When I read this essay by Marcuse, I find myself nodding in agreement with many of his complaints and criticisms regarding the current order; hence, the enemy of my enemy. Yet, I cringe while reading his prescription.
In this post, I will examine these. I will write as a libertarian, one who recognizes that individuals voluntarily choose to form relationships with family and kin – those who share common cultural values; in other words, I will write from the perspective of…me!
The Enemy of My Enemy
As deterrents against nuclear war, as police action against subversion, as technical aid in the fight against imperialism and communism, as methods of pacification in neo-colonial massacres, violence and suppression are promulgated, practiced, and defended by democratic and authoritarian governments alike, and the people subjected to these governments are educated to sustain such practices as necessary for the preservation of the status quo. (Emphasis added)
It is difficult to find any reason to disagree with Marcuse on this statement: violence is promulgated by governments of all stripes; the people are educated (I would say “indoctrinated”) to sustain these practices.
Within the affluent democracy, the affluent discussion prevails, and within the established framework, it is tolerant to a large extent.
“Thought leaders” tell us all what to think.
Tolerance toward that which is radically evil now appears as good because it serves the cohesion of the whole on the road to affluence or more affluence.
Isn’t all of acceptable discourse geared toward this? Need the phrase “politically correct” be explained? We all know that there are many things that cannot be said in “polite company.”
…freedom is still to be created even for the freest of the existing societies.
He is preaching to the choir!
He writes of “a society which uses technology as an instrument of domination”; a society under “the rule of monopolistic media.” No real complaints from me on this.
The Cringe-worthy Prescription
A few must make the call for society:
…who is qualified to make all these distinctions, definitions, identifications for the society as a whole, has now one logical answer, namely, everyone 'in the maturity of his faculties' as a human being, everyone who has learned to think rationally and autonomously. (Emphasis added)
Meet the new boss…someone need make decisions for society as a whole; someone must decide who has learned to think rationally and autonomously – but how will these someones be decided? Who will these someones be?
Where society has entered the phase of total administration and indoctrination, this would be a small number indeed, and not necessarily that of the elected representatives of the people. (Emphasis added)
A small number = a dictator, at most a politburo.
In terms of historical function, there is a difference between revolutionary and reactionary violence, between violence practiced by the oppressed and by the oppressors.
On one level, I can understand this – but I guess one person’s “revolutionary” is another person’s “reactionary” – who will decide? And then what have you got? Just violence.
In any case, how many times has mass violence against oppressors yielded a better outcome for those involved? First of all are the dead; I suspect they would vote “no.” Second, often the most inhuman rises to the top of the power vacuum – after all, they will conclude that they think the most rationally and autonomously.
In terms of ethics, both forms of violence are inhuman and evil--but since when is history made in accordance with ethical standards?
Doing evil to achieve good. Even if I abhor this on Biblical grounds, I ask again – how often has that turned out well for the revolutionary evil-doers? Marcuse responds:
With all the qualifications of a hypothesis based on an 'open' historical record, it seems that the violence emanating from the rebellion of the oppressed classes broke the historical continuum of injustice, cruelty, and silence for a brief moment, brief but explosive enough to achieve an increase in the scope of freedom and justice, and a better and more equitable distribution of misery and oppression in a new social system--in one word: progress in civilization.
A “more equitable distribution of misery and oppression”? Is this what Marcuse is fighting for (actually, sending others to fight for)? That’s all we have to look forward to? (Well, yeah, but Marcuse doesn’t want those sent out to rebel to know this.)
The English civil wars, the French Revolution, the Chinese and the Cuban Revolutions may illustrate the hypothesis.
These so-called success stories must be reviewed, one by one. I state up front: I do not claim to be expert regarding any of these; I will offer a somewhat superficial overview. I welcome any thoughts / links that expand on this or offer contrary conclusions:
The English Civil War, 1642 – 1651: The king was executed; his son was exiled. Oliver Cromwell ruled. Cromwell invaded Ireland; killed many thousands – he was especially intolerant toward the Catholics. Catholic priests were killed; Catholic property confiscated. Even worse atrocities were committed by Cromwell’s successors after Cromwell returned to England.
