Herbert Marcuse: human emancipation between difficulties and possibilities

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The emancipatory project thought by Marcuse means overcoming the current principle of reality, the performance principle, by the reality that pacifies existence, the aesthetic ethos

I - Introduction

Herbert Marcuse, as a philosopher concerned with praxis, had human emancipation as one of his great objects/objectives and, in an authorial way, renewed studies on it by refusing to simply replicate the postulates of German Idealism and orthodox Marxism . Fascism, Nazism, state capitalism, the defeat of the German Revolution, Stalinism, the advent of mass society, the opulence of advanced industrial society, its new forms of social control, and the psychic structure of social atoms required a profound analysis of the historical and non-revolutionary situation to establish the explanation of possible and new possibilities for emancipation.

Thus, the conceptual twists undertaken by the Frankfurt philosopher gave rise to a Critical Theory that, in a lively manner and calibrated with conjunctural and canonical issues, observed material and ideological differences between the liberal and monopolistic phases of capitalism, characterized the new forms of social control to operate in advanced industrial societies and formulated concepts that innovated studies on the possibilities of emancipation, without neglecting groups that did not necessarily belong to the traditional proletariat, but that exercised original forms of political actions and that were the social basis for a New Left to carry out the Great Refusal to established society.

This exposed its contradictions by showing itself, on the one hand, to be mature and with the potential to overcome its problems, on the other, to impede the realization of human emancipation by maintaining the principle of performance, surplus repression and a series of repressive desublimations. In addition to politics, art also expressed the tension between social control and emancipation: with affirmative commitments and, at the same time, denouncing the established reality, the work of art both promotes catharsis within the framework of current civilization and reinvents new rules and situations which, fictionally, take place beyond what exists and thus contribute to demystifying it. Denial, studied by an Author so well versed in Hegelian dialectics, showed itself in multiple facets – the political, the aesthetic… – indicating possibilities of overcoming the current society and the ruse that it uses in order to prolong itself, it was clear the contradictions between appearance and essence; These and other reasons – denial, reason, emancipation, revolution, history and realization of human potential – were explored in Marcuse's book, when he was already a member of the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research, on Hegel, reason and revolution (1941)

In the New Left, new reason and sensitivity were pulsing to engage in the construction of a principle of reality to overcome such contradictions, removing the class struggle from latency and mediating the obsolescence of the world in force with the society to be built, namely , which was called by Marcuse as non-repressive and libidinal civilization, integral socialism and ethos aesthetic. The possibility of implementing such a perspective denotes the articulation between theory and praxis and increases the reach of happiness and the fulfillment of needs in accordance with what, historically, can be achieved.

II – Difficulties for emancipation

Engendered when the German bourgeoisie, at the same time as it projected a social order aligned with its own interests and promoted a strategic and tactical inflection, since it did not enjoy the material strength to undertake what the English and French of the same social class had already achieved , the project of German Idealism was tinged with both desires for social transformation and maintenance of the status quo.

On the one hand, through the emphasis given to the role of the Self and autonomous and critical reason, the philosophical movement was characterized, as in Kant, by an Enlightenment propagating reason in order to construct autonomous subjects with the power to edify, through reach of consensus, the republic noumenic, regulated by reason and legal laws that also promote rational order. For his part, Hegel, with the same objective, narrated the history of the spirit until the moment in which it had consolidated itself in a more critical way to overcome the established and, through the valorization of the negative, reach the universal truth – from sensible certainty to self-consciousness, reason was magnified and became more comprehensive by freeing itself from the sensitive. For both philosophers, interiority was the refuge of freedom and happiness intended, but not materially realized. 

On the other hand, authoritarian elements showed themselves to be constituents of the reason raised in liberal capitalism as individuals were considered in formal equality, but in concrete inequality, such as the Kantian penchant for subservience to the current authorities, the Hegelian willingness to place the monarchy as the end of history, of the submission of individuals to processes controlled from above and with all the gradual slowness used by the State as control to, in this way, perpetuate what frustrated the very project of German Idealism, namely: the widespread irrationality of conflicts between individuals and State, of social classes in struggle, of the dissolution of social relations due to infrence competition, of periodic economic crises, of proletarianization and submission to the blindness of the market, of wars between the bourgeoisies of different competing nations, of colonization, of concentration and monopolization of wealth, the State reduced to the stage of private interests, the formation of ideologies marked by irrationalism.         

