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Friday, July 3, 2015


I have now edited Chapter Two of my book, Autobiography of an Ex-White Man, entitled "Mr. Shapiro's Wedding Suit."  It has been uploaded to, accessible by the link at the top of this page.  The chapter is a detailed analysis of the treatment of the story of American slavery in three of the leading 20th century College American History textbooks.  The joint authors of those three books -- Henry Steele Commager, Samuel Elliott Morrison, Allan Nevins, and Thomas Bailey -- were the most distinguished members of their profession.  They won many Pulitzer Prizes, served as Presidents of the Organization of American Historians and the American Historical Association, and -- through their texts -- educated generations of American college students.  Theirs is a familiar story -- America as an exceptional land, a land born in the Idea of Freedom.  That story, with its many emendations and alterations, remains the dominant narrative of America.  And it is wrong, all wrong.

I urge those of you who are professional historians or have a serious interest in American history to read the chapter.

The following chapter, which is not archived, tells the true story.  If there is anyone who is interested in that true story after reading Chapter Two, I will archive it as well.   But sufficient unto the day.

Thursday, July 2, 2015


Mesnenor [??] suggests that I upload the chapter from Autobiography of an Ex-White Man to and simply post a pointer to it on my blog.  I have this superstitious sense that if I do that people won't read it, but I guess that is the right way to proceed, so when I get finished editing it tomorrow, I will do that.  The Chapter is called "Mr. Shapiro's Wedding Suit," by the way, which may pique someone's curiosity.


As readers of this blog will know, I spent the last sixteen years of my half-century-long teaching career  as a Professor in the W . E. B. DuBois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where I had the pleasure and the very great honor of serving for twelve years as the Graduate Program Director of that department's ground-breaking doctoral program.  I told the story of that experience in my 2005 book Autobiography of an Ex-White Man [the title is a play on that of a famous novel by James Weldon Johnson.]  The first chapter recounts my experiences in my new department, but in the second and third chapters, I undertake to describe in detail how my understanding of the story of America was transformed by those experiences.  The second chapter is devoted entirely to an examination of three of the most successful and widely used American History college textbooks, written by the most distinguished members of the History profession.  By tracing the revisions, edition by edition, in the treatment of slavery, I demonstrated that the original distorted and celebratory account of the Peculiar Institution remained as the central flaw in those texts -- and in America's understanding of itself -- despite the efforts by the authors to soften or revise their original misunderstandings of America.  Since those misunderstandings persist to the present day, I think it might be worth reproducing the chapter here as a series of posts.  [The book, I might say, sold almost no copies and attracted virtually no readers, so this would be, for me, an exercise in resurrection, as it were.]

The chapter is 12,600 words long, and would probably take at least four days to post.  Is there any interest in this?  Indeed, is there any stomach for it?  Or would I simply be driving folks away until I returned to more popular topics.


I know, I know, Bernie Sanders is not going to win the Democratic Party nomination for president, and if by some miracle he does, he will not be elected president.  But still, but still ...  At this moment, he is the hottest ticket on the circuit, drawing crowds that must make the Clinton clique green with envy.  He is going where his supporters are, to college towns, to liberal states.  Gather together all the people who have come out to hear him, and they could not elect a member of the House, let alone a president.  But still, but still ...

The truth is simple, well-known, but always conveniently forgotten.  This is a large country, in which only a third of the eligible voters vote in off-years and little more than half vote in presidential years.  There are always tens of millions of voters out there who, if energized and mobilized, can win elections.  It would be easy to imagine that a tidal shift is taking place in the political allegiances of American voters, but the truth, I am convinced, is different.  Those Berniemaniacs, like their opposite numbers in the Tea Party, have always been there.  They are simply becoming stirred up by the economic disaster of American capitalism and by the presence of a seventy-three year old man with untamed hair who tells the truth.

More than sixty years ago, an American political scientist named Samuel Lubell published a little book called The Future of American Politics in which he analyzed the electorate into its interest group fragments -- Catholic big city workers, Negroes, small farmers, and so forth, and then showed that their voting behavior was remarkably stable and consistent.  What changed from time to time was the party that those groups voted for.  The shifts from Democratic to Republican and back again made it appear that between the Left and the Right was a group of Independents who listened carefully to the candidates' speeches and made their minds up by a rational process distinct from the knee-jerk party voting of the reliably D or R voters.  But that notion, Lubell showed, was a myth invented by radio and newspaper commentators.

