The Problem of Social Consciousness in Our Time
The history of civilized society and the policy which shaped it has been called by pessimists a sea of blood, dirt and baseness. And if one takes the development of civilization purely according to the social results obtained so far, then indeed Gustave Flaubert was right in greeting the much celebrated ascent of humanity with the sarcastic remark: Hein, le progrès, quelle blague! Et la politique, une belle saleté! [Progress, what a joke! And politics, what filth!]
No epoch in history, however, seems to have deserved greater contempt than that in which we live today. In previous epochs, blood, dirt, baseness and the absence of a meaningful social result could, from a historio-philosophical point of view, be excused by the lack of knowledge, foresight, resources and distributable riches, interpreted as shortcomings which put society on the level of the blind or simply compulsory processes in nature. No such extenuating circumstances can be found for the present epoch. On the contrary, the problem which plagues mankind today arises precisely from the absurdity that, on one side, all that is needed for a senseful and secure social life is available yet, on the other side, social life remains what it was: a sea of blood, dirt, baseness, irrationality and misery. Or to present the same problem in the words of Max Horkheimer (like his close collaborator, T.W. Adorno, one of the ablest contemporary thinkers):
The present potentialities of social achievement surpass the expectations of all the philosophers and statesmen who have ever outlined in utopian programs the idea of a truly human society. Yet there is a universal feeling of fear and disillusionment. The hopes of mankind seem to be farther from fulfillment today than they were even in the groping epochs when they were first formulated by humanists. It seems that even as technical knowledge expands the horizon of mans thought and activity, his autonomy as an individual, his ability to resist the growing apparatus of mass manipulation, his power of imagination, his independent judgment appear to be reduced. Advance in technical facilities for enlightenment is accompanied by a process of dehumanization. Thus progress threatens to nullify the very goal it is supposed to realize the idea of man. Whether this situation is a necessary phase in the general ascent of society as a whole, or whether it will lead to a victorious re-emergence of the neo-barbarism recently defeated on the battlefields, depends at least in part on our ability to interpret accurately the profound changes now taking place in the public mind and in human nature. [M. Horkheimer: Eclipse of Reason, Oxford University Press.]
Similar formulations could be quoted by the dozen from the high level of Horkheimer-Adorno down to that of Eric Fromm and the daily press, all indicating that the decisive problem of our time is, in the last analysis, a problem of consciousness. Yet they reveal simultaneously that their authors themselves suffer more or less from the same problem and violate almost without exception the principle of simplicity of explanation: Principia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem. Not to speak of figures like Fromm who feel the need for a psychological explanation besides the economic one and, of course, produce a lot of conformist ideology even Horkheimer-Adorno, though extremely critical of official notions and concepts, produce on related grounds no small amount of useless scholasticism and operate with such official, untenable and empty concepts as the public mind and human nature. All attempts at giving a double explanation (more than is required by the nature of the case) are punished by sterility and stand in obvious parallel to the social process, overflowing with possibilities and delivering only unsolved problems. It is not difficult to see that the public mind and human nature are but two other problems and that nothing depends on our ability to interpret accurately the profound changes in them. The task is rather the opposite: to interpret accurately the, so to say, behavior of the mind by determining the factors on which this behavior depends. If there is any chance for a cure, one must find the causes of the evil and clearly recognize that public mind and human nature as far as one can speak of them at all are merely passive reflectors of processes taking place in the outside world quite independently of what the public thinks and a human is. To leave no room for ambiguities: The public mind simply does not exist, however much ideologists confound it with their own mind and that of those who make public opinion. Secondly: True social consciousness, under the conditions of developed capitalism, is obtainable only by individuals and constitutes therefore a minority-problem in the strictest sense of the word.
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The highest manifestations of consciousness are to be found in general in the sciences and in philosophy, and in philosophy there is no other real choice than that between materialism and idealism. In contrast, then, to idealistic, mixed (agnostic) or doubled procedures, the method employed here consists in a pronounced return to the materialistic (not simply economic) point of view. Its hitherto best expression is the well-known but endlessly distorted thesis of Marx:
The mode of production in material life determines the general character of the social, political and spiritual processes of life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness.
A hundred years of war against Marx have nearly completely obscured the fact that his work (above all Capital) contains the whole skeleton and all the necessary basic material for a social (political) psychology compared to which sciences like mass-psychology, Freudian sociology or Wissenssoziologie (Sociology of Knowledge) are but a heap of eclectic rubbish, regardless whether their representatives are Le Bon, Fromm, Mannheim, Reich or Freud himself. Besides the thesis quoted above, the leading thoughts of Marxs Psychology (including the behavior of the mind) can be briefly rendered as follows:
In capitalist society thinking becomes ideology because it is determined by the antagonistic production-relations of this society. The fetish character of commodities (to be dealt with later) veils and mystifies the essence of phenomena the fundamental relations are not transparent and the particular form of the capitalist mode of production creates the permanent appearance which reflects our entire existence inverted and transposed. In consequence, being bound to the bourgeoisie or to the mere way of bourgeois thinking means to have a false consciousness (identical with ideology) and a perverted consciousness.
Yet out of this elemental sphere of ignorance and unconscious processes emerges also a conscious motive for keeping consciousness falsified and perverted. Capitalism is a historical, relative, transitory form of economy and must give way to a higher form or regress into a new barbarism, so long as the bourgeoisie insists on its eternal validity. The effect is that the ruling classes and their ideologists lose, in time, all interest in true cognition and, since such cognition is dangerous to their very existence, consciously strive to deny its possibility. The loss of interest in finding the truth (the same truth, by the way, which was formerly the strongest weapon of the bourgeoisie in its struggle with feudalism) this loss of interest assumes, for its part, very early the form of a special law. It is the law of the dwindling force of cognition in bourgeois society, and it affects everybody who has not freed himself completely from official notions or thought-determinations.
How all these factors became directly manifest in Political Economy as a bourgeois science (after the crisis of 1830) has been described by Marx in Preface II of Capital:
It was thenceforth no longer a question whether this theorem or that was true [!], but whether it was useful or harmful to capital, expedient or inexpedient, politically dangerous or not. In place of disinterested enquirers, there were hired prize-fighters; in place of genuine scientific research, the bad conscience and the evil intent of apologetic.
However, the crux of the matter is: What Marx states about Political Economy applies to a greater or lesser extent to all sciences, even to the most abstract ones. There is, on the one hand, the fact that the development of the sciences provides more and more reliable data of tremendous fertility (utilized with utmost confidence and accuracy in the most diverse fields, but especially in the field of warfare) there is, on the other hand, the fact that the scientists themselves (physicists, mathematicians, chemists, biologists, sociologists, positivist philosophers, etc.) evade important conclusions and turn them into mysticism, metaphysics, idealism and agnosticism. Today, hardly a scientist can be named who does not suffer in one way or the other from defects of consciousness and the incapacity to generalize rationally the results of his research. Scientists expose themselves as ideologists until, at the end of a long chain of prize-fighting, eclecticism, syncretism, evil apologetic and so on, sham-science appears (prototypes: Keynesian economics and mass-psychology) and the scientific ideal is presented in the image of the stock-market, where gambling decides our fate:
We no longer regard induction as a method of finding true conclusions. We know that truth is inaccessible [!] to us; instead, we regard statements about the physical world as attempts to find the truth, as trials subject to later correction. . . . We regard scientific conclusions as posits, that is, statements with which we deal as if true although we have no proof for them. . . . Scientific inquiry resembles the method of the gambler: the scientific conclusion is the best bet the scientist can make. . . . The search for truth is to be replaced by the search for the best bet; the path of knowledge is trial and error, and all [!] the scientist can claim is that his method of foretelling represents the best he can do there is no guarantee of success to his work. [Hans Reichenbach: Philosophy and Physics, University of California Press.]
Clear as is this ideological gambling and its negation of cognition against all practical evidence, one has nevertheless to avoid the mistake of vulgar materialists who always establish direct relations between the famous economic basis and its superstructure. Things are not that simple, and the opponent who replies to Mr. Vulgus that, as a case in point, scientific observations and calculations have nothing to do with false consciousness is absolutely right. Scientific data are in themselves innocent and betray no sign of the capitalist mode of production. Correct facts are to be found in the most corrupted ideologies and will remain correct facts under any form of society. It is never this or that correct or false detail, it is always the basic attitude we take, the special form and meaning things receive at our hands, in which the influence of our social existence (again: not simply economy) and its reflection as ideology must be detected. Only if Marxs thesis itself is taken correctly and attention is turned from innumerable details (which can be argued back and forth to no avail for eternities) to the general character of the processes of life only then can the all-pervasive influence of our social existence be properly traced in whatever field one may choose for investigation.
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What the capitalist system has done to our environment, namely to land, forests, water, air, animals, plants and so on, is so evident that it needs no special explanation. Much less obvious are the consequences which this change of our environment has for ourselves, for our physical and mental status. Our food is poisoned and constantly deteriorated by scientific methods and processes in agricultural and industrial production. The driving force behind this sort of production, with science as its most obedient servant, is by no means satisfaction of our needs and still less care for our well-being, but profit and relentless competition in the interest of more profit as a necessity in the struggle for life. The latter is a term highly problematical even in zoology but, in the evil intent of apologetic, readily applied by scientists and ideologists to human society in order to reduce the laws by which it is governed to those of the alleged beast. This application alone speaks books about our consciousness and intellectual production, especially if one bears in mind that consciousness includes conscience. The social process has led to a point where the extremes meet and form, turning into each other, a unity which can be expressed in the paradoxical but truly scientific formula: The age of decaying bourgeois society, the age of science par excellence, is the most unscientific through which mankind has ever passed, and the law of the dwindling force of cognition is accompanied by the law of diminishing quality in all branches of material and spiritual production, characteristically enough with the exception of production for war.
