Negative freedom or integrated domination? Adorno versus Honneth

Naveh Frumer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


According to Axel Honneth, Adorno's very idea of social critique is self-defeating. It tries to account for what is wrong, deformed, or pathological without providing any positive yardstick. Honneth's idea of critique is a diagnosis of chronic dysfunctions in the relations of recognition upon which the society in question is grounded. Under such conditions of misrecognition, institutions that embody what he calls social freedom regress to negative freedom. However, such a deficit-based notion of critique does not square with Honneth's own diagnosis of our present: namely, the transformation from welfare capitalism to neoliberalism. In fact, Honneth's diagnosis is very much in line with Adorno's idea of late capitalism as a society of “total integration.” Adorno's matching conception of critique, it is argued, avoids the problems Honneth runs into. At the basis of Adorno's critical idiom are two key points: an explanation of how social relations can be functional while contradictory and an account of social domination that is diffused throughout society while being differentially experienced by different classes. Adorno's answer to Honneth's concern, regarding the lack of a positive yardstick, is that it is domination that gives meaning to our idea of freedom, rather than the other way around.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)126-141
Number of pages16
JournalEuropean Journal of Philosophy
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2020
Externally publishedYes


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