Martin Shuster

Autonomy after Auschwitz

Adorno, German Idealism and Modernity

University of Chicago Press 2014

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The work of Theodore Adorno is well established as a crucial resource for understanding the complexities of contemporary capitalism, playing a foundational role in...

The work of Theodore Adorno is well established as a crucial resource for understanding the complexities of contemporary capitalism, playing a foundational role in Critical Theory. Dialectic of Enlightenment, Adorno’s most well known text written with Max Horkheimer, is reassessed in a new book of philosophy by Martin Shuster. Autonomy after Auschwitz: Adorno, German Idealism and Modernity (University of Chicago Press, 2014) considers how autonomy might exist under the conditions of contemporary capitalism, following the disastrous inhumanity of events in the twentieth century.

Shuster explores the nature of autonomy in four ways. The book opens with a re-reading of Dialectic of Enlightenment, as a means to engage and critique Kant’s notion of autonomy. The text then turns to consider a potential ‘response’ from Kant, in the form of Kant’s conception of a rational theology. It is here where Shuster considers the importance of God to Kantian ethics, most notably the role of God as establishing the value of humanity in the categorical imperative. The categorical imperative is juxtaposed with Adorno’s later work, which Shuster argues provides a way to think about autonomy that moves beyond and between the totalizing dialectic of enlightenment and Kant’s rational theology. The book closes with a consideration of Hegel’s relationship to this reading of Adorno, reassessing topics such as the teleology of history in Hegel through to the contemporary work of Stanley Cavell. The conclusion provides a practical call to arms based on the conception of autonomy developed in the book. The chapter on Dialectic of Enlightenment provides a stimulating reassessment of a text central to the critical theory tradition and should attract a general readership looking to add depth to their knowledge of this work. However the book itself will also be of interest to all readers of contemporary philosophy, holocaust studies and those wondering how we should live now.

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