I presented a shorter version of this paper at the International Herbert Marcuse Society Conference at Columbia University NY in Sept 2014.
The Great Refusal Versus the Technological Imperative: The Irresistible Force Meets the Immovable Object
The technological processes of mechanization and standardization might release individual energy into a yet uncharted realm of freedom beyond necessity. The very structure of human existence would be altered; the individual would be liberated from the work world's imposing upon him alien needs and alien possibilities. The individual would be free to exert autonomy over a life that would be his own. If the productive apparatus could be organized and directed toward the satisfaction of the vital needs, its control might well be centralized; such control would not prevent individual autonomy, but render it possible.1
Herbert Marcuse is of signal interest due to his being such an excellent focal point for a fascinating set of concerns which converge on the interface between the individual and the social. Thus, one might embark on a wide-ranging exploration, through philosophy proper, psychology, and political science which at certain key points impinge upon the “question of technology”. Our experiment with higher technology began promisingly in the mid-eighteenth century. But today we find ourselves in a situation where, arguably, technology controls us more than we control it. Somehow, the great promise of technology has turned into the great threat. Marcuse is one who, while on the one hand articulating a trenchant critique of this threat, has on the other bestowed upon it the mantle of deliverance from age-old toil. Something has corrupted technology’s benificent foundation. Of course, for Marcuse this thing is capitalism. Since capitalism, according to this line of thinking, proceeds by and through a dynamic of domination, technology as it develops within such a system can only replicate capitalism’s modus operandi. I do not wish to argue against this thesis; I take it as true as far as it goes. But I contend that granting that this is, for all intents and purposes, accurate, is not to be equated with the belief that capitalism is the animating principle of technology’s authoritarian paradigm. I wish to demonstrate in this paper that Marcuse’s basic argument rests on this fundamental error, that capitalism is indeed the source of technology’s domination, and that, moreover, a close examination of the general matrix of his thought, issuing from the Frankfurt School paradigm, especially as revealed in his own concept of the Great Refusal, and in the earlier work of Max Horkheimer, offers clues as to the nature of this error, and that certain key points to be found in the Frankfurt School critique, issuing as they do from the quandary surrounding the failure of the proletariat to sieze power amid the general confusion accompanying Hitler’s rise to dominance in Germany in 1933, can function as as a pointer to its resolution in what could be referred to as the anarcho-psychological critique.
This demonstration, it seems to me, must begin with Marcuse’s well-known concept of technological rationality. The relevant question that occupies Marcuse here is how can we separate out the spectre of technology as domination from technology as the engine of freedom? Marcuse’s critique of technology as domination involves a splitting of rationalism into two entities, the rationalism of Descartes and Locke and what he calls the “technological rationality” of the world of advanced industrial capitalism. One, in Marcuse’s view, is a serviceable starting point for the development of freedom; the other relegates humanity to the service of a tyrannical oligarchy.
What is this “technological rationality”? Marcuse, in tracing the development of society from the period before the Industrial Revolution to an early apogee in the 1940s, as Rationalist ideas intertwined with the emerging technocratic state, maintained that “[i]ndividualistic rationality has been transformed into technological rationality. This transformation put a great deal of pressure on personal autonomy as individuals began to adhere to a type of “compliant efficiency”, in which rational behavior became analogous to adjustment and compliance to the apparatus.”2 In Marcuse’s view, Rationalism has been “transformed”, changed into something radically different from its original meaning, one in which a truly rational organization of society is sacrificed on the altar of greed in a betrayal of Rationalism’s fundamental principles.
In Marcuse’s view, then, it is politics and economics that turn technology into an instrument of domination. The continuum of domination in social relationships shapes the way in which technological rationality develops. Scientific and technological progress in themselves do not undermine the social foundations of domination, but typically aid and abet it. But, in a seemingly paradoxical way, Marcuse also maintains that the fundamental thrust of technological development since the late eighteenth century has come to embody one of the essential preconditions for freedom. Nevertheless, this key tenet, that scientific and technological progress do not undermine the social foundations of domination, but typically aid and abet it, is one that haunts the contemporary imagination, and tends to undermine our confidence in the notion of a benificent technological apparatus.
Marx had already offered an early articulation of his idea of the problem of the relationship between capitalism and technology in the Communist Manifesto, saying that “[t]he proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state, i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class. When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation…” exploitation of the worker would end. While he did not specify just what these “instruments of production” might be, perhaps we are not so remiss as to surmise that they are the totality of machine-based techniques as they existed in 1848 Europe, the implication being that “merely” transferring the instruments of production to a class that is equitable in the implementation of technique would transform an oppressive state of affairs to one in which human dignity would be restored.
But is technology really merely the “stored-up power of man”, as Marcuse puts it in One Dimensional Man? Obviously, this is no more or less than one more voice in a long line of those who maintain that technology is essentially neutral, that is situated beyond the purview of values or morals.
Fredrick Engels, writing over 140 years ago, arguably did not share Marcuse’s optimism concerning the question of the nature of technics and its impact on human autonomy. As he expressed it in his short essay “On Authority” of 1872: “If man by dint of his knowledge and inventive genius has subdued the forces of nature, the latter avenge themselves upon him by subjecting him, insofar as he employs them, to a veritable despotism, independent of all social organization [italics mine]. Wanting to abolish authority in large-scale industry is tantamount to wanting to abolish industry itself, to destroy the power-loom in order to return to the spinning-wheel.” And a bit further on: “If the autonomists confined themselves to saying that the social organisation of the future would restrict authority solely to the limits within which the conditions of production render it inevitable, we could understand each other; but they are blind to all facts that make the thing necessary and they passionately fight the world.”3 It is these “conditions of production” that become the focus, for Engels, human regimentation to some considerable extent is the inevitable outcome of large-scale industrial production.
This state of affairs forms the foundation for a "technological imperative", the drive to an indefinite extension of techniques required by the ever-expanding technological apparatus.
