Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Forgetting Herbert Marcuse (19 July 1898 - 29 July 1979)

Herbert Marcuse, so-called 'Father of the New Left', died 35 years ago today. Marcuse was a philosopher, sociologist, and political theorist associated with the Frankfurt School of Social Research.

He was born in Berlin in 1898 to Jewish parents, Carl Marcuse and Gertrud Kreslawsky. In 1916 he was draughted into the army, but he only worked the stables. Apparently fond of horse manure, after the Great War he got involved with communism, and became a member of the Soldier's Council, which participated in the Spartacist Uprising that involved Rosa Luxemburg's Communist Party. His hatred for Germany manifested early. He then returned to education, and after completing his PhD at the University of Freiburg in 1922, he spent a spell working in publishing, before carrying on his studies at Freiburg under Edmund Husserl (the founder of phenomenology). He wrote a Habilitation under Martin Heidegger, and at first he sought to synthesise Heidegger's ontology with Marxism, but Heidegger's support for the National Socialists got in the way.

The National Socialists quickly blocked his academic career, and he joined the Frankfurt School, with which he went into exile in 1933. He ended up in the United States in 1934. And as with his Max Horkheimer, the Americans made him a citizen in 1940. He turned his back on Germany and never returned there to live, even after the war, though his ashes were repatriated in 2003.

During World War II, Marcuse worked for the Office of War Information (OWI) as an anti-Nazi propagandist. From 1943 he worked at the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the CIA. A section chief in the OSS was Leo Löwenthal, another sociologist associated with the Frankfurt School.

The Americans employed him as a leading analyst of Germany. Subsequently, he was offered a senior analyst position in the US State Department, which paid his salary until he retired in 1951.

From 1952 Marcuse got a plush job at Columbia University, then at Harvard University, where he developed a new career as a political theorist. From here he went on to Brandeis University (1958 - 1965) and finally at the University of California, San Diego, until he retired. It is during this period that he caused the most harm, corrupting the youth and writing hate-filled books.

The confused responses by the Communist Party in the US and the Communist Party of Great Britain to the Soviet Union's suppression of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 led some unhappy communists to re-think their Marxism. This is what gave origin to the New Left. Marcuse, the most shamelessly political and on the Frankfurt School's outermost Left fringe, was at the forefront of this development. His book, Eros and Civilization, published in 1955, exhibited a weird libidinal obsession and was the first volley in the assaults to come. In it he synthesised Freudian psychoanalysis, a pseudoscience, and Karl Marx:
According to Marcuse . . . Western Culture was founded by a band of sons who wanted to sleep with their mother and killed their oppressive father (patricide). In guilt, the sons reestablished the tyranny of the father and the result was European Man. Marcuse speculated that Western tyranny will be broken through a cathartic event: minorities and women would rebel, crushing Western Culture and ushering in a fuzzy utopia that is liberated from logic and reason. This utopia will be led by Frankfurt intellectuals. Marcuse calls this catharsis the “return of the repressed.”[1]
Another book, One-Dimensional Man, published in 1964, he surveyed the rise of advanced capitalism and bureucratic-repressive Communism of the Soviet Union and the decline of revolutionary potential in the West. He argued that advanced industrial society created bogus needs, which integrated individuals into a matrix of production and consumption via mass media, advertising, industrial management, and contemporary modes of thought, creating a one-dimensional individual. Against this he advocated a 'great refusal', championing the non-integrated forces of minorities, outsiders, and radical intelligentsia, in order to nourish oppositional thought and behavior through radical thinking and protest.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Marcuse cheerfully welcomed invitations to speak at the protest events organised by naive and idealistic students, among whom this elderly Marxist became an icon. Interestingly, he grumpily rejected the label 'Father of the New Left'.

His writings influenced individuals like Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, the most iconic of the New Left activist leaders. They were one of the "Chicago Seven", tried for inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention. It is worth examining briefly his ideological spawns.

Concerning Rubin, in The Psychotic Left Kerry Bolton writes:
Rubin had matricidal feelings that resulted in life-long search for therapy, in which we can include participation in the New Left as a cathartic release of tensions. Writing of a 'psychic therapy' session in which participants sought liberation from their 'childhood deprivation', Rubin stated:
I started shouting at my mother for specific messages she gave me. 'Thanks Mommy. You white-skinned no-good sexless asshole cap-toothed cancerous venom of a snake who destroyed me from birth . . . You taught me to hate myself, to feel guilty, to drive myself crazy, . . . to hate my body, to hate women . . . I have your self-righteous right-wrong should-should not programming . . . with that stupid JUDGE inside me that I got from you. I don't see people as they are, but as they fit my standards, my self-righteous beliefs . . . Oh, it is so liberating for me to tell the truth. MOMMY I AM GLAD THAT YOU DIED. IF YOU HAD NOT DIED OF CANCER, I WOULD HAVE HAD TO KILL YOU. . . You taught me to compete and compare, to fear and outdo. I became a ferocious achievement-oriented, compulsive, obsessive, live-in-my-head asshole . . . Well, fuck you, Mommy, fuck you in the ass with a red hot poker.[2]
Bolton argues that Rubin's involvement in New Left activism was redirected aggression against his mother.

Rubin, the Yippie, later became a Wall Street businessman. He was an early investor in Apple Computers and, completing his transition to Yuppie, by the 1980s had become a multimillionaire.

Abbie Hoffmann was even worse: a narcissistic sociopath and a chronic manic-depressive, he graduated from juvenile delinquent to revolutionary,
revolutionis[ing] his sociopathy into a New Left ideology that justified as a supposedly higher purpose, killing assault, and theft. His experience at 'rumbling with the gangs' and stealing as a youth was sublimated into social revolt. Hoffman's best-selling Steal this Book is a manual for urban guerilla warfare with no pretence of peaceful protest. . . His discussion of weapons included ways to knife the 'pigs' (police):
Probably one of the most favored street weapons of all time is the good old 'shiv,' 'blade,' 'toe-jabber,' or whatever you choose to call a good sticker. Remebering that today's pig is tomorrow's bacon, it's good to know a few handy slicing tips. [3]
Hoffman was later arrested on drug charges, but he skipped bail, underwent plastic surgery to alter his appearance, in lived in hiding until 1980, when he finally surrendered to the authorities. Between 1984 - 1986, he teamed up with Rubin to entertain audiences with Yippie versus Yuppied debates, charging $5000 per appearance. A steal, to be sure. He then tried his hand at stand up comedy, but proved pathetic and talentless. Finally, in 1989 he committed suicide.

Another person influenced by Marcuse was Noam Chomsky; he knew and liked Marcuse, "but thought very little of his work".

This said, in The Frankfurt School in Exile Thomas Wheatland argues that
Marcuse did not have much influence on the New Left and may well have been influenced by them to take more activist positions. In the end, the Frankfurt School as a whole and Marcuse in particular had far more direct influence on the leftist culture of the academic world in the period after the 1960s than on the leftist culture of 1960s protests.[4]
I don't know which is worse!

Marcuse wrote three essays during this baleful period. One, 'Repressive Tolerance', has some merit, as do parts of One-Dimensional Man; he argued that capitalist democracies can have totalitarian features, something that has been echoed by theorists on the Right. The other two essays, however, lacked redeeming features: An Essay on Liberation (1969), celebrated the movements of the era and even provided a justification for the tactics of the anti-fa, before they even existed. Robert Griffin, professor of education at the University of Vermont writes that
Marcuse . . . argued forcefully that the oppressors in universities employ notions of free inquiry, the encouragement and support for all sides of a matter to be investigated, aired, and debated, academic freedom, and intellectual autonomy to cloud the minds of students and defuse their commitment to do what needs to be done, and to maintain power for themselves. They can’t be allowed to persist in their misguided and evil ways.  As the slogan goes, no free speech for fascists.[5]
In turn, Counterrevolution and Revolt (1972), in which he argued that the hopes 1960s—at least the hopes of people like him—faced a counter-revolution from the Right—something to be welcomed, for sure, and long overdue, but which he, hater of all things Western, viewed with alarm. Time has proven that he wasn't entirely wrong on this point.

His final work, The Aesthetic Dimension (1979), explored the implications of modern art in bourgeois society. Though he did not intend it this way, his predictable argument could be applied from the Right as well as the Left.

After an interminably long career dedicated to anti-Western criticism, Marcuse finally died in 1979, aged 81.

Fortunately, his theories did not pass muster with everyone. Leszek Kołakowski, who saw the worker's paradise and was instantly repelled by it, concluded that Marcuse's ideal society 'is to be ruled despotically by an enlightened group [who] have realized in themselves the unity of Logos and Eros, and thrown off the vexatious authority of logic, mathematics, and the empirical sciences'.[6] The ethicist Alasdair MacIntyre has asserted that almost all of Marcuse's key positions are false and that his generalisations were based upon the total absence of any account of contemporary social structure. Mike Featherstone has dismissed his critiques of consumerism as simplistic. And Paul Gottfried, who knew Marcuse, wrote 'Like other members of the Frankfurt School  — most notably Theodor Adorno, with whom he had been associated since the early 1930s — Marcuse claimed to detest bourgeois civilization and supposedly wished to see it destroyed'.[7]

Like Horkheimer, Marcuse belongs in the eighth circle of hell. His face bears the stigmata of a psyche haunted by hate. Little good came out of this man.

[1] Elizabeth Whitcombe, "The Difficult Class", The Occidental Observer. 3 August 2009.
[2] Kerry Bolton, The Psychotic Left (London: Black House, 2013) 165-6
[3] Ibid 170
[4] Kołakowski, Leszek, Main Currents Of Marxism: Volume III, The Breakdown (Oxford: Oxford University Press: 1981) 416
[5] Robert S. Griffin, "Critical Theory in the American University: A Critical Issue, Part I", The Occidental Observer. 14 November 2013.
[6] Kevin MacDonald, "Review of Thomas Wheatland's The Frankfurt School in Exile, Part III", The Occidental Observer. 19 October 2009.
[7] Paul Gottfried, War and Democracy (London: Arktos, 2013)

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Remembering Roald Amundsen (16 July 1872 - 18 June 1928)

 Roald Amundsen

Roald Amundsen was born 142 years ago today. Amundsen was a Norwegian polar explorer, best known for leading the first expedition to reach the South Pole.

