Garbage In:Garbage Out 00000010

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – Herbert Marcuse

Again with

Herbert Marcuse became known in the 1960’s as the Guru of the New Left …a title he rejected. He was one of the Frankfurt School thinkers who migrated to the United States in the 30’s, fleeing Nazi persecution. Herbert Marcuse was born on July 19 …my birthday, among other things.

While in Freiburg Marcuse worked as Heidegger’s assistant and began work on his second dissertation, Hegel’s Ontologie und die Grundlegung einer Theorie der Geschichtlichkeit (Hegel’s Ontology and the Theory of Historicity) (1932 [1987]). Although this dissertation was never approved by Heidegger (and according to Marcuse, perhaps not read), it was published in 1932.

Marcuse was trying to solve the so-called Crisis of Marxism: the fact that Marx’s prediction that the worker’s subjectivity would change – would become radicalized – by the revelation of capitalism’s inner workings didn’t happen. While first being interested in approaching this problem using Heideggerian and Husserlian phenomenological frameworks, he later moved on to using Hegel, Marx, and Freud.

One of the key concepts in Marcuse’s thought is a revised notion of Freudian repression. Basically, Marcuse considers Freud’s takeaway from Civilization and its Discontents to be too general. According to Marcuse, there is some amount of repression needed for the basic social behaviors required for civilization, but there is also unnecessary repression in capitalist civilizations. So this extra repression turns out to be dysfunctional and can potentially motivate revolutionary action. Foucault would go on to criticize Marcuse here for understanding power in capitalist society as fundamentally repressive, when it is also creative, producing desire(s) conducive to its functioning.

For his metapsychology, it is not decisive whether the inhibitions are imposed by scarcity or by the hierarchical distribution of scarcity, by the struggle for existence or by the interest in domination. (Marcuse 1955: 134)

Marcuse’s point is that in advanced industrial societies there is no longer a problem with acquiring the resources needed for existence or even the optimum life for members of those societies. The problem is with the fair and just distribution of resources. The very existence of the concept of scarcity in this age functions ideologically and supports the domination of the worker by the capitalist.

According to Marcuse, the authority figure is no longer needed. The super ego has become depersonalized and is no longer fed by authority figures such as the father, ministers, teachers, the principle, etc. He writes:

But these personal father-images have gradually disappeared behind the institutions. With the rationalization of the productive apparatus, with the multiplication of functions, all domination assumes the form of administration. (Marcuse 1955: 98) 

Marcuse’s point is that domination no longer requires force or the presence of an authority figure. The function of one-dimensional thinking is to produce a one-dimensional society by whittling down critical, two-dimensional consciousness. This is accomplished in several ways which will simply be listed here. 

  1. The system must make the citizens think that they are freer than they really are.
  2. The system must provide the citizens with enough goods to keep them pacified.
  3. The citizens must identify with their oppressors. 
  4. Political discourse must be eliminated.

There is not enough space here to examine each of these. One example should suffice. It was shown earlier that the purpose of dialectical or negative thinking was to reveal social contradictions and demand the overcoming of those contradictions through social change. One-dimensional thinking smoothes over these contradictions and makes them invisible. A form of ideology is put in place where the oppressed identifies with the oppressor. People feel a sense of unity simply because they watch the same TV programs, or support the same sport teams. In politics, vague terms are used such as “the American people” or “the American way of life” to hide the very different ways that people in America actually experience America. The American way of life differs greatly between rich and poor Americans. 

Another example of one-dimensional thinking is the subject of Marcuse’s famous and controversial essay “Repressive Tolerance”. Here, Marcuse shows how terms, ideas, or concepts that have their origin in struggles for liberation can be co-opted and used to legitimate oppression. The concept of tolerance was once used as a critical concept by marginalized social groups. According to Marcuse, the term is now used by the Establishment to legitimate its own oppressive views and policies. It is the idea of pure tolerance or tolerance for the sake of tolerance that ignores the real concrete social conflict out of which the concept emerged. Rather than pure tolerance, Marcuse calls for “discriminating tolerance” (Marcuse 1968a: 123).

Ok so that’s enough copy and paste…

There were some more interesting bits about technology, feminism, and androgyny – topics dear to my fart – but just going back to the Stanford link is good enough. I have to move onto the text in question now…

Herbert Marcuse – Contributions to a Phenomenology of Historical Materialism

First question from Marcuse: Does Historical Materialism adequately deal with historicity?

My answer …uh, no it doesn’t.

He goes on to explain how revolutionary action must seem necessary to the individual revolutionary agent. That is why a phenomenological investigation into this individual agent’s experience is needed: to discover what it is about their existence, in its historical situation, that necessitates radical action.

Note: Marcuse understands Marx as saying that class results from the division of labor and classes become the basic unit of historical development. As this development progresses, one class goes from being a national entity to a transnational, universal entity: the universal class. If there is a revolutionary situation, this universal class has the opportunity to recognize what it must necessarily do to realize its potential as the agent of history but all sorts of shit can get in the way of that.

