Self Under Siege (1993) Lecture 4: Marcuse and One-Dimensional Man
…now, that’s the method within which Marcuse criticises capitalist society. Not with external norms drawn from some utopian situation, but by its own terms, with its own terms. I also think that’s not only a good strategy as a style of critique, but its utterly fair. I mean, in a way, it’s like demanding of yourself that you do what you say… which you want to demand at least of your friends… that they do most of the time what they say they’ll do. But it’s certainly a good demand to place upon, ah, your society, its leaders, and so on. The trouble is – just as I have stated before – we are blocked. We are blocked in a way by an unprecedented structure of what I have called here… sort of… cynical, sceptical reason. To me it’s historically unmatched. I have never read or heard of a period like this one.
Now, I have read about many historical periods. But not one in which you can talk to young people the way you can at the college level today, and find out that they believe… nothing. Want… nothing. Hope… nothing. Expect… nothing. Dream… nothing. Desire… nothing. Push ‘em far enough and they’ll say: “Yeah, I gotta get a job. Spent a lot of money at Duke.” That’s not what I am talking about. They hope nothing. Expect nothing. Dream nothing. Desire nothing.
And it is a fair question to ask whether a society that produces this reaction in its young is worthy of existence at all. It really is. It’s worth asking that. Whether it’s worth being here at all. And my criticism of this society couldn’t get more bitter than it is in that case. It couldn’t possibly be. Remember, I am talking about the young I have encountered at Duke. These are privileged youth. At an elite southern school. Mostly white, mostly upper-middle to upper class. Now, imagine what the attitudes are like on the streets of DC, for another race or another social class. We have outlived in the 20th century the responses that Marcuse would have given to this.
I still admire in his book, the argument concerning enlightenment. I still admire his vicious attack on bureaucracy, both here and in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, and his attack on the world in which money comes before human beings. That to me is the, sort of, one line essence of the critique of Marx… I mean of Marxist critique… where money is placed ahead of human needs. Or just money is placed ahead of them.
Marcuse still tries to defend ah, as I say; freedom, happiness, creativity. He still believes in the truth. He still believes the human race has a happy destiny. I mean, I think that we have to look back at Marcuse who at the time we looked at as a vicious radical; I think we have to look back at him as a kind of Norman Vincent Peale of the 60′s. I mean, Marcuse wasn’t radical at all by the standards of this world into which we have slipped by the late 20th century. No, he really does sound like Norman Vincent Peale at times. It’s… it’s, ah, it’s almost, ah… quaint, if it wasn’t so… horrifying.