In an effort to shed light on this state of affairs, I will focus primarily on the work of two thinkers, Jacques Ellul and Sigfried Giedion. Ellul, as he articulates his thesis in his epochal work The Technological Society, is perhaps the most relentless and unsparing critic of technology that has yet appeared, and Giedion, in Mechanization Takes Command, even though striving to maintain a balanced perspective on the question of its benefit, nevertheless manages to convey a deep unease concerning the direction technology had taken from the mid-nineteenth century onward. Giedion’s treatment ran to 723 pages in its W. W. Norton edition of 1975 and exhaustively traces the development of technology from the 1760s to its then present in the aftermath of World War II. A quote from the book’s epilogue, “Man In Equipoise” conveys this unease:
We have tried to assemble fragments of the anonymous history of our period. The searchlight has fallen on scattered facts and facets, leaving vast stretches of darkness between. The complexes of meaning thus arising have not been explicitly linked. In the mind of the active reader new interrelations and new complexes of meaning will be found…the problem is so intricately related to social, economic, and emotional realities that mere affirmation or mere negation leads nowhere…to control mechanization demands an unprecedented superiority over the instruments of production. It requires that everything be subordinated to human needs…from the very first it was clear that mechanization involved a division of labor. The worker cannot manufacture a product from start to finish; from the standpoiont of the consumer the product becomes increasingly difficult to master. When the motor of his car fails, the owner often does not know which part is causing the trouble; an elevator strike can paralyze the whole life of New York. As a result, the individual becomes increasingly dependent on production and on society as a whole, and relations are far more complex and interlocked than in any earlier society. This is one reason why today man is overpowered by means…never has mankind possessed so many instruments for abolishing slavery. But the promises of a better life have not been kept. All we have to show so far is a rather disquieting inability to organize the world, or even to organize ourselves. Future generations will perhaps designate this period as one of mechanized barbarism, the most repulsive barbarism of all….How was it possible for the foundation and very core of nineteenth-century thought and action to collapse so hopelessly? Without a doubt, it was that mechanization was misused to exploit both earth and man with complete irresponsibility…means have outgrown man.4
This focus on the tendency of means to supercede ends is shared by Jacques Ellul. Ellul, in The Technological Society, paints an even bleaker picture of mechanization than Giedion does, seeing in its increasingly pervasive implementation an inevitable culmination in the wholly nonautonomous individual. Ellul begins with a basic definition: “Technique certainly began with the machine. It is quite true that all the rest developed out of mechanics; it is quite true also that without the machine the world of technique would not exist. But to explain the situation in this way does not at all legitimize it. It is a mistake to continue with this confusion of terms, the more so because it leads to the idea that, because the machine is at the origin and center of the technical problem, one is dealing with the whole problem when one deals with the machine. And that is a greater mistake still. Technique has become almost completely independent of the machine, which has lagged far behind its offspring.”5
Ellul continues his critique of technique by making the case for its full autonomy, an autonomy which subordinates ends to means and is fully independent of any specific form of social organization. Technique, in this reading, follows a protocol that proceeds without regard to context: “The primary aspect of autonomy is perfectly expressed by Frederick Winslow Taylor, a leading technician. He takes, as his point of departure, the view that the industrial plant is a whole in itself, a ‘closed organism’, an end in itself. Giedion adds: ‘What is fabricated in this plant and what is the goal of its labor—these are questions outside its design.’ The complete separation of the goal from the mechanism, the limitation of the problem to the means, and the refusal to interfere in any way with efficiency, all this is clearly expressed by Taylor and lies at the basis of technical automony.”6 Efficiency in its most general form somehow becomes the overriding concern, with no effective opposition, a phenomenon known today as instrumental or technological rationality. This privileging of means has far-reaching consequences, of course. In Ellul’s view, even economic and political development are subordinated to technical development: “Technique elicits and conditions social, political, and economic change. It is the prime mover of all the rest, in spite of any appearance to the contrary, and in spite of human pride, which pretends that man’s philosophical theories are still determining influences…”7
In contrast to Marcuse’s notion of the possibility of inducing this world of technique to conform to what might be termed a “humanistic” utilization of its power, Ellul rather points to its totalizing tendencies, which tear apart the old forms of social organization. Among its many contributions to this phenomenon, it yields the “fruit of specialization”, which inhibits understanding between people of different disciplines. It has cut the umbilical cord which linked men to each other and with nature. It has not only imposed itself upon the external world but has worked its way inside the human soul: “Technique has become the bond between men. It has become, for life or death, the universal language which compensates for all the deficiencies and separations it has itself produced. This is the major reason for the great impetus of technique toward the universal.”8
If one accepts this picture of the workings of technics, the question then becomes how is it that the privileging of means remains essentially unchallenged? Can this tendency really be attributed to the workings of industrial capitalism alone as Marcuse would have us believe?
One of the problems with Marx’s and Engels’ historical materialism is that its often gets its historical sequences wrong. The seeds of the technological imperative were sown decades and even centuries before the industrial revolution got off the ground. The history of technics is intimately bound up with the rise of the mechanistic outlook in the 18th century, propounded by the likes of Turgot (1727-81), early proponent of the so-called Myth of Progress, who lamented the inconstancy of human affect and placed his faith in the seemingly limitless scope of the scientific outlook as it was understood as dependent on an essentially emperio-rationaist world-view. Taken up by Condorcet in his L’Esquisse d’un tableau historique des progrès de l’esprit humain (1795), who developed Enlightenment optimism into a linear model of world history, and Comte in the nineteenth century, it was passed on to Karl Marx, and this “scientific spirit” would form an important, even predominant, current in Western thought.