Roald Amundsen was born into a family of shipowners and captains in Borge, south-eastern Norway. The fourth son in the family, and inspired by Fridtjof Nansen's crossing of Greenland and Franklin's lost expedition, he craved a life of exploration in the arctic wilderness, but his mother wanted him to avoid the maritime trade and made him promise to become a doctor instead. He kept his promise until she died, when he was 21 years of age. At that point, he promptly left university and set out for life at sea.
Roald Amundsen 
Amundsen's first polar trek was as first mate aboard the Belgica in the Belgian Polar Expedition of 1897-1899. The expedition was the first to winter in the Antarctic, after ship became frozen in on the sea ice, off Alexander Island west of the Antarctic Peninsula. The crew were ill prepared for the harsh conditions, but the doctor, the American Fredrick Cook, who would a decade later claim to have been the first man to reach the North Pole, saved them from scurvy by hunting animals and supplying a diet of fresh meat. Amundsen learnt that in the absence of citrus fruit, fresh meat will supply vitamin C.

In 1903 Amundsen led his first expedition, aiming to traverse the Northwest Passage. This had been attempted several times previously without success. Amundsen tackled the problem by hugging Canada's northern coastline and using a small fishing boat, the Gjøa, weighin 45 tons. This proved key to a successful crossing, for in places the water was shallow as 3ft deep. In the course of his expedition, Amundsen learnt vital survival skills from local Nesilik people, including the value of using dogs for transportation and animal skins for clothing, as opposed heavy woolen parkas, which are not effective against the cold when wet.

Next, Amundsen set his sights on the North Pole. However, while preparing the expedition, news reached him that Fredrick Cook and Robert Peary, each leading a separate expedition, had reached 90º N, so he switched his goal to the South Pole. At this time, Robert Falcon Scott, who had already made an attempt on the South Pole a decade earlier, was preparing a second one, and Amundsen was aware of this. Amundsen kept quiet about his intentions until he reached Madeira.

Amundsen's South Polar expedition was thoroughly professional, and he reached his objective a month ahead of Scott, experiencing far less trouble and with his men intact. In fact, they returned to base slightly heavier than they set out, while Scott's men starved on the ice and died on the Ross Ice Shelf during their return journey, having encountered unusually cold temperatures. Aware of the controversies surounding Cook and Peary's claims to the North Pole, around which there was already an air of fraud, Amundsen took pains to ensure he was in the correct spot. Amundsen gives his own account of the expedition in The South Pole (1912) which I have reviewed here. The account of Scott's expedition was given by Apsley Cherry-Garrard in The Worst Journey in the World (1922) which I have reviewed here and is probably the best travel book ever written. Though his expedition was successful, Amundsen was criticised, firstly for being underhanded about his aim, and secondly for designing his expedition as a race (which was not strictly true, as his book includes a great deal of scientific observations). By contrast, Scott, who had organised a chiefly scientific expedition, became a tragic hero. Yet, there is no denying that Amundsen's was a masterly execution. He wrote:
I may say that this is the greatest factor—the way in which the expedition is equipped—the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.
Roald Amundsen - At the South Pole, December 1911

Not satisfied, in 1918, at 46 years of age, Amundsen launched a third expedition, projected to last no less than seven years, and involving a crossing of the Northeast Passage and drifting in the ice over the North Pole. Inspired by Nansen's earlier expedition in the Fram, he sought to go further east and further north than his predecessor. His efforts proved a failure and led to his bankruptcy in 1923; his boat, the Maud, ended up being seized as collateral by his creditors. Nevertheless, this expedition yielded a much scientific data.

Not one to be defeated, Amundsen then made two attempts to reach the North Pole, using aircraft. The first attempt, made in 1925, failed, but Amundsen organised a miraculous escape. One of his two aircraft was damaged, so the only way out was to pack the whole crew into the surviving one. Using up only 400g (less than a pound) of food, the men shoved 600 tons of snow and ice to clear a runway, and just managed to become airborne over the cracking ice. A successful attempt was made the following year, a few days after that of the American Richard E. Byrd. Though Byrd was later awarded a Medal of Honour, his claim to having reached the pole became controversial, and some think he travelled 80% of the distance to the Pole before turning around due to an oil leak. Moreover, claims were later made that both Byrd and his pilot both confessed privately not to have reached the Pole. If so, Amundsen would have been the first, though only by air, and his claim has never been controverted.

Amundsen met his end while on an Artic rescue mission. Members of Italian explorer Umberto Nobile's crew, flying on airship Italia, had crashed on the ice while returning from the North Pole. It is thought that Amudsen's flying boat crashed in fog in the Barents Sea; he may have died in the crash or shortly afterward, but none of the bodies were ever found.

Today, the American-run South Pole station is jointly named after Amundsen and Scott. There are also various geographical features named after Amundsen, including Amundsen Sea, Amundsen Glacier, Amundsen Bay, Amundsen Basin, Amundsen Golf, Mount Amundsen, and even a crater in the Moon's south pole.

