Theism and Atheism

[note:] Any misleading repetitions in the brief introrduction here is not intentional, but does seem unavoidable.

       Critical Theory, or as its leader and driving force, Max Horkheimer, later allowed, the Frankfurt School was and still is one of the leading philosophical forces in our world.  One would not find it in any particular Library of Congress section as its approach is interdisciplinary.  In fact, so much so that may be one of the reason that Max Horkheimer finally relented and allowed the term “Frankfurt School” to be used as a name for it.  Additionally, the term “Critical Theory” greatly confuses the uninitiated as the term has been sloppily used to refer to a type of literary criticism and obliquely to a form of logical positivism, an approach rife with paradigm envy and a prime example of what the Frankfurt School would call “Instrumental Reason,” two branches of which are the now defunct functionalism of Talcott Parsons and the Behaviorism of B. F. Skinner.  Functionalism was little more than a modernized version of the philosophy which so irriated Voltaire that he was inspired to write Candide, and behaviorism only still functions because so many physiologists were indoctrinated with it that they know of no other approach.  Chomsky and Albert Ellis, each in their own way, destroyed Behaviorism, and more dialectical forms of approach soon deposed functionalism (and an immediate halt to government support to those in the field of Sociology).

The approach is interdisciplinary and a mixture of true Marxian politics, thus leftist approaches to be more precise in politics and right-wing approaches to the humanities, extolling the uplifting approaches of Bach, Beethoven, and Renaissance art in general to more popular forms of noise that lead to popular trials conducted on television and the like.

          In this essay, Max Horheimer is exploring Theism and Atheism with insights that are so subtle and honest that they are bound to be unsettling to proponents of both sides.  It takes a great deal of careful and reflective thought simply to understand what the main point is.  Essentially, we are not in an age of true theism and have not been since Constantine adopted the Catholic Church as his official religion and used to to maintain his grip on power.  Up until that point, Christian values did live and were always outside of the established power structure and no amount of torture and the like could overcome it.  So, it was simply adopted as part of the state.  This is not to praise atheism as the example of Nazi Germany with the State or Fatherland as God and Hitler as his messiah or the State of Ukraine today, the birthplace of the indo-european family of languages and purity of body and soul with Yulia as St. Joan as martyr in chief.  The Bishops may hang around, but they know their place.  I now abandon any more attempts to clarify.  This is a part of Horkheimer’s book in Instrumental Reason titled Theism and Atheism, not versus one another, most importantly.

Behaviorism only still functions because so many physiologists were indoctrinated with it that they know of no other approach.  Chomsky and Albert Ellis, each in their own way, destroyed Behaviorism, and more dialectical forms of approach soon deposed functionalism (and an immediate halt to government support to those in the field of Sociology).

The approach is interdisciplinary and a mixture of true Marxian politics, thus leftist approaches to be more precise in politics and right-wing approaches to the humanities, extolling the uplifting approaches of Bach, Beethoven, and Renaissance art in general to more popular forms of noise that lead to popular trials conducted on television and the like.

In this essay, Max Horheimer is exploring Theism and Atheism with insights that are so subtle and honest that they are bound to be unsettling to proponents of both sides.  It takes a great deal of careful and reflective thought simply to understand what the main point is.  Essentially, we are not in an age of true theism and have not been since Constantine adopted the Catholic Church as his official religion and used to to maintain his grip on power.  Up until that point, Christian values did live and were always outside of the established power structure and no amount of torture and the like could overcome it.  So, it was simply adopted as part of the state.  This is not to praise atheism as the example of Nazi Germany with the State or Fatherland as God and Hitler as his messiah or the State of Ukraine today, the birthplace of the indo-european family of languages and purity of body and soul with Yulia as St. Joan as martyr in chief.  The Bishops may hang around, but they know their place.  I now abandon any more attempts to clarify.  This is a part of Horkheimer’s book in Instrumental Reason titled Theism and Atheism, not versus one another, most importantly.

Max Horkheimer 1963

Theism and Atheism

Leader of the Frankfurt School — Horkheimer

Leader of the Frankfurt School -- Horkheimer

The Eclipse of Reason -- A Masterpiece
The Eclipse of Reason — A Masterpiece

Source: Critique of Instrumental Reason. Max Horkheimer. Published by Continuum 1974;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden;
Proofed: and corrected by Chris 2009.


Crimes committed in the name of God are a recurrent theme in the history of Christian Europe. The ancients practiced torture and murder in war, on slaves (who were supplied by the wars) and as a form of entertainment: the circenses. But in spiritual matters the emperors were relatively tolerant. If the Christians were singled out as scapegoats, it was because they did not yet at that time place the state above all else and still recognized something higher than the empire. But since Constantine in his unscrupulous way singled out Christianity from among the existing religions to fill in the cracks in his crumbling empire and elevated it to the state religion, Europe has stood under the sign of that doctrine and betrayed it again and again. If the words of the founder, his recorded will, his precepts had been put in practice instead of being interpreted by the scholars, neither the unified Christians of the middle ages nor the disunited Christians of the modern period would have had their splendid careers. Whatever teachings could have been taken over from the Old Testament, glory in battle was no part of it. Under the heathen emperors, the commandment to render unto Caesar what was Caesar’s could bring Christians into conflict with the state and, when they rightly refused to observe it, to the cross. But the Christian emperors would have undertaken no wars of conquest, they would have named no tribunals to punish those who had offended against them. The victorious course of Christianity since Nicaea and especially since Augustine, which was not unlike the expansion of Buddhism since the reign of Asoka, sealed its pact with that worldly wisdom which it had originally professed to renounce. Its readiness for fanaticism, without which its ascendancy would have been unstable, testified to a secret and indomitable hatred for that attitude of mind for which its founder had earlier been put to death.

Initially, when the Christians themselves were the persecuted, the divinity appeared to them as a guarantor of justice. There was to be no more suppression in the world beyond, and the last would be the first; it was for the sake of heaven and not because of hell, out of hope and not for fear that the martyrs and their disciples professed their faith. Suppression, even death under torture, was but a transition into eternal blessedness; apparently inescapable conditions were but a moment of false defeats or triumph. All were the likeness of the divinity, even the lowest, and especially the lowest. The man at the stake, on the gallows, on the cross was the symbol of Christianity. It was not the ruling order of the time which determined who were to be the first; the prison and the gas chamber were at least no further from the followers of the divine delinquent than headquarters. If the barbarian masters, the men of quick decision, the generals and their confidants were included in the divine love, it was because of their poor souls. The pact concerned first of all those who were poor in spirit, those whose lives were not primarily oriented toward riches, power, affairs of state, or even towards prestige. In the first centuries of the Christian era, when the self-confidence of the senate and the people was shaken by the aspirations of the tribes outside and the resulting growth of barbarism inside, the gospel of a goal beyond this world gave a new meaning to the lives of the masses, enslaved and unruly under their masters. If it was possible for the primitive Christians to follow the gospel without unconscious resistance, it was because they knew nothing except that heaven was open to them. But the closer their doctrine came to gaining absolute power, the more it had to conform to the requirements of self-preservation under existing conditions, to come to terms with the law of this world — though its main idea had been the relativity of this law — and to conclude the pact it has kept ever since. Darkness gained in importance. As evil became increasingly necessary for it to carry out its plans for this world, hell became increasingly important to it in its thinking of the world beyond.

Theology has always tried to reconcile the demands of the Gospels and of power. In view of the clear utterances of the founder, enormous ingenuity was required. Theology drew its strength from the fact that whatever is to be permanent on earth must conform to the laws of nature: the right of the stronger. Its indispensable task was to reconcile Christianity and power, to give a satisfactory self-awareness to both high and low with which they could do their work in a corrupt world. Like the founder, who paid the price for refusing to show any concern for his own life and was murdered for it, and like all who really followed him and shared his fate or at least were left to perish helplessly, his later followers would have perished like fools if they had not concluded a pact or at least found a modus vivendi with the blood-thirsty Merovingians and Carolingians, with the demagogues of the crusades and with the holy inquisition. Civilization with its tall cathedrals, the madonnas of Raphael and even the poetry of Baudelaire owes its existence to the terror once perpetrated by such tyrants and their accomplices. There is blood sticking to all good things, as Nietzsche remarked, whose sensitivity was unsurpassed even by a saint. If the great had taken the conflict of Christianity and Christendom as seriously as Kierkegaard did in the end, there would exist no monument of Christian culture. Without the artful patchwork of scholastic theology, neither the works of pro-Christian nor of anti-Christian philosophy would have come into being, nor the struggle for human rights, which found in John XXIII a late high-minded spokesman, nor the remote village with its old church, which was at first allowed to remain intact by the traffic, the sign of a more advanced civilization, in its barbaric and at the same time benevolent manner. Building on the foundation of enlightenment and renewal which had been laid by church fathers, Pelagians, and gnostics against the superstitions of a decaying antiquity, the Scholastics developed the view of the world on which the freemen of the middle ages organized their government and established their cities. The combination of acuteness and precision, knowledge and imagination to be found in the Summas rivals the interpretations of the Torah which have been admired and disparaged as products of the Talmudic spirit. Scholasticism signifies the great age of theology. But while its comprehensive system lent ideological support to a relatively static society, it could not in the end prevent the dissolution of Christian unity.

Scholasticism lived on its inheritance from classical philosophy. Eternal ideals, which are supposed to reveal themselves to the mind like numbers, formed according to it the intellectual structure of reality. Scholastic wisdom was accepted by all believers as an interpretation of revelation, as knowledge of the world, of the temporal and eternal, of past and future. The lord and the saints were enthroned on the highest plane. Above the earth dwelt the angels and the blessed. Then came spiritual and secular dignitaries, lords, freemen and serfs. The ladder of nature stretched into the darkness of non-living things, and at the bottom was the place of the damned. Men had a picture of the universe in which divine and natural knowledge, divine and natural laws were one. In spite of predestination and grace, a man’s future in other regions was largely determined by his conduct on earth which had implications beyond the moment. Each man’s life had a meaning, not just the lives of the prominent. The political divisions led to the disappearance of the belief in eternal concepts, in the harmony of natural and supernatural knowledge, and in the unity of theory and practice which the Scholastics had in common with the Marxists, though the former glorified the continuation of existing conditions and the latter their transformation. In the end the medieval order was set in motion not only by wars, but as a result of the widening of the world, through economic activity, the misery of the masses, inflation, the beginnings of modern science and the backwardness of the religious professions. The educated reacted with scepticism and humanism, and the threatened powers with a religious renewal. The reformers, who had been preceded by the nominalists, the followers of Cusa and by others, renounced the system as a way of rationalizing the union of Christianity and worldliness. The opposition was all too apparent. They acknowledged it and made it the central part of their teaching. The Protestant way of reconciling the commandments of Christ with those human activities that appealed to them was to declare any reconciliation to be impossible. Nothing could be said, either about the will of God or about the right order of things, which would set up a general connection between the two. Knowledge and science were concerned with transitory things in a transitory world. Luther hated Scholasticism, theories of eternal relations, systematic philosophy, “the whore Reason.” The view that men could justify their private or collective lives in theological terms and determine whether they were in harmony with the divine seemed to him sheer pride and superstition. Even though he judged Christians to be high above other men, especially Jews and Turks, his final judgment about right action remained suspended. In the end nobody knew what good works were — the church as little as a secular board of censors. Luther’s verdict against theological speculation, which anticipated Kant’s limitation of metaphysical speculation, left reason free to roam this vale of tears — in empirical research, in commerce, and especially in secular government. The interest of the individual and the state became the criterion of action in this world. Whether the troops waded in the blood of peasants who had risen from hunger, or whether a man sacrificed himself out of political blindness to share his last bread with them, one action was as “Christian” as the other, provided each agent sincerely believed that he was following the Word. The Reformation introduced the era of civil liberty. Hate and treachery, the “scab of time,” had its origin in the inscrutable counsels of God, and would remain till the end of pre-history, till “all enemies of the Word have become like dung in the street.” The idealist philosophers in Germany, who outdid the classics of liberalism in England in their glorification of progress, came to regard the ruthless competition between individuals and nations as the unfolding of the absolute spirit. God’s ways are peculiar. His Word stands: We must love our enemies. But whether this means burning the heretic and the witch, sending children to work before they can read, making bombs and blessing them, or whether it means the opposite, each believer has to decide for himself without even suspecting what the true will of God might be. A guiding light, though a deceptive one, is provided by the interest of the fatherland, of which there is little mention in the Gospels. In the last few centuries, an incomparably greater number of believers have staked their lives for their country than for the forbidden love of its enemies. The idealists from Fichte to Hegel have also taken an active part in this development. In Europe, faith in God has now become faith in one’s own people. The motto, “Right or wrong, my country,” together with the tolerance of other religions with similar views, takes us back into that ancient world from which the primitive Christians had turned away. Specific faith in God is growing dim.

Theology was able to adapt itself to the triumphs of the new science and technology in the last few centuries. In those European countries which had resisted the Reformation, especially in France and Italy, the intellectual and political struggles produced a form of life in which the consciousness of civil liberty was allowed to flourish while Christianity in its traditional form was able to retain a place in connection with it. There the social forces which had found expression in the Enlightenment were able to assert themselves in political reality, whereas in the German states they were confined to the subjective realm, to the benefit of romantic poetry, great music and idealist philosophy. Here the way to bliss led again through faith, through the idea. Similarly religion, whether Catholic or Protestant, survived the nineteenth century as an element of bourgeois life, even though it changed its role. Much of the credit for its survival belonged to the militant atheists. Even when the great atheists did not themselves suffer martyrdom for their beliefs like Bruno and Vanini, it was so obvious that the antithesis — their radical or not so radical departure — was inspired by the thesis — the spirit of the Gospels — that they were far more capable of deepening the interest in religion than of extinguishing it. Voltaire, the foremost among them, was still generous as to let theism pass, and his work remained as foreign to the general consciousness as Goethe’s, which resembled his. The popular figure of atheism, metaphysical materialism, was too barren to become a serious threat to Christianity as long as it lacked a dialectical and idealistic — or in reality, a utopian and messianic — theory of history. As long as government was not yet in control of everything, from the co-operation of political and economic forces in commerce and industry to the conduct of one’s private life — the struggle with solitude which is called “spare time” — preaching the love of God and trust in His guidance continued to be the better way. The Absolute of the theologians was incomparably more effective in providing consolation, incentive and admonition than any concept which the philosophical materialists had to offer. True, their critique of theism sounded plausible enough. “It has always been in the womb of ignorance, fear and misery that men have formed their first conceptions of the divinity,” writes Holbach in his System of Nature, the bible of eighteenth-century materialism. This shows that those teachings “were either doubtful or false and in any case deplorable. In fact, whatever part of the globe we look at, whether the icy regions of the North, the torrid ones of the South, or the most moderate zones, we find that people everywhere have trembled and, as a result of their fears and their misery, either created their own national gods or adored those brought to them from elsewhere. It is ignorance and fear which have created the gods; conceit, passion and deceit which have adorned and disfigured them; it is weakness which adores them, credulity which nourishes them, and tyranny which supports them in order to profit from the delusions of men.” So much for the materialist’s account of the origin of religion. In place of the rejected divinity they offer Nature. “Nature,” continues Holbach at a later place, “tells the pervert to blush at his vices, at his shameful inclinations, his misdeeds; she shows him that his most secret disorders will necessarily affect his happiness…. Nature tells the civilized man to love the country in which he was born, to serve it faithfully, to enter with it into a community of interests against all those who might try to harm it.” In the name of Nature the enlightened Holbach calls for the defense of one’s country not only against external enemies but against internal tyrants. But what does he mean by “Nature”? There is nothing outside her; she is one and all at once. Man shall discover her laws, admire her inexhaustible energy, use his discoveries for his own happiness, and resign himself to his ignorance of her last, her ultimate causes which are impenetrable. With his whole being man belongs to her. The abstract entity which, according to such materialists, forms the basis of right conduct is as indeterminate as the Deus absconditus of the Protestants, and the promise of happiness in this world is as problematical as bliss in the next, which is extremely uncertain. The naturalistic doctrine agrees with the theological doctrine it opposes in identifying what is most permanent and powerful with what is most exalted and worthy of love — as if this were a matter of course. In their fear of death men turn to the One, eternal and immortal — which is their own wishful thinking hypostatized — as if in obedience to a superior power. ,The ancient materialists were still inclined to stop with a plurality of atoms; the worshippers of Nature, like the pantheists, ontologists and theologians, will hear of nothing less than the One. But Nature does not say anything, as little as Being, which has been tried recently and which is supposed to deliver its oracles through the mouths of professors. The place of God is taken in each case by an impersonal concept. The Scholastics had already depersonalized the humanity and individuality of the murdered Jesus by multiplying them as it were into the Oneness of God. The ipsum esse, the true identity of the divinity, his humanity could hardly be distinguished any longer from the radiant Being of the neo-Platonists, because of the ceaseless interpretation of being and being-in-the-world — the unity of essence and existence — in which all differences disappeared. When they build a system, theists and atheists alike posit an entity at the top. The dogma of a Nature which can speak and command — or at least serve as a principle for deducing moral truths — was an inadequate attempt to go along with science without giving up the age-old longing for an eternal guideline. But nature could only teach self-preservation and the right of the stronger, not for example liberty and justice. The liberal bourgeois order was always forced to pursue non-rational interests. Traditional institutionalized religion was still in a far better position to arouse these interests than atheism of whatever kind. The French materialists of the eighteenth century and especially the so-called “free-thinkers” and the pale monists of the nineteenth century were only a passing threat to Christianity.

The upheavals which began with the present century — the era of world wars, of nations awakening all over the globe, of stupendous population growth — can only be compared with the decline of antiquity or the middle ages. Christianity and theism in general are far more seriously called in question than in the Siècle des Lumières. In the nineteenth century, individual advancement depended in relatively wide areas on general education, initiative, responsibility and foresight. In a changing economy, the decisive qualities are now versatility, ability to react precisely to stimuli, specialized skill, reliability. We are witnessing a rapid decline in the importance of highly differentiated and independently acquired attitudes, along with a decline in the role of those qualities and of the family which produced them. But qualities which lose their social utility become obstacles, the marks of the provincial, of backwardness. These changes in the psychological structure are part of a comprehensive process in which political and religious institutions are also involved. Democracy is being undermined, at least as Locke and Rousseau conceived it and as it was still functioning under the French Third Republic and even in imperial Germany: as a conflict between the different commercial, industrial and agrarian interests of independent groups. (The relationship between workers and employers formed as it were a surd which could not be expressed in parliament.) There has been a radical change in the character of the deputies, in their relationship to their party, in their ability to form their own independent judgments on the questions under debate. When faced with important matters of state, especially in foreign policy and even more so in case of conflict, the clumsy democratic apparatus calls for its own transformation into a fast and efficient instrument operated by strong men. Theology had to adapt not only to structural changes in the social mechanism and to the related transformation of the family and the individual; a powerful enemy, called “communism” by friend and foe alike, sprang up at the same time. This threat, which concerns not only religion but civilization as such, comes not so much from the theory of Marx and Engels which is itself among the greatest achievements of civilization. Dialectical materialism was, moreover, quickly transformed into a mere ideology, like the bourgeois Enlightenment after its victory in the French Revolution and like theistic religions wherever they come to power. Much more important is a social mechanism which is also operative in other countries where it is about to integrate religion completely with the state, and which ensures that the only serious interest transcending the horizon of individual self-preservation is collective power, the rule of one’s own nation or supra-national block. National socialism was a case in point. It had no longer any need of Christianity and felt it as a threat in spite of mutual concessions. Anybody, whether theist or atheist, who did not belong without reservations was an enemy of the national atheism. Even today the Third Reich — the savage collective will to power — tends everywhere to suppress the thought of another Reich and to achieve thereby what the civitas terrena — in spite of the gruesome deeds it committed in the name of the civitas Dei throughout history — was unable to accomplish earlier because of its backward technology: a world without shelter.

The changes with which Catholics and Protestants alike are trying to meet the threat in the developed countries are no less far-reaching than the most fundamental changes in the history of theology. Rome these days (May 1963) is both progressive and conservative. The new spirit seeks to improve the lot of the workers, to give them a share of the wealth in free countries and to liberate them from brutal suppression under backward dictatorships. Social movements are judged without hatred even when they derive from an anti-religious doctrine. Who could deny, we are asked in Pacem in terris, the papal encyclical, “that something good and worthy of recognition is to be found in such movements, as long as they conform to the law and order of reason and take into account the just demands of the human person?” The inevitability of social change is being acknowledged and affirmed. But tolerance of social progress is combined, by internal necessity, with the endeavor to salvage as many middle-class virtues as possible and to build them into the new order even at the risk of making quick adaptation to existing conditions impossible. It is by remaining within the tradition while giving it a new sense that the Church is trying to take an active part in shaping society. Its efforts to keep up with the times appear modest when compared with the conclusions that Protestant theologians have already drawn. The latter have eliminated the possibility of any conflict not only with science — which science in its positivistic form has been avoiding in any case — but even with all moral principles, no matter what their content may be. Further, the assertion that God really exists as a person or even as a trinity — not to mention the other world — is true only in a mythical sense. According to a popular work, Honest to God, by John Robinson, an Anglican bishop, which is now being debated in several countries, the whole conception of a God who “visited” the earth in the person of His Son is as mythical as the prince in the fairy tale. The “supernatural scheme” which includes for example the Christmas story and corresponding legends can, we are told, survive and take its place as a myth “quite legitimately.” The only reason why it ought to survive is that it points to the spiritual meaning of our lives. Robinson is only putting into simpler words the thoughts of Paul Tillich and other philosophical theologians: the stories of the Bible are symbolic. When the New Testament tells us that God was in Christ and that the Word was God, this only means according to Robinson that God is the ultimate “depth” of our being, the unconditioned within the conditioned. The so-called “transcendent” — God, love, or whatever name we might give it — is not “outside” but is to be found in, with and below the Thou of all finite relationships as their ultimate depth, their ground, their meaning. But if we must talk of ultimate, then Schopenhauer was closer to the truth when he denounced it in each creature as the instinct for self-preservation, the will to be and to be well. However well-intentioned, the bishop’s words turn out to be mere verbiage, unctuous words which to German ears are nothing but well-worn cliches. And even though theism is to be sacrificed for an anti-dogmatic attitude, the rejected view is being presupposed in a perfectly naive way. Truth — eternal truth outlasting human error — cannot as such be separated from theism. The only alternative is positivism, with which the latest theology is in accord irrespective of contradictions. On the positivist view, truth consists in calculations that work, thoughts are instruments, and consciousness becomes superfluous to the extent that purposive behavior, which was mediated by it, merges into the collective whole. Without God one will try in vain to preserve absolute meaning. No matter how independent a given form of expression may be within its own sphere as in art or religion, and no matter how distinct and how necessary in itself, with the belief in God it will have to surrender all claim to being objectively something higher than a practical convenience. Without reference to something divine, a good deed like the rescue of a man who is being persecuted unjustly loses all its glory, unless it happens to be in the interest of some collective whole inside the national boundaries or beyond them. While the latest Protestant theologians still permit the desperate to call themselves Christians, they subvert the dogma whose truth alone would give their words a meaning. The death of God is also the death of eternal truth.

Having retreated to their last position, Protestant theologians, unconscious of this philosophical dilemma, try to rescue the idea that the life of each individual has its own meaning. It is essential for life in this world to mean something more than this world. What more? Their answer is: Love. The reason why love remains to determine what cannot be determined is obviously the memory of the Christian heritage. But love as an abstraction — as it appears in recent writings — remains as obscure as the hidden God whom it is supposed to replace. If its consequences for thought and action are not to be left entirely to chance, it is essential that the various implications contained in this principle be made explicit. The meaning of the concept would become apparent if it were explicated in the form of a theory of reality — of those real situations in which it should be tested. One would then deduce from the concept of Christian love how the world appeared today within its horizons, in which direction it could work within society, and especially, to what extent it would have to be negated to be able to express itself — not to speak of finding the strength to assert itself. As the theory was being developed, it would in turn affect the principle behind it by defining it more fully and by modifying it. Even the will to eradicate all hunger and injustice is still an abstraction, though it is already more concrete than empty talk about values, eternal meaning and genuine being. The idea of a better world has not only been given shape in theological treatises, but often just as well in the so-called “nihilistic” works — the critique of political economy, the theory of Marx and Engels, psychoanalysis — works which have been blacklisted, whether in the East or in the West, and provoked the wrath of the mighty as the inflammatory speeches of Christ did among his contemporaries. The opposition between theism and atheism has ceased to be actual. Atheism was once a sign of inner independence and incredible courage, and it continues to be one in authoritarian or semi-authoritarian countries where it is regarded as a symptom of the hated liberal spirit. But under totalitarian rule of whatever denomination, which is nowadays the universal threat, its place tends to be taken by honest theism. Atheism includes infinitely many different things. The term “theism” on the other hand is definite enough to allow one to brand as a hypocrite whoever hates in its name. When theism adopts eternal justice as a pretext for temporal injustice, it is as bad as atheism insofar as it leaves no room for thoughts of anything else. Both of them have been responsible for good and evil throughout the history of Europe, and both of them have had their tyrants and their martyrs. There remains the hope that, in the period of world history which is now beginning, the period of docile masses governed by clocks, some men can still be found to offer resistance, like the victims of the past and, among them, the founder of Christianity.

Even though Catholics and Protestants are nowadays ‘both on the defensive, theism is again becoming an actual force in the period of its decline. This follows from the very meaning of “atheism.” Only those who used “atheism” as a term of abuse meant by it the exact opposite of religion. Those who professed themselves to be atheists at a time when religion was still in power tended to identify themselves more deeply with the theistic commandment to love one’s neighbor and indeed all created things than most adherents and fellow-travelers of the various denominations. Such selflessness, such a sublimation of self-love into love of others had its origin in Europe in the Judaeo-Christian idea that truth, love and justice were one, an idea which found expression in the teachings of the Messiah. The necessary connection between the theistic tradition and the overcoming of self-seeking becomes very much clearer to a reflective thinker of our time than it was to the critics of religion in bygone days. Besides, what is called “theism” here has very little in common with the philosophical movement of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries which went by that name. That movement was mostly an attempt to reconcile the concept of God with the new science of nature in a plausible manner. The longing for something other than this world, the standing-apart from existing conditions played only a subordinate part in it and mostly no part at all. The meanings of the two concepts do not remain unaffected by history, and their changes are infinitely varied. At a time when both the national socialists and the nationalistic communists despised the Christian faith, a man like Robespierre, the disciple of Rousseau, but not a man like Voltaire, would also have become an atheist and declared nationalism as a religion. Nowadays atheism is in fact the attitude of those who follow whatever power happens to be dominant, no matter whether they pay lip-service to a religion or whether they can afford to disavow it openly. On the other hand, those who resist the prevailing wind are trying to hold on to what was once the spiritual basis of the civilization to which they still belong. This is hardly what the philosophical “theists” had in mind: the conception of a divine guarantor of the laws of nature. It is on the contrary the thought of something other than the world, something over which the fixed rules of nature, the perennial source of doom, have no dominion.


Horkheimer Archive

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Pussiance – A Call to Arms

An excellent observation and very true, more so as time passes.

Manticore Press

Lyrics: “People often confuse duty with rights and rights with freedom.
This all too common misunderstanding brings nothing more than
false hopes and futile attempts at understanding without effort.
Most people never take the time to think, and behind the veil of
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they truly believe to be their own, and so their hammer falls, without
ever even considering the source of their inspirations.”

“The media has got a chokehold on outspoken opinions, and they
tighten and grip in the name of freedom until all attempts to
create are nipped in the bud, long before they get a chance to blossom.
An every-day terror regime instated in the name of sale, for everything
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Adorno and the Twenty-First Century

Late Capitalism or Industrial Society? — Adorno

Prior to some time ago when Critical Theory first appealed to me, the only writing I had ever come across by Theodore Adorno was a very strange essay attacking culture through an analysis of an American “situation comedy,” an art form that is only as good as its writers and the producers will allow.  One of my own favorites was called “Bilko,” which I saw in a re-run, and noticed that it was written by Neil Simon.  Such quality is missing today, or at least not allowed.

But the situation comedy he was writing about featured an educational institution, a high school, with a principal who was in charge of the teachers, mainly women, and who acted like a rooster in a hen house.  It focused mainly on the relationships between the faculty and the principal, and an occasional student, quite stupid, provided much of the so-called “humor.”  It took me quite awhile from his description and attack to realize what show he was writing about.  It turned out that he had selected “Our Miss Brooks,” with Eve Arden.  He never named it and that was part of the problem.  It seemed to me that he took the situation too seriously and underestimated Wally Cox, one of the male teachers, as a humorist.  (He could also yodel quite well, BTW.)  To me, it became more significant that a later show of the same sort, “Happy Days,” focused on the students and the teachers were non-existent.  This evolution quite accurately reflects how American society changed.

This following essay is quite interesting.  I have no qualms about citing the translator as called for under the creative commons tradition.  Andy Blunden does a magnificent job.  It is quite amazing how Adorno distinguishes between what words factually entail on the one hand, and the matter at hand on the other, as the same word (Sachverhalten) is used for both.  Only in German is this possible.

The article itself was a speech given to German Sociologists in 1968, a very different time with a very different spirit, or Zeitgiest.  Adorno mentions Marx as indicating that once an idea is accepted by the masses, it becomes a force.  In 1968, the idea of resistance to violence and war, hence Capitalism, was very strong.  The United States saw massive movement extolling peace and love.  When the USSR invaded Checkeslovakia, the youth there approached the standing army, without weapons, often putting flowers into the end of the soldier’s rifles.  When the Army defended the Pentagon during a demonstration, the same thing happened.  Zen chants were uttered.  All of this eventually resulted in the end of the expansion into Southeast Asia and Gerald Ford throwing in the towel.

Capitalism realized that it had to counter with ideas.  It recruited a willing ex-actor named Ronald Reagen as a spokesman and after years of practice with General Electric Commercials eventually placed him in the Presidency.  He managed to ingratiate himself with a great many American citizens with his steady and relentless move to dismantle all of the “New Deal” programs, mainly “socialist ideas,” instituted to extricate the United States and hence Capitalism from the Depression.  Roosevelt himself said he had to save his friends from themselves.  This onslaught has continued to this very day when Capitalism controls everything imaginable and the Occupy Wall-Street Movement was eventually defeated.  Still, we do have classes, the very, very rich, and the rest.  The class struggle continues, only the upper class in on the offensive.  Adorno could not have imagined things progressing in this way, but they did.

Anyway, here is Adorno’s Address:

Theodor Adorno, 1968

Late Capitalism or Industrial Society?
Opening Address to the 16th German Sociological Congress

Sourcehttp://www.efn.org/~dredmond/AdornoSocAddr.html;

Translation: © 2001 Dennis Redmond;

CopyLeft: translation used with permission, Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike);

Original German: from Suhrkamp Verlag as: Theodor W. Adorno. Collected Works, Volume 4;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.


It has become customary for the outgoing chair of the German Society for Sociology to say a few words of their own. In this case, his own position and the meaning of the problems being posed are not to be strictly separated: each is unavoidably conjoined to the other. On the other hand he can hardly present definitive solutions, which is the whole point of discussion by the Congress. This theme was originally suggested by Otto Stammer. In the meeting of the Executive Committee charged with arranging the conference, it was gradually transformed; the present title crystallized out through “teamwork” [in English]. Those who are unfamiliar with the state of current debate in the social sciences can be forgiven for suspecting that this is a question of mere nomenclature; that experts have the idle luxury of pondering whether the contemporary era is to be named late capitalism or industrial society. In truth, it is not a question of mere termini but something absolutely fundamental. The presentations and discussions will be assisting us to ascertain whether the capitalist system continues to rule, albeit in a modified form, or whether industrial development has made the concept of capitalism itself, the difference between capitalist and non-capitalist states, and indeed the critique of capitalism, outmoded. In other words, as to whether the currently popular thesis in sociology, that Marx is obsolete, is correct. According to this thesis, the world has been so thoroughly determined by an unimaginably-extended technology [Technik: technics], that the corresponding social relations which once defined capitalism, the transformation of living labor into commodities and therein the contradiction of classes, is becoming irrelevant, insofar as it has not become an archaic superstition. All this can be related to the unmistakable convergence between the technically most advanced countries, the United States and the Soviet Union. In terms of living-standards and consciousness, class differences have become on the whole far less visible in the Western states in question than in the decades during and after the industrial revolution. The prognoses of class-theory such as immiseration and economic crisis have not been so drastically realized, as one must understand them, if they are not to be completely robbed of their content; one can speak of relative immiseration only in a comic sense. Even if Marx’s by no means one-sided law of sinking profit-rate has not been borne out on a system-immanent level, one must concede that capitalism has discovered resources within itself, which have permitted the postponing of economic collapse ad Kalendas Graecus – resources which include the immense increase of the technical potential of society and therein also the consumer goods available to the members of the highly industrialized countries. At the same time the relations of production have shown themselves to be, in view of such technological developments, far more elastic than Marx had suspected.

The criterion of class relations, which empirical research is fond of referring to as “social stratification” [in English], strata divided according to income, life-style, education, are generalizations of the findings of specific individuals. To that extent they may be called subjective. In contrast to this, the more traditional concept of class was objective, meant to be independent of indices, which are garnered out of the immediate life of subjects, however much, by the way, that these express social objectivities. Marxist theory rests on the position of entrepreneurs and workers in the production-process, and ultimately of their control over the means of production. In the predominant contemporary strains of sociology this conclusion has for the most part been rejected as dogmatic. The controversy needs to be sorted out theoretically, not simply through the presentation of facts, which indeed for their part make numerous contributions to the critique, but which in light of critical theory can also conceal the structure. Even the opponents of dialectics have no wish to delay a theory, which serves to account for sociology’s own interests. The controversy is essentially one concerninginterpretation – even if it were only the attempt to banish the demand for such in the purgatory of that which is extra-scientific.

A dialectical theory of society concerns itself with structural laws, which condition the facts, in which it manifests itself and from which it is modified. By structural laws we mean tendencies, which more or less stringently follow the historical constitution of the total system. The Marxist models for this were the law of value, the law of accumulation, the law of economic crisis. Dialectical theory did not intend to turn structures into ordered schematas, which could be applied to sociological findings as completely, continually and non-contradictorily as possible; nor systemizations, but rather the procedures and data of scientific cognition of the already-organized system of society. Such a theory ought least of all to withhold facts from itself, to twist them around according to a thema probandum. Otherwise it would in fact fall right back into dogmatism and would repeat conceptually what the entrenched authorities of the Eastern bloc have already perpetrated through the instrument of Diamat: freezing into place what, according to its own concept, cannot be otherwise thought than as something which moves. The fetishism of the facts corresponds to one of the objective laws. Dialectics, which has had its fill of the painful experience of such hegemony, does not hegemonize in turn, but criticizes this just as much as the appearance, that the individuated and the concrete already determine the course of the world hic et nunc [Latin: here and now]. It’s very likely that under the spell of the latter the individuated and the concrete do not even exist yet. Through the word pluralism, utopia is suppressed, as if it were already here; it serves as consolation. That is why however dialectical theory, which critically reflects on itself, may not for its part install itself domestic-style in the medium of the generality. Its intention is precisely to break out of this medium. It too is not immune before the false division of reflective thinking and empirical research. Some time ago a Russian intellectual of considerable influence told me that sociology is a new science in the Soviet Union. He meant of course the empirical kind; that this might have something to do with what in his country is a doctrine of society raised to a state religion was no more apparent to him, than the fact that Marx conducted empirical inquests. Reified consciousness does not end where the concept of reification has a place of honor. The inflated bluster over concepts such as “imperialism” or “monopoly,” without taking into consideration what these words factually entail [Sachverhalten], and to what extent they are relevant, is as wrong, that is to say irrational, as a mode of conduct which, thanks to its blindly nominalistic conception of the matter at hand [Sachverhalten], refuses to consider that concepts such as exchange-society might have their objectivity, revealing a compulsion of the generality behind the matter at hand [Sachverhalten], which is by no means always adequately translated into the operational field of the facts of the matter [Sachverhalte]. Both are to be opposed; to this extent the theme of the Congress, late capitalism or industrial society, testifies to the methodological intent of self-critique out of freedom.

A simple answer to the question which lies in that thematic, is neither to be expected nor really to be sought after. Alternatives which compel one to opt for one or the other determination, even if only theoretically, are already mandatory situations, modeled after an unfree society and transposed onto the Mind [Geist], towards which the latter ought to do what it can to break unfreedom through its tenacious reflection. As completely as the dialectician may refuse to draw a defining line between late capitalism and industrial society, the less can he indulge in the pleasure of a non-committal on-the-one-hand-but-on-the-other-hand. He must guard against simplification, contrary to Brecht’s suggestion, precisely because the well-worn commonplace suggests the well-worn response, just as the opposite answer falls so easily from the lips from his opponents.

Whoever does not wish to be hoodwinked by the experience of the preponderance of the structure over the matter at hand [Sachverhalten], will not, unlike most of his opponents, devalue contradictions in advance to methodology, to mere conceptual errors and attempt to stamp them out through the harmony of scientific systematics. Instead he will trace them back into the structure, which was antagonistic ever since organized society first emerged, and which remains so, just as the extra-political conflicts and the permanent possibility of a catastrophic war, most recently also the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, crassly demonstrate. This glosses over an alternative thinking, to that unbroken formal-logical non-contradictoriness which projects itself onto that which is to be thought. It is not a question of choosing between either form, according to one’s scientific viewpoint or taste, but rather their relationship expresses for its part the contradiction which characterizes the current era, and it befits sociology to articulate this theoretically.

Many prognoses of dialectical theory have a contradictory relationship to one another. Some simply did not fulfill themselves; certain theoretical-analytical categories have lead meanwhile to aporias, which can only be thought out of the world with the utmost artifice. Other predictions, originally closely associated with the former, have been resoundingly confirmed. Even those who do not reduce the meaning of a theory to its prognoses, would not hesitate to ascribe the claim of the dialectical one as partly true and partly false. These divergences require for their part theoretical explanation. That one cannot speak of a proletarian class-consciousness in the leading industrial countries does not necessarily refute, in contrast to the communis opinio [prevailing opinion], the existence of classes: class was determined by the position to the means of production, not by the consciousness of its members. There are no lack of plausible reasons for the lack of class-consciousness: that workers are no longer being immiserated, that they were increasing integrated into bourgeois society and its world-views, as compared to the period during and immediately after the industrial revolution, when the industrial proletariat was being recruited from paupers and stood half-extraterritorial to society, could not have been foreseen. Social being does not immediately produce class consciousness. Without the masses, and indeed precisely because of their social integration, having any more control over their social destiny than 120 years ago, they lack not only class solidarity, but also the full consciousness of this, that they are objects and not subjects of social processes, which nevertheless animate them as subjects. Class- consciousness, on which according to Marxist theory the qualitative leap forwards depended, was consequently and at the same time an epiphenomenon. If however no class consciousness emerges over long periods in countries supposedly determined by class relations, for example North America, insofar as it had ever been present there; if the question of the proletariat becomes a puzzle-picture, then quantity rebounds into quality, and the suspicion of a conceptual mythology can only be suppressed by decree, not assuaged by thought. This development is difficult to separate from the central plank of Marxist theory, namely the doctrine of surplus value. This was supposed to explain the relationship of classes and the increase of class antagonisms as something objectively economic. But if the share of living labor, from which all surplus value accordingly flows, sinks, thanks to the extension of technological progress, to a tendential limit-point, then this affects the central plank, the theory of surplus value. The current lack of an objective theory of value is conditioned not merely by what the academy narrowly defines as scholastic economics. It also refers back to the prohibitive difficulty of objectively grounding the construction of classes without the theory of surplus value. Non-economists may find it illuminating, that even the so-called neo-Marxist theories attempt to stop the holes in their treatment of constitutive problems with scraps of subjective economics. The responsibility for this is certainly not merely the weakness of theoretical capability. It’s conceivable that contemporary society cannot be contained within a coherent theory. By comparison, Marx had it much easier, when he laid out the fully-fledged system of liberalism as a science. He only needed to ask whether capitalism corresponded in its own dynamic categories to this model, in order to produce, out of the determinate negation of the preexisting theoretical system, a system-like theory in its own right. Meanwhile the market economy has become so honeycombed, that it mocks any such confrontation. The irrationality of the contemporary social structure hinders its rational development in theory. The perspective that the direction of economic processes is passing into the hands of political power, though it follows from the logical dynamic of the system, is at the same time also one of objective irrationality. This, and not simply the sterile dogmatism of its followers, should help to explain why for a long time no really convincing objective theory of society emerged. Under this aspect the renunciation of such would be no critical advance of the scientific spirit, but an expression of compulsory resignation. The regression of society runs parallel to that of its thinking.

In the meantime we are faced with no less drastic facts, which for their part can be interpreted without [Adorno’s emphasis] the usage of hte key concepts of capitalism only with th eutmost violence and caprice. The economic process continues to perpetuate domination over human beings. The objects of such are no longer merely the masses, but also the administrators and their hangers-on. In terms of the traditional theory, they have become largely functions of their own production-apparatus. The much-belabored question of the “managerial revolution” [in English], concerning the supposed transition of domination from the juridical owners to the bureaucracy is correspondingly secondary. then as now, this process produces and reproduces classes which, though not necessarily in the form of Zola’s Germinal, at the very least a structure which the anti-socialist Nietzsche anticipated with the expression, all herd and no shepherd. In this, however, was concealed what he did not want to see: the same odl social oppression, only now become anonymous. If the theory of immiseration was not borne out of à la lettre [to the letter], then it certainly has in the no less frightening sense, that unfreedom, one’s dependence on the consciousness of those who serve an uncontrollable apparatus, is spreading universally over humanity. The much-maligned immaturity of the masses is only the reflex of this, this they are as little as ever autonomous masters of their lives; like in mythology, it confronts them as a doom [Schicksal: fate, destiny]. Empirical investigations show by the way that even subjectively, according to their reality-principle [Realitaetsbewusstsein], classes are by no means so leveled out as one at times presumes. Even the theories of imperialism do not become obsolete due to the forcible withdrawal of the great powers from their colonies. The process which they referred to continues in the antagonism of both monstrous power-blocs. The supposedly outmoded doctrine of social antagonisms, including the telos of the final crisis, is being immeasurably trumped by manifestly political ones. Whether and to what extent class relations have been relocated onto those between the leading industrial nations and the much courted-after developing countries, remains to be seen.

In the categories of critical-dialectical theory I would like to suggest as a first and necessarily abstract answer, that contemporary society is above all an industrial society according to the level of its productive forces [Adorno’s emphasis]. Industrial labor has become the model pattern of society everywhere and across all borders of political systems. It developed itself into a totality due to the fact that modes of procedure, which resemble the industrial ones, are extending by economic necessity into the realms of material production, into administration, the distribution-sphere and that which we call culture. Conversely, society is capitalism in terms of its relations of production [Adorno’s emphasis]. Human beings are still what they were according to the Marxist analysis of the middle of the 19th century: appendages of machines, not merely in the literal sense as workers, who have to adapt themselves to the constitution of the machines which they serve, but far beyond this and metaphorically, compelled to assume the roles of the social mechanism and to model themselves on such, without reservation, on the level of their most intimate impulses. Production goes on today just as it did before, for the sake of profits. Needs have gone beyond anything Marx could have foreseen in his time, completely becoming the function of the production-apparatus, which they potentially were all along, instead of the reverse. They are totally governed [gesteuert: mechanically steered, governed]. To be sure, even within this transformation, as pinned-down and adapted to the interests of the apparatus as it is, the needs of human beings are smuggled in, something which the apparatus never fails to direct popular attention to. But the use-value side of commodities has in the meantime been shorn of their last “naturally-grown” or self-apparent truth [Selbstverstaendlichkeit: casualness, self-evidence]. Not only are needs satisfied purely indirectly, by means of exchange-values, but within the relevant economic sectors produced by the profit-motive, and thus at the cost of the objective needs of the consumers, namely those for adequate housing, and completely so in terms of the education and information over the processes which most affect them. In the realm of necessities not directly connected with basic living standards, use-values as such are tending to dissolve or be exhausted; a phenomenon which appears in empirical sociology under termini such as status symbols and prestige, without really being objectively grasped by such. The highly industrialized countries of the Earth, so long as, in spite of Keynes, some renewed economic natural catastrophe does not occur, have learned to conceal the more visible forms of poverty, albeit not to the extent that the thesis of the “affluent society” [in English] would have it. The bane, however, which the system exerts over human beings, has only become stronger due to this integration, insofar as such comparisons can be reasonably made. It is undeniable that the increasing satisfaction of material needs, in spite of their distortion by the apparatus, hints incomparably more concretely to the possibility of a life without necessity. Even in the poorest countries, no-one need hunger anymore. That the envelope before the consciousness of the possible has nonetheless become thin indeed, is supported by the panic-stricken fright created by any sort of social enlightenment which is not broadcast by the official communication systems. What Marx and Engels, who strove for a truly humane organization of society, denounced as utopian for merely sabotaging such an organization, has become a palpable reality. Nowadays the critique of utopia has sunk into the common ideological stockpile, while at the same time the triumph of technical productivity strives to maintain the illusion that utopia, incompatible with the relations of production, has already been realized within its realm. But the contradictions in their new, international-political quality – the arms race of East and West – make that which is possible at the same time impossible.

To see through all this demands, indeed, that one does not cast the blame on what critique has time and again been side-tracked by, namely technics, that is to say the productive-forces, thereby indulging in a kind of theoretical machine-breaking on an expanded level. Technics is not the disaster, but rather its intertwining with the social relations, in which it is entangled. One need only recall how the conscious application of the profit-motive and power-motive [Herrschaftsinteresse: “power-interest,” used here in the sense of factory discipline] canalizes technical development: they fatally harmonize, in the meantime, with the necessity of supervision. It is not for nothing that the invention of means of destruction has become the prototype of the new quality of technics. By contrast, the potential of those which distance themselves from domination, centralization, and violence against nature, and which would also probably permit the healing of much of what is literally and figuratively is damaged by technics, is left to die on the vine.

Contemporary society exhibits, in spite of all assertions to the contrary, as its dynamism and increase of production, static aspects. These include the relations of production. These are no longer merely the property of the owner, but of the administration, all the way to the role of the state as total capitalist. To the extent that its rationalization converges with technical rationality, a.k.a. the productive forces, they’ve undeniably become more flexible. This has created the illusion that the universal interest has its ideal as the status quo and universal employment, not the liberation of heteronomous work. But this condition, from an external political position quite labile, is a merely temporary balance, the result of forces, whose tension threatens to disrupt it. Inside the dominant relations of production, humanity is virtually its own reserve army of labor and is fed through as such. Marx’s expectation, that the primacy of the productive forces was certain to explode the relations of production, was all too optimistic. To that extent Marx remained, as the sworn enemy of German idealism, true to its affirmative construction of history. Trusting in the world-spirit benefited the justification of later versions of that world-order which, according to the eleventh thesis on Feuerbach, was to have been changed. The relations of production have out of sheer self-preservation continued to subjugate the unbound forces of production, through piecework and particular measures. The signature of the epoch is the preponderance of the relations of production over the productive forces, which have nonetheless mocked these relations for some time. That the extended arm of humanity can reach to distant and empty planets, but that it cannot create peace on Earth, highlights the absurdity, towards which the social dialectic is moving. That things happened otherwise than was hoped for is not least due to the fact that the society has ingested what Veblen called the “underlying population.” But the only ones who could wish that this be undone, are those who put the happiness of the abstract totality over that of living individual beings. This development depends for its part once again on that of the productive forces. It was never identical, though, with its primacy over the relations of production. This was never imagined as something mechanical. Its realization had for its precondition the spontaneity of those who were interested in the transformation of the relations, and their number has surpassed the actual industrial proletariat several times over. Objective interest and subjective spontaneity yawn wide from each other; these wither under the disproportionate hegemony of the existent. The sentence of Marx, that theory, too, becomes a genuine force as soon as it seizes the masses, has been turned flagrantly upside down by the course of the world. If the constitution of the world, through planned measures or automatically, hinders the simplest cognition and experience of the most threatening events and indispensable critical ideas and theorems by means of the culture- and consciousness-industries; if it hamstrings, far beyond this, even the basic capacity to imagine the world differently than it overwhelmingly appears to be to those who constitute this world, then these locked-up and manipulated intellectual and spiritual conditions become indeed a genuine power, that of repression, just what its opposite, the emancipated Mind [Geist: mind, spirit, intellect], once wished to combat.

By contrast, the terminus industrial society suggests, to a certain degree, that it’s a question of the technocratic moment in Marx, which this term would like to show the way out of the world, immediately in itself; as if the essence of society followed the level of the productive forces in lockstep, independent of its social conditions. It’s astonishing, how rarely the sociological establishment actually considers this, how rarely it is analyzed. The best part, which by no means needs to be the best, is forgotten, namely the totality, or in Hegel’s words the all-penetrating ether of society. This however is anything but ethereal, but on the contrary an ens realissimum [Latin: that which is real, materially existent]. Insofar as it is abstractly veiled, the fault of its abstraction is not to be blamed on a solipsistic and reality-distant thinking, but on the exchange-relationships, the objective abstractions, which belongs to the social life-process. The power of that abstraction over humanity is far more corporeal than that of any single institution, which silently constitutes itself in advance according to the scheme of things and beats itself into human beings. The powerlessness which the individual experiences in the face of the totality is the most drastic expression of this. Admittedly in sociology the leading social relations realize themselves in the social conditions of production, in accordance with their logical-extensive classificatory nature, far less palpably than in that concrete generality. They become neutralized into concepts of power or social control. In such categories, the point of the spike vanishes and thereby, one would like to say, that which is actually social in society, its structure. It is one of the tasks of today’s sociological congress, to work towards changing this.

It is least of all permissible for dialectical theory to simply set up the productive forces and relations of production as polar opposites. They are delimited by each another, each contains the other in itself. Exactly this leads to the bland recurrence of the productive forces, where the relations of production have the upper hand. The productive forces are, more than ever before, mediated through the relations of production; so completely perhaps, that these appear exactly for that reason as their essence; they have completely become a second nature. Their responsibility lies in this, that in an insane contradiction to what is possible, human beings across great stretches of the Earth live in misery. Even where an abundance of goods is the norm, this stands as if under a curse. The necessity which extends deep into the illusionary appearance [Schein], infects goods with its illusionary character. Objectively true and false needs can indeed be differentiated, though nowhere in the world ought to be signed over to bureaucratic regimentation for this reason. In needs exist always what is good and what is bad in the entire society; they may be the next best thing to market surveys, but they are not in the administered world in themselves the first thing. To judge between true and false consciousness would, according to the insight into the structure of society, require that of all its mediations. That which is fictitious, which distorts all satiation of necessities nowadays, is undoubtedly perceived unconsciously; this contributes significantly to the contemporary discontent in culture. More important than even the almost impenetrable quid pro quo of need, satisfaction and profit- or power-motive is the unrelieved and continuing threat of one need, on which all others depend on, the motive of simple survival. Delimited to a horizon in which at any moment the bomb can fall, even the most riotous display of consumer goods contains an element of self-mockery. The international antagonisms which, however, for the first time are building to a truly total war, stand in flagrant context with the relations of production, in the most literal sense imaginable. The threat of one catastrophe is displaced by the catastrophe of the other. The relations of production could scarcely maintain themselves without the apocalyptic earthquake of renewed economic crises as tenaciously as they do, if an inordinate share of the social product, which would otherwise be unsaleable, were not dedicated to the production of the means of destruction. In the Soviet Union something similar is at work, despite the removal of the market economy. The economic reasons for this are obvious: the requirement for speedy increases in production in the underdeveloped lands necessitates tight, dictatorial administration. Out of the unfettering of the forces of production emerged renewed fetters, those of the relations of production: production became its own end and hindered the purpose of such, i.e. undiminished and fully-realized freedom. Under both systems, the capitalist concept of socially essential work is reduced to a satanic parody: in the marketplace it is based on profit, never on self-evident utility for human beings themselves or their happiness. Such domination of the relations of production over human beings requires above all the fully-matured state of development of the forces of production. While both need to be differentiated, those who wish to grasp the merest part of the baleful spell cast on the situation must constantly use one as a means of understanding the other. The overproduction which drives that expansion, through which the apparently subjective need is received and substituted for, is spit out from a technical apparatus which has come so far towards realizing itself, that it has become, under a certain volume of production, irrational – that is, unprofitable; it is necessarily realized by the relations of production. It is solely from the viewpoint of total annihilation that the relations of production have not fettered the forces of production. The dirigiste methods, however, with which in spite of everything the masses are kept in line, presuppose a kind of concentration and centralization which has not only an economic side but also a technological one, as the mass-media go to show; i.e. that it has become possible to homogenize the consciousness of countless individuals from just a few points, through the selection and presentation of news and commentary.

The power of the relations of production, which were not overthrown, is greater than ever, and yet at the same time they are, as objectively anachronistic, everywhere diseased, damaged, riddled with holes. They do not function by themselves. Economic interventionism is not, as the older liberal school thought, something cobbled together from outside the system, but is rather system-immanent, the embodiment of self-defense; nothing could illuminate the category of dialectics with greater clarity. This is analogous to what became of the erstwhile Hegelian philosophy of law, wherein bourgeois ideology and the dialectic of bourgeois society are so deeply interwoven, in that the state, presumably intervening from beyond the reach of society’s power-struggles, had to be conjured up out of the immanent dialectic of society in order to damper and police the antagonisms of such, lest society, following Hegel’s insight, disintegrate. The invasion of that which is not system-immanent is at the same time also a piece of immanent dialectics, just as, on the opposite end of the spectrum, Marx thought of the overthrow of the relations of production as something compelled by the course of history, and nevertheless as something to be realized outside the closure of the system, as a qualitatively different action. If one argued, on the grounds of interventionism and from the standpoint of large-scale planning, that late capitalism [consumer capitalism] has moved beyond the anarchy of commodity production and is therefore no longer really capitalism, the response must be that the social destiny of the particular within this latter is more contingent than ever before. The model of capitalism never applied so purely as its liberal apologists wished to think. It was already in Marx’s day a critique of ideology, which was supposed to reveal how little the concept which capitalist society had of itself had to do with reality. Not the least of the ironies of this critical motif is that liberalism, which even in its heyday was nothing of the sort, has today been refunctioned in support of the thesis that capitalism is actually not what it is. This, too, points to a transformation. What since time immemorial in capitalist society was, in relation to free and fair exchange, and indeed by consequence of its own implications, irrational (that is to say, unfree and unjust) has increased to the point that its model has collapsed. Exactly this has become a condition, whose integration has turned into the prototype of disintegration, which is appraised as an asset. That which is alien to the system reveals itself to be the inner essence of the system, all the way into its political tendencies. In interventionism the power of resistance of the system has confirmed itself, indirectly in the theory of economic crisis; the transition to domination independent of market forces is its telos. The catchphrase of the “prefab society” is unwitting testament to this. Such a reconfiguration of liberal capitalism has its correlate in the reconfiguration of consciousness, a regression of human beings behind the objective possibility, which today would be open to them. Human beings are sacrificing the characteristics which they no longer need and which only hinder them; the kernel of individuation is beginning to come apart. It’s only in recent times that signs of a counter-tendency are becoming visible in various groups of young people: resistance against blind adjustment, freedom for rationally chosen goals, disgust before the world of swindles and illusions, meditations on the possibility of transformation. Whether the socially ever-increasing drive towards destruction triumphs in spite of this, only time will tell. Subjective regression favors once again the regression of the system. To borrow a phrase which Merton employed in a somewhat different context, because it became dysfunctional, the consciousness of the masses flattened out the system, such that it increasingly divested itself [sich entaeussern: to relinquish, divest oneself of; also to conceptually disclose, to realize] of that rationality of the fixed, identical ego, which was still implicit in the idea of a functional society.

That the forces of production and the relations of production are one nowadays, and that one could immediately construe society from the standpoint of the productive forces alone, says that the current society is socially necessary appearance. It is socially necessary because in fact previously separated moments of the social process, which living human beings incarnate, are being brought into a kind of overall equivalence. Material production, distribution, consumption are administered in common. Their borders, which once separated from inside the total process of externally separated spheres, and thereby respected that which was qualitatively different, are melting away. Everything is one. The totality of the process of mediation, in truth that of the exchange-principle, produces a second and deceptive immediacy. It makes it possible for that which is separate and antagonistic to be, against its own appearance, forgotten or to be repressed from consciousness. This consciousness of society is however an illusion, because it represents the consequences of technological and organizational homogenization, but nonetheless fails to see that this homogenization is not truly rational, but remains itself subordinated itself to a blind, irrational nomothetism [Gesetzmaessigkeit: lawfulness, juridicality]. No truly total subject of society yet exists. The mere appearance ought to be formulated as follows, that everything socially existent today is so thoroughly mediated, that even the moment of mediation is itself distorted by the totality. There is no standpoint outside of the whole affair which can be referred to, from which the ghost could be called by its name; the lever can be deployed only by means of its own incoherence. That is what Horkheimer and I described decades ago as the concept of the technological veil. The false identity between the constitution of the world and its inhabitants through the total expansion of technics is leading in the direction of the confirmation of the relations of production, whose true beneficiaries one searches for in vain, just as proletarians have become invisible. The self-realization of the system in relation to everyone, even functionaries, has reached a limit. It has turned into that fatality, which finds its expression in the current situation, to use Freud’s words, in free-floating angst; free-floating, because it can no longer be fixed on living beings, people or classes. The only relationships ultimately realized between people, however, are those buried under the relations of production. This is why the overwhelming organization of things remains at the same time its own ideology, virtually powerless. As impenetrable as the bane [Bann] is, it’s only a spell [Bann]. If sociology is to do more than just furnish welcome information to agents and interests, by fulfilling those tasks for which it was once conceived, then it is up to it, with means which do not themselves fall prey to the universal character of the fetish, to ensure, be it to ever so modest an extent, that the spell dissolves itself.

Horkheimer

Well….

I’m afraid I made a mess of the past post by using all the “help” about sizing available by WordPress.  I admit defeat.  I am posting this as it is this time.  At least it should be readable:

Horkheimer

We have recently, and fortunately, seen much more about Critical Theory (sometimes called the “Frankfurt School,” a bit too reified for my tastes), but there is little evidence anyone talking about it knows what it is all about.

Max Horkheimer, partly inspired by Arthur Schopenhauer (and not as much by Nietzsche as many seem to think), is the center of this program and devoted much of his energy towards finding the means to correct social problems using philosophy as a tool.  The entire program could be characterized as a synthesis of the political left and the cultural right (if such terms mean much to you), with dialogue or give and take as a key issue, an approach sometimes referred to as “dialectic”.

For this reason we reprint one of his earlier works, written as Hitler was gaining strength and sanity loosing it.  Hitler has since gone and hence has no strength, but sanity is even more rapidly on the decline.

Max Horkheimer 1939

The Social Function of Philosophy


Written: in English in 1939;
Source: Critical Theory. Selected Essays Max Horkheimer, published by Continuum 1982;
Public Domain: this article is free of copyright;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden;
Proofed: and corrected by Chris, 2009.

WHEN the words physics, chemistry, medicine, or history are mentioned in a conversation, the participants usually have something very definite in mind. Should any difference of opinion arise, we could consult an encyclopedia or accepted textbook or turn to one or more outstanding specialists in the field in question. The definition of any one of these sciences derives immediately from its place in present-day society. Though these sciences may make the greatest advances in the future, though it is even conceivable that several of them, physics and chemistry for example, may some day be merged, no one is really interested in defining these concepts in any other way than by reference to the scientific activities now being carried on under such headings.
It is different with philosophy. Suppose we ask a professor of philosophy what philosophy is. If we are lucky and happen to a specialist who is not averse to definitions in general, he will give us one. If we then adopt this definition, we should probably soon discover that it is by no means the universally accepted meaning of the word. We might then appeal to other authorities, and pore over textbooks, modern and old. The confusion would only increase. Many thinkers, accepting Plato and Kant as their authorities, regard philosophy as an exact science in its own right, with its own field and subject matter. In our epoch this conception is chiefly represented by the late Edmund Husserl. Other thinkers, like Ernst Mach, conceive philosophy as the critical elaboration and synthesis of the special sciences to a unified whole. Bertrand Russell, too, holds that the task of philosophy is “that of logical analysis, followed by logical synthesis.” He thus fully agrees with L. T. Hobhouse, who declares that “Philosophy … has a synthesis of the sciences as its goal.” This conception goes back to Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer, for whom philosophy constituted the total system of human knowledge. Philosophy, therefore, is an independent science for some, a subsidiary or auxiliary discipline for others.
If most writers of philosophical works agree on the scientific character of philosophy, a few, but by no means the worst, have emphatically denied it. For the German poet Schiller, whose philosophical essays have had an influence perhaps even more profound than his dramas, the purpose of philosophy was to bring aesthetic order into our thoughts and actions. Beauty was the criterion of its results. Other poets, like Hölderlin and Novalis, held a similar position, and even pure philosophers, Schelling for instance, came very close to it in some of their formulations. Henri Bergson, at any rate, insists that philosophy is closely related to art, and is not a science.
As if the different views on the general character of philosophy were not enough, we also find the most diverse notions about its content and its methods. There are still some thinkers who hold that philosophy is concerned exclusively with the highest concepts and laws of Being, and ultimately with the cognition of God. This is true of the Aristotelian and Neo-Thomist schools. Then there is the related view that philosophy deals with the so-called a priori. Alexander describes philosophy as “the experiential or empirical study of the non-empirical or a priori, and of such questions as arise out of the relation of the empirical to the a priori” (space, time and deity). Others, who derive from the English sensualists and the German school of Fries and Apelt, conceive of it as the science of inner experience. According to logical empiricists like Carnap, philosophy is concerned essentially with scientific language; according to the school of Windelband and Rickert (another school with many American followers), it deals with universal values, above all with truth, beauty, goodness, and holiness.
Finally, everyone knows that there is no agreement in method. The Neo-Kantians all believe that the procedure of philosophy must consist in the analysis of concepts and their reduction to the ultimate elements of cognition. Bergson and Max Scheler consider intuition (“Wesensschau, Wesenserschauung”) to be the decisive philosophical act. The phenomenological method of Husserl and Heidegger is flatly opposed to the empirio-criticism. of Mach and Avenarius. The logistic of Bertrand Russell, Whitehead, and their followers, is the avowed enemy of the dialectic of Hegel. The kind of philosophizing one prefers depends, according to William James, on one’s character and experience.
These definitions have been mentioned in order to indicate that the situation in philosophy is not the same as in other intellectual pursuits. No matter how many points of dispute there may be in those fields, at least the general line of their intellectual work is universally recognized. The prominent representatives more or less agree on subject matter and methods. In philosophy, however, refutation of one school by another usually involves complete rejection, the negation of the substance of its work as fundamentally false. This attitude is not shared by all schools, of course. A dialectical philosophy, for example, in keeping with its principles, will tend to extract the relative truths of the individual points of view and introduce them in its own comprehensive theory. Other philosophical doctrines, such as modern positivism, have less elastic principles, and they simply exclude from the realm of knowledge a very large part of the philosophical literature, especially the great systems of the past. In short, it cannot be taken for granted that anyone who uses the term “philosophy” shares with his audience more than a few very vague conceptions.
The individual sciences apply themselves to problems which must be treated because they arise out of the life process of present-day society. Both the individual problems and their allotment to specific disciplines derive, in the last analysis, from the needs of mankind in its past and present forms of organization. This does not mean that every single scientific investigation satisfies some urgent need. Many scientific undertakings produced results that mankind could easily do without. Science is no exception to that misapplication of energy which we observe in every sphere of cultural life. The development of branches of science which have only a dubious practical value for the immediate present is, however, part of that expenditure of human labor which is one of the necessary conditions of scientific and technological progress. We should remember that certain branches of mathematics, which appeared to be mere playthings at first, later turned out to be extraordinarily useful. Thus, though there are scientific undertakings which can lead to no immediate use, all of them have some potential applicability within the given social reality, remote and vague as it may be. By its very nature, the work of the scientist is capable of enriching life in its present form. His fields of activity are therefore largely marked out for him, and the attempts to alter the boundaries between the several domains of science, to develop new disciplines, as well as continuously to differentiate and integrate them, are always guided by social need, whether consciously or not. This need is also operative, though indirectly, in the laboratories and lecture halls of the university, not to mention the chemical laboratories and statistical departments of large industrial enterprises and in the hospitals.
Philosophy has no such guide. Naturally, many desires play upon it; it is expected to find solutions for problems which the sciences either do not deal with or treat unsatisfactorily. But the practice of social life offers no criterion for philosophy; philosophy can point to no successes. Insofar as individual philosophers occasionally do offer something in this respect, it is a matter of services which are not specifically philosophical. We have, for example, the mathematical discoveries of Descartes and Leibniz, the psychological researches of Hume, the physical theories of Ernst Mach, and so forth. The opponents of philosophy also say that insofar as it has value, it is not philosophy but positive science. Everything else in philosophical systems is mere talk, they claim, occasionally stimulating, but usually boring and always useless. Philosophers, on the other hand, show a certain obstinate disregard for the verdict of the outside world. Ever since the trial of Socrates, it has been clear that they have a strained relationship with reality as it is, and especially with the community in which they live. The tension sometimes takes the form of open persecution; at other times merely failure to understand their language. They must live in hiding, physically or intellectually. Scientists, too, have come into conflict with the societies of their time. But here we must resume the distinction between the philosophical and the scientific elements of which we have already spoken, and reverse the picture, because the reasons for the persecution usually lay in the philosophical views of these thinkers, not in their scientific theories. Galileo’s bitter persecutors among the Jesuits admitted that he would have been free to publish his heliocentric theory if he had placed it in the proper philosophical and theological context. Albertus Magnus himself discussed the heliocentric theory in his Summa, and he was never attacked for it. Furthermore, the conflict between scientists and society, at least in modern times, is not connected with fundamentals but only with individual doctrines, not tolerated by this or that authority in one country at one time, tolerated and even celebrated in some other country at the same time or soon afterwards.
The opposition of philosophy to reality arises from its principles. Philosophy insists that the actions and aims of man must not be the product of blind necessity. Neither the concepts of science nor the form of social life, neither the prevailing way of thinking nor the prevailing mores should be accepted by custom and practiced uncritically. Philosophy has set itself against mere tradition and resignation in the decisive problems of existence, and it has shouldered the unpleasant task of throwing the light of consciousness even upon those human relations and modes of reaction which have become so deeply rooted that they seem natural, immutable, and eternal. One could reply that the sciences, too, and particularly their inventions and technological changes, save mankind from the deep-worn grooves of habit. When we compare present-day life with that thirty, fifty, or a hundred years ago, we cannot truthfully accept the notion that the sciences have not disturbed human habits and customs. Not only industry and transportation, but even art, has been rationalized. A single illustration will suffice. In former years a playwright would work out his individual conception of human problems in the seclusion of his personal life. When his work finally reached the public, he thereby exposed his world of ideas to conflict with the existing world and thus contributed to the development of his own mind and of the social mind as well. But today both the production and reception of works of art on the screen and the radio have been completely rationalized. Movies are not prepared in a quiet studio; a whole staff of experts is engaged. And from the outset the goal is not harmony with some idea, but harmony with the current views of the public, with the general taste, carefully examined and calculated beforehand by these experts. If, sometimes, the pattern of an artistic product does not harmonize with public opinion, the fault usually does not lie in an intrinsic disagreement, but in an incorrect estimate by the producers of the reaction of public and press. This much is certain: no sphere of industry, either material or intellectual, is ever in a state of complete stability; customs have no time in which to settle down. The foundations of present-day society are constantly shifting through the intervention of science. There is hardly an activity in business or in government which thought is not constantly engaged in simplifying and improving.
But if we probe a little deeper, we discover that despite all these manifestations, man’s way of thinking and acting is not progressing as much as one might be led to believe. On the contrary, the principles now underlying the actions of men, at least in a large portion of the world, are certainly more mechanical than in other periods when they were grounded in living consciousness and conviction. Technological progress has helped to make it even easier to cement old illusions more firmly, and to introduce new ones into the minds of men without interference from reason. It is the very diffusion and industrialization of cultural institutions which cause significant factors of intellectual growth to decline and even disappear, because of shallowness of content, dullness of the intellectual organs, and elimination of some of man’s individualistic creative powers. In recent decades, this dual aspect of the triumphal procession of science and technology has been repeatedly noted by both romantic and progressive thinkers. The French writer Paul Valéry has recently formulated the situation with particular cogency. He relates how he was taken to the theater as a child to see a fantasy in which a young man was pursued by an evil spirit who used every sort of devilish device to frighten him and make him do his bidding. When he lay in bed at night, the evil spirit surrounded him with hellish fiends and flames; suddenly his room would become an ocean and the bedspread a sail. No sooner did one ghost disappear, than a new one arrived. After a while these horrors ceased to affect the little boy, and finally, when a new one began, he exclaimed: Voilà les bêtises qui recommencent! (Here comes some more of that nonsense!) Some day, Valéry concludes, mankind might react in the same way to the discoveries of science and the marvels of technology.
Not all philosophers, and we least of all, share Paul Valéry’s pessimistic conception of scientific progress. But it is true that neither the achievements of science by themselves, nor the advance in industrial method, are immediately identical with the real progress of mankind. It is obvious that man may be materially, emotionally, and intellectually impoverished at decisive points despite the progress of science and industry. Science and technology are only elements in an existing social totality, and it is quite possible that, despite all their achievements, other factors, even the totality itself, could be moving backwards, that man could become increasingly stunted and unhappy, that the individual could be ruined and nations headed toward disaster. We are fortunate that we live in a country which has done away with national boundaries and war situations over half a continent. But in Europe, while the means of communication became more rapid and complete, while distances decreased, while the habits of life became more and more alike, tariff walls grew higher and higher, nations feverishly piled up armaments, and both foreign relations and internal political conditions approached and eventually arrived at a state of war. This antagonistic situation asserts itself in other parts of the world, too, and who knows whether, and for how long, the remainder of the world will be able to protect itself against the consequences in all their intensity. Rationalism in details can readily go with a general irrationalism. Actions of individuals, correctly regarded as reasonable and useful in daily life, may spell waste and even destruction for society. That is why in periods like ours, we must remember that the best will to create something useful may result in its opposite, simply because it is blind to what lies beyond the limits of its scientific specialty or profession, because it focuses on what is nearest at hand and misconstrues its true nature, for the latter can be revealed only in the larger context. In the New Testament, “They know not what they do” refers only to evildoers. If these words are not to apply to all mankind, thought must not be merely confined within the special sciences and to the practical learning of the professions, thought which investigates the material and intellectual presuppositions that are usually taken for granted, thought which impregnates with human purpose those relationships of daily life that are almost blindly created and maintained.
When it was said that the tension between philosophy and reality is fundamental, unlike the occasional difficulties against which science must struggle in social life, this referred to the tendency embodied in philosophy, not to put an end to thought, and to exercise particular control over all those factors of life which are generally held to be fixed, unconquerable forces or eternal laws. This was precisely the issue in the trial of Socrates. Against the demand for submission to the customs protected by the gods and unquestioning adaptation to the traditional forms of life, Socrates asserted the principle that man should know what he does, and shape his own destiny. His god dwells within him, that is to say, in his own reason and will. Today the conflicts in philosophy no longer appear as struggles over gods, but the situation of the world is no less critical. We should indeed be accepting the present situation if we were to maintain that reason and reality have been reconciled, and that man’s autonomy was assured within this society. The original function of philosophy is still very relevant.
It may not be incorrect to suppose that these are the reasons why discussions within philosophy, and even discussions about the concept of philosophy, are so much more radical and unconciliatory than discussions in the sciences. Unlike any other pursuit, philosophy does not have a field of action marked out for it within the given order. This order of life, with its hierarchy of values, is itself a problem for philosophy. While science is still able to refer to given data which point the way for it, philosophy must fall back upon itself, upon its own theoretical activity. The determination of its object falls within its own program much more than is the case with the special sciences, even today when the latter are so deeply engrossed with problems of theory and methodology. Our analysis also gives us an insight into the reason why philosophy has received so much more attention in European life than in America. The geographical expansion and historical development have made it possible for certain social conflicts, which have flared up repeatedly and sharply in Europe because of the existing relationships, to decline in significance in this continent under the strain of opening up the country and of performing the daily tasks. The basic problems of societal life found a temporary practical solution, and so the tensions which give rise to theoretical thought in specific historical situations, never became so important. In this country, theoretical thought usually lags far behind the determination and accumulation of facts. Whether that kind of activity still satisfies the demands which are justly made upon knowledge in this country too, is a problem which we do not have the time to discuss now.
It is true that the definitions of many modern authors, some of which have already been cited, hardly reveal that character of philosophy which distinguishes it from all the special sciences.
Many philosophers throw envious glances at their colleagues in other faculties who are much better off because they have a well-marked field of work whose fruitfulness for society cannot be questioned. These authors struggle to “sell” philosophy as a particular kind of science, or at least, to prove that it is very useful for the special sciences. Presented in this way, philosophy is no longer the critic, but the servant of science and the social forms in general. Such an attitude is a confession that thought which transcends the prevailing forms of scientific activity, and thus transcends the horizon of contemporary society, is impossible. Thought should rather be content to accept the tasks set for it by the ever renewed needs of government and industry, and to deal with these tasks in the form in which they are received. The extent to which the form and content of these tasks are the correct ones for mankind at the present historical moment, the question whether the social organization in which they arise is still suitable for mankind – such problems are neither scientific nor philosophical in the eyes of those humble philosophers; they are matters for personal decision, for subjective evaluation by the individual who has surrendered to his taste and temper. The only philosophical position which can be recognized in such a conception is the negative doctrine that there really is no philosophy, that systematic thought must retire at the decisive moments of life, in short, philosophical skepticism and nihilism.
Before proceeding further, it is necessary to distinguish the conception of the social function of philosophy presented here from another view, best represented in several branches of modern sociology, which identifies philosophy with one general social function, namely ideology. This view maintains that philosophical thought, or, more correctly, thought as such, is merely the expression of a specific social situation. Every social group – the German Junkers, for example – develops a conceptual apparatus, certain methods of thought and a specific style of thought adapted to its social position. For centuries the life of the Junkers has been associated with a specific order of succession; their relationship to the princely dynasty upon which they were dependent and to their own servants had patriarchal features. Consequently, they tended to base their whole thought on the forms of the organic, the ordered succession of generations, on biological growth. Everything appeared under the aspect of the organism and natural ties. Liberal bourgeoisie, on the other hand, whose happiness and unhappiness depend upon business success, whose experience has taught them that everything must be reduced to the common denominator of money, have developed a more abstract, more mechanistic way of thinking. Not hierarchical but leveling tendencies are characteristic of their intellectual style, of their philosophy. The same approach applies to other groups, past and present. With the philosophy of Descartes, for example, we must ask whether his notions corresponded to the aristocratic and Jesuit groups of the court, or to the noblesse de robe, or to the lower bourgeoisie and the masses. Every pattern of thought, every philosophical or other cultural work, belongs to a specific social group, with which it originates and with whose existence it is bound up. Every pattern of thought is “ideology.”
There can be no doubt that there is some truth in this attitude. Many ideas prevalent today are revealed to be mere illusions when we consider them from the point of view of their social basis. But it is not enough merely to correlate these ideas with some one social group, as that sociological school does. We must penetrate deeper and develop them out of the decisive historical process from which the social groups themselves are to be explained. Let us take an example. In Descartes’ philosophy, mechanistic thinking, particularly mathematics, plays an important part. We can even say that this whole philosophy is the universalization of mathematical thought. Of course, we can now try to find some group in society whose character is correlative with this viewpoint, and we shall probably find some such definite group in the society of Descartes’ time. But a more complicated, yet more adequate, approach is to study the productive system of those days and to show how a member of the rising middle class, by force of his very activity in commerce and manufacture, was induced to make precise calculations if he wished to preserve and increase his power in the newly developed competitive market, and the same holds true of his agents, so to speak, in science and technology whose inventions and other scientific work played so large a part in the constant struggle between individuals, cities, and nations in the modern era. For all these subjects, the given approach to the world was its consideration in mathematical terms. Because this class, through the development of society, became characteristic of the whole of society, that approach was widely diffused far beyond the middle class itself. Sociology is not sufficient. We must have a comprehensive theory of history if we wish to avoid serious errors. Otherwise we run the risk of relating important philosophical theories to accidental, or at any rate, not decisive groups, and of misconstruing the significance of the specific group in the whole of society, and, therefore, of misconstruing the culture pattern in question. But this is not the chief objection. The stereotyped application of the concept of ideology to every pattern of thought is, in the last analysis, based on the notion that there is no philosophical truth, in fact no truth at all for humanity, and that all thought is seinsgebunden (situationally determined). In its methods and results it belongs only to a specific stratum of mankind and is valid only for this stratum. The attitude to be taken to philosophical ideas does not comprise objective testing and practical application, but a more or less complicated correlation to a social group. And the claims of philosophy are thus satisfied. We easily recognize that this tendency, the final consequence of which is the resolution of philosophy into a special science, into sociology, merely repeats the skeptical view which we have already criticized It is not calculated to explain the social function of philosophy, but rather to perform one itself, namely, to discourage thought from its practical tendency of pointing to the future.
The real social function of philosophy lies in its criticism of what is prevalent. That does not mean superficial fault-finding with individual ideas or conditions, as though a philosopher were a crank. Nor does it mean that the philosopher complains about this or that isolated condition and suggests remedies. The chief aim of such criticism is to prevent mankind from losing itself in those ideas and activities which the existing organization of society instills into its members. Man must be made to see the relationship between his activities and what is achieved thereby, between his particular existence and the general life of society, between his everyday projects and the great ideas which he acknowledges. Philosophy exposes the contradiction in which man is entangled in so far as he must attach himself to isolated ideas and concepts in everyday life. My point can easily be seen from the following. The aim of Western philosophy in its first complete form, in Plato, was to cancel and negate onesidedness in a more comprehensive system of thought, in a system more flexible and better adapted to reality. In the course of some of the dialogues, the teacher demonstrates how his interlocutor is inevitably involved in contradictions if he maintains his position too onesidedly. The teacher shows that it is necessary to advance from this one idea to another, for each idea receives its proper meaning only within the whole system of ideas. Consider, for example, the discussion of the nature of courage in the Laches. When the interlocutor clings to his definition that courage means not running away from the battlefield, he is made to realize that in certain situations, such behavior would not be a virtue but foolhardiness, as when the whole army is retreating and a single individual attempts to win the battle all by himself. The same applies to the idea of Sophrosyne, inadequately translated as temperance or moderation. Sophrosyne is certainly a virtue, but it becomes dubious if it is made the sole end of action and is not grounded in knowledge of all the other virtues. Sophrosyne is conceivable only as a moment of correct conduct within the whole. Nor is the case less true for justice. Good will, the will to be just, is a beautiful thing. But this subjective striving is not enough. The title of justice does not accrue to actions which were good in intention but failed in execution. This applies to private life as well as to State activity. Every measure, regardless of the good intentions of its author, may become harmful unless it is based on comprehensive knowledge and is appropriate for the situation. Summum jus, says Hegel in a similar context, may become summa injuria. We may recall the comparison drawn in the Gorgias. The trades of the baker, the cook, and the tailor are in themselves very useful. But they may lead to injury unless hygienic considerations determine their place in the lives of the individual and of mankind. Harbors, shipyards, fortifications, and taxes are good in the same sense. But if the happiness of the community is forgotten, these factors of security and prosperity become instruments of destruction.
Thus, in Europe, in the last decades before the outbreak of the present war, we find the chaotic growth of individual elements of social life: giant economic enterprises, crushing taxes, an enormous increase in armies and armaments, coercive discipline, one-sided cultivation of the natural sciences, and so on. Instead of rational organization of domestic and international relations, there was the rapid spread of certain portions of civilization at the expense of the whole. One stood against the other, and mankind as a whole was destroyed thereby. Plato’s demand that the state should be ruled by philosophers does not mean that these rulers should be selected from among the authors of textbooks on logic. In business life, the Fachgeist, the spirit of the specialist, knows only profit, in military life power, and even in science only success in a special discipline. When this spirit is left unchecked, it typifies an anarchic state of society. For Plato, philosophy meant the tendency to bring and maintain the various energies and branches of knowledge in a unity which would transform these partially destructive elements into productive ones in the fullest sense. This is the meaning of his demand that the philosophers should rule. It means lack of faith in the prevailing popular thought. Unlike the latter, reason never loses itself in a single idea, though that idea might be the correct one at any given moment. Reason exists in the whole system of ideas, in the progression from one idea to another, so that every idea is understood and applied in its true meaning, that is to say, in its meaning within the whole of knowledge. Only such thought is rational thought.
This dialectical conception has been applied to the concrete problems of life by the great philosophers; indeed, the rational organization of human existence is the real goal of their philosophies. Dialectical clarification and refinement of the conceptual world which we meet in daily and scientific life, education of the individual for right thinking and acting, has as its goal the realization of the good, and, during the flourishing periods of philosophy at least, that meant the rational organization of human society. Though Aristotle, in his Metaphysics, regards the self-contemplation of the mind, theoretical activity, as the greatest happiness, he expressly states that this happiness is possible only on a specific material basis, that is, under certain social and economic conditions. Plato and Aristotle did not believe with Antisthenes and the Cynics that reason could forever continue to develop in people who literally led a dog’s life, nor that wisdom could go hand in hand with misery. An equitable state of affairs was for them the necessary condition for the unfolding of man’s intellectual powers, and this idea lies at the basis of all of Western humanism.
Anyone who studies modern philosophy, not merely in the standard compendia, but through his own historical researches, will perceive the social problem to be a very decisive motive. I need only mention Hobbes and Spinoza. The Tractatus Theologico-Politicus of Spinoza was the only major work which he published during his lifetime. With other thinkers, Leibniz and Kant for instance, a more penetrating analysis reveals the existence of social and historical categories in the foundations of the most abstract chapters of their works, their metaphysical and transcendental doctrines. Without those categories, it is impossible to understand or solve their problems. A basic analysis of the content of purely theoretical philosophical doctrines is therefore one of the most interesting tasks of modern research in the history of philosophy. But this task has little in common with the superficial correlation to which reference has already been made. The historian of art or literature has corresponding tasks.
Despite the important part played in philosophy by the examination of social problems, expressed or unexpressed, conscious or unconscious, let us again emphasize that the social function of philosophy is not to be found just there, but rather in the development of critical and dialectical thought. Philosophy is the methodical and steadfast attempt to bring reason into the world. Its precarious and controversial position results from this. Philosophy is inconvenient, obstinate, and with all that, of no immediate use – in fact it is a source of annoyance. Philosophy lacks criteria and compelling proofs. Investigation of facts is strenuous, too, but one at least knows what to go by. Man is naturally quite reluctant to occupy himself with the confusion and entanglements of his private and public life: he feels insecure and on dangerous ground. In our present division of labor, those problems are assigned to the philosopher or theologian. Or, man consoles himself with the thought that the discords are merely transient and that fundamentally everything is all right. In the past century of European history, it has been shown conclusively that, despite a semblance of security, man has not been able to arrange his life in accordance with his conceptions of humanity. There is a gulf between the ideas by which men judge themselves and the world on the one hand, and the social reality which they reproduce through their actions on the other hand. Because of this circumstance, all their conceptions and judgments are two-sided and falsified. Now man sees himself heading for disaster or already engulfed in it, and in many countries he is so paralyzed by approaching barbarism that he is almost completely unable to react and protect himself. He is the rabbit before the hungry stoat. There are times perhaps when one can get along without theory, but his deficiency lowers man and renders him helpless against force. The fact that theory may rise into the rarefied atmosphere of a hollow and bloodless idealism or sink into tiresome and empty phrasemongering, does not mean that these forms are its true forms. As far as tedium and banality are concerned, philosophy often finds its match in the so-called investigation of facts. Today, at any event, the whole historical dynamic has placed philosophy in the center of social actuality, and social actuality in the center of philosophy.
Attention should be drawn to a particularly important change which has taken place along these lines since classical antiquity. Plato held that Eros enables the sage to know the ideas. He linked knowledge with a moral or psychological state, Eros, which in principle may exist at every historical moment. For this reason, his proposed State appeared to him as an eternal ideal of reason, not bound up with any historical condition. The dialogue on the Laws, then, was a compromise, accepted as a preliminary step which did not affect the eternal ideal. Plato’s State is a Utopia, like those projected at the beginning of the modern era and even in our own days. But Utopia is no longer the proper philosophic form for dealing with the problem of society. It has been recognized that the contradictions in thought cannot be resolved by purely theoretical reflection. That requires an historical development beyond which we cannot leap in thought. Knowledge is bound up not only with psychological and moral conditions, but also with social conditions. The enunciation and description of perfect political and social forms out of pure ideas is neither meaningful nor adequate.
Utopia as the crown of philosophical systems is therefore replaced by a scientific description of concrete relationships and tendencies, which can lead to an improvement of human life. This change has the most far-reaching consequences for the structure and meaning of philosophical theory. modern philosophy shares with the ancients their high opinion of the potentialities of the human race, their optimism over man’s potential achievements. The proposition that man is by nature incapable of living a good life or of achieving the highest levels of social organization, has been rejected by the greatest thinkers. Let us recall Kant’s famous remarks about Plato’s Utopia: “The Platonic Republic has been supposed to be a striking example of purely imaginary perfection. It has become a byword, as something that could exist in the brain of an idle thinker only, and Bruckner thinks it ridiculous that Plato could have said that no prince could ever govern well, unless he participated in the ideas. We should do better, however, to follow up this thought and endeavor (where that excellent philosopher leaves us without his guidance) to place it in a clearer light by our own efforts, rather than to throw it aside as useless, under the miserable and very dangerous pretext of its impracticability. For nothing can be more mischievous and more unworthy a philosopher than the vulgar appeal to what is called adverse experience, which possibly might never have existed, if at the proper time institutions had been framed according to those ideas, and not according to crude concepts, which, because they were derived from experience only, have marred all good intentions.”
Since Plato, philosophy has never deserted the true idealism that it is possible to introduce reason among individuals and among nations. It has only discarded the false idealism that it is sufficient to set up the picture of perfection with no regard for the way in which it is to be attained. In modern times, loyalty to the highest ideas has been linked, in a world opposed to them, with the sober desire to know how these ideas can be realized on earth.
Before concluding, let us return once more to a misunderstanding which has already been mentioned. In philosophy, unlike business and politics, criticism does not mean the condemnation of a thing, grumbling about some measure or other, or mere negation and repudiation. Under certain conditions, criticism may actually take this destructive turn; there are examples in the Hellenistic age. By criticism, we mean that intellectual, and eventually practical, effort which is not satisfied to accept the prevailing ideas, actions, and social conditions unthinkingly and from mere habit; effort which aims to coordinate the individual sides of social life with each other and with the general ideas and aims of the epoch, to deduce them genetically, to distinguish the appearance from the essence, to examine the foundations of things, in short, really to know them. Hegel, the philosopher to whom we are most indebted in many respects, was so far removed from any querulous repudiation of specific conditions, that the King of Prussia called him to Berlin to inculcate the students with the proper loyalty and to immunize them against political opposition. Hegel did his best in that direction, and declared the Prussian state to be the embodiment of the divine Idea on earth. But thought is a peculiar factor. To justify the Prussian state, Hegel had to teach man to overcome the onesidedness and limitations of ordinary human understanding and to see the interrelationship between all conceptual and real relations. Further, he had to teach man to construe human history in its complex and contradictory structure, to search out the ideas of freedom and justice in the lives of nations, to know how nations perish when their principle proves inadequate and the time is ripe for new social forms. The fact that Hegel thus had to train his students in theoretical thought, had highly equivocal consequences for the Prussian state. In the long run, Hegel’s work did more serious harm to that reactionary institution than all the use the latter could derive from his formal glorification. Reason is a poor ally of reaction. A little less than ten years after Hegel’s death (his chair remained unoccupied that long), the King appointed a successor to fight the “dragon’s teeth of Hegelian pantheism,” and the “arrogance and fanaticism of his school.”
We cannot say that, in the history of philosophy, the thinkers who had the most progressive effect were those who found most to criticize or who were always on hand with so-called practical programs. Things are not that simple. A philosophical doctrine has many sides, and each side may have the most diverse historical effects. Only in exceptional historical periods, such as the French Enlightenment, does philosophy itself become politics. In that period, the word philosophy did not call to mind logic and epistemology so much as attacks on the Church hierarchy and on an inhuman judicial system. The removal of certain preconceptions was virtually equivalent to opening the gates of the new world. Tradition and faith were two of the most powerful bulwarks of the old regime, and the philosophical attacks constituted an immediate historical action. Today, however, it is not a matter of eliminating a creed, for in the totalitarian states, where the noisiest appeal is made to heroism and a lofty Weltanschauung, neither faith nor Weltanshauung rule, but only dull indifference and the apathy of the individual towards destiny and to what comes from above. Today our task is rather to ensure that, in the future, the capacity for theory and for action which derives from theory will never again disappear, even in some coming period of peace when the daily routine may tend to allow the whole problem to be forgotten once more. Our task is continually to struggle, lest mankind become completely disheartened by the frightful happenings of the present, lest man’s belief in a worthy, peaceful and happy direction of society perish from the earth.


Max Horkheimer Archive

Critical Theory: Knowing What it is About

Some have asked for a repost of everything on another site.  I intend to be more selective. 🙂

Critical Theory: Knowing What it is About

Horkheimer
and his Masterpiece
">We have recently, and fortunately, seen much more about Critical Theory (sometimes called the "Frankfurt School," a bit too reified for my tastes), but there is little evidence anyone talking about it knows what it is all about.
Max Horkheimer, partly inspired by Arthur Schopenhauer (and not as much by Nietzsche as many seem to think), is the center of this program and devoted much of his energy towards finding the means to correct social problems using philosophy as a tool.  The entire program could be characterized as a synthesis of the political left and the cultural right (if such terms mean much to you), with dialogue or give and take as a key issue, an approach sometimes referred to as "dialectic".

For this reason we reprint one of his earlier works, written as Hitler was gaining strength and sanity loosing it.  Hitler has since gone and hence has no strength, but sanity is even more rapidly on the decline.
Max Horkheimer 1939

The Social Function of Philosophy


Written: in English in 1939; Source: Critical Theory. Selected Essays Max Horkheimer, published by Continuum 1982; Public Domain: this article is free of copyright; Transcribed: by Andy Blunden; Proofed: and corrected by Chris, 2009.

WHEN the words physics, chemistry, medicine, or history are mentioned in a conversation, the participants usually have something very definite in mind. Should any difference of opinion arise, we could consult an encyclopedia or accepted textbook or turn to one or more outstanding specialists in the field in question. The definition of any one of these sciences derives immediately from its place in present-day society. Though these sciences may make the greatest advances in the future, though it is even conceivable that several of them, physics and chemistry for example, may some day be merged, no one is really interested in defining these concepts in any other way than by reference to the scientific activities now being carried on under such headings. It is different with philosophy. Suppose we ask a professor of philosophy what philosophy is. If we are lucky and happen to a specialist who is not averse to definitions in general, he will give us one. If we then adopt this definition, we should probably soon discover that it is by no means the universally accepted meaning of the word. We might then appeal to other authorities, and pore over textbooks, modern and old. The confusion would only increase. Many thinkers, accepting Plato and Kant as their authorities, regard philosophy as an exact science in its own right, with its own field and subject matter. In our epoch this conception is chiefly represented by the late Edmund Husserl. Other thinkers, like Ernst Mach, conceive philosophy as the critical elaboration and synthesis of the special sciences to a unified whole. Bertrand Russell, too, holds that the task of philosophy is “that of logical analysis, followed by logical synthesis.” He thus fully agrees with L. T. Hobhouse, who declares that “Philosophy ... has a synthesis of the sciences as its goal.” This conception goes back to Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer, for whom philosophy constituted the total system of human knowledge. Philosophy, therefore, is an independent science for some, a subsidiary or auxiliary discipline for others. If most writers of philosophical works agree on the scientific character of philosophy, a few, but by no means the worst, have emphatically denied it. For the German poet Schiller, whose philosophical essays have had an influence perhaps even more profound than his dramas, the purpose of philosophy was to bring aesthetic order into our thoughts and actions. Beauty was the criterion of its results. Other poets, like Hölderlin and Novalis, held a similar position, and even pure philosophers, Schelling for instance, came very close to it in some of their formulations. Henri Bergson, at any rate, insists that philosophy is closely related to art, and is not a science. As if the different views on the general character of philosophy were not enough, we also find the most diverse notions about its content and its methods. There are still some thinkers who hold that philosophy is concerned exclusively with the highest concepts and laws of Being, and ultimately with the cognition of God. This is true of the Aristotelian and Neo-Thomist schools. Then there is the related view that philosophy deals with the so-called a priori. Alexander describes philosophy as “the experiential or empirical study of the non-empirical or a priori, and of such questions as arise out of the relation of the empirical to the a priori” (space, time and deity). Others, who derive from the English sensualists and the German school of Fries and Apelt, conceive of it as the science of inner experience. According to logical empiricists like Carnap, philosophy is concerned essentially with scientific language; according to the school of Windelband and Rickert (another school with many American followers), it deals with universal values, above all with truth, beauty, goodness, and holiness. Finally, everyone knows that there is no agreement in method. The Neo-Kantians all believe that the procedure of philosophy must consist in the analysis of concepts and their reduction to the ultimate elements of cognition. Bergson and Max Scheler consider intuition (“Wesensschau, Wesenserschauung”) to be the decisive philosophical act. The phenomenological method of Husserl and Heidegger is flatly opposed to the empirio-criticism. of Mach and Avenarius. The logistic of Bertrand Russell, Whitehead, and their followers, is the avowed enemy of the dialectic of Hegel. The kind of philosophizing one prefers depends, according to William James, on one’s character and experience. These definitions have been mentioned in order to indicate that the situation in philosophy is not the same as in other intellectual pursuits. No matter how many points of dispute there may be in those fields, at least the general line of their intellectual work is universally recognized. The prominent representatives more or less agree on subject matter and methods. In philosophy, however, refutation of one school by another usually involves complete rejection, the negation of the substance of its work as fundamentally false. This attitude is not shared by all schools, of course. A dialectical philosophy, for example, in keeping with its principles, will tend to extract the relative truths of the individual points of view and introduce them in its own comprehensive theory. Other philosophical doctrines, such as modern positivism, have less elastic principles, and they simply exclude from the realm of knowledge a very large part of the philosophical literature, especially the great systems of the past. In short, it cannot be taken for granted that anyone who uses the term “philosophy” shares with his audience more than a few very vague conceptions. The individual sciences apply themselves to problems which must be treated because they arise out of the life process of present-day society. Both the individual problems and their allotment to specific disciplines derive, in the last analysis, from the needs of mankind in its past and present forms of organization. This does not mean that every single scientific investigation satisfies some urgent need. Many scientific undertakings produced results that mankind could easily do without. Science is no exception to that misapplication of energy which we observe in every sphere of cultural life. The development of branches of science which have only a dubious practical value for the immediate present is, however, part of that expenditure of human labor which is one of the necessary conditions of scientific and technological progress. We should remember that certain branches of mathematics, which appeared to be mere playthings at first, later turned out to be extraordinarily useful. Thus, though there are scientific undertakings which can lead to no immediate use, all of them have some potential applicability within the given social reality, remote and vague as it may be. By its very nature, the work of the scientist is capable of enriching life in its present form. His fields of activity are therefore largely marked out for him, and the attempts to alter the boundaries between the several domains of science, to develop new disciplines, as well as continuously to differentiate and integrate them, are always guided by social need, whether consciously or not. This need is also operative, though indirectly, in the laboratories and lecture halls of the university, not to mention the chemical laboratories and statistical departments of large industrial enterprises and in the hospitals. Philosophy has no such guide. Naturally, many desires play upon it; it is expected to find solutions for problems which the sciences either do not deal with or treat unsatisfactorily. But the practice of social life offers no criterion for philosophy; philosophy can point to no successes. Insofar as individual philosophers occasionally do offer something in this respect, it is a matter of services which are not specifically philosophical. We have, for example, the mathematical discoveries of Descartes and Leibniz, the psychological researches of Hume, the physical theories of Ernst Mach, and so forth. The opponents of philosophy also say that insofar as it has value, it is not philosophy but positive science. Everything else in philosophical systems is mere talk, they claim, occasionally stimulating, but usually boring and always useless. Philosophers, on the other hand, show a certain obstinate disregard for the verdict of the outside world. Ever since the trial of Socrates, it has been clear that they have a strained relationship with reality as it is, and especially with the community in which they live. The tension sometimes takes the form of open persecution; at other times merely failure to understand their language. They must live in hiding, physically or intellectually. Scientists, too, have come into conflict with the societies of their time. But here we must resume the distinction between the philosophical and the scientific elements of which we have already spoken, and reverse the picture, because the reasons for the persecution usually lay in the philosophical views of these thinkers, not in their scientific theories. Galileo’s bitter persecutors among the Jesuits admitted that he would have been free to publish his heliocentric theory if he had placed it in the proper philosophical and theological context. Albertus Magnus himself discussed the heliocentric theory in his Summa, and he was never attacked for it. Furthermore, the conflict between scientists and society, at least in modern times, is not connected with fundamentals but only with individual doctrines, not tolerated by this or that authority in one country at one time, tolerated and even celebrated in some other country at the same time or soon afterwards. The opposition of philosophy to reality arises from its principles. Philosophy insists that the actions and aims of man must not be the product of blind necessity. Neither the concepts of science nor the form of social life, neither the prevailing way of thinking nor the prevailing mores should be accepted by custom and practiced uncritically. Philosophy has set itself against mere tradition and resignation in the decisive problems of existence, and it has shouldered the unpleasant task of throwing the light of consciousness even upon those human relations and modes of reaction which have become so deeply rooted that they seem natural, immutable, and eternal. One could reply that the sciences, too, and particularly their inventions and technological changes, save mankind from the deep-worn grooves of habit. When we compare present-day life with that thirty, fifty, or a hundred years ago, we cannot truthfully accept the notion that the sciences have not disturbed human habits and customs. Not only industry and transportation, but even art, has been rationalized. A single illustration will suffice. In former years a playwright would work out his individual conception of human problems in the seclusion of his personal life. When his work finally reached the public, he thereby exposed his world of ideas to conflict with the existing world and thus contributed to the development of his own mind and of the social mind as well. But today both the production and reception of works of art on the screen and the radio have been completely rationalized. Movies are not prepared in a quiet studio; a whole staff of experts is engaged. And from the outset the goal is not harmony with some idea, but harmony with the current views of the public, with the general taste, carefully examined and calculated beforehand by these experts. If, sometimes, the pattern of an artistic product does not harmonize with public opinion, the fault usually does not lie in an intrinsic disagreement, but in an incorrect estimate by the producers of the reaction of public and press. This much is certain: no sphere of industry, either material or intellectual, is ever in a state of complete stability; customs have no time in which to settle down. The foundations of present-day society are constantly shifting through the intervention of science. There is hardly an activity in business or in government which thought is not constantly engaged in simplifying and improving. But if we probe a little deeper, we discover that despite all these manifestations, man’s way of thinking and acting is not progressing as much as one might be led to believe. On the contrary, the principles now underlying the actions of men, at least in a large portion of the world, are certainly more mechanical than in other periods when they were grounded in living consciousness and conviction. Technological progress has helped to make it even easier to cement old illusions more firmly, and to introduce new ones into the minds of men without interference from reason. It is the very diffusion and industrialization of cultural institutions which cause significant factors of intellectual growth to decline and even disappear, because of shallowness of content, dullness of the intellectual organs, and elimination of some of man’s individualistic creative powers. In recent decades, this dual aspect of the triumphal procession of science and technology has been repeatedly noted by both romantic and progressive thinkers. The French writer Paul Valéry has recently formulated the situation with particular cogency. He relates how he was taken to the theater as a child to see a fantasy in which a young man was pursued by an evil spirit who used every sort of devilish device to frighten him and make him do his bidding. When he lay in bed at night, the evil spirit surrounded him with hellish fiends and flames; suddenly his room would become an ocean and the bedspread a sail. No sooner did one ghost disappear, than a new one arrived. After a while these horrors ceased to affect the little boy, and finally, when a new one began, he exclaimed: Voilà les bêtises qui recommencent! (Here comes some more of that nonsense!) Some day, Valéry concludes, mankind might react in the same way to the discoveries of science and the marvels of technology. Not all philosophers, and we least of all, share Paul Valéry’s pessimistic conception of scientific progress. But it is true that neither the achievements of science by themselves, nor the advance in industrial method, are immediately identical with the real progress of mankind. It is obvious that man may be materially, emotionally, and intellectually impoverished at decisive points despite the progress of science and industry. Science and technology are only elements in an existing social totality, and it is quite possible that, despite all their achievements, other factors, even the totality itself, could be moving backwards, that man could become increasingly stunted and unhappy, that the individual could be ruined and nations headed toward disaster. We are fortunate that we live in a country which has done away with national boundaries and war situations over half a continent. But in Europe, while the means of communication became more rapid and complete, while distances decreased, while the habits of life became more and more alike, tariff walls grew higher and higher, nations feverishly piled up armaments, and both foreign relations and internal political conditions approached and eventually arrived at a state of war. This antagonistic situation asserts itself in other parts of the world, too, and who knows whether, and for how long, the remainder of the world will be able to protect itself against the consequences in all their intensity. Rationalism in details can readily go with a general irrationalism. Actions of individuals, correctly regarded as reasonable and useful in daily life, may spell waste and even destruction for society. That is why in periods like ours, we must remember that the best will to create something useful may result in its opposite, simply because it is blind to what lies beyond the limits of its scientific specialty or profession, because it focuses on what is nearest at hand and misconstrues its true nature, for the latter can be revealed only in the larger context. In the New Testament, “They know not what they do” refers only to evildoers. If these words are not to apply to all mankind, thought must not be merely confined within the special sciences and to the practical learning of the professions, thought which investigates the material and intellectual presuppositions that are usually taken for granted, thought which impregnates with human purpose those relationships of daily life that are almost blindly created and maintained. When it was said that the tension between philosophy and reality is fundamental, unlike the occasional difficulties against which science must struggle in social life, this referred to the tendency embodied in philosophy, not to put an end to thought, and to exercise particular control over all those factors of life which are generally held to be fixed, unconquerable forces or eternal laws. This was precisely the issue in the trial of Socrates. Against the demand for submission to the customs protected by the gods and unquestioning adaptation to the traditional forms of life, Socrates asserted the principle that man should know what he does, and shape his own destiny. His god dwells within him, that is to say, in his own reason and will. Today the conflicts in philosophy no longer appear as struggles over gods, but the situation of the world is no less critical. We should indeed be accepting the present situation if we were to maintain that reason and reality have been reconciled, and that man’s autonomy was assured within this society. The original function of philosophy is still very relevant. It may not be incorrect to suppose that these are the reasons why discussions within philosophy, and even discussions about the concept of philosophy, are so much more radical and unconciliatory than discussions in the sciences. Unlike any other pursuit, philosophy does not have a field of action marked out for it within the given order. This order of life, with its hierarchy of values, is itself a problem for philosophy. While science is still able to refer to given data which point the way for it, philosophy must fall back upon itself, upon its own theoretical activity. The determination of its object falls within its own program much more than is the case with the special sciences, even today when the latter are so deeply engrossed with problems of theory and methodology. Our analysis also gives us an insight into the reason why philosophy has received so much more attention in European life than in America. The geographical expansion and historical development have made it possible for certain social conflicts, which have flared up repeatedly and sharply in Europe because of the existing relationships, to decline in significance in this continent under the strain of opening up the country and of performing the daily tasks. The basic problems of societal life found a temporary practical solution, and so the tensions which give rise to theoretical thought in specific historical situations, never became so important. In this country, theoretical thought usually lags far behind the determination and accumulation of facts. Whether that kind of activity still satisfies the demands which are justly made upon knowledge in this country too, is a problem which we do not have the time to discuss now. It is true that the definitions of many modern authors, some of which have already been cited, hardly reveal that character of philosophy which distinguishes it from all the special sciences. Many philosophers throw envious glances at their colleagues in other faculties who are much better off because they have a well-marked field of work whose fruitfulness for society cannot be questioned. These authors struggle to “sell” philosophy as a particular kind of science, or at least, to prove that it is very useful for the special sciences. Presented in this way, philosophy is no longer the critic, but the servant of science and the social forms in general. Such an attitude is a confession that thought which transcends the prevailing forms of scientific activity, and thus transcends the horizon of contemporary society, is impossible. Thought should rather be content to accept the tasks set for it by the ever renewed needs of government and industry, and to deal with these tasks in the form in which they are received. The extent to which the form and content of these tasks are the correct ones for mankind at the present historical moment, the question whether the social organization in which they arise is still suitable for mankind – such problems are neither scientific nor philosophical in the eyes of those humble philosophers; they are matters for personal decision, for subjective evaluation by the individual who has surrendered to his taste and temper. The only philosophical position which can be recognized in such a conception is the negative doctrine that there really is no philosophy, that systematic thought must retire at the decisive moments of life, in short, philosophical skepticism and nihilism. Before proceeding further, it is necessary to distinguish the conception of the social function of philosophy presented here from another view, best represented in several branches of modern sociology, which identifies philosophy with one general social function, namely ideology. This view maintains that philosophical thought, or, more correctly, thought as such, is merely the expression of a specific social situation. Every social group – the German Junkers, for example – develops a conceptual apparatus, certain methods of thought and a specific style of thought adapted to its social position. For centuries the life of the Junkers has been associated with a specific order of succession; their relationship to the princely dynasty upon which they were dependent and to their own servants had patriarchal features. Consequently, they tended to base their whole thought on the forms of the organic, the ordered succession of generations, on biological growth. Everything appeared under the aspect of the organism and natural ties. Liberal bourgeoisie, on the other hand, whose happiness and unhappiness depend upon business success, whose experience has taught them that everything must be reduced to the common denominator of money, have developed a more abstract, more mechanistic way of thinking. Not hierarchical but leveling tendencies are characteristic of their intellectual style, of their philosophy. The same approach applies to other groups, past and present. With the philosophy of Descartes, for example, we must ask whether his notions corresponded to the aristocratic and Jesuit groups of the court, or to the noblesse de robe, or to the lower bourgeoisie and the masses. Every pattern of thought, every philosophical or other cultural work, belongs to a specific social group, with which it originates and with whose existence it is bound up. Every pattern of thought is “ideology.” There can be no doubt that there is some truth in this attitude. Many ideas prevalent today are revealed to be mere illusions when we consider them from the point of view of their social basis. But it is not enough merely to correlate these ideas with some one social group, as that sociological school does. We must penetrate deeper and develop them out of the decisive historical process from which the social groups themselves are to be explained. Let us take an example. In Descartes’ philosophy, mechanistic thinking, particularly mathematics, plays an important part. We can even say that this whole philosophy is the universalization of mathematical thought. Of course, we can now try to find some group in society whose character is correlative with this viewpoint, and we shall probably find some such definite group in the society of Descartes’ time. But a more complicated, yet more adequate, approach is to study the productive system of those days and to show how a member of the rising middle class, by force of his very activity in commerce and manufacture, was induced to make precise calculations if he wished to preserve and increase his power in the newly developed competitive market, and the same holds true of his agents, so to speak, in science and technology whose inventions and other scientific work played so large a part in the constant struggle between individuals, cities, and nations in the modern era. For all these subjects, the given approach to the world was its consideration in mathematical terms. Because this class, through the development of society, became characteristic of the whole of society, that approach was widely diffused far beyond the middle class itself. Sociology is not sufficient. We must have a comprehensive theory of history if we wish to avoid serious errors. Otherwise we run the risk of relating important philosophical theories to accidental, or at any rate, not decisive groups, and of misconstruing the significance of the specific group in the whole of society, and, therefore, of misconstruing the culture pattern in question. But this is not the chief objection. The stereotyped application of the concept of ideology to every pattern of thought is, in the last analysis, based on the notion that there is no philosophical truth, in fact no truth at all for humanity, and that all thought is seinsgebunden (situationally determined). In its methods and results it belongs only to a specific stratum of mankind and is valid only for this stratum. The attitude to be taken to philosophical ideas does not comprise objective testing and practical application, but a more or less complicated correlation to a social group. And the claims of philosophy are thus satisfied. We easily recognize that this tendency, the final consequence of which is the resolution of philosophy into a special science, into sociology, merely repeats the skeptical view which we have already criticized It is not calculated to explain the social function of philosophy, but rather to perform one itself, namely, to discourage thought from its practical tendency of pointing to the future. The real social function of philosophy lies in its criticism of what is prevalent. That does not mean superficial fault-finding with individual ideas or conditions, as though a philosopher were a crank. Nor does it mean that the philosopher complains about this or that isolated condition and suggests remedies. The chief aim of such criticism is to prevent mankind from losing itself in those ideas and activities which the existing organization of society instills into its members. Man must be made to see the relationship between his activities and what is achieved thereby, between his particular existence and the general life of society, between his everyday projects and the great ideas which he acknowledges. Philosophy exposes the contradiction in which man is entangled in so far as he must attach himself to isolated ideas and concepts in everyday life. My point can easily be seen from the following. The aim of Western philosophy in its first complete form, in Plato, was to cancel and negate onesidedness in a more comprehensive system of thought, in a system more flexible and better adapted to reality. In the course of some of the dialogues, the teacher demonstrates how his interlocutor is inevitably involved in contradictions if he maintains his position too onesidedly. The teacher shows that it is necessary to advance from this one idea to another, for each idea receives its proper meaning only within the whole system of ideas. Consider, for example, the discussion of the nature of courage in the Laches. When the interlocutor clings to his definition that courage means not running away from the battlefield, he is made to realize that in certain situations, such behavior would not be a virtue but foolhardiness, as when the whole army is retreating and a single individual attempts to win the battle all by himself. The same applies to the idea of Sophrosyne, inadequately translated as temperance or moderation. Sophrosyne is certainly a virtue, but it becomes dubious if it is made the sole end of action and is not grounded in knowledge of all the other virtues. Sophrosyne is conceivable only as a moment of correct conduct within the whole. Nor is the case less true for justice. Good will, the will to be just, is a beautiful thing. But this subjective striving is not enough. The title of justice does not accrue to actions which were good in intention but failed in execution. This applies to private life as well as to State activity. Every measure, regardless of the good intentions of its author, may become harmful unless it is based on comprehensive knowledge and is appropriate for the situation. Summum jus, says Hegel in a similar context, may become summa injuria. We may recall the comparison drawn in the Gorgias. The trades of the baker, the cook, and the tailor are in themselves very useful. But they may lead to injury unless hygienic considerations determine their place in the lives of the individual and of mankind. Harbors, shipyards, fortifications, and taxes are good in the same sense. But if the happiness of the community is forgotten, these factors of security and prosperity become instruments of destruction. Thus, in Europe, in the last decades before the outbreak of the present war, we find the chaotic growth of individual elements of social life: giant economic enterprises, crushing taxes, an enormous increase in armies and armaments, coercive discipline, one-sided cultivation of the natural sciences, and so on. Instead of rational organization of domestic and international relations, there was the rapid spread of certain portions of civilization at the expense of the whole. One stood against the other, and mankind as a whole was destroyed thereby. Plato’s demand that the state should be ruled by philosophers does not mean that these rulers should be selected from among the authors of textbooks on logic. In business life, the Fachgeist, the spirit of the specialist, knows only profit, in military life power, and even in science only success in a special discipline. When this spirit is left unchecked, it typifies an anarchic state of society. For Plato, philosophy meant the tendency to bring and maintain the various energies and branches of knowledge in a unity which would transform these partially destructive elements into productive ones in the fullest sense. This is the meaning of his demand that the philosophers should rule. It means lack of faith in the prevailing popular thought. Unlike the latter, reason never loses itself in a single idea, though that idea might be the correct one at any given moment. Reason exists in the whole system of ideas, in the progression from one idea to another, so that every idea is understood and applied in its true meaning, that is to say, in its meaning within the whole of knowledge. Only such thought is rational thought. This dialectical conception has been applied to the concrete problems of life by the great philosophers; indeed, the rational organization of human existence is the real goal of their philosophies. Dialectical clarification and refinement of the conceptual world which we meet in daily and scientific life, education of the individual for right thinking and acting, has as its goal the realization of the good, and, during the flourishing periods of philosophy at least, that meant the rational organization of human society. Though Aristotle, in his Metaphysics, regards the self-contemplation of the mind, theoretical activity, as the greatest happiness, he expressly states that this happiness is possible only on a specific material basis, that is, under certain social and economic conditions. Plato and Aristotle did not believe with Antisthenes and the Cynics that reason could forever continue to develop in people who literally led a dog’s life, nor that wisdom could go hand in hand with misery. An equitable state of affairs was for them the necessary condition for the unfolding of man’s intellectual powers, and this idea lies at the basis of all of Western humanism. Anyone who studies modern philosophy, not merely in the standard compendia, but through his own historical researches, will perceive the social problem to be a very decisive motive. I need only mention Hobbes and Spinoza. The Tractatus Theologico-Politicus of Spinoza was the only major work which he published during his lifetime. With other thinkers, Leibniz and Kant for instance, a more penetrating analysis reveals the existence of social and historical categories in the foundations of the most abstract chapters of their works, their metaphysical and transcendental doctrines. Without those categories, it is impossible to understand or solve their problems. A basic analysis of the content of purely theoretical philosophical doctrines is therefore one of the most interesting tasks of modern research in the history of philosophy. But this task has little in common with the superficial correlation to which reference has already been made. The historian of art or literature has corresponding tasks. Despite the important part played in philosophy by the examination of social problems, expressed or unexpressed, conscious or unconscious, let us again emphasize that the social function of philosophy is not to be found just there, but rather in the development of critical and dialectical thought. Philosophy is the methodical and steadfast attempt to bring reason into the world. Its precarious and controversial position results from this. Philosophy is inconvenient, obstinate, and with all that, of no immediate use – in fact it is a source of annoyance. Philosophy lacks criteria and compelling proofs. Investigation of facts is strenuous, too, but one at least knows what to go by. Man is naturally quite reluctant to occupy himself with the confusion and entanglements of his private and public life: he feels insecure and on dangerous ground. In our present division of labor, those problems are assigned to the philosopher or theologian. Or, man consoles himself with the thought that the discords are merely transient and that fundamentally everything is all right. In the past century of European history, it has been shown conclusively that, despite a semblance of security, man has not been able to arrange his life in accordance with his conceptions of humanity. There is a gulf between the ideas by which men judge themselves and the world on the one hand, and the social reality which they reproduce through their actions on the other hand. Because of this circumstance, all their conceptions and judgments are two-sided and falsified. Now man sees himself heading for disaster or already engulfed in it, and in many countries he is so paralyzed by approaching barbarism that he is almost completely unable to react and protect himself. He is the rabbit before the hungry stoat. There are times perhaps when one can get along without theory, but his deficiency lowers man and renders him helpless against force. The fact that theory may rise into the rarefied atmosphere of a hollow and bloodless idealism or sink into tiresome and empty phrasemongering, does not mean that these forms are its true forms. As far as tedium and banality are concerned, philosophy often finds its match in the so-called investigation of facts. Today, at any event, the whole historical dynamic has placed philosophy in the center of social actuality, and social actuality in the center of philosophy. Attention should be drawn to a particularly important change which has taken place along these lines since classical antiquity. Plato held that Eros enables the sage to know the ideas. He linked knowledge with a moral or psychological state, Eros, which in principle may exist at every historical moment. For this reason, his proposed State appeared to him as an eternal ideal of reason, not bound up with any historical condition. The dialogue on the Laws, then, was a compromise, accepted as a preliminary step which did not affect the eternal ideal. Plato’s State is a Utopia, like those projected at the beginning of the modern era and even in our own days. But Utopia is no longer the proper philosophic form for dealing with the problem of society. It has been recognized that the contradictions in thought cannot be resolved by purely theoretical reflection. That requires an historical development beyond which we cannot leap in thought. Knowledge is bound up not only with psychological and moral conditions, but also with social conditions. The enunciation and description of perfect political and social forms out of pure ideas is neither meaningful nor adequate. Utopia as the crown of philosophical systems is therefore replaced by a scientific description of concrete relationships and tendencies, which can lead to an improvement of human life. This change has the most far-reaching consequences for the structure and meaning of philosophical theory. modern philosophy shares with the ancients their high opinion of the potentialities of the human race, their optimism over man’s potential achievements. The proposition that man is by nature incapable of living a good life or of achieving the highest levels of social organization, has been rejected by the greatest thinkers. Let us recall Kant’s famous remarks about Plato’s Utopia: “The Platonic Republic has been supposed to be a striking example of purely imaginary perfection. It has become a byword, as something that could exist in the brain of an idle thinker only, and Bruckner thinks it ridiculous that Plato could have said that no prince could ever govern well, unless he participated in the ideas. We should do better, however, to follow up this thought and endeavor (where that excellent philosopher leaves us without his guidance) to place it in a clearer light by our own efforts, rather than to throw it aside as useless, under the miserable and very dangerous pretext of its impracticability. For nothing can be more mischievous and more unworthy a philosopher than the vulgar appeal to what is called adverse experience, which possibly might never have existed, if at the proper time institutions had been framed according to those ideas, and not according to crude concepts, which, because they were derived from experience only, have marred all good intentions.” Since Plato, philosophy has never deserted the true idealism that it is possible to introduce reason among individuals and among nations. It has only discarded the false idealism that it is sufficient to set up the picture of perfection with no regard for the way in which it is to be attained. In modern times, loyalty to the highest ideas has been linked, in a world opposed to them, with the sober desire to know how these ideas can be realized on earth. Before concluding, let us return once more to a misunderstanding which has already been mentioned. In philosophy, unlike business and politics, criticism does not mean the condemnation of a thing, grumbling about some measure or other, or mere negation and repudiation. Under certain conditions, criticism may actually take this destructive turn; there are examples in the Hellenistic age. By criticism, we mean that intellectual, and eventually practical, effort which is not satisfied to accept the prevailing ideas, actions, and social conditions unthinkingly and from mere habit; effort which aims to coordinate the individual sides of social life with each other and with the general ideas and aims of the epoch, to deduce them genetically, to distinguish the appearance from the essence, to examine the foundations of things, in short, really to know them. Hegel, the philosopher to whom we are most indebted in many respects, was so far removed from any querulous repudiation of specific conditions, that the King of Prussia called him to Berlin to inculcate the students with the proper loyalty and to immunize them against political opposition. Hegel did his best in that direction, and declared the Prussian state to be the embodiment of the divine Idea on earth. But thought is a peculiar factor. To justify the Prussian state, Hegel had to teach man to overcome the onesidedness and limitations of ordinary human understanding and to see the interrelationship between all conceptual and real relations. Further, he had to teach man to construe human history in its complex and contradictory structure, to search out the ideas of freedom and justice in the lives of nations, to know how nations perish when their principle proves inadequate and the time is ripe for new social forms. The fact that Hegel thus had to train his students in theoretical thought, had highly equivocal consequences for the Prussian state. In the long run, Hegel’s work did more serious harm to that reactionary institution than all the use the latter could derive from his formal glorification. Reason is a poor ally of reaction. A little less than ten years after Hegel’s death (his chair remained unoccupied that long), the King appointed a successor to fight the “dragon’s teeth of Hegelian pantheism,” and the “arrogance and fanaticism of his school.” We cannot say that, in the history of philosophy, the thinkers who had the most progressive effect were those who found most to criticize or who were always on hand with so-called practical programs. Things are not that simple. A philosophical doctrine has many sides, and each side may have the most diverse historical effects. Only in exceptional historical periods, such as the French Enlightenment, does philosophy itself become politics. In that period, the word philosophy did not call to mind logic and epistemology so much as attacks on the Church hierarchy and on an inhuman judicial system. The removal of certain preconceptions was virtually equivalent to opening the gates of the new world. Tradition and faith were two of the most powerful bulwarks of the old regime, and the philosophical attacks constituted an immediate historical action. Today, however, it is not a matter of eliminating a creed, for in the totalitarian states, where the noisiest appeal is made to heroism and a lofty Weltanschauung, neither faith nor Weltanshauung rule, but only dull indifference and the apathy of the individual towards destiny and to what comes from above. Today our task is rather to ensure that, in the future, the capacity for theory and for action which derives from theory will never again disappear, even in some coming period of peace when the daily routine may tend to allow the whole problem to be forgotten once more. Our task is continually to struggle, lest mankind become completely disheartened by the frightful happenings of the present, lest man’s belief in a worthy, peaceful and happy direction of society perish from the earth.

The Low Life of Television and Cable

guy-fawkes

It has occurred to me, right after I posted this to Idiocy Today, that it also reflects the further deterioration of our culture.  Not only does nobody read anything worth while, but everybody is constantly being monitored.  The fear back than was that the TV set will watch you, but it is the computer that watches you now.   We have the means to make the finest music, drama, theater, discussion and cultural events widely and easily available, but we are constantly filled with dross.  A debate over Direct TV and the Weather Channel, which is owned by the same people who own Comcast, soon Time Warner, and eventually most of the broadband in the country is what is the main concern, never what it available.   Years ago, when Kennedy started the FCC and Newton Minnow described television as a vast wasteland, perhaps a reference to T.S. Eliot, who knows, he had no idea of over 300 channels all serving up mindless crap.  He could not come up with a trem for it now.   So, I’m putting it here as well.  The interview is a program supported only by the Public and fairly independent.  Therefore, no Cable System carries it, but you can get it on I-Tunes and other internet outlets for free.   We are using the Guy Fawkes Mask as our illustration and will continue to do so when this is the topic.  It is one long repetition.  Any program can find someone stupid and opinionated enough to argue that the NSA is a good thing, that nothing wrong is going on, and life is just a bowl of, well pick your fruit.   Perhaps the most meaningful part of this is Daniel Ellsberg’s last statement “This is ridiculous.”   It was back in 1998 that Enemy of the State came out.  Back then, it was labeled as “Science Fiction” by those who wanted to protect the NSA.  Well, Snowden and many others before have since debunked that myth.  The movie should be up for an Emmy this year.   In the movie, Gene Hackman talks about all the things that the government can and does do, and ends with “and that was 20 years ago,” putting all this back in 1978, during Carter.  Well, think about it.  I remember photos coming to the earth in the early 80s from a computer ranted as a 16k type.  Well, imagine how much we have developed when we are regularly taking about terabytes, not kilobytes.   Anybody remember AM radios with tubes in them?  Ok, how about transistors?  Semi-conductors so advanced that it no longer made sense to try to repair a radio?  Chips?  It makes no sense to try to keep up with it.  You are not going to fix it.  Right now, everything is stored.  The 4th Amendment is so 18th Century, don’t you think?   Well, the mask adopted by Anonymous is 17th Century.  Best of luck to them.  Me?  I’m going back to the 16th.   Later now.  Comcast, I thought, was the absolute worst.  Then I heard that time Warner was.  Now Comcast has bought time-Warner, meaning 2/3 of the market.  Time for net-neutrality, anyone?

        FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 2014

Debate: Was Snowden Justified? Former NSA Counsel Stewart Baker vs. Whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg

Former National Security Agency lawyer Stewart Baker and Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg join us for a debate on Edward Snowden’s disclosure of the NSA’s massive spying apparatus in the United States and across the globe. Snowden’s leaks to The Guardian and other media outlets have generated a series of exposés on NSA surveillance activities — from its collection of American’s phone records, text messages and email, to its monitoring of the internal communications of individual heads of state. Partly as a consequence of the government’s response to Snowden’s leaks, the United States plunged 13 spots in an annual survey of press freedom by the independent organization, Reporters Without Borders. Snowden now lives in Russia and faces possible espionage charges if he returns to the United States. Baker, a former NSA general counsel and assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security, is a partner at the law firm Steptoe & Johnson and author of “Skating on Stilts: Why We Aren’t Stopping Tomorrow’s Terrorism.” Ellsberg is a former Pentagon and RAND Corporation analyst and perhaps the country’s most famous whistleblower. Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, exposing the secret history of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, prompting Henry Kissinger to call him “the most dangerous man in America.”

