Because of his influential analysis of fascism, his complex critique of capitalist social structure and culture, and his advocacy for political and individual freedom, Adorno seemed like a natural ally to the student movement. But, as historian Philip Bounds puts it, Adorno “rejected the idea that radical intellectuals had a duty to serve as cheerleaders for … revolutionary students.” When he refused to support what he called the students’ uncompromising “actionism” — Adorno’s word for the students’ nihilistic desire to act without need of justification — his own lectures and reputation became a target. He was shouted down, badgered, and defamed. In one incident, Adorno called the police to clear student occupiers of the Institute.
I have written about the inept history linking the Frankfurt School to contemporary social-justice movements, but not in the kind of compelling detail that Stern offers here.