the United States.”7 The Philosophische Fragmente may have been a “message in a bottle,” but its authors made sure that, prior to tossing into the sea, they had secured its copyright.

Lowenthal’s Prospectus

As Lowenthal noted in his letter to Horkheimer of September 22, Rosenberg’s announcement of the availability of the Philosophische Fragmente had created a somewhat awkward situation for Marianne Salloch, who was now responsible for selling a book whose publication she had not announced in her own catalog, but which had been mentioned in Rosenberg’s. Matters may have been further complicated by what would seem (at least as far as I have been able to determine) to be the considerably smaller circulation of Rosenberg’s catalogs: at this point Salloch’s customers were regularly receiving substantial paper bound topical catalogs as well as printed newsletters. The only surviving materials dating from this period produced by Rosenberg’s firm were mimeographed sheets (in some cases single-page, in others multipage). With Salloch having been left waiting for the prospectus of a book that Rosenberg had already announced, Lowenthal was finally given permission to send a brief description of the book.

Lowenthal’s summary (which can be examined via the online Horkheimer Archive at Frankfurt) was based on Horkheimer and Adorno’s own Preface and began by explaining,

This is the first publication of fragments of a philosophical Work in Progress the completion of which may still take several years. While the basic aim is a critical analysis of civilization in today’s phase of large-scale industrial combines, manipulative control, technification and standardization, it seeks the roots of the blatant crisis of modern culture in its pre-history and in the formative process through which mankind established control over nature. The poles in which the movement of thought is centered are the concepts of mythology and enlightenment.

A brief summary of the individual chapters followed. It is, perhaps, notable that, after initially employing the term “culture industry”, Lowenthal crossed it out and replaced it with the words “modern industrialized culture.” In a formulation that hews closely to a passage in the Preface that later, less careful readers, have tended to overlook, he took pains to stress that

the general aim of this whole philosophy to defend and fortify enlightenment by bringing to the fore its own pernicious implications. While remaining thoroughly faithful to the humanistic ideals of enlightenment, this philosophy incorporates all those critical elements which were formerly used in order to disavow those ideals for reactionary purposes.

Frankly acknowledging the unfinished character of the manuscript while offering prospective readers a clear account of its aims, Lowenthal crafted a faithful and concise précis of a difficult book. But there are reasons for questioning whether it was ever used.

Dead Ends

Over the last several months I have spent a few idle hours tracking down and browsing through the catalogs published by William Salloch Booksellers for the period in question and have been unable to find an announcement of the availability of the Philosophische Fragmente. The most fruitful collections that I consulted were at the New York Public Library and at the Yale’s Beinecke Library (while Columbia University also has a large collection of Salloch catalogs, their collection begins after the date in question).

During this period, Salloch produced both paper-bound thematic catalogs and mimeographed lists of newly available books. The former contained extensive information about rare books and incunabula from a particular period or on a particular topic that were available for purchase from the firm.  These catalogs have survived because they provided a resource that library acquisition departments preserved for further reference. But, their thematic focus makes them an unlikely venue for publicizing a mimeographed edition of a recently published philosophical text. For example, the only catalog dating from 1944 that I have been able to track down resides at the Beinecke.  It is devoted to books from “The Middle Ages” and (of course) contains no announcement of the availability of the Philosophische Fragmente.

Though the periodic mimeographed flyers produced by the Sallochs were generally not the sort of publication that library acquisition departments were likely to preserve, the New York Public Library has quite a few of them (it seems that, at some point, the various catalogs and announcements that had been housed in the acquisitions department were sent, en masse to a storage facility in New Jersey).  But none mention the availability of the Philosophische Fragmente. Finally, even if Salloch did place an announcement for the work in one of the many flyers that I have not been able to track down, it is unlikely that Lowenthal’s prospectus would have appeared in it without considerable editing: the announcements in the flyers that I have consulted were typically were limited to three or four sentences.

Nor have I been able to confirm Lowenthal’s claim that Mary Rosenberg announced the availability of the book in one of her catalogs. As far as I can tell, during this period Rosenberg limited herself to producing flyers of varying size and printed on varying media.  For example, one of the lists at the Beinecke is a typed carbon copy on onionskin and others appear to be mimeographed, some on paper that is now stiffed with age and quite fragile. While a fair number of these flyers do contain sections announcing of recently available German books, none of the ones that I was able to examine included an announcement of the Philosophische Fragmente. This, of course, does not rule out the possibility that she did, in fact, place an announcement in one of the flyers that was not preserved, but in the absence of a complete inventory of her flyers (which, at this point, is probably an unlikely prospect), there is no way of knowing what I might have missed. Finally, it is also possible that Rosenberg was content to notify her customers of the availability of Horkheimer and Adorno’s work in the same way that she seems to have publicized the availability of the Pazifische Presse volumes: though direct contact with individuals with whom she had been doing business. Were this the case, the likelihood that the flyer announcing the Philosophische Fragmente survives is slim indeed.

Summing Up: What We Know and What We Don’t Know

A search on WorldCat for the title Philosophische Fragmente with the keyword “mimeographed” indicates that there are 24 copies currently residing in libraries around the world. One of the three library copies that I’ve been able to examine (yes, I know, I’m a bit obsessive about such things — everyone needs a hobby horse and I spend a lot of time visiting libraries) may have been one of the “deluxe” editions. The other two have been rebound by the libraries that hold them and might have been among the 280 copies that were allegedly shipped to William Salloch Booksellers in the autumn of 1944. Other copies are likely reside in private collections or individual archives or were never cataloged by World Cat (I have no idea what percentage of the world’s book have actually made it onto WorldCat). We can also assume that at least some owners of the mimeographed edition subsequently traded up to the Querido edition and disposed of the 1944 mimeograph. From time to time copies of the 1944 mimeograph show up on the used book market — indeed, earlier this year, I nabbed one of them. This is enough to convince me that Salloch must have received at least some of the 280 copies that she was supposed to get. But what happened to them after their arrival is anyone’s guess.

It is likely that she shared them with Rosenberg (there is a thesis to be written on the ways in which émigré women aided each other in their effort to make their way in a strange new world). It is even possible that some of the unsold copies remained squirreled away in a back room of Salloch’s Seventh Avenue bookstore, neglected until she and her husband packed up their inventory and moved upstate. But I doubt that any surviving copies made the journey to Ossining.



  1. Horkheimer, letter to Lowenthal of August 5, 1944.
  2. For details, see Thomas Wheatland, The Frankfurt School in Exile (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009) and my “The ‘Eclipse of Reason’ and the End of the Frankfurt School in America,” New German Critique, no. 100 (January 1, 2007): 47–76.
  3. See the typescript of an article by “Boris Smolyar” from Forward, September 24, 1944, Section 2, p. 2. , which describes Horkheimer — “one of the greatest social scientists” — as directing a “special staff of psychiatrists, sociologists, economists and experts in political science.”
  4. Rosenberg is quite well covered in the secondary literature, figuring prominently in Ronald Jaeger, New Weimar on the Pacific:  The Pazifische Presse and German Exile Publishing 1942-1948 (Los Angeles: Victoria Daley, 2000) — on which I have drawn extensively in what follows. There is also a chapter devoted to her in Elfi Hartenstein, Jüdische Frauen im New Yorker Exil 10 Begegnungen (Berlin: Ed. Ebersbach, 2010) and a useful entry on her in Ernst Fischer’s indispensible Verleger, Buchhändler & Antiquare aus Deutschland und Österreich in der Emigration Nach 1933. Ein Biographisches Handbuch (Stuttgart: Verband Deutscher Antiquare e.V., 2011). I am deeply indebted to Ken Haynes for pointing out that she must have been the “Miss Rosenberg” to whom Lowenthal was referring,
  5. There is currently a complete set available from a German bookseller for a mere $8,334.59. Those who prefer to buy American can get a set from a bookseller in Sherman Oaks, CA for $12,000. 
  6. I hope to say about Adorno’s correspondence with Guggenheim in a later post.
  7. For a discussion of these points, see Jaeger 18, 42.
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The Making and the Marketing of the Philosophische Fragmente: A Note on the Early History of the Dialectic of Enlightenment (Part I)

title-page-extractReaders of this blog are likely aware that, three years before its publication by Querido
Verlag in 1947 , a preliminary version of Dialectic of Enlightenment circulated among friends and associates of the Institute for Social Research under the title Philosophische Fragmente. The text of the 1944 version differs in significant ways from the 1947 version and these differences have been meticulously documented in the 1987 critical edition produced for Horkheimer’s collected works by Gunzelin Schmid Noerr and his colleagues at the Horkheimer Archiv. These annotations, along with Noerr’s editorial afterword and a discussion of the significance of the changes by Willem van Reijen and Jan Bransen’s were carried over into Edmund Jephcott’s 2002 English translation.

Last May, I had the chance to meet Noerr at conference in Marburg on the Dialectic of Enlightenment that had been organized by Winfried Schröder and Sonja Lavaert and to acknowledge the debts that I (and, I am sure, many others) owe him. When I inquired, during our all-too brief conversations, about the availability of certain other Horkheimer manuscripts, I incurred yet another debt: he informed me that it was possible that what I was looking for might be available in the online archive of Horkheimer’s papers that was available from the Goethe Universitätbibliothek in Frankfurt. I wound up spending much of the summer working my way through the materials available on it. I incorporated some of the results of that research into forthcoming articles and, beginning with this post, will discuss other parts of it here.

This will be the first of two posts exploring the history of the production and distribution of the 1944 version. Though such questions have long been important for historians of the book, they have not, as far as I can tell, been of much interest to those of us who have been interested in Horkheimer and Adorno’s work. In light of the difficulties posed by works like Dialectic of Enlightenment this is, perhaps, understandable: the question of just what Horkheimer and Adorno were attempting to do in this enigmatic text has tended to overshadowed attempts at tracing the history of the work itself. And, since I am not a historian of the book, I should confess that the questions I am going to be exploring here are ones that I am not particularly well-equipped to address. As a result, what follows will no doubt wind up posing more questions than it answers.

I should also confess that I am concerned that what I will be presenting diverges on a few (though, fortunately, for the most part minor) points from the account offered by Noerr in his Editor’s Afterword to his edition.1 So Iet me begin by quoting his admirably concise account of the rationale for the genesis of the Philosophische Fragmente and then go on to indicate where my understanding of the implications of the manuscripts differs from his.

The reason for the decision initially not to commit Dialectic of Enlightenment to print was certainly not only the slender financial means and the uncertain academic, political, and geographical future of the Institute in the mid-1940s. This is indicated by the facts the hectographic edition was limited to about 500 copies and distributed only to specified recipients; that an American edition was not seriously considered; and, finally, that the text for the printed edition published three years later was subjected to thorough revision. None of this is surprising in the case of authors who were always concerned to ensure that their own theoretical utterances or those of others never became entirely detached from their systematic, historical, and social contexts.2

In what follows, I will be arguing that

  1. The initial plans for the distributing the Philosophische Fragmente suggest a potential audience that went beyond a group of “specified recipients” to whom Noerr alludes.3
  2. The process of revising the text — in part for theoretical, but also for “tactical” reasons — began as early as 1944 and at least some of these changes had already been incorporated in the 1944 version (which, in turn, was subjected to the further revisions that Noerr’s edition carefully documents).
  3. As a result it would appear that Horkheimer and Adorno had in mind something approximating an “American edition” of the work (albeit in a somewhat unorthodox form) even before they presented the work to its dedicatee on May 22, 1944.

I should also note two minor differences with Noerr’s account:

  • All of the references that I have been able to turn up indicate an edition of 300 rather than 500 copies.
  • It would appear that the text was a mimeograph rather than a hectograph.

Since Noerr has a far better understanding than I do of the relevant archival materials what follows are a set of conjectures that are offered for consideration and criticism (hence the rationale for posting it here rather than committing them to print). Whenever available, I’ve inserted links to the various materials on which I’ve drawn and look forward to any comments that might have about what I might have missed and where I have gone astray.

The Mimeograph and the Repeal of the Bourgeois Era

The Philosophische Fragmente originated as a gift for Horkheimer’s friend and colleague Friedrich Pollock and was presented to him on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday (May 22, 1944). But even before the manuscript was placed into the hands of its recipient, arrangements were being made for the production of a large number of copies of the text. In a letter to Lowenthal dated April 28, 1944, Horkheimer noted that he was devoting “every minute to the mimeographed issue” and asked Lowenthal, in his “usual office as censor” to review the text. Perhaps looking ahead to a further round of revisions that would undertaken should the work be published in a more conventional format, he advised Lowenthal, for the moment, to “overlook stylistic problems” since they would be “taken care of when it comes to the final printing of the completed work.” What mattered, for the moment, was a review of the manuscript “with a view to tactical matters.”4

Horkheimer explained the rationale for such scrutiny as follows:

Since we intend to have an edition of about 300 copies, there should be no passages which would constitute a serious obstacle against a distribution to a somewhat larger circle.

The number of copies that were to be produced, along with the discussion of “stencils” ready for printing in the letter sent to Lowenthal the same day by Horkheimer’s secretary Margot von Mendelssohn, confirm that the planned volume would, indeed, be a mimeograph, rather than a hectograph. Indeed, all of the parties connected with the production of the manuscript consistently describe it as a “mimeograph,” rather than a hectograph and the final page of the copy of the Philosophische Fragmente in the Horkheimer Archiv carries a note that removes any doubt about the process used to produce the text:

This book is manufactured under wartime conditions in conformity with all Government regulations controlling the use of paper and other materials
Mimeographed by Herbert Herz, Hollywood, California

Searches in various public records confirm the existence of a Herbert Herz Company at 7176 Sunset Blvd as late as 1956, but provide little insight into what services it might have provided.5 There is also a listing for a Herbert Herz in the Los Angeles City Directory for 1942, which gives his home address as 1790 Sunset Blvd. For those who might be curious, Herz’s firm was located about 12 miles from Horkheimer’s residence in Pacific Palisades (Adorno’s home was two miles closer to it).

Hectographic copies are produced using a process that involved pulling images from a gelatin pad. While the process remained popular among artists, political radicals, and
1944-ad-for-mimeographschool children, by the middle of the twentieth-century it had largely been supplanted by the “ditto machines” or “spirit duplicators” that those of us of a certain age may still
remember from our school days (I suspect that were I to smell one again, the past would invade my present). In contrast to these forms of reproduction, mimeographs were printed using a stencil mounted on an ink drum and yielded a product that more closely approximated a printed page. By 1944 the mimeograph had become the leading technology for reproducing texts in large quantities and it is possible that Herz’s firm possessed one of the automated models marketed by the A. B. Dick company, which — in an advertisement from the same year, touted the virtues of the machine as a way of replacing office workers who had been drafted into the war effort. In addition to the ability to produce a far larger number of copies than would be possible with the other available forms of reproduction, the machine’s use of stencils allowed for subsequent modifications of the text.6

Adorno provided an odd testimony to the mimeograph in the gift that he presented to Max Horkheimer on the occasion of Horkheimer’s fiftieth birthday: Minima Moralia.

In a world where books have lost all likeness to books, the real book can no longer be one. If the invention of the printing press inaugurated the bourgeois era, the time is at hand for its repeal by the mimeograph [Mimeographie], the only fitting, the unobtrusive means of dissemination.7

A technology that provided an “unobtrusive means of dissemination” was, of course, precisely what was needed to disseminate a work of daunting complexity written in a foreign language by two émigrés living at the epicenter of the culture industry. The ready availability of this particular technology allowed for this Flaschenpost to escape the uncertainties of an ocean journey. The few readers who wanted the text could get it the same way their fellow consumers got what they wanted: they could buy it.

On July 24, 1944, Adorno let his parents know that

the big mimeographed book by Max and myself, which is now finished, looks good and will be for sale from the autumn (191)

Though “unobstrusive”, the plan for the dissemination of this “book” that could “no longer be one” suggests that Horkheimer seems to have had something more in mind than its private distribution to a limited audience of friends and colleagues. A text that was grounded on the conviction that the “brief interlude of liberalism” had been supplanted by the iron hand of monopoly was, against all odds, about to enter a somewhat unlikely marketplace.

Marketing the Philosophische Fragmente

Margot von Mendelssohn’s letter to Lowenthal dated May 2, 1944 (i.e., twenty days before Pollock’s birthday) summarized the strategy for producing, copyrighting, distributing, and financing the book:

We intend to have 300 copies and contemplate selling them through maybe Salloch or other agents. Dr. Horkheimer even thinks of making some kind of prospectus for it. We want to give only a very limited number away to immediate friends and cover the not inconsiderable expenses through sale. For this reason we should have a publisher and I wonder whether we can bring it out as we did the Studies [i.e., Studies in Philosophy and Social Science] with “The Institute of Social Research, Morningside Heights, New York City” as publisher and the Copyright 1944 by Social Studies Association Inc. We would have the front page printed (as we had it with the German Project, as you will remember), about 280 copies stapled and fixed up as the Benjamin issue and 20 copies bound in stiff covers as the “de luxe” Benjamins.

Mendelssohn’s account of the publication plans indicates that, in effect, the Philosophische Fragmente exists in three different incarnations:

  1. First, there is the copy that was presented to Pollock on May 22. It would appear that this is the text (which, perhaps, survives in Pollock’s papers at Frankfurt) that, after further editing, served as the basis of the other two versions. Since the subsequent editing was carried on on existing mimeographed sheets, it is possible that the presentation copy was probably also a mimeograph as well, but not having seen this text (assuming it still exists) there is no way of knowing this for sure.
  2. There were also a limited number of “de luxe” editions, bound in stiff covers. These copies might best be understood as a sort of prestige object, to be given to close friends and associates of the Institute, but not available on the general public. We know, from Lowenthal’s letter to Horkheimer of August 10, 1944, that he was disappointed at not having received one of these treasured objects and asked whether the reason was that those copies were not yet available or if there was “any more serious reason behind it.” Given the amount of effort he had put into the production of the book, his disappointment was readily understandable.
  3. Finally, there are the other 280 copies of the book, which had paper covers and which would be sold as a way of generating the revenue for the “not inconsiderable expenses” involved in pulling off the entire venture. The text of this version, like the second, would differ from the copy presented to Pollock in that incorporated the revisions made to the text after its initial presentation. But, unlike the “de luxe” edition, it was intended for circulation beyond the charmed circle of friends and associates of the Institute.

In the draft of a telegram to Horkheimer dated May 13, Lowenthal indicated that he had reached an agreement with the agent to whom Mendelssohn had alluded in her letter.


The next day Mendelssohn sent Lowenthal a telegram asking him to clarify whether the projected “German mimeograph issue” had to be “marked yearbook or special issue” (i.e., whether it would presented as a further volume in the Studies in Philosophy and Social and Social Science) or whether “such notes” could be omitted. She also inquired (presumably referring to the “prospectus” mentioned in her letter of May 2), “whether publisher note English or German.”

Lowenthal responded the same day with a telegram informing her that:


These exchanges, naturally, prompt the question: “Who is Salloch?” Thanks to the

William and Marianne Salloch

William and Marianne Salloch

indispensable International League of Antiquarian Booksellers site we know that William and Marianne Salloch were booksellers who had come to New York in December 1936 and, three years later, founded “William Salloch, Old, Rare and Scholarly Books” at 334 E 17th Street.9  When William entered the US Army in 1942, Marianne assumed responsibility for running the business, which relocated to 142 Seventh Ave, South in Greenwich Village. The firm moved to Ossining, NY in 1957 and went on to become one of the most important American antiquarian booksellers, with a specialization in Renaissance and Baroque literature.10

It is not clear how Horkheimer came into contact with Salloch, but from 1940 onward Studies in Philosophy and Social Science (the title adopted for the English language editions of the Institute’s journal) directed inquiries regarding “subscriptions and business correspondence” to the Salloch’s address.11 All of the correspondence involving the sale of Philosophische Fragmente was with Marianne Salloch and, as the exchange of letters between Lowenthal and Mendelssohn indicates, their firm had been involved in the Institute’s earlier venture in producing mimeographed volumes: its 1942 memorial volume for Walter Benjamin, Walter Benjamin zum Gedächtnis12

Revising the Manuscript

Plans for the distribution of the Fragmente proceeded apace into June. By the middle of the month, Lowenthal had completed a review of the manuscript and sent Horkheimer an enthusiastic, albeit somewhat enigmatic, telegram praising the work. Horkheimer responded on June 14 with a lengthy letter that began by observing, “it is a fine thing that you like the book and I hope that the second part will still be much better.“ The “second part” would appear to be a reference to the projected, but never completed, sequel, which would carry out the formidable task of explaining how enlightenment might be rescued from the catastrophe that had befallen it.

That Horkheimer speaks of a “second part” of the book, rather than a “second book” is consistent with a somewhat enigmatic passage in the 1944 preface (which was removed from the 1947 version) stating:

If the good fortune of being able to work on such questions without the unpleasant pressure of immediate purposes should continue, we hope to complete the whole work in the not too distant future. ….13

This passage should serve as a reminder that Philosophische Fragmente was regarded by its authors as an incomplete work, requiring further elaboration before it could take its place among more conventionally published works. We know, from one of Adorno’s letters to his parents that, sometime before the beginning of May 1944, Querido Verlag accepted the Fragmente for publication. It is conceivable that Horkheimer and Adorno had (at least initially) intended for this projected revised version to incorporate the promised “second part.” But what would eventually be published in 1947 consisted of a revised version of the 1944 edition that adopted somewhat more circumspect language and eliminated the confessions of its incompleteness but did not provide an explanation of how the “rescue of enlightenment” might be effected.

