Eros and Civilization (and Politics)

Last night, I read the Political Preface to Eros and Civilization by Herbert Marcuse. It’s interesting stuff; an analysis of Freud’s theories from a Marxist perspective; in a sense he’s taking the notion of suppressed Eros and applying it to society rather than just the individual.

The book was written in 1955, but in 1966 it was republished and Marcuse wrote the political preface. There’s some amazing stuff in there:

I hesitate to use the word — freedom — because it is precisely in the name of freedom that crimes against humanity are being perpetrated. This situation is certainly not new in history: poverty and exploitation were products of economic freedom; time and again, people were liberated all over the globe by their lords and masters, and their new liberty turned out to be submission, not to the rule of law but to the rule of the law of the others. What started as subjection by force soon became “voluntary servitude,” collaboration in reproducing a society which made servitude increasingly rewarding and palatable. The reproduction, bigger and better, of the same ways of life came to mean, ever more clearly and consciously, the closing of those other possible ways of life which could do away with the serfs and the masters, with the productivity of repression.

. . .

The rejection of affluent productivity, far from being a commitment to purity, simplicity, and “nature,” might be the token (and weapon) of a higher stage of human development, based on the achievements of the technological society.

. . .

The system has its weakest point where it shows its most brutal strength: in the escalation of its military potential (which seems to press for periodic actualization with ever shorter interruptions of peace and preparedness). This tendency seems reversible only under strongest pressure, and its reversal would open the danger spots in the social structure: its conversion into a “normal” capitalist system is hardly imaginable without a serious crisis and sweeping economic and political changes. Today, the opposition to war and military intervention strikes at the roots: it rebels against those whose economic and political dominion depends on the continued (and enlarged) reproduction of the military establishment, its “multipliers,” and the policies which necessitate this reproduction. These interests are not hard to identify, and the war against them does not require missiles, bombs, and napalm. But it does require something that is much harder to produce — the spread of uncensored and unmanipulated knowledge, consciousness, and above all, the organized refusal to continue work on the material and intellectual instruments which are now being used against man — for the defense of the liberty and prosperity of those who dominate the rest.

The last paragraph is perhaps most interesting to me at the moment; in a sense it is a longing, from 1966, for something like the Internet, something “much harder to produce — the spread of uncensored and unmanipulated knowledge.” I wrote about this in The Virtual Enclosures; the fact that anti-capitalists now have a tool like cyberspace make it even more vital that this tool be kept functional to us. It should be kept Free and in the commons.

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