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Psicologia USP

Print version ISSN 0103-6564On-line version ISSN 1678-5177

Psicol. USP vol.29 no.3 São Paulo Sept./Dec. 2018 


Institutional rationality and domination in the light of Weber, Freud and Adorno: uncritical or emancipatory adhesion

Silvia Rosa da Silva Zanollaa  * 

Márcia Ferreira Torres Pereiraa 

Rômulo Fabriciano Gonzaga Pintoa 

aUniversidade Federal de Goiás, Programa de Pós-Graduação em Educação da Faculdade de Educação. Goiânia, GO, Brazil


Based on the Critical Theory of Society by the philosopher Theodor Adorno, this study proposes to reflect on objective elements of the context of institutional and social structure that founded ideas regarding rationality and domination, considering subjective factors correlated to the sociologist Max Weber’s ideas. In this sense, ideas about the complex formation of the subject’s identity against the demands of human conservation, presented in the light of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis, are corroborated; A discussion, although controversial, fundamental to critical theory, since it considers contributions of psychology permeated by elements that expand beyond determined, conscious or alienated behaviors. That is, it aims at cultural, historical and sociological factors as primordial bases for analysis of ideology as a rational factor which runs through the modern period.

Keywords: formation; identity; violence; authority; politics


Com base na teoria crítica da sociedade do filósofo Theodor Adorno, este trabalho propõe refletir sobre elementos objetivos do âmbito da estrutura institucional e social que fundam ideias referentes à racionalidade e à dominação, considerando fatores subjetivos correlatos às ideias do sociólogo Max Weber. Nesse sentido, corrobora-se ideias acerca da formação complexa da identidade do sujeito diante das exigências de conservação humana, apresentadas à luz da psicanálise de Sigmund Freud; uma discussão controversa, porém fundamental para a teoria crítica, posto que considera contribuições da psicologia perpassadas por elementos que se ampliam para além de comportamentos determinados, conscientes ou alienados. Ou seja, almeja fatores culturais, históricos e sociológicos como bases primordiais para a análise da ideologia como fator racional o qual transcorre o período moderno.

Palavras-chave: formação; identidade; violência; autoridade; política


Basée sur la théorie critique de la société du philosophe Theodor Adorno, cet article propose de réfléchir sur des éléments objectifs du contexte de la structure institutionnelle et sociale qui fondent les idées sur la rationalité et la domination, en considérant des facteurs subjectifs liés aux idées du sociologue Max Weber. En ce sens, les idées sur la formation complexe de l’identité du sujet contre les exigences de la conservation humaine, présentées à la lumière de la psychanalyse de Sigmund Freud, sont corroborées; une discussion controversée, cependant, critique à la théorie critique, car elle considère que les contributions des chargés de la psychologie avec des éléments qui vont au-delà de certains comportements, conscients ou aliénées ou facteurs culturels implorent, historiques et sociologiques, comme bases primaires pour l’analyse de l’idéologie en tant que facteur rationnel qui traverse la période moderne.

Mots clés : formation; identité; violence; autorité; politique


Con base en la teoría crítica del filósofo Theodor Adorno, este documento propone reflexionar sobre el contexto de los elementos objetivos de la estructura institucional y social de fundación ideas relacionadas con la racionalidad y la dominación, teniendo en cuenta los factores subjetivos vinculados a las ideas del sociólogo Max Weber. En ese sentido, apoya las ideas acerca de la compleja formación de la identidad del sujeto frente a las exigencias de la conservación humana presentado a la luz del psicoanálisis de Sigmund Freud; una discusión controversial, sin embargo fundamental para la teoría crítica, ya que considera las contribuciones de la psicología cargadas con elementos que se extienden más allá de ciertos comportamientos, conscientes o alienados, o anhelan factores culturales, históricos y sociológicos como bases principales para el análisis de la ideología como factor racional, lo que transcurre la época moderna.