Here is my dream:  Sanders continues to surge in the polls, and the Republican base, encouraged by the prospect of facing off against an eminently beatable Socialist [for God's sake], turns its back on yet another Bush and nominates a certified wacko, believing that at long last, they will get to put one of their own in the White House.  In response, the sensible Democrats who have privately come to terms with the dismal prospect of Clinton rise up and actually nominate Sanders.  Faced with a rightwing nut job and a Democratic Socialist, the American electorate either stays home or votes for Bernie.

Will this happen?  Nope.  Is it realistically possible?  Nope.  But will Bernie's quixotic run for the nomination change American politics for the better?  Maybe, just maybe.

Chalk it up to an old man's dream.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


One of my sons sent me a link to this public letter written by Rebecca Solnit and posted on the GUARDIAN website.  It dates from 2012, but it says perfectly what I have in my imperfect way been trying to say on  this blog.  It is worth reading:

Dear allies,

Forgive me if I briefly take my eyes off the prize to brush away some flies, but the buzzing has gone on for some time. I have a grand goal, and that is to counter the Republican right with its deep desire to annihilate everything I love and to move toward far more radical goals than the Democrats ever truly support. In the course of pursuing that, however, I've come up against the habits of my presumed allies again and again.

O rancid sector of the far left, please stop your grousing! Compared to you, Eeyore sounds like a Teletubby. If I gave you a pony, you would not only be furious that not everyone has a pony, but you would pick on the pony for not being radical enough until it wept big, sad, hot pony tears. Because what we're talking about here is not an analysis, a strategy, or a cosmology, but an attitude, and one that is poisoning us. Not just me, but you, us, and our possibilities.

Leftists explain things to me

The poison often emerges around electoral politics. Look, Barack Obama does bad things and I deplore them, though not with a lot of fuss, since they're hardly a surprise. He sometimes also does not-bad things, and I sometimes mention them in passing, and mentioning them does not negate the reality of the bad things.

The same has been true of other politicians: the recent governor of my state, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was in some respects quite good on climate change. Yet it was impossible for me to say so to a radical without receiving an earful about all the other ways in which Schwarzenegger was terrible, as if the speaker had a news scoop, as if he or she thought I had been living under a rock, as if the presence of bad things made the existence of good ones irrelevant. As a result, it was impossible to discuss what Schwarzenegger was doing on climate change (and unnecessary for my interlocutors to know about it, no less figure out how to use it).
So here I want to lay out an insanely obvious principle that apparently needs clarification. There are bad things and they are bad. There are good things and they are good, even though the bad things are bad. The mentioning of something good does not require the automatic assertion of a bad thing. The good thing might be an interesting avenue to pursue in itself if you want to get anywhere. In that context, the bad thing has all the safety of a dead end. And yes, much in the realm of electoral politics is hideous, but since it also shapes quite a bit of the world, if you want to be political or even informed you have to pay attention to it and maybe even work with it.

Instead, I constantly encounter a response that presumes the job at hand is to figure out what's wrong, even when dealing with an actual victory, or a constructive development. Recently, I mentioned that California's current attorney general, Kamala Harris, is anti-death penalty and also acting in good ways to defend people against foreclosure. A snarky Berkeley professor's immediate response began: "Excuse me, she's anti-death penalty, but let the record show that her office condoned the illegal purchase of lethal injection drugs."

Apparently, we are not allowed to celebrate the fact that the attorney general for 12% of all Americans is pretty cool in a few key ways or figure out where that could take us. My respondent was attempting to crush my ebullience and wither the discussion, and what purpose exactly does that serve?

This kind of response often has an air of punishing or condemning those who are less radical, and it is exactly the opposite of movement- or alliance-building. Those who don't simply exit the premises will be that much more cautious about opening their mouths. Except to bitch, the acceptable currency of the realm.

My friend Jaime Cortez, a magnificent person and writer, sent this my way: "At a dinner party recently, I expressed my pleasure that some parts of Obamacare passed, and starting 2014, the picture would be improved. I was regaled with reminders of the horrors of the drone programme that Obama supports, and reminded how inadequate Obamacare was. I responded that it is not perfect, but it was an incremental improvement, and I was glad for it. But really, I felt dumb and flat-footed for being grateful."