Ellul’s relentless indictment of the effects of contemporary technique is based in his rejection of the ideology of liberal-rationalism attained through his connection to the basic tenets of Christianity. “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” forms the basis of a secession from a de-spiritualized world which was also the concern of such dissenters from the encroachment of the Myth of Progress as Fyodor Dostoevsky, who, in a defining moment, precipitated by his visit to London’s Crystal Palace in 1862, as he absorbed the implications of the technical wonders on display there, reacted vehemently to what he saw, and, by extension, to the philosophy which he understood to inform these tendencies. Notes from Underground and Crime and Punishment are both suffused with the critique of the emerging technical world and its attendant system of values he found embodied in the artifacts of the Crystal Palace. This ideological break, rejecting both the Utilitarian-based social system that developed into modern industrial capitalism and the alternative inspired by the reaction to capitalism’s excesses, socialism, could be said to constitute a third way, an “anarcho-psychological critique”, as John Carroll puts it in his 1974 study Break-Out from the Crystal Palace. This perspective allows no fundamental distinction between liberal-rationalism and the socialism extant at the time of anarcho-psychology’s first appearance in the 1840s; socialism in this view is a mere variant. Socialism and classical liberal-rationalism do share many fundamental traits, rooted in the 18th century Rationalist tradition, itself tethered to such bloodless formulations as the Aristotelian notion of Substance as taken up by Descartes and Spinoza. What is Substance? As a fundamental concept in the history of ideas, Substance is somethihng quite different than the common-sense notion of the “stuff” things are made up of. The notion taken up by Descartes and Spinoza owes a great deal to its paradigmatic formulation in Aristotle’s Metaphysics. In a crucial passage in the Metaphysics, Book VII, chapter 4, he examines the question of whether matter qualifies as substance:
“We have now outlined the nature of substance, showing that it is that which is not predicated of a stratum, but of which all else is predicated. But we must not merely state the matter thus: for this is not enough. The statement is obscure, and further, on this view, matter becomes substance. For if this is not substance, it baffles us to say what is…by matter I mean that which in itself is neither a particular thing nor of a certain quantity nor assigned to any other of the categories by which being is determined. For there is something of which each of these is predicated, whose being is different from that of each of the predicates (for the predicates other than substance are predicated of substance, while substance is predicated of matter? Therefore the ultimate substratum is of itself neither a thing nor of a particular quantity nor otherwise positively characterized; nor yet is it the negations of these, for negations also will belong to it only by accident. If we adopt this point of view, then, it follows that matter is substance. But this is impossible; for both separability and 'thisness' are thought to belong chiefly to substance. And so form and the compound of form and matter would be thought to be substance, rather than matter.”9
This “compounding” of form and matter, known as hylomorphism, propels Substance into an entirely different realm, one which Aristotle terms “being-as-such,” a notion of being considered apart from any material instantiation. This was Hegel’s starting point for the Logic and figures heavily in both Marx’s and Marcuse’s epistemologies, the implications for which are discussed further on.
To successfully set out on the pathways to understanding Marcuse’s own course in arriving at the particular features of his outlook require us to probe many disparate tributaries which issue out of the 19th century notions of praxis and freedom. So much is at stake. One seeks a path which does not impel us to the destruction by either the Scylla of vulgar materialism or the Charybdis of an arid and impossible idealism, either of which leads to the kind of psychic and physical domination that follows a logic of compulsion and ends in the machinery of extinguishment. It is for this reason that I feel it necessary to make the following digression.
Before Hegel, the movement known as the “counter-enlightenment” which found an early high point in the Sturm und Drang functioned as an important precursor to certain key currents in 19th century Continental philosophy. This was German Romanticism in its early efflorescence. Hegel saw the problems associated with the unbridled ego as embodied in such emotivist formulations as the Sturm und Drang, and found a way to surmount it; but the cost was so high, in terms of the dynamics of human freedom, at least in the eyes of a certain group of intellectuals which flourished after Hegel’s death, that a radical transformation of Hegel’s basic epistemological assumptions was urgently needed. This was the epic “battle of the Diadochi”, as Karl Marx termed it, fomented by a spirited group now known as the Young Hegelians, who constituted a turning back of sorts to the wellsprings of German Romanticism as filtered through the Hegelian dialectic. It would be hard to overestimate the significance of this episode, now obscured by so many layers of history, for the critique of the empirio-rationalist viewpoint. Its initial point of contact with the philosophical tradition is its development of a thoroughgoing crtitique of Hegelian philosophy, the so-called “profanization” of Hegel. Bringing Hegel “down to earth” was the overarching enterprise of these men: D.F. Strauss, whose Life of Jesus so trenchantly attacked the literal interpretation of the Bible; Ludwig Feuerbach, whose theory of psychic projection became so influential in the formation of Marxist philosophy, particularly in his theory of alienation; Bruno Bauer, who made critique into a thoroughgoing principle devouring all that smacked of heteronomy in its path; and Max Stirner, who turned the tables on all of them as well as on the Christian values which they seemed to undercut but, in his estimation, left essentially intact.
In its initial salvo against the entrenched interests of the Prussian state, the Young Hegelians led at the time by D.F. Strauss moved forward in their implementation of critique by operating under the assumption that that it was the critique of religion that must form the basis of any social critique, since it was demonstrable that religious codes underlie all extant mechanisms of government. As this critique deepened, certain basic tenets of the perceived union between Christian values and the legal codes of the state apparatus came under fire; this contingent at length arriving at a critique of the heteronomous structures inherent in any possible state apparatus, which Bauer did so much to advance. But heteronomy is a slippery concept, and a successful analysis of its dynamics must have a proper starting point.
Five years before the French Revolution, Kant posed the question, “What is Enlightenment?” and answered, “The escape from tutelage”, a clarion call to throw off the old systems of psychic domination of the ancien regime. But the catastrophic failures of the French Revolution were a sobering brew, and philosophers such as G.W.F. Hegel sought a way out of the impasse. Hegel’s solution, one which involved the key notion of social stability, a feature obviously lacking in the Revolution and the Terror which followed, gained wide currency in the early nineteenth century. The debacle of the Terror had taken the wind out of the sails of those who yearned for general social transformation conceived along the lines of the initiative against arbitrary privilege. How did things get so out of hand as the Revolution proceeded? Hegel believed that the Revolutionary conception of liberty, with its Rousseauian idea of the “sublime reciprocity between individual and general wills” is characterized as being so one-sided and extreme as to be incompatible with a stable polity, and to produce, of necessity, only “a fury of destruction.” Robespierre summed up this attitude by his chilling utterance, proclaimed at the height of the Terror: “To punish the oppressors of humanity is clemency, to forgive them is barbarity.” Hegel countered that the French Revolutionaries enacted only a reductive, “abstract” conception of freedom. When made into a social policy, the fury of destruction of the Jacobin mentality can never produce a stable set of institutions, but instead only the dissolving of any potential restriction on the general will as it was constituted at the time, which, according to Diderot’s assessment of the French spirit, involved a strong dose of resentment and indignation. In the fury of attack, this resentment and indignation take on hegemonic proportions, and other considerations are swept away. The revolutionary government, given its predilection towards enabling the fulfillment of this “general will” was thus inexorably destined to descend into the fury of the Terror.
