first, that positivism is an inadequate and misleading approach which does not, and cannot, attain a true conception or understanding of social life; second, that by attending only to what exists it sanctions the present social order, obstructs any radical change, and leads to political quietism; third, that it is intimately connected with, and is indeed a major factor in sustaining, or producing, a new form of domination, namely ‘technocratic domination.’ (28)
Though positivism here refers specifically to a positivistic theory of science, a subject that Adorno and Max Horkheimer attack in The Dialectic of Enlightenment, Benjamin’s concern is with the application of positivism to history. Bottomore complains that “The connection between positivist philosophy of science […] and an acceptance of the status quo” is “asserted rather than argued” (32, FS). When applied to a theory of history, however, the connection gains more force if not a strict logical link. History written from the point of view of those in power is by definition accepting the status quo; and a conception of history as a series of victories does the same. Once history takes a definite, logical and official form—a positivist form—it ceases to account for any possible conflicting conceptions of history. Those who lost the conflicts to the victors no longer have a voice in history and are forgotten. For Benjamin, this concern likely had an intense personal connection: if the forces of fascism triumphed, how would history remember him?