Theodor Adorno's thought is centered on a critique of Reason which he associates with the term Aufklärung (Enlightenment in German), in the sense that it is both regarded as emancipatory and at the same time as an instrument of domination: " The Enlightenment is totalitarian ”( Aufklärung ist totalitär ).
Adorno severely criticizes what he calls "culture industry" (a term he prefers to that of "mass cultur ", improper and misleading insofar as he would suggest that the masses are the true producers of this culture, so that they are, according to Adorno, the victims), especially so-called "popular" music . He considers that there is nothing really popular about modern popular music any more, that it is all about products designed by big companies for mass consumption. Thus, for him the differences of taste and identity perceived in popular music come only from the alienation and the invention of a false individuality. in a society where all true individuality is crushed. Despite his desire to be seen as a Marxist, he offers a non-contradictory view of the products of the cultural industry. His ideas on these issues continue to have wide influence in academia today.
In his studies of authoritarian personality, Adorno starts from the assumption that an individual's political, economic and social beliefs form a cohesive pattern, as if they are connected by a mindset or spirit that is the deep expression of her personality. He seeks to understand how certain mental structures lead to the formation of this authoritarian personality, which potentially contains the germ of fascism.
The contemporary world is contradictory because it is wrought by the antagonisms of capitalism. Authentic art is that which accounts for this conflicting character through dissonance . Jazz is inauthentic because the apparent freedom of improvisation is part of the rigid frame a steady pace.
According to Adorno the exploitation of animals by humans is one of the origins of violence. The phrase: "Auschwitz begins wherever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: these are only animals" , is commonly attributed to him when it is a succinct summary of his thinking, made by Charles Patterson in A Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust .