Written by ‘Classical Liberal’
[You can read Part One of this article here.]
The Frankfurt School was an important development within Marxism because it no longer really believed in the future. It only believed in destroying capitalism and bourgeois democracy. And, if you look at today’s campuses, that kind of nihilism is the dominant theme. The Frankfurt School was careful never to define what critical theory was for, only what it was against. Critical theory actually attempted to politicise logic itself. Horkheimer wrote that logic is not independent of content. This means that an argument is deemed logical if it helps to destroy Western civilisation, but illogical if it supports it. Such twisted thought lies at the heart of the PC now inculcated in American university campuses.
How did the work of a small group of German Marxist intellectuals come to America? In 1933, when the Nazis came to power in Germany, the Institute fled to New York City, where it was re-established with help from the President of Colombia University. Once in America, the Frankfurt School gradually shifted the focus of its work from destroying German society and culture to attacking the society and culture of its new place of refuge.
Not only did the Frankfurt School apply critical theory to American society, they added some new elements. One was the Institute’s so-called ‘Studies in Prejudice’, which culminated in 1950 with Adorno’s immensely influential book, The Authoritarian Personality. In it, Adorno argued that the American people possessed many fascist traits. And that anyone who supported traditional American culture was psychologically unbalanced. It is no accident that today the PC Brigade is quick to label their opponents fascists; and suggest that they need psychological treatment in the form of sensitivity training.
The Frankfurt School even integrated PC’s most fashionable cause – environmentalism – into their cultural Marxism, by way of Horkheimer and Adorno’s book Dialectic of Enlightenment. They were very interested in what was called the ‘domination of nature’. Dialectic of Enlightenment moved the emphasis away from economic domination to the human species’ domination of the natural world. They felt that there should be a more nurturing and balanced relationship between humankind and the natural world.
After the Second World War, Horkheimer and Adorno returned to Germany, where the Institute was re-established at the University of Frankfurt. But not all of the old members of the Institute returned. Fatefully, Marcuse remained in America, eventually becoming a professor at Brandeis University and then the University of California at San Diego. Marcuse laboured to finish the intellectual work begun by Horkheimer, Adorno and Fromm in the 1930s.
Marxism is a bankrupt creed and was clearly bankrupt by the 1950s, possibly earlier. People understood that it didn’t work. The working-class was not going to rise in revolt. Basically, people were happy with capitalism, because it spread more money to more people than any other system in history. So, the Frankfurt School tried to find other sources of revolutionary energy. It was Marcuse who finally answered the question posed by Horkheimer in the early 1930s, who could substitute for the working-class as an agent of revolution?
Marcuse argued that the new revolutionary constituency would come from students, blacks and other ethnic minority groups, gays, women, and other oppressed groups, if they could be persuaded to join together. And Marcuse had a fluid Marxism that fit into this. This confirms the role of the Frankfurt School in creating the victim groups that constitute the PC coalition.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Marcuse merged Marx and Freud’s work in aesthetics and cultural tendencies to form what he called ‘negation’, a radical critique of capitalist modernity and a model of materialist dialectical thinking, which could be used to call in to question the hegemony of capitalist bourgeois culture. And, Marcuse became the so-called ‘father of the new left’.
One element was the idea of sexual repression. People always think up complicated theories to justify doing what they want to do! People wanted to have more relaxed attitudes to sex in the 1960s, and Marcuse gave them the intellectual justification for a freer attitude to sex in his book Eros and Civilisation. It attempted to rub Freud against the grain and come out with a radically utopian reading of psychoanalysis, which, combined with Norman O. Brown’s Life Against Death, had a great impact on the counter-culture and on emphasising the libidinal element. Eros and Civilisation condemned all restrictions on sexual behaviour, calling instead for ‘polymorphous perversity’. Marcuse argues that during its early developmental stages, the human psyche has a potential for sexual expression that has not yet been organised into the restricted notions of heterosexual sexuality. And these tendencies can be reinvigorated. Polymorphous perversity helped open the door to aspects of PC, such as gay liberation. He argued that a good human society should be based on polymorphous perversity and narcissism which, by integrating non-procreative eros, would produce great happiness.
Marcuse is also the source of one of PC’s most notable characteristics, its total intolerance for any viewpoint but its own. Marcuse argued that a free American society was actually a deception, and that what is presented as tolerance is actually repressive. Marcuse argued for something he called ‘liberating tolerance’, by which he meant tolerance for any ideas from the left and intolerance for ideas and movements from the right. It’s a recipe for repression.
This is the totalitarian aspect of Marcuse. Perhaps his most significant essay was one on ‘Repressive Tolerance’, written in the late 1960s, which argued that the tolerance of different beliefs produced no revolutionary action at all, because every belief seemed to be equal. This led ultimately to the problems of PC in the 1980s – licensing people on the left to deny free speech to those they disagree with. In short, if you have a strong notion of who is PC, you can then be intolerant to those who aren’t!
Through these works, Marcuse became the main agent of transmission of the Frankfurt School’s ideas. And through Marcuse, the new left found the rest of the Frankfurt School, and thus rediscovered a source of non-traditional, non-communist Marxism, which they found as an inspiration to the student movement in the 1960s.
The consequences of the Frankfurt School’s work now engulf us all. Indeed, the institution of the idea of radical multiculturalism in the academy, and what we might call its ‘enforcement wing’, namely the ideology of PC, testifies to the vitality of the ideas of the Frankfurt School.