Adorno – “Minima Moralia 1.2: Grassy Seat” (1944)

*The following is reposted from

Grassy seat. – The relationship to parents is undergoing a sad, shadowy change. They have lost their awe through their economic powerlessness. Once we rebelled against their insistence on the reality principle, the sobriety which was always ready to recoil into the rage against those who do not renounce. Today however we find ourselves facing a presumably younger generation, which is in every one of its impulses unbearably more grown up than the parents ever were; which has renounced, before things ever came to a conflict, and which derives their authority from that, implacably authoritarian and unshakeable. Perhaps one always experienced the parental generation as harmless and disempowered, once the latter’s physical energy subsided, while one’s own generation seemed to be threatened by youth: in the antagonistic society, the relationship of the generations is also one of competition, behind which stands naked violence. Today however things are regressing to a condition which does not know the Oedipus complex, but only the slaying of the father. One of the most telling symbolic atrocities of the Nazis was the killing of the extremely old. Such a climate produces a belated and rueful understanding with one’s parents, similar to the one between condemned prisoners, disturbed only by the fear that we, ourselves powerless, may not be able to care for them some day as they cared for us, when they owned something. The violence which is inflicted on them makes us forget the violence they committed. Even their rationalizations, the once-hated lies with which they sought to justify their particular interest as the general one, show an inkling of the truth, the urge towards the reconciliation of conflicts, which the upbeat successor generation happily denies. Even the faded, inconsequential and self-doubting Spirit [Geist] of the elders is more approachable than the quick-witted stupidity of junior. Even the neurotic peculiarities and malformations of the older adults represent character, that which is humanly achieved, compared with pathic health, infantilism raised to a norm. One realizes in horror that when one previously clashed with one’s parents, because they represented the world, one was secretly the mouthpiece of a still worse world against the merely bad. Unpolitical attempts to break out of the bourgeois family usually only lead to deeper entanglement in such, and sometimes it seems as if the disastrous germ-cell of society, the family, is simultaneously the nourishing germ-cell of the uncompromising will for a different one. What disintegrates, along with the family – so long as the system continues – is not just the most effective agency of the bourgeoisie, but also the resistance which indeed oppressed the individual, but also strengthened the latter, if not indeed producing such. The end of the family cripples the counter-forces. The dawning collectivistic social order [Ordnung] is the mockery of one without class: it liquidates, along with the bourgeois, at the same time the utopia, which at one time drew nourishment from the mother’s love.

Jeremiah Morelock

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