But in the summer of 1944 Horkheimer’s concern was less with the completion of the Fragmente than with preparing what had already been written for distribution. He saw two tasks as paramount: 1) the completion of Lowethal’s revision of the manuscript that had been presented to Pollock in May and 2) the writing of a prospectus for use in Salloch’s catalog.

Lowenthal provided Horkheimer with a list of proposed revisions on June 17, 1944. His proposed changes fell into four categories:

  1. “Serious Problems”: which consisted of “strongly recommended” changes (and which, he estimated, would require the production of 10 or 20 new stencils).
  2. A revised table of contents
  3. A list of infelicities (Schoenheitsfehler) that could be addressed by making slight corrections on existing stencils
  4. A list of other possible changes that, while not imperative, could be made in those cases where Horkheimer found something else on the page in need of revision. The rationale here would appear to be that, since the stencils would need to be redone to incorporate Horkheimer’s proposed revisions, the replacement of the stencil would provide an opportunity for making other changes

Beyond providing a sense of the laborious process involved in the editing of mimeographs, Lowenthal’s lists reveal much about his function as Horkheimer’s editor and censor.

He began his list of “serious problems” with a general statement of his concerns:

I am concerned with two possible danger spots: with formulations which may bring about the impression that democratic society is everywhere conceived as a preceding stage to fascism, and with formulations which, if taken out of context, and use maliciously, may create the impression that the program of free love is proclaimed.

A series of suggestions for reformulations — and, in one case, the confession that “I don’t quite now what to do, but I am a little bit scared. In addition I do not understand the sentence” — followed.

But what may well be Lowenthal’s most puzzling change involves the “revised table of contents.” The proposal he sent to Horkheimer is precisely the table of contents that readers are accustomed to seeing, which prompts the question of how, exactly, the text that had been presented to Pollock had been organized. Unfortunately, I have found nothing in the Horkheimer papers to suggest what the original table of contents looked like (this, again, is a question that can only be decided by someone with access to the presentation copy of the Philosophische Fragmente).

Producing the Prospectus

The completion of the prospectus proved to be somewhat more problematic, in part because it was not immediately clear who would be responsible for undertaking it and, in part, because it became bound up with disagreements between Horkheimer and Lowenthal about the advisability of soliciting endorsements of the work from well known authors. In a laconic aside in a letter to Lowenthal dated June 14, Horkheimer made it clear that he was far too busy with other matters to be bothered with the chore of preparing the prospectus and also expressed doubts that it would be possible to come up with an appropriate endorsement:

As far as the prospectus is concerned, I think that you and Salloch can easily concoct a sensational text. If there were an American writer or scholar who could not only really appreciate this document, we might use his judgment for the prospectus but I fear there is no one among the well-known authorities would fulfill these two requirements set the time. Huxley, as far as I know, does not read German, and Joyce is dead.14

With the burden of writing the prospectus now placed squarely in his hands, Lowenthal sent Horkheimer a telegram asking him to approve the publication of a “preannouncement” of the “mimeographed book” in Salloch’s next catalog. Suspecting, perhaps, that he was unlikely to get a prompt response from Horkheimer, he phoned Pollock and, two days latter, wrote a letter to him requesting clarification concerning what they had decided:

I did not quite understand what you told me over the phone: whether you said things should now be arranged in a hurry, or we should not hurry. Because of this uncertainty, have refused so far Mrs. Salloch’s wish to announce in a book catalog, title, table of contents and short description.

At the same time, Horkheimer sent a telegram indicating that any announcement of the book should be postponed for a few more weeks:


A letter followed explaining the rationale for his decision: with the American Jewish Committee considering whether to approve the Institute’s proposal for a series of books on the nature of prejudice, the ever-cautious Horkheimer had concluded that it would be “better policy” to delay. The letter also indicates that the actual production of the mimeographs was nearing completion and that 250 copies would be sent “straight to Mrs. Salloch.”

Lowenthal pressed forward and, in the beginning of August, wired Horkheimer requesting two copies of the text for use in “approaching people” to write endorsements of the book. He followed it with another telegram suggesting

approaching [Reinhold] Niebuhr, [Paul] Tillich through me [Dorothy] Thompson through Niebuhr, Lindemen Fisher through [Paul] Massig, [Charles] Beard through Pollock.

Once again, Horkheimer demurred and responded with a telegram requesting that Lowenthal “not approach anyone before our previous understanding” since the “names on your list are not the right ones.” His draft of the telegram was somewhat sharper in tone:

By no means approach any names of your list. They are the ones against whom the book is written.

A letter followed that, adopting some of the rejected formulations in the telegram, reiterated his reservations:

I want to confirm my own wire with which I asked you to forget about the complicated strategy of approaching people in behalf of the “Fragmente”. it seems to me that almost all the names you mentioned belong to persons are definitely supposed to be the targets and not the sponsors of the book.

But at this point, with plans for distributing the mimeographed text apparently at a standstill, another bookseller entered the picture.

To be continued …

    1. Gunzelin Schmid Noerr, “The Position of the ‘Dialectic of Enlightenment’ in the Development of Critical Theory,” Editor’s Afterward to Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. Edmund Jephcott, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007), 217-247.
    1. Noerr 237-238
    1. For reasons that will be explained below, it is not entirely clear whether this plan was actually carried out.
    1. The same concern with vetting the text for a wider audience can be found in Adorno’s letter to his parents of May 10, 1944, which states, “Max and I are adding the finishing touches to our mimeographed book, which now bears the title ‘Philosophical Fragments.’ Gretel is going through it for corrections — also political ones. [emphasis mine]” Theodor W. Adorno, Letters to His Parents: 1939-1951, ed. Christoph Gödde and Henri Lonitz, trans. Wieland Hoban (Polity, 2006) 184.
    1. There is a record of the firm’s dissolution, after 60 years, 11 months of existence.
    1. See also Lowenthal’s report to Horkheimer of June 17, 1944 on corrections and revisions to the Fragmente, discussed below.
    1. Minima Moralia #30 “Pro demo rostra”.  The subsequent career of the mimeograph in the political, literary, and sexual undergrounds of the 1950s and 1960s confirms Adorno’s prescience. See, for example, John Mcmillian, “‘Our Founder, the Mimeograph Machine’: Participatory Democracy in Students for a Democratic Society’s Print Culture,” Journal for the Study of Radicalism 2:2 (2009): 85–110, Chelsea Jennings, “Pirating Pound: Drafts & Fragments in 1960s Mimeograph Culture,” Journal of Modern Literature 40:1 (2016): 88–108, Robert L Nelson, “Soldier Newspapers: A Useful Source in the Social and Cultural History of the First World War and Beyond,” War in History 17:2 (2010): 167–91, Rodger Streitmatter, “Lesbian and Gay Press: Raising a Militant Voice in the 1960s,” American Journalism 12:2 (1995): 142–61, and Joseph Barbato, “The Rise and Rise of the Small Press,” Publishers Weekly 244, no. 31 (1997): 39–48.
    1. It is unclear whether this telegram was actually sent. It differs from the copy of Lowenthal’s receipt for the telegram sent on May 14. I have yet to locate a copy of the telegram that Horkheimer actually received.
    1. The ILAB site offers a partial translation of the entry on Salloch in Ernst Fischer, Verleger, Buchhändler & Antiquare Aus Deutschland Und Österreich in Der Emigration Nach 1933. Ein Biographisches Handbuch (Stuttgart: Verband Deutscher Antiquare e.V., 2011). For a brief memoir of the émigré booksellers in New York, see the 1986 lecture by Bernard M. Rosenthal, “The Gentle Invasion” at the Institut d’histoire du livre.
    1. Searching for “Salloch” on the Hathi Trust turns up a number of scanned antiquarian volumes that include a small sticker with the name of the firm.
    1. See the notices on the contents page of Vol. VIII:3 (1939) and the penultimate pages of the three numbers that constituted Vol. IX (1940)
    1. While copies of the Philosophische Fragmente can be found in a few American libraries, copies of the Benjamin volume are quite rare. WorldCat list only five. The sole North American copy was the copy owned by Hannah Arendt and is preserved in her papers at Bard College.
    1. Horkheimer and Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment 254.
  1. This is the appropriate place to confess that, in my 1998 article “Language, Mythology, and Enlightenment:  Historical Notes on Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment,” Social Research 65:4 808–38, I misread the editorial note in the Horkheimer edition and attributed the letter to Lowenthal. I must have been swayed by the conviction that Lowenthal was more likely than Horkheimer to have a sense of humor and, hence, the author of the final sentence, which deftly summarizes the challenges of the text.
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Images of Enlightenment: The Lamp and the Sun

This is the time of year when — at least in the northern hemisphere — the days grow sadlight-1shorter and nights grow longer. Since I am prone to a mild case of seasonal affective disorder, I respond to the change by dragging a high intensity light out of the closet and zapping myself with it in the morning. This year the encroaching darkness and attendant sense of gloom has been enhanced by the decision of my fellow citizens to see what would happen if the highest political office in nation was bestowed upon a racist sexual predator with a limited attention span, a casual relationship with the truth, and what would appear to be a rather well-developed narcissistic personality disorder. I doubt this experiment will turn out well.

So, I thought I’d supplement my daily inoculation with high-intensity light with a few thoughts on a more pleasant topic: eighteenth century allegorical frontispieces (feeling happier yet? Stay with me). Back in the summer of 2014, inspired in part by spending some time working through Hans Blumenberg’s discussion of the metaphor of light as truth, I posted a discussion of a few examples of the genre and followed it with a closer look at two of the great James Gillray’s works: “A Peep into the Cave of Jacobinism” (an engraving he executed for the Anti-Jacobin Review) and “Smelling Out a Rat”, his contribution to the flurry of prints that greeted the publication of Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. I later pulled some of this material together for an article for the journal Diametros.

In hopes of dispelling at least some of the darkness, I thought I’d devote this post to a couple of other engravings that, while nowhere near as engaging as Gillray’s work (an impossibly high standard to match) are not without some interest: Egid Verhelst’s engravings for Friedrich Carl von Moser’s Neues Patriotisches Archiv für Deutschland. While Gillray portrayed the struggle between Jacobins and their opponents as a contest between darkness and light in which the ultimate victory of what he (or, at least his employers) took to be the forces of light would appear to have been a foregone conclusion (Magna est veritas et prævalebit and all that), Verhelst’s are considerably more restrained and engimatic and, for that reason, perhaps more appropriate for the unsettled times into which we seem to be sailing.

