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Seeing the Large-Scale System

Seeing the Large-Scale System

The Pathologies of Modern America and Pseudo-Democracy

(p.25) 1 Seeing the Large-Scale System
Adorno and Democracy
Shannon L. Mariotti
University Press of Kentucky

This chapter takes up the first moment of Adorno’s democratic project and gives a sense of how he portrayed the landscape of the United States to its own citizens, writing in English and in a more accessible register. Here he lays out the problem his program for democratic leadership as democratic pedagogy will address and discusses the de-democratizing forces in World War II–era America that impoverish citizens’ practice of autonomy. Various aspects of modern life in America, ranging from capitalism to liberalism to the culture industry, combine to make individuals feel small, disempowered, dependent, like passive objects that must adapt and accommodate existing social molds and forms rather than active subjects who feel that they have the agency to participate in shaping the patterns of their own lives. Adorno explores the de-democratizing factors of World War II–era America through an analysis of specific cultural objects. I show how Adorno sees the form of radio, the content of radio, and a weekly astrology column as ordinary, everyday objects that, like monads, reflect the larger tendencies of the social whole. He analyzes these specific things with a microscopic gaze to draw wider conclusions about the patterns and dynamics of everyday life in the United States.

Keywords:   Liberal capitalism, Culture industry, Radio, Astrology, De-democratization, Authoritarianism

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