Application of the Critical Theory

These 'working' definitions are presented to help those who are just beginning their study of the philosophies and theories of the Frankfurt School, more commonly known as the 'Critical Theory.' They should not be considered as the last word in describing the term or concept in question.

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A posteriori -- is knowledge that comes from experience, e.g. inductive reasoning based on observation, as opposed to deductive, or a priori. Latin for 'from what comes after'.


A priori -- is knowledge that comes from pure reasoning, independent of experience; being knowable by reasoning from what is considered self-evident and therefore without appeal to experience or the senses. Latin for 'from what comes before'.


Absolute -- is a philosophical term used to describe the ultimate reality. To those who use this term, "reality" is conceived as the source of and the total sum of everything that exists physically, mentally, and spiritually. In theology, the absolute is viewed as God, the origin of being and the source of value. Frederick C. Beiser, in the introduction of Cambridge Companion to Hegel (ISBN 0-521-38711-6), quotes Schelling, "the absolute is that which does not depend upon anything else in order to exist or be conceived" and "the absolute is not the cause of the universe but the universe itself."


Aesthetics (or esthetic) -- is the branch of philosophy that investigates the nature art, music, and beauty; in accordance with accepted notions of good taste, in a given society, at a particular time.


Agnostic -- an intellectual attitude or belief that the existence of god, gods, or the existence of an ultimate reality, is probably unknowable or that any provable knowledge about such matters is impossible.


Alienation -- According to Lewis A. Coser (1977), "Alienation may be described as a condition in which men [and women] are dominated by forces of their own creation, which confront them as alien powers” (Masters of Sociological Thought, 2nd Ed., New York: Harcourt Brace, pg. 50-53). In short, the creation becomes the master of the creator (FMI, see Alienation handout).


Alternative Future #1 or "The totally technocratic and administered society" -- is a progression to a form of socialization that tends to eliminate the conflict between the individual and society. It produces mass social conformity and weak egos by restricting education and knowledge to those who can afford it. This socialization causes the individual to accept the "norms" from society, without analysis, that they receive from mass media. This allows the totally technocratic and administered society to continue and control, consumption and mass production in our society.


Alternative Future #2 -- a regression towards the militarization of society. A major sign of this regression is the acceptance of fascist ideology by the captains of industry, government officials, and the general population. This future always leads to ethic cleansing, military take over of weaker nations, mass consumption of natural resources, and sporadic civil wars. This future will only lead to ecological destruction, biological, and/or nuclear war.


Alternative Future #3 -- is a progression towards universal solidarity, a victimless society, and a balance between personal autonomy of the individual and solidarity of the collective.


Anarchia -- the Greek word for 'without ruler.'
First posted 07-06-2009


Anomia -- the Greek word for 'absence of law.'
First posted 07-06-2009


Anomic -- no longer caring for AND/OR the inability to determine 'right' from 'wrong;' rejecting the norms, standards, values, and/or laws of the 'society' which one lives in.
First posted 07-06-2009


Anomie -- the state of deregulation; a reaction against and/or rejection of the social controls of the 'society' which one lives in; a state wherein the individual rejects the norms (accepted and expected behaviors), values (accepted and expected beliefs), and purpose given to them by 'society;' social instability caused by the erosion of the norms, standards, values, and/or laws that are perpetuated by 'society'
First posted 07-06-2009


Anarcho-Syndicalist Commune -- A little help with this one, would be nice and is needed.


Anthropomorphic -- giving human characteristics to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena.


