YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

April 10, 2017

A reassessment of a Critique of Pure Tolerance 42 years later

repressive tolerance.I posted the following thought on Facebook, and got a few adverse comments.

“This A.M. [April 7. 2017] I found Herbert Marcuse’s notorious essay on repressive tolerance, which I read years ago. I can see why it is so controversial because it advocates [partly 2-10] restricting speech on the Right in favor of the Left. But OTOH, it praises the liberal innovation of tolerance in its context of the overthrow of the feudal restrictions on free speech and human rights in general. I can see where I got my critique of Fox’s alleged fair and balanced approach, my defense of individualism, and my disgust with phony pluralism/identity politics. But would Marcuse, if still alive today, not separate out political Islam from his roster of victims on similar grounds to my own?”

One or two friends suggested that Marcuse had always been a Stalinist. This is a grave misunderstanding of the critical theorists (mostly Jews), so I am writing a commentary on the politics of Marcuse et al, and especially noting the time of publication at the height of oppositional social movements that some conservatives associated with communism in its most Stalinist and repressive manifestations. Youth seemed out of control.

First, the three essays in A Critique of Pure Tolerance were published in 1965 as the New Left was taking off, inspired by the civil rights movement.

Second, it is widely misunderstood that Marcuse, the most notorious of the three academics, was advocating the repression of all speech. He took care to emphasize the media indoctrination that had undermined the early liberalism he took care to defend. It was beyond question that mass media had squelched Marxist-Leninist fantasies that the working class would deliver utopia in the form of socialist revolution. But New Dealers (the ultimate resting place of 1960s radicalism) had prevailed after a few decades of stimulating upheaval.

The moderate men had prevailed as token radicals assumed academic positions, hired by the same social democrats who victoriously carried forth the programs of the Roosevelt administration. So the revolutionary feminists settled into separatist programs, and took their places with other members of the New Deal coalition: minorities and labor; ex-slaves were buttressed later by Latinos and other “people of color.”

Though they talk a good game, the campus radicals were likely to follow postmodernism, with the latter’s rejection of objectivity, science, facts, and the search for truth. This too fit in with the New Deal—that had favored cultural history and multiculturalism over science.

Enter the three essayists, Robert Paul Wolff, Barrington Moore Jr. and the rowdier and more infamous Herbert Marcuse. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbert_Marcuse. All three men, however they may have differed in emphases, pushed the same modern line: a disgust with indoctrination of every type. Wolff deplored electoral politics as promoting “style, image, and faith,” Moore wanted a “rational and secular” society, and Marcuse, the most militant of the bunch, wanted to restrict some (he never says all) right wing speech. This latter point has been widely misunderstood by many conservatives who associate the critical theorists with the most censorious leftists in history.

In my own view, Wolff, Moore, and Marcuse were more radical liberals than any type of Stalinist or other bogey resuscitated by some conservatives. https://clarespark.com/2011/10/21/did-frankfurters-kill-the-white-christian-west/. Not unlike Milton Friedman, the radical liberal critics of a phony liberalism wanted a full marketplace of ideas; that would have to reserve a place for fully rational assessments of the past record of all socialist and capitalist societies. Such imprecations were the very opposite of the irrationalism that passes today for “liberalism.”

October 17, 2015

The October 2015 Political Scene in a few words

Credit SodaHead

Credit SodaHead

I apologize for the satirical, repulsive picture of Mrs. Clinton, but Hillary is turning into a hag/Medusa/Gorgon because aging women can’t yell as she often does. They are already suspect as crones. I noticed that the 1960s rallies featured speakers who hollered. The more feverish part of the Sixties are partly over, though their effects linger in the Democrat Party.

Hillary is also evoking the image of the unreliable mother: too many switches from smiling protector to scolding and disapproval, turning her opponents to stone. She has flip flopped frequently in her move to out-“socialist” Bernie Sanders: gay marriage, free trade, and the Keystone Pipeline (that the State Department approved under her watch as Madam Secretary).

Bernie. The idea that he is a communist or some kind of ultra-leftist boring from within is absurd; real communists abolish private property altogether, would never tweak the system as vindictive populists would. He is a regular social democrat, imitating the (failing) West European states. The Old “McCarthyite” Right was understandably confused. Statist New Dealers, statist Stalinists, and statist Fascists were all conflated in the notion of “totalitarianism,” a notion perpetuated by social democrats and other New Dealers. (On their secret thoughts see https://clarespark.com/2010/02/10/a-brooding-meditation-on-intimacy-and-distance/, retitled “Balance, equilibrium, and psychological warfare.”)