“When examined, historicity turns out to be immanent (die primare Bestimmtheit) in human existence from whose concrete basis all abstract spiritual and material objects are derived. Human freedom is realized by grasping its own necessity, and through willing its own immediate historical existence which, in revolutionary historical situations, becomes radical action”

“Before we go on to indicate which methods of thought (dialectic) and action (revolutionary praxis) result from the Marxist predictment, the question arises concerning how is the ” truth” of the fundamental Marxist theses to be proven? To what an extent are these theses valid? And where must the critical analysis dealing with these questions begin?”

“A doctrine which considers human existence as primarily historical, and theory only as a means to ascertain and implement historical action, can be approached meaningfully only by means of immanent analysis, i.e., an analysis which starts out from the meaning of this doctrine and asks: can human existence be apprehended as primarily historical? And if so, has the doctrine so analysed taken full account of historicity?”

“The problems of transcendence, reality, and the demonstrability of the world in their traditional contexts turn out to be pseudo-problems Existence is always ” being-in-the-world.””

“What kind of being is typical of the existing world? Its basic constitution consists of ” meaningfulness” (Bedeutsomkeit), implanted in the ” totality of interrelatedness (Bewandtnisganzheit)”

…so, Heidegger as interpreted by Marcuse rejects the fundamental experience of absurdity, as described by Camus. Two antagonistic aspects of Dasein’s existence are das Man and the Unique.

“Existence is always concerned for its own being, and this existentially conceived ” concern” (Sorge) is regarded as the actual existential essence.”

“Existence remains dejected even within the determination within which the actual existential being is constituted. Its freedom lies in the acceptance of its heritage for which one is ready to die — and in the self-chosen fulfillment of necessity.”

“Existence derives its ” destiny” in the determinate surrender to its historical inheritance. Existence rises from the forfeiture of inauthentic existing to authentic existence, thus becoming historical: its traditional and historically determinate possibility chooses itself, thereby ” repeating” its existence.”

“This is the origin and object of history as a science. In history we are always concerned with past existence. All historical facts, all historical ” material” , leads back to an existence expressed through its possibilities. Nature is also part of history insofar as the structure of the environment (Umwelt) is also important (dasein-bezogener). But historicity as the basic determination of existence also demands a ” destruction” of previous history: retained facts and their traditional interpretations must be brought back into the living totality of their historical existence.”

“One can certainly raise countless objections to Heidegger’s analyses and also reject his methodological approach. But this kind of criticism misses the meaning of the work, which remains ” true” , even though it contains a considerable amount of error. What is important is the new philosophical direction of his interpretations. The fundamental question of all living philosophy is raised in light of the awareness of its utmost necessity: what is authentic existence, and how is it at all possible? After an extensive detour, it is again noticed that the meaning and essence of man is determined in concrete existence: ” The ‘substance’ of man is . . . his existence. “

“Because Heidegger has recognized the historical existential dejectedness, its historical character and its rootedness in “destiny,” he has pushed his radical investigation to the highest
point attained or attainable by bourgeois philsoophy. He has discovered that the foundation of man’s theoretical attitude is derived and founded in practical “concern” (Besorgen), demonstrating that praxis is the basis for all decisions. He has established the moment of decision and determination, as an historical situation, and the determination itself as the taking
charge of historical destiny. He has contraposed the bourgeois concept of freedom and determinism with the essential freedom of being able to choose necessity. It is the choice to take charge of the prescribed possibilities where history is established as the sole authority in this “faithfulness to authentic existence”.”

“Heidegger’s solution based on solitary existence rather than on action must be rejected. This action is more than a “modification” of past existence. It is a new restructuring penetrating every public sphere.”

“But, how can we determine the concrete relations of this “existence” more closely? Is it the momentarily individual existence, so that every man is an individual? Obviously not. It is a common world (even if it is colored and modified according to each individual). And what is the extent of this community? It is initially limited by the historical situation. Granted, there is a human, “objective” material world, permaining in history (e.g., the world of the mathematical natural sciences). Yet, only the historical world as a shared context of meaning is relevant as “living-space” (Lebens-Raum). Now, where are the boundaries of the momentary historical situation? And is the world “the same” for all existence within a concrete historical situation? Apparently not. Not only do we have different meaning-worlds for particular co-existing cultural spheres (Kulturkreise), but even within these spheres, huge abysses stand out between their meaning, e.g., in terms of existential attitude, there is no understanding between the world of the modern bourgeois of advanced capitalism and that of the peasant or of the proletarian. At this point, the investigation necessarily meets the question of the material constitution of historicity — a breakthrough that Heidegger nowhere achieves or even mentions.”