As for material production, it can clearly be seen that diseases resulting from scientific methods increase constantly and that our very life is, to boot, threatened by atomic experiments. As for the mental side, consciousness concerning these facts and the significance of the whole process is either lacking or falsified, perverted and corrupted, while morals have been brought to the lowest level ever experienced in history. The times so remarkable of a society in its ascent, the times when men died and suffered persecution, isolation and misery for their ideals, for the love of science, cognition and truth those golden times are gone. Nowadays scientists responsible for or involved (objectively speaking) in production-crimes have rightly been accused in public for their distortion of scientific facts, for their outright lying and concealment with respect to the far-reaching consequences which modern production processes have for us, for their lack of courage to protest and to tell the truth which they know.
Yet the matter does not rest there. For instance, what about scientists who have raised their voices and have protested against the insanities propelled by their colleagues, by business and government? Analysis of such protests shows that they are (valuable as they may be in other connections) nearly always characterized by inconsistency and confusion. Even in the few exceptional cases where the correct slogan is adopted and a clear, unconditional stop is demanded, consciousness about the source of the insanity and the only remedy against it is again completely lacking or at least not manifested. There is not one scientist who, after having relieved his conscience, has used his authority to call upon the people and to engage in a real fight. Inconsistency and moral cowardice dominate the field each scientist approached with the demand to go beyond mere oral protest (which, of course, must remain ineffective if not driven farther) has answered with evasions or a clear-cut decline. One was just writing a book or an article in which he would speak about the subject; another had anyway so much to do and could not go along; a third waited for a conference and a fourth perhaps for a genuine American spring. At all events: Those who had knowledge and authority and with it the power and the responsibility for action fell back and left the disquieted people in the lurch.
Then there is the mass of those scientists, scientific workers, laboratory technicians, teachers, etc., who may or may not know what is going on but are, like the masses themselves, not responsible for our social existence and its course towards a catastrophe. Concerning this category it must be pointed out that the consciousness of masses, classes and social groups in bourgeois society is subject to the law of ignorance and isolation as the most general and powerful law of our social existence. The material basis for this law is furnished by the national and international division of labor and the extreme specialization both of the sciences and within the sciences in the framework of competition and the fetish-character of commodities. Modern man is an isolated atom rather than a fully developed social being; a little screw in a tremendous mechanism alien to him rather than a self-asserting individual in a community clearly recognizable in its structure. The slave in ancient society, ignorant as he may have been, had more knowledge about social relations than todays most learned specialists; he, like the serf, knew exactly who oppressed him, what the nature and the product of his labor was, what quality it had and how it was used. Philosophers, on the other side, recognized the limitations of the material development and did not try to tell the slave that he was a free man sharing equal chances with all others. The social antagonism was there and found expression in philosophical materialism and idealism (as said: the only fundamental attitudes possible), but the limitations of the time kept both in check. For this reason the opposition between materialism and idealism did not attain the pointed programmatical form it has at present, where they meet as deadly enemies in the same way as the contradiction which they reflect: the contradiction between social production and private ownership of the means of production. In spite of all intellectual differentiation arising from the decay of the ancient world, Greek philosophers were conscious about basic relations and remained naïve materialists. Hegel quotes Aristotle who, with regard to the relation between material production and the development of thought, states in naïve materialist fashion:
It was only after nearly everything that was necessary, and that pertained to the convenience and intercourse of life, had been obtained, that people began to trouble themselves about philosophical knowledge. In Egypt the mathematical sciences were early developed, because there the priestly caste at an early period was in such a position as to make leisure possible.
And Hegel (who had driven his objective idealism to a point where it turned into materialism) affirms Aristotle:
Indeed, the need to busy oneself with pure thought presupposes a long stretch of road already traversed by the mind of man. It is, one may say, the need of a need already satisfied as regards necessaries, the need of an attained absence of need, of abstraction from the matter of intuition, imagination and so forth from the concrete interests of desire, impulse and will, in which the determinations of thought are wrapped up and concealed [!].
In general, one can thus say that the dependence of mans mind on material conditions was openly recognized. Formulated as theoretical insight it dominated the spiritual life of former times, and the objective existence of the natural world around us was, on the whole, not doubted even by such prominent agnostic philosophers as Hume and Kant. Unsolved problems notwithstanding: The basic social relations remained fairly transparent until the bourgeoisie had definitely conquered political power and firmly established its own mode of production. Up to this time the bourgeoisie itself had won its battle against feudalism under the banner of materialism, atheism, reason, science, progress and optimism.
A decisive change occurred when, with the unfolding of the industrial revolution and the continental revolution of 1848-1849, hitherto hidden laws took over with full force. These laws seemed to have a more supernatural, mysterious, unrecognizable and uncontrollable character than the unknown will of God, reducing men to mere puppets in an utterly confused play. A modern author, Edmund Wilson, gives a vivid description of how Jules Michelet looked at social relations just in the period when the decisive change took place. Reviewing The People, a little book Michelet had written not long before 1848, he writes:
The first half, Of Slavery and Hate, contains an analysis of modern industrial society. Taking the classes up one by one, the author shows how all are tied into the social-economic web each, exploiting or being exploited, and usually both extortionist and victim, generating by the very activities which are necessary to win its survival irreconcilable antagonisms with its neighbors, yet unable by climbing higher in the scale to escape the general degradation. The peasant, eternally in debt to the professional moneylender or the lawyer and in continual fear of being dispossessed, envies the industrial worker. The factory worker, virtually imprisoned and broken in will by submission to his machines, demoralizing himself still further by dissipation during the few moments of freedom he is allowed, envies the worker at a trade. But the apprentice to a trade belongs to his master, is servant as well as workman, and he is troubled by bourgeois aspirations. Among the bourgeoisie, on the other hand, the manufacturer, borrowing from the capitalist and always in danger of being wrecked on the shoal of overproduction, drives his employees as if the devil were driving him. He gets to hate them as the only uncertain element that impairs the perfect functioning of the mechanism; the workers take it out in hating the foreman. The merchant, under pressure of his customers, who are eager to get something for nothing, brings pressure on the manufacturer to supply him with shoddy goods; he leads perhaps the most miserable existence of all, compelled to be servile to his customers, hated by and hating his competitors, making nothing, organizing nothing. The civil servant, underpaid and struggling to keep up his respectability, always being shifted from place to place, has not merely to be polite like the tradesman, but to make sure that his political and religious views do not displease the administration. And, finally, the bourgeoisie of the leisure class have tied up their interests with the capitalists, the least public-spirited members of the nation; and they live in continual terror of communism. They have now wholly lost touch with the people. They have shut themselves up in their class; and inside their doors, locked so tightly, there is nothing but emptiness and chill. [All emphasis added.]
If this description is less deep than actual (and not only for the past), it has nevertheless the advantage of an uncorrupted view which will, as shall be seen, even reach the bottom of the problem, but only to be completely lost in respect to its solution. Michelet, confronted with the now fully developed anonymous forces of capital, could not understand his social existence without specific scientific insights. The insights in question, however, had not yet been formulated and could not be harvested in Michelets field. What he has to offer for the future of society in the second half of The People seems thus necessarily as ridiculous to us today as the first half seems acute. To follow Wilson:
Great displays of colored fire are set off, which daze the eye with crude lurid colors and hide [!] everything they are supposed to illuminate. The bourgeois has lost touch with the people, Michelet tells us; he has betrayed his revolutionary tradition. All the classes hate one another. What is to be done about it, then? We must have love. We must become as little children; for truth [!], we must go to the simpleton, even to the patient animal. And Education! the rich and the poor must go to school together: the poor must forget their envy; the rich must forget their pride. And there they must be taught Faith in the Fatherland. Here, Michelet is forced to confess, a serious objection arises: How shall I be able to give people faith when I have so little myself? Look into yourself, he answers, consider your children there you will find France!
Michelet is, as Wilson remarks, simply preaching a gospel, and since all gospels presented as remedies for practical evils are of the same quality, he reaches at once (Wilson does not say this) the level of the worst official and unofficial ideology. Yet there is something more, for if all gospels are alike, the general level is still higher than in 1956. Wilson notes rightly:
With all this, he says some very searching things, of which he does not perceive the full implications. Man has come to form his soul according to his material situation. What an amazing thing! Now there is a poor mans soul, a rich mans soul, a tradesmans soul. . . . Man seems to be only an accessory to his position. And his conception of the people, which at moments sounds mystical, comes down at the end to something that seems to be synonymous with humanity: The people, in its highest idea, is difficult to find in the people. When I observe it here or there, it is not the people itself, but some class, some partial form of the people, ephemeral and deformed. In its authentic form, at its highest power, it is seen only in the man of genius; in him the great soul resides.
