by Max Horkheimer & Theodore W. Adorno

It is not difficult to see where science fits into the social division of labor. Its task is to accumulate facts and their functional relationships in the greatest possible quantities. The storage system used must be clearly designed, so that any industry can instantly pick out the particular assortment of intellectual goods it is seeking. To a large extent, these are in fact already assembled with an eye on the demands of specific branches of industry.

Historical works, too, furnish material. Ways of applying it are to be sought not directly in industry but indirectly in the administrative sphere. Just as Machiavelli once wrote for princes and republics, so today work is undertaken on behalf of economic and political committees. The historical form has of course now become a hindrance, and it is far better to order historical material right away in the light of a given administrative task, such as the manipulation of commodity prices or of mass emotions. The interested parties include not only the authorities and industrial consortia but also trade unions and political parties.

The official philosophy ministers to science operating on these lines. It is expected, as a sort of Taylorism of the mind, to help improve its production methods, to rationalize the storage of knowledge, and to prevent any wastage of intellectual energy. It is allotted a place in the division of labor in the same way as chemistry or bacteriology. If the few remnants of philosophy that recall the medieval worship of God and the contemplation of eternal essences are still tolerated at secular universities, it is precisely because these establishments are so reactionary. Furthermore, a few historians of philosophy are still at work tirelessly expounding Plato and Descartes while remarking that these are already outdated. Here and there they are joined by some veteran exponent of sensualism or an accomplished personalist. They are employed in rooting out the dialectical weeds that might overrun the field of science.

But, unlike those who administer it, philosophy is concerned with thought, in so far as this does not succumb to the prevailing division of labor or allow it to dictate its tasks. The status quo compels men not merely by virtue of physical force and material interests but also through its overpowering suggestion.  Philosophy is not synthesis; and it is not the fundamental or master science. It is the attempt to resist this suggestion, the determination to hang on to intellectual and real freedom.

The division of labor, as it has developed under domination, is by no means overlooked in the process. Philosophy sees in it only the lie that there is no escaping it. Resisting the fascination of superior strength, it follows it in every nook and cranny of the social apparatus, which a priori should be neither stormed nor redirected, but grasped for what it is, divested of the spell exerted by it. If the officials whom industry sponsors in its intellectual centers—the universities, the Churches, and the press—require philosophy to declare its principles as a condition for continuing its searching, it is in a mortal dilemma. Philosophy knows of no workable abstract rules or goals to replace those at present in force. It is immune to the suggestion of the status quo for the very reason that it accepts bourgeois ideals without further consideration. These ideals may be those still proclaimed, though in distorted form, by the representatives of the status quo; or those which, however much they may have been tinkered about with, are still recognizable as the objective meaning of existing institutions, whether technical or cultural. Philosophy believes that the division of labor exists to serve mankind, and that progress leads to freedom. This is why it is so apt to come into conflict with both of them. It gives utterance to the contradiction between faith and reality while keeping close to the time-conditioned phenomenon. Unlike the press, it does not attach greater weight to mass slaughter than to the murder of a few mental defectives. It does not pay more attention to the intrigues of a statesman flirting with Fascism than to a lynching spree of modest proportions. For philosophy, the frenzied publicity of the film industry rates no higher than an intimate funeral announcement. Philosophy has little taste for sheer size. Therefore it is simultaneously alien and sympathetic to the status quo. Its voice belongs to the object, though without its will. It is the voice of contradiction, which would otherwise not be heard but triumph mutely.

Horkheimer, Max; Adorno, Theodore W. Dialectic of Enlightenment, translated by John Cumming (New York: Continuum, 1997), pp. 242-244. (German original, 1944; English translation, 1972.)

R. Dumain's Critique of Dialectic of Enlightenment

Jeffrey Herf on Reactionary Modernism & Dialectic of Enlightenment

Theodor W. Adorno Study Guide

Philosophy and the Division of Labor: Selected Bibliography

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