Palabras clave: educación; identidad; violencia; autoridad; política

Theodor Adorno’s critical theory of society results from studies and research recognized by the Frankfurt School (Jay, 1974). This School stands out because of its wide, multivocal perspective, which, in Adorno’s understanding, attempts to dialectically reflect on the relationship between individual and society, in order to “once again refer to this multivocal concept of object as the no less multivocal concept of subject” (1969/1995, p. 184). Nevertheless, this perspective considers all areas of the theory of knowledge to be essential, although criticized, as notes the Marxist historian Martin Jay (1974), for whom the Frankfurter group:

Encompassed so many diverse fields that a definitive analysis of each of these would require a team of scholars that were experts in everything, from musicology to sinology . . .; in the thought of the Frankfurt School, there was an essential coherence that affected all work in different areas. (pp. 15-16)

This multivocal perspective, compared to the binomial of subject and object, favors radical criticism towards the rational processes that mediate social dehumanization in cultural and socio-historical terms. In order to investigate this problematic in the approach described, authors are suggested to face the contradictions of a rational framework in constant interface with sociological, historical, philosophical and psychological factors of the object, these factors being permeated by the complex connection between society and individual. This justifies Adorno’s careful attention in several of his works to the theory of knowledge that was created since the classical Greek age, considering authors such as Plato and Aristotle, those whose contribution laid the foundations for modern thought, such as Kant, Hegel, Marx, Weber and Freud, among many others (Jay, 1974). Because of the broad nuance and its connections within the theory of knowledge itself, it would be impossible to present all of these contributions at once due to their complexity.

This draws attention to a principle that governs the work of the Frankfurt School, and Adorno in particular, namely, a certain caution as to the course of modern civilization, which consolidates a technical rationality in a contradictory perspective, in that it maintains social domination at a material and human level. This scenario and its dehumanizing potential are questioned in the face of a possible resistance in an emancipatory sense (Adorno, 1971/1995; Adorno & Horkheimer, 1944/1988). This reflection allows us to confront, within our own theory of knowledge, elements of rationality that retake the relation between subject and object, individual and society. Given that it justifies the delimitation of interlocution by Adorno with two important authors: Weber (1864-1920) and Freud (1856-1939).

In a detailed look at Max Weber’s (1920/1995) work Politics as a vocation, a critique of the process of rationality that precedes the analysis of the political universe can be seen, a critique constituting Adorno’s theoretical perspective on Weber’s legacy. Adorno (1920/1995) reiterates, in Weber’s thought, elements that link the recognition of institutional domination mechanisms and the human (conscious) rational potential for refusal and resistance against the oppressive system.

In the light of Adorno (1969/1995), while Max Weber allows society to discern reality as it is presented through rational mastery administered by control over others, Sigmund Freud’s broad thinking in psychoanalysis contributes to cultural formation in the sense of presenting subjective subsidies (in individual and collective terms) as a basis for reflection on the contradictions of cultural mediations that themselves consolidate social rationality, whose materiality grounds institutions based on legitimized symbolic values (Adorno, 1955/1960, 1969/1995).

For Freud (1917/2010), a theory of the individual based on the relationship between rationality (conscious intention) and the non-rational (unconscious) psychic foundation, in a contradictory manner, seeks to understand the ascendancy of the unconsciousness (repressed, hidden reality) over consciousness (elaborated, recognized reality). These studies apprehend the human object in its interface with socialization and its conflicting relationship between pleasure and displeasure which, according to Freud (1929/1973), conceives social relations, while at the same time originating from primary needs and the creation of desires, resulting in the elaboration of primary instincts that constitute sublimation (instinctual elaboration of investment and renunciation to immediate pleasure because of social acceptance). This process involves the relation between activity, elaboration, cultural production, and the individual and collective social acceptance of the subject. The instinctual/driving factor (based on social formation) that comes from libidinal energy is vital for identification processes, constituted “by and for” objective reality, referring to the development of singular character (as to what pertains to human identity) as well as groups and institutions.