Hegel was, then, interested in creating a social theory that provided the highest degree of stability as was compatible with the highest degree of justice attainable. It was the State and its ultimate presupposition, Necessity, that must carry the day, not in the Rousseauian sense of an equation of the individual and general will, subject to the whole range of behavioral tendencies of the populace, but as linked to Hegel’s famous dictum, “The Rational is the Real”. One must make one’s best attempt to answer the question, what is necessary in creating a stable and just society? Hegel indicated that the answer was to be found in the mechanism of the already existing Prussian state. This conclusion left very little room for those who believed that the evils of social inequality and authoritarianism still held sway, setting the stage for a generalized critique of Hegel’s philosophical categories.
Feuerbach, in his 1839 essay “Towards a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy” had already accused Hegel of religiously-based mystification, a state of affairs which Hegel effected, Feuerbach charged, in his grandiose effort to prevent Reason from dispensing with God. Feuerbach contended, specifically, that Hegel’s concept of “presuppositionless Being” developed in the Logic, had just this disguised meaning. His contention was that such a reliance on pure abstraction can only describe a world which cannot transcend the realm of abstraction of its starting point. Feuerbach thunders, “…Your indeterminate and pure being is just an abstraction to which nothing real corresponds, for the real is only real being…Is the Logic above the dispute between the Nominalists and the Realists (to use old names for what are natural contraries)?...Have we therefore not the same contradiction right st the outset of the philosophical science as in the philosophy of Fichte? In the latter case, the contradiction is between pure and the empirical, real ego; in the former, it is between the pure and the empirical, real being. ‘The pure ego is no longer an ego’; but, then, the pure and empty being, too, is no longer being.”10
Such was the way in which the critique of religion took center stage in the battle for political liberation between 1830 and 1848 known as the Vormarz. Marcuse, in One Dimensional Man, is looking for a way out of a latter-day impasse, but the one he was dealing with in the early 1960s, as well as the situation which obtains today, albeit in a more intensified form, has definite parallels with that confronting the Young Hegelians, who were of such crucial importance in the formation of modern critique as embodied in such initiatives as the Frankfurt School. But just how is he doing this, what is his method? Marcuse sticks to the notion of presuppositionless Being, Hegel’s starting point, to underwrite his faith in a world which has not yet materialized, his foundation for the spirit of negation, a rather absolutist solution to the problems engendered by Comtean positivism. But what becomes of Feuerbach’s nominalistic turn? Do we not open the door to Kant's dreaded Heteronomy by beginning with this dependence on abstract Being, as Feuerbach had charged against the Hegelian philosophical starting-point? What is the logical and material outcome of such a presupposition? The thirst for an exit from the oppressively Real gives birth not only to the dream of a better world which does not yet exist in any palpable form but to diametrically opposed, alien and alienating forms which overspread the psyche like a death-shroud. The echoes of Descartes’ call privileging thinking over affect may be heard in the distance. Marcuse imagines he is pointing to a human negation in quoting from the poet Paul Valery: “Creating and moving in a medium which presents the absent, the poetic language is a language of cognition—but a cognition which subverts the positive. In its cognitive function, poetry performs the great task of thought: ‘le travail qui fait vivre en nous ce qui n’existe pas’”, which Marcuse translates as ‘the effort which makes live in us that which does not exist.”11 In rejecting the positivistic tenet that only what can be measured and observed should count as real, Marcuse, following the Aristotelian antecedent, re-opens the door to the age-old mystifications of philosophical Realism. Hypostasis gains a new life, reanimated in the service of personal and social transformation that owes more to Christian eschatology than a new philosophy of revolution that starts with the principle of embodiment. We orient ourselves towards the otherworldly when we focus on entities such as the infinite, God, heaven, and an afterlife as the ultimate goals of human existence, points which, clearly, are not the immediate objects of sense-perception—so it would seem rather easy for the mind prepared to accept the reality of such entities to accept the reality of universals as well. This choice, essentially a choice to return to the religious spirit, in its insistence of the ultimate reality of the universal, commits Marcuse (and Marx) to an insistence on the privileging of the generic over the specific.
Marcuse goes on: “For the expression of this other order, which is transcendence within the one world, the poetic language depends on the transcendent elements in ordinary language. However, the total mobilization of all media for the defense of the established reality has coordinated the means of expression to the point where communication of transcending contents becomes technically impossible. The spectre that has haunted the artistic consciousness since Mallarmé. The impossibility of speaking a non-reified language, of communicating the negative—has ceased to be a spectre. It has materialized.”12 But this coordination of media for the defense of the established order has the influence that it does in large part due to the erosion of an outmoded notion of transcendence which has all but expired as the Catholic Church and the old religious iconography loses its grip on the psyche of everyman and everywoman, and is therefore at least partly defensible as a rejection of the values of the ancien regime. Does the spirit of negation in such an absolutist sense lead to a way out of our drive to oblivion? This negation is uncomfortably close to the pursuit of Nothingness, this product of Cartesian dualism which sees the Real as fundamentally disembodied. Must we really make recourse to such a notion as transcendence in this essentially religious sense to provide a starting-point for the journey to our heart’s desire? Nominalistic formulations such as those undertaken by Feuerbach in his “Critique of Hegelian Philosophy” might have another pathway to follow than that which leads to Comtean positivism.