Moser and Verhelst

While Friedrich Carl von Moser (1723-1798) was fairly well-known in his own day, he is not a figure who looms large in current discussions of the Enlightenment. I included two of his friedrich_karl_von_moser_1723-1798pieces in my What is Enlightenment? collection, though searches on the web suggest that Anglophone scholars have had little interest in him. He had a lengthy career as a civil servant who (aside from a stint at the court of Joseph II Vienna) spent most of his time in the smaller German courts (including service at the beginning and end of his life at Darmstadt). At the same time he managed to make a name for himself as a writer with a series of works on statecraft and politics (e.g., his 1759 Lord and Servant and a Montesquieu-inspired contribution to exchanges on the nature of the “German national spirit” dating from 1765).1 His admirers included Hamann and Herder and it is possible that Goethe drew on some of his works during the writing of Götz von Berlichingen.2

Moser was the editor of the Patriotisches Archiv für Deutschland (1784-1792) and its successor, the Neues Patriotisches Archiv (1792-94). In the preface to the latter, Moser characterized the journal as focusing on issues in “political morality” and history and as aiming to combine the “good old with the good new”, with the criteria for the “good” defined by Christian belief and a commitment to a hierarchically ordered corporative social order.3  Verhelst (1742-1818) was responsible for the images that appeared in both journals. Those in the Patriotisches Archiv tended (with a few exceptions) to be portraits (including a few of Moser), while the two that appeared in the Neues Patriotisches Archiv were allegorical. I’ve found very little information about Verheist. The laconic entry him in the Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (which dates from 1895) tells us that he was born in Ausburg, held an academic position at Mannheim, died in Munich and was best known for his portraits, quite a few of which can be found online.4

The two engravings for the Neues Patriotisches Archiv do not turn up in perfunctory searches, but since both volumes of the Neues Patriotisches Archiv are available on the Haithi Trust site, it is easy enough to track them down. The engraving for the first volume — an image of an oil lamp, resting on a small hill and illuminating the surrounding darkness — took its inspiration from Moser’s Preface to the volume, which likened his launching of the new journal to a replenishing of the oil in his lamp and proclaimed the motto which appears beneath the lamp: “To Illuminate, Not Ignite”.

The engraving for the second volume is much stranger. In the foreground a night watchman with a lantern at his side turns surveys the empty street of a town. On the horizon, at an indeterminate distance beyond the orderly row of houses, a massive conflagration rages.

The beneath the engraving motto reads: “I do my part.”

In the confident frontispiece that Gillray executed for the inaugural issue of the Anti-Jacobin Review, the torch that the allegorical figure of Truth holds aloft both enlightens and ignites: the rays of light that stream into the cave cause the seditious pamphlets to burst into flames.   But in Verhelst’s engravings , fire is something that must be carefully contained, lest it inflame rather than enlighten. The consequences of a flame that escapes the confines of the lantern is apparent from the inferno raging on the horizon. And while the starry sky above still offers (as it had in Plato’s allegory) a means of orientation, the stars are already being obscured by the clouds that pour from a conflagration that — begun in Paris — now threatens to consume the world.

The Fire and the Sun

The contrast between Gillray and Velhelst serves as a reminder that images of light and fire work in different ways: while fire appears as both scourge (for the wicked) and menace (even for the righteous), representations of light have tended to be unproblematically affirmative. To pick one of the many possible examples, the image entitled “Enlightenment” executed by the famous Berlin engraver Daniel Chodowiecki in the Göttinger Tachenkalender for 1792 depicts the morning sun rising over the hills behind a small village.

Chodowiecki went on to explain that, since “enlightenment” was a relatively recent achievement, there was no generally accepted allegorical representation for this “highest work of reason.” Making the case for his use of the image of the rising sun, he noted that — though it might occasionally be concealed by the fog arising from “swamps, censers, and burnt offerings” — as it makes it steady ascent it inevitably drive away the morning fog that obscures it.5

In a brief article in the Teutsche Merkur written shortly before the storming of the Bastille, Christoph Martin Wieland quipped that — with the exception of “a single laudable and communally useful activity” — there was nothing that honest people could do in the darkness except sleep. Only those who had an interest in concealing their schemes had anything to fear “when it becomes brighter in the minds of men …” and there was, he insisted, every reason to be suspicious of their calls for limits on the spread of enlightenment. The enemies of enlightenment could be counted on to “do everything they can to obstruct, to nail shut, and to stop up all openings, windows, and crevices through which light can come into the world” were biding their time, waiting for the chance to “smash the lanterns which provide us and others with some light to see.”6

But while light — at least outside the bedroom — was an unmixed blessing, eighteenth-century city dwellers would have been well aware of the potential dangers of oil-lamps and fires. And if the natural ascent of the sun into the heavens was always a blessing (and I’m looking forward to the days when it rises higher and lingers longer), Verhelst’s engravings served as a reminder that the fires that had been brought into cities to illuminate the darkness need to be used with care — which was precisely the message that Moser wished to convey.Sun

  1. For a discussion of the latter, see Nicholas Vazsonyi, “Montesquieu, Friedrich Carl von Moser, and the ‘National Spirit Debate’ in Germany, 1765-1767,” German Studies Review 22:2 (1999): 225.
  2. Detlev W. Schumann, “Goethe and Friedrich Carl von Moser: A Contribution to the Study of ‘Götz von Berlichingen,’” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 53:1 (1954): 1–22. I should caution that I am not a Goethe scholar and I have no idea whether the arguments of this old article have held up. 
  3. Friedrich Carl von Moser, “Vorrede,” Neues Patriotisches Archiv für Deutschland, Vol 1 (1792), iii. 
  4. Fourteen are available via the Wikipedia
  5. Quoted in Ulrich Im Hof, “Enlightenment – Lumieres – Illuminismo – Aufklaerung:  Die ’Ausbreitung Eines Besseren Lichts Im Zeitalter Der Vernunft,” in “Und Es Ward Licht”: Zur Kulturgeschichte Des Lichts, ed. Maja Svilar, Universität Bern: Kulturhistorische Vorlesungen 1981/82 (Berlin: Peter Lang, 1983), 115–35, 115-6. 
  6. Christoph Marin Wieland, “A Couple Gold Nuggets, from the … Wastepaper, or Six Answers to Six Questions,” in  James Schmidt, ed., What Is Enlightenment?: Eighteenth-Century Answers and Twentieth-Century Questions (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996) 80-81.  I suppose this is as good a place as any to explain that the ellipsis in the title appears in German original.  From the context, it is clear that the German word that Wieland has removed might best be translated as “shitty.”   
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Robert Wokler, J. G. A. Pocock, and the Hunt for an Eighteenth-Century Usage of “Counter-Enlightenment”

In 1999, I proposed a panel on the topic “The ‘Enlightenment Project’: What is It?” to the organizers of the upcoming conference of the Northeastern division of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. Judging from the correspondence saved on my computer, the call for papers seemed to have generated a fair amount of interest, which resulted in the setting up of a couple of panels on the topic. And, looking at my subsequent email exchanges with those responsible for pulling the whole event off, there were more than the usual number of cancellations and reshuffling of speakers.

A few months before the conference, I got a message on my answering machine, a fax, and a series of emails from Robby Wokler, who had been scheduled to present a paper at one of the sessions, but who now appeared to be confused as to where, exactly, the event was being held and, more generally, seemed to be having second thoughts about the venture. In an effort to keep him on board, I sent him a response that employed both the carrot and the stick. I opened with the stick:

The NEASECS session that you agreed to do (note the wording — designed to induce guilt) will be held at 10 AM on Friday, Dec. 10 in “Great Bay I” of the New England Conference Center and Hotel in Durham, New Hampshire.

The carrot followed:

As a “sweetener” (as we Americans say), after your talk in New Hampshire, I will show you a little discovery of mine: a use of the term “Gegenaufklärung” from the 1780’s.

My efforts were, alas, in vain, though there was enough uncertainty as to whether Robby might be able to attend to warrant keeping his name on the program, which allowed those of us on the panel to harbor the hope that, at the last minute, he might burst into the room, bringing with him that peculiar mixture of erudition, wit, and chaos that made him such a welcome companion.

I’d first come into contact with him in the Spring of 1996, when we exchanged various drafts and offprints. We remained in touch over the next decade, chiefly via email (though his relationship to his internet service providers tended to be somewhat dodgy), but also during his all-too-infrequent visits to Boston. Our paths crossed at conferences in Fiesole, Dublin, New Orleans and (for me, most memorably) at the 1998 meeting of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, which was held at Notre Dame, a conference that will loom rather large in what follows.

I can still recall his arriving at Notre Dame with an aging Windows laptop and finding himself unable to print out his talk (which he had continued to refine after his arrival). The reason, as he explained it, was that the university would only support Macintoshes (I wondered whether, perhaps, he’d been misled by Umberto Eco’s “Macs are like Catholics, Windows like Protestants” meme). Sometime after arriving he managed to lose his power cord, which meant that he was forced to attempt to read his talk (a contribution to a panel on Cassirer’s Philosophy of the Enlightenment that also featured a paper from Bruce Mazlish) from his computer before its battery died.1 Somehow he pulled it off.

We stayed in touch, united by a common interest in the Enlightenment and its critics, until shortly before his death in 2006.2 In the decade since, I’ve thought about him quite a bit. For reasons that will become clearer in a moment, I’ve thought about him even more over the last couple of weeks.

A Revelation at Notre Dame

Though Robby never made it to the NEASECS sessions in Durham, he was quite intrigued by my suggestion that the term that his teacher Isaiah Berlin had made famous might have been in use during the eighteenth century. So was I. We were both members of that branch of the great Freemasonry of Useless Erudition that is distinguished by its obsessive concern with words and their history. In one of his earliest emails to me he noted (somewhat pretentiously — I suspect that, at the time, we were still trying to impress one another … it’s a thing guys tend to do):

Words and expressions are the things themselves, it seems to me. Modernity takes shape around their transfigurations.

But, as chance would have it, I somehow managed to lose (or, more likely, never properly recorded in the first place) the reference to the use of Gegenaufklärung that I had dangled before him in my attempt to lure him to the wilds of New Hampshire.

I subsequently tried to track it down by searching through the University of Bielefeld’s collection of German eighteenth-century journals, but all I could come up with was the word Gegenerklärung, which turns up quite a few times. Upon examining the articles in question, I found that what they were offering was, as the titles suggested, a Gegenerklärung: a rebuttal, a disclaimer, or, more literally, “a contrary explanation.” And this (or so I thought at the time) was something rather different from a Gegenaufklärung.

