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‘It only needs all’: re-reading Dialectic of Enlightenment at 70 | openDemocracy
In the last paragraph of ‘The concept of Enlightenment’ Horkheimer and Adorno are quite explicit about the source of their optimism: they state that ‘the bourgeois economy’ has multiplied Gewalt (a German word that means violence, power, force and/or domination) ‘through the mediation of the market’, but in the same process has also ‘multiplied its things and forces to such an extent that their administration no longer requires kings, nor even the bourgeois themselves: it only needs all. They learn from the power of things finally to forgo domination.’

This sentence, written in the midst of WWII and the Holocaust, is nothing less than astonishing, and has been largely overlooked in the reception of Dialectic of Enlightenment: in spite of their seemingly overwhelming darkness, we can learn from the reified forms of enlightenment – the stuff of civilization: knowledge, science, technology, social-organisational forms – that we can abolish the domination to which the enlightenment has been wedded for several tens of thousands of years. This optimism does not come with any guarantees, obviously: the learning remains for us to do, and the obstacles are enormous.
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august 2017 by petej
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