If one does not start with Aristotle’s and Hegel’s “presuppositionless Being”, and one wants at the same time to avoid being trapped in the all-embracing watchwords of Naturalism and its latter-day extension in physicalism, the Only That Which is Materially Existent and Observable Is Real, then what? One might do well to consider a key paragraph from the writing of the Young Hegelian Bruno Bauer, in which he summed up the limitations of Hegelian philosophy in a hundred and sixty-four words:
“Hegel combined into one Spinoza's substance and Fichte's ego; the unity of
both, the combination of these opposing spheres, etc., constitutes the peculiar interest, but, at the same time, the weakness in Hegel's philosophy. This contradiction in which Hegel's system was entangled had to be resolved and destroyed. But he could only do this by making it impossible for all time to put the question: What is the relation of self-consciousness to the absolute spirit…This was possible in two ways. Either self-consciousness had to be burned again in the flames of substance, i.e. the pure substantiality relation had to be firmly established and maintained, or it had to be shown that personality is the creator of its own attributes and essence, that it belongs to the concept of personality in general to posit itself as limited, and again to abolish this limitation which it posits by its universal essence, for precisely this essence is only the result of its inner distinction, of its activity.”13
It was Bauer who originally formulated the idea that this alternative to both Comtean positivism and the abstract negation of Hegel must be the force of “self-consciousness” as he made his progression away from The Master, around the time of the publication of Feuerbach’s Essence of Christianity in 1841. Marx was never able to accept this Bauerian notion of the privileging of self-consciousness over Substance as it conflicted with Hegel’s privileging of the universal as existent logically prior to any particular instantiation, which in turn failed to jibe with the Marxian notion of the historical mission of a class of individuals in the revolutionary process. I discuss this complex of ideas a bit further on in more detail. Since it is the universal which begets the individual and not the other way around in the Hegelian and Marxian universes, one finds formulations such as the Gattungswesen, “species-being”, and the Real as consisting solely in “cooperation in production and comsumption” as characteristic of Marx’s thought early and late. This leads directly to such formulations as the proposition that each is worth what one produces, and that one is worth only what one produces. This notion of “worth” is of course in urgent need of defintion in this context. Logically the idea of worth being determined by a social nexus geared to material production entails a commitment to an existence for something other than itself, grounded in the rampant hypostasis of the Hegelian philosophy of Substance. Being-for-the-other in the attainment of “species-being” is the very quintessence of heteronomy and dovetails seamlessly with the technological imperative. This is the chain of entailments brought about by the starting point in abstract being.
Historical materialism, for Marcuse as for all Marxists, is of course the fundamental theory underwriting the necessity of the proletarian revolution. In Marx, a notion of scientific laws governing the social mechanism becomes intertwined with the Hegelian notion of the instantiation of spirit in the world-historical process and historical materialism takes on its “mature” form. But as the 1930s progressed, there came an an insistent question: why didn’t capitalism collapse under its own contradictions as Marx thought? Adorno and Horkheimer thought that state intervention in the economy had effectively abolished the tension in capitalism between the "relations of production" and the "material productive forces of society," a tension which, according to traditional Critical Theory, constituted the primary contradiction within capitalism. Yet, contrary to Marx’s famous prediction in the Preface to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, this shift did not lead directly to an era of revolution, but rather in many countries to fascism and totalitarianism. As a result, orthodox Marxian theory was left without anything in reserve to which it might appeal to appear as an alternative to the now-mediated opposition. When the forces of production enter into a symbiosis with the relations of production that they were supposed to destroy, the motive force for overthrow evaporates. For Adorno and Horkheimer, this posed the problem of how to account for the apparent persistence of domination in the absence of the very contradiction that was ostensibly the source of domination itself.
To move towards an elucidation of this state of affairs, one might be tempted to examine the origins of the theory of historical materialism, which can be found nearly fully articulated in Marx’s The German Ideology of 1845, principally in his “Theses on Feuerbach”, “Feuerbach. Opposition of the Materialist and Idealist Outlooks” and the extended and rambling section on the examination of Stirner’s The Ego and Its Own. Up to this time, Marx was a much more conventional “True Socialist” as some of the more prominent early theorists of socialism were called before 1845. These men, Arnold Ruge, Wilhelm Weitling, Moses Hess, et al. proceeded from a standpoint heavily inflected with moral outrage against the excesses of capitalist practice. Marx understood early on that taking such a stance represented a return to the sort of religious attitude that was so emphatically rejected by the Young Hegelians, with their project’s starting-point involving the “profanization of Hegel” undertaken to expunge the spirit of mystification inherent in Hegel’s outlook. In his zeal to distance himself from these “True Socialists” Marx was induced to find a way to effect the outcomes of socialism while leaving the moralistic component behind. A key idea from Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy, “The the hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill society with the industrial capitalist” shows historical materialism at the zenith of reductionism. It has the veneer of an objective, scientific theory that yields, through the kind of careful analysis undertaken by the Frankfurt School and others, something far less serviceable. One might even conclude, in this glaring disparity between Marx’s humanistic side and that which formulated historical materialism that there is an element of clumsiness, born of haste, revealed to be what appears in light of this analysis as a gross oversimplification of the socio-historical process. This is the contention of Nicholas Lobkowicz, who wrote an examination of Marx’s historical materialism in light of its Young Hegelian provenance. Lobkowicz maintains that it has two aspects, the economic one of capitalism’s productive mechanism creating an ever-increasing proletariat, and the other, good deal more tendentious, that this threatening “penurious rabble” is induced by historical forces to overthrow the capitalist class, that this overthrow is not the mere “psychological necessity” of an oppressed class which has nothing to lose and therefore everything to win as eventually resorting to violence in order to liberate itself, but a physical one, necessitated by certain inexorable scientifically demonstrable laws. There is a gap to be filled here, a suppostion, which if true, creates a bridge between a psychological necessity and a physical one. In his earlier thought Marx expressed this as a “lightning of thought” necessary on the part of some critical contingent of the proletariat which the contradictions inherent in capitalist development itself would somehow produce to actuate the proletarian revolution. But this formulation still depends on some idealist component within the historical process, something which Marx was loath to entertain. And so he developed a theory which seemed to operate in a sphere which was completely independent of philosophical ideas. This all happened in a very short period in the aftermath of the appearance of Feuerbach’s Essence of Christianity, which had such a decisive influence on the young Marx in the early 1840s. What had effected this transformation, occurring in the space of a few months in 1844 and 1845? Lobkowicz argues that it was the appearance of Max Stirner’s Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum in the fall of 1844 which was primarily responsible for this shift. Stirner had attacked the whole panoply of what he called the “fixed ideas” of his erstwhile colleagues from a strictly nominalistic standpoint with unnerving consistency, and Marx did not want to be seen as belonging to this contingent. Consequently, historical materialism took on the shape that it did, but bore the mark of an easily breakable code that betrayed its idealist underpinnings. Lobkowicz states in this regard, “…[O]ne may say that instead of giving up his revolutionary socialist ideals, Marx advanced an interpretation of history in terms of which it became possible to retain the content of these ideals without at the same time referring to their normative character. If one compares the doctrine advanced in The German Ideology with the ideas that Marx developed prior to 1845, one soon discovers that except for a few minor points they differ only in one major respect: what earlier had been described as an ideal is now described as a historical necessity and the revolutionary role of the philosopher has been replaced by a historical dialectic entirely independent of ideas. Stirner had forced Marx to give up his approach, but he had not succeeded in forcing him to abandon his ideals. Marx simply translated his ideals into laws of history.”14
These “laws” can bee seen as a direct outgrowth of the 18th century rationalism which has appeared to us above as fatally imbued with the mechanistic outlook. Marcuse’s dependence on the mechanism of historical materialism with its provenance in a nebulous stew involving, on the one hand, Hegelian/Cartesian concepts of Being, and on the other, scientistic notions betraying a deep connection with the technological Myth of Progress, have rendered Marcuse’s overall theory of social and personal transformation incoherent. But Marcuse is certainly correct in his insistence on the examination of this all-important terrain, that which undergirds a most important strain of Western thought, the notion of Being and its ultimate meaning.