Although Freud and Weber differentiate themselves by different theoretical grounds - each with due proportions -, their studies on social mediation contribute to analyze the power relations that converge towards the exercise of social domination in different instances; they enable reflection on the contradictions of the idea of ​​authority and its nexuses that hinder human emancipation due to properly administered social organization in the human and social spheres.

This process relies on a barbaric and inhuman rational organization that slips into political and cultural actions. In the sequence, especially with regard to the statute of reason, it is possible to observe that, in Max Weber’s sociological theory (1920/1995), the understanding of different aspects of political rationality is defined, allowing for a subjective and objective conception of human action by means of the concept of social action. For Weber (1920/2002), this concept is Sociology’s object of study. Social action presents a sense that is subjectively directed towards the other, with whom there is agreement in significant elements of social objectivity.

Weber (2004), in his Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, briefly states that the Protestant ethos, originated from Calvinist puritanism in the specific currents and sects of the Quakers, Methodists, Baptists, and Anabaptists, establishes a connection of meaning to its ethos, called the “spirit” of capitalism. In Weber (1920/2002), the connection and motivation of senses is what clarifies his sociological theory. It is about understanding how the meanings of social action connect to each other based on elective affinities. This means that a plan to build social projects such as capitalism, for instance, would not be at the origin of social actions. In this sense, among many social results, capitalism is one of the many meanings that have connected to allow for its existence.

Thus, to Weber, the motives that lead to relations of domination are material and rational; however, not all domination immediately serves economic means, let alone economic ends (Weber, 1920/1995). There are thus subjective elements that originate from the history of each individual (such as authority or submission) that also define these relations of power, a fact that refers to the reflection about the place of subjectivity as a resistance component against the pragmatic rationality of domination.

Based on Adorno (1969/1995), this discussion turns to a formative and cultural perspective based on the classical contradiction between universal and particular, idealism and materialism, subject and object. A dialectical elaboration that seeks to denounce the inhuman instrumentalization of reason that surpasses the critical conscience from ideological domination mechanisms, in cultural and institutional levels, ways of producing and thinking individual and collective life. To study the relations of power and authority that maintain legitimizing processes of political dynamics through the administration of instrumental rationality means to access consciousness, according to Adorno (1971/1995), and makes it emerge as human emancipation.

For Adorno (1971/1995), emancipation, in a broad sense, refers to the ability of the subject to conduct formative experiences as well as to the “self-reflection from which the individual consciousness can liberate itself and expand” (p. 47); he presupposes the freedom and overcoming of individualism to execute experiences opposed to actions based on the immediacy and superficiality of its contents, contrary to cultural formation (bildung) and critical, self-critical and creative spirit.

Although emancipation is characterized by the formation of subjects’ autonomy, in a Kantian philosophical sense, Adorno (1969/1995) considers that socio-historical context and its formative process leads thought to the comprehension of reality in its tension between totality and particularity through recognition of the contradictions of enlightenment, its discrepancies and, above all, the author pursues critical and dialectical formation in the fight against technicist and unifying thought, crystallized in inhuman and barbaric situations. In this case, history is important for the Frankfurtian critical theory as far as the enlightenment program is concerned, as well as the reversal of this ideology’s meaning, based on instrumental, adaptive and uncritical rationality, being resistant to the constitution of subject authors of real praxis, individual and collective terms (Adorno & Horkheimer, 1988).

Rationality and society: objective and subjective domination

To think of rationality and its contradictions in material and human terms, from an Adornian perspective, a priori, demands the confrontation of the duality of subjectivity and objectivity (Adorno, 1969/1995). The relation between subject and object that is established by an objectified - or alienated - mediation is considered propositive for the technical and scientific advances of social, political and economic development. The socio-historical structure is a fundamental element to understand ideological reality, which seeks to pervert identities from an idealized rationality, produced by a series of cultural effects and actions, by means of thinking and acting.

