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.”

July 31, 2013

The nefarious “cultural Marxists”

CulturalMarxism[Update 1-5-16: progressive jurist Felix Frankfurter was already praising balanced expertise and lamenting the effects of mass media on the people in 1930, long before the Frankfurt Institute refugees came to the US.]

There is a Facebook page “Smash Cultural Marxism.” One must wonder why a handful of German refugees, some with Jewish ancestry, are getting blamed for the sharp turn toward statism in the Democratic Party.

I have written before about this terrifying cohort.  See https://clarespark.com/2011/10/21/did-frankfurters-kill-the-white-christian-west/.  Also https://clarespark.com/2009/08/25/t-w-adorno-and-his-funny-idea-of-genuine-liberalism/.

Even if you are a fashionable behaviorist and loathe Freudian ideas, the Adorno blog establishes that his idea of the ever-so-balanced (pseudo)Freud suited the Harvard social psychologists who were proponents of psychological warfare in the interests of “civilian morale.”  Such as Adorno and Horkheimer achieved fame because they blamed the Enlightenment and bureaucratic rationality for Nazism and the Holocaust. How convenient for the Harvard cohort that also called a halt to the Enlightenment (see  https://clarespark.com/2011/03/27/progressive-mind-managers-ca-1941-42/).

As refugees from Nazism, the critical theorists were vocal about the causes of Hitler’s rise to power, and their indictment of mass culture and by extension, technological society, were understandable. For instance, Erich Fromm blamed working class authoritarianism for the failure of the German working class to deliver a socialist revolution. In the end, all the Frankfurters had explanations for the rise of Hitler, and to a man (whoops! I forgot Hannah Arendt), they blamed “mass culture.” Adorno, that elitist, went so far as to condemn American jazz.

I don’t know of a German refugee whose ancestors were Jewish who identified in any way with Judaism. They were first and foremost philosophers in the German Idealist tradition. Still, some of the ideas of Herbert Marcuse remain useful today in decoding authoritarianism in our political culture. I refer to “repressive tolerance” and “repressive desublimation.”

Repressive tolerance simply states that the social critic loses when s/he allows the opposition to define the terms of debate. Thus, the analysis of propaganda and/or the “rules” of combat allow us to see through authoritarian statists of every stripe, but especially the tricks of the pseudo-moderate men–as delineated in the mass-circulated materials written by Gordon Allport and Henry A. Murray, that were nationally circulated to other progressives, ca. 1941. (See link above.) [Update 12-27-13: It is true that Marcuse was writing from the Left, but such libertarians as Alan Charles Kors and Harvey A. Silverglate in The Shadow University (1998), ignore the collectivist, top-down discourse of the moderate conservatives who shaped current conceptions such as the neutral state and ethnicity/’race’ in the early years of the 20th century. See for instance https://clarespark.com/2009/09/23/progressives-and-the-teaching-of-american-literature/, and https://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/, for the gentlemanly approach to social control of subversive elements. No analysis of academic freedom and the origins of political correctness can proceed without those actions of “moderates” who imposed an organic conservative vocabulary on American institutions–all of them.]

Repressive desublimation argues that the loosening of sexual morals benefits consumerism, in which self-worth is defined with respect to mass media definitions of sexual attractiveness and glamour. One would think that conservatives critical of hyper-sexuality in pop culture would welcome such a critique.

Or take Norbert Guterman’s and Leo Lowenthal’s manual for identifying right-wing agitators, Prophets of Deceit (1949). I read it twice and modified my own self-presentation on the radio accordingly. Some of their guideposts that stick in my mind are as follows: 1. The agitator confides personal “secrets” to the target audience to bind them more closely; and 2. The agitator exaggerates the hurdles that were necessary to overcome in finding the audience: he or she is in physical danger for revealing the secrets s/he is confiding to the target audience; and 3. The agitator wants your money.

While I reject the German Idealism of the Frankfurters, the study of propaganda, of images, and of deceptive language that they favored, are indispensable tools for historians, journalists and all others who would protect liberty and freedom of speech.

I have no doubt that antisemitism accounts for the continued blaming of “cultural Marxism” for “political correctness” and anti-Americanism in general. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/06/30/the-origins-of-political-correctness-2/, and https://clarespark.com/2010/06/19/committee-for-economic-development-and-its-sociologists/ including the internal links. Look to the pseudo-moderate men for the threat to “American culture,” not to the “secular progressives” who represent emancipation from the dead hand of illegitimate authority. (For instance, Henry A. Murray of Harvard, one of their affinity group, argued for the return of the moderate father, for an authoritarian father would drive the children into radicalism. Such a perfectly moderate father (like the Good King or Platonic Guardian) was of course Franklin Delano Roosevelt.)