And so I move to a key section of ODM, Chapters 8 and 9, where he dives into the forbidding waters of the problem of universals in earnest. He begins Chapter 8 by stating, [t]he commitment of analytic philosophy to the mutilated reality of thought and speech shows forth strikingly in its treatment of universals…the question of universals is at the very center of philosophic thought. For the treatment of universals reveals the position of a philosophy in the intellectual culture—its historical function.”15 One must find a starting point, however, which minimizes the confusion surrounding this examination. Many thinkers, typified by such contemporary thinkers as the late philosopher of science Bernard D’Espanat, oppose idealism to realism. I believe one does far better in avoiding serious confusion to return to the medieval dichotomy, that of the opposition between Realism and Nominalism. Realism, according to this conception, is associated with Plato above all, and his Theory of Forms, and is a foundational instantiation of the idealist outlook, contrary to the common-sense meanings of these terms. This basic confusion at the heart of one of the most fundamental oppositions in Western philosophy is indicative of the problem we face in untangling the jumbled skein of Western thought. In Plato’s conception, only the Forms can be said to truly exist; all physically existing objects only “partake” in the Form which gives birth to them. Nominalism asks Realism the fundamental question, as William of Ockham did over 650 yerars ago: how can many things be some one thing? This dispute is far from being settled, and lies at the heart of the Western dilemma. Marcuse, as a response to this confusing state of affairs, embarks on an analysis of what such universal terms mean in the context of social and political thought: “One of the disturbing problems in analytic philosophy is that of statements on universals such as ‘nation’, ‘state’, ‘The British Constitution’, ‘the University of Oxford’, ‘England.’ No particular entities whatsoever correspond to these universals, and it still makes perfect sense, it is even unavoidable, to say that ‘the nation’ is mobilized, that ‘England’ declared war, that I studied at the ‘University of Oxford’...however, the way in which such things and people are organized, integrated, and administered operates as an entity different from its component parts—to such an extent that it can dispose of life and death, as in the case of the nation and its constitution.”16 Marcuse goes on to discuss further the ramifications of this state of affairs, saying that “to make good sense, ‘the nation’, or the Party’, ought to be translatable into its consituents and components. The fact that it is not, is a historical fact which gets in the way of linguistic and logical analysis.”17 All this leads to the ability to bamboozle the populace into sacrificing itself for abstract entities which bear little resemblance to the stated reasons for this sacrifice. A category mistake is the result: The common man is enjoined to sacrifice himself for the Proletariat, but in reality it is for the Party elite. They are asked to die for the Fatherland, but in reality it is for the Industrialists. But at this juncture Marcuse, working the ground of a quasi-Nominalistic analysis, retreats into a new abstraction: such a reordering of the realm of abstract entities as I have articulated above “is a genuine ‘translation’ of hypostatized universals into concreteness, and yet it acknowledges the reality of the universal while calling it by its true name. The hypostatized whole resists analytic dissolution, not because it is a mythical entity behind the particular entities and performances but because it is the concrete, objective ground of their functioning in the given social and historical context.”18 Such is the nature of a lexicon rooted in the terminology of the Master Obfuscator Hegel, a realm which Marcuse explored in depth in his early work Reason and Revolution. In this book, Marcuse writes of the nature of the subject as envisioned by Hegel, a position which he tacitly accepts as fundamentally Marxian and consonant with his own position:
As an ontological category, the ‘subject’ is the power of an entity to ‘be itself in its otherness’. Only such a mode of existence can incorporate the negative into the positive. Negative and positive ceased to be opposed to each other when the driving power of the subject makes negativity a part of the subject’s own unity….[t]his is the mode of being or existence that Hegel describes as ‘real infinity’. Infinity is not something behind or beyond finite things, but is their true reality. The infinite is the mode of existence in which all potentialities are realized and in which all being reaches its ultimate form….the substance of nature as well as history is a universal that unfolds itself through the particular. The universal is the natural process of the genus, realizing itself through the species and individuals. In history, the universal is the substance of all development. The Greek city-state, modern industry, a social class—all these universals are actual historical forces that cannot be dissolved into their components. On the contrary, the individual facts and factors obtain their meaning only through the universal to which they belong. The individual is determined not by his particular but by his universal qualities, for instance, by his being a Greek citizen, or a modern factory worker, or a bourgeois.19
This dependence on Hegel’s essentially Realist perspective leads Marcuse into assertions that history has tended to discredit: “The hypostatized whole resists analytic dissolution, not because it is a mythical entity behind the particular entities and performances but because it is the concrete, objective ground of their functioning in the given social and historical context. As such, it is a real force, felt and exercised by the individuals in their actions, circumstances, and relationships…The real ghost is of a very forcible reality—that of the separate and independent power of the whole over the individuals.”20
Historically speaking, the Universal finds its ultimate expression in the idea of God, which appears above all as a force which stands outside of the self, society and time to provide an objective point from which reality might be apprehended. But this privileging of the objective realm leads to such absurdities, as Feuerbach demonstrated, as engendering a projective dynamic in which God is all and humanity nothing. The “God’s-eye view” appears less and less plausible as faith in the bulwarks which propped up our notion of God for so long crumble. As one grasps the religious implications of Condorcet, Marx and Comte, it becomes apparent that what has happened is that some notion, some aspect, of God has seeped back into the psyche to fill the vacuum left by the disappearance of the Christian God.
