Social Sciences

Critical theory

The critical theory is a doctrine of thought that is linked to Hegel, Marx and Freud. This movement is opposed to the separation between individual and reality.

In his opinion , all knowledge is subject to the practices of the time and experience. In this doctrine it is argued that there is no pure theory that can be constantly sustained throughout history.


The theory criticism was created and developed in Germany under a group called the Frankfurt School created in 1923. There were active characters as Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer the same, Erich Fromm, Walter Benjamin, Leo Lowenthal, and shortly after Herbert Marcuse. Also Franz Borkenau, Siegfried Kracauer, Otto Kirchheimer, Franz Neumann, Olga Lang, Paul Lazarsfeld, among others, who were great thinkers and intellectuals.

From this group came the new theory from Marxism called neo-Marxism.


Critical theory was opposed to traditional theory, which is based on the postulates of the natural sciences and positivism. For this group, the aforementioned theory was closed to the data provided by reality (the historical, political, economic and social context of the moment).

This is how critical theory proposes that knowledge is subject to the experience of the individual and the political, social and economic context that surrounds it. Therefore, he opposed almost any theory that did not take these elements into account and stood as an unequivocal postulate for any time.

Examples of critical theory

These are some examples of criticisms made within the Frankfurt School towards issues of society, economy or politics:

  • Critical theorists Adorno, Habermas, Horkheimer, and Marcuse criticized society:

They highlighted his idea of establishing a free society and diminishing all obstacles to its free development: the intellectuals drew on the early works of Marx, and his argument to create rational institutions, those that really “ensure a true, free and just life . ” However, they were aware of all the existing impediments to achieve such a change. Critics focused on analyzing and exposing those obstacles to promote its transformation.

  • Marx on the economy as a system:

Marx made severe criticisms against capitalism: he assured that it is rather “it is a mode of production “, which has also generated a lot of inequality in society and the economy. He also proposed taking a step forward from philosophical thoughts related to economics and putting them into practice.

  • Walter Benjamin on capitalism as a religion:

Capitalism as religion is the name given to a posthumous work by the philosopher Walter Benjamin in which his criticisms of capitalism are collected as an “inhuman dogma”, since, if it were really a religious current, it would represent sin and guilt.

  • Sigmund Freud on the individual-society: 

He made important criticisms of the predominance of modern thought, and contributed ideas about the relationship of the individual and society based on subjective thought.

Another example of critical theory

The best-seller Atlas Shrugged recounts a fictitious rebellion between the government and important businessmen in the United States, which would result in economic and productive chaos in that country. This work criticizes the transmission mechanisms of ideologies such as progressive liberalism, especially in the Captain America comic, criticizing the exaggerated persuasion towards free market capitalism.

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