Bill Donahue

July 4, 2013

‘Independence’ and the marketplace of ideas

areop_15I try not to repeat myself, so here is something I have not already said in so many words:

Individuality is not something we are born with; rather becoming an independent individual is something to be achieved through the most terrific effort.  We may become “relatively autonomous” or “independent” only  through serious engagement with others in the marketplace of ideas.

Otherwise, we are no more advanced than the “savages” or “barbarians” we claim to have transcended with “civilization.” Yet we find ourselves mired in a globalized world where many other peoples remain  tribal or under the thumb of various forms of dictatorship. Or we may believe that “multiculturalism” is not covertly racist.

Since I have been posting about the [phony liberal] origins of “political correctness” I got into a debate with one Facebook friend who thinks I don’t understand the critical theorists of the Frankfurt School. One of their number, Herbert Marcuse, wrote controversially about “repressive tolerance.” All hell broke loose when this little volume was published, for he banished anticommunist speech. But what was rarely understood at the time seems obvious to me right now. Marcuse rightly complained that the constituted authorities determine the terms of debate (as in identity politics).  He was largely correct: that we lose when the enemy controls language. Perhaps the need for close reading and the study of institutional discourses makes some conservatives, even “constitutionalists” very nervous.  Perhaps Marcuse’s critique is why some rightists have slammed “cultural Marxism” and/or post-structuralism for inventing PC.  In their heart of hearts, free speech and close readings are anathema and lead to frightening differences with beloved family members, parents, and other authority figures.

PC notion of national unity

PC notion of national unity

They are wrong. It was our libertarian forebears, enabled by Bibles written in English, who celebrated the “priesthood of all believers”: i.e., those who could read texts for themselves and then compare their own understandings of texts with the interpretations of their “betters” (the priestly class) who wished to monopolize what those sacred texts actually said (for the benefit of autocrats).

This notion: that ordinary people had the right to challenge “authoritative” readings with their own interpretations led to what we now call “the marketplace of ideas.” Part of those readings entailed the study of “officials” of every type: religious or secular, government bureaucrats and union bosses alike, even parents, spouses, sisters and brothers.  Such studies can lead to alienation and anxiety.

The United States of America, “conceived in liberty” remains unique and frazzled. “E pluribus unum” does not mean that the search for truth is called off for purposes of national or “racial” or other forms of “family” solidarity. The agreement to disagree is the very foundation of national unity in this city on a hill. Long may this keystone element of the social contract prevail.

https://clarespark.com/2012/07/04/index-to-fourth-of-july-blogs/ (Prior blogs that address the unfinished revolutions of our time.)

October 9, 2012

Big Bird, Prostrate

http://tinyurl.com/9roa6er (Read this first)

Henry Geldzahler of the NEA

 Several questions are raised by Governor Romney’s suggestion that he might cut federal funding for PBS, with the example of a prostrate Big Bird subsequently pounced upon by even bigger birds on the Left. This blog considers the vexed question of government funding of the arts and humanities, a subject that interests me, for I have not only been the recipient of small grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, I served on the radio panel of the NEA from 1978-1980, so saw at least one bureaucracy in action.

Here are my major arguments on behalf of cutting subsidies to CPB, PBS, NEA, NEH, Pacifica, and public radio in general:

  1. The history of the arts and humanities in Europe demonstrates that patronage determined the content of “high culture” artworks created by authors, composers, painters, sculptors, and architects. Patronage was supplied by the Church, by aristocrats, and by the new merchant princes in places such as the Netherlands and the city-states of what would become Italy. Iconoclasts such as Spinoza worked at an occupation to support himself, while his writings were often circulated anonymously and in subversive bookshops that also handled pornography.  Censorship in Europe was fierce and effective. The lower orders meanwhile created their own, usually traditional, folk forms, often co-opted by artists seeking reinvigoration for their own productions. That process continues today in popular music and in the fashion industry.

Artists in America, from its founding on, depended upon commercial success, for the U.S. lacked a hereditary aristocracy accustomed to providing sinecures for its pet artists and intellectuals. In spite of initial difficulties over copyright enforcement (Britain frequently pirated books by American authors, to the chagrin of Herman Melville, for example), artists in the New World (especially in theater and in the burgeoning mass culture that was managed by recent immigrants in the 20th century) became successful, mostly through publishing and performance. Such “commercial art” became objects of derision by a vanguard supported by bohemian, wealthy individuals such as Peggy Guggenheim or the modern museums that sprang up after WW1. But American artists were comparatively neglected, as the colorful and highly educated Europeans were favored over the native born. For many decades, American artists and authors expatriated, turning their backs on an American public they saw as philistine and unworthy of their attention.