  • Nordvestpassagen, 2-vols, 1907. Translated as The North-West Passage: Being the Record of a Voyage of Exploration of the ship "Gjøa" 1903–1907, 1908.
  • Sydpolen, 2-vols, 1912. Translated as The South Pole: An Account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition in the "Fram," 1910–1912, translated by A. G. Chater, 1912.
  • Nordostpassagen. Maudfærden langs Asiens kyst 1918–1920. H. U. Sverdrups ophold blandt tsjuktsjerne. Godfred Hansens depotekspedition 1919–1920. Gyldendal, Kristiania 1921.
  • Gjennem luften til 88° Nord (by Roald Amundsen, Lincoln Ellsworth and other members of the expedition, 1925). Translated as Our Polar Flight: The Amundsen-Ellsworth Polar Flight, 1925; also as My Polar Flight, 1925.
  • Den første flukt over polhavet, with Lincoln Ellsworth and others, 1926. Translated as The First Flight Across the Polar Sea, 1927; also as The First Crossing of the Polar Sea, 1927.
  • Mitt liv som polarforsker, 1927. Translated as My Life as an Explorer, 1927.
Further Reading:
  • Hugo Decleir, Roald Amundsen's Belgica Diary. The first Scientific Expedition to the Antarctic (Bluntisham Books, 1999).
  • Roland Huntford, The Last Place on Earth: Scott and Amundsen's Race to the South Pole (Hodder and Stoughton, 1979)
  • Tor Bomann-Larsen, Roald Amundsen (The History Press, 2006)
  • Rainer-K. Langner, Scott and Amundsen – Duel in the Ice (London: Haus Publishing, 2007)
  • Bruce Henderson, True North: Peary, Cook, and the Race to the Pole (W. W. Norton and Company, 2005)

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Forgetting Jean-Paul Marat (24 May 1743 - 13 July 1793)

 Jean-Paul Marat

Jean-Paul Marat died 227 years ago today. He is best known for his role as a murderous journalist and inflammatory pamphleteer during the French Revolution. He was linked to the Jacobins, of course, the most extreme and wild-eyed egalitarian groups of this period.

Marat was born in the Principality of Neuchâtel, now a French-speaking canton of Western Switzerland. He was the son of Louise Cabrol, a French Huguenot, and Giovanni Mara, an Italian immigrant from Sardinia, who converted to Calvinism while living in Geneva. The 't' was added later, to make the surname seem more French.

Before Geneva his father had lived in the village of Boudry, where he worked in manufacturing. It seems that while there Louise and even young Jean-Paul created a great deal of enmity, to the point that Giovanni was forced to move the family. The following letter, addressed to Jean-Paul's mother in 1768, is suggestive:
MADAM - As you have the most diabolical tongue that we have ever had in our town, and as you are a notorious liar and slanderer . . . I shall take care to make you known at Geneva. I have already written to different persons, and have painted you in your true colours, as also your children, who resemble you . . . I say once more that you are a notorious liar, a most evil tongue, a slanderess, a woman of no character, whom every one despises, and who is only too despicable. Your husband is no better. He is a downright hypocrite and canting humbug (caffard).[1]
In Geneva Giovanni was turned down for various teaching posts, and the ambitious Marat, finding opportunities for outsiders thus limited, left home aged 16, hoping to make his fortune. Reflecting on his early life in later years, he proclaimed,
[a]t five years of age I wanted to be a schoolmaster; at fifteen a professor; at eighteen an author; and at twenty a creative genius.[2]
His first post was as a tutor to the wealthy family headed by Monsieur Nairac, a slave merchant based in Bordeaux. Marat lasted two years. He then moved Paris to study medicine, but he left without qualifications. Next he moved to London, and set himself up as a 'doctor'. Upon befriending Angelica Kauffman, a Swiss-born Austrian painter of the Royal Academy, he began to mix with artists and architects in the Soho coffee houses. 

Aware that on paper he was nothing, yet consumed by a love of fame, he thought to wriggle his way into intellectual circles by scribbling works of philosophy and political theory. He was inspired by the activities of the radical John Wilkes, a libellous journalist, former outlaw, once pornographer, and ex-convict, who later turned conservative. His first two essays, written while living in Newcastle, foreshadowed what was to come: 'A Philosophical Essay on Man' and the laconically titled,'Chains of Slavery: A work in which the clandestine and villainous attempts of Princes to ruin Liberty are pointed out, and the dreadful scenes of Despotism disclosed'. Published in 1774, the latter proved subsequently one the Trojan Horses by which English republican ideas came to France.[3] 

Despite his lack of credentials, Marat proved an able doctor, and his published essay on curing a friend of gleets (gonorrhea) got him the referees he needed for obtainin an MD from the University of St Andrews. Before long, upon returning to France, he secured royal patronage as physician to Louis XV's youngest brother, a position that paid 2000 livres a year plus allowances—enough to live well.

In demand from the royal household and the aristocracy, he was able to set up a laboratory. He went on to add scientific papers to his resumé of published works on medicine. Years later, Marat's enemies during the revolution would describe him as an itinerant quack, but this was a libel, which Marat's apologists have since been able to disprove. 

Had he stuck to science, Marat could have carried on with a meritorious career in medicine and physics. Unfortunately, in 1788 this fellow decided to bite the hand that fed him, and, infected with the virus of radical politics, threw it all away to consecrate himself to pamphleteering and journalistic agitprop in service of egalitarian doctrines. 

