Peter E. Gordon is the Amabel B. James Professor of History and a Faculty Affiliate in the Department of Philosophy at Harvard. His books include ­Migrants in the Profane: Critical Theory and the Question of Secularization, which will be published in the fall. (June 2020)


Max the Fatalist

Charisma and Disenchantment: The Vocation Lectures

by Max Weber, edited and with an introduction by Paul Reitter and Chad Wellmon, and translated from the German by Damion Searls
When the young Max Weber returned home in 1883 after his third semester as a law student at the University of Heidelberg, his mother slapped him. Gone was the lanky eighteen-year-old whose sagging shoulders made him, in the words of his future wife Marianne, a “candidate for consumption.” Thanks to …

Kierkegaard’s Rebellion

Kierkegaard: Exposition and Critique

by Daphne Hampson
Kierkegaard is widely considered the most important religious thinker of the modern age. This is because he dramatized with special intensity the conflict between religion and secular reason, between private faith and the public world, and he went so far as to entertain the thought that a genuine reconciliation between them is impossible.

Heidegger in Black

Martin Heidegger, circa 1920

Überlegungen II–VI (Schwarze Hefte 1931–1938) [Reflections II–VI (Black Notebooks 1931–1938)]

by Martin Heidegger, edited by Peter Trawny

Überlegungen VII–XI (Schwarze Hefte 1938/39) [Reflections VII–XI (Black Notebooks 1938/39)]

by Martin Heidegger, edited by Peter Trawny
In the autumn of 1931, the philosopher Martin Heidegger began to record his thoughts in small diaries that he called the schwarze Hefte, or “black notebooks.” Their name describes their black oilcloth covering, but one could be forgiven for thinking it described their content. They will cast a dark shadow over Heidegger’s legacy.


Why Historical Analogy Matters

Paul Cézanne: Apples and Oranges, circa
circa 1899

If this idea of historical incommensurability is right, then analogical reasoning in history becomes an impossibility. If I sincerely believe that a given event in the past belongs not just to a foreign country but to a world so different from my own as to break all ties of communication between them, then I have no license to speak about the past at all—and all its events become in effect unknowable. A past that is utterly different is more than merely past; it has no claim on my knowledge and it might as well blink out of existence altogether. This is more than merely a matter of logic; it has political consequences. If every crime is unique and the moral imagination is forbidden from comparison, then the injunction “Never Again” itself loses its meaning, since nothing can ever happen “again.”

The Utopian Promise of Adorno’s ‘Open Thinking,’ Fifty Years On

Theodor Adorno addressing an audience of German intellectuals opposed to the Emergency Acts, Frankfurt am Main, West Germany, May 28, 1968

The culture industry of the late-capitalist era has metastasized to such a degree that even resistance is easily co-opted by the market and what passes for criticism circulates in forms pre-packaged for consumption. In an environment saturated in social media and ruled by the tweet, critical reflection can barely survive, and it should hardly surprise us that the brute simplicities of authoritarian rule have gained new currency. It was Adorno who helped to identify this trend. For this reason alone, we cannot afford to ignore his critical legacy. Fifty years after his death, Adorno still resists fashion and category. But his ideas sustain the utopian thought that there might be a right life, after all.



This month’s series of Beethoven concerts by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra concludes the celebratory twentieth season for its conductor Michael Tilson Thomas with a performance of the opera Fidelio.