When it was first published in West Germany, this book provoked both critical acclaim and widespread consternation, especially among the 1960s generation whose hopes for social change had crumbled and faded. Cynicism, so central to the mood of a generation and the source of much of the antirationalist impulse visible in all Western countries, has remained submerged throughout the debate about modernity and postmodernity. Sloterdijk's investigation of the role of cynicism in the postmodern 1970s and 1980s finds it to be the dominant mode in contemporary culture and in personal and institutional settings.
Sloterdijk defines cynicism as 'enlightened false consciousness', a sensibility which is 'well off and miserable at the same time', able to function in the workaday world yet assailed by doubt and paralysis. Oscillating provocatively between Frankfurt and Paris and between a number of different styles and modes of expression, the Critique of Cynical Reason is a philosophical pastiche which offers, in the words of Andreas Huyssen, 'a postmodernism of resistance.'