In Reality, the people being the same empty abstraction as the public mind and human nature, Michelet identifies the people and humanity with himself, namely with the man of genius who is, according to all petty-bourgeois ideology, not only the great soul and the authentic form of the people, but also the great exception to the rule. In other words: Michelet, once outside his specialty (history proper), could not evade the laws of bourgeois society and became himself but an accessory to his position. Like the bourgeois, he not only lost touch with the people, he also lost contact with current events and connection with other sciences. He finds the bottom of the problem in saying that man has come to form his soul according to his material position, yet the implications escape him and he cannot even embrace Diderots view that it is property (or, for that matter, the absence of property in the case of the poor) which dominates man and molds his soul. Up to 1848 (roughly speaking) the general trend of thought was that man had come to master his social existence with the help of reason and science. This was in line with the revolution in which man seemed to take destiny in his own hands; it was also in line with the development of the productive forces and the progress of technology, which seemed to provide him with all he would need in the future. Now, with the stabilization of bourgeois rule, it turned out that social existence had mastered man and isolated him hopelessly from all others with whom he saw himself entangled, in one way or another and even as worker against worker, in the merciless struggle of competition. Industry and science benefited the rich, not society as a whole, and both became instruments of oppression and enslavement. Simple human and social relations, simple regardless of what could otherwise be said against them, had imperceptibly changed into a most horrible plague: relations between things. Money and Capital, the abstract expression of the new relations, emerged as the sole regulating and connecting factors in a totally reified society under which the common human ground had vanished.
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The effect of this change on human consciousness and psychology was profound and had far-reaching consequences. In fact, psychology became more and more meaningless in a society in which everything was turned upside-down and which made man a mere appendage to capital, no matter whether he was its functionary, parasite or working slave. It is by no means accidental that Marx and Engels, the only men able to scientifically analyze what had happened, pushed psychology into the background. Having with their discoveries freed themselves from social blindness and false consciousness, they advanced sociology, which explained collective human behavior on a much broader basis. Wilson (who is quoted here always for a certain purpose) shows the effect of the new conditions on consciousness and behavior in several passages concerning Michelet, Taine and Renan. Stressing the important fact that the enthusiasm for science of the Enlightenment persisted without the political enthusiasm of the Enlightenment, he refers to an article of 1898, written on the occasion of the Michelet centenary, in which it was predicted that the celebration would not do Michelet justice. Michelet is no longer read, the author of the article says,
because people no longer understand him. Though he was followed in his day by the whole generation of 1850, he commits for the skeptical young man of the end of the century the supreme sin of being an apostle, a man of passionate feeling and conviction [!]. Michelet created the religion of the Revolution, and the Revolution is not popular today, when the Academicians put it in its place, when persons who would have been nothing without it veil their faces at the thought of the Jacobin terror, when even those who have nothing against it manage to patronize it. Besides, Michelet attacked the priesthood, and the Church is now [!] treated with respect.
One can detect in these lines how the mechanism of reification, operating behind the scene and pushing all people with irresistible force in one direction, dehumanizes society and hardens each individual position. A kind of social schizophrenia overwhelms the consciousness of man, manifesting itself first of all in splitting off enthusiasm for science from its political side, namely the social obligations of science. One has to be scientific and to behave rationally in order to make a living and to survive in the competitive struggle, but for the very same reason one has to shun passionate feeling, conviction, humaneness and responsibility towards the whole. In a word: One has to behave unscientifically and irrationally as a human being and thus affirm the irrationality of the system. This social schizophrenia establishes itself as a veritable impersonal institution which enforces onesidedness, human indifference and hypocrisy in every sphere of life. On the one hand, the bourgeoisie furthers, protects and recognizes only those sciences, ideas, methods, teachings, arts and so forth which are useful or indispensable for its own existence, for industry, business and political rule. On the other hand, much apologetic, confusion, distortion and sham-opposition is needed for the deception of the people. The bourgeoisie therefore assigns thousands of specialists to a fixed task, throws thousands of petty and obedient scholars into the social-economic web, buys off thousands of oppositional politicians, turns thousands of rebellious artists and ideologists into respectable citizens, looks benevolently upon thousands of apostles, cranks, sect-founders, bohemians, scribblers, reformers and radical fools living like criminals at the verge of society and cementing its crevices.
Neither nature nor social consciousness tolerates a vacuum, and where true consciousness is lacking, false consciousness immediately fills the gap. Criticism of the system is not only permitted but is absolutely necessary as a safety-valve against too much pressure from within. Such criticism can even be cogent and sharp in many respects, yet it must never go too far, never draw the full consequences and, above all, never call for serious political action, never try to organize intransigent resistance. The system is syphilitic to the bone, generating scum, gangsterism and political adventurism on a large scale as the inevitable symptoms of a deep organic disease. In times of danger it is just the adventurer who presents himself as the savior of bourgeois society, and it is precisely with the regime of the first great modern adventurer, Louis Bonaparte, that the final decadence of bourgeois consciousness, thinking and morality sets in. That the Church is now treated with respect is an understatement when pronounced in 1898. Engels tells somewhere how hypocrisy was officially inaugurated much earlier by the atheistic bourgeoisie.
In 1848, the workers in France and Germany had become rebellious, and the bourgeoisie was looking upon the Church as a strong ally. What other last resource remained for the French and German bourgeois than to silently drop his free thinking? The scoffers, one after the other, assumed on the outside a pious demeanor, spoke with respect of the Church, its doctrines and customs, and participated in the latter to the extent that it was unavoidable. The French bourgeois rejected meat on Friday, the German bourgeois sweated in their pews through endless Protestant sermons. They had fallen into ill luck with their materialism. Religion must be preserved for the people that was the last and only means to save society from total doom.
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Wilson, following the decline of the revolutionary tradition in this period, remarks that with Michelet the man has created the mask, but that for Renan and Taine it is the profession that has made it:
Michelet, the man of an unsettled and a passionate generation, has forged his own personality, created his own trade and established his own place. Renan and Taine, on the other hand, are the members of learned castes. Both, like Michelet, set the search for truth above personal considerations: Renan . . . left the seminary and stripped off his robe as soon as he knew that it was impossible for him to accept the Churchs version of history, and the scandal of the Life of Jesus cost him his chair at the Collège de France; and the materialist principles of Taine proved such a stumbling-block to his superiors throughout his academic career that he was finally obliged to give up the idea of teaching. But, though rejected by their professional colleagues, they came before long to be accepted as among the official [!] wise men of their society, a society now temporarily stabilized. Both ended as members of the Academy (When one is someone, why should one want to be something? Gustave Flaubert wondered about Renan) whereas it is only a few years ago that Michelet and Quinet were finally given burial in the Panthéon.
One cannot understand the decline of bourgeois thinking, the corruption of consciousness in bourgeois society and the atmosphere of general hypocrisy resulting from the separation of intellectual production from social praxis, if one does not understand that it is the intelligentsia itself which, with the reification of profession, is at the same time the instigator and the victim of it all. The civil servant has to be polite and to make sure that his political and religious views do not displease the administration? Well, the man of spirit is in the same position and must, still more, not displease his superiors and professional colleagues. They are, in reality, invariably his inferiors (the great talkers of all Academies, la fadaise institutionalized!), yet for this very reason they install censorship, oppression and punishment ahead of the administration. Press, Church, school, radio, police (NKVD and FBI included) and all the rest of a formidable apparatus would not suffice to uphold bourgeois rule without that multicolored army of authoritative watchdogs in science, literature, philosophy and so on which is the true and decisive maker of public opinion. This army is as stupid as the bourgeoisie itself and often afraid of nothing. It sometimes victimizes intellectuals later accepted among the official wise men of their society and does not recognize the advantage of certain deviations from its standards. At the end, however, it has the same gigantic stomach as the Catholic Church and easily digests anything which does not go too far. Harmless declamations are indeed useful and an ornament for a ruling class entirely vulgar, brutal, deceptive and hypocritical. Nothing would be more erroneous than the belief that those who become something instead of remaining someone have not fully merited this transformation. After all, did Renan with his honesty or Taine with his brilliance do anything more than the man of good will who always appears at the right time and in the right place in order to increase the general confusion, ambiguity and cheating? What had Renan to offer when the Revolution of 1848 occurred, and the problems of socialism, as he says, seemed, as it were, to rise out of the earth and terrify the world ?
What humanity needs is not a political formula or a change of bureaucracy in office, but a morality and a faith [and that is indeed something!]. . . . He continues to hope for progress [and so does Mr. Muckpie in his best moments!]; but it is a hope that still looks to science without paying much attention to political science, whose advances, indeed, he tends to disregard, as he says the French naturalists had done with Darwinism. Where Michelet had forfeited his posts rather than take the oath of allegiance to Louis Bonaparte, Renan considered it a matter of no consequence.
Renan reaches the conclusion: It is clear that for a very long time we must stand aside from politics, which means in plain language: It is clear that we must let the adventurer have his way! (Contrast Quinet, who is mentioned only in passing by Wilson and who had also lost his position at the Collège de France and was banished from his country in 1852.) Yet there is still, says Wilson, an ideal of public service. Renan ran for the Chamber of Deputies in 1869 on a platform of No revolution; no war; a war will be as disastrous as a revolution. And when the war was in progress and the Prussians were besieging Paris, he took an unpopular line in advocating peace negotiations.