Then, under monopoly capitalism, in addition to autonomous and critical reason not being effective and, on the other hand, having given way to constitutive heteronomy to an administered mass, social control was swollen by the emptying of institutional mediations erected during competitive capitalism. : Friedrich Pollock and Franz Neumann, despite differences in diagnosis, pointed out that the relationship between economics and politics increased, on the one hand, security for monopolies as they struck and dismantled opposition to order, suspending the democratic achievements of previous periods , and, on the other hand, they reduced investment risks by organizing the production and distribution of goods.

For Marcuse, the implications for the proletariat were considerable. Marx had cited, from the “Introduction” of Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, and argued in more depth and in the light of (criticism of) Political Economy and Feuerbachian theory, in the Economic-philosophical manuscripts, that the proletariat was the negation of capitalism and the bearer of human emancipation by virtue of its social and material conditions; those who live from work, and not the State as thought by Hegel, were diagnosed as the element with universal interest and transforming reality, both in terms of societal and anthropological organization, since the communist program contemplated overcoming alienated work and private property, both harmful to society, as they are the basis for a gigantic constellation of social problems, and to human life, as they mutilate the realization of individual potential. Marcuse, when focusing on the social class in question, bringing together a theoretical instrument that included work from the Institute for Social Research and North American sociological research, diagnosed that the proletariat was no longer opposed, in the 1840th century, to the established order like the founders of Historical Materialism had observed in the XNUMXs. In the monopoly capitalism experienced by Herbert Marcuse, in addition to the canonical forms of domination, there was a constellation of new forms of social control and integration into the society established through the consumption of false needs that made it difficult to perception of alienation as it became more objective, veiled, palatable and with the power to dampen the class struggle in a situation of latency; in fact, expecting autonomous or critical reason to be realized and universalized or for the proletariat to champion the communist revolution and disseminate it throughout the world, did not seem to find support in the counter-revolutionary reality that had effected fascism, Nazism and the Keynesian containment of emancipatory movements. .

The Author from the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research diagnosed new forms of social control that denoted not only a quantitative increase in the forms of domination arising from the liberal era, fearful of a final and final crisis, but qualitative contours that guaranteed the survival of the mode of production in validity during its monopolistic phase, as they offered an underlying social administration in a rational, hygienic, effective and more pleasant manner, integrating the dominated sectors with the dominant ones in a one-dimensional society through materially ideological resources that also made the perception of alienation difficult. The one-dimensional man, published in 1964, sealed this diagnosis and characterized the closure of the possibility of emancipation in advanced industrial societies; To a large extent, the work deepened themes from essays written in previous decades and which had already indicated the correlation of phenomena corrosive to critical reason, individuality and the existence of an opposition to order, both in societies governed by fascists and Nazis and in self-declared democratic.