The emperor is naked and uninteresting

Maybe it's part of our country's puritan heritage, of demonstrating one's own purity and superiority rather than focusing on fixing problems or being compassionate. Maybe it comes from people who grew up in the mainstream and felt like the kid who pointed out that the emperor had no clothes, that there were naked lies, hypocrisies and corruptions in the system.

Believe me, a lot of us already know most of the dimples on the imperial derriere by now, and there are other things worth discussing. Often, it's not the emperor that's the important news anyway, but the peasants in their revolts and even their triumphs, while this mindset I'm trying to describe remains locked on the emperor, in fury and maybe in self-affirmation.

When you're a hammer everything looks like a nail, but that's not a good reason to continue to pound down anything in the vicinity. Consider what needs to be raised up as well. Consider our powers, our victories, our possibilities; ask yourself just what you're contributing, what kind of story you're telling, and what kind you want to be telling.

Sitting around with the first occupiers of Zuccotti Park on the first anniversary of Occupy, I listened to one lovely young man talking about the rage that his peers, particularly his gender, often have. But, he added, fury is not a tactic or a strategy, though it might sometimes provide the necessary energy for getting things done.

There are so many ways to imagine this mindset – or maybe its many mindsets with many origins – in which so many are mired. Perhaps one version devolves from academic debate, which at its best is a constructive, collaborative building of an argument through testing and challenge, but at its worst represents the habitual tearing down of everything, and encourages a subculture of sourness that couldn't be less productive.

Can you imagine how far the civil rights movement would have gotten, had it been run entirely by complainers for whom nothing was ever good enough? To hell with integrating the Montgomery public transit system when the problem was so much larger!

Picture Gandhi's salt marchers bitching all the way to the sea, or the Zapatistas, if subcomandante Marcos was merely the master kvetcher of the Lacandon jungle, or an Aung San Suu Kyi who conducted herself like a caustic American pundit. Why did the Egyptian revolutionary who told me about being tortured repeatedly seem so much less bitter than many of those I run into here who have never suffered such harm?

There is idealism somewhere under this pile of bile, the pernicious idealism that wants the world to be perfect and is disgruntled that it isn't Рand that it never will be. That's why the perfect is the enemy of the good. Because, really, people, part of how we are going to thrive in this imperfect moment is through élan, esprit de corps, fierce hope and generous hearts.

We talk about prefigurative politics, the idea that you can embody your goal. This is often discussed as doing your political organising through direct-democratic means, but not as being heroic in your spirit or generous in your gestures.

Leftwing vote suppression

One manifestation of this indiscriminate biliousness is the statement that gets aired every four years: that in presidential elections we are asked to choose the lesser of two evils. Now, this is not an analysis or an insight; it is a cliche, and a very tired one, and it often comes in the same package as the insistence that there is no difference between the candidates. You can reframe it, however, by saying: we get a choice, and not choosing at all can be tantamount in its consequences to choosing the greater of two evils.

But having marriage rights or discrimination protection or access to healthcare is not the lesser of two evils. If I vote for a Democrat, I do so in the hopes that fewer people will suffer, not in the belief that that option will eliminate suffering or bring us to anywhere near my goals or represent my values perfectly. Yet people are willing to use this "evils" slogan to wrap up all the infinite complexity of the fate of the Earth and everything living on it and throw it away.

I don't love electoral politics, particularly the national variety. I generally find such elections depressing and look for real hope to the people-powered movements around the globe and subtler social and imaginative shifts toward more compassion and more creativity. Still, every four years we are asked if we want to have our foot trod upon or sawed off at the ankle without anaesthetic. The usual reply on the left is that there's no difference between the two experiences and they prefer that Che Guevara give them a spa pedicure. Now, the Che pedicure is not actually one of the available options, though surely in heaven we will all have our toenails painted camo green by El Jefe.

Before that transpires, there's something to be said for actually examining the differences. In some cases not choosing the trod foot may bring us all closer to that unbearable amputation. Or maybe it's that the people in question won't be the ones to suffer, because their finances, healthcare, educational access and so forth are not at stake.

An undocumented immigrant writes me: "The Democratic party is not our friend: it is the only party we can negotiate with." Or as a Nevada activist friend put it: "Oh my God, go be sanctimonious in California and don't vote or whatever, but those bitching radicals are basically suppressing the vote in states where it matters." Presidential electoral politics is as riddled with corporate money and lobbyists as a long-dead dog with maggots, and deeply mired in the manure of the status quo – and everyone knows it. (So stop those news bulletins, please.) People who told me back in 2000 that there was no difference between Bush and Gore never got back to me afterward.