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form. JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Today, we host a debate on former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and his disclosure of the massive spying apparatus theNSA operates in the United States and across the globe. Snowden’s leaks to The Guardian and other media outlets have generated a series of exposés on NSAsurveillance activities, from its collection of Americans’ phone records, text messages and email, to its monitoring of the internal communications of individual heads of state. The latest revelations based on the leaks were reported by journalists Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald with First Look Media. They show how the NSA has secretly assisted in U.S. military and CIA assassinations overseas by using metadata analysis and cellphone-tracking technologies—the unreliable tactic that has resulted in the deaths of innocent or unidentified people. AMY GOODMAN: Well, the NSA has defended its activities as essential in the fight against terrorism. In January, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper attacked Snowden while speaking before the Senate Intelligence Committee, and called for him to return all stolen documents to the NSA after causing what he called major harm to U.S. security. Clapper also suggested the journalists who have published Snowden’s leaks are his accomplices. JAMES CLAPPER: Snowden claims that he’s won and that his mission is accomplished. If that is so, I call on him and his accomplices to facilitate the return of the remaining stolen documents that have not yet been exposed, to prevent even more damage to U.S. security. But what I do want to speak to, as the nation’s senior intelligence officer, is the profound damage that his disclosures have caused and continue to cause. As a consequence, the nation is less safe, and its people less secure. What Snowden has stolen and exposed has gone way, way beyond his professed concerns with so-called domestic surveillance programs. JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Meanwhile, Snowden has repeatedly maintained he’s no longer in possession of any of the documents he took from the NSA— AMY GOODMAN: —having passed them on to journalists to report at their discretion. The editors of The New York Times recently urged clemency for Snowden, writing, quote, “Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service,” the Times wrote. Partly as a consequence of the government’s response to Snowden’s leaks, the United States plunged 13 spots in an annual survey of press freedom by the independent organization, Reporters Without Borders. Snowden now lives in Russia and faces espionage charges if he returns to the United States. In his first television interview with German channel ARD late last month, Snowden talked about how perceptions of the leaks among U.S. government officials have changed. EDWARD SNOWDEN: What we saw initially in response to the revelations was sort of a circling of the wagons of government around the National Security Agency. Instead of circling around the public and protecting their rights, the political class circled around the security state and protected their rights. What’s interesting is, though that was the initial response, since then, we’ve seen a softening. We’ve seen the president acknowledge that when he first said, “We’ve drawn the right balance. There are no abuses,” we’ve seen him and his officials admit that there have been abuses. There have been thousands of violations of the National Security Agency and other agencies’ authorities every single year. AMY GOODMAN: Edward Snowden, speaking to German television last month. Well, to discuss the significance and implications of Snowden’s leaks, we’re hosting a debate. In Washington, D.C., we’re joined by Stewart Baker, former general counsel of the National Security Agency and assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security, a partner at the law firm Steptoe & Johnson. Baker is the author of Skating on Stilts: Why We Aren’t Stopping Tomorrow’s Terrorism. And here in New York, Daniel Ellsberg, former Pentagon and RAND Corporation analyst, perhaps the country’s most famous whistleblower. Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, exposing the secret history of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, prompting Henry Kissinger to call him “the most dangerous man in America.” The papers were published in several newspapers, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, and later published as a book. They were only officially declassified and released in 2011. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Stewart Baker, I’m sorry you’re snowed in at home, but why don’t we begin with you. Can you talk about what Edward Snowden did and if you think he is a traitor? STEWART BAKER: What Edward Snowden did was quite deliberately change jobs to gather as much, perhaps millions of documents, from as many places as he could around the National Security Agency, but involving other agencies, as well. He stored them on a computer and handed them out to—who exactly, we don’t know, but certainly to journalists, and with controls that probably make it likely that sophisticated intelligence agencies have been able to get access to them, and allowed them to be disclosed at the journalists’ discretion, more or less with some guidance from Snowden. The result of that has been a massive disclosure of classified intelligence gathering that has hurt our ability to catch terrorists, to keep an eye on Iranian and North Korean and Chinese and Russian operations, and has done great diplomatic damage, as well. I think that, frankly, the way that those disclosures have occurred, it’s hard to view that as anything other than the intended result of his gathering that information and disclosing as he—disclosing it as he did. He certainly disclosed some information that sparked a debate in the United States. He did that in June, but he has continued to disclose documents for months thereafter, which have no obvious policy value in terms of a debate or a concern that the United States public should have, but which have done enormous damage. And so, at a minimum, I think he is someone who has violated U.S. law, done great damage, and should go to jail for it. AMY GOODMAN: Traitor? STEWART BAKER: It remains to be seen. There have been people who have made the case, and in some cases fairly persuasively, that his leaks, and especially the most recent leaks, serve the interests of the country where he is located, and that either wittingly or because he was sort of tricked into it, he may have been serving Russia’s interest. That would make him a traitor, but I think that’s an unproven case. JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But what about his argument that given the extensive nature of the surveillance that was being conducted without the knowledge of the American people, that he had a moral responsibility to speak out and to at least spark this debate? STEWART BAKER: Well, you can’t—obviously, you cannot do intelligence gathering in the sunlight. You can’t tell the American people everything you’re doing in their name, because the process of telling them also tells your targets, and it tells Hezbollah, it tells al-Qaeda, it tells the North Koreans and the Iranians and the Russians and the Chinese exactly what you’re doing. And you can’t do that and continue to gather the intelligence. So there has to be a limit on what the public debates here. There also has to be a limit on what the several million people who have clearances feel they’re free to disclose because they’ve decided that there’s a problem with the program. At the end of the day, all that Snowden says he did is he kind of made some oblique remarks to his superiors, saying, “Gee, do you think this would really look good in The Washington Post if it were known?” And then he decided to release a million or two million or three million documents. There are whistleblower protections in U.S. law more than in any other countries’ law, but they provide a procedure: You need to go to the authorities, you need to go to Congress, you need to go to an inspector general, and raise your concerns there. He did none of that. And his view that this was illegal has turned out to be highly questionable. All that said, yes, he has spurred a debate on that one program, and he could have spurred that debate on that one program with one document, the document that he released first. Everything he has done since then has simply caused damage. And the number of debates that have been spurred, and certainly the number of serious proposals for changing the current intelligence law, is close to zero. AMY GOODMAN: That’s Stewart Baker, former general counsel of the National Security Agency. Dan Ellsberg, your assessment of Edward Snowden’s actions, and do you think he is a traitor or a patriot? DANIEL ELLSBERG: I feel confident, as you in the clip showed earlier, that he’s no more a traitor than I am, and I’m not. The notion that he joined NSA with the intention to, earlier on, or the CIA, when he took the oath of service to the country earlier, that he did that with the intent to either harm the interests of the United States or to release any information or to harm NSA or to deprive it of secrecy, I think there’s no evidence for that whatever, and I believe it’s entirely false. He came to believe, as I did, having made those oaths initially and the promises of nondisclosure, which were not oaths, but they are contractual agreements not to do that, which he later violated, as I did—he made those in good faith, by everything known to me, and came to realize, I think, eventually, as he said, that a nondisclosure agreement in this case and the secrecy conflicted with his oath, so help me God, to defend and support the Constitution of the United States, and it was a supervening—a superseding authority there that it was his responsibility really to inform the public, because, as he said, he could see that no one else would do it. He saw the head of the NSA, but also the director of the national intelligence, you quoted here, Clapper, lie to Congress. And actually, I think what he’s mostly revealed, in particular, is not that Mr. Clapper was violating his oath in the sense of trying to deceive Congress; Clapper knew that the false statements he was making, that they were not collecting data on millions—any data on millions of Americans, were false, but he knew that Congress knew they were false, the people he was talking to, the dozen, even the man who had asked the question, Senator Wyden. What we saw, what Snowden saw and what we all saw, was that we couldn’t rely on the so-called Oversight Committee of Congress to reveal, even when they knew that they were being lied to, and that’s because they were bound by secrecy, NSA secrecy and their own rule. The secrecy system here, in other words, has totally corrupted the checks and balances on which our democracy depends. And I think the—I am grateful to Snowden for having given us a constitutional crisis, a crisis instead of a silent coup, as after 9/11 an executive coup, or a creeping usurpation of authority. He has confronted us. He has revealed documents now that prove that the oversight process, both in the judiciary, in the FISC, the secret court, and the secret committees in Congress who keep their secrets from them, even when two of them, Wyden and Udall, felt that these were outrageous, were shocking, were probably unconstitutional, and yet did not feel that they could inform even their fellow colleagues or their staff of this. What Snowden has revealed, in other words, is a broken system of our Constitution, and he’s given us the opportunity to get it back, to retrieve our civil liberties, but more than that, to retrieve the separation of powers here on which our democracy depends. JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, Daniel Ellsberg, what about Mr. Stewart’s—Mr. Baker’s remarks that he could have just released one document or two documents, that would have been sufficient to spur the kind of debate that we have now? DANIEL ELLSBERG: He talked about revealing on one program. But I like the way you put it, because what I was confronted with, with the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago, when I put out 4,000 pages to the newspapers and 3,000 other pages, top secret, to the Senate Foreign Intelligence—Foreign Relations Committee—there was no Intelligence Committee at that time—which I didn’t give to the newspapers at that time, when I saw the effects of that, it gave me a moral that I’ve been saying for 40 years. And I’ve been asking people: First, don’t do what I did. Don’t wait ’til the bombs are falling, if you know that we’re being lied into a war. Don’t wait ’til thousands more have died, before you tell your truth to Congress and to the public. But I would also say, by now, don’t tell it only to Congress. I gave it to Congress a year and a half before it came out. Senator Fulbright failed to bring the hearings that he promised me, on the grounds that he himself would be deprived of secret information from the Defense Department thereafter. So he waited for me to do it. If I didn’t do it, it wasn’t going to happen. But the other thing I’ve been saying for years is, I want someone to put out enough documentation to make the case irrefutable. If you bring out one memo, 10 memos, you will hear, as we have heard when the first memos came out, “Oh, that was rescinded the next day. Oh, that just reflected one agency, one opinion.” No, the Pentagon Papers showed—but, unfortunately, they were only history. I didn’t have current documents. If I had, I would have put those out instead of the history. But what they did show was that this was a pattern of decision making that went over four different presidents and was being repeated today. That took hundreds and thousands—thousands—of pages to reveal, and many of those pages didn’t reveal anything of great significance. I wanted it to be very clear I hadn’t censored them, I hadn’t taken out the one good reason for that war. Said, “Here’s the whole history. See if you could find a good reason for it.” What Snowden did, which I admire very much, is to put out enough material to show an entire pattern of behavior, and not just on one program, on a number of programs, with the implication there are many more and that Congress needs to look into this, but not in the way the intelligence committees have done. They’ve been thoroughly co-opted and corrupted by this process. There has to be a new congressional investigation, with new people on it, and that has to be pressed by the public. It will not happen by Congress alone. AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Dan Ellsberg and Stewart Baker. Dan Ellsberg, perhaps most famous whistleblower in the United States, released the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Stewart Baker is former general counsel for the National Security Agency. We’ll continue this debate in a moment. [break] AMY GOODMAN: “The Paper Soldier” by the famous Russian poet, novelist, singer-songwriter, Bulat Okudzhava. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org,The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. We’re hosting a debate on Edward Snowden, spying and the national security state. In Washington, D.C., snowed in at home, we’re joined by Stewart Baker, former general counsel of the National Security Agency and assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security. His tenure spanned from Clinton to Bush. He’s a partner at the law firm Steptoe & Johnson. Baker is the author of Skating on Stilts: Why We Aren’t Stopping Tomorrow’s Terrorism. Here in New York, Dan Ellsberg, former Pentagon and RAND Corporation analyst, who became the country’s most famous whistleblower by leaking the Pentagon Papers in 1971. This was thousands and thousands of pages that exposed the secret history of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, helping to end the Vietnam War. Stewart Baker, do you think that Dan Ellsberg was a traitor? STEWART BAKER: No, but I think he is shockingly misrepresenting the facts and stating a proposition that has no place in a democracy. Mr. Ellsberg said—I had pointed out that Snowden changed jobs specifically to steal more documents. Dan Ellsberg says that’s false. I don’t know where he gets this. Snowden himself says he changed jobs from a contractor for Dell to a contractor at Booz Allen so that he could get more documents. And for Ellsberg to come on this program and simply look into the camera and say that’s false, calling me a liar, when the record is clear, suggests that he is either not paying attention or he doesn’t really care what the facts are. AMY GOODMAN: Well, let him respond to that point, and then you can make your next one. DANIEL ELLSBERG: OK, listen, I’ve—let me give the benefit of the doubt to Mr. Baker that he really isn’t listening to what I’m saying, when it comes to misrepresenting facts here. Of course, it’s the case that Snowden has said openly that he went to Booz Allen in order to get documents, that he— STEWART BAKER: Well, then why did you call that false? I heard you say that’s a false— DANIEL ELLSBERG: Pardon me. Oh— STEWART BAKER: You accused me of lying to this program, when— DANIEL ELLSBERG: Listen, stop talking so much, and listen for a minute. STEWART BAKER: —when you now admit that the facts are as I said. DANIEL ELLSBERG: As I said, when he first worked as a consultant for years toNSA, and when he went—and when he joined the CIA earlier, it was with no intention of disclosing documents, and that the turning point came for him much later, after deciding that he had to sacrifice or risk— STEWART BAKER: But wait, just a second. Just a second. DANIEL ELLSBERG: Listen, will you— STEWART BAKER: I heard you say that, and I accept that that’s a storyline that is not implausible. It may be true, or it may be something that he’s made up to— DANIEL ELLSBERG: I’m agreeing with you that he joined Booz Allen— STEWART BAKER: But I want to go back to—you started that discussion by saying what Mr. Baker says is false. DANIEL ELLSBERG: Look— STEWART BAKER: And then you told this different story. But why are you accusing me of lying, when in fact what I said was true, not false. DANIEL ELLSBERG: Actually, I haven’t yet accused you of lying, Mr. Baker. STEWART BAKER: You—what? Well, you said my statement was false. DANIEL ELLSBERG: No, I said that he did not join CIA or NSA or be a consultant for NSA with the intention of putting out documents. He later— STEWART BAKER: I heard you say “false.” You said it was false. DANIEL ELLSBERG: Will you—will you lay off for a minute here and let me finish my sentence? STEWART BAKER: I’m sorry, you’re making up facts now. You know— DANIEL ELLSBERG: Yeah. STEWART BAKER: I ask, can you play back what he said? I heard him say that the statement was false. DANIEL ELLSBERG: Let me say right away the statement is correct, as I’ve known and have never meant to deny, that he joined NS—that he joined Booz Allen in order to get documents he couldn’t have gotten otherwise, with the intent of putting them out. It was something, by the way, that I didn’t do. In a way, I regret it, but I didn’t go back to Washington to get more documents with the intention of putting them out. I went with the documents that I had authorized to have at the moment. Anyway, I agree with your point. I have not accused you of lying. But now let’s move to the question of just how much you know about the damage that you’ve asserted several times that he caused. I don’t— STEWART BAKER: Before we do that, I’d like to address your other point. DANIEL ELLSBERG: Are you going to allow me to finish a sentence or not? STEWART BAKER: You’ve had plenty of time to explain that you didn’t mean to say that the statement was false, even though you said it, that you meant something else. But your broader theory, if I understand it right, is this doc—all these documents should have been released because they allow for a broader story, and that you can’t give it to Congress because they feel that there are certain programs they have to protect— DANIEL ELLSBERG: OK, let’s address that point. Let me address that point. STEWART BAKER: —in order to maintain the confidentiality of our intelligence methods. DANIEL ELLSBERG: Yeah, let me—will you— STEWART BAKER: You can’t give it to— DANIEL ELLSBERG: Oh, well. STEWART BAKER: You can’t go higher in the chain, because they might decide to protect national security rather than blow the whistle. And so, every single person who works in the government or who has the ability to break into the government’s system gets to make the decision for themselves how many confidential, classified and various important programs should be disclosed to the people that we are targeting. DANIEL ELLSBERG: Let me go right to the point you’re raising. STEWART BAKER: That’s a— AMY GOODMAN: Let’s let—let’s let Dan Ellsberg— STEWART BAKER: That is basically saying, “I don’t have any faith in our democracy”— AMY GOODMAN: Let’s let Dan Ellsberg respond to that, Stewart Baker. STEWART BAKER: —which, I suppose, is consistent with your statement—would you let me finish? AMY GOODMAN: No, let’s let Dan Ellsberg respond. STEWART BAKER: That’s consistent with your statement—no, [inaudible]. DANIEL ELLSBERG: Let you finish? Let you finish your filibuster? I’m sorry. AMY GOODMAN: We have a good amount of time here to have an extended discussion, so you will have time. DANIEL ELLSBERG: Yeah, yeah. OK, let me address the very important point of what else he could have done or should have done to reveal this. He learned, as I understand it, as he said—and I’ve been in touch with him—he learned from the example not only from me, and from Chelsea Manning, by the way, but from the experience of four or five NSA senior officials—Kirk Wiebe, Ed Loomis, Tom Drake and Bill Binney—who, between them, have 30 years’ average—30 years, some of them have 28, and some have 32—experience with NSA at the highest levels. Each of them, separately and together, did exactly what you and, I think, the president has suggested they should have done: They went to their superiors in great detail when they thought the program, after 9/11—after you were out of NSA, by the way, after—so, I’m giving you credit there—after 9/11, was unconstitutional and was dangerous, was unnecessary, and should be—should be modified or changed or dropped. They got no response from that, and their recommendations were simply ignored. They went to the IG, the inspector general. I believe some of them went to the inspector general, as well, of the Defense Department. They went to staff of the congressional offices, on a classified basis, to Diane Roark specifically, to complain about these, and offered to testify, by the way. The result of their doing that was not only no change to programs that they knew were more protective of civil liberties and more effective at catching terrorists and could well have prevented 9/11, rather than the programs that were in effect. The effect of their doing that was to be suspected, wrongly, of having leaked all this information to The New York Times for the revelations for which it got the Pulitzer Prize. They hadn’t. I would say they should have considered that. Anyway, what—they had not done that. Instead, they followed all these channels. The result of that was early morning raids by the FBI on each of them, in this suspicion that they might have