According to Adorno (1955/1960), in studying the subjective elements of culture in order to demystify the vision of a fully rational man, Freud also contributed to the understanding of an administrated rationality in which the struggle between desire, satisfaction and necessity prevails as a condition for sociability. On the other hand, in Weber (1920/1995), social administration reveals imperatives of a political rationality oriented by means-ends, which presupposes its own preservation as a price for survival. This converges with Freudian thought in that it posits a dilemma involving the relationship between survival, work, and conditions for overcoming man’s primary nature, while considering autonomy and the struggle against individual, cultural and social dehumanization.

Thus, including that which the culture of liberal domination, appearance and profit rejected as a formative perspective (due to the contradictions of consciousness), to become itself resistance to its emancipatory meaning, the identification with mechanisms of the development of social life and its alienation turns to lucrative interests - a measure of the ideological character of labor approved by human submission. Confused by its ideological logico-formal contradiction (a pragmatic and immediatist, antireflexive rationality), this characterization of labor became a pillar of permanently concealed domination, converted to power issues and objectified in the instrumentalization of reason (Adorno & Horkheimer, 1944/1988).

Because of this rationality, considering the historical dynamics permeated by diverse political intentions, labor appears ideologically allied to ethics as a vocation (Weber, 1920/1995). This contributes to the primacy of economy as a function of surplus value in effective production decisions, since, for Adorno and Horkheimer (1944/1988), in this new reality prevails a difficulty to judge the real and the false aspect of needs, given the complex universe of capital. A dialectic relationship between the specificities of labor in capitalist society and the constitution of an instrumental rationality that emerges from alienated social relations of production is postulated. Rationality institutionally reorganizes what emancipation cannot reach - which refers to the Freudian elaboration of what happens in society, “something common, an interest shared in an object, a similar affective orientation in a given situation . . . a certain level in ability to influence each other” (Freud, 1920/2011, p. 34).

Thus, it is worth noting that personal ties influence individuals while causing changes and limitations, since identification with social and political norms promotes conduct standards in collective relations and their organization. The control exerted by institutions suggests the retraction of the work of thinking and reflecting, which is compensated by physical action, contributing to hinder freedom and autonomy, a standardized, instrumental and institutionally rationality legitimized by an idea that is based on power and domination, ultimately seeking only profit.

Since the identity of individuals is constructed upon social relations, renouncing their immediate and instinctual needs for the social good, resistance to existing coercive forces in the name of the integration of the subjects becomes a sacrifice by means of fear of exclusion (Freud, 1929/1973). This imposes renunciations, rational elaborations (formative/cultural), individual and social constraints.

Thus, Weber (1920/1995) is prepared to reflect on the meaning of social organization and its actions that are manifested by a rationality instrumented by the institutional domain in a subjective and objective scope, in which political administration predominates, being legitimized by actors who repeat themselves historically: However, even among the older political formations, the personal domination of the boss is widespread” (Weber, 1920/1995, p. 61). Thus, it is possible to show how social life is organized based on the capitalist logic of management, which, in defense of property (satisfaction of immediate needs), enslaves everyone: those who hold the power of production assets and their profit and those who, submissively, carry out productive work, promoting the intensification of individualism and instrumental reason. In general terms,

Power means any likelihood of imposing one’s will on a social relationship. Even against resistance, whatever the basis of that likelihood may be. Domination is the likelihood to find obedience to an order of certain content among certain indicative people; discipline is the likelihood to find prompt, automatic, and schematic obedience to an order among an indicative plurality of person by virtue of trained activities. (Weber, 1920/1995, p. 33)

Power, necessity and domination interact effectively with completely diverse laws mediated “essentially by political administration” (Weber, 1991, p. 63). This leads to interference in the formation of identity for a critical reasoning of individuals, since they should consider the social representations attributed to them, which would enable social participation and investment in critical reflection.

