Who Is Herbert Marcuse

The Father Of The New Left

In his article The Ideology Behind Intolerant College Students Stephen L Carter gives excellent insight into the student intolerance on college campuses regarding the free expression of ideas by anyone opposing their ideology.

Those who knowingly or unknowingly adhere to Marcuse’s views are the idealistic and the susceptible who are easily seduced into believing that they can create a perfect world.

The new left is just as flawed as the old, and we are now living through a revival of a new form of the old religion of totalitarian idealism.

“The only way to build a “subversive majority,” he (Marcuse) writes, is to refuse to give ear to those on the wrong side. The wrong is specified only in part, but Marcuse has in mind particularly capitalism and inequality.”

Excerpts from Carter’s article: :
I will assume that the downshouters, as we might as well call them, are aware of the risks, and that they have no more interest in the traditional purpose of the campus than they have in the man in the moon. I have no reason to suppose that anything I say will dissuade them from acting so deplorably.

Instead, I want to say a word about the ideology of downshouting. Students who try to shut down debate are not junior Nazis or proto-Stalins. If they were, I would be content to say that their antics will wind up on the proverbial ash heap of history. Alas, the downshouters represent something more insidious. They are, I am sorry to say, Marcusians. A half-century-old contagion has returned.

The German-born Herbert Marcuse was a brilliant and controversial philosopher whose writing became almost a sacred text for new-left intellectuals of the 1960s and 1970s. Nowadays, his best-known work is the essay “Repressive Tolerance.” There he sets out the argument that the downshouters are putting into practice.

For Marcuse, the fact that liberal democracies made tolerance an absolute virtue posed a problem. If society includes two groups, one powerful and one weak, then tolerating the ideas of both will mean that the voice and influence of the strong will always be greater. To treat the arguments of both sides with equal respect “mainly serves the protection and preservation of a repressive society.” That is why, for Marcuse, tolerance is antithetical to genuine democracy and thus “repressive.”

He proposes that we practice what he calls a “liberating” or “discriminating” tolerance. He is quite clear about what he means: “tolerance against movements from the Right, and tolerance of movements from the Left.” Otherwise the majority, even if deluded by false consciousness, will always beat back efforts at necessary change. The only way to build a “subversive majority,” he writes, is to refuse to give ear to those on the wrong side. The wrong is specified only in part, but Marcuse has in mind particularly capitalism and inequality.

Opening the minds of the majority by pressing one message and burdening another “may require apparently undemocratic means.” But the forces of power are so entrenched that to do otherwise — to tolerate the intolerable — is to leave authority in the hands of those who will deny equality to the workers and to minorities. That is why tolerance, unless it discriminates, will always be repressive.

Marcuse is quite clear that the academy must also swallow the tough medicine he prescribes: “Here, too, in the education of those who are not yet maturely integrated, in the mind of the young, the ground for liberating tolerance is still to be created.”

Today’s campus downshouters, whether they have read Marcuse or not, have plainly undertaken his project. Probably they believe that their protests will genuinely hasten a better world. They are mistaken. Their theory possesses the same weakness as his. They presume to know the truth, to know it with such certainty that they are comfortable — indeed enthusiastic — at the notion of shutting down debate on the propositions they hold dear. Marcuse, as I said, was a brilliant philosopher, but on this question he was simply wrong. My own old-fashioned view is that a “truth” that will not debate is a truth that deserves to lose.

Of course the actions of the downshouters might be a signal instead of weakness and uncertainty, not confidence. Perhaps when they object to the airing of views they find disagreeable, they are worried that the other side would outstrip them in a set argument. If so, they should find ways to strengthen their case.

Either way, Marcuse lives. The downshouters will go on behaving deplorably, and reminding the rest of us that the true harbinger of an authoritarian future lives not in the White House but in the groves of academe. complete post

For those who have either never heard of Marcuse, or wish to know more about him here are several links to explore:

Wikipedia overview
Herbert Marcuse.org-
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Herbert Marcuse

Knowledge is power. The Realistic Observer is a non-partisan, non-profit blog dedicated to keeping our readers as informed as possible.


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