Atheist -- is an individual who actively rejects the concept of god or gods based on all the available evidence that has been assembled by humankind. Religious individuals paint atheists in a negative light. The unjust labels that 'believers' have used to describe the atheist range from morally deficient to Satan worshipers. This hate and loathing of atheists stem from the religious individual's fear that the atheist's claim is true. If the atheist is correct, meaning god never existed, the religious individual has suffered for their religious believes for no reason. In other words, the 'believer' has lived a lie. What the religious individual fails to understand is the fact that every 'true believer' has atheistic tendencies. This is derived from the religious individual's active rejection of a particular god or set of gods. Examine the religions of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism from another stand point. Christians are atheists to the Roman gods. They actively reject Jupiter, Juno, Neptune, and Bacchus; they perceive the Roman gods and the religions that surround these gods as pure mythology. Muslims are atheists to the Hindu gods. They actively reject Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva; they perceive Hinduism as simple mythology. Jews are atheists to the Norse gods. They actively reject Odin, Thor, Balder, and Loki; they perceive the Norse religion as simple fiction. The point of this matter is that the 'true believer' actively rejects all the gods that are not their own. An atheist has rejected the concept of god and actively proclaims that 'god' never existed in the first place.
Revised 09-13-2000


Authoritarian Personality --


High Bourgeoisie -- (a.k.a. 'Industrial Bourgeoisie' or Capitalist) "owners of the means of social production and employers of wage labour" (Engels, 1888, Preface to the English edition of the Manifesto of the Communist Party). In other words, the owners of the machines, the tools that fix the machines, the material (raw and otherwise), and capital needed to produce objects and services for consumption. This class makes up, usually, less than 5% of any given society. The opposite of bourgeoisie is the proletariat.
First posted 10-05-2003


Low Bourgeoisie -- (a.k.a. 'Petty Bourgeoisie') Those people whose attitudes and behaviors are marked by conformity to the standards and conventions of the shopkeeper. In other words, those who sell the products 'produced' by the capitalist to those who can afford them. The Petty Bourgeoisie performs this action so they too can consume. However, they aspire to be capitalist but they fail to realize that without the products of the capitalist they too will sell their labour power. The opposite of bourgeoisie is the proletariat.
First posted 10-05-2003


Bourghetto -- (pronounced 'büzh- 'e-tO' ) the mind set of a proletariat or lumpenproletariat, who believes that they are part of the bourgeois class due to
(1) their income (be it earned by ‘middle class’ conventions, unlawful money making schemes, and/or illegal activities) and
(2) the ability to buy similar material objects (e.g. fake or knock-off jewelry, old or low end luxury sedans, expensive and/or trendy clothing, etc.) of either the low or high bourgeoisie. In short, a merging of the ‘ghetto existence’ and the need to appear to be part of the bourgeois class while at the same time having none of the economic power of the bourgeoisie. The term was first critically defined by Dustin Byrd, M.A. Comparative Religion, in 2007.
First posted 02-11-2007


Capital -- usually understood as money and/or stock. However, Marx defines capital as "stored-up labour" (Economic & Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, First Manuscript, Chapter 1, titled Capital). He also describes capital as "… dead labour, ... vampire-like, [capital] only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks. The time during which the labourer works is the time during which the capitalist consumes the labour-power he has purchased" from his employee (Tucker, 1978, 362-363). According to Marx, capital is "not only personal, it is a social power" (Tucker, 1978, 485).
First posted 10-05-2003


Capitalism -- is an economic system characterized by the private and corporate ownership of goods, services, and the means to produce those goods and services. The questions, "what will be produced," "how it will be produced," "when it will be produced," and the "amount of the product to be produced" are determined by the interest of private investors, rather then by the state, the employees, or the good of humanity. Capitalism, in its pure form, has never existed in human history. Capitalists, those who believe in or advocate capitalism, perceive the following to be true in any given society:

  • An individual's financial success is determined by the individual,
  • Every individual has the freedom to choose their occupation, where they work, and who they work for,
  • Production is geared for profit, not for use or necessity,
  • The individual has the opportunity to start their own business, and
  • Society is divided into two classes: employers and employees.