Standing aside from politics is the great illusion of the man in between who, always a politician, advises, preaches, exhorts and wants neither war nor revolution in order to get both. Such men, the cursed luke-warm of the Bible, professional recipe-makers by the thousands in our time (though still smaller ones than Renan), have always a code into which their false consciousness crystallizes and in whose miracle-working power they sometimes even seriously believe, in no way different from the belief of so-called primitive people in the power of their fetish. Renans code is virtue, on which Wilson appropriately comments:
It is almost as if virtue were with Renan a mere habit which he has been induced to acquire on false pretenses. Though his devotion had been at first directed to the ends of the Enlightenment, to the scientific criticism of the Scriptures which supplemented the polemics of Voltaire, the Enlightenment itself . . . was in a sense on the wane with the attainment by the French bourgeoisie of their social-economic objects; and Renans virtue came more and more to seem, not like Michelets, a social engine, but a luminary hung in the void. In a hierarchy of moral merit drawn up in one of his prefaces, he puts the saint at the top of the list and the man of action at the bottom: moral excellence, he says, must always lose something as soon as it enters into practical activity because it must lend itself to the imperfection of the world. And this conception gave Michelet concern: he rebuked the disastrous doctrine, which our friend Renan has too much commended, that passive internal freedom, preoccupied with its own salvation, which delivers the world to evil. . . . Renans emphasis is all on the importance of the calm pursuit of truth, though the turmoil may be raging around us of those who are forced [!] to make a practical issue of it. But he corrects himself: No, we are posted in sign of war; peace is not our lot. Yet the relation between the rioter in the street and the scholar in his study seems to have completely dissolved.
It is a particularity of all ideologists to say yes when they have said no, and then to say no again. And it is an eternal truth that those who preach passive internal freedom or the calm pursuit of truth (with which they, of course, land in the void) are extremely active in delivering the world to evil and necessarily extend their own salvation in the most material sense of the word. In the best of cases (not to speak of those where sheer hypocrisy and fraud are at work) they never become conscious that passive internal freedom is an open falsehood if one at the same time participates in the affairs of the world, publishes books, gives advice, outlines directions, emphasizes one line against the other, commends virtue, a morality and a faith (dont worry which one is the calmest truth!) or does anything outside of his private room. Virtue under such circumstances is only another commodity among innumerable sham-products of no use except for the producer and the system which they support. The calm pursuit of truth grounded on fundamental self-deception thus reflects once more the crack between intellectual production and social praxis. And whatever school of thought or tendency one may choose, it is fundamentally the same play over and over again.
Taine, in contrast to Renan who dealt mainly with ideas, dwells upon the mechanical aspect of history and thereby blocks the way to true consciousness from the other side an excellent service for a thoroughly mechanical, blindly operating system. To a friend he wrote in Renans manner: Political life is forbidden us for perhaps ten years. With this self-inflicted forbidden he plants instead of virtue another fetish before us: The only path is pure literature or pure science, the self-deception per se. Writes Wilson:
Men like Taine were travelling away from romanticism, . . . and setting themselves an ideal of objectivity, of exact scientific observation, which came to be known as Naturalism. Both Renan and Taine pretend [!] to a detachment quite alien to the fierce partisanship of a Michelet; and both do a great deal more talking about science. The science of history is for Taine a pursuit very much less human than it had been for Michelet. He writes in 1852 of his ambition to make of history a science by giving it like the organic world an anatomy and a physiology.
The science of history follows the dehumanization of society and takes on an almost gruesome aspect in Taines philosophy and program, fully stated in the introduction to the History of English Literature. In Wilsons description:
In dealing with works of literature, as in any other department, the only problem is a mechanical one: The total effect is a compound determined in its entirety by the magnitude and the direction of the forces which produce it. The only difference between moral problems and physical problems is that, in the case of the former, you havent the same instruments of precision to measure the quantities involved. But virtue and vice are products like vitriol and sugar; and all works of literature may be analyzed in terms of the race, the milieu and the moment.
Note, says Wilson before, that it is no longer a question of humanity creating itself, of liberty warring against fatality; but of an automaton functioning in an automaton. No wonder then that Taine, as the automaton of the automaton functioning in an automaton, is but pretending when he pretends to a detachment quite alien to Michelets partisanship:
It is in vain that he keeps insisting that his object is purely scientific, that he is as detached in his attitude toward France as he would be toward Florence or Athens: The Origins of Contemporary France has an obvious political purpose.
With this fatal side of all pure disciplines, he comes still closer to reification and loses even refinement in the technique of self-deception:
By Taines time, the amassment of facts for their own [!] sake was coming to be regarded as one of the proper functions of history; and Taine was always emphasizing the scientific value of the little significant fact [whose significance is usually that of the reified appearance!]. Here, he says, he will merely present the evidence and allow us to make our own conclusions; but it never seems to occur to him that we may ask ourselves who it is that is selecting the evidence and why he is making this particular choice. It never seems to occur to him that we may accuse him of having conceived the simplification first and then having collected the evidence to fit it; or that we may have been made skeptical at the outset by the very assumption on his part that there is nothing he cannot catalogue with certainty [he did not yet feel the need of a Reichenbach to deny certainty!] under a definite number of heads with Roman numerals, in so complex, so confused, so disorderly and so rapid a human crisis as the great French Revolution.
Nothing, it seems, can stop a falling body, especially if its weight is constantly augmented by the amassment of facts for their own sake. Social laws are merciless, which in the present case means: Having fallen so far back in consciousness, the detachment of our historian becomes pathetic, while his interpretation of the little significant facts reaches the border of intentional falsification. It cannot be otherwise, for there is no other choice for the petty-bourgeois mind than open partisanship of bourgeois law and order and the interpretation of dangerous past events in its sense. Consequently:
Taine plays down the persecutions for religious belief and liberal thought under the regime of the monarchy and almost succeeds in keeping them out of his picture; and he tries somehow to convey the impression that there was nothing more to the capture of the Bastille than a barbarous and meaningless gesture, by telling us that it contained, at the time, after all, only seven prisoners, and dwelling on the misdirected brutalities committed by the mob. Though in some admirable social-documentary chapters he has shown us the intolerable position of the peasants, his tone becomes curiously aggrieved as soon as they begin violating the old laws by seizing estates and stealing bread. Toward the Federations of 1789, which had so thrilling an effect on Michelet, he takes an ironic and patronizing tone. The spirit and achievements of the revolutionary army have been shut out from his scope in advance and are barely though more respectfully touched upon. And the revolutionary leaders are presented, with hardly a trace of sympathetic insight from a strictly zoological point of view, he tells us as a race of crocodiles.
From a strictly zoological point of view, this judgment is surely the peak of detachment plus pure science, plus pure literature. Indeed, man has come to form his soul according to his material situation! The problem of his psychology has been reduced to a truly mechanical one in the process of reification: There is nothing of significance in his soul anymore which cannot directly be traced down to his social existence, his position and profession. The reduction of his psychology to a mechanical problem is, in other words, reduction with a vengeance:
The human Proteus, in its disconcerting transformation, has thrown Taine and sent him away sulky, as soon as he has emerged from his library. Not only is he horrified by the Marats, but confronted by a Danton or a Madame Roland, he shrinks [!] at once into professorial superiority. At the sight of men making fools and brutes of themselves, even though he himself owes to their struggles his culture and his privileged position, a remote disapproval chills his tone, all the bright colors of his fancy go dead. Where is the bold naturalist now who formerly made such obstinate headway against the squeamishness of academic circles?
The answer to this question has by now become so obvious that one feels a little embarrassed to explain: Why, be sits in his studio, where he has slipped into the skin of the philistine and works hard on his own, brand new, unique, extremely superior gospel, code-fetish and political recipe. Though the same childish and pretentious nonsense will be repeated ad nauseam, no self-respecting ideologist can do without it, and it goes without saying that Taine has to fulfill his duties:
He is pressing upon us a social program which blends strangely the householders timidity with the intellectuals independence. Dont let the State go too far, he pleads: we must, to be sure, maintain the army and the police to protect us against the foreigner and the ruffian; but the government must not be allowed to interfere with Honor and Conscience, Taines pet pair of nineteenth-century abstractions, nor with the private operation of industry, which stimulates individual initiative and which alone can secure general prosperity. [Emphasis added.]
One does not know whether to cry or to laugh at this incredible program it is only sure that it betrays all of the householders timidity with not one iota of the intellectuals independence. But just because this independence is a legend spread eagerly by all ideologists, it forms the basis for their feeling of being the cream of humanity. It could be demonstrated in hundreds of cases that this complacent feeling grows stronger the less the single ideologist has to offer and the more servile he is. There is surely truth in it when Wilson says that the mobs of the great Revolution and the revolutionary government of Paris have become identified now in Taines mind with the socialist revolution of the Commune. Nevertheless, there is also a quite conscious effort to discredit possible attempts at a change with the help of an example from the past presented first in the light of a particular choice, secondly in that of pure scientific judgment. Strangely enough, this effort is tied up with his claim to superiority, which crowns the whole edifice and at first glance seems to contradict the ideologists function as obedient servant of the bourgeoisie. The proof is delivered by Wilson when he states about Taine:
Like Renan, he has been driven to imagining that his sole solidarity lies with a small number of superior persons who have been appointed as the salt of the earth; and he is even farther than Renan from Michelets conception of the truly superior man as him who represents the people most completely. [Emphasis added.]