Alas, Marat found himself ignored by the movers and shakers of the revolution, so he took matters into his own hands. He launched a newspaper, Le publiciste parisien, and began publishing daily, using his own printing press. Days later, he changed his mind, and called it, L'Ami du peuple (The People's Friend). Initially, he maintained a restrained tone, but he still found himself ignored. Boiling with resentment, then, he decided to throw caution to the wind and go all the way, spewing incendiary prose filled with invective, insult, wounded pride, suspicion, and incitement to violence. In some cases, he even called for mass murder. Warning against counter-revolutionaries, for example, he intoned,
five or six hundred heads cut off would have assured your repose, freedom, and happiness.
No one was spared. Not Necker, not Bailly, not Mirabeau, not the Paris Commune, not Lafayette, not the National Constituent Assembly, not the Legislative Assembly, not the National Convention, not the émigrés, not the Girondists, and certainly not the King. He summed up his attitude thus:
I have not hesitated to set the Government against me, the princes, the clergy, the nobility, the parlement, the badly-disposed districts, the état-majors of the mercenary guard, the councillors of the courts of judicature, the advocates, the procurators, the financiers, the speculators, the depreciators, the blood-suckers of the State, and the innumerable army of public enemies.[4]
Writing on the evolution of the journal and his own political evolution, Marat, friend of the people, reflected conceitedly that
[a]t the outbreak of the Revolution, wearied by the persecutions that I had experienced for so long a time at the hands of the Academy of Sciences, I eagerly embraced the occasion that presented itself of defeating my oppressors and attaining my proper position. I came to the Revolution with my ideas already formed, and I was so familiar with the principles of high politics that they had become commonplaces for me. Having had greater confidence in the mock patriots of the Constituent Assembly than they deserved, I was surprised at their pettiness, their lack of virtue. Believing that they needed light, I entered into correspondence with the most famous deputies, notably with Chapelier, Mirabeau, and Barnave. Their stubborn silence on all my letters soon proved to me that though they needed light, they cared little to be enlightened. I adopted the course of publishing my ideas by means of the press. I founded the Ami du Peuple. I began it with a severe but honest tone, that of a man who wishes to tell the truth without breaking the conventions of society. I maintained that tone for two whole months. Disappointed in finding that it did not produce the entire effect that I had expected, and indignant that the boldness of the unfaithful representatives of the people and of the lying public officials was steadily increasing, I felt that it was necessary to renounce moderation and to substitute satire and irony for simple censure. The bitterness of the satire increased with the number of mismanagements, the iniquity of their projects and the public misfortunes. Strongly convinced of the absolute perversity of the supporters of the old regime and the enemies of liberty, I felt that nothing could be obtained from them except by force. Revolted by their attempts, by their ever-recurrent plots, I realized that no end would be put to these except by exterminating the ones guilty of them. Outraged at seeing the representatives of the nation in league with its deadliest enemies and the laws serving only to tyrannize over the innocent whom they ought to have protected, I recalled to the sovereign people that since they had nothing more to expect from their representatives, it behooved them to mete out justice for themselves. This was done several times.
Warrants for his arrest were issued on a number of occasions, his illegal rag blacklisted and seized by the authorities more than once, and Marat frequently forced into hiding, which included, for a period and quite appropriately, making a home of the Paris sewers. 

In the course of his clandestine escapades, Marat met Simmone Evrard, the young and idealistic daughter of a carpenter. She generously sheltered him, scuttling him into a cellar and deflecting the police when they came looking for this scoundrel. Despite his short stature, repulsive appearance, and a body covered in blisters from a chronic, herpes-like inflamation of the skin, she fell in love with the fugitive. He gratefully took was was offered to him. 

The marriage lasted about a year, however, because for this rascal the chickens finally came home to roost. A young Girondist sympathiser, Charlotte Corday, who had come from an impoverished royalist family, knocked on the door to his flat and got herself admitted under false pretenses, waved in by Marat despite objections from his wife. Marat, friend of the people, was in his bathtub and within fifteen minutes a kitchen knife had found its way into his chest. His life was claimed by death, and the short but evil career of this homicidal maniac was thus ended at last. Yet by this time he had already created the conditions for the Terror, so it would be a while before the French could breathe again in peace. 

Death of Marat

In Biographical Anecdotes of the Founders of the French Republic, Aldolphus John described him as "short in stature, deformed in person, and hideous in face". In The French Revolution, Thomas Carlyle described Marat as "one squalidest horse-leech, redolent of soot". In Paris in the Terror, Stanley Loomis described him as a man with "arms flailing about in all directions . . . with the reckless rage of a lunatic". In her history of the French Revolution, Nesta Webster described him as
not unlike the malignant dwarfs one encounters in the villages of his native Switzerland. Under five feet high, with a monstrous head, the broken nose of the degenerate, a skin of yellowed parchment, the aspect of "the Friend of the People" was more than hideous, it was supernatural. His portrait in the Camavalet Museum is not the portrait of a human being but of an " elemental," a materialization of pure evil emanating from the realms of outer darkness. " Physically," says one who knew him, " Marat had a burning and haggard eye like a hyena; like a hyena his glance was always anxious and in motion; his movements were short, rapid, and jerky; a continual mobility gave to his muscles and his features a convulsive contraction, which even affected his way of walking—he did not walk, he hopped. Such was the individual called Marat."[5]
All the same, news of his demise elicited a wave of lachrymose grief, not unlike the death of Princes Diana some two centuries later. His heart was embalmed separately and placed in an urn on an altar built in his memory. Jacques-Louis David immortalised him in an highly idealised painting, The Death of Marat, in which he beautified his hero's scabbed skin. David also organised a funeral, in which the Marquis de Sade gave a eulogy. On his tomb, the inscription on a plaque read: "Unité, Indivisibilité de la République, Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité ou la mort". He was made a quasi-saint, and busts of him replaced crosses in former churches of Paris.