I didn't like Gore, the ex-NAFTA-advocate and pro-WTO shill, but I knew that the differences did matter, especially to the most vulnerable among us, whether to people in Africa dying from the early impacts of climate change or to the shift since 2000 that has turned our nation from a place where more than two-thirds of women had abortion rights in their states to one where less than half of them have those rights. Liberals often concentrate on domestic policy, where education, healthcare, and economic justice matter more and where Democrats are sometimes decent, even lifesaving, while radicals are often obsessed with foreign policy to the exclusion of all else.

I'm with those who are horrified by Obama's presidential drone wars, his dismal inaction on global climate treaties and his administration's soaring numbers of deportations of undocumented immigrants. That some of you find his actions so repugnant you may not vote for him, or that you find the whole electoral political system poisonous, I also understand.

At a demonstration in support of Bradley Manning this month, I was handed a postcard of a dead child with the caption: "Tell this child the Democrats are the lesser of two evils." It behoves us not to use the dead for our own devices, but that child did die thanks to an Obama administration policy. Others live because of the way that same administration has provided health insurance for millions of poor children or, for example, reinstated environmental regulations that save thousands of lives.

You could argue that to vote for Obama is to vote for the killing of children, or that to vote for him is to vote for the protection for other children or even killing fewer children. Virtually all US presidents have called down death upon their fellow human beings. It is an immoral system.

You don't have to participate in this system, but you do have to describe it and its complexities and contradictions accurately, and you do have to understand that when you choose not to participate, it better be for reasons more interesting than the cultivation of your own moral superiority, which is so often also the cultivation of recreational bitterness.

Bitterness poisons you and it poisons the people you feed it to, and with it you drive away a lot of people who don't like poison. You don't have to punish those who do choose to participate. Actually, you don't have to punish anyone, period.

We could be heroes

We are facing a radical right that has abandoned all interest in truth and fact. We face not only their specific policies, but a kind of cultural decay that comes from not valuing truth, not trying to understand the complexities and nuances of our situation, and not making empathy a force with which to act. To oppose them requires us to be different from them, and that begins with both empathy and intelligence, which are not as separate as we have often been told.

Being different means celebrating what you have in common with potential allies, not punishing them for often-minor differences. It means developing a more complex understanding of the matters under consideration than the cartoonish black and white that both left and the right tend to fall back on.

Dismissiveness is a way of disengaging from both the facts on the ground and the obligations those facts bring to bear on your life. As Michael Eric Dyson recently put it, "What is not good are ideals and rhetorics that don't have the possibility of changing the condition that you analyse. Otherwise, you're engaging in a form of rhetorical narcissism and ideological self-preoccupation that has no consequence on the material conditions of actually existing poor people."

Nine years ago I began writing about hope, and I eventually began to refer to my project as "snatching the teddy bear of despair from the loving arms of the left". All that complaining is a form of defeatism, a premature surrender, or an excuse for not really doing much. Despair is also a form of dismissiveness, a way of saying that you already know what will happen and nothing can be done, or that the differences don't matter, or that nothing but the impossibly perfect is acceptable. If you're privileged you can then go home and watch bad TV or reinforce your grumpiness with equally grumpy friends.

The desperate are often much more hopeful than that – the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, that amazingly effective immigrant farmworkers' rights group, is hopeful because quitting for them would mean surrendering to modern-day slavery, dire poverty, hunger, or death, not cable-TV reruns. They're hopeful and they're powerful, and they went up against Taco Bell, McDonald's, Safeway, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, and they won.

The great human rights activist Harvey Milk was hopeful, even though when he was assassinated gays and lesbians had almost no rights (but had just won two major victories in which he played a role). He famously said, "You have to give people hope."

In terms of the rights since won by gays and lesbians, where we are now would undoubtedly amaze Milk, and we got there step by step, one pragmatic and imperfect victory at a time – with so many more yet to be won. To be hopeful means to be uncertain about the future, to be tender toward possibilities, to be dedicated to change all the way down to the bottom of your heart.

There are really only two questions for activists: what do you want to achieve? And who do you want to be? And those two questions are deeply entwined. Every minute of every hour of every day you are making the world, just as you are making yourself, and you might as well do it with generosity and kindness and style.