Taine has thus fixed where his sole solidarity lies, which means that he has said yes to his own kind and no to the rest. This, however, is mere imagination and serves the same purpose as the left-wing color which certain ideologists like to display in order to hide the sad fact that their glorious independence lasts only as long as it costs them not a farthing. As said before: The bourgeoisie and the official wise men of their society are very much pleased with such imagination, for it deceives a lot of people (one has to take all efforts of this sort combined!) and breaks or at least diverts their energy. In spite of that, the servant has to assure his master (the bourgeoisie as his true superior in society) how unshakable his loyalty is. In other words, he has to declare with whom his real solidarity lies, which means he has to say yes to bourgeois society as a whole and, if need be, no to his own kind. One has, therefore, always to expect a big but which makes things as clear as day and which in the case of Taine reads:
But, though not much liking his ordinary fellow bourgeois, he will rise to the defense of the bourgeois law and order as soon as there seems to be danger of its being shaken by the wrong kind of superior people. [Emphasis added.]
With Taines division of the superior people into a wrong kind (lets say the type of Marx) and a right kind (the type Taine), it becomes plain that he is quite conscious of what he is doing in misrepresenting the great French Revolution. Unable to deny that his crocodiles are nevertheless superior people, he knows only too well that he has surrendered his better ego (the bold naturalist) to a bad society for which the wrong kind of superior people are those who seriously disagree with it. Having betrayed his own kind and ready to betray it again as soon as there seems to be danger from this side (a danger which will never end), he fights for bourgeois law and order all along the line. Under these circumstances, the French Revolution, to which he owes everything, becomes the personification of his bad conscience against which (to stress it for psychoanalysts: quite consciously!) he constantly has to vindicate himself. There has never been an ideologist (the ordinary fellow scribbler is another matter) who is not disturbed by the fact that be knows better than he does and precisely thereby is forced to build up defenses in the form of distortions, sham-problems, empty talk, and circular reasoning. Final proof that Taine, too, suffers from this disease of consciousness is furnished by Wilsons comment:
Yet something is wrong: his heart is not in this as it was in his early work. He does not like the old regime; he does not like the Revolution; he does not like the militaristic France which has been established by Napoleon and his nephew. And he never lived to write, as he had planned, the final glorification of the French family, which was to have given its moral basis to his system, nor the survey of contemporary France, in which he was apparently to have taken up the problem of the use and abuse of science: to have shown how, though beneficial when studied and applied by the elite, it became deadly in the hands of the vulgar.
* * *
Noting in passing that Taines glorification of the French family was an impossible task (it would have been a miserable apology of the petty bourgeoisie, a monstrous failure), the reasons for following Wilson along his road can now be enumerated.
First: Wilson demonstrates that he has, concerning the past, a keen sense of historical development and a sound judgment. So far he therefore betrays no important signs of a false consciousness.
Second: In a very natural manner he brings to light how the minds of even superior men are molded by events, revolutionary or post-revolutionary situations, periods of unrest or relative stabilization in short: by their social existence and the specific stage of development it has reached.
Third: He thus exposes how a great historical change which began, as reflected in the consciousness of enlightened men, with the ideal of uniting all sciences and of joining them to social praxis (the development of the social productive forces being the material basis) leads to political helplessness and its reification by means of abstractions (Michelets We must have love and so on, which painfully recall the abstractions of the Bible).
Fourth: He then exposes how there ensues an ever widening gap between science and social praxis until complete separation is reached, until everything is atomized and the ideal of pure science, pure literature, lart pour lart, the amassment of facts for their own sake and so forth appears as the perfect reflection of the capitalist mode of production, i.e.: Production for the sake of production or money-making for the sake of money-making. Michelet, in anticipation of what was much later to become a direct material possibility but, like the men of the Enlightenment, deeply impressed by the potentialities of the new mode of production Michelet could still write in full sincerity: Woe be to him who tries to isolate one department of knowledge from the rest. . . . All science is one: language, literature and history, physics, mathematics and philosophy; subjects which seem the most remote from one another are in reality connected, or rather they all form a single system. However, as the heroes of the French Revolution, who fought for the realization of the ideal of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité as the application of one science, did not know that they were working for the establishment of the bourgeois order, so Michelet did not know that his scientific ideal foreshadowed only the universal spread of the capitalist system, with the commodity as its one unifying element. If Michelet still sees that men themselves, by the very activities necessary for their life-process, generate irreconcilable antagonisms with their neighbors yet cannot, by climbing higher in the scale, escape the general degradation, Renan and Taine are already advanced personifications of this degradation and are far removed from such insight. On the contrary: Adapting themselves to the new status quo they adapt science, literature, philosophy and all the rest to their position in it, declaring that this corruption of consciousness constitutes their superiority. In doing so and in propagating their specific new scientific view, they fail to realize that they have turned into inferior apologists and, together with their science, have sunk to the level of automatons functioning in the automaton of capitalist society.
Fifth: Wilson, using very little psychology in dealing with Michelet, Renan and Taine, shows: Whatever the psychological motives of the man in between, of the professional or self-styled ideologist things have their own logic and we can discard mans psychology as a factor of fundamental importance as soon as he enters public life. If Taine, for example, was psychologically afraid of the Commune and identified it in his mind with the revolutionary government of Paris, nothing is gained and nothing explained about social processes by knowing it. Much more interesting and enlightening is the fact that he was afraid at all and that one part of his society took the same position and reacted exactly as he did, while another part of the same society took the opposite stand and reacted accordingly, no matter in both cases whether they did so actively or passively, afraid or cynical, identifying or not. There is, of course, no sharp line of demarcation between all members of the opposing camps. Many individuals, especially men in between, vacillate with two souls in one breast and greater or lesser inconsistency, but only in order to wind up, finally, in one of the two fundamental positions. Important is only the fact that internal social contradictions unfold under certain conditions up to a point where they turn into irreconcilable antagonisms which eventually clash. Important is only that before, during and after such clashes, human atoms are stirred up and driven from one position into another and that the latter is, temporarily or permanently, always the opposite one. Important is lastly that such an interchange of opposite positions takes place unimportant is that this or that member of the working-class (to use an instance) is attracted by bourgeois social existence and this or that member of the possessing or privileged class is disgusted with it.
Sixth: Wilson continuously illustrates the law of the dwindling force of cognition in bourgeois thinking. Thinking can only develop in connection with social praxis. The bourgeoisie proper, however, the more its rule and the social productive forces expand, becomes a totally superfluous class because all its social functions are now, as Engels put it, fulfilled by salaried employees. Engendering, by its very utility in the development of the capitalist system, its own uselessness, the bourgeoisie soon becomes the only ruling class in history which has no culture at all. It is in this respect at one with the proletariat which, due to its position in society, cannot create any culture of its own and has, as a separate class, been rendered equally superfluous as the bourgeoisie. The producer of culture (in the widest sense) is the petty bourgeoisie, the man in between, the scientist, intellectual and ideologist who, being neither capitalist nor worker, regards himself therefore as at least relatively independent or standing above the classes. It has already been shown that this independence is sheer self-deception and that the essential function of the intelligentsia is to foster bourgeois rule. Once integrated as an automaton in an automaton, it shares the fate of the bourgeoisie to the degree that the latter loses its function and rules in the name of the anonymous power called Capital. In other words: The intelligentsia, too, loses its creative power and achieves less and less in the realm of cognition its progressive role is restricted to the sphere of abstract production in which the stupidity of the pure facts reigns and the force of generalization is lost.
Seventh: From a philosophical point of view, Wilson illustrates not only how opposites turn into opposites, but also how they form a unity and mutually interpenetrate each other. Already with Michelet, illumination becomes hiding. With Renan and Taine, hope for progress turns into disregard for political science, passive internal freedom into active external bondage, calm pursuit of truth into the preaching of false codes. Scientific detachment, further, reveals itself to be fierce political partisanship, objectivity to consist of subjective selection of facts fitting preconceived simplifications, independence to be utter dependence and naturalism falsification of reality. To crown it all, the self-appointed salt of the earth and superior person appears as a fool and a liar who preaches with the boldness of the learned ignoramus that private operation of industry alone can secure general prosperity (this in the teeth of the experience of the Commune and the progress of economic science). Finally, the self-appointed elite man is the one who closes the circle in the decline of cognition, for he is the first vulgar person who turns science into ideology, who abuses science and in whose hands it becomes deadly. Leonardo da Vinci destroyed his design for a submarine out of fear that it would be misused. Einstein, in contrast, induced Roosevelt to produce A-bombs, with which he unchained the deadliest force ever put in the service of capitalist competition in war and peace. Was it fear, naïveté, hope or something else which moved Einstein? It was, in any case, his social existence, the logic of the system which pushed him in a disastrous direction. It was thus false consciousness, ignorance of political science, blindness with regard to social implications and the connection between all sciences if he could not even calculate the first consequence of his step and believed that the bomb would not be used without the utmost necessity in the sense in which the bourgeoisie itself understands this term. One has to grasp the dialectical nature of things, which imbued the production of the bomb with its own logic the bomb was actually used wantonly, with political deception of the people, and the horrible new branch of production had to be pushed further and further. Let it be repeated: The bourgeois character of the abstract sciences (which as such contain no ideological material) cannot be detected in themselves but in their theoretical interpretation. Let it be repeated, too: In bourgeois society, science cannot benefit the people, it benefits the system and its parasites (general assertion of its bourgeois character) and remains a potential, not an actual friend of mankind. The alienation of man from his work is reproduced in the alienation of science from its social purpose, and both harden the antagonism between physical and intellectual labor in which reason has no place. The world is full of dialectical surprises, and nature, which is an organic unity and will be treated as such, revenges itself for the violation of its laws. Each step forward is now inseparably bound up with a step backwards, with greater evils, sharper antagonisms, graver dangers, deeper blindness, more intense social and human degradation.
