The radical left seems to have a vested interest in destroying our civilization from within for the sake of some apocalypse or other. That is a dangerous place for us to be.
Some years ago, Michael Hanby observed that we are all Marxists now. By this, he meant that everything has become politicized for all of us, whether we like it or not. Unfortunately, the situation has deteriorated somewhat since then: Now, a large and influential number of us are also Marcusans, taking our cues from one of the leading lights of the Frankfurt School, Herbert Marcuse. The reaction to the recent Harper’s letter and the current conflicts at Princeton University bear witness to the fact that freedom of speech, once considered an axiom of a free society, is now being questioned by the artistic and intellectual classes who, paradoxically, are its very fruits. And this notion that freedom of speech is merely a species of repression is one that Marcuse eloquently expressed in his 1968 essay, “Repressive Tolerance.”
Along with his Frankfurt colleagues, Marcuse must take the blame for the assumption by large swathes of the left that obfuscation and obscurity are sacramental signs of the “real presence” of insight. Indeed, the combination of his inspirational revolutionary stance with his inability to write a clear sentence (let alone an entire lucid paragraph) effectively granted a plenary indulgence to trendy academics and academic wannabes for crimes against the English language.
We should not dismiss Marcuse’s thought, however. His book Eros and Civilization was central to the refraction of Freud through a Marxist lens, thus politicizing psychology and paving the way for the sexual dimension of the revolutions of 1968 and beyond. And his One-Dimensional Man was a classic example of the dog biting the hand that fed him, being a critique of the very American culture that had given him safe haven during the Nazi regime. If critical theory in its demolition of the past can often degenerate into an ideological justification of ingratitude, then Marcuse was both its pioneer and its poster boy.