Capitalist -- the owners of the tools and the material needed to produce products. Also known as the High Bourgeoisie.
First posted 10-05-2003


Chickenhawk -- a term used to describe white males who, in their youth, avoided or dodged the U.S. Draft and, as mature adults serving as public officials, advocates young Americans to become soldiers and fight for their country. It is a combination of the terms 'chicken,' the slang word for coward, and the term 'hawk,' someone who advocates war or a position that would lead to war. In short, an individual who advocates war but who declined a significant opportunity to serve in the U.S. military during wartime. Those who use the term attempt to point out to the listener the hypocrisy in American society, that the poor are used as instruments to produce a better life for the rich. In other words, the less fortunate suffer and die so that the rich can reap the benefits of the military's success. Those individuals who balance between the political-economic philosophies of capitalism and fascism claim that the brutally honest term is insulting and is not a hypocritical position. These proto - fascists argue that the mighty, privileged, and propertied class of individuals have always stood on the backs of the weak, poor, and lowly.
First posted 04-04-2003


Civil Religion -- According to Rousseau, "The dogmas of civil religion ought to be few, simple, and exactly worded, without explanation or commentary. The existence of a mighty, intelligent and beneficent Divinity, possessed of foresight and providence, the life to come, the happiness of the just, the punishment of the wicked, the sanctity of the social contract and the laws: these are its positive dogmas. Its negative dogmas I confine to one, intolerance, which is a part of the cults we have rejected" (The Social Contract, 1762, Book 4, Chapter 8)
First posted 04-18-2007


Motto for Erich Fromm's Authoritarian Character -- "I have a master, therefore, I must have slaves — this is the natural order of things" (2017:75-77).
First posted 09-17-2017


Motto for Erich Fromm's Receptive Character -- "If you can’t take care of me, I will find someone else who will" (2017:84-85).
First posted 09-17-2017


Motto for Erich Fromm's Exploitative Character -- "“I take what I need,” ‘Stolen fruits are the sweetest,’ and “Money is just a way of keeping score”" (2017:87-89).
First posted 09-17-2017


Motto for Erich Fromm's Hoarding Character -- "“There is nothing new under the sun” and “Mine is mine and yours is yours”" (2017:96-97).
First posted 09-17-2017


Motto for Erich Fromm's Marketing Character -- "'I am as you desire me and my opinions are the same as yours'" (2017:98-106).
First posted 09-17-2017


Motto for Erich Fromm's Narcissistic Character -- "'How dare you criticize me, I'm a living legend, who has never errored'" (2017:109-119).
First posted 09-17-2017


Motto for Erich Fromm's Necrophilous Character -- "'I find joy in my worship of force, destruction, and death'" (2017:138-149).
First posted 09-17-2017

Comparative Religion -- is more then just the study of the histories, cultures, and the traditions of different religions. It is also a scientific, non-theological, study of why people are or are not religious.


Communism -- According to Marx, in the 'Manifesto of the Communist Party,' Marx wishes to dialectally change all Bourgeoisie institutions. In other words, Marx wishes to resolve, negate, merge, conserve, and elevate (aufgehoben) every social institution that has been contaminated by the social relationship of production and consumption. For example.

"The distinguishing feature of communism is not the abolition of property generally, but the abolition of bourgeois property. But modern bourgeois private property is the final and most complete expression of the system of producing and appropriating products that is based on class antagonisms, on the exploitation of the many by the few" (Tucker, 1978, 484).

"What, ... , the wage-labourer appropriates by means of his labour merely suffices to prolong and reproduce a bare existence. We [the Communist] by no means intend to abolish this personal appropriation of the products of labour, an appropriation that is made for the maintenance and reproduction of human life, and that leaves no surplus wherewith to command the labour of others. All that we [the Communist] want to do away with, is the miserable character of this appropriation, under which the labourer lives merely to increase capital, and is allowed to live only in so far as the interest of the ruling class [the Bourgeoisie] requires it" (Tucker, 1978, 485).

"And the abolition of this state of things is called by the bourgeois, abolition of individuality and freedom! And rightly so. The abolition of bourgeois individuality, bourgeois independence, and bourgeois freedom is undoubtedly aimed at" (Tucker, 1978, 485). In other words, by taking away the Bourgeoisie's individuality, independence, and freedom, the Proletariat becomes truly free for the first time in history. Putting it another way, the bourgeoisie claim that bourgeoisie and proletariat are free. However, according to Marx, this is a lie. In capitalism, only the capitalist are truly free, the petty bourgeoisie have a very limited freedom, and the proletariat think they are free however have no freedom at all. If the proletariat were really free, they could stop working for food, for the rest of their lives, and still live.