Eighth: Wilson throws some light on the unhappy position in which the intellectual is put, with his own help, by the mechanism of the system. Whatever the state of his consciousness may be: If he is not a cynical apologist he feels uneasy in his skin and displays greater or lesser evidence of a bad conscience. The feeling that something is wrong is as widespread a symptom as its counterpart, namely longing for political and intellectual freedom. A letter by Einstein to the editor of The Reporter sums up the point in a rather tragic manner. Having been instrumental in what was to follow from the construction of the A-bomb (secrecy; restriction of scientific communication, freedom and conscience; deception of the people and political persecution) he commented on a series of articles by Theodore H. White under the title U.S. Science: The Troubled Quest. In these articles it was said that centers of intellectual life were troubled by recent Federal actions concerning scientists. The New York Times of Nov. 10, 1954, from which the story is taken, noted: Dr. Einstein has been an outspoken critic of these actions. When Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer was denied security clearance by the Atomic Energy Commission, Dr. Einstein said: The systematic, widespread attempt to destroy mutual trust and confidence constitutes the severest possible blow against society. Then followed Einsteins letter to the editor of The Reporter:
You have asked me what I thought about your articles concerning the situation of the scientists in America. Instead of trying to analyze the problem, I may express my feeling in a short remark: If I would be a young man again and had to decide how to make my living, I would not try to become a scientist or scholar or teacher. I would rather choose to be a plumber or a peddler in the hope to find that modest degree of independence still available under present circumstances.
After the letter, the New York Times wrote:
In Princeton, Dr. Einsteins secretary declined to elaborate on this comment. In publishing the letter, Max Ascoli, the editor of The Reporter, said that it was an honor but hardly a pleasure to publish this letter from Albert Einstein. The comment will be freely used by enemies of the United States, he said. [This is divine: As if it were the fault of the enemies that something is utterly rotten in the United States!] But he added that the freedom to protest, which Dr. Einstein used in making his comment [this is divine again: Einstein was asked for it, but Ascoli surely expected him to be a good boy who never uses any freedom!], can still [!] be afforded here. Our country must maintain a good record on this score, not just a better record than do the totalitarian nations, Mr. Ascoli said in an editorial comment.
That is all that came out of a vital issue, and the story confirms what we already know. You can, especially if you are Einstein, still express your feeling and become a protester who audaciously uses such freedom, but you will not attempt to analyze the problem, let alone with full documentation and in its full social and scientific impact. It is an honor to print a statement by a great man, but hardly a pleasure because it reveals a little of that truth which it should be the highest honor and pleasure for any non-totalitarian or honest paper to publish. Inconsistent criticism is compatible with any political system it is not for nothing that the Stalinists sanction their own kind of critical exercise in the name of Bolshevik self-criticism. To be timid, to hide, to be hypocritical, to falsify, to lie has become a social command and conscious policy. On the other hand, it has become one among several of mans second natures. There is an organic connection between the separation of intellectual work from social praxis and the total falsification of history and political theory consciously planned, ordered and enforced by Stalin. This connection is so strong that the whole bourgeois world has travelled along Stalins road, though the so-called free world has not yet installed the Stalinist system. On a world scale, the new barbarism will be victorious if the fatal trend of capitalist development cannot be checked and reversed. But in that case no psychology would be needed to depict in advance the basic behavior of those who figure as pacemakers of the new barbarism. For better or worse, the social process always prepares the soil and also has ready to hand the human material that is required when consequential decisions become unavoidable. Out of our social existence, Stalins, Hitlers, Mussolinis, Francos would spring up like mushrooms after rain. Together with their gang, all would act after the same pattern, their individual psychology being of no more importance for the development in toto than a grain of sugar in a pound of salt. In the intellectual sphere, the ultimate consequence would be everywhere the same as in Russia. The falsification and perversion of social consciousness would be consciously planned, ordered and enforced — whoever resists or goes beyond “criticism organized by the state will be punished and exterminated.
* * *
All the foregoing could have nevertheless been said without Wilson if the main point had not been to have a look at Wilson himself in the light of his own presentation. He has nicely exposed the large and abstract capitalized words, the shallow syncretism of concepts, creeds and gospels such as: We must have love; Faith in the Fatherland; Education; Forget your envy; Forget your pride; We need a morality and a faith; Virtue; Passive internal freedom; Calm pursuit of truth; Dont let the state go too far; Honor and Conscience; Pure science; Pure art; etc. The sheer mass of these deceptive abstractions, one is entitled to think, should have put Wilson on guard, but only those with little insight into the social mechanism will be surprised to see him silently drop his critical attitude and embrace the same vice. His book ends with a Summary, in the last paragraph of which he says that, more important than certain other features, something remains which is common to all great Marxists. It is the desire to get rid of class privilege based on birth and on difference of income; the will to establish a society in which the superior development of some is not paid for by the exploitation, that is, by the deliberate (this word is one of Wilsons real hits!) degradation of others a society which will be homogeneous and cooperative as our commercial society is not, and directed, to the best of their ability, by the conscious creative minds of its members. And then he delivers his own deceptive abstraction:
But this again is a goal to be worked for in the light of ones own imagination and with the help of ones common sense. The formulas of the various Marxist creeds, including the one that is common to them all, the dogma of the Dialectic, no more deserve the status of holy writ than the formulas of other creeds. To accomplish such a task will require of us an unsleeping adaptive exercise of reason and instinct combined.
Bereaved of several words which hide more than illuminate, the new recipe reads: We must use imagination and common sense, we need an unsleeping adaptive exercise of reason and instinct combined.
That, presented in 1953 as a remedy for practical evils, is worse than the codes of Love, Honor, Conscience or Faith, and it by no means becomes better if the words ones own are inserted. Ones own imagination and common sense are as good and helpful or bad and hampering as reason and instinct (combined) required of us. Since nobody who has a little common sense will believe that Wilsons abstractions have told him anything, he will conclude (and that is his combination): Wilson is only a present-day Taine. If, in addition, he possesses reason (which includes knowledge and cognition) he will exercise it (throwing away the senseless flourish unsleeping adaptive) and work for his goal by explaining what, in each concrete case, is at stake. In the case of Wilson, he will explain, it so happens that his imagination, common sense, reason and instinct combined were not sufficient to make him carry through his own point. If he had reflected on what he had demonstrated he would have seen that even cogent theories, if separated from social praxis, must sooner or later lead to internal contradictions, emptiness and ideology (false consciousness). Cognition is truth, and the truth is often bitter because it is brutal. Wilson states, in the case of Renan and Taine, that it is their profession that has made their mask. If one makes such a statement he invites the question: And what is the profession behind your own mask? He may also be asked: Why do you write at all? Out of deep conviction, because you cant help it and have decided to work with others for the establishment of the society you envisage? Or do you write in order to make a living and sell empty phrases? Schopenhauer already complained that the whole misery of contemporary literature inside and outside Germany has its roots in writing books for money. Everybody who needs money, he said, sits down and writes a book, and the public is stupid enough to buy it. Yet all evils have their consoling side: Any writer must recognize that he runs a risk and has for his part no moral right to complain if he is taken to task.
There is, for instance, the question of the Dialectic. Wilson rejects dialectics not only in passing, as above, but in a special chapter called The Myth of the Dialectic. Here, however, the contention is that there can be no full consciousness of our social existence without knowledge of dialectics the final reason for quoting Wilson was to have a look at him in the light of that Myth, i.e. to introduce it in its social aspect and significance, and to explain by way of inquiry into our present social existence and consciousness why it has so many opponents who without exception are not only victims of the law of ignorance and isolation in bourgeois society, but frequently also conscious calumniators who try to prejudice the reader against the study of dialectics by calling it mythical, metaphysical, dogma, nonsense, trash and God knows what else. Wilson, who like innumerable fellow fighters against dialectics may believe he has finished it once and for all, should have known as a man somewhat instructed political science:
As long as social contradictions and antagonisms exist they will be accompanied by partisanship in every field and in every question, while the claim to neutrality expresses per se either a lie or false consciousness. Where there is partisanship there is struggle, and in the fields of cognition and epistemology the struggle will always revolve around the positions of philosophical idealism and materialism, in the final analysis philosophical idealism and dialectical materialism. The positions in between, called agnosticism, empiricism, positivism and so on, are but deviations from the two basic positions. There is, furthermore, a difference between idealist dialectic and materialist dialectic, but characteristic of the ideological struggle in the last sixty years is a steadily increasing hostility to and ignorance of dialectics at all, especially among the representatives of positions in between. The enmity against dialectics is so intense that its rejection runs parallel with an unceasing effort to distort it, to minimize it, to limit it and to render it harmless.
