Here's a name you don't hear often in radical circles any more: Herbert Marcuse. Even in the hallowed halls of sociology, this important Frankfurt School thinker merits nary a mention these days. And this is a shame because his work represents a strand of Western Marxism that never gave up hope in something better. Whereas miserable old Adorno, suitably fashionable in these dystopian times, offers a philosophical counsel of despair the body of work Marcuse left relentlessly grappled with contemporary social trends to find the political exit pointing beyond capitalism. When hope is taking a lengthy breather, it's understandable why Marcuse has not so much fallen from favour but dived out of sight. It's time to rescue him and to be read afresh by new generations equally sick of the managerial politics Marcuse was. And as October just past saw the 50th anniversary of One-Dimensional Man's publication come and go, is there a better time to revisit his best-known work? (...)
Social forecasting is always a fraught enterprise in the social sciences, and in short order after ODM's publication the contradictions of US society burst asunder. Turns out Marcuse was writing in the darkest part of the night, just before the first rays of radical future beamed across the sky. The outsiders in US society, and the supposedly quiescent and contented masses of Western Europe rose up as a radical wave that transformed those societies. None were as pleased with this turnabout than Marcuse himself, whose work saw him become a chief theoretician and guru for many a young radical. And yet, here we are in 2014. Global capitalism is still the only game in town. It seems that the system was able to weather the storms of the 1960s and 70s by easing off a bit on the repression. Sexual freedom is in. Some who were 'outside' are now embraced by official society, and that's about it. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Does that mean 50 years on that ODM is still a relevant book? In some ways, it's never been more up to date. In others, it's never been as obsolete and superseded. As far as official society is concerned, it's never been as denuded of critical resources. Politics is little more than the art of the technocratic management of capitalist societies. Education is purely about vocationalism and meeting the needs of employers. Aspiration is measured by how much one wants to conform to the middle class standard of a "hardworking family" with a nice house and an even nicer debt. And, explicitly, social life is heavily conditioned by how much you contribute as an employee and taxpayer, not as a citizen. If that wasn't bad enough, as unappealing as it was, the totalitarian capitalism of ODM was menaced by a powerful ideological rival that helped ensure there was an expansive safety net for at least some who fell through the cracks. The capitalism of now has no such opposition to contend with.
There is something very jarring about Marcuse's analysis that doesn't sit true any more. Conformity there certainly is. A crude set up of insider and outsider is lamely, stupidly repeated everyday by the rulers who rule us and the media that lies to us. Likewise there is a huge overblown of institutions that are completely unnecessary and totally socially useless except for the roles they occupy in maintaining our peculiar, particular capitalism. What is missing is the sense of stifling conformity Marcuse describes.
Thursday, May 14, 2015
Publicada por Miguel Madeira em 18:03