"You must, therefore, confess that by "individual" you mean no other person than the bourgeois, than the middle-class owner of property. This person must, indeed, be swept out of the way, and made impossible. Communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all that it does is to deprive him [the Bourgeoisie class] of the power to subjugate the labour of others by means of such appropriations. It has been objected [by the Bourgeoisie] that upon the abolition of private property all work will cease, and universal laziness will overtake us. According to this, bourgeois society ought long ago to have gone to the dogs through sheer idleness; for those of its members who work [the proletariat], acquire nothing, and those [the bourgeoisie] acquire anything, do not work. The whole of this objection is but another expression of the tautology: There can no longer be any wage labour when there is no longer any capital" (Tucker, 1978, 486).

"Abolition of the family! Even the most radical [individual] flare up at this infamous proposal of the Communists. On what foundation is the present family, the bourgeois family, based? On capital, on private gain. In its completely developed form this family exists only among the bourgeoisie. But this state of things finds its complement in the practical absence of the family among proletarians, and in public prostitution... Do you charge us with wanting to stop the exploitation of children by their parents? To this crime we plead guilty" (Tucker, 1978, 487). In other words, in a Bourgeois marriage, the husband (think of him as the capitalist in the family) exploits the wife (the proletariat) for sex, her skills as a servant (cook, maid, human washing machine, etc.), and a producer of children. Once the children are of age, they too become the wage-labourer of the husband. However, wife becomes like the petty Bourgeoisie because the children have alleviated some of her production responsibilities. For a more detailed discussion of non-possessive love, read Erich Fromm's 'The Art of Loving' (1956).

Marx believed that before a capitalistic state could become a communist state, the citizens would have to pass through an intermediate stage of social change, i.e. socialism. In the epoch of socialism, the old guard of the Bourgeois would die off and youth would be educated, by the communists, in such a manner so that new social institutions would be created to cause all class distinctions to disappear in society. In a true socialistic country, controlled by the Proletariat and assisted by the Communists, "the following will be pretty generally applicable."

  1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
  2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
  3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
  4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
  5. Centralization of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly.
  6. Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the state.
  7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the state; the bringing into cultivation of waste lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
  8. Equal liability [obligation] of all to labour. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
  9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equable distribution of the population over the country.
  10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children's factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production," etc. (Tucker, 1978, 490).

One must keep in mind the following after finishing these excerpts from Part II of the 'Manifesto of the Communist Party':

  • that in Marx's notion of communism, the 'State' performs the will of the proletarians and the proletarians are the 'State,' a true democracy opposed to a republic (a representational democracy, like that of the United States of America);
  • Marx, to the best of my knowledge, never states what these new social institutions would be, however, they would not be man handled by the forces of 'production and/or consumption' for the few; and
  • Marx, again, to the best of my knowledge, never stated how long human kind would have to live in this epoch of socialism. According to most Marxists, it took more than 700 years for the world to shake off the constrains of feudalism.

A hypertext version of the Communist Manifesto (1995) can be found at Another excellent source for understanding Marx is 'The Marx-Engels Reader' by Robert C. Tucker (1978, ISBN 0-393-09040-X). For if one truly wishes to come to terms with fascism, the ideology of 'the division of labor' and social injustice, you MUST understand Marx's critique of capitalism. If you require a short explanation concerning the difference between Socialism and Communism, click this line.
Revised 10-05-2003


Commodification -- the transformation of what is normally a not a commodity into a commodity; to assign a monatary value; the notion that somethings ought not to be for sale and/or treated as if they were a tradeable commodity.
First posted 06-27-2007


Communist -- A subcategory of the proletariat. According to Marx, "are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only:
(1) In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality.
(2) In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole" (Tucker, 1978, 483-484).
Marx believed that "the immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all the other proletarian parties: formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, [and the] conquest of political power by the proletariat" (Tucker, 1978, 484).
First posted 10-05-2003


Conservative -- a political philosophy based on a strong sense of tradition, social stability, and a want to preserve what is presently established in a given society. A conservative stresses the importance of established institutions such as religion, private property, the nuclear family, and social class structures. A conservative has the tendency to accept existing norms and social structures without question. They are cautious, suspicious, and resistant to change and innovation.


