Frankfurt School Christianity

Dale Coulter  over at First Things makes a reluctant connection between the critical projects of Frankfurt Marxism and “Anglo-Catholics”. Except for Lewis, however, he appears to mean “Catholic Anglos”. “Despite the fact that the Frankfurt School applied Freudian and Marxist ideas to formulate their analysis of mass culture,” writes Coulter, “I find their indictments still valuable.”

Such trepidation will probably not be found over here on The Sweep. Coulter’s article reads like a hit list of our favorites authors. He names, for example, T. S. Eliot, Theodor Adorno, Christopher Dawson, Herbert Marcuse, and Christopher Lasch. Indeed, as Coulter alleges, the critical projects of this heterogeneous group overlaps in profound ways.

The criticisms of mass culture and other forms of modernity are where the similarity between the Frankfurt School and what one could call the Anglo-Catholic School of Eliot, Dawson, Tolkien, and Lewis end (although Lewis was not strictly speaking Anglo-Catholic his medieval sensibilities put him in touch with key features of it). The latter sought to formulate a response to the predicament of modern humanity based on a deeper investigation and transmission of patristic and medieval Christianity whereas the former saw the “authoritarian” structures of Christendom as part of the problem.

Could it be that both authoritarian Christendom and the culture industry are problematic? (I compulsively reference Kierkegaard at every possibility; note that Kierkegaard uses the word “Christendom” in ways that presage Horkheimer and Adorno’s “culture industry”.)  The critical conversation between the Frankfurt School and Christianity is better because of its diversity.

Does Coulter worry that his chosen allies (Dawson, Tolkein, Francis) are too Catholic? Drilling into the deep strata of “folk culture” may dredge up traditions and pieties that Protestant Evangelicals have long been committed to sweeping out of their churches.


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