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Critique and the Practice of Democracy

Critique and the Practice of Democracy

Negative Dialectics, Autonomy, and Compassion

(p.67) 3 Critique and the Practice of Democracy
Adorno and Democracy
Shannon L. Mariotti
University Press of Kentucky

This chapter builds on earlier arguments about experience to analyze how democracy fits into Adorno’s broader theoretical corpus. Drawing from his theoretical writings as well as several important essays and addresses, the first section highlights the close connections he sees between meaningful democracy and the practice of critique. Then I highlight the political significance of Adorno’s practice of negative dialectics by exploring a case study drawn from Minima Moralia that focuses on the therapeutic revolution in post–World War II psychiatry. Finally, I make connections between Adorno and the novelist-philosophers Marilynne Robinson and David Foster Wallace. Robinson and Wallace help us better understand the kind of experience, the kind of thinking, that true democracy requires in ways that are deeply sympathetic to Adorno’s own vision. For all three, thinking is not valued for its own sake, but for the way it can change our way of being with others in the world and the nature of our democratic community. For Robinson, Wallace, and Adorno, thinking (and the heightened mode of experience that prompts us to think) works in service of compassion, in service of attentiveness to the pain and suffering of others, in service of greater respect and reverence for other bodies.

Keywords:   Critique, Thinking, Negative dialectics, Autonomy, Respect, Compassion

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