Enter the Depression and burgeoning Fascism in Europe. Communists and progressives  were interested in celebrating the Common Man, often at the expense of the big capitalists/businessmen who were viewed as their exploiters. There was a major market for such Americana, and WASP elites supported their efforts to show their devotion to ordinary Americans. But the anti-Stalinist Left had its own contingent of writers, authors, and publishers. The arts worlds of the late 1920s, 1930s, and 1950s were roiled with conflict and it is exciting to study their productions, which have not been surpassed in a later period as government stepped in under the administrations of Democrats (see the NEA as founded in 1965, preceded by the WPA in the 1930s), to encourage both established and budding authors, etc.

Big Blue Eagle

Lost in the cultural histories of the twentieth century is the record of social psychologists affiliated with the Roosevelt administration, who viewed the national government as an appropriate locale for a national morale service (see https://clarespark.com/2011/03/27/progressive-mind-managers-ca-1941-42/). Keep this in mind as we move into the cultural work of the 1960s and 1970s New Left and counter-culture, many of whom, it seems, have parented children who want to live the “cool” life of the artist, without the degradation of waiting tables or some other menial job to support themselves. (On the Blue Eagle see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Recovery_Act.)

II. Enter now my own active participation in government granting agencies. This is what I found out as both grant recipient and as participant in the NEA radio panel . First, the grants are so tiny as to fund at most one project, and the amounts awarded are rarely sufficient to support even that one (vetted) endeavor. Second, multiculturalism as a strategy for containing and co-opting the civil rights and feminist movements, determined what organizations and individuals received government sponsorship. Third, the NEA radio panel was rife with corruption and cronyism. Moreover, the staff of the NEA had the power to overrule the panel’s recommendations, so that our contributions could be ignored safely, if the aims of the NEA were in any way thwarted.  In many cases, NPR, I noticed, did not even bother describing the programming content for which they applied; apparently it was taken for granted that they would be subsidized.

It was frequently the practice to award small grants as a lure to attract matching grants from corporations and foundations. Such matching grants were tax-deductible, so it can be argued that the taxpaying public is now the primary patron of the arts, replacing the European elites of old. This diffuse patronage system contained individuals objecting to the [anticapitalist, anti-urban, anti-American, in your face] offerings by government grantees, who were exhibited, performed, and published, then presented to a broad public, some of whom were offended that they were paying for materials that undermined or mocked their religions and values.

On the other hand, some grantees enjoyed such popular success (Sesame Street, Prairie Home Companion) that it was obvious to all that they could survive on the market, without government support. This is the situation in which we find ourselves today. Apart from considerations of the proper role of government in funding the arts (on  Constitutional grounds), there is the disputed question of government direction of creative work, especially given the heterogeneous makeup of the American electorate. The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were remarkably alike in their sponsorship of State-approved icons of heroic workers along with those arts that were comprehensible to “the People.”

Conclusions. An education in the arts and humanities should be made available to every American child. But along with these life-affirming activities should be offered, at appropriate ages, instruction as to the social and political conditions that brought the arts into being: patronage, censorship in the period under discussion (what can and cannot be said at any given period), the message of the artwork (closely observed as to both form and content). I have been harshly critical of populism on this website, but it is in the interest of all the people to understand both the form and content of high culture, mass culture/pop culture, and folk arts. I don’t expect this outcome to be realized in my lifetime. Meanwhile, the government should get out of the business of funding the arts, for such powers will always be politicized on behalf of some faction or another. The European governments that subsidize grand arts projects do so because social democratic governments have taken over the responsibilities of the old aristocracies, and are as hostile to a fully-realized modernity as their forebears. “Excellence” to them, entails rule by a self-perpetuating oligarchy of Platonic guardians. pleased, unlike Plato, to permit a sprinkling of subversion to demonstrate how ‘really’ pluralistic and open these societies are to criticism, innovation and freedom of expression. Marcuse called such strategies “repressive tolerance.”

Banned in Berkeley?

October 21, 2011

Did Frankfurters kill the white, Christian West?

[For a more recent blog on this subject see https://clarespark.com/2013/07/31/the-nefarious-cultural-marxists/.]

This video linked below has recently been uploaded to Youtube.com, and is produced by a paleo-conservative outfit calling itself the Free Congress Foundation. It entirely misconceives the origins of “political correctness” and the establishment of separate academic departments for women’s studies, black studies, and ethnic studies or cultural studies in general. I suggest that my readers view both parts of this travesty of history. You also might want to google Willis Carto and Kevin MacDonald who peddle the same ultra-conservative, white supremacist, panicky line. Martin Jay, one participant in the video, recently denounced the entire right-wing for promoting the antisemitic anti-critical theory line, here: http://ecologicalheadstand.blogspot.com/2011/08/martin-jays-dialectic-of-counter.html.