As late as 2002 Robby was still wondering whether I had managed to figure out where I had seen the word Gegenaufklärung. But, by then, I was convinced that what I thought I’d seen must have been the result of my mistaking Gegenerklärung for Gegenaufklärung (after a few hours of reading eighteenth-century German journals it’s a wonder that I’m capable of making sense of anything). What eventually persuaded me that I was mistaken had much to do with my working out the implications of J. G. A. Pocock’s plenary address at the Notre Dame ASECS conference. I was there to give a talk on Horkheimer and Adorno at a panel on “Modern and Post-Modern Interpretations of the Enlightenment,” Robby was there to talk on Cassirer’s defense of “the Enlightenment,” and Pocock was there to warn us why we should all be very suspicious about invoking something called “the Enlightenment.”

Pocock’s talk was entitled “The Tell-tale Article: Reconstructing . . . Enlightenment.” It opened with an explanation of the three dots in the title:

The significance of the dots is that I am trying to eliminate three letters from the study and discourse of Enlightenment; yet the same three letters stand at the head of my own title. It is “the” tell-tale article I propose that we eliminate: the practice of prefacing the word “the” to the noun Enlightenment; yet the structure of my own sentence shows that the definite article is not easy to do without ….

Looking back over the photocopy of the handwritten talk that — years later — he was kind enough to send me, I am chastened (but not entirely surprised) to realize how much of what I’ve been doing over the last two decades appears, in one way or another, to have been prompted by what he said.3

What I learned that night (or, more precisely, what I began to work out at about 5 AM the next morning when my brain decided that it had spent enough time mulling over what Pocock had said and concluded that it was time to wake me up so that I could sketch out the implications of his argument for the work I’d been doing) was that “the Enlightenment” was (as J. C. D. Clark put it in a review that appeared around the same time) one of those “nineteenth-century terms of historical art” that “fall noiselessly away” as we draw closer to the material we are trying to understand.4

A year later Pocock elegantly summed up the ambiguity that plagues any discussion of a “counter-enlightenment”: it’s unclear whether the term is supposed to refer to “one brand of Enlightenment in opposition to another, or a fixed antipathy to Enlightenment in some final sense of the term.”5 The latter would appear to have been what Isaiah Berlin had in mind in his uses of concept and, I suppose, may have been what Robby was hoping to find lurking in the pages of an eighteenth-century German journal. By the time of the Notre Dame ASECS meeting I’d published my collection of translations of answers to the question “What is Enlightenment?” (in which I’d sought to enforce a distinction between “enlightenment” and “the Enlightenment”), but it was not until hearing Pocock’s lecture that I first began to understand what the texts I’d collected were telling us.

Once it became clear that the dispute that had been launched in the pages of the Berlinische Monatsschrift was not a discussion of how to define “the Enlightenment,” but instead was an argument about the nature of an activity known as “enlightenment”, the only “counter-enlightenment” that eighteenth-century thinkers could have been talking about would be the first of Pocock’s two varieties: i.e., “one brand of Enlightenment in opposition to another” (I think, however, that it would be a good idea to get rid of capital E as well as the definite article). And, as I became more familiar with the vocabulary that was used in the eighteenth century, it became clearer to me that there were other ways of marking the distinction between the different “brands” of “enlightenment” (e. g., “true enlightenment” vs “false enlightenment”). So, while Robby still hoped that the word Gegenaufklärung might still be lurking in one eighteenth-century text or another, by the closing years of the last millennium I was reasonably confident that it wasn’t.

Imagine my surprise then when, about two weeks ago, I came across the following passage while browsing through the Hathi Trust’s scans of the Deutsche Monatsschrift for November 1790 (emphasis mine):

Was kann das Gegengift der Aufklärung, welches Zimmermann dem lesenden Publikum dispensirt, anders seyn, als eine Gegenaufklärung gegen Mirabeau’s Aufklärung, womit dieser letztere (mit Zimmermann zu reden) die Preussische Monarchie bedroht? — d. i. eine Bekanntmachung der Zimmermannischen Meiningen, gegen die Meinungen, welche der Graf von Mirabeau bekannt machen wollte.6

A Different Sort of Gegenaufklärung

The text that I was looking at on the Hathi Trust website was the very article that I’d seen two decades earlier in Zwi Batscha’s Enlightenment and Freedom of Thought, an anthology that was one of the inspirations for my own collection.7 I’d cited the article — an anonymous survey of the various answers that had been given to the question “what is enlightenment?” — a few times in my own work but had never discussed it at any length. The explanation for my perfunctory handling of it is simple enough: its approach to the question that Kant made famous diverged so markedly from what I expected to find that I couldn’t understand it. When I first read it two decades ago, I’d assumed that it would be concerned with the diverging accounts of Aufklärung that appeared in the essays by Mendelssohn, Kant, and the others that I had read. But the texts that it discussed (which were not listed until the start of the second part of the article) were rather different from the ones I’d been reading and its way of carving up the different meanings of the term (which was laid out in an outline that turns up some thirty pages into the article) struck me as something that might as well have been concocted by Jorge Luis Borges.

My problem, in brief, was that I was coming to the text expecting it to have something to do with my questions. And I suspect that my lack of understanding of the text may have something to do with why I soon forgot that this was the place where I’d seen the word that Robby was hoping to find (that I’d yet to begin to become more systematic in my note-taking only made it easier to lose track of something that I didn’t understand in the first place). It is only in the last few weeks that I’ve managed to make any headway in beginning to figure out what its author’s concerns appear to have been.

I hope to say more about this peculiar text (which somebody really ought to translate) in future posts. For now, it may be enough to explain what “Gegenaufklärung” is doing here. The word appears in section XVII of the text, which is devoted to the use of Aufklärung as a way of denoting an attempt to clarify one’s views to those who are either ignorant of them or have misunderstood them. 8 One important context in which this process takes place provides the chief focus of the discussion: the efforts of writers to lay out their views to readers. The article observes that, when engaged in efforts of this sort, these authors tend to draw a distinction between “true” and “false” enlightenment.9

The article goes on to note that, in the case of what it describes as the “passive” sense of the word Aufklärung (i.e. Augeklärtheit— a word that designates “the state of being enlightened”), the idea that there could be such a thing as “false enlightenment” might seem a contradiction in terms (the author likens it to an expression like “bright darkness”). But the article suggests that the distinction does make sense when applied to the “active” sense of the term (i.e., when it is used to refer to the various activities, practices, and institutions that allegedly advance the prospects for enlightenment). The point would appear to be that the distinction between true and false enlightenment ultimately stems from disagreements about the effectiveness of various efforts (which are collectively designated by the word  Aufklärung) that seek to bring about a state of affairs known as “enlightenment” (i.e., Augeklärtheit).

As an example of how arguments of this sort unfold, the review considers the attack that Johann Georg Zimmermann (Frederick the Great’s physician and a well-known critic of the alleged influence of French philosophes on the Berlin enlightenment) mounted against the Comte de Mirabeau’s account of the Prussian court.10 The discussion concluded with the passage (quoted above) that contained the word that Robby and I had been seeking. It might be translated as follows:

What can the antidote [Gegengift] of enlightenment which Zimmermann dispenses to the reading public be other than a counter-enlightenment [Gegenaufklärung] against Mirabeau’s enlightenment, with which the latter (as Zimmerman would put it) threatens the Prussian monarchy? In other words, an exposition of Zimmermanian views, against the views which Count Mirabeau wishes to make known?11

What’s interesting (at least for me) about this passage is the role played by the prefix “gegen”. It opens with a discussion of the Gegengift [literally, an “anti-poison”] that Zimmermann is offering in hopes of countering the poison pen letter that Mirabeau had written about the Prussian monarchy. The passage turns out to be a paraphrase of the conclusion of the Preface to Zimmermann’s Vertheidigung Friedrichs des Grossen gegen den Grafen von Mirabeau, which describes the text as “the antidote to the enlightenment, with which Mirabeau … threatens the Prussian monarchy.”13 The author of the article in the Deutsche Monatsschrift transforms Doctor Zimmermann’s metaphor into a somewhat more prosaic formulation: Zimmermann’s Gegengift becomes a Gegenaufklärung, an effort at enlightenment that counters the enlightenment that Mirabeau sought to provide.

But if we are going to translate the reviewer’s Gegenaufklärung as “counter-enlightenment”, we need to be clear that this counter-enlightenment is not the second of the two variants that Pocock noted: i.e., “a fixed antipathy to Enlightenment in some final sense of the term.” For there was no “final sense” of enlightenment available to Zimmermann or to Mirabeau and the absence of this final sense helps to explain why they cannot agree. So, we are left with a play of arguments and counter-arguments, explanations and counter-explanations. Nor am I entirely confident about characterizing this contest of interpretations as “one brand of Enlightenment in opposition to another.” For, while the review’s discussion of the role played by the distinction between “true” and “false” enlightenment captures something about the way in which rival “brands” of enlightenment (e.g., radical vs moderate, religious vs. secular, etc.) faced off against each other, there is a simpler way of dealing with the term Gegenaufklärung. We are not always obliged to translate Aufklärung as “enlightenment.” After all, Aufklärungsunterricht is conventionally rendered as “sex education”, rather than “sexual enlightenment” and the uses of Gegenaufklärung in military treatises refer to what we are used to calling “counter-intelligence.”

The Gegenaufklärung that the reviewer for the Deutsche Monatsschrift invoked was a “contrary account” or “contrary explanation.” And the latter phrase could easily serve as a translation for the German word that I thought I’d mistaken for Gegenaufklärung: Gegenerklärung. So, while I was wrong when I suggested to Robby that the word I’d glimpsed, a couple of decades ago, must have been Gegenerklärung rather than Gegenaufklärung, it turns out that it didn’t matter: the Gegenaufklärung that I’d seen amounted to the same thing as a Gegenerklärung.