Consciousness -- Having an awareness of one's own existence, sensations, thoughts, and environment; Capable of thought, will, or perception; the component of waking awareness perceptible by an individual at any given instant; from the Latin "knowing with others".


Cult -- is an organization very similar to a religion except that a cult "controls" behavior in stead of "informing" it. All cults have the following five characteristics:

  • The beliefs of the organization are considered to be secret or trademarks of the organization, not open to the public sphere. The true agenda of the organization is only divulged to those members who pay for the information by way of money or proven loyalty.
  • The leader or governing powers of the organization systematically exploits its members financially and/or sexually for the personal gain of those in charge.
  • Converts are urged to disassociate themselves from their friends and family because the beliefs of the the organization.
  • The beliefs of organization center on an authoritarian position.
  • The leader or governing powers of the organization generates violence or criminal conduct from members for the purpose of destroying nonmembers or ex-members who are labeled as threats to those in charge of the organization.

Cybernetic Metaphor -- (a.k.a. machine or computer metaphor) A linguist comparison where in the character, behaviors, and/or actions of a human being is reduced to the mechanistic actions of a simple machine in order to explain human beings. The use of a cybernetic metaphor in no way contributes to the truthfulness or accuracy of the comparative explanation.
According to Thomas McCarthy (1981), "Habermas regards the idea of a cybernetically self-regulated organization of society as the highest expression of the technocratic consciousness. In the 'negative utopia of technical control over history,' man appears not only as a homo faber objectifying himself in his achievements and products, but as a homo fabricatus totally integrated into his technical apparatus. The traditional view of society as a system of interaction among human beings who consciously organize their practice through communication is abandoned for an 'instinct-like self-stabilization of social systems' in which the political enlightenment of citizenry becomes superfluous" (pg. 10-11).
First posted 07-03-2007


Deists -- have an intellectual disposition based on reason, logic, morality, and the existence of one god. This one god, after creating the universe and the laws that governing it, refrains from interfering with universe's operation. Meaning, god does not involve itself in the affairs of humankind. Deists reject the concept of organized religion and the belief in miracles, angels, saints, demons, and devils. For more information contact
Revised 09-13-2000


Democrat -- a member of the American capitalist political organization known as the 'Democratic Party.' The underlying goal of this organization, which is not truly understood by most of its members, is to put a 'human face' on capitalism or, putting it another way, giving capitalism a 'heart.' A clear expression of this goal can be found in the words of former President Clinton. During an interview, by Amy Goodman (10-07-2000, election Day), President Clinton stated,

"The truth is there is an ideological struggle between those who believe that the best way to grow the economy is to give more money to the wealthy, and the Democrats who believe that the wealthy will make more money if average people do better" - (Transcript 1, 2, & 3 )

In other words, there is a fight between the republicans and the democrats on how to make the rich get richer. Putting it another way, the leaders of the Democratic Party (the Democratic National Committee or the DNC for short) are not for gender equality, race equality, eliminating poverty, instituting a single payer medical system (a.k.a. socialized medicine), or granting free undergraduate and graduate education to all its citizens unless it will make the rich more money. Therefore, what the DNC truly stand for is fooling the proletariat so they can continue making the bourgeoisie richer. If you would like to read the latest principles of the Democratic Party, refereed to by some as the 'Party's Planks' and propaganda by others, please click this line.
Revised 10-16-2005


Determinant Negation -- To decide or establish, conclusively, the most valid elements of a belief system, group of ideas, or group of methods and render ineffective those elements that are not valid, productive, or beneficial. In other words, one cycle of the Dialectical Method ("Thesis" --> "Antithesis" --> "Synthesis").