Weber (1995/2004), when presenting the human condition as being administered in nature, the individual as a social agent in the service of pragmatic rationality allows to counteract the false condition of the ideal subject in the context and conditions of insertion in culture, and thus acquisition of critical knowledge becomes resistance to social adaptation. It is important to remember that for Weber (1920/1995), even among the older political formations, “the personal power of the chief is an element of identification for domination types” (p. 61). This refers to the Freudian reflection on the social role of the leader in the constitution of identity through identifications.

Adherence to a leader or institution is not abstracted from the relationships that are given by appearance, it is based on identifications. According to Freud (1920/2011), in psychoanalysis, identification is: “The oldest manifestation of a bond/affective attachment to another person. It plays a specific role in the prehistory of the Oedipus complex” (Freud, 1920/2011, p. 60). Thus, identification between people conceives social and institutional structures. We can broaden this analysis to the political universe by considering the dominating role of the State appreciated by Weber.

For Weber (1920/1995), in the midst of the world of politics, the “State [is constituted] in relation to the domination of man over man, grounded on the instrument of legitimate violence” (p. 57). Human submission legitimizes domination by adherence (or identification). Does this make the author question the conditions under which humans submit themselves, and why? Weber explains the basis of legitimacy by considering three elements of power: traditional, charismatic, and by competence (p 57). These kinds of power reveal a need for social obedience. They are dictated by “fear or hope”, in the “strength” of adherence for survival, according to the material and affective conditions of each one. Thus, the discussion leads to an interlocution with Freudian explanations about identification with power for survival and materialization of domination in collectivity. In general terms, a set of efforts is invested in order to participate in power at different fronts (domineering and dominated) and, therefore, the political authority conferred by representation or identification, more specifically, its own varied needs, anchored in the structural context, is consolidated.

For Freud (1914/2010), since the object (other) stands in the place of the narcissistic ego (ideal ego), we have an undifferentiated subject, which reveals self-preservation based on the relationship between guilt and duty. This conflict denotes that “The individual does actually carry a double existence, as an end in itself and as the link of a chain, in which it serves against, or at any rate without any volition of his own” (Freud, 1914/2010, p. 20). This process is not of conscience and refers to the price that the individual pays to be socially accepted. This reality assigns the institutional role played by authorities and the submissive subject.

Thus, since it corresponds to the appeasement of the proposal of equality under the domain of the object (an idea or a leader), the subject who adapts by coercive means to the criteria of socially instituted mechanisms without reflection perpetuates the reified rationality, and therefore, to deny this sacrifice to endorse self-conservative rationality is the same as to become self-sacrifice: “What remains identical and emerges with the overcoming of sacrifice is once again a hard, petrified sacrificial ritual, which man celebrates for himself by opposing his consciousness to the context of nature” (Adorno & Horkheimer, 1956/1977, p. 60). The psychoanalytic axiom of the price of progress reappears, instituted by the repression of primary needs in the acquisition of socialization between man, culture and society (Freud, 1929/1973).

Such a dose of sacrifice, a priori is required for the formation of the self, its socialization and possible emancipation. Precisely for this reason, critical reflection on social reality is necessary to allow for the constitution of a critical identity. A fundamental element in this process is labor, whose dynamic is determined by the division between ruptures and dependencies in the relations between subjects. The dependency nexus configures something in which:

Bonds become social passports - accepted by a person for the purpose of legitimizing themselves as an honorable citizen - or producing hateful grudges, psychologically contrary to their original purpose. They mean heteronomy - a dependence on precepts that are not justified by the rationality of the individual. (Adorno, 1969/1995, p. 109)

Nevertheless, these bonds, historically constituted based on the legality between patriarchs, kings and warriors, have elements that confer authority based on norms, which impose obedience of other individuals, acquired by different forms of authority that represent the structure of domination.

Therefore, the subjective aspect also defines these relations of power or autonomy. In contrast, what is central to Weber in the subjective constitution of domination is the legitimizing nature of a given situation (by virtue of rationally provided conditions (Adorno, 1969/1995). Meanwhile, the subjectivism that can be deduced from Weber, according to Adorno, however nominalist, allows the understanding of something constitutive above the merely operational. In contrast, in the crystallization of the object due to excess of definitions and determinations, it accumulates operative concepts, making it possible to think of the contradiction of its methodology as being ideological (Adorno 1969/1995).