Yet, alas, the enthusiasm was short-lived. By 1795 his reputation was in ruins, and his remains were removed from the pantheon and the busts and sculptures destroyed. But he was popular in Soviet Russia—why not?—and the Bolsheviks renamed a battleship after him, though the enthusiasm soon wore off even there, and Marat's name was scrubbed off its hull, the ship reverting to its more original name in 1943.


[1] Ernest Belfort Bax, "Marat's Early Years," Jean-Paul Marat: The People's Friend. Accessed 30 July, 2009, available from http://marxists.org/archive/bax/1900/marat/index.htm; Internet
[2] Jean-Paul Marat, Journal de la Republique française 98.
[3] Rachel Hammersley, 'Jean-Paul Marat's The Chains of Slavery in Britain and France, 1774-1833', Historical Journal 48, 3 (2005).
[4] Bax, "Marat as Revolutionary Pamphleteer and Journalist," Jean-Paul Marat.
[5] Nesta Webster, The French Revolution (London: Constable, 1919)

Further Reading:
  • Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution (London: Chapman Hall, 1837)
  • Stanley Loomis, Paris in the Terror: June 1793 - July 1794 (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1964)
  • Nesta Webster, The French Revolution (London: Constable, 1919)

Friday, 11 July 2014

Remembering Carl Schmitt (11 July 1888 - 7 April 1985)

Carl Schmitt was born 126 years ago today. He was a German jurist, philosopher, and political theorist, who wrote on the effective exercise of political power. As such, he has proven one of the most important 20th-century figures in legal and political theory. Though he was active in National Socialist Germany, and theorised the legal and political basis for the authoritarian state, his influence has been strong among Left-wing intellectuals, such as Walter Benjamin, Jürgen Habermas, Jacques Derrida, Giorgio Agamben, Antonio Negri, and Slavoj Žižek. The classical liberal Friedrich Hayek and the conservative Leo Strauss were also influenced by Schmitt.

Schmitt was the son of Roman Catholic parents. His father was a minor businessman. He studied law in Berlin, Munich, and Strassbourg, where he took his state examinations and later earned his Habilitation. In 1916, he volunteered to fight in the Great War, following the end of which he lost his religion, describing his Catholicism as 'displaced' or 'de-totalised'.

During the Weimar period, Schmitt did not support the National Socialists. However, he joined the NSDAP a few months after Hitler's government took power. During the National Socialist period, he was appointed State Councillor for Prussia, Professor at the University of Berlin, and Editor-in-Chief of the Deutsche Juristen-Zeitung. All the same, and despite developing legal and political theory that supported National Socialist policies, he ran into trouble with the SS, who spent a year investigating him, suspecting him of being an ideologically unsound opportunist. This led to his losing his prominent positions in 1936. Fortunately for Schmitt, he enjoyed support from Hermann Göring, who put an end to the harassment and averted further reprisals.

Captured by the Americans in 1945, Schmitt was held in a prison camp for a year. He was allowed to return home in 1946, but he obstinately and unrepentantly resisted all attempts at denazification, which permanently barred him from academia. Despite his exclusion from mainstream intellectual life, Schmitt remained active in his studies of international law, receiving visitors, and, in 1962, lecturing in Spain, which resulted in his Theory of the Partisan. He also enjoyed support from West Germany's conservative intellectual establishment until his death, as well as from underground sources.

Schmitt is notable for his reflections on dictatorship and the 'state of exception', his criticism of liberal practices and parliamentary democracy, his idea of the incompatibility between liberalism and democracy, his theorising of the concept of the political (the friend and enemy distinction), his survey of the Eurocentric global order and its contribution to human civilisation, his comprehensive theory of the relationship between aesthetics and politics (opposing those of Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno, from the Frankfurt School), and his theory of the partisan (which implies also a theory of the terrorist).

Schmitt's thought remains, clearly, very relevant today. He would probably have classed various aspects of the enforcement of political correctness and the response to Islamic terrorism by Western democracies as a form of commissarial dictatorship. The latter involves the declaration of a state of exception in order to preserve the existing legal order, rather than to replace it with another. Notable also is that Schmitt's 'state of exception' responded to Walter Benjamin's concept of pure or revolutionary violence, which is outside legality, by bringing violence under the realm of legality. This state of exception turns out to be the norm, rather than an anomaly, in modern nation states, which is why Schmitt must be taken seriously.

But perhaps a key to understanding why Carl Schmitt has not been totally ignored or marginalised by academics today, even though academia is in the grip of a Freudo-Marxian scholastic orthodoxy, and the political establishment is in the grip of a liberal consensus, is that he was a critic of liberalism, something that was also the case with Marxism. Of course, Schmitt was a critic of both, but the Left has evidently found his critiques of liberalism useful enough to learn from and be informed by his political theory. Mauss and Cristi, for example, take Schmitt as illustrating the relationship between liberalism and political authoritarianism. Conservatives, more sympathetic to Schmitt, find his analysis of liberal constitutionalism during the Weimar period insightful, and thus argue it should be separated from his later writing. Establishment intellectuals, in sum, ignore him at their peril.