The question is: Is this effort (which besides thoroughly stigmatizes Wilsons chapter on dialectics) a chance phenomenon? By no means the social root of it was uncovered by Marx long ago, but it is the tragic fate of the most famous quotations rarely to be understood and properly reflected upon in their full implications. That alone is reason enough to place once more before Wilsons eyes Marxs statement concerning the horror which befalls the bourgeoisie and its apologists at the sight of dialectics:
In its mystified form, the Dialectic became fashion in Germany, because it seemed to transfigure what existed. In its rational form it is to bourgeoisdom and its doctrinaire prolocutors a scandal and abomination, because it includes in the positive comprehension of the existing at the same time also the comprehension of its negation, of its necessary destruction, apprehends every form that has come into existence in the flux of movement, thus also according to its perishable side, lets nothing impose upon it and remains in its essence critical and revolutionary.
It is in vain that Wilson pays side-compliments to Marxism (which are almost “obligatory” for any writer who wants to be “objective”) such as: “There was this much in the claims of Marx and Engels that they had been able to make socialism scientific: they were the first to attempt in an intensive way to study economic motives objectively. It is in vain that he declares we can still use with profit the technique of analyzing political phenomena in social-economic terms and finally says: The Marxist method can get valid results only if applied afresh by men realistic enough to see, and bold enough to think, for themselves. It is in vain that he tells us of the will to establish a society (see above), for all his realistic seeing and bold thinking (for himself!) lands in abstractions and his enmity against the Dialectic has an obvious political purpose. In short, it is a fact that Wilson, too, has a past yet has come to make his peace with society as it is. The pattern of his behavior has been set: Knowing that this society is a very bad one, he does not feel too easy about the whole business and exercises self-vindication both by boldly thinking for himself (he expresses the well-known qualms of the ideologists, which make him appear independent) and in fighting a dogma not very flattering for his social position, his profession and society as a whole. One could bluntly say that Wilson, who leans heavily on psychology when it comes to Marx (he calls him Prometheus and Lucifer) is hostile to dialectics because this method is indeed diabolic and does not stop before any claim to independence, remains critical toward any abstraction from social content, is not impressed by any play with empty words and shallow conceptions and apprehends the perishable side of any position in bourgeois society. With all this Wilson remains a factual witness for dialectics when, not knowing what he is doing, he demonstrates how opposites turn into opposites, form a unit and interpenetrate each other (see preceding section under “Seventh”). This is precisely an illustration of one of the laws of dialectics, which are as inexorable as social laws and from which there is as little escape as from the latter, for they are the laws of the universe and all its phenomena, including the human mind.
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The first who cognized that the mode of thinking of the nice fellow to whom Wilson appeals, namely common sense, had much to do with our social status was Hegel. He insisted that the operations of formal logic which fixed and separated all things from each other, so that A was A, a worker a worker, necessity necessity, contingency contingency, etc., had arisen with social relations which were antagonistic and that they therefore reflected these real antagonisms. In the ancient world the fixation (reification) of social antagonisms had already been driven so far that formal thinking expressed it in the sentence: The slave is a slave, not a human being. The ancient world, however, is distinguished from the modern world by a greater transparency and sincerity in our time one is either hypocritical or unconscious about the fact that the formula The worker is a worker has the same significance as The slave is a slave and reflects a state of social affairs in which the worker is indeed not a human being and is not treated as one but, as Wilson says, is subject to deliberate degradation. Social relations have been so reified and so fixed by common sense that most people are unable to connect a professor with physical work. No, the professor is a professor and is immediately conceived of as a somewhat awkward person with glasses and beard, absentminded, impractical and unfit for physical work, which would prevent him from being a real professor. The professor will usually feel the same way, and since everybody has a business which makes him what he is and sets him apart from others, the capitalist will feel that he is a capitalist, the professional gangster is but a professional gangster, the Marilyn Monroe-doctrine is the Marilyn Monroe-doctrine and so on without end. Finally, the abstract character of our social existence in which all relations undergo reification finds its universal expression in the truly formal logical maxim Business is Business with which all human considerations are silenced and negated.
It is economy (and in it one decisive factor: commodity) which has shaped the whole social process as well as our form of thinking and has transformed man into a mere accessory to his position. If Michelet could have followed the development of capitalist society and commented on its present states he would perhaps have exclaimed:
What an amazing thing! Now there is not only a poor mans soul, a rich mans soul, a tradesmans soul, but also a musicians soul and that of the workers bureaucrat, the luxury woman, the journalist, the physicist, the poet, the ideologist, the baseball player, the hoodlum (whom somebody above likes!), the missionary, the lawyer (whom nobody likes!), the mathematician, the logician, the physician. So many professions, so many souls, each incapable, in the final analysis, of looking at the world in terms other than those of its specialty, each one incapable of a unifying human view. Business is Business and science is science, and science stands in the service of business and has to compete with other business. Consequently: Each specialty within a specialty becomes another business which must assert itself by giving the same object a different color, not unlike the way in which two equally bad toothpastes are sold under different names. What has become of my one science, nay, of one science itself! Physicists and mathematicians very often look with disdain upon philosophy, which appears to be a mess of 17,563 different opinions (the figure given is scientifically exact). Philosophers can pay them back and point to the mess in all other sciences. After the so-called fundamentals-crisis (Grundlagenkrise) in mathematics which broke out at the beginning of the twentieth century (the development of G. Cantors Mengenlehre had led mathematics for the first time to contradictions and split mathematicians into different camps), the student has a choice between teachers who are formalists, logicians and intuitionists. From formalists like Hilbert he will learn that there exists no specific subject-matter in mathematics, for it is only a collection of rules which permit the construction of combinations and transformations. The logicians Russell and Frege will tell him that mathematics is a grammar without subject, object, verb or predicate, a grammar of the copula and, or, etc. (in a word: a tremendous tautology). The intuitionists Brouwer and Weyl will hold Kants view that pure (pure!) intuition a priori forms the subject-matter of mathematics, but the logicians (who have held since Leibniz that mathematics belongs to logic) will see in the axioms and theorems of mathematics laws of ratio. And that is not all. There are scientist-philosophers like Mach who seek the subject-matter of mathematics in psychology; there are the mechanistic empiricists who negate the specificity of mathematics, classify it under physics and hold that its subject-matter is physical time and physical space. Then there is the trouble with non-Euclidian geometry and quantum mechanics in which neo-Kantians (Nelson, Bieberbach), mechanistic empiricists and formalists take different and sometimes comical attitudes. (By the way: A true Swiss-cheese genius in philosophy is Weyl!) And then there are conventionalists like Poincaré for whom mathematical notions and operations are but convenient agreements (principle of thought-economy) and thus evade the problem. Add to these names like Peirce, Peano, Schröder and you have a host of other nuances leading to the state of symbolic logic (also called mathematical, exact or algebraic logic). Edward V. Huntington says that it remained for Russell (1903) to announce the surprising thesis that logic and mathematics are in reality the same science; that pure mathematics requires no material beyond that which is furnished by the necessary presupposition of any logical thought; and that formal logic, if it is to be distinguished as a separate science at all, is simply the elementary, or earlier, part of mathematics. But he continues: It is too early to predict what the final outcome of this new movement will be. . . . A new program has been proposed for mathematics and logic, and the true nature and scope of what is now called symbolic logic cannot be determined until this broader question of the relation between logic and mathematics is decided. It may be that, in the merging of these two sciences, no place will be left for symbolic logic as a distinctive science; it may be that the studies now pursued under that name will be supplied with a more appropriate title [which will be a great step forward!]; or it may be that some new form of symbolic logic will absorb the whole of logic and mathematics. (Huntington with the cooperation of Christine Ladd-Franklin in The Encyclopedia Americana, article Symbolic Logic.)
Lets now have a look at a single item within a science, namely the question of the ether in physics. The discussion about the existence of the ether came into full swing through Einstein who, at the time of the formulation of his special theory of relativity, was the main opponent of the assumption of an ether. He later reversed his view and declared (in Ether and Relativity Theory): The ether of the general theory of relativity is a medium which is itself bare of all mechanic and kinetic qualities, but codetermines the mechanical (and electromagnetical) process (Geschehen). Accordingly we have scientists and philosophers who share Einsteins view of the ether. Among philosophers belonging to this group we find Bergson, Cassirer, Schlick, Petzold and others; among astronomers Eddington and Kopff; among mathematicians Hilbert, Neumann, Russell; among physicists Planck, A. Haas, M. Laue, A. Sommerfeld, Born, Campbell, Chwolsen. Then comes a group which upholds the concept of a ponderomotive, substantial ether, in which such prominent names as W. Voigt, O. Lodge, J.J. Thomson, W. Wien, G. Mie, E. Wiechert, V. Bjerkness, W. Nernst figure. This group, however, is not homogeneous but comprises adherents of an elastic or inelastic, a continuous or discontinuous (corpuscular), a Fresnel-Lorentz (resting) and a Hertz-Stocke (carried along) ether. Then follows a group which simply denies the existence of an ether. In it we find Poincaré, Mach, Ritz (emission theory) and, especially among mathematicians, axiomaticians. (Note: There are in all these groups numerous oscillators, combinations and transitions.) Then follow those scientists who say I dont know (Exner, Ehrenfest, R. Millikan) but who still operate with the ether. Finally follow the confusionists whose protagonist is Weyl.