Among the new forms of social control, Marcuse develops fruitful research (since the 1930s) on the tech which, for him, contains a beforehand whose prerogative is the circumscription of people and things as objects of control, establishes links between political power and the production of goods as the worker is dominated by the machinery that surrounds him, managed rationally to undertake a masterful domination that, instead of brutalizing, calls him to belong to a supposed technological community, saving him physical energy and inclining him to be guided by the immanence of things - such considerations, already present in the Author's work in 1941, anticipated what his Frankfurt colleagues, Adorno and Horkheimer, called instrumental reason, in 1944. The production and stimulation of false needs among the members of advanced industrial society, through the mass distribution of articles schematically manufactured for different groups, so that, at the same time, it was possible to guarantee some gratification and program/manipulate behaviors that would fulfill the interests of the large monopolistic conglomerates as if they were the of the people themselves, conquering them materially status quo. The parts of cultural industry, when circulating as merchandise, they refrain from characterizing themselves as transcendent and opposed to the constituted order and, on the contrary, convey it through integration, mobilization, domestication and administration of consciences by cementing societal bonds through the strategy of entertainment and consumption and without domination being overcome. The news psychic structure and sexuality of members of advanced industrial society, marked by opulence, reduced the tripartite division of the psyche, as described by Freud, into two, since the ego had been shrunk from a socialization process that reduced paternal authority and increased importance of extra-familial agencies, through supplementary repression (“more-repression”, as Marcuse explained in eros and civilization) that guided people to act in the interests of the groups that dominated the production and distribution of goods, for gratification through the liberation of genitalized sexuality and that freed the rest of the body for the sphere of work. A political typical of advanced industrial societies included self-declared opposition parties as integrated and integrating institutions of the established order, contributing to one-dimensionality. The universe of voiceover acquired operability and functionality through unification of antagonistic terms, hyphenation, abbreviation of sentences, elimination of critical contents of nouns, predominantly positive adjectivation, hypnotic repetition, mitigation of the tension between the apparent and the real; consequently, it helped to convey the established order.

In effect, such life administered under the monopoly capitalism of the 20th century, in advanced industrial societies, expressed the nexus between objective and subjective domination: the class struggle was put into latency and human emancipation was removed from the horizon as new forms of social control integrated the proletariat into the established/one-dimensional order and were characterized by repressive desublimations by providing/appearing gratifications at the same time that domination was reproduced. The proletariat of the 20th century no longer applied the imperative of being the class that, as it had nothing to lose, the world had left to gain: by obtaining real estate, household appliances, automobiles, pieces of clothing and consuming the same items from the cultural industry that the bourgeoisie also acquired it, he had imitated it. The era in which the welfare state and the belligerent state were combined offered, through the accumulation of Keynesian and Fordist features, conditions for the dissemination of status quo as some material comforts were offered under a managed life.   

Under this situation and in order to research the possibilities of reopening emancipation, Marcuse mobilized one of the main traits of Historical Materialism and Critical Theory, namely, the recourse to History, relating it to epochal issues that obviously demanded new concepts and not the mere fetishized repetition of the theoretical instrument built in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

III – Possibilities for emancipation

Once History and praxis were arranged as certifying pillars of continuous conceptual revitalization, Marcuse observed, from the “Conclusion” of the one dimensional man (1964), that emancipation could be carried out by those who felt the frustrations, discontent and aggressions undertaken by advanced industrial society: at the heart of it, there were outsiders who contested the status quo and that would make it possible to remove the class struggle from latency. Such dissidents were researched by the Frankfurt author in works subsequent to the aforementioned book, among them, the Essay on liberation (1968) and Counterrevolution and revolt (1972). In general, intellectuals (writers, technicians, specialists and engineers - all with the ability to demystify the various forms of ideology and manipulation, in addition to playing the important role of political education, acquired education that allowed them to realize that the productive forces could be develop more and be better distributed, under another corporate framework), students (who establish links between the specific agendas of fields and the general ones of society to show that the educational reform will be effective if the social reform is also effective), ethnic groups (generally, in the USA, composed of inhabitants of risk areas of large cities and which include the black population, the most frequent victim of official repression, and who are naturally inclined to rebellions that can, due to geographic ease, spread quickly), Third World liberation movements (which, in addition to the obvious actions aimed at the liberation and autonomous development of countries on the periphery of the capitalism, also catalyzed revolts in advanced industrial societies as solidarity movements occurred together with students, intellectuals and pacifists; furthermore, if a revolution prospered in central countries, there could be an immediate effect on the periphery due to the degree of dependence that the local bourgeoisie had in relation to those of the center), pacifists, feminists (of enormous catalytic importance as they relate to the denunciation of the aggressiveness that characterizes the principle of performance, patriarchal civilization and class society, and for proposing another principle of reality, with Eros disentangled from aggressiveness, with the rehabilitation of the senses and life itself – in other words, it is a movement that rejected the established society in its infra and superstructural spheres to, in this way, liberate women and men), ecologists (like the feminist movement, also turned against aggressiveness and the infra and superstructural dimensions of status quo, especially those linked to the environment, victimized and wastefully exploited due to quantitative progress, the preponderance of Thanatos over Eros and the maintenance of socially permitted and aggressive gratifications – the environmental movement was an exponent of conscious and unconscious dissatisfaction with the destructive productivity of society in force and showed strength to reorient progress with the predominance of Eros over Thanatos, to pacify outer and inner existence, institutions and the psyche), unemployed people and some privileged sectors that lost power in the face of a vehemently monopolized capitalism, who subjected them to exhausting working hours, who manipulated them and who tentacularly extended their domains to various areas of life, converting everyone into their dependents. Together, the aforementioned groups found reasons (not just economic) to revolt against the established order and to envision new ways of life to overcome the material and immaterial issues that could not be resolved within the framework of the current society and its universalization of the commodity form.

