Dawn and Decline

Max Horkheimer

(From Horkheimer's book of the same title: pp 145)

In the Circus: Through the image of the elephant in the circus, man's technological superiority becomes conscious of itself. With whip and iron hooks, the ponderous animal is brought in. On command, it raises its right, its left foot, its trunk, describes a circle, lies down laboriously and finally, as the whip is being cracked, it stands on two legs which can barely support the heavy body. For many hundreds of years, that's what the elephant has had to do to please people. But one should say nothing against the circus or the act in the ring. It is no more foreign, no more inappropriate, probably more suitable to the animal than the slave labor for whose sake it entered human history. In the arena, where the elephant looks like the image of eternal wisdom as it confronts the stupidity of the spectators and where, among fools, it makes a few foolish gestures for the sake of peace and quiet, the objective unreason of the compulsory service which serves the rational purpose of the Indian timber market still reveals itself. That men depend on such labor to then be obliged to subject themselves to it as well is ultimately their own disgrace. The enslavement of the animal as the mediation of their existence through work that goes against their own and alien nature has the result that that existence is as external to them as the circus act is to the animal. Rousseau had an intimation of this when he wrote his prize-winning essays. Civilization as stultification.