In the present context, political commentators and analysts, journalists, and scholars alike have returned to the Frankfurt School’s studies on authoritarianism in order to explain the recent rise of right-wing movements and their electoral success in countries that hitherto were considered well-established democracies. The following essay contributes to these attempts from a feminist perspective. Given that questions of gender, family, and sexuality figure prominently within contemporary right-wing movements, but so far are rarely addressed in works drawing on the Frankfurt School, its purpose is twofold: first, to show that critical analyses of gender, family, and sexuality have been an integral part of the Frankfurt School’s studies on authoritarianism, and second, to discuss the relevance of the approach developed by the Frankfurt School in the 1930s and 1940s for a feminist analysis of authoritarian tendencies at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Reading the Studien über Autorität und Familie (Studies on Authority and the Family  1987) alongside The Authoritarian Personality (1950) as well as considering further primary sources, I will point out that, from the perspective of the Frankfurt School, understanding authoritarianism requires taking a closer look at questions of gender, family, and sexuality. Focusing on the case of the German right-wing party Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany [AfD]) and a phenomenon called Anti-Genderismus (antigenderism), I will argue it is not so much the concrete historical insights nor the concept of the authoritarian character but rather the Frankfurt School’s comprehensive approach that is productive for a feminist understanding of authoritarian tendencies in our present.
A Feminist Reading of the Frankfurt School’s Studies on Authoritarianism and Its Relevance for Understanding Authoritarian Tendencies in Germany Today
Barbara Umrath teaches gender studies at the Technische Hochschule Köln (University of Applied Sciences Cologne), Germany. In her work, she combines contemporary feminist theory with critical social theory in the Frankfurt School tradition.
Barbara Umrath; A Feminist Reading of the Frankfurt School’s Studies on Authoritarianism and Its Relevance for Understanding Authoritarian Tendencies in Germany Today. South Atlantic Quarterly 1 October 2018; 117 (4): 861–878. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-7165927
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