4) Outline of a Dialectical Phenomenology

“on the one hand, we demand that Heidegger’s phenomenology of human existence be driven to dialectical concreteness so that it can be fulfilled in a phenomenology of concrete existence and of the historically concrete act demanded of it. And, on the other hand, the dialectical method of knowing must go the other way and become phenomenological so to incorporate concreteness in a complete account of its object.”

“A fact obtains its historical purity only if it is placed within the concrete context out of which it became a fact. But, as such, it becomes ambiguous as a result of the multiplicity of meanings that it had for that period. And this ambiguity must be preserved.”

All the stuff about Value beginning on page 22 of the .pdf…

5) Towards a Phenomenology of Historical Materialism

This is a whole lot about the base and superstructure relationship…

“all of these remarks do not apply to individual (abstract) existence, but to the concrete historical unity which is always a society (yet to be defined). To attempt to explain the ideology of an individual person in terms of materiality is an unjustifiable transgression of the phenomenologjcal evidence of historicity. The individual is not the historical existential unit. It cannot be sufficiently emphasized that these formulations refer to the visible entity which turns out to be concrete historicity, i.e., society.”

“One of the most fundamental theses of historical materialism is that the definition of an ideology (its immanent meaning) is not consistent with its historical meaning. Historical materialism is interested only in the latter, since only the latter can be dealt with by its dialectical method.”

“It is only when society is really concerned with its living space that it will be an historical unity
and the agency of historical movement. This unity is destroyed when the whole society is no longer concerned with its existential needs. It is destroyed when a division of labor is introduced, thus preventing the whole society from voluntarily taking care of its living space.”

“Heidegger has precisely indicated this “ontological riddle of the movement of events”: “What actually ‘happens’ with the stuff and the product as such has its unique dynamics, which has hitherto remained in the dark . . . The movement of events in which ‘something happens to it’, cannot be understood in terms of spatial change”.47 Actually, every authentic historical movement or change is seen as a “change of meaning”, i.e., as a movement that changes the meaning of its objects. By grounding the world of meaning (which also includes the ideal) in concerned existence, the world of “meaning” is origninally drawn into the historical movement.”

“Knowledge of authentic historicity and consciously historical existence is possible only when existence shatters reification”

“Today, historical action is possible only as action of the proletariat, because the proletariat constitutes that existence which necessarily contains this action.”

Herbert Marcuse, Richard Wolin, John Abromeit – Heideggerian Marxism

Probably won’t get to much of this, but I do plan to skim it at least!

8 Postscript: My Disillusionment with Heidegger

Being and Time appeared during the phase of the Weimar Republic’s final collapse: the impending catastrophe—the advent of the Nazi regime—was generally sensed. But the dominant philosophical trends didn’t reflect this situation.Tomeandmyfriends,Heidegger’sworkappearedasanewbeginning: we experienced his book (and his lectures, whose transcripts we obtained) as, at long last, a concrete philosophy: here there was talk of existence [Existenz], of our existence, of fear [Angst] and care and boredom, and so forth. We also experienced an “academic” emancipation: Heidegger’s interpretation of Greek philosophy and of German idealism, which offered us new insights into antiquated, fossilized texts.
Only gradually did we begin to observe that the concreteness of Heidegger’s philosophy was to a large extent deceptive—that we were once again confronted with a variant of transcendental philosophy (on a higher plane), in which existential categories had lost their sharpness, been neutralized, and in the end were dissipated amid greater abstractions. That remained the case later on when the “question of Being” was replaced by the “question of technology”: merely another instance in which apparent concreteness was subsumed by abstraction—bad abstraction, in which the concrete was not genuinely superseded but instead merely squandered.
I left Freiburg in January 1933. Prior to 1933 neither I nor my friends had observed or known anything about Heidegger’s connection to Nazism. Only later did we attempt to reconstruct the affinity between his philosophy and his politics. Today it seems inexcusable to me to dismiss Heidegger’s support of the Hitler regime as a (brief) mistake or error. I believe that a philosopher cannot make such a “mistake” without thereby disavowing his own, authentic philosophy.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – Wilhelm Dilthey – 2.3 1900–1911: Historical Understanding and Hermeneutics

I’m reading this because Dilthey was credited for extending the materialist analysis of culture in Marcuse’s Contributions to a Phenomenology of Historical Materialism

[Video] These are my issues with Socialists & Communists – Destiny Debates Douglas Lain

[Video] Sublation Media – Beyond Althusser, Beyond Ideology

I don’t think I’ll have anything to say about this while watching it, but maybe it will relate in some way to my reading earlier…

I made it about 10 minutes in and couldn’t find a path to what I was looking for. Moving on…

[Video] C. Derick Varn and Daniel Tutt – On the Meaning of Revolution

I’m about a half hour in and holy shit is Varn on a tangent with this episode. I think I have read 1 of 10 authors named so far. It’s times like these when I really feel the knowledge gaps in my studies of Marxism. Last episode in this series was exciting because I could groove to the council communist talk, but when they get on this Althusser and whatever shit, oooooph.