Thus we need not go into biology (with its vitalistic errantries), anthropology, medicine, psychology, economy and all the rest in order to find in science the same mess of 17,563 different opinions for which philosophy is castigated. What is most amazing: Business is going on in science as in all other spheres of production! 100 different kinds of toilet-paper are produced because people must go into business, must stay in it and expand scientists, lecturers and students produce for the same purpose en masse. Three or four kinds of toilet-paper would represent a rational production and be sufficient for any need three or four scientific papers among each thousand would provide for all that is required in the field. The rest is useless duplication and sham-production which has nothing to do with human or scientific needs, but much with business, competition (also among the universities, which are run as business institutions) and a totally crazy system maintaining itself through tremendous waste. Wherever we look there is the dialectical unity of opposites and transformation of opposites into opposites. Material production progresses and incites scientific work as science progresses and incites material production, yet one is simultaneously as rational and irrational as the other. Material production cannot find its general purpose and science cannot define its own subject-matter both are separated from their human end; both are driven on by blind, external laws; both are governed by false consciousness. Rationality is thus achieved through irrationality and irrationality through rationality, both turning wildly into each other and finally leaving rationality chiefly in scientific methods, laboratories, computers, generators and the means of production, while irrationality appears chiefly in production as a whole, in H-bombs, guided missiles, gases and bacteria for warfare, jet-fighters, insecticides, chemicals and so on down to 100 different kinds of toilet-paper.
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Leaving Michelet and turning back to Hegel, we find that his consciousness was in many respects far ahead of his time. He was the first who denoted the antagonism between social existence and consciousness as alienation, revealing the state of affairs in modern society in which man is overpowered by his own creations and in which the unity of object and subject, society and nature, production and society, etc., is completely lost. Confronted with statements of false consciousness, i.e. with the statement of formal logic the worker is a worker (which expresses and fixes the alienation of man from his essence) he would have retorted:
The statement is true, yet only insofar as it reflects the given state of the worker in the given society. The truth of the statement is a starting point and a necessary element for establishing the fact that it is at the same time false. True and false are usually identical in modern society, which in the given case means: The worker is not a worker but a human being he represents a living unity of opposites (worker and human being), even if this unity is hidden under his present status. To say that the worker is a worker means to say that he is a degraded human being, and to say the latter is to say that he became a degraded human being as a consequence of the forms in which society has developed. A man who works in order to live is the very opposite of a man who lives in order to work the latter is a living antagonism, and that antagonism, like all other antagonisms created by social development and categorized by formal logic (common sense), must be overcome in such a way (there is in truth no other) that man again will work in order to live. He thus retains the content of the antagonism, but on a much higher level, in an un-antagonistic form. This form permits him to dispose freely of what he has achieved in the course of his development from primitive man who worked in order to live to civilized man who lived in order to work, yet for all that did not cease to work in order to live and reconquered his original status as cultural man who possesses now all means necessary for the realization of his human potentialities.
The kernel of Hegels dialectical method is to dissolve all immediately given forms of reality into a process which alone can reveal the true nature of things. It opposes therefore all forms of positivism and their fetishization of facts, which as such do not tell the truth and consequently possess no authority at all. Positivism in any form, in spite of its unceasing claims to being scientific, is simultaneously false consciousness (ideology), affirmation of the existing system, bad conscience and apology. It is the characteristic philosophy of a perverted society and perverts consciousness not because it violates the scientific principle and goes beyond facts verified by observation, but because it does not do so. It is furthermore a philosophy which by its very character refutes itself. The experience of our senses, for example, tells us that the worker is a worker, the capitalist a capitalist, the scientist a scientist and so on. But is the capitalist or, for that matter, anything that we perceive and experience, an observed fact which positivism would be rightfully entitled to celebrate? By no means! The capitalist is a general phenomenon representing infinitely more than any observed capitalist, indeed something more powerful, more essential and decisive than all observed capitalists taken together. All things are a complex of contradictions and universalities, so that first the scientist and the capitalist, too, are degraded human beings who have lost their independence and depend on the work of others while being slaves of the system. But then they are, like the genus man, also mammals, males or females, cell-states asserting the unity of life and death, being and nothing, becoming and vanishing and many more facts. All categories express something universal (even the categories individual, single, fact, particular, etc.) which is more than the bare fact and in truth determines its essence. It is this universal of which positivism speaks whilst believing or pretending to speak only of observed facts. To start with the given is justified and necessary, but to pretend that it is possible to stick only to given facts is a lie immanent in all positivist philosophy and, once more, an affirmation of the status quo.
There is always a difference between appearance (the manner in which things exist) and essence. All science, says Marx, would be superfluous if the form of appearance (Erscheinungsform) and the essence of things were immediately to coincide. In the reality of our social existence, we see the free worker, but the essence of this phenomenon is wage slavery. In reality, we find the observable fact of prices, but their essence is value which can neither be seen nor felt and yet is more real and powerful in its abstract quality than millions of little facts without consequence. In reality, we encounter supply and demand, yet their essence is commodity production. In reality, there exist the different forms in which profit appears (interest on money-capital, rent, commercial profit, entrepreneur profit, etc.), but their essence is surplus value. Finally, we speak of democracy, civilization, technical progress, whilst their essence is dictatorship of capital, bourgeois rule, social barbarism and regression. Alas, the world does not bow to positivism, the essence of things is not expressible in numbers, and symbolic logic is not the logic of life. Where mathematics experiences a crisis when it meets contradictions, dialectics postulates that such contradictions are the very soul and moving force of the whole universe it hunts them (sit venia verbo!) and follows their unfolding in society in order to show that they can be freed from their antagonistic form.
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1. Noteworthy is also the neo-barbarism recently defeated on the battlefields where, notwithstanding official propaganda around the anti-fascist war, this neo-barbarism, with Russia at the spear-head, emerged rather as the victor.
2. At this point only one example of how Marx is distorted by interested scientists. Karl Mannheim, representative of Wissenssoziologie, writes in his Ideology and Utopia: The important thing in the notion Ideology is thus in my opinion the discovery that political thinking is bound [!] to social existence. That is the most essential meaning of the much quoted thesis: It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness. The reader may think this is fair, yet one has only to compare Mannheims bound to social existence with Marxs social existence that determines consciousness (and not only political thinking) in order to discover the trick: Since Marxism too is bound to social existence (and what is not?), it too is ideology. And that is indeed what Mannheim wants to prove.
3. Re. Horkheimers human nature one could exclaim: There it is! so many material situations, so many human natures!
4. This is a good illustration of how something becomes sometimes, or rather very frequently, unpopular. It is because Academicians and a host of other persons, tacitly assuming that their own interests must be identical with those of all, give themselves much pain to make it appear not popular.
5. All quotations are taken from Wilsons book: To the Finland Station (Anchor Books, 1953).
6. Wilson even goes so far as to make his own contribution to the legend of the USA. Stating the undeniable fact that the poor and illiterate people of a modern industrial society tend to exhibit bourgeois ambitions and tastes when they first master advanced techniques and improve their standards of living, he goes on to say: We have seen it in the United States, where we have produced what is really the earliest example of that new kind of bourgeoisie that they have been getting in Germany and Russia. Well, whatever that means, it is the entrance to the legend: But ours [!] is a more highly developed, that is, a more democratic, version; and when I say that it is more democratic, I am using the word not in any loose sense, but in the definite sense that, with us [!], individual responsibility, the ability to make decisions, is a good deal more evenly distributed than it is in these other countries. That sort of rubbish is simply to be dismissed with the remark that it is the classical product of American individual responsibility, the ability to make decisions, realistic enough seeing and bold enough thinking combined.
7. Two beautiful illustrations of the same point in modern times from Horkheimers Eclipse of Reason. First: Charles OConnor, a celebrated lawyer of the period before the Civil War, once nominated for the presidency by a faction of the Democratic party, argued (after outlining the blessings of compulsory servitude): I insist that negro slavery is not unjust: it is just, wise, and beneficent. . . . I insist that negro slavery . . . is ordained by nature [!]. . . . Yielding to the clear decree of nature, and the dictates of philosophy, we must pronounce that institution just, benign, lawful and proper. Second: Another spokesman for slavery, Fitzhugh, author of Sociology for the South, seems to remember that once philosophy stood for concrete ideas and principles and therefore attacks it in the name of common sense. . . .: Men of sound judgments usually give wrong reasons for their opinions because they are not abstractionists. . . . Philosophy beats them all hollow in argument, yet instinct and common sense are right and philosophy is wrong. Philosophy is always wrong and instinct and common sense always right, because philosophy is unobservant and reasons from narrow and insufficient premises. If common sense and instinct (Wilsons pets) have social antagonisms fixed as a clear decree of nature, all other things will be fixed in the same way. Thus declared Edmund Burke, whom Marx chastised in Capital: The laws of commerce are the laws of Nature, and therefore the laws of God. Wilson could learn from such examples that his common sense, too, is a very dialectical creature sound philosophy and judgment for the defender of slavery, a fool and scoundrel for those who oppose it.
8. The ether-question is here followed up only to 1930, at the latest.
End of Part 1 of Josef Webers The Problem of Social Consciousness in Our Time.”