Previously, Wermod and Wermod reproduced three essays on Carl Schmitt:
Today we are reproducing
Michael O'Meara authored a major introductory essay to our edition of Francis Parker Yockey's The Proclamation of London (2012). Yockey was heavily inspired by Carl Schmitt's political theory.

Further Reading:

Thursday, 10 July 2014

The Day Germany Conquered Brazil

I am not a football fan, so I have ignored the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

However, even I could not help but take notice when news of Brazil’s pulverisation by Germany reverberated around the globe.

Seven goals for Germany, only one for Brazil, and the latter a late one in the match, so Brazil’s dreams of planetary football supremacy were crushed in the most humiliating way possible, right on their home soil.

I’ve seen the photographs of tearful, depressed, bewildered footballers, zombified by the catastrophe.

I’ve also seen the photographs of serious, stunned, and furious Brazilians, witnessing history being made in the pitch of shame.


My imagination has run wild, speculating about the possible consequences of such ignominy for a nation that prides itself on footballing prowess; for a nation that lives and breathes football, from the cradle to the grave.

I would imagine that in Brazil the next month will be one of national reflection and analysis.

Wives still weep. Husbands still rage.

Children have refused to go to school, and ripped up their limited-edition World Cup sticker collections.

The otherwise cheerful, colourful tabloid, Meia Hora, blacked its front page the following morning, stating ‘Não vai ter capa’ (There will be no coverage), explaining ‘Today, we are too ashamed to make jokes. We’ll come back tomorrow*’, with the asterisk clarifying: ‘While you were reading this, Germany scored another goal’.

Heads will have to roll, for sure.

But resignations or fulminations from employment will not suffice.

More drastic measures will have to be taken, to symbolise the national fury.

It may be, even, that this will precipitate the next presidential elections.

The demand could be made, that Pelé announce a candidacy.

Violent demonstrations have already erupted in Rio.

A bus was burnt out in Sao Paulo. In Copacabana, angry youths attacked and robbed innocent tourists.

Luiz Felipe Scolari, the Brazilian manager, has begged on his knees for forgiveness.

I would imagine he faces the electric chair.

Julio Cesar, the Brazilian goalkeeper, has deemed the occurrence of a football going past him seven times in a row ‘inexplicable’.

He likely faces the garrote, the gallows, or the gas chamber.

As for the rest of the team, I would imagine they face a summary trial. The likely sentence, the sentence most likely to be considered just, is life in prison, in a maximum security facility, with forced labour and no possibility of parole.

Arrests will be taking place in the coming days.

And it could well be that of this crop of Brazilian footballers will be made to ‘disappear’.

Perhaps an obscure provincial newspaper will report—euphemistically—‘the prisoners attempted to escape; the guards were forced to use their regulation weapons’.

Perhaps, suddenly importing an ancient Chinese custom, their families will be killed off to the third generation—to extinguish the bad footballer gene.

Perhaps there will be a day, soon, that will in future be talked about as ‘O Dia da Corda’—the day of the rope; the day when Brazil was purged, cleansed, purified, in a manner that would have made even Stalin smirk with approval.

It is a good thing for them that Brazil is not under Sharia law, because it could be that, under certain interpretations of it, the punishment ordained by Islam is the cutting off of the feet.

And perhaps, a few conservative clerics would have even suggested cutting off a little bit more.

We’ll have to see what the next days weeks will bring.

However, one thing is certain: 2014 will be remembered in infamy—or glory, depending on your blood—as the year Germany conquered Brazil.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Forgetting Max Horkheimer (14 February 1895 - 7 July 1973)

Max Horkheimer

Max Horkheimer died 41 years ago today. Director of the Institute of Social Research from 1930 till 1953, Horkheimer was a leader of the Frankfurt School, a group that became identified with Critical Theory, a wholly speculative concoction blending Marxism and Freudian psychoanalysis.

Horkheimer was born into a conservative, wealthy family of orthodox Jews. His father, Moritz, was a prosperous businessman, owning several textile factories; he expected his son to succeed him at the helm, and from 1910 prepared Max for a career in business. This, however, was not to be: Max met Friedrich Pollock at a dance soon after, and the two struck a friendship. Pollock had been brought up by a father who had turned away from Judaism, so he was not in any way traditional. In his history of the Frankfurt School, Rolf Wiggerhaus tells that this friendship gave an impetus towards Max's 'emancipation' from his bourgeois, conservative background. With Pollock he read
Ibsen, Strindberg, and Zola—naturalist critics of bourgeois society; . . . Tolstoy and Koprotkin—social revolutionaries who advocated a form of life marked by asceticism and universal love; . . . Schopenhauer's Aphorisms on the Wisdom of Life and Spinoza's Ethics, . . . and Franz Pfemfert's Aktion, which was a forum o literary opposition to the war and to the bourgeois world of pre-war Europe, marked by its editor's radical political views.[1]
In time, he rejected a career in business, and by 1924, he and Pollock were described as 'communists'.[2]

Max began by studying psychology, but, as he prepared his doctoral thesis, a very similar one was published elsewhere, frustrating his efforts. As a result, he turned to philosophy, and completed his Habilitation within this discipline.

