Horkheimer, Religion, and the Normative Grounds of Critical Theory

Christopher Craig Brittain

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This essay examines how the legacy of Marx’s emancipatory commitments continues to be intertwined with his critique of religion. This is illustrated with reference to Raymond Geuss‘s claim that Marxism’s political failure is related its lack of an adequate moral theory, a view that leads him to suggest that Marxism needs to function more like a “pseudoreligion.” These issues are analysed by drawing from Max Horkheimer’s writing on Christianity, which imply that materialist critical theory will be resourced by attention to particular historical expressions of religion. The paper argues that such an approach requires a distinction between two strands of Marx’s critique of religion – an “eliminationist” and a “descriptive functionalist” perspective – and involves privileging the second strand over the first. The implication is not that religion resolves the question of the ground of Marxism’s normative critique; rather, what is advanced is view that the critical theory can be supported and resourced by a critique of the “religion of everyday life.”
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)259-280
Number of pages22
JournalAnalyse & Kritik
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Critical Theory
  • Horkheimer
  • Marxism


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