Diatribe -- A bitter and abusive discussion, speech, or writing intended to be irritating, offensive, and critical of a particular work, idea, movement, or belief. By its nature, a diatribe can not change someone’s mind, only close it. The opposite of diatribe is discourse.


Dialectical Method -- involves the notion that a process, movement, or progress, is the result of a conflict of opposites.

"Thesis" --> "Antithesis" --> "Synthesis"

Thesis is an idea, view, or historical movement. If such an idea contains within itself incompleteness, an Antithesis will arise. Antithesis is a conflicting idea that arises out of the Thesis in opposition to it. As a result of the conflict, a third point of view will arises from the Thesis and the Antithesis known as the Synthesis. The Synthesis is a higher level of truth, which resolves and reconciles the Thesis and the Antithesis. This Synthesis becomes the new Thesis and can generate a new Antithesis if it is not sound, resulting in another Synthesis, in such a fashion that the process of intellectual or historical development is continually generated.


Dialectics -- "is derived from the Greek dialego, meaning to discuss or debate. It was considered that to discuss a question from all sides, and from all angles, allowing different one-sided points of view to oppose and contradict each other during the debate, was the best method of arriving at the truth" - Maurice Cornforth, page 60 of "Materialism and the Dialectical Method".


Discourse -- According to Dr. Rudolf Siebert, from lecture notes given for Sociology 605 at Western Michigan University during the fall of 1996, "Discourse is the future oriented remembrance of human happiness and human suffering, with the practical intent to decrease the suffering and to increase the happiness in order to bring about a more just, humane, rational, and reconciled society." The opposite of discourse is diatribe.


Disinfotainer -- any member of the media that entertains the viewer, listener, or reader with rumors, half-truths, misinformation, and/or personal attacks. The opposite of disinfotainer is infotainer.


Dixiecrat -- a conservative white southern politician who understands that it is nearly impossible to get elected in a southern state because southern African Americans vote, typically, for Democrats. In other words, a Dixiecrat is a republican hiding in the clothing of a 'New Deal' Democrat. Dixiecrats are usually found in Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. Dixiecrats, sometimes called 'States' Rights Democrats,' were first formed in 1948 to reclaim the Democratic Party from the 'Roosevelt liberals' who supported political power for African Americans and federal civil rights legislation. In 1948, in Birmingham, Alabama, the Dixiecrats nominated then Gov. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina for President of the United States. Their hope was to upset President Harry Truman's bid for reelection. The Dixiecrats carried South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama, however, failed to stop President Truman. In 1952, the defeated Dixiecrats returned to the Democratic Party. In 1964, Thurmond switched to the Grand Old Party, sometimes referred to by 'Roosevelt liberals' as the 'Get Out and Push us to the poor house' party, which he has represented in the United States Senate up to today.

The political impact of the Dixiecrats since their defeat has been immense. American's (corporate) media typically portrays the Dixiecrats as Democrats. In other words, for more than 50 years, the American people have been fooled into believing that when the media states that the 'House' or the 'Senate,' which ever the case may be, is controlled by the Democrats, the statement is a dream that the Democrats have yet to realize. In reality, Dixiecratic states typically voted for pro-business, anti-minority, pro-life, anti-socialistic, pro-military, and anti-labor legislation. This deception makes great press. It allows Republicans to claim that Democrats are impotent when it comes to passing laws in a Democratic-ly controlled Senate, when in reality the Dixiecrats vote against the 'liberal' legislation that was proposed by the 'Roosevelt liberals.' The most amusing facet of this 'comedy of ignorance' are those statements by Democrats concerning how may 'seats' they need to take or maintain control when they haven't controlled anything for more than 50 years. The only way the Democrats could ever gain control of the 'House' or 'Senate' is by purging their organization of 'closet' conservatives, neo-conservatives, and other right-wing extremists.
First posted 10-29-2002


Dogmatic -- asserting an opinion or belief as fact without proof. A dogma is an assertion made with the highest level of certainty.
Revised 10-27-2000

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