  1. Both papers subsequently appeared in Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 29 (2000).
  2. Those unfamiliar with Robby might want to read Joshua Cherniss’s tribute in the Guardian of August 22, 2006. 
  3. There was also an echo of Pocock’s talk in the email Robby sent me later in the year, pointing me to P. N. Furbank’s reservations about routinely attaching the definite article to the word “enlightenment.” See Philip Nicholas Furbank, Diderot: A Critical Biography (New York, N.Y.: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992) 450-1.
  4. J. C. D. Clark, “Review of Haakonssen, Enlightenment and Religion,” The American Historical Review 103:1 (1998): 176–77. I believe that Clark was also present for Pocock’s talk, as were Peg Jacob (who was either beginning or ending her term as ASECS President) and Roy Porter.  Such a gathering of remarkable scholars in one place should serve as a reminder that some conferences turn out to be considerably better than others.
  5. J.G.A. Pocock, “Enlightenment and counter-enlightenment, revolution and counter-revolution; a eurosceptical enquiry,” History of Political Thought XX:1 (1999): 132.
  6. Anonymous, “Kritischer Versuch über Das Wort Aufklärung (Beschluss),” Deutsche Monatschrift III (November 1790): 233. I will attempt to translate this later on in this post.
  7. Zwi Batscha, ed., Aufklärung und Gedankenfreiheit : Fünfzehn Anregungen, aus der Geschichte zu Lernen, Edition Suhrkamp 890 (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp Verlag, n.d.).
  8. Anonymous, “Kritischer Versuch über das Wort Aufklärung (Beschluss),” Deutsche Monatschrift III (November 1790), 230-233. The title of the section is Darlegung seiner Meinungen. The term Darlegung literally means a “laying out” of a position, but is used more generally to refer to an exposition, demonstration, explanation, or statement.
  9. “Kritischer Versuch” 231.
  10. I’ve discussed Zimmermann’s critique of Berlin enlighteners in “What Enlightenment Was, What It Still Might Be, and Why Kant May Have Been Right After All,” American Behavioral Scientist 49:5 (2006): 649-651.
  11. Kritischer Versuch 233.
  12. Zimmermann, Vertheidigung Friedrichs des Grossen gegen den Grafen von Mirabeau (Helmingischen Hofbuchhandlung, 1788) 4. I am greatly indebted to the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München for providing me with a scan of this text, which is catalogued as Bor. 207e. The complete passage reads, “Sie sind also das Gegengift der Aufklärung, womit Mirabeau anizt die preüssische Monarchie durch ein grosses noch nicht bekanntes Werk bedrohet.”
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The ”Dialectic of Enlightenment” before Horkheimer and Adorno

About a month ago I finished teaching classes and began a year-long sabbatical. A few weeks later I headed off to Marburg for a conference organized by Sonja Lavaert and Winfried Schröder that sought to place Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment in a “philosophical-historical perspective.” My contribution to the affair was a revised and expanded discussion of a question that I’d discussed in an earlier post on this blog: “What, if anything, does Dialectic of Enlightenment have to do with ‘the Enlightenment’?”

While working on my talk, it occurred to me that I’d never bothered to see whether anyone used the phrase “Dialektik der Aufklärung” before Horkheimer and Adorno. A glance at the Ngram viewer suggested that the term had little currency prior to 1947 (no surprises here!) and that it only comes into a broader usage in the 1960s — and almost always with reference to Horkheimer and Adorno’s book. But, along with the usual false hits produced by bad metadata, there were three earlier usages of the term by other authors. Two of the three were interesting, but neither of them had much relevance for my talk.

Screenshot 2016-06-03 06.14.15

But, since I’ve been woefully negligent in posting (there are reasons for this, but none of them are worth discussing), I thought I might as well discuss them here.

Horkheimer and Adorno’s Use of the Phrase

Let’s start with Horkheimer and Adorno’s use of the phrase. As readers of this blog no doubt know, the 1944 hectograph of the book that would be published in 1947 as Dialektik der Aufklärung carried the title Philosophische Fragmente, which would go on to serve as the subtitle of the 1947 book. The opening chapter of the 1944 Philosophische Fragmente was titled “Dialektik der Aufklärung” and the phrase itself appears twice in the 194 7 version: once in the opening chapter, where Odysseus’ encounter with the Sirens is described as an “allegory of the dialectic of enlightenment”, and again in the last section of the chapter on anti-semitism (which first appeared in the 1947 edition), which states that, with the “progress of industrial society,” the “dialectic of enlightenment” collapses into “madness” ( “Die Dialektik der Aufklärung schlägt objektiv in den Wahnsinn um”).

When the title of the opening chapter of the 1944 hectograph was adopted as the title for the 1947 book, the opening chapter was retitled “Begriff der Aufklärung.” The earliest drafts of the opening chapter, however, carried the title “Mythos und Aufklärung.” It would not be too far-fetched to see these changes a capturing something of the evolution of Horkheimer and Adorno’s understanding of the book that they were writing. By 1944 chapter that had initially begun as a juxtaposition of mythical and enlightened forms of thought — a juxtaposition that, as Theodore Ziolkowski has discussed, was hardly unusual during the 1920s and 1930s — turned into a dialectic in which myth was already enlightenment and enlightenment collapsed back into myth.1 And in 1947, what had been a collection of fragments circulated among friends and associates of the Institute for Social Research would be presented to a broader public as a discussion of the “dialectic of enlightenment.”

Uses of the phrase by Horkheimer and Adorno prior to the beginning of their collaboration on the book are surprisingly scarce. Indeed, the only one I have been able to track down comes in the letter Adorno wrote to Horkheimer shortly before leaving New York to join him in Los Angeles. In it Adorno reports that he has finally been able to track down a copy of Geoffrey Gorer’s The Marquis De Sade: a Short Account of His Life and Work, which Adorno explains “deals essentially with the dialectic of enlightenment or the dialectic of culture and barbarism.”2 At one point I thought I’d spotted an earlier use of the phrase in one of Adorno’s reviews in the Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, but searches of Adorno’s collected works have turned up nothing, nor does the phrase appear in the Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung. I have not been able to do a complete search of the Horkheimer Gesammelte Schriften since I do not own an electronic text version (is there one?), but the comprehensive index that appears as Volume 19 indicates no usage prior to the actual writing of the book. So, while I tend to doubt that the appearance of the phrase in Adorno’s 1941 letter to Horkheimer marks their first use of it, I have found no evidence of one. I trust that better informed readers will correct me if I am mistaken.

Earlier Uses: Willmann, Keins, and Schalk

Searches on Google turn up three earlier uses of the phrase (which, once again, is not to suggest that there may not be others hiding out there somewhere). They are:

  1. Otto Willmann, Didaktik als Bildungslehre nach Beziehungen zur Socialforschung und zur Geschichte der Bildung (Braunschweig: Friedrich Bieweg und Sohn, 1882) 390: “In gewissem Betracht störte schon die Dialektik der scholastischen Periode das Gleichmass, mehr noch die Philologie der ersten Renaissancezeit, die nicht ohne Gewaltsamkeit den Primat under den Bildungselementen an sich riss, um nachmals wieder Anfeindungen seitens der Dialektik der Aufklärung zu erfahren.”
  2. Paul Keins, “Rutebeufs Weltanschauung im Spiegel seiner Zeit,” Zeitschrift für Romanische Philologie 53 (1933): 569–75: “Mann hat ja sogar Pascal vor allem wegen seiner scharfen Dialektik der Aufklärung nahe gebracht.”
  3. Fritz Schalk, “Formen und Disharmonien der französischen Aufklärung,” Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte 15 (1937): 254: “Solche Lehren lessen sich aus ihr belegen, aber meist sind sie in ihren grossen Denkern verknüpft mit ihrer Widerlegung, und erst in einem sprunghaften Hin und Wider in einer verwirrenden Spannung gegensätzlicher Ideen vermag man die stete Dialektik der Aufklärung zu verstehen als das wahre Spiegelbild ihrer tiefen Disharmonie.”

While the text by Willmann used the phrase that Horkheimer and Adorno would later employ, his use of it can serve as a reminder that not all appearances of the German term Aufklärung have much to do with “the Enlightenment” or even with “enlightenment.” Willmann was an educational theorist and his 1882 book (which was translated into English in 1930) was described in a 1929 article as a “well-known” work that stressed “the need of considering education from its historical aspects and social functions.”3 In short, his concern was with the “dialectic of education” rather than the “dialectic of enlightenment.” In contrast, the texts by Keins and Schalk are dealing with what might be described as a dialectic of enlightenment, though they approach it in somewhat different ways.

Paul Keins turns out to be a rather interesting figure. Born in Berlin in 1909, he pursued studies in Romanistics at Munich with Karl Vossler, a leading German Romanist (and Croce disciple). Keins was the grandson of Leo Olschki — the founder of a Florentine publishing house that is still alive and well (their site includes a family tree for those interested in tracing Keins’ genealogy) — and the cousin of the antiquarian bookseller Bernard Rosenthal.  After completing his academic studies, Keins went on to pursue the family trade in Lugano, Zurich, and Madrid.

Olschki Familyh Tree

(Here is the place to confess that everything I know about Olschki, Rosenthal, and Keins has been derived from a reading of the website of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, which includes a page on “Booksellers in Exile”).4  After moving to Madrid, Paul Keins became Pablo Keins (his full name was Erwin Rosenthal Pablo Keins) and, thanks to his acquisition of a large library of rare Spanish works, the Libreria Pablo Keins became a center for older Spanish literary works. He fled Madrid during the civil war, eventually winding up in Buenos Aires, where he re-established the Libreria Pablo Keins and became friends with Jorge Luis Borges (who, not surprisingly, enjoyed prowling around antiquarian bookstores). At some point prior to leaving Madrid, Keins translated Bruno Frank’s novel Cervantes into Spanish (WorldCat lists the publication date as 1941).5

While the focus of Keins’ article — the thirteenth century trouvère Rutebeuf — would appear to be rather far removed from the concerns of Horkheimer and Adorno, his invocation of a “Dialektik der Aufklärung” comes at the close of the article when — having drawn a broader contrast between activist and quietist tendencies, which he sees as exemplified by the contrast between Bosseut and Fénélon and between Jansenists and Jesuits — he attempts to capture the tension between tradition and innovation in a single phrase, a tension that he finds at the heart of Pascal. For Keins, as for Horkheimer and Adorno, the arc of the dialectic of enlightenment stretches rather far back into history.

Finally, with Fritz Schalk’s article we are clearly confronted with a text that is concerned with “the Enlightenment” (in this case, the French branch). For Schalk, the French Enlightenment was essentially “dialectical” — it could be understood only by examining the various contradictions that defined it. Like Keins, Schalk was trained as a Romanist. He studied in Vienna with Karl Bühler and Nikolai Trobetzkoy and, on the advice of his classmate Ludwig Landgrebe pursued studies with Husserl in Freiburg and with Heidegger in Marburg. Returning to Vienna, he wrote his dissertation on Pascal’s Style and eventually gained a position at Hamburg with a 1932 Habilitationschrift on the influence of the Encyclopédie on the French Enlightenment.6 Protests from Nazi students, who denounced him as a “liberal”, led to his being transferred to Köln, where he spent the rest of his career.

He continued to publish articles throughout the war (including his piece on “Formen und Disharmonien der französischen Aufklärung”). His approach was grounded in the work of Aby Warburg, Ernst Cassirer, and Bruno Snell (who spent the war teaching a Hamburg) and Hausmann’s entry in the NDB argues that, by concentrating on eighteenth-century French moralists, he was able to avoid having to make concessions to Nazi ideology.

It is perhaps significant that, in 1947, he published an article on the history of the concepts “fanatique” and “fanatisme” that, taking its departure from an article in which Dorf Sternberger argued that it was not until the triumph of National Socialism that the word fanatisch was used in a positive sense, traced the history of the term back to the eighteenth century, explored the traffic between political and religious usages of the term, noted instances of its use in a positive sense during the French Revolution, and concluded that the “political abuse of language is not limited to the boundaries of a national culture” but was, instead, “an indicator of the universal spirit, or better, the general anti-spirit of our time.”7 But, while this conclusion may echo the verdict of another, more familiar work, that appeared in 1947, there is no evidence that its authors knew anything about Schalk’s work.