[Wikipedia entry on Free Congress Foundation, producers of the video claiming that Frankurt School critical theorists invented political correctness and were out to destroy the West:]

[Wiki:] FCF played a founding role in galvanizing religious conservative political activism. By the late 1990s, [Paul] Weyrich declared that social conservatives were no longer a majority having a liberal agenda forced on them by an elite but rather are a dwindling minority that have lost control over the culture; that traditional culture and the counterculture have traded places. He acknowledged the need for continued political involvement as a matter of self-defense but stated that politics could not restore traditional values, nor could what were in his views hopeless efforts to recapture institutions such as prestige media, academia and mainline churches that had been lost to the Left.

Instead he urged conservatives to invest their time and money in alternative institutions, which would, in his viewpoint, eventually become the norm due to the superior efficacy of traditional values. This sparked a firestorm of criticism from other conservatives who accused Weyrich of giving up.

FCF has also been willing to spark controversy on other fronts. It rejects what it calls Political Correctness, dubbing it “cultural Marxism” and blaming it on the Frankfurt School of left-wing thinkers. Accordingly, it has been more willing than many other conservative groups to endorse or entertain views that some, especially on the left, would consider offensive and evidence of bigotry. It is arguably hostile to Islam as a whole, rather than confining its criticism to extremist Islam or Islamism. With regard to Judaism, in his column of April 13, 2001 (Good Friday) titled Indeed, He is Risen!, Weyrich argued that “Christ was crucified by the Jews…. He was not what the Jews had expected so they considered Him a threat. Thus He was put to death.” [end: Wikipedia entry]

[My comment:]   It is true that critical theory has had a foothold in some universities. Martin Jay, for instance, is a famous and honored professor of history at UC Berkeley, and his major work has been in writing the history of the Frankfurt School (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Jay). But what the video neglects to mention is the meshing of “critical theory” (the Frankfurt School advocacy of “negative critique”) with long-term developments in 20th century American culture, for instance, the revolt against puritanism/laissez-faire capitalism, starting in the last third or quarter of the 19th century, then exacerbated after the Great War as “the lost generation” turned against the idea of progress, specifically the Providential Protestant mission to save the world.

To imagine that five or six immigrant (non-cohesive, unobservant) German Jews (T. W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse,Leo Lowenthal, maybe George L. Mosse) could have debauched a “traditionalist” American culture is simply paranoid, and reflects the hold that the racist myth of the omnipotent Jew has over some American imaginations. Moreover, the main message of “critical theory” was to blame Nazism on the revolt of the masses, i.e., the kitsch-loving, obedient masses who preferred Hitler-style demagogic tricks or Big Lies to Marxism as guides out of the Depression (https://clarespark.com/2011/06/19/index-to-links-on-hitler-and-the-big-lie/). The imbibing of high culture and the rejection of consumerism would have prevented such catastrophes that were blamed on “mass culture” (as if such a thing really existed as a coherent entity). True, Erich Fromm and, earlier, Lukács blamed “false consciousness” or working-class authoritarianism for the failure of communism to mobilize the Western working classes. And Wilhelm Reich, later echoed by Marcuse, argued that fascism was anchored in the puritanical psyche, so the flowering of Eros was recommended as antidote, but such 1960s faddishness was no more potent in corrupting the American young than the bohemianism of Greenwich Village before and after the Great War, and that was imitated by the upper-class misinterpreters of Freud, and by the Jungians who did throw off the genteel tradition in private carnivals of primitivism and paganism.

The other project of critical theory, especially in the writing of Adorno and Horkheimer, was to blame the Enlightenment for the Holocaust. Thus the high value placed on technology, science and empiricism could only lead to “bureaucratic rationality” that in turn enabled the automated killing of millions (Zygmunt Bauman). This counter-Enlightenment stance endeared critical theorists to reactionary critics of urbanization and modernity (catalysts to the preeminence of “the money power” or “Wall Street”), especially during the 1960s counter-culture.

But of most significance is the false notion, perpetuated by the FCF video, that PC was part of the program of “cultural Marxism.” Rather, the moves against hate speech and the promotion of muliculturalism were the progressive elites’ attempts at co-opting oppositional movements from below during the 20th century, and publicized throughout this website. That is, liberal elites micromanaged group conflict from the commanding heights. These were the efforts of “moderate conservatives” adhering to “the golden mean”, not to extremists of any stripe. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/08/25/t-w-adorno-and-his-funny-idea-of-genuine-liberalism/, also https://clarespark.com/2011/10/15/baltzell-on-the-good-jews/, Or, some documents and comment here: https://clarespark.com/2010/07/18/white-elite-enabling-of-black-power/. On Freud’s conservatism, see https://clarespark.com/2013/02/23/peter-gays-freud/.

Blog at WordPress.com.