Marcuse's diagnosis, in 1972, pointed to capital as that which dominated all areas of life and which, concomitantly, raised the counter-revolution (preventive, in times of latency of the class struggle), on the one hand, and a gigantic mass dominated by him to revolt, on the other. As exponents of the current situation, the outsiders they reinaugurated the tradition of strikes not authorized by union bureaucracies; the occupation of factories, universities and schools; absenteeism; sabotage; marches and public protests; the rejection of asceticism… Once described as one-dimensional, the political situation of advanced industrial society was, this time, marked by ambiguity, since, immanently, monopoly capitalism created groups of people with the power to corrode it. The place of denial of society – the traditional object of research in Hegel and Marx – swarmed in various points and groups that could catalyze the proletariat for its re-engagement in qualitative social change. The opposition to status quo was built based on multiple forms of struggle against repression and this was not limited to material and economic issues (despite a large portion of the proletariat consuming articles and imitating capitalism, it did not escape other forms of repression): the places , the agents and forms of political struggle studied by Marcuse revealed his concern with developing the theme of revolution and not declaring it archived. The Author's heterodox Marxism, contrary to what a hasty reading assumes, did not replace or annul the proletariat as a revolutionary class, on the contrary, it maintained it as the indispensable element to be catalyzed; Furthermore, if the proletariat gained the company of other groups, the social force for social transformation would expand. The theoretical and practical undertaking proved to be as important as it was difficult: how does revolutionary subjectivity develop under a counter-revolutionary situation?  

Os outsiders and its new forms of political struggle gave social support – more comprehensive than the traditional proletariat – to the Great Refusal and the construction of a New Left, heterodox, free from the Leninist straitjacket and its rigid party organization, revitalizing the council form and democracy direct, widespread and unifying a series of demands, not separated from the demands of the middle class, which accused the whole of society and raised flags that transcended the mere demand for economic planning. It was a question, in the aforementioned Great Refusal, between the 1960s and 1970s, of facing multiple forms of repression, of rejecting the established society as a whole, of guiding the transvaluation of values, of demanding the liberation of the senses, of the libido , of demanding the formation of a consciousness that would escape the limits of professional politics, of Orwellian language and that would be decolonized from the series of perversions imposed by new forms of social control, of concatenating subjective demands with objective ones, psychology with politics, the private to the universal, of not separating theory and practice - in order to overcome the corporate organization that conveyed the empire of monopoly capital, the new groups expressed their rebellions and hoped to catalyze the proletariat to return to the class struggle and, consequently, give direction to the qualitative social change. According to what Marcuse argued in It’s not enough to destroy – about the left’s strategy, the emergence of the New Left, the “only hope” (Loureiro, 1999, p. 85) at that time, was an exponent of the crisis that advanced industrial societies were going through and which could not be overcome without the suppression of monopoly capitalism.