The work of Horkheimer's group was pseudoscientific. It sought, among other things, to understand the 'authoritarian personality', and in 1950 it published an eponymous 'study', led by his good friend and colleague, Theodor Adorno, a man whose thinking was nearly identical to his own. Typically, the Frankfurt School's work was tendentious and rife with double standards. For example, it completely ignored Left-wing authoritarianism (even though most of Asia and half of Europe was in the grip of brutal communist regimes, with death tolls already in the tens of millions), and focused only of Right-wing authoritarianism, which it treated as a psychiatric disorder. Amazingly, it is still taken seriously by many academics today, who feel no moral difficulty at their continued support for a murderous ideology. The group's conclusions, however, were always strained and counter-intuitive, and not adequately supported by empirical evidence.

Indeed, the group was very hostile to empiricism and positivistic science, and this is evident in Horkheimer's 1947 book, The Dialectic of Enlightenment, co-authored with Adorno. The tone is abstract and assertional, with no effort made to substantiate its claims. As with Adorno et al's The Authoritarian Personality, this work is taken seriously by modern academics, and appears in the curricular reading lists of Western universities.

Because Critical Theory gained support from academics throughout the Western world, Horkheimer's group ended up causing harm on a scale that is difficult to quantify. The aim of Critical Theory was to subject the whole of liberal Western society to a radical critique—from the Left. Recognising that classical Marxism was ill-equipped for the task, since it focused exclusively on a putative opposition between capitalism and the proletariat, they set about developing a new framework. The work of Horkheimer's group enabled them to achieve an unlimited expansion of oppressed groups, which now included victims of racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and on and on. This became front and centre of the New Left project, whose 'father', Herbert Marcuse, unsurprisingly came out of the Frankfurt School.

The essence of the Marxian critique of liberalism is that the latter failed to deliver on its promise of equality: through capitalism, liberal societies created and perpetuated hierarchies. Thus, Marxism focused on equality. But this resulted in tyranny, mass murder, and poverty. Because it was obviously oppressive, it could not defeat Western liberalism, which had, by contrast, produced safe, wealthy, attractive societies. In fact, communist theorist Antonio Gramsci was forced to think about alternative ways of imposing communism in Western democracies because all attempted communist revolutions had failed in the West. By contrast, although it also focused on equality, the New Left was ostensibly emancipatory—a wolf in sheep's clothing—and mounted a much more successful challenge. Liberalism was not overthrown, but it was permanently altered. Because, as does the Left in general, it holds equality as one of its fundamental values, it could not oppose calls for greater equality on principle; it could, however, accommodate. Liberalism thus shifted its emphasis, away from individual liberty, and towards unbounded equality. It resulted in a Hegelian synthesis. Horkheimer's group must, therefore, be seen as the agent, or one of the key agents, that made this transition possible. Their tenebrous theories became street politics and then established ideology.

On the surface, this may seem like a good thing to many. And there certainly was scope for reform and more enlightened attitudes in some areas—no reasonable person would deny it. But when we analyse the situation more deeply, we find that boundless equality—this particular approach to reform—has not created a more just and harmonious society, but rather a sublimated war of all against all, with identity politics, gender politics, class politics, and racial politics in a permanent confrontational state, constantly irritated by a sense of grievance and historical injustice. Similarly, the shift of emphasis from the liberal equality of opportunity to the Marxian equality of outcome has meant that in the fight against 'privilege' the attendant policies have not eliminated it, but simply transferred it from one class of citizen to another: different ability means that the more able must be penalised in order to make way for the less able, who then become a privileged class with a sense of entitlement as they receive undeserved rewards. Worse still, we have even seen reports of science departments in universities being defunded, scaled down, or closed down altogether as lavishly funded equality and diversity departments are launched, with the salary of a single equality officer being sufficient to pay for two cancer researchers. The pursuit of equality of outcome, therefore, not only privileges the undeserving, but also causes pain, suffering, and even death. Relationships between the sexes? Instead of more happy marriages, we now have more divorce, broken homes, genter antagonism, and the war of the sexes. How ironic that Horkheimer was born on Valentine's Day. We could go on. The material costs have been incalculable. Social costs even more so.

According to Wiggerhaus, Horkheimer's main argument was that those living in misery had a right to material egoism. While Kevin MacDonald notes that Horkheimer eventually became reconciled with his heritage, embracing once again Jewish metaphysics, ultimately, one cannot escape the conclusion that the anti-bourgeois crusade was a sublimated rebellion against his father. Rebellion against parental authority is a theme in Kerry Bolton's The Psychotic Left, where he highlights it as a psycholotical trait of militant egalitarians. This The Authoritarian Personality regarded as healthy. Yet, Horkheimer's visage, particularly in later life, bears the stigmata of inner conflict.

Thus, Max Horkheimer is not someone we ought to be remembering. He is someone we ought to be forgetting. If Dante's Inferno paints an accurate map of where evil-doers go in the afterlife, Horkheimer's place is in the malebolge, along with the panderers and seducers, the flatterers, the simonists, the soothsayers, the grafters, the hypocrites, the thieves, the false counsellors, the sowers of discord, and the counterfeiters and falsifiers. His life was all too long, so we must be grateful death finally stopped him from causing still more harm. As for his legacy: it will do the most service by falling into obscurity, wherefrom it can do good as an an object of refutation.


[1] Rolf Wiggerhaus, The Frankfurt School: Its History, Theories, and Political Significance (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995) 42.
[2] Ibid 46.