From Soixante-Huit to Soixante-Neuf

Glen Newey

  • Collected Papers: Technology, War and Fascism by Herbert Marcuse, edited by Douglas Kellner
    Routledge, 278 pp, £25.00, March 1998, ISBN 0 415 13780 2
  • The Contract of Mutual Indifference: Political Philosophy after the Holocaust by Norman Geras
    Verso, 181 pp, £15.00, June 1998, ISBN 1 85984 868 0

‘Statecraft’ is a word not much heard nowadays. The idea that politics could be a craft or techne, familiar to readers of Plato and Machiavelli, is well-nigh beyond superannuation. But even though there’s little bite left in the old dog, it can still bark at a full moon. Its main currency now is in conspiracy theory – or, with the recursive tic which marks this style of political analysis, conspiracy theory theory. For a peerless example, see Lyndon LaRouche Jr on Daniel Pipes’s Conspiracy: How the Paranoid Style Flourishes and Where It Comes from in Executive Intelligence Review:

it is fair to say that the phenomenon within manifest human mental behaviour which corresponds to the witnessed act of defecation by the hippopotamus, is an incoherent stream of outpouring of utterly irrational rage. I shall not repeat here the uncouth popular idiom which says as much ... [Richard] Hofstadter himself acquired the dogma from such ‘Frankfurt School’ followers of avowed arch-conspirator Georg Lukacs and the sometime OSS and CIA agent, sometime Communist, and active conspirator Herbert Marcuse, who used to begin his lectures with the singsong ‘There are no conspiracies in history.’ The ‘authoritarian personality’ dogma of such Frankfurt School existentialists as Theodor Adorno and Hannah Arendt, is derived from the same axiomatic assumptions as Marcuse’s and Hofstadter’s ban on ‘conspiracy theories’. Since the name of Marcuse connotes the cases of Karl Korsch, the Communist Party’s Angela Davis, and the origins of the Weathermen, LSD and terrorism band, the reference to Hofstadter is liberally preferred today.

Enough material there for a whole case-history. Notwithstanding the title of Paul Alexander Juutilainen’s recent film docubiog about Marcuse, Herbert the Hippopotamus, the slack-sphinctered pachyderm in LaRouche’s first sentence refers not to Marcuse, late consort of Korsch, Davis and the Weathermen, nor even to Lyndon Jr’s own unstanchable logorrhoea, but to Pipes’s harping on US politics’ ‘paranoid style’, the subject of a well-known essay by Richard Hofstadter a generation ago. LaRouche’s brushwork splashes from the faux-judicious (‘I shall not repeat here the uncouth popular idiom’) via the gimcrack ‘Third Wave’ soothsayer Alvin Toffler, to the dumping-grounds of the Zambezi. Thence it works its way round to Herbert Marcuse and his fellow Frankfurters, of whom Hannah Arendt wasn’t one, and very few of whom, furthermore, were even briefly laid low by the contemporary grand mal of Existentialism (in a review written with Adorno’s blessing, though not collected in Technology, War and Fascism, Marcuse panned Being and Nothingness for elevating the parochial condition of absurdity into a once-for-all ontology). LaRouche impales Pipes himself on the barb that ‘conspiracism’ instances the very phenomenon it claims to debunk. It would be uncharitable to ignore the contribution made to LaRouche’s diatribe by honest psychosis. But a handy spin-off from it and other essays in conspiracism is the smoke-screening of such (as it were) bona fide complots as arms for hostages, the secret bombing of Cambodia, or the entente between IT&T, George Bush’s CIA and the Chilean military, which sprang that latter-day Demosthenes Augusto Pinochet Ugarte into office.

As LaRouche rightly notes, Marcuse had done the state some service, and he knew it. In the circumstances it is hardly surprising that his extended career in US intelligence, including a sojourn during the early Forties at the CIA-prototype Office of Strategic Services before he moved over to the State Department, doesn’t nudge LaRouche towards the inference that Sixties Santa Monica, far from being a sunset home for washed up radicals, offered a forward base for CIA infiltration of the counter-culture (the charge duly crops up, though, in an anonymous article in Progressive Labor from February 1969, entitled ‘Marcuse: Cop-out or Cop?’).

Though Marcuse pointed out in a later pow-wow with Habermas that, in common with Franz Neumann, H. Stuart Hughes and Walter Langer, he was but an understrapper in the war against German Fascism, he stayed on through the A-bomb tests on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the flash-freeze phase of the Cold War and into the Korean War. Technology, War and Fascism assembles a few Marcusan parerga from these years of service. Douglas Kellner has edited some Nachlass jottings from the Forties, and promises that, at annual intervals, further collections from the archives will be published, which will show the ‘persisting importance of Marcuse’s thought as we prepare’, so it seems, ‘for the next millennium’. I’m preparing, Douglas, I’m preparing. Some of the paper-trail included here is mainly of biographical interest, such as Marcuse’s brisk exchange of letters after the war with Heidegger, whose replies are also reproduced. In a letter of 20 January 1948, the glutinous old Nazi, whose exercises in blame-dodging show up far more grossly than in the Ott or Safranski biographies, writes that Marcuse’s wholly uncontroversial remarks about ‘a regime that has killed millions of Jews’ level ‘charges of dubious validity’. Ready to hand also is that trusty apologist’s standby, the ‘moral equivalence’ of the postbellum Soviet treatment of Germans in the eastern territories, voiced again recently in James Bacque’s Crimes and Mercies. How high the seas of humbug swell.

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