When it comes to discussing operative rationality from a human and cultural point of view, we return to Freud, since he connects his studies on group psychology and the constitution of institutions with the material manifestation of rationality, which involves needs and conditions of survival in society. Freud highlights the church and the army as institutional phenomena of mass psychology; the absence of freedom of the collective individual in observing the ambivalence between the affective attachment that he establishes with the leader: “changes and limitations of his personality” (Freud, 1920/2011, p. 49).

In Freud’s studies (1920/2011), the nature of the bonds that unite the leader and the group, as well as the members of the group, are very clear. These relations underline the construction of certain forms of power and authority in which fantasy and idealization are common and indispensable to the construction of the social as a unit for the cultural universe. In this process, individuals remain in the group or institution by recognition, identification and belonging. In order to carry out a jointly agreed project, the fundamental differences in group policy cannot be questioned so that identification is to not be ruptured like cohesion - a fundamental element for maintaining control and, consequently, domination.

In this respect, it is noteworthy the meaning of political identification present in the collective as a sense of belonging. The subjective universe conceives ideology as shared by mechanisms of control, materialized by institutions, making it difficult for true collective identity to constitute itself dialectically (by affirmation and negation) in the relation between the elements of the universal - social and the particular - and individual (Adorno & Horkheimer, 1944/1985).

In addressing institutions as a cultural manifestation of the masses, the church and the army, for Freud (1920, 2011), demonstrate that the demand for equality apparently does not include the leader. “Individuals must all be equal between each other, but everyone wants to be dominated by one alone. Many equal individuals able to identify with each other, and a single one, superior to all of them - this is the situation that occurs in a mass capable of subsisting” (Freud, 1920/2011, p. 83).

On the other hand, this condition of adherence to the masses by identification is related to the formulation of obedience and political domination in Weber (1920/1995). Given that it mentions prior subjective aspects of the domination triad: traditionalist, legalistic and charismatic. While the former consists of power exercised over the others in the name of tradition, the second occurs in function of the legality that gives legitimacy to power grounded on rules defined and recognized by regulations legally produced by authorities, and the third is conferred by the charisma of leaders themselves, demonstrating admirable qualities conditioned to achievements that imply their own merits.

In the meantime, Weber (1920/1995, p. 59) points out that “organized domination requires, on the one hand, a larger administrative state and, on the other, material means for management”: will, motivation or cohesion. In his analysis of the Modern State, he considered:

The development of the Modern State has as its starting point the desire of the prince to expropriate the independent private powers which, along with his own, have administrative power, that is, all owners of managerial means, financial resources, military instruments and of any species of property that may be used for political purposes. The Modern State was thus able to “deprive” administrative management as well as bureaucratic officials and workers of any means of management. (Weber, 1920/1995, p. 62)

From these statements is derived the idea that the materialization of bureaucratic laws is defined in the objective universe according to subjective potential, given the historical conditions that mediate the needs and actions governed by social and cultural factors of domination and survival, permeated by a rationality administrated as to maintain power and the status quo.

Instrumental rationality, domination and resistance

Adorno and Horkheimer (1944/1988), in the chapter “The concept of enlightenment” from The dialectic of enlightenment, establish connections between the history of civilization, the process of technical development, culture and the consolidation of a contradictory rationality in the constitution of social institutions. Historically, ideological mechanisms have led to sources that legitimize political power and, consequently, labor as a sine qua non of rationalization and accumulation of wealth; held in the hands of a certain dominant power of the administrated society, under the logic of the capital, determining the formalization of reason allied with administered organization, defining a new historical and specific type of social division of labor and its constitution in modernity.