That is the small ongoing victory on which great victories can be built, and you do want victories, don't you? Make sure you're clear on the answer to that, and think about what they would look like.

Love, Rebecca

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Susie and I are home after a complicated trip that included a stop in Amherst, MA to see old friends.  I promised to respond to the many interesting comments provoked by my posts on the transition to socialism, and I shall, but in various ways, the world has preempted our cozy discussion.  I refer not only to the two dramatic Supreme Court decisions, the first of which was announced while I was in the air over the Atlantic, but also to the terrible murders in South Carolina and the crisis unfolding in Greece.  Sufficient unto the day, as they say.  I shall get to all of that anon.

Let me begin by responding to the comment of Wallace Stevens and others about cooperatives and other innovative arrangements within capitalism that may point the way to a transition to socialism.  I recently read an interesting book by Gar Alperovitz called What Then Must We Do: Straight Talk About The Next American Revolution.  [I hope I am recalling this correctly.  I cannot find it on my shelves.]  As I remember, Alperovitz at one point itemizes the enormous number of cooperatives of all sorts that already exist -- operations a good deal larger and more economically significant than farmers' markets.  I see these as real world experiments from which we can learn.  I have always been sceptical of such efforts because they seemed to me to be so small in scale next to the great collections of capital that we call corporations, but perhaps I have dismissed them too hastily.

By the way, magpie is of course right that my account of CEO pay is only part of the story.  His comment illustrates my more general point, which is that capitalism as we know it now is so complex that no simple story about a transition to socialism will suffice.  My reaction to that complexity is always the same:  Let us start with a massive redistribution of income, and see what changes that works in the economy as a whole.  Then perhaps we will see more clearly what the next step must be.  Of course, when we talk about such a redistribution [say two trillion dollars a year from the richest to the poorest], we immediately realize how far we are from the political power to carry out even that sort of amelioration, temporizing as it is and far as it is from anything we could ever call socialism.

Wallace Stevens' initial comment raises a good many important questions, which I shall put off responding to until tomorrow.  [I am still sorting through five weeks of mail, almost all of which is catalogues.  aasarrrggghhh!]  Two points that call for some response:  First, the importance of examining the actual historical examples of revolutions made in the name of Marx or communism -- Russia, China, perhaps Cuba;  and second, the question whether there is a conflict between the celebration of individual rights [Black Liberation, Women's Liberation, Gay Liberation, etc.] and the communitarianism seemingly inseparable from the socialist ideal.  Let me try to say something about those topics tomorrow.

Oh, by the way, Susie and I sat in our favorite cafe in Paris and watched Serena Williams win the French Open.  That was in many ways the high point of our stay.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


Against this paradoxically repressive tolerance of dissent, Marcuse brandished the only weapon he could find:  the power of great art.  Marcuse's thought here is very deep, very surprising, and in my judgment very powerful.  In a speech I have given in several venues titled "What Good is a Liberal Education?" I undertook to explicate Marcuse's thinking.  I am going to reproduce here what I said in that speech, despite the fact that the entire text has been posted on  Once again, I apologize for repeating myself.  Here is what I said:

            "The new-born infant does not possess a coherent rational self or ego with which to negotiate its relationship to the external world. Indeed, it does not yet so much as possess a conception of itself in contradistinction to its surroundings. What we think of as the ordinary thought-processes of reality orientation - the distinction of self and other, the recognition of relations of space, time, and causality, the distinction between desire and satisfaction, wish and actuality - are in fact secondary accomplishments, painfully acquired in the wake of initial and continuing frustrations. Each of the stages of what we consider normal childhood development has a profoundly ambivalent significance for the child, at one and the same time a source of power, satisfaction, and self-esteem, and a suffering of frustration, pain, and rage.

            "One example can perhaps stand for the entire years-long process. Little babies are at first unable to express their desires, of course, save by the inefficient method of crying. Still, a fortunate baby will succeed in getting its parent's attention by crying, and the parent will become hyper-sensitively attuned to those slight variations in the cry which indicate whether it is hunger, fatigue, colic, or teething that is the cause. Eventually, the baby learns to sit up in a high chair and eat with its hands or a spoon, and [we may suppose] it learns as well that when it waves its hands and makes a demanding noise, it gets a cookie. The baby, note, will be deeply ambivalent about this learned behavior, for what the baby wants [or so Freud persuasively tells us] is to have its hunger, or its desire for a cookie, instantaneously gratified, without even the temporary frustration of waiting until the parent decodes the cry and responds. But though this state of affairs has come about at the cost of frustration and pain, it is also a source of power and gratification. By learning how to command its parent's response, the baby can get the cookie. What is more, the parent is likely to respond with manifest pleasure to the baby's ability to sit up and communicate its wants.