Cromwell then invaded Scotland, as the Scots proclaimed Charles II (the executed king’s son) king. Again, deaths in the thousands.
Oh, yeah…by 1660, England had a king once more.
The French Revolution, 1789 – 1799: Must I really write anything about this? Let’s cover the Reign of Terror to start: perhaps 17,000 executed by guillotine; forty-thousand summary executions; 300,000 or more in prison, many of whom died there; one million taken in the army.
Robespierre in February 1794 in a speech explained the necessity of terror:
If the basis of popular government in peacetime is virtue, the basis of popular government during a revolution is both virtue and terror; virtue, without which terror is baneful; terror, without which virtue is powerless. Terror is nothing more than speedy, severe and inflexible justice; it is thus an emanation of virtue; it is less a principle in itself, than a consequence of the general principle of democracy, applied to the most pressing needs of the patrie.
Robespierre would be Marcuse’s dictator – the rational and autonomous thinker.
Then Napoleon: emperor of France; continuous empire-building wars.
Lasting influence of the French Revolution can be found in the trail leading from the Jacobins to the Marxists – but this, as we shall see, would be good news for Marcuse.
Chinese Revolution, 1949: the aftermath of the Chinese Civil War in which something between 1.8 million to 3.5 million killed; but this was only an appetizer. During the reign of Mao, uncountable tens of millions were killed and poverty was endemic, a Great Leap taken under the wise leadership of the rational and autonomous thinkers.
Cuban Revolution, 1953 – 1959: wealth was expropriated, from both individuals and the Church. The fun didn’t last long; poverty is endemic. Even worse:
The Cuban government has been accused of numerous human rights abuses including torture, arbitrary imprisonment, unfair trials, and extrajudicial executions (also known as "El Paredón"). Human Rights Watch has stated that the government "represses nearly all forms of political dissent" and that "Cubans are systematically denied basic rights to free expression, association, assembly, privacy, movement, and due process of law".
These are the four shining examples offered by Marcuse. Remind me, please: was life really better both during and after the wars that led to the death and abuse that followed?
Returning to Marcuse:
…using these resources and distributing the social product with priority on the satisfaction of vital needs and with a minimum of toil and injustice.
There is no “social product”; there is no satisfaction with a “minimum of toil.”
Liberating tolerance, then, would mean intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left.
Consequently, true pacification requires the withdrawal of tolerance before the deed, at the stage of communication in word, print, and picture. Such extreme suspension of the right of free speech and free assembly is indeed justified only if the whole of society is in extreme danger.
Because in order to ensure tolerance, the rational and autonomous thinkers must suppress tolerance. Just like in Revolutionary England, France, China and Cuba.
My opinion was that if we had a common enemy we should get together commonly.
As an aside, if it is the same Julius Rosenberg, he and his wife were convicted by the United States government for espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union; they were accused of transmitting nuclear weapon designs. I keep in mind: revolutionaries always want all other revolutionaries to join; thereafter, the nastiest of the bunch (not the most rational and autonomous thinkers) will take control.
I return to my first post on Marcuse and my summary of his foundational “Critical Theory”:
Critical Theory teaches one to be critical of every prevailing norm, attitude, and cultural attribute in society.
Contrast this with the recent talk given by Jeff Deist, where he favorably uses terms such as family, tribe, religion, faith, tradition, culture, God. In other words, pretty much “every prevailing norm, attitude, and cultural attribute in society.” So, you have Deist on one side and Marcuse on the other.
Many so-called libertarians have come out vociferously against Deist’s talk. They want to destroy the same things that Marcuse wants to destroy; they are angry that Deist suggests preserving the things he says are worth preserving. Inherently they come out in favor of Marcuse. And Marcuse comes out in favor of communist revolution.
If you’re not sure who the sucker is at the table, it’s probably you.