The division of labor, culminating in the social process of domination, serves the self-preservation of the whole that is dominated. In this way, with the whole as a whole, the activation of reason immanent to it necessarily converts itself into the execution of the particular. Domination confronts the individual as universal, as reason in actual reality. The power of all members of society, which as such have no other way out, always ends in the division of labor imposed upon them. (Adorno & Horkheimer, 1944/1988, pp. 30-31)

Thus, in the sense of the social division of labor, an immediatist idea of the whole, that is, immediately assimilated, reverses the understanding of the ideological process of the constitution of labor as an instrument that justifies solidary pseudocollectivity (false conscious organization, emancipated), and risks reifying the forms of thought.

Having concealed this form of collective domination, alienated labor legitimates itself under the productivist logic of capitalist society, which corroborates a metabolic relationship between man and nature, from which comes the production and reproduction of life (Marx, 1988/1995). This situation leads to the organic relationship between capitalism, institutions, labor, political enterprise, necessity and power in Weber (1920/1995). For this author, this association is ordered with the central objective of “taking advantage of political domination” (Weber, 1920/1995, p. 99).

As an interaction process between man and nature, there is an intervention caused by human action transforming capitalist society while at the same time maintaining it. This process is distinguished by the mode of production whose men are not only members of a community in which they are produced and reproduced by labor, but rather these relations are sustained by the accumulation of capital and its effects are directed towards immediate profit, where logico-formal reasoning “has become fully utilized in the social process. Its operational value, its role in the domination of men and nature became the sole criterion for evaluating it” (Horkheimer, 1946/2002, p. 26). In the ambivalence between the objective and subjective worlds, reason, as a manifestation of social development, materializes itself in the administration of domination. The emergence of high-scale productivity modifies the relations of production as well as social relations, aiming to establish the primacy of immediacy. The subject is imprisoned by determined social objectivity and managed by the logic of consumption and the ideological mechanisms of the cultural industry.

The cultural industry is a concept elaborated in 1947 by Adorno and Horkheimer (1944/1988). It presents a subservient communication network with economic groups that invest in culture in order to maintain and restructure the capitalist system by encouraging consumption in an expanded way, particularly after the Second World War. It engenders a false human formation in all its tessituras and accomplishes what Adorno (1951/2008) calls “Realization of the spirit conquered by the fetish character of the merchandise” (p. 11). Demands that affect social relations and the ways of producing life are therefore decisive, and critical reflections are sacrificed. “The objectivity of people with each other, abolishing the ideological ornament in their relationship, has become ideology itself in order to treat people as things” (Adorno, 1951/2008, p. 38). Cultural administration presupposes, in advance, rational ideological knowledge. According to Adorno and Horkheimer (1944/1988), the cultural industry performs Kantian schematism (a priori rationalism) in an administered manner.

Processes of rationalization are justified by the ends of transforming the world based on alienated conduct itself, that is, the asceticism of professional work and its functionality, manifest representations enclosed in their cultural, political and institutional patterns. The final objective would be domination by “awareness of influencing other human beings, feeling of participating in power” (Weber, 1920/1995, 105).

Final considerations

As seen in this article, the intentional purposes of administrative rationality embrace factors of domination in collective and individual terms. This is revealed in the history of civilization. Due to the growth of individualism by the advance of liberalism, the decline of the collective myth confers, according to Adorno (1969/1995), “excessive importance to individual persons and private relations against the effectively determinant, from the social point of view, as evident compensation of the functionalization of reality” (p. 80). However, if the reflection of working conditions also contributed to this growth, as well as the tensions between individuation and individualization, differentiation and identity, fruit of the relations of production of alienated labor developed in capitalist society, it can be said that instrumental reasoning has caused the inversion between the particular and the universal. But when considering dialectical contradiction, it is not definite.

In all of this macro and microsocial process, in which the instrumentalization of reason exercised its domain, social conformation has stood out by means of hegemonic thinking, concealed by ideology. Sociological analysis of politically administrated rationality, governed by the liberal system, crystallizes as determined, magical-animistic, even though it is historical, yet contradictory thinking. Reason and power come together “naturally” in the broad of human omnipotence which, in Freud’s view (1914/2010), maintains man as a “psychological image”. Currently, domination and alienation persevere.