             "One day, something inexplicable, terrible, frustrating, painful happens. The baby makes its demanding noise, with the cookie in full view just outside its reach, and the parent, instead of immediately handing it over, as has happened every day for as long as the baby can remember, now picks up the cookie, holds it tantalizingly before the baby, and says in what can only be construed as a deliberately sadistic voice, "Can you say 'cookie'?" Well, all of us know the rest of this story, for all of us have lived through it. The acquisition of language, the mastery of one's bowels, the control of one's temper - all of the stages in development that make one an adult human being who is recognizably a member of a society - all have a negative side, a side associated with shame, rage, pain, frustration, resentment, a backside, as we learn to think of it, as well as a positive side associated with praise, self-esteem, public reward, power, satisfaction - a front, which, as our language very nicely suggests, is both an officially good side and also a pretense, a fake.

            "By and large, we do not forget the frustration, the pain, the rage. We repress it, drive it out of consciousness, deny it, put it behind us, as we like to say. But, like our own backsides, and the feces which issue from them, they remain, and exercise a secret, shameful attraction for us.

            "This brief reminder of our common heritage makes it clear that the repression of "unacceptable" wishes - as Freud so quaintly and aptly labeled them in his earlier writings - is an essential precondition for our development of the ability to interact effectively with the world, and with one another. Mastery of our own bodies, mastery of language, the psychic ability, and willingness, to defer gratification long enough to perform necessary work, the ability to control destructive, and self-destructive, rages or desires - civilization, society, culture, survival depend upon them. But necessary though they are, they are painful; throughout our lives, we carry, repressed, the delicious, illicit fantasies of total, immediate, uncompromised gratification, of instantaneous, magical fulfillment, of the permission to indulge the desires that have been stigmatized as negative.

            "In One-Dimensional Man, in what has always seemed to me one of the truly inspired texts of twentieth century social theory, Marcuse deploys these insight to explain the structure and conditions of social protest, and the subjective psychological sources of the energy that fuels social change. The argument goes like this: The energy on which we draw for work, for art, and for politics, as well as for sex, is the fund of originally undifferentiated libidinal energy with which we are born, and which we attach to various objects through the psychic processes of sublimation, displacement, and cathexis. The gratifications we obtain are, as Freud poignantly shows us, always somewhat diminished, compromised, shadowed by the unavoidable adjustments to reality. The pleasures of useful, fruitful, unalienated labor, the satisfactions of artistic creation, even the sensuous delights of sexual intercourse, necessarily fall short of what is longed for in our repressed fantasies. To give a single, elementary example: all of us who write books of philosophy will acknowledge, I imagine, that in our most secret dreams, we lust after a review that begins something like this: "Not since Plato wrote THE REPUBLIC has a work of such power and brilliance burst upon the scene" - after which, we become instantaneously rich, young, thin, and flooded with absolutely risk-free offers of polymorphic sexual satisfaction. What actually happens, if we are fortunate, is that we are moderately favorably reviewed, by someone with his or her own fantasies of instant gratification, and have the genuine, but subdued pleasure, in years to come, of stumbling on references to our production, or of encounters with a praising reader.

            "Now, Marcuse suggests, there is real surplus psychic repression inflicted on all of us in our society, most particularly on those at the bottom of the economic pyramid, and the established, institutionalized structures of political and economic repression being what they are, it takes an enormous, painful, dangerous mobilization of psychic energy to fight those structures and reduce the quantum of surplus repression. But since the dangers of revolt and resistance are so great, and most especially because the repression has been internalized in each of us in the form of an unnecessarily punitive set of self-inflicted restraints, a reasoned, measured, realistic call for incremental improvements is unlikely to elicit the burst of revolutionary energy needed for any change at all. "Workers of the world, unite! You have a modest reduction in surplus repression to win!" is not a slogan calculated to bring suffering men and women into the streets.

