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HORKHEIMER, Max

Eclipse of Reason

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Although most people never overcome the habit of berating the world for their difficulties, those who are too weak to make a stand against reality have no choice but to obliterate themselves by identifying with it. They are never rationally reconciled to civilization. Instead, they bow to it, secretly accepting the identity of reason and domination, of civilization and the ideal, however much they may shrug their shoulders. Well-informed cynicism is only another mode of conformity. These people willingly embrace or force themselves to accept the rule of the stronger as the eternal norm. Their whole life is a continuous effort to suppress and abase nature, inwardly or outwardly, and to identify themselves with its more powerful surrogates—the race, fatherland, leader, cliques, and tradition. For them, all these words mean the same thing—the irresistible reality that must be honored and obeyed. However, their own natural impulses, those antagonistic to the various demands of civilization, lead a devious undercover life within them.

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Now that science has helped us to overcome the awe of the unknown in nature, we are the slaves of social pressures of our own making. When called upon to act independently, we cry for patterns, systems, and authorities. If by enlightenment and intellectual progress we mean the freeing of man from superstitious belief in evil forces, in demons and fairies, in blind fate--in short, the emancipation from fear--then denunciation of what is currently called reason is the greatest service reason can render.

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The more these artificial renaissances strive to keep intact the letter of the original doctrines, the more they distort the original meaning, for truth is forged in an evolution of changing and conflicting ideas. Thought is faithful to itself largely through being ready to contradict itself, while preserving, as inherent elements of truth, the memory of the processes by which it was reached. The task of critical reflection is not merely to understand the various facts in their historical development but also to see through the notion of fact itself, in its development and therefore in its relativity.”

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An intelligent man is not one who can merely reason correctly, but one whose mind is open to perceiving objective contents, who is able to receive the impact of their essential structures and to render it in human language; this holds also for the nature of thinking as such, and for its truth content. The neutralization of reason that deprives it of any relation to objective content and of its power of judging the latter, and that degrades it to an executive agency concerned with the how rather than with the what, transforms it to an ever-increasing extent into a mere dull apparatus for registering facts.

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