  1. See Theodore Ziolkowski, Modes of Faith: Secular Surrogates for Lost Religious Belief (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), Chapter 7. ↩︎
  2. Theodor Adorno, letter to Max Horkheimer, November 10, 1941, in Max Horkheimer, Gesammelte Schriften 17:210-212. ↩︎
  3. Otto Willmann, The Science of Education in Its Sociological and Historical Aspects, 2d ed... (Latrobe, Pa: Archabbey Press, 1930); L. H. Ad. Geck, “Some Recent German Publications Concerning Problems of Educational Sociology,” Journal of Educational Sociology 2:10 (June 1929): 585. ↩︎
  4. For a discussion of the family, see Bernard M. Rosenthal, “Clartel, Clan, or Dynasty?  The Olschkis and the Rosenthals, 1859-1976,” Harvard Library Bulletin XXV, no. 4 (October 1977): 381–98. ↩︎
  5. The book would be translated into English by Thomas Mann’s translator H. T. Lowe-Porter in 1935. ↩︎
  6. I am leaning very heavily here on Frank-Rutger Hausmann’s entry on Schalk in the Neue Deutsche Biographie 22 (2005): 551. ↩︎
  7. Fritz Schalk, “Über ’fanatique’ und ’fanatisme’,” Romanische Forschungen 60:1 (1947): 206–14. ↩︎
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The Woman with the Corpse in Her Carriage: Whittaker Chambers, Life Magazine, and the Enlightenment (Part 2)

Back in August, prior to what turned out to be an unexpectedly long hiatus (let’s just say that my day job — which included teaching a new course on the history of the notion of “publicity” — wound up consuming more time than I bargained on), I posted a discussion of Whittaker Chambers’ role in the production of Life magazine’s series on the “History of Western Culture.” In what follows, I’d like to tie up some lose ends by saying a few things about the article Chambers wrote for the series on “The Age of Enlightenment.”

This was article that drew me to Life’s peculiar venture in the first place. The unlikeliness of a mass-market magazine devoting this much attention (and the hours of work that it took to produce the article) to a topic that, at first glance, might seem somewhat arcane appealed to my taste for the bizarre. But, then again, the presence of an article on the Enlightenment in the most successful of Henry Luce’s ventures was not quite as strange as it might initially seem. For the Enlightenment has long been a topic of interest outside the academy: it has been condemned and celebrated, but it has not been ignored. Those of us who work on the period periodically wonder whether this is a blessing or a curse.

Chambers was among those inclined to see the Enlightenment as responsible for much that was wrong with the modern world. As he explained in a much-quoted letter dating from 1954,

it is the duty of the intellectuals of the West to preach reaction, and to keep pointing out why the Enlightenment and its faults were a wrong turning in man’s history.

Yet the same letter went on to concede that, whatever the failings of this particular turning point, “it was a turning, and within its terms, we must maneuver at the point where to maneuver is to live.”1

In his book on the relationship between Whittaker Chambers and Lionel Trilling, Michael Kimmage suggests that something similar can be found in Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment.2 But this, I think, overstates the extent to which Horkheimer and Adorno saw themselves as attempting to come to terms with the historical period that we (like Chambers) have come to know as “the Enlightenment.” At the risk of repeating a point that I’ve made several times before: German does not always go easily into English and there is no reason to view every invocation of die Aufklärung in Dialektik der Aufklärung as a discussion of what we call “the Enlightenment.” While Horkheimer and Adorno argued that the dialectic of enlightenment stretches back into human prehistory, Chambers’ account was unambiguously a discussion of a particular historical period.  And the account that Chambers offered of this historical period turns out to be more peculiar than we might expect.

Authors and Collaborators

For me, the most perplexing aspect of Chambers’ article involves a question that does not appear to have much concerned Kimmage: the extent to which Chambers’ article can be seen as reflecting his broader views on the trajectory of modern history. Kimmage tends to see the work that Chambers produced while employed by Henry Luce as anticipating positions that he would late elaborate in the wake of the Hiss hearings. But reading these texts in this way runs the risk of assuming that Chambers had more control over what appeared in the pages of Life than might be warranted.  It is obvious that Chambers was the author of Witness.  It is less clear how we go about assigning authorship to the texts that appeared in Life.

Discussing the conclusion of the discussion of the Protestant Reformation that appeared in the June 14, 1948 issue of Life, Kimmage argues,

The final paragraph of the series completes the general argument, the story of religion formalized in the Middle Ages, of religion challenged in the Enlightenment and successively diminished in the nineteenth century, ending with the story of religious awakening in the sixteenth century, revived in Europe with Luther and Calvin, and then again in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The rise of the middle class and of capitalism, which was also Chambers’s story, was thus modified to deny that secular modernity, the product of science and technology, is the endpoint of history. Civilizations thrive only when people believe in them — religious faith might wax and wane, dark ages might put a temporary end to civilization, but faith could also be regained and civilization restored. A Protestant revolution could supplant a Russian revolution. If so, America might continue to stand at the center of modern history.3

This narrative does seem to echo positions that Chambers would go on to elaborate in Witness.  But there are a few problems with Kimmage’s approach to the text.

First, though the article on the Protestant Revolution appears to have been Chambers’ final contribution, two further articles appeared before the series finally concluded: a discussion of “Eighteenth Century England” on September 13 and a final article on the 1848 revolutions on November 22, 1948.  Hence, while Chambers wrapped up his involvement in the series with an account of how the “the new spirit” unleashed by the Reformation had “leaped the Atlantic Ocean”, cleared the forests of North America and — after purging the continent of “the remnants of stone-age man” — created “an appropriate space where the new dignity of the individual, safeguarded by his new freedom of faith could, under God, build a citadel, an arsenal and an altar,” two additional articles were either already planned or waiting in the queue.4

The series itself ended with a discussion of the 1848 revolutions that featured a closing paragraph that would seem to offer a much better summary of the general message of the series:

In 1848 freedom was still a great and simple matter. It was the trumpet which proclaimed to the world and to the heavens the rights and worth of man. It meant the individual’s protection against tyranny. But Marxism has set in motion a gigantic revolution against individualism, that view of man as a free being on which Western civilization rests. Of all the lessons of 1848 the most important is one concerning freedom. It is that freedom cannot be won, once and for all, on the barricades. Like man’s other possessions, it must be defended. 5

Those with a finer sense of Chambers’ style are in a better position than I am to judge whether this conclusion offers a markedly different account of the basic lessons of the Life series than the (premature) climax Chambers wrote for the article on the “Protestant Reformation” (much turns, I suppose, on Chambers’ sense of the alleged virtues of “individualism”).  But it does serve as a reminder that Luce’s publications were defined by a certain house style. Lionel Trilling’s later characterization of Chambers as having achieved a measure of “economic security and even a professional reputation of sorts with the apocalyptic pieties of his news-stories for Time and the sodden profundities of his cultural essays for Life” — while snide — was on the mark in at least one respect: Chambers’ success at Time and Life had at least something to do with his managing to find ways of producing work that conformed to the general dictates of the house style.

The series on the history of Western culture provided regular opportunities to produce new examples of the style. After all, the mission of the series was to take stock of the civilization that Americans had inherited. Reminding Americans of their past successes in exterminating those “stone-age” natives that got in the way of their deforestation project, stocking up the arsenal with the latest weapons of mass destruction, and settling down to a protracted defense of a “freedom” that could never be fully secured — all this was consistent with the early Cold War rhetoric at Time and Life. That the house style was a good fit with Chambers’ own helps to account for his success: when the need arose, he could turn out “apocalyptic pieties” and “sodden profundities.” But he had other resources and, as we shall see, wound up striking a rather different tone at the close of the Enlightenment article.

I am inclined to wonder whether it makes much sense to try to apply the notion of individual authorship to productions of this sort. Life’s “History of Western Culture” was, above all else, a collaborative project in which Chambers was responsible for producing a text that would accompany the parade of images that were Life’s stock in trade. The seemingly haphazard ordering of the various installments may be a further testimony to the collaborative nature of the undertaking.  Even if the texts that Chambers produced were able to escape the subsequent editing that seems to have been the norm at Life, they were still only one part of the Gesamtkitschwerk that this particular branch of the culture industry churned out.  With an efficiency that rivaled that of the Hollywood studio system in its glory days, various departments labored to produce a product that, issue after issue, was defined by a unified style.  When the requisite parts of a product were ready to be assembled, a new installment appeared: hence the indifference to chronology that marked a series that started with the Renaissance, moved back to the Middle Ages, returned for a look at Renaissance Venice, stopped off at the Enlightenment, jumped forward to the Edwardians, turned back to consider the “Age of Explorations,” paid a visit to the Reformation, took a look at Eighteenth Century England, and finally ended with an account of the revolutions of 1848. It may not have mattered that the initial presentation of the series appears to us as a chronological train-wreck: everything would be straightened out when the pieces were polished up and reassembled in the deluxe coffee-table book that would follow.

Terrifying Women

The word “enlightenment” (as readers of this blog are well aware) can refer either to something that individuals do (namely, enlighten one another) or the particular historical Header for Enlightenment Articleperiod that we see as exemplifying this activity: the so-called “Age of Enlightenment.” The article in Life was supposed to be concerned with the latter and Chambers began his article by repeating the already old (and mistaken) notion that Kant was responsible for the “name given the era.” But, though Chambers may have been interested in writing an article that traced the evolution of “the human spirit” during this brief “interlude between the stake and fagots and the guillotine, Life‘s art department was (of necessity) less interested in ideas than in images.  Hence, the cover of the September 15, 1947 featured, not a philosophe, but instead a royal mistress: the Madame du Barry. That choice was in keeping with the divided focus of the subheading that followed the words “The Age of Enlightenment” at the start of the article: “In the reign of France’s Louis XV, the passion for reason became a religion and the rule of women reached up to the king’s throne.”6

Screenshot 2016-02-13 18.41.56While the idea that cult of “reason” was not as different from the religious beliefs that it sought to banish had, thanks to Carl Becker, become a standard trope in mid-twentieth century American critiques of the Enlightenment (and would shortly become the bête noire of a young Columbia university professor named Peter Gay), the idea that women were turning men into eunuchs must have seemed considerably more promising for a magazine devoted to images (especially images of women). The center of the opening page was dominated by an image of a “grand lady of France’s Age of Enlightenment” — wearing “a wig 3 feet high, adorned with feathers, ribbons, jewels.” The art department’s choice echoed the paragraph Chambers crafted to launch his account:

Mademoiselle de Coigny kept a corpse in her coach. The Age of Reason was dawning in France — it was the 18th Century — and there were otherwise just not enough minutes in those days of wonderful Enlightenment for mademoiselle to pursue, like other dedicated bluestockings, the fascinating study of anatomy. But with the corpse handy and her scalpel as keen as M. de Voltaire’s wickedly witty mind, she could. While rattling over the Paris cobbles, slice and eviscerate in daily officiation at the new faith whose deity was reason, whose ritual was science and whose high priests were the philosophes, the new order of literary skeptics.

