I arrived at this hypothesis in the course of the conversations I've had with the bright group of graduate students enrolled in the seminar I'm teaching this term, "The Social Matrix of Mass Culture." The class is about many things, but lately its focus has been the "countercultural" response to mass culture in the United States during the second half of the 20th century. (For more on this theme, check out this post from a few months back.)
So why 1944? It was the year in which two path-breaking books were published--one from the left, the other (ostensibly) from the right. The first was Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment. The second was Friedrick von Hayek's The Road to Serfdom. Though operating at different ends of the ideological spectrum, and though arriving at rather different conclusions, both share a surprising amount of common ground. Of particular concern for this odd group of authors are the social, economic, and political problems stemming from centralized mass production. It's no surprise that the horrors of Nazi Germany loom large in both works.
What's fascinating about Dialectic of Enlightenment and The Road to Serfdom is that they are also touchstone works in the "revolt" against mass culture. Put differently, in rejecting centralized mass production, Horkheimer/Adorno and Hayek collectively helped set the stage for the highly individuated mass culture that has emerged today--a culture supposedly populated no longer by estranged "cultural dopes" but by "active" and "empowered" consuming subjects.
Clearly there's much more to say about the consonance of Dialectic and Road. More to come anon as I continue gathering my thoughts.
Note1 Clearly it's hyperbole to say "the world"; really I mean, the United States.