            "What in fact happens, Marcuse suggests, is that revolutionary change is energized by the utopian, siren call of liberation, which, whatever the language in which it is couched, is experienced subjectively as a promise of the gratification of those infantile fantasies of instantaneous, magical, total gratification which lurk within us all. Workers' liberation, Black liberation, Women's liberation, Gay liberation - all appeal, necessarily, meretriciously, and yet productively, to these universal repressed fantasies. Only the tapping of such powerful wellsprings of psychic energy can move us to the heroic feats required for even modest reductions in surplus repression.

            "The upshot of every revolution is therefore disappointment, for no matter how successful the revolution, it cannot, in the nature of things, liberate us from necessary repression. After the victory celebrations, we must still go to work, use the toilet, submit ourselves to some code or other of dress, of speech, of sexual conduct. Despite the inevitable and repeated disappointments, we must keep alive the fantasies, and attach them to our political aspirations, for they are the essential motor of real world social, economic, and political progress.
          "How can we keep alive the deeply buried fantasies so that their energy can be used to fuel the real-world project of liberation from surplus repression?  Surprisingly, Marcuse argues that the great works of art, literature, philosophy and music of our cultural tradition play an essential and unexpectedly subversive role. Regardless of their manifest content and apparent purpose, these works keep alive, in powerful and covert ways, the fantasies of gratification, the promise of happiness, the anger at necessary repression, on which radical political action feeds.

            "To explain somewhat how even the most seemingly abstract works of art perform this function, let me quote a single paragraph from Marcuse's discussion, and then explicate it by reference to a Bach fugue. Here is the passage:

            "The tension between the actual and the possible is transfigured into an insoluble conflict, in which reconciliation is by grace of the oeuvre as form: beauty as the "promesse de bonheur." In the form of the oeuvre, the actual circumstances are placed in another dimension where the given reality shows itself as that which it is. Thus it tells the truth about itself; its language ceases to be that of deception, ignorance, and submission.  Fiction calls the facts by their name and their reign collapses;  fiction subverts everyday experience and shows it to be mutilated and false. But art has this magic power only as the power of negation. It can speak its own language only as long as the images are alive which refuse and refute the established order.  [ONE-DIMENSIONAL MAN, pp. 61-62]"

            "Consider a Bach fugue, which can stand, in Marcuse's analysis, for any work of art or literature that submits itself, as all true art must, to some canon of formal constraint. We could  as well consider a sonnet, a portrait, a statue, or indeed a Platonic dialogue. The rules governing the composition of a fugue are extremely strict. They constitute,  psychologically speaking, a repression of the composer's instinctual, creative energies. In the hands of a novice, the fugue-form is a strait-jacket, painfully forcing one to adjust one's musical line in unnatural ways. It is, speaking at the very deepest psychological level, the equivalent of being required to use the toilet, or to say "cookie" before being fed.  But in the hands of Bach, all is transformed. Bach's fugues seem effortless. They magically transcend the constraints of the form, all the while rigidly conforming to them.

            "The result is sheer, sensuous beauty which is, at one and the same time, liberated from the constraints of form and completely consonant with those constraints. The fugue thus holds out, magically, the promise of total satisfaction, the "promesse de bonheur," that is to be found in the unconscious of each of us. In the same fashion, a Dickinson poem, a Rodin sculpture, a Platonic dialogue, a van Gogh still life reawaken in us the fantasy of perfect, effortless gratification. These works of art and literature, Marcuse is suggesting, remind us of the possibility that there is a life better than the network of compromises in which we are enmeshed, a second dimension to existence in which freedom replaces necessity, happiness replaces suffering.

            "The great works of humanistic writing, be they philosophy, history, theology, or criticism, accomplish the same end. The pure, rational arguments of Spinoza's ETHICS recall for us the image of a world in which reason is an instrument of liberation, not of domination. The sheer formal beauty of a mathematical proof, the effortless derivation of the most powerful conclusions from apparently innocent premises, holds out to us the hope of instantaneous ecstasy. "

            There is, of course, much, much more in One-Dimensional Man than I have been able to indicate in this mini-tutorial, but six thousand words are enough, I hope, to whet your appetite.  Those of you who are analytic philosophers by training and profession can read the book, gnashing your teeth at what you will undoubtedly consider his willful misunderstanding of your chosen intellectual style.  My copy has marginal notes dating from the sixties filled with outraged defenses of my own teachers, Quine among them.  But I am convinced that if you will read the text with a certain generosity of spirit, you will find both enlightenment and inspiration.  It is not for nothing that an earlier generation of rebellious youths found in Marcuse the mentor their own education had denied them.