been the leakers of this important information. And, in fact, one of them, Bill Binney, a diabetic with an amputated leg, first learned of the suspicion here when there was a knock on his shower door, where he was seated taking a shower, and opened the door to find an FBI agent pointing a gun at his head, and followed by eight hours of interrogation, and the removal, in all four cases, of all their computers, all their thumb drives, some of which they’ve never gotten back—no charges ever pressed against them. Tom Drake, one of the four here, as a result, was subject to a spurious, punitive prosecution with no valid basis, which led essentially to an apology from the judge in the end after he had been bankrupted. Looking at that experience very specifically, Snowden knew that it would be foolish and hopeless for him to try to call attention to this within the channels. He did, I think, exactly right, and others should follow the same, not just when they disagree with policy or object to it, as the president has suggested, but when they feel that it’s unconstitutional, criminal—as, by the way, the years of NSA warrantless spying from 2001 to 2006 with no legal basis were criminal and unconstitutional—and leaked essentially by no one with documents. What Snowden has done is to provide the documents that prove, at last, what was done in the past was clearly illegal, and that that put in question the whole oversight procedure and the good faith of NSA in binding itself to the Constitution. So, I think that he did what he should have done, as all four of those NSA people, who did not do it, have said now, “He did it right. Our approach was hopeless.” STEWART BAKER: So, I have served in government off and on a long time and at pretty senior levels, and the number of times that I have not persuaded the rest of the government to do things that I think it should do, even things I think it’s morally or legally compelled to do, are pretty substantial. This is the way government works. This is the way democracies work. Individual government employees do not get to say, “I think this is wrong, and therefore it must stop.” You can raise it, and there are plenty of circumstances and plenty of stories of people who have raised issues that have been investigated and have led to changes. I don’t know the specifics of the cases that you’re talking about. Maybe they were mistreated as a result of the suspicions aroused by what they did internally. But the fact that not every one of their complaints was validated is not surprising. No one in government gets what they want, not even the president. And to say, “Well, I didn’t get what I want, so I’m going to wreck this operation by disclosing it,” is a remarkable and fundamentally anti-democratic view. It’s—the president has called it “narcissistic,” and I think that’s not wrong. There comes a point at which you say, “I have done what I can to raise this, and I have been assured that in fact this is not illegal.” And the things that he was complaining about had been through court, had been through Congress. We can argue about whether they are legal or not now, or whether they should be legal. I think it’s fair to say that they were blessed by the courts at the time. The things that he disclosed, that were news as opposed to the things that were history— DANIEL ELLSBERG: OK, Mr. Baker— STEWART BAKER: —were not unlawful at the time. It’s pretty clear the Congress and the courts had approved those things. They may become changed, they may, as a result of this debate, but that’s very different from saying, “I am doing something illegal, and my conscience requires me to disclose it.” DANIEL ELLSBERG: OK, let me—you’ve raised— JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Let me just ask Mr. Baker— DANIEL ELLSBERG: You’ve raised important questions, sir. Let me address both of them. First of all, when it comes to being named—called names—narcissistic, megalomaniac and traitor, which is a much more serious name—I’ve had that experience, from the president and the vice president. They were mistaken. But those names are what every whistleblower gets, essentially, whatever the conditions. And if you’re not willing to be called names, I think you can’t carry out your responsibilities to the Constitution. Now, getting to that, if you’re telling me that there have been times when you dutifully, with your agreement on secrecy, accepted, without exposing to anyone else, policies that, as I heard you, were immoral—and I think you may have said illegal, but let’s just say illegal—I respectfully say you were mistaken, you were, in your judgment. You were acting as nearly all bureaucrats and officials do in that face: They protect their jobs, their careers, their clearances, and indeed their promise, and they don’t think—to keep secrets, and they don’t think twice about what their responsibility might be beyond their responsibility to their agency or to the president. If you say you’re not familiar with those four NSA names I had, my first thought would be you haven’t followed this very closely. The second thought would be that they haven’t testified before Congress, because despite their extreme expertise in this field, no Congress committee has wanted to hear from them under oath, which they’re urging—which I urge the public to urge committees to bring these people and tell them under oath. If they are mistaken, let them be—let that be exposed. But the fact is that they found that this was unconstitutional. And I think they now feel they didn’t do all that they should have. And if you were in a similar position, then I have to say to you that, like most people in that position, you didn’t do everything you could, just as I didn’t, just as I didn’t when I first had the documents in my hands. STEWART BAKER: That’s right. I didn’t do everything I could, because some of the things I could do would be profoundly damaging to the United States. And I said I have done what I can— DANIEL ELLSBERG: OK. STEWART BAKER: —inside the system to raise this issue, and it is going to be resolved. It’s been resolved by people who have made calls that are different from mine, who are closer to the facts, who have more facts. Sometimes you have to make that decision because the alternative is to say no secret is safe as long as one person in government does not [inaudible]— JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Let me—let me step in. DANIEL ELLSBERG: I would never single you out— JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Dan, one second. DANIEL ELLSBERG: Go ahead. Go ahead. JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Let me step in. Mr. Baker— STEWART BAKER: —they are going to disclose it because it makes them feel better. That’s what happened here. JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Mr. Baker— STEWART BAKER: And, in fact, what he disclosed is far more than just one secret. He disclosed massive amounts of stuff that have sparked no debates at all here, but nonetheless continue to do great damage to the United States. How can that possibly have been the right outcome? JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Mr. Baker, one question for you. As a former NSA general counsel, I mean, you say that you did raise some concerns during your tenure. DANIEL ELLSBERG: Yeah, what were they? JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What you have seen since— STEWART BAKER: Well, or, look, I’m not—I’m not— JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Wait, wait, let me finish my question, please. DANIEL ELLSBERG: Fat chance. STEWART BAKER: I’m not suggesting I—I realize that— JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, let me ask you this: What you have seen revealed since then— STEWART BAKER: Hang on, hang on. I keep hearing—you’re misinterpreting my—excuse me, you’re misinterpreting what I said. I was not saying that back when I was NSA general counsel, I saw things that I thought were illegal and raised them and—inside, but did not go outside. There are many calls—and I’ve been in government many times—many calls that are made by people above you in government where you wonder if they’re doing the right thing, and you have to recognize that you don’t always have all the facts that they have. And I’ve done it since I’ve been out of government, where I’ve learned of things that I thought were wrong. JUAN GONZÁLEZ: OK, but, Mr. Baker—Mr. Baker, my question— STEWART BAKER: But I did not— JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Let me ask my question to you. STEWART BAKER: Once I had raised them, I could not stop—I could not just— JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Mr. Baker, let me ask my question to you. STEWART BAKER: Yeah. JUAN GONZÁLEZ: From what you have seen since the Snowden disclosures, and what you know of of the operations of the NSA when you were there, is there anything that has been disclosed that raises questions to you about whether your government was—our government was properly conducting surveillance, its surveillance responsibilities? STEWART BAKER: At bottom, no. I think that the agency has an incredible commitment to following the law, a commitment they’ve had since the ’70s, the last set of reforms that were adopted. And they may have done things that, in retrospect, some courts would say were not proper, but they have almost always done those things with careful legal analysis and with the approval, where appropriate, of the courts. And so, you know, people can disagree about whether the courts got it right or wrong, but I think NSA has acted in a fundamentally law-abiding way. And the institution that I knew, and that I still see, is committed to that, because they recognize that the powers they have are extraordinary and need to be used in democratically legitimate ways. They have worked very hard to do that. And Snowden just has blown those things without any regard for their efforts to stay within the law and their commitment to the law. AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and come back to this discussion. Our guests are Stewart Baker, former NSA general counsel, and Dan Ellsberg, former Pentagon and RAND Corporation analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, exposing the secret history of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. He leaked those papers to, first, The New York Times. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute. [break] AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report . I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Before we continue our debate on what Edward Snowden did and what should happen to him, I just have some breaking news on a person we’ve been covering over the last week. Karim Khan, a Pakistani drone activist and journalist, who had been missing since being abducted from his home February 5th, has been released. Khan had been set to travel to Europe to speak against the U.S. drone wars. His brother and son were killed by a drone in 2009. The legal charity Reprieve says he was released earlier today, two days after the Lahore High Court ordered Pakistani forces to produce him from custody by next week. You can go to our website at democracynow.org to see our coverage of Mr. Khan from this week’s broadcast. But now we continue our debate between Stewart Baker, former NSA general counsel—he was appointed to the NSA by President George H.W. Bush, and then served, appointed by President George W. Bush, to the Department of Homeland Security. We’re also joined by Daniel Ellsberg, former Pentagon and RAND Corporation analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, exposing the secret history of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Dan Ellsberg, Stewart Baker says he was not, in response to Juan’s question, surprised by what was exposed by Edward Snowden, and I also want to make just one point on the issue of Snowden continuing to release information. According to Edward Snowden, he gave the documents—we believe it’s about 1.7 million documents—to the journalists, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. He says when he went to Russia, he didn’t have the documents, and he is not the one who is continuing to release them. But the journalists who have access to them are, one by one, writing stories in various papers, delving into what is in these documents. Dan Ellsberg? DANIEL ELLSBERG: OK, a couple of things here, Amy. First of all, the 1.7 million figure, which obviously is far more than he could possibly have looked at, let alone read, is a government statement. They don’t know what he released to the journalists. Neither Mr. Baker nor I actually know. But I am informed—well, first, Snowden has said that it’s wrong by at least an order of magnitude tenfold, which is another— AMY GOODMAN: Which way? DANIEL ELLSBERG: Which way, yes, very good. That he released less than 10 percent of what they’re talking about, and that everything he did release to the journalists was something that he had looked at and formed a judgment that they ought to have it. But he didn’t want them to rely on his judgment alone. He could have put them all on the web by himself, very much, or sequentially. On the contrary, he said over and over, “I am not releasing a single document,” which he has not. He said every document should have the judgment of a staff of trained journalists, to use their judgment on that. Second, in every case of every story that has appeared so far—and apparently Mr. Baker believes that there has been great damage from those already, for which the journalists would be also responsible—every story has been checked with NSA by both The Guardian and by The Washington Post. In every case, they have made objections. Not all of the objections have been followed by the newspapers. But in almost every case that they’ve printed, they have followed objections as to sources and methods that would actually damage the United States or our interests. As Snowden has said, he had access—he had knowledge of the clandestine whereabouts of NSA listening posts all over the world, had neither copied those nor given them to journalists, which he could have, because that would harm our intelligence apparatus, which he believes in and which I believe in. Of course there must be intelligence, and of course there must be secrecy about it. So he has made that judgment. I understand that Glenn Greenwald, for example, has demanded an agreement from every newspaper source to which he’s given documents that they check their stories withNSA for sensitive material. Now, when Mr. Clapper—oh, I’m sorry, when Mr.— AMY GOODMAN: Baker, Stewart Baker. DANIEL ELLSBERG: Baker, thank you. When Mr. Baker says that there—over and over, that there has been great damage here, I ask him: How does he know that? Based on what? Now, possibly he still is reading classified material as a consultant or someone, and maybe not. If not, he has—I wonder what his basis is. My guess is, he’s accepting at face value the statements of Mr. Clapper or of others. Why would you do that? There’s no basis for that. I have two questions. I have two questions for Mr. Baker, actually, which are both susceptible of yes-or-no questions. They’re very short, and I hope he will not filibuster. One—let me say one thing about background to give him credit, if I may. He was general counsel at NSA in the ’90s, before 9/11, when, according to Kirk Wiebe and others, the NSA was observing what they called the First Commandment—thou shall not spy on Americans, thou shall not listen to Americans or collect their material without an individualized court order with probable cause—and that they observed that. Wiebe has said that for some 20 years of their 70 years in existence, they were within the law and the Constitution—not earlier, under Johnson or Nixon, and not later. So the two questions are—but he may have—Mr. Baker may have an idealized picture of how this system works from having experienced it before 9/11. Here’s the two questions. One, if he had been general counsel to Mr. Clapper, when he faced Congress and told them—was asked—was asked, “Are we collecting any data at all on millions of Americans?” would he have encouraged Mr. Clapper to give, as a counsel, the answer that he did give, “No,” which Clapper later explained, after Snowden’s disclosure, was, quote, “the least untruthful” answer he could have given, or would he have advised him otherwise, perhaps to go into closed session or something? And the second is, if he had been general counsel of the NSA in 2001 to 2006, during which there was no legal basis for criminal, unconstitutional, warrantless [inaudible], what would his judgment have been? And if it had been not to do that, and had been overridden, would he have simply accepted that, like his colleagues, or might he have considered telling someone other than the intelligence committees? AMY GOODMAN: Stewart Baker, those are two questions for you. Why don’t you begin with the first? STEWART BAKER: So, I don’t want to be accused of filibustering, but some of these answers do require a little bit more context. I think everyone would agree that Clapper’s answer to that question was not the right thing to say. That said, it was a question designed quite specifically to result in the compromise of the 215 program. That is to say, there was nobody asking the question, nobody answering the question, who didn’t already know the answer to that question. What they could not do is tell al-Qaeda or the American people about it without telling al-Qaeda. What he should have said is something that dodged the question. But it was cleverly designed by Senator Wyden so that, having asked the question, “Are you collecting information on millions of Americans?” to say, “I can only answer that in classified session,” answers the question, as well. So, it was— DANIEL ELLSBERG: So what would he have advised—what would you have advised? STEWART BAKER: —designed to put him in a position where he could neither answer or refuse to answer without exposing the program. So he came up with a compromise that was trying to, I think, interpret the notion of collection as, “Are you spying on Americans?” which he felt he could comfortably say we are not, except where we have court orders or where we’ve inadvertently collected the information. That was—I think when you read the transcript, it’s hard to see that as a responsive answer, and he didn’t even gracefully do that. But I think it’s fair to point out that this was not some campaign of lying. This was a campaign of exposure by Senator Wyden and a maladroit effort to avoid that question. So that’s point one. Point two, the question of the 2006 warrantless wiretapping, I certainly agree with Mr. Ellsberg that it’s very hard to square that with the statute, with FISA. The direction was given and the legal conclusion was reached that the president had the authority to order that, notwithstanding FISA, and there have been—there’s a long-standing view that the president does have authority to do this without the involvement of the courts. In fact, it was the majority view at least until 1978. But I think the passage of the FISA Act made that much harder to do. That said, the FISA court at that point had utterly disgraced itself. It had forced a bunch of what it turns out are illegal requirements in the name of civil liberties on theFBI and the intelligence community that helped in a very significant way to make it difficult to respond to the news that there were hijackers or there were terrorists in the United States before 9/11. Had it not been for the FISA court’s wrong and extralegal policies, it’s quite possible that the hijackers would have been caught. And after 9/11, after it became clear that this was part of the problem, the FISA court insisted on those illegal policies and forced the government to take its first appeal ever to the FISA review court. That suggested that the FISA court was not actually interested in protecting Americans, but had a goal that no one else in government shared, which was to maintain this wall between intelligence and law enforcement. DANIEL ELLSBERG: That’s absolutely mistaken. STEWART BAKER: But I kind of understand why they did it, but I have to say that as a lawyer, it’s hard to justify. JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Mr. Baker, we just have about a minute left. You had the first word; we’ll have Dan Ellsberg respond. DANIEL ELLSBERG: OK, I haven’t called Mr. Baker a liar. I certainly don’t regard him as anything other than patriotic. And I don’t think it’s his intent to deceive, but what he’s just said has given example that actually demonstrates the opposite of what he just said. He’s referring to the case of Khalid al-Mihdhar. I would assume—I would like to assume that he knew, but on the other hand, perhaps— AMY GOODMAN: You have 30 seconds. DANIEL ELLSBERG: —he was just ignorant of the fact that the fact that al-Mihdhar was known in this country—the hijacker who went into the Pentagon—was known by pre-NSA, pre-9/11 intelligence methods to the CIA. Their choice, deliberate not to give it to the FBI, had nothing to do with firewalls. I can’t believe you don’t know that, I’m sorry, Mr. Baker. And the fact is, it was not a fault of FISA. You’re joining me here in criticizing the FISA court. That’s ridiculous. AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, because we are out of time. Stewart Baker, former NSA general counsel, as well as worked at the Department of Homeland Security, and Dan Ellsberg, perhaps the country’s most famous whistleblower, leaked the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times in 1971, exposing the secret history of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam.


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Zizek’s Response to Chomsky

I am reblogging this (one or two “gs”?) because I respect both men and I would hardly call either one of them “charlatans.” However, Chomsky is obviously a genius (in fact, I first heard of him through linguistics and had no notion of his political commentary) and Zizek is always very perceptive (except I can’t watch him and listen to him at the same time without fear of getting hit). It seems, however, to degenerate to the narrow point of what is the scientific method. I do believe that many Social Scientists suffer from “paradigm envy” and that their obsession with statistics is ludicrous, especially given how bad they are at it. Still, this is a worthwhile exchange between real thinkers, a rarity today.

EsJayBe

Recently, there was an interesting dig made at Slavoj Zizek from Naom Chomsky which you can listen to here:

The gist is that Zizek and Lacan et al are ‘posturing charlatans’ using ‘fancy terms’ and pretending to have ‘theory’ when they have no theory whatsoever (by which he means scientific empirical testable conclusions).

You can hear Zizek’s response here (from 1hr 30mins in) at a recent panel at Birkbeck in London:

http://backdoorbroadcasting.net/archive/audio/2012_07_12/2012_07_12_London_Critical_Theory_Summer_School_2013_Friday_Debate_II.mp3

But here is an “non-authorized and not accurate transcription” transcript of his response which I have typed up because I think it points to some interesting arguments against certain types of empirical research and the importance of theory (read my comments on this debate here):

What is that about, again, the academy and Chomsky and so on? Well with all deep respect that I do have for Chomsky, my first point is that Chomsky who always…

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