Black Lives Matter. Anyone reading the history of black people in this country may be tempted to erase boundaries between past and present. Our transformation to a non-racist society creeps along, but it is untrue that there has been no black progress. Dems still push the idea of white supremacy to mobilize the black base, all the while ignoring labor competition as a factor not to be ignored, lest they be labeled as Reds, which is a no-no for social democrats. For origins of the movement, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Lives_Matter. They don’t mention black nationalism, however.

Renee Jones Schneider Star Tribune 4/29/15 Minneapolis

Renee Jones Schneider Star Tribune 4/29/15 Minneapolis

The Mid-East. Fox News Channel continues its moderate approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict, criticizing POTUS for not seeing that Israelis are victims, not morally equivalent perpetrators. But they don’t review the history of the region: Arab elites were horrified that Europeans were cooperating in parking modernizing Jews in “their” neighborhood. “Palestinians” still insist on the Right of Return, which would destroy the notion of a Jewish national home. Oil politics matter too.

November 25, 2014

Reflections on the Ferguson aftermath

mike-brown-protesters-ferguson
Having lived through the 1960s, later chronicling the rise of the civil rights, antiwar, and feminist movements on Pacifica radio, then going to graduate school in history at UCLA where I studied 19th and 20th century social movements and how they were taught by UCLA’s radical faculty, I have thoughts on the violent response to the Ferguson Missouri’s grand jury’s decision not to indict policeman Darren Wilson, which was met by lumpen mayhem and/or “protest” in the streets, not only in Missouri, but in larger cities with radicalized minority populations and sympathetic “liberal” white grownups of a certain age.

In response to the looting and burning, conservative pundit Andrea Tantaros suggested on the Fox show Outnumbered that families should sit down and talk to their (adolescent) kids, presumably to keep them on the straight and narrow. This is an understandable wish, but hopelessly naïve. Why?

As most parents know, puberty and adolescence are harrowing times, for youngsters, with or without the discipline of fathers, are rejecting parents for peer groups, and often indulge in ritual rebellions (as in their preference for the “romanticism,” drugs, fast cars, and the defiance of rock and roll). Add to this that the current population of American kids have been instructed by 1960s-70s veterans of social movements that were often New Left in orientation, hence undisciplined and attracted to anarchy and chaos, unlike the comparatively disciplined pre-war 1930s communist activists to whom they are often linked by populist conservatives.

Jimmystewartfather

Indeed, academics sometimes link the New Left spirit to that of the Jazz Age in the 1920s. There is the same primitivism and the same fantasy that pre-capitalist or “Third World” societies are closer to Nature, are uncorrupted by technology, and hence are instinctually liberated. It is imagined, incorrectly, that there are no rules about sex or aggression amongst, say, South Sea Islanders. (I have written about this misunderstanding ad nauseum. See for instance https://clarespark.com/2011/05/12/the-great-common-goes-to-the-white-house/, retitled “Rappers, primitivism, and ritual rebellion.” Or try this more recent blog on Robert Redford’s movie The Company You Keep, with its fantasy of a reconstructed happy family close to Nature: https://clarespark.com/2013/11/17/rehabilitating-the-weathermen/. Or, compare Marx to Lenin: https://clarespark.com/2014/06/07/marx-vs-lenin/.

I have left out one crucial cause of the looting, burning, and general protest, and it involves American communist politics in the 1960s. The Old Left should have known better, but having supported a Black Belt in the Southern US in the 1930s, later communists rejected the peaceful,  integrationist, pro-American strategy of Martin Luther King Jr. for what should be described as contemporary fascism or proto-fascism: the separatism and anti-“Euro-centricity” of the law-and-order West. It too found supporters in disaffected youth, herded together in ghettoes dominated by the Democratic machine.  (I chronicled this partly here: https://clarespark.com/2009/10/31/the-offing-of-martin-luther-king-jr-and-ralph-bunche/.) The Right has correctly pointed out the power of the Democratic machines in opposing school choice, but fails to understand child development, while overestimating the power of the “strong Father,” whose authoritarianism may incite revolt in the children.

It would be better for liberals, moderates and conservatives alike to pay attention to this recent history, which remains alive today. Historians of fascism as disparate as George L. Mosse and Robert O. Paxton similarly agree that European fascism was partially sparked by youth revolt, participants in the disillusion and brutality of the masses that were traumatized and ready to rumble after the horrors of the Great War–a cataclysm whose after effects still haunt us.

The action faction, sadly, is not dead.

redblackprotester

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