Expressive of the dialectic between individual and society, instead of the subsumption of one by the other, the New Left was made up of activists with a new sensitivity forged by the transformations immanent in the social production of the 1940th century, within industrial societies. advanced: their opulence was related to the libidinal economy that, ontogenically and phylogenetically, altered the hypothesis described in the first half of that century, by Freud. Marcuse's writings from the XNUMXs and, notably, from the following decade, such as eros and civilization (1955) and other works that took advantage of and undertook a reinterpretation of the work of the Viennese psychoanalyst, analyzed phenomena such as the loss of strength of the family as a monopolizing agency of primary socialization, of people's identity (since childhood) with the institutions of capitalism monopoly, the mass availability of goods that facilitated the decrease in the importance of the primal father (repression) and the increase in the importance of consumption (permissiveness), schooling, the cultural industry as a cement of societal bonds and the increase in infantilization, associations, clubs, youth groups, etc. – everyone collaborated to block the formation of individuals (with an autonomous, critical ego and a psyche divided into three parts) as they summoned people with an unformed or eroding ego to the established society. It is about the transubstantiation of the individual into a social atom, from sublimation into repressive desublimation, from the perspective of human emancipation into perpetuity of repression (hygienic and palatable).  

Despite such a psychosocial framework, New Left activists expressed the possibility of achieving human emancipation: the opulence of advanced industrial society made, in contrast to what it facilitated, unbearable asceticism, frustration and the continuation of repression of the drives that were still present in a huge portion of the population – from the most vulnerable strata to the middle class. From the Marcusian perspective, historically, the situation was reached in which the existence of civilization no longer necessarily demanded repression: maturation, which was expressed in phenomena such as automation offering unparalleled productivity, could inaugurate an era in which would re-eroticize people and institutions, since sublimations had been put into obsolescence and would envisage the hypothesis of the realization of a libidinal civilization, in which Eros would not need such sublimation, without it being necessary to repress what was, until now, postponed, placed at the bottom of the social scene, prohibited or hierarchically submitted as inferior in the spheres of fantasy, memory, imagination, sensuality, play, receptivity, contemplation, rest, dream. If, based on praxis, the New Left presented and effected the inversion of quantitative progress into qualitative, building other institutions, other rationality, morality and sexuality, libidinal civilization could materialize as an expression of the life drive that was no longer shackled by the death instincts among those who were engaged in the aforementioned movements. In other words, a new sensitivity would be mediating a project to overcome the current society and build a new principle of reality. Based on this argument, George Katsiaficas cited the “Eros effect” (2021, p. 84) in uprisings that had the power to bring together and spread, internationally, movements that catalyzed the Great Refusal: what Marcuse thought about May 1968 would continue valid to explain what happens with the Occupy, the Arab Spring, the Black Lives Matter and other revolts and different forms of struggle, then and now.

Thinking about Marcuse's work from a broader perspective, that criticism of Hegelian reason, which would gradually become effective in history, was identified as idealistic and insufficient for the construction of emancipation. With Historical Materialism, the Author mobilized proletarian praxis as a material mediation to the rational and the universal to carry out the project. However, the integration of the proletariat, at the center of capitalism, moved reflection on the possibility of emancipation to research on agents of this program and, as the concomitance between opulence and repression marked the situation of 20th century societies, materially, it offered if the opportunity for the flowering of new reason, sensitivity, agents and emancipatory project – a libidinal reason, focused on gratification, on the realization of human potentialities that are historically achievable, but blocked by the current society, pulses in outsiders and can catalyze the traditional proletariat to reopen the struggle for its own emancipation. In this regard, eros and civilization was the basis for the thorough critique of advanced industrial society, carried out in the one dimensional man, and for the exploration of those gaps left by repressive civilization that allow the realization of concrete utopia, as argued in Essay on liberation and Counterrevolution and revolt. The 1955 book was, moreover, the continuation of research on denial: at the same time that it respected the Hegelian and Marxian canons, it renewed them in the light of new psychoanalytic knowledge.