One is thus led into a critique of the objective realm as such, for a critique of what Theodore Roszak, in his book The Making of a Counter-Culture called "objective consciousness". Roszak states there that “the important monopoly that must be broken is not at bottom a simple class privilege; it is, rather, the psychic monopoly of objective consciousness."21 Perhaps the most important feature of this myth of objective consciousness is what Roszak calls "the alienative dichotomy” which enjoins us to create a critical distance between our affective and rational faculties, achieved by the act of “taking a step back” from unreflective subjectivity. Objectivism presupposes the projection of some aspect of the psyche into a realm where the self does not exist. This yields a privileging of exploration of the behavioral aspect of the object of study, with an attendant lowering of status as this entity appears to the observer. Detached observation no doubt has many legitimate applications, but it is its hypostasis—the essentially Feuerbachian projection of a useful technique limiting the scope of caprice into a Leviathan which acts as master control—that constitutes the problem. This objectivization then functions as a paradigm applicable to any and all situations--that of political scientist with regard to the voting public, the anthropologist with regard to the tribal group, the psychologist confronting the laboratory subject. The scientist thus takes on the role of (mere) observer, one step away from lived experience. This attitude is expressed most fully in physicalism—the theory that the real is fully apprehended if one were to succeed in mounting a thorough enough physical description of given entity, including that of overt behavior and neurophysiology and abstract functional organisation to extend our inquiry to the human case. But one thing is left out. That thing is subjective experience. This concept refuses to jibe with the 18th century model of science. Naturally, even the most committed physicalist would grant that everyone has their own subjective experience, but what does it count for in the pursuit of…whatever it is that we are pursuing? Caprice leads to difficulties just as problematic as pure objectivity. One cannot merely imagine oneself to be the King of France in order to become so. One cannot merely imagine oneself to have achieved total liberation, physical and mental, in order to achieve it. This one-sidedness of subjectivism must itself be surmounted to eliminate the legitimate objections of the objectivist viewpoint. But it is the critique of objectivism which opens us to the possibility of an accurate assessment of the subjective realm. One might want to refer at this time to Lewis Mumford’s work, specifically to a passage in Technics and Civlization, the section titled “The Objective Personality”. For Mumford, modern mechanization had a a rather surprising constellation of influences, which included the monk, who brought time under a new degree of control by the invention of the clock; the soldier, who was a driving force in the development of many technologies; and of course the financier. This in turn modified the psychic life of humanity in a continuing cycle. This cycle yields a new sort of personality, one that pays more heed to objective situations. But in both,
“there was an external standard of reference; but whereas the medieval man determined reality by the extent to which it agreed with a complicated tissue of beliefs, in the case of modern man the final arbiter of judgement is always a set of facts…Moreover, matters that lie outside this verification in terms of fact have for the modern mind a lower order of reality…the concept of a neutral world, untouched by man’s efforts, indifferent to his activities, obdurate to his wish and supplication, is one of the great triumphs of man’s imagination, and in itself represents a fresh human value. Minds of the scientific order, even before Pythagoras, must have had intuitions of this world; but the habit of thought did not spread over any wide area until the scientific method and the machine technique became common: indeed it does not begin to emerge with any clearness until the nineteenth century. The recognition of this new order is one of the main elements in the new objectivity…What we tend to call objective are those dispostions which accord with science and technics…”22
There are hints of a critique of the objective spirit lurking in the above passages, but on balance, Mumford has little problem with it, as evidenced in his characterization of the opposition type: “the shrill, the violent, the vociferous, the purely animal tooth-baring and foot-stamping, paroxysms of uncritical self-love and uncontrolled hate—all these archaic qualities…are now outside the style of our epoch: their recent revival and attempted sanctification is merely a symptom of that relapse into the raw primitive…[b]etween the fire of such low types and the ice of the machine one would have to choose the ice.”23 I suppose Mumford just assumed that this turn toward the objective would stabilize at some point before the soul is completely drained of its “uncritical self-love and uncontrolled hate” as well as emotions just as passionate but not as debased. At any rate, The Lewis Mumford of 1934 is not the Lewis Mumford of 1970. The less salutary implications of the objective personality were presumably more clear, to Mumford and a legion of others, by the time of his Myth of the Machine. To return to a context in which it might be possible to find a thread that connects the soul to its passion in an unmitigated form, while retaining clearheadedness—a deep connection to the development and maintenance of the rational faculty—has seemed so much more important as the march of technicization has progressed up to and beyond Auschwitz, the atomic bomb, and the modern military-industrial complex in general with all its current and future ramifications.
This was the unfulfilled promise of Ludwig Feuerbach, beginning in the “Critique of Hegelian Philosophy” of 1839. Relying on the concept of abstract being, as Marcuse does, as his starting point for critique dooms him, as Feuerbach said of Hegel, to remain imprisoned in the realm of the abstract forever. But leaving, really leaving, this realm of the abstract is harder than Feuerbach seemed to believe. For a few short years, this book was seen by this faction of the German intelligentsia as the pathway to a new vision of self and society; but as 1844 closed, a sudden shock of realization set in, that one is still too close to the old Christian spirit in Feuerbach after all. Feuerbach’s “heaven on earth” was, according to his thesis, to be achieved through a transposition of the predicates which Christianity proposed as describing the nature of God: “God is Love” becomes “Love is God” or, to bring it fully into the realm of anthropology, “Humanity is God.” “Man is to Man the true Supreme Being” is how Feuerbach put it in the Essence of Christianity. But how does this serve the critique of religion, recognized by the Young Hegelians as fundamental to the general critique? Doesn’t it rather preserve the basic dynamics of the religious spirit even though it appears to function as a “bringing down to earth” of the human spirit? This is the approach taken by Max Stirner in his book Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum (1844). Stirner argued that if the predicates of God are attributed to humanity, the outcome is not really an embodied human nature. Divine Wisdom is not something that can be instantiated in a human personality. When Feuerbach used predicates of God to define human nature he split this nature into an essential and unessential part. What is this other part? Stirner would say it must mean the un-mensch, the un-man, something to be disowned. In addition, even though Feuerbach had criticized Hegel for a dependence on abstraction, he was promulgating an enormous one of his own in his making of the species the subject rather than the individual. It is humanity that is the focus in Essence and not the individual, despite appearances to the contrary at times. In Feuerbach, the species and not the individual becomes the subject. Feuerbach takes this as necessary through the following argument: I have, as an individual, within me only a partial and incomplete version of what humanity considered as a totality fully possesses. This merely partial instantiation of a general human potientiality results in the inescapable conclusion that my true nature is forever outside me. This is the ultimate meaning of Feuerbach’s notion of Gattungswesen. This universalistic perspective forms the basis for Marx’s later formulations on the nature of class struggle. It is clear from the above analysis that Feuerbach could not get through to a truly thoroughgoing nominalism. Hypostasis persists, with all the implications for the fate of the individual this entails.
