Marx’s Universal Metabolism of Nature and the Frankfurt School: Dialectical Contradictions and Critical Syntheses

  • John Bellamy Foster
  • Brett Clark


The Frankfurt School, as represented especially by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno’s 1944 Dialectic of Enlightenment, was noted for developing a philosophical critique of the domination of nature. Critical theorists associated with the Institute for Social Research at Frankfurt were heavily influenced by the writings of the early Karl Marx. Yet, their critique of the Enlightenment domination of nature was eventually extended to a critique of Marx himself as an Enlightenment figure, especially in relation to his mature work in Capital. This position was expressed most notably in the work of Horkheimer and Adorno’s student, Alfred Schmidt, author of The Concept of Nature in Marx (1970). Due largely to Schmidt’s book, the notion of Marx’s anti-ecological perspective came to be deeply rooted in Western Marxism. Moreover, such criticisms of Marx were closely related to questions raised regarding Fredrick Engels’s Dialectics of Nature, which was frequently said to have extended dialectical analysis improperly beyond the human-social realm. First generation ecosocialists, such as Ted Benton and Andre Gorz, furthered these criticisms, arguing that Marx and Engels had gone overboard in their alleged rejection of Malthusian natural limits.


Historical Materialism Frankfurt School Materialist Dialectic Metabolic Relation External Nature 
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Copyright information

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Bellamy Foster
    • 1
  • Brett Clark
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of OregonEugeneUSA
  2. 2.Department of Sociology and Sustainability StudiesUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA

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