The bearers of the new sensitivity were seen by Marcuse as precursors of the new society: made up of the life drive unfettered by the death drive, they demanded free environmental and social environments so that politics would not separate from morality, they would be socialized with a beforehand marked by the containment of aggressiveness and the increase in freedom and solidarity that, spiritually and somatically, would not tolerate the repressive desublimation of advanced industrial society, its principle of performance and its over-repression. Thus, the new sensitivity that would unlock the class struggle, the beforehand which requires the beautification of social relations and the environment, also has links with aesthetics: imagination, fantasy, poetry, sensitivity and play would also be a productive force; reason, science, work and series spirit they would not divorce themselves from beauty and well-being. Concurrently, a new man flourishes (new cognitive and sensory faculties, not opposed – new anthropology) and a new principle of reality (new society): the ethos aesthetic would be the overcoming of the principle of performance and would enable more and better gratifications, pacification of existence. Present and future are articulated in the praxis of outsiders and express the possibility of the realms of freedom and necessity intertwining, since engagement and new sensitivity still occur under the principle of performance, but which antagonize it and foreshadow a new social formation, the ethos aesthetic, like a concrete utopia. Instead, therefore, of the canonical thesis of opposition between the kingdoms of necessity and freedom, as exposed in German ideology, by Marx and Engels, the Marcusian articulation between kingdoms lists, even under repressive civilization, the elements that arise from it and anticipate its overcoming. Historically, the conditions are given (techniques, activist groups that demand another social order and that are not divorced from the new sensitivity, the realization of a concrete utopia) that can initiate the new principle of reality, no longer reduced to the quantitative progress that subjects man. to mutilating institutions and psychic economy.

Freedom pulses among New Left activists and, for the successful implementation of the emancipatory project, they need to join forces with all those who were dominated by monopoly capitalism and who find themselves frustrated, from specialized workers to the most underlying strata. It was about uniting reason and sensitivity in political engagement and education, of uniting the various groups in a United Front to catalyze protests and raise them to the level of social transformation, of championing the long march through institutions towards the accumulation of strength, of erecting councils that do not discriminate against spontaneous actions: the situation at the time of Counterrevolution and revolt demanded to bring together groups that went beyond the traditional proletariat to overcome the re-vehicle of lack and to promote the overcoming of the established principle of reality, filling libidinal civilization with new needs (among them, solidarity, respect for the individual, erotic and aesthetic satisfaction, the dimension of art not reduced to the sphere of imagination and museums and elevated to a productive force while preserving its autonomy, gender equality, intolerance to racism and the violation of the spheres of rights, respect for the environment... ) impossible to be rewarded under the current society. As part of this project to unlock the class struggle and build the ethos aesthetic as the new principle of reality, Marcuse does not separate art and technical rationality and thinks of them as intertwined and committed to the pacification of existence – defeating scarcity, making use of the productive forces already built, melts the legitimization of more-repression and the myriad of current repressive desublimations. Thus, life becomes a work of art based on the metamorphosis of goals and the type of progress to be built, the non-divorce between reason and senses and the new libidinal economy to be formed.

It is clear, therefore, that society as a work of art, the libidinal civilization, is the concrete utopia – an expression that Marcuse borrows from Ernst Bloch – that effects an aesthetic reduction: beauty, in order to materialize, demands overcoming the status quo because this is the greatest obstacle to freedom, emancipation and beauty, as it prioritizes the reproduction of capital and aggression against the environment and social environment. Furthermore, since the Greeks, art and final cause are not necessarily conflicting; Antiquity experienced something that was valid for both art and technique, as a final cause and, in Modernity, if its contradictions were resolved, it would be possible, in addition to re-intertwining these domains, to also regroup reason, sensation, imagination and fantasy to converge and move towards the pacification of existence. Art and technique in such a way concatenated and reprogrammed, denote beautifying possibilities of existence and the world, elevating the aesthetic dimension beyond museums and promise of bonheur, foreshadow and underlie the hypothesis of a non-repressive civilization (Marcuse's own thought can be considered such a foreshadowing, as well as the actions and ideology of the New Left) and marked by attributes different from those posited under monopoly capitalism, maintains the image of freedom on the agenda and confronts the principle of reality that prevents it, contributing to pave the way for the realization of some truths: reconstruction of the machinery so that it no longer operates instrumentally; reduction of necessary social work in step with the maturation of productive forces; unchaining of science and knowledge in relation to irrationalities and private interests; reason characterized by Marcuse as post-technological and no longer focused on repression; emergence of new needs that are impossible to satisfy in established society; re-eroticized psychic structure; end of Thanatos' empire over Eros; formation of subjectivities no longer marked by self-repression, renunciation and taboo; no lowering of the senses in relation to reason; I do not disregard morals in political actions.