Pace Trilling, passages like this might serve as a reminder that Chambers knew how to hook a reader.

Of course readers (as opposed to subscribers) were not the primary interest at Life. The relative importance of words and images was driven home by the note that occupies the lower right hand corner of the opening page:


At this point Chambers’ text drops out of sight and the art department takes over.  We see reproductions of  prints of the Montgolfier brothers’ balloon at Versailles, a Masonic initiation ceremony, and a tennis match.  They are followed by luscious color images of Screenshot 2016-02-14 11.10.34works by Fragonard, Watteau, and Boucher and photographs of the royal palace at Versailles.  What any of this might have to do “the Enlightenment” (as opposed to “the eighteenth century”) is not entirely clear, but  over the course of those fourteen pages the would-be reader encounters quite a few women. The captions inform us that opera singers were the “chorus girls of the day” and that they “paraded on the streets in morning dress” (77). There is a full page devoted to salons and the “grand ladies” who “presided over the centers of wit and learning” (78). A full page is devoted to Fragonard’s The Swing, a painting that, we are told, illustrates the “pseudo-pastoral pleasures of the French nobles.” There are two pages juxtaposing Louis XV and the Madame de Pompadour (“the virtual ruler of France”).7

When the flood of images ends and Chambers’ narrative resumes we are finally presented with a brief sketch of the Enlightenment and its implications.

Before the Enlightenment culture have been essentially religious. Carrying further the work of the Renaissance, the Enlightenment made culture essentially secular. Before the Enlightenment the proper study of mankind had been the will of God. The proper study of mankind, said the Enlightenment with the voice of Alexander Pope, is man. Revelation had been held to be the highest form of truth. Looking back to Descartes … and to Newton … the Enlightenment sought system and reason in all things. There is no truth, said the Enlightenment, which cannot stand the test of reason. Slowly and surely the Enlightenment began the process whereby philosophy, the search for truth, was supplanted by science, the search for facts. Theology, the effort to know God’s will, was replaced by history, the record of man’s follies. (90)

A reader familiar with Chambers’ writings from the 1950s might see this passage as foreshadowing Chambers’ own later characterization of the Enlightenment. But it bears remembering that it also echoes accounts of the “Age of Enlightenment” that had become a commonplaces in the orthodox Marxist accounts of the period with which Chambers would have been familiar from his days as a Communist. And, with the possible exception of the replacement of the “search for truth” by the “search for facts,” the passage offers little indication that there is anything lamentable about this transformation.  Indeed, on the opening page of the article (immediately before fourteen pages of images), Chambers had emphasized the significance of the Enlightenment for the one thing that would likely have been of greatest importance for  Life‘s subscribers in 1947:  America.

The great divide of cultures is the moment when men feel within themselves a force equal to the vicissitudes of new vision. The vision of the Enlightenment was freedom — freedom from superstition, freedom from intolerance, freedom to know (for knowledge was held to be the ultimate power), freedom from the arbitrary authority of church or state, freedom in trade or work without vestigial feudal restrictions. This vision was embodied in the American Bill of Rights (for 18th Century America was also a part of the Enlightenment) and in the French Revolution’s Rights of Man (75).

We find a similar assessment of the Enlightenment fourteen pages later:

Enlightenment is one great source of modern culture. In a brief 100 years, it provides the fundamental ideas of man’s destiny and purpose which civilization had developed over more than 1,000 years. The Enlightenment was the intellectual chemistry whose gradual precipitate was the modern mind – secular, practical and utilitarian.

Once again, there is little here that is inherently critical. Everything depends on the reader’s stance towards “the modern mind.”

It is not until the final paragraph of the sketch of the Enlightenment that Chambers offers once the art department has finished with its task that something approximating a critique begins to surface;

The function of the Middle Ages had been to reconstruct human civilization from the debris of the fallen Roman. The function of the Renaissance had been to liberate the creative energies of the individual man and to reunite the culture of the ancient world with the culture that man had developed since. These movements had been spontaneous and organic. Their ideas were evolved, not superimposed. The Enlightenment in France began with ideas, and its immediate purpose was to reform or revolutionize French life.

But Chambers immediately closes off the contrast between “organic” and “superimposed” ideas by noting that the attempt to reform France “was a rather discouraging prospect” since the French tended to assume that their civilization had already “reached a perfection unmatched in human history.” And with that, he ends his reflections on the overall meaning of the period and begins a discussion of Mozart, a discussion that rather rapidly turns into a series of reflections on the “terrifying hold on power” that women exercised over the course of the eighteenth century.  It is as if, somewhat improbably, Whittaker Chambers had begun to channel Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

The article eventually tracks back to a brief discussion of the Enlightenment’s more significant thinkers.  There is a brief mention Montesquieu (who, we are told was “least influential in France” and important today chiefly because of his influence on the framers of the American Constitution) and Diderot (who gets two paragraphs devoted, chiefly, to the Encyclopédie) and a somewhat more protracted discussion of Voltaire and a passing mention of Rousseau (there had been a longer discussion of Rousseau and Voltaire several pages earlier in two text blocks separate from the main essay).  The “ involuntarily witty and organically skeptical” Voltaire (it would appear that “organic” is a positive attribute in Chambers’ lexicon) comes off surprisingly well in this’ account, perhaps because Chambers employs him as the Enlightenment’s most effective critic.

His famous work, one of the few books of the Enlightenment is Candide, which savagely satirized the complacent belief, falsely derived from Orthodox philosophers, that this is the best of all possible worlds. Unlike other philosophers, Voltaire had cut deep into a more enduring subject than doctrinaire controversy or the battle of ideas – the eternal subject of human folly.

Rousseau is left to play in the role of the “great prophet of the democratic revolution.” It is because of his writings that  “the Enlightenment leads directly to the Revolution.”

We arrive at the Revolution in the middle of the closing paragraph, at which point Chambers executes a rather surprising pivot that manages to tie everything together. He notes that Rousseau was dead when the revolution he had inspired would come to pass and goes on to observe,

So was Voltaire. This was a pity, for a very minor confrontation of values during The Terror might have tickled the old philosopher’s ironic sense. Mme. de Gramont possibly never had an idea in her unenlightened head when she was called before the Revolutionary Tribunal to stand trial for her life. “Had she ever aided the aristocrats who had escaped abroad?” The court asked her.  Mme. de Gramont knew that if she answered yes she would be guillotined at once. For some seconds she looked at her judges in silence, then, “I was going to answer no,” she said, “but life is not worth the lie.”

Chambers ends this article with neither “apocalyptic pieties” nor “sodden profundities” but instead with the unexpected return of the scalpel-wielding noblewoman from the opening paragraph.  If Chambers would seem to view her efforts at enlightenment with disdain, his last sentence at least leaves her with a certain nobility.  There is perhaps a message that can be extracted here about the possible disjuncture between the acquisition of knowledge and the possession of a good will.  But Chambers was not setting the stage for a discussion of Kant’s Groundwork.  He was trying to come up way of explaining the Enlightenment to readers who —  as he must have known —  would have likely moved on to other parts of the magazine by the time his article had reached its conclusion.

It is hard to know what readers who stuck with Chambers until the bitter end might have thought about how Mme. de Gramont dealt with the question that had been posed to her.  It is even harder to know what Chambers himself, aware that he was about to appear before a Congressional committee and face other questions, might have thought about her fate.  What is clear is that when his readers finished his article and turned the page they would be greeted by the picture of a leggy “show girl”, perched on the railing of a wooden fence, lariat in hand, and an article that begins

Women’s clothes reached a non-utilitarian high in Hollywood recently with the development of riding habits which look just wonderful but unfortunately do not protect the rider from the horse. For a movie musical called Two Guys from Texas masterminds at the Warner Bros. studio posed showgirls in corrals and on cactuses in what looked like buckskin bathing suits. Even if their bare thighs got a trifle chafed, what was that where art is concerned?

And, having spent more time than I should have on this peculiar account of the Enlightenment, the only thing that I am reasonably confident in saying is that any attempt to  compare the account of the Enlightenment that Chambers offered in Life and the account that Horkheimer and Adorno provided in Dialectic of Enlightenment might begin by recognizing that Horkheimer and Adorno had it easier than Whittaker Chambers.  They didn’t have a deadline to meet, they weren’t working for Henry Luce, and Querido Verlag didn’t have an art department eager to provide them with illustrations for a deluxe illustrated edition of Dialectic of Enlightenment.

Screenshot 2016-02-12 17.06.49


  1. Whittaker Chambers, Cold Friday, ed. Duncan Norton-Taylor (New York: Random House, 1964). 227. ↩︎
  2. Michael Kimmage, The Conservative Turn : Lionel Trilling, Whittaker Chambers, and the Lessons of Anti-Communism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009) 388, footnote 18. ↩︎
  3. Kimmage, The Conservative Turn, 156. ↩︎
  4. “The Protestant Revolution,” LIFE June 14, 1948, 94.  Since neither Kimmage nor I (nor, it would appear, any other historian) has been able to examine the Chambers’ manuscripts, we are both relying on the selection of texts assembled by Terry Teachout in Whittaker Chambers, Ghosts on the Roof: Selected Journalism of Whittaker Chambers, 1931-1959, (Washington, D.C. : Lanham, MD: Regnery Gateway, 1989).  As I noted in my previous post on this topic, a definitive judgment on what Chambers might have contributed to the series (e.g.,  was he also responsible for the supplemental material that appeared outside the main text)  and how his drafts might have been edited is thwarted by the lack of access to the relevant materials.↩︎
  5. “1848”, LIFE 111.  ↩︎
  6. Several studies of the role of women during the eighteenth century appear in the bibliography appended to version of the series later published in book form, including E. L. and J. A. de Goncourt’s, The Women of the Eighteenth Century (1927), Halina Sokolnikoza’s Nine Women (1932), and H. N. Williams’ studies of the Madame de Pompadour (1902) and Madame du Barry (1934).  Roger Picard’s Les Ssalons Littéraires et la Société Française (1943) is also cited.  Surprisingly, there is no mention of Becker’s Heavenly City of the Eighteenth Century Philosophers.  Less surprisingly, neither Cassirer nor Hazard appear.  It should be stressed that it is not clear what role, if any, Chambers would have had in suggesting items for the bibliography.   ↩︎
  7. It might be noted that whoever wrote the captions seems to have reversed the Mme. D’Epinay and the Mme.du Chatelet. ↩︎
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