In view of the problems which seem to have been revealed by Horkheimer and Adorno concerning the breakdown of the conventional Marxian model of contradiction in capitalism, one must turn to other possible mechanisms to explain this effect. That other tradition, the anarcho-psychological, appears in light of this incredible clash of forces in Vormarz Germany to offer an alternative which provides a compelling explanatory model for many vexing questions which the liberal-rational tradition has had a great deal of trouble addressing successfully. The extension of the critique of hypostasis to extricate the soul from the contradictions stemming from a merely partial break with the Christian tradition brings us to a conception of alienation which is revealed as diametrically opposed to the Marxian model in the aftermath of its decoding. Heteronomy now appears as embodied in the fixed ideas or obsessions of an individual that has come to believe in a form of self-abnegation that comports to its Calvinist provenience. This, then, is the starting point for a thoroughgoing anarcho-psychological critique. A pivotal point in this critique is the dichotomy, resistant to all synthesis, that exists between the competing claims between the individual and the Gattungswesen, man or woman in an elemental state of conflict with a constraining society as opposed to a concept in which person unites with person in the effort to create an integated and harmonious community. Stirner, in examining this interrelation, points to the implications of this symbiotic relationship between the idea of the State and its negation as it appears initally within the individual consciousness:
“Every state is a despotism, be the despot one or many…for this is the case when the law given at any time, the expressed volition of a popular assembly, is thenceforth to be law for the individual, to which obedience is due from him or towards which he has the duty of obedience…How to change it? Only by recognizing no duty, not binding myself nor letting myself be bound. If I have no duty, then I know no law either…’why, everything would go topsy-turvy if everyone could do what he would!’ Well, who says that everyone can do everything? What are you there for, pray, you who do not need to put up with everything? Defend yourself, and no one will do anything to you! He who would break your will has to do with you, and is your enemy. Deal with him as such. If there stand behind you for your protection some millions more, then you are an imposing power and will have an easy victory. But, even if as a power you overawe your opponent, still you are not on that account a hallowed authority to him, unless he be a simpleton. He does not owe you respect and regard, even though he will have to consider your might.”24
Here we have the view which opposes the Marxian one on the all-important question, what are the real chains of humanity? Is it basically a question of psychic or physical chains that lie at the fundamental level of human subjugation? Max Horkheimer distinguished his position from that of classical Marxism by asserting that “naked coercion cannot by itself explain why the subject classes have borne the yoke so long in times of cultural decline, when property relationships, like existing ways of life in general, had obviously reduced social forces to immobility and the economic apparatus was ready to yield a better method of production."25 Marx had taken great pains, in the pages of his unpublishable work The German Ideology, to attempt to demonstrate that Stirner’s viewpoint amounted to no more than wishful thinking, that it was all a mere change of ideas in the head of a few malcontents which could not be translated into practical activity to change the world. But in light of the incommensurabilities I discuss above, the irrational attachment to authoritarian psychic structures on the part of Everyman and Everywoman begins to take its place at the forefront of our concerns as the contradictions in the theory of historical materialism become more and more apparent.
This dependence on the realm of abstract, essentially Fichtean categories in Marcuse stands in an uneasy relation to the more personalist implications of his notion of the Great Refusal, which Marcuse does define as the liberation of the mind and senses from reification at the deepest levels of the psyche, a liberation which must proceed from the individual outward or it ceases to exist as such. Everything hinges, then, on this notion of reification. Just what is the nature of the self which attains this state of freedom from reification? For Marcuse, it is a direct consequence of the philosophy of being-as-such, and as a result, what constitues the end of alienation in Marx and Marcuse is the uniting in the psyche of the individual, particular man, with a universal type, epitomized in the concept of the Gattungswesen. This union must occur, as rooted in the philosophy of Substance, at the expense of the particular qualities of the person, emptying it out, and replacing it with the generic, which from a personalist point of view manifests itself as man-as-role. “The Bourgeois”, for example, in such a view, functions as the fundamental meaning of the personality of which the individual characteristics of the person in question are merely secondary. This is tantamount to asserting that being a human being cannot even in theory transcend the Mask. But what does the end of reification actually entail? One returns to the definition by Marcuse stated above, that of the Great Refusal entailing the liberation of the mind from reification. And yet, at many important junctures Marcuse defends reification, as the “legitimate hypostatized universal”, to rescue us from the dreaded effects of positivism. One must confront this incommensurable state of affairs. How is heteronomy not operational in this defense of reification? Only by subsuming the particular man beneath the umbrella of the abstract universal, such as “The Proletariat”, the Bourgeois”, the “Enemy of the State.” One calls into existence by such a formulation the mechanism one needs to sustain it. There can be no enemy of the state without a state.
No, the elimination of reification on the individual plane cannot occur without the concurrent disappearance of the hypostatized universal; otherwise we have only a collective end to reification, a contradiction in terms. The pages of The Ego and Its Own are filled with exhortations to shake free of their power. God, now appearing in his real personage as Authority, hides in the controlling concepts of Law, Right, the Good, the State, the People, the Nation. One shakes off one layer of the con