Considered the historical characteristic of human faculties, Herbert Marcuse's integral socialism highlights the needs and satisfactions measured at the ethos aesthetic which, constituting itself as a beforehand of the new society, does not oppose material and intellective life, does not instrumentally degrade the environmental and social environments and which, in the opposite sense, beautifies and pacifies existence, as explained in Counterrevolution and revolt. The interesting mobilization and interpretation of Marx in the 1840s, Kant, Hegel, Schiller, Nietzsche and Freud went beyond the traditional Western opposition between reason, senses and imagination to indicate the possibility of a reason that sensitizes itself and of senses which are not limited to the scope of reception; the same occurs to reconnect freedom and necessity, particular and general, man and nature, means and end, analysis and fantasy, art and politics – the ethical, aesthetic and political spheres are no longer compartmentalized to, thus, embark on the union between Prometheus and Orpheus, work and song, as Marcuse explained in eros and civilization.

Ethos aesthetic, integral socialism, non-repressive and libidinal civilization are, therefore, and at the same time, beauty reaching the status of productive force and rationality emancipating itself from its technological and instrumental dimension: with the principle of performance and more-repression overcome Through praxis, civilization achieves the characteristic of being non-repressive, it acquires the Form, as Marcuse highlights in the Essay on liberation, of a corporate organization focused on the pacification of existence – rationality is characterized as post-technological and beauty is effective beyond the pages of books or, in other terms, reality materializes as a work of art as the existence is pacified and oriented according to an end in itself and without degrading itself to a means for others.

However, artistic engagement in the construction of this project does not lead to the colonization of art by politics, but rather to the permanence of the gap between the two spheres: harmony, rhythm, contrast, proportion, symmetry, metric, etc. . construct their own order, an aesthetic form (ästhetischen Form), as Marcuse argues in the Essay on liberation, which is not merely moved by the immanence of the content and which is accountable only to the rules of the aesthetic construct itself (artistic alienation); on the contrary, it transforms what is given, denying it and penetrating it with dimensions discarded by the established principle of reality, introducing imagination into the object world, inventing another with the fictional resource and denouncing the contradictions and mystifications of established society. In other words, art remains alienated from praxis and only continues to denounce reality if it is not subsumed by it, by infrastructure, by social classes, by this or that style considered more engaged and revolutionary than others; in this way, it does not lose the radicality and tension that constitute the aesthetic construct, it continues to value freedom, consciousness, new sensibility and the libidinal economy with the preponderance of Eros, weakening the roots of capitalism in individuals based on the resources of memory, of imagination, fantasy and new cognition. The Marcusian perspective of preserving the autonomy of art is not, however, about opposing form and content: art is part of reality and its form becomes content, at the same time, it is in reality and transcends it imaginatively, protecting the possibility of ethos aesthetic – a critical mimesis is achieved that stylistically reassembles the matter with the power to demystify the given, starting from it and reordering it. Furthermore, it does not embark on qualifying as essentially affirmative or subversive, but rather by highlighting, dialectically and ambiguously, art's commitments to order (exposed since the 1930s, in The affirmative character of culture) and with the criticism of the established order as it explains its contradictions: the catharsis promoted by the work of art both gives rise to enjoyment in the established world and demystifies it and denounces it as a detractor of individual and social potential. This is a conception, therefore, dialectical, which deals with affirmation and denial, which marks the beauty both linked to reconciliation and dissent in relation to the status quo, as in the cases of Shakespeare, Baudelaire and Flaubert.