In Weber (1920/1995) this is posed by questioning the purposes that lead man to politics as a factor of the ethical sphere. Otherwise, to Freud (1914/2012), power imposes the condition of being social captive of one’s own needs and, most ironically, these needs are not always conscious. Therefore, before being tested as an ethical element, reason is the result of primary (basic) identifications that may or may not lead to a condition of social acceptance, depending on how the subject deals with social obstacles and the possibilities of immediate satisfaction, that is, the way it elaborates factors of culture mediated by subjective factors. Domination and emancipation coexist side by side, denying and affirming themselves dialectically.

According to the conception of the authors studied, because they treat labor as a fruit of rationality, taboos and beliefs can not be ignored because they exercise their “magical power”, since mechanisms of social domination are determinant in order to justify the naturalization of “myth” (reason and fantasy) under the perspective of class and collective consciousness. Reflection on this process underlies the relentless “hand” of the sphere of production demands and the procedure of social rationality. Ideologically, social forces have given rise to such a perspective that contradictorily causes reason to abdicate, in a calculated manner, its autonomy and become an applicable subjectivist instrument.

The consequences of this process, when misunderstanding the order of their ideas according to the order of socially organized nature and uncritical rationality, are reflected by what men seemed to exercise in control over things, being infected by the “Principle of magic, animistic way of thinking, the omnipotence of thoughts”(Freud, 1914/2012, p. 116, emphasis added).

On the other hand, it can be understood that, for Weber (1999/2004), the reflections of different rationalities allow for the conception of subjectivity and objectivity based on social action as being an object of study. For the author, social action is oriented towards “the other” with sense and meanings that express relation between means and ends, and are based on rational criteria. In the process of expansion and development of modern capitalism, social action is understood as everything that is productive and thus desirable, as long as it meets the prerequisites of the industrial process. All scientific production, even if contrary to humanistic principles, has become highly technologically stimulated, even if devoid of reflexive interest.

Such rationality implies political adjustments in order to safeguard the consequences, in the same way the magical power of domination, when involved by charisma and legality, attends directives of formalized reason. The indigence of the realm of subjectivity is not only legitimized by a formal, logical, social, and political rationality, but is violent: “The decisive instrument of politics is violence” (Weber, 1920/1995, p. 114). This ideologically legitimizes both individual and collective domination permeated by different ethical conceptions (p. 115).

It is a rationality in which the means justify the ends in the name of a morality whose logic is determined by interests of power and domination. Weber teaches that when morality is an instrument of power, there is no ethics devoid of ideology. To Adorno (1969/1995a), what is essential to Weber in the subjective constitution of domination is its legitimizing character in a given situation. This reveals the ideological veil of reason. In other words, it indicates the utilitarian meaning of any form of rationality institutionalized by actions that legitimize themselves from social and individual norms, aiming for a “given policy by vocation that involves reified identities and risks situations which, in contrast to autonomy, authoritarian perspectives prevail.

With regard to the questioning of subjective limits from predominant reasoning that is culturally legitimized by objective mechanisms, it is advisable for the delusional portion that in Freud’s view (1929/1973) when grounding oneself on apparent reality, there are risks hiding elements that are beyond critical analysis, like recognizing fantasy components referring to rationality itself, strengthening taboos idealized by narcissistic and prepotent subjects who would not oppose resistance to ideology and weaken the capacity for elaboration and self-criticism.

This reinforces what Adorno and Horkheimer (1944/1988) caution: administered rationality grounds a solid, socially necessary division of human functions, independent from each other so that none of them can be transformed into anything other than the framework of the human being. However, as Adorno (1994) would say, however intolerable this is, it is only a fetish, and as such, when the individual does not succumb, it may be broken by the awareness of the very contradiction of irrational rationality.


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Received: September 24, 2018; Accepted: October 08, 2018

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