Critical theory classic, and this is one of his fundamental texts, has known better times. Those who have the temperament of a critic will probably not look drawn by a vision that remains very critical of the modern project is not only critical of the latter; and further, makes the criticism from that same project. Those who base their talent is critical in a defense of the dominated groups and of their resistances, they will not be attracted to a tradition that never believed much in it, and that in addition to suspected greatly from the popular culture of the masses.
With all some of their thesis central well can be useful to understand the contemporary world. One appointment in particular will be useful in this regard:
She [the Illustration] contemplates the passions “as if it were a matter of lines, surfaces, or bodies.” The totalitarian order has taken this quite seriously. Subtracted to the control of a class of its own, that kept the business man of the NINETEENTH century in the respect and mutual love kantianos, the fascism that saves their people the moral feelings by an iron discipline, no longer needs to keep a discipline. Against the categorical imperative, and in deeper accordance with pure reason, it treats men as things, centers of modes of behavior (Dialectic of Enlightenment, Excursus II: Juliette or Enlightenment and Morality, p 133-134, Trotta).
The Illustration, thus begins the book, is the attempt to liberate human beings through an instrumental reason and dominator, through the mastery over nature. But in its evolution, the reason -that knows no other limits than those which it places to itself – begins to transfers its instrumental vision towards the human beings who initially was the idea to release and then becomes barbarism. Adorno and Horkheimer, writing during World War II, were very clear of how barbaric is was talking about.
However, the thesis as such has been discussed, and has been counter-argued that the barbarism of totalitarianism was not a product of the Enlightenment and of modernity, but of his reaction: if we think of the enlightened reason as a reason individualizante, then the colectivismos that produced the barbarism were anti-modern. And designed so modernity may well be argued that it is not casual that they do not occur in the slope for more individualized (and less rationalist and more empiricist if you want to insist on that point) of modernity that is the anglo-saxon (countries in which there was never fascisms relevant at the time).
The above may be sufficient to defend the idea that the Illustration does not necessarily lead to the atrocities of the mid-TWENTIETH century, but remains insufficient (a cop-out). Because those same atrocities are possible only with the enlightened reason (before modernity there is another kind of barbarism, but not the experienced in that time). And even more, one might well argue that if the reason individualizante not had those results was due to the persistence in it of moralities for-rational, or is the fact that it has not been brought to the pure enlightened reason to its limit. But, if that were the reason, it is insufficient as a limit; as shown by the fact that these same societies, if not fell in ways so explicit and notorious barbarism if they use routinely in their operations: capitalism is based on treating others (customers, competitors etc) as a means not as ends. Usually this does not result in greater consequences (that one who sells a car to only see your client as an amount of money to be gotten I could not produce something worse than a bad purchase), but in some cases it does (for example, the actions of the tobacco companies in relation to cancer, or of virtually the entire industry and all consumers of electronic goods consumption in relation to those who produce those goods).
In other words, effectively we live in a world in which reason impels to treat others as things; and this ranges from the trivial situations (in which, in reality, usufructuamos to be treated as things) until closer to the barbarism. The fact that, therefore, the Enlightenment produces its own form of barbarism, and no variant of it is free of that possibility should be to us, at the beginning of the TWENTY-first century, to be clear and it should not be forgotten. Will not be out of place to recall that the EE.UU-allegedly one of the countries that had not passed by that barbarism – is a country in which a few years ago it was discussed about the legitimacy of torture (and where candidates delivered were applauded in discussions about it).
NOTE 1. A response to these possibilities would be to abandon the complete the enlightened reason and modern, and so without reason that master we would avoid that problem. But that would be to have the childish idea that it is possible to have safeguards against barbarism. There is not a system of thinking that can avoid that possibility, and it will not be necessary to notice all the forms of barbarism that does not await the deployment of instrumental reason. And on the other hand the instrumental reason not only produced Auschwitz if you want, also penicillin; I don’t think that, with all the criticism, whether it is something that actually we would like to leave.
NOTE 2. Up to here we have adopted the equivalence reason=Enlightenment. But is it sustainable? The idea of basing the guards moral against barbarism in the pure reason is not the only alternative -even if, from Kant and utilitarianism as variants of it, has been philosophically dominant in the last centuries. However, the scottish Enlightenment is resolutely a theory of the moral sentiments, and the very denial of the relevance of the reason in that field. The Illustration had more choices that were effectively taken and developed.
NOTE 3. There is a limit on the objectification of the person. It is normally treated as an object are the other, but the own actor is not objectifies itself. The solipsism that is so deep-rooted in the modern project (as much Descartes, from the rationalism, like Berkeley, from empiricism, to use prominent authors in the deployment of modern thought, struggling against it, and both resolve it externally: through God; but in itself, the actor can’t get out of your solipsism) simplies then the objectification of the other.
NOTE 4. Do not treat people as things seems to be one of the moral statements of common sense (a moral sense) relatively obvious. Now, is there no way of having a naturalistic worldview of human beings -i.and that are things – that does not fall into barbarism? I think that yes. But this requires a broader conceptualization of things, of nature: In other words, the above divides the world into things (on which it operates) and people (acting), but then it is right to recognize that the Nature, the things, if they work and yes they react (and, therefore, are not pure space in which to exercise a domination). The problem is not the identification of the people as one of the things, is the idea that there are things inert; the reason dominator what that tries is that there is an actor (which dominates), and against this assert, then the multiplicity of the action, that exceeds and goes beyond just the human. To avoid the barbarism, then naturalism should recognize that ‘to treat another as a thing to be played’ is not even adequate to treat the non-human Nature.