IV – Final considerations

The emancipatory project thought by Marcuse means overcoming the current principle of reality, the performance principle, by the principle of reality that pacifies existence, the aesthetic ethos. The strength of the Author's argument is not only in categorizing the possible passage between such principles of reality, not only in showing the differences between repression and more-repression, between sublimation and repressive de-sublimation, between technological/instrumental reason and post-repression reason. technological, between false needs and demand for new needs, between cultural industry and art, between old and New Left; in fact, the richness with which it executes the spirit and method of Critical Theory and Historical Materialism, often to show the petrification of Marxism itself in its orthodox aspect, offers the opening and the need to [re]do the theory and maintain its relationship with praxis perennially, in order to overcome the crisis of established society and the thought that exponents it.

Such concerns occupied Marcuse's production since its beginning: for a short period, before his entry into the Institute for Social Research, Marcuse sought links between Marx and Heidegger in order to avoid the hierarchization of society and the individual, the object and the subjective; however, the path was interrupted due to the Author noting that the historicity of being, in the Heideggerian perspective, turns to the past instead of the future, due to the phenomenological reduction leveling everything – consciousness, facts, perception, fantasy – to the same plane and configure itself as devoid of criticism and because Marcuse received very well the Economic-philosophical manuscripts, by Marx, which allowed dealing with ontological and individual issues in accordance with documents of Marxism itself and without falling into the objectivism of the official parties. The clues left by Nietzsche and, mainly, the later deepening of the individual-society issue, in the light of Freudian Psychoanalysis, allowed Marcuse to author a perspective that amalgamated history, praxis, reason and sensitivity to think as the potentialities of gratification and advancement of human faculties could become effective, as well as the demand for transformation of current corporate organizations. Marcuse incorporated, into the tradition of research into negative elements that arise in and from positive society, new forms of revolts against repression; these (beyond imagination and fantasy), carried out by the different outsiders, revealed the return of the repressed and the opportunity to overcome the current problems. 

It was imagined, between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, that capitalism would reach its final crisis and collapse, a hypothesis refuted by the continuity of the mode of production and strategies that guaranteed its survival (imperialism, various forms of authoritarianism, state capitalism, etc.); however, instead of reproducing the concepts and petrifying them, putting thought itself in crisis, Marcuse oxygenated and reconstructed the theory, using the spirit of Historical Materialism against its own ossification, against the dogmatism of the parties that declared themselves Marxist: the Author broke the limiting theoretical boundaries of thought and opened the critical dialogue of Historical Materialism with phenomenology, Psychoanalysis, Anthropology, Sociology, Linguistics (but not in the guise of an interdisciplinary and encyclopedic materialism, since he denounced the instrumental dimension and technological disciplines and knowledge), the philosophical productions of Kant, Hegel, Schiller, Nietzsche, did not surrender to economic and scientific determinism, never neglected the importance of the individual nor separated theoretical production from praxis. The Author developed the tradition of research on emancipation and invites us to update it as the spirit of Historical Materialism, Critical Theory, in addition to reality itself, are open to debate.

One cannot think, for example, that the conditions for emancipation are today, under neoliberalism, identical to those of the period in which Keynesian policies prevailed: what is the status of precarious workers, of super-exploited workers on the periphery of capitalism as agents of social transformation? qualitative, of the movements of populations affected by austericide in countries where the welfare state was dismantled, of the LGBTQIAPN+ movement, of anti-racist struggles, of the new waves of the feminist movement and its forms of contribution to emancipation, of movements that demand more quality of life in social and environmental terms, such as people who organize because they are affected by dams and cycle activists who suffer from road violence in big cities? How to combine the specific agendas of current demands for human emancipation and how to prevent traditionally excluded groups, upon achieving inclusion in social institutions, from being targets of repressive desublimation?

* Anderson Alves Esteves He is a professor at the Federal Institute of Education, Science and Technology of São Paulo (IFSP), a doctor in Philosophy from PUC-SP and a member of the GPFPC (PUC-SP/CNPq) and GPEPS (IFSP/CNPq) research groups.


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