In these first decades of the twenty-first century, crisis is everywhere. Crises of communities plagued by resurgent forms of racism, sexism, and xenophobia; environmental crises brought on by global climate change; political crises of rising authoritarianism abroad combined with polarization and declining faith in democratic institutions at home. And yet, however much there is to fear in the crises that affect our contemporary world, we routinely witness the resourcefulness and resilience of the human being. There is always more in us than there is in crisis. The question remains, however, what stymies our collective efforts?
Our hope is that a new Center for Critical Thought (CCT), housed at the Graduate School of the University of Colorado in Boulder, will assist in the production of an ongoing diagnosis of the contemporary situation and a humanistic prescription for the task ahead. For so many of us, media saturation leads to paralysis of judgment, or the curious reverse, judgment without any reflection at all—all-out criticism via an absence of thought. Either we cannot decide, or we have already decided. These are desperate times, not only because the world around us is in crisis—our very ability to think is in crisis. A diagnosis of the present situation demands a renewal of critique.
It was a century ago that a similar cause for concern had caught the world by the throat. These were the interwar years, a time of collapse and rising terror, and the movement that we know today as “critical theory” first emerged in pre-Nazi Frankfurt, Germany. It was a moment in which a fascist shadow was casting itself upon a modernizing age of technological, economic, and artistic efflorescence. If the twinned situation of society and critique is one of crisis, the task for the critical theory of today is to become less of what it has been, and more of what it needs to be: useful for humanity.
The Center for Critical Thought will strive for greater holism than of scholars past: reaching beyond the anglosphere, beyond the traditions of the Enlightenment, of existentialism, of classical political economy, the CCT will press the renewal of critical theory into the service of relieving human suffering, fostering meaningful human community and collaboration, celebrating the richness of human complexity and power, remembering the sovereignty of the human spirit, and the temporality of social crisis. It is in the effort to reawaken our ability to envision social transformation that we ask again, what should critical theory become?