Does Religious Pluralism Require Secularism?   /   Fall 2010   /    Essays & Short Takes

Non-Public Opinion

Adorno and the Frankfurt School’s "Group Experiment"

Jeffrey K. Olick and Andrew J. Perrin

In 1949, FRANKFURT SCHOOL SCHOLARS Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, and Friedrich Pollock returned to Germany from their exile in the U.S. with a European critical theory transformed but not betrayed by its ideological encounter with American empiricism. They sought to use this to investigate the contours of postwar Germany. The result was Gruppenexperiment (Group Experiment): a fascinating, frustrating study, ambitious and revolutionary in its substance, questionable in its findings, and at times maddeningly plodding in its prose, yet prescient in its dynamic approach to public opinion and democratic behavior. If their most famous work, The Authoritarian Personality, sought to identify the sorts of individuals who might succumb to authoritarianism given the right material conditions, Group Experiment sought to demonstrate that such conditions existed and could evoke proto-fascist responses in “denazified” Germany.

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