Herbert Marcuse. One-Dimensional Man

4 – The Closing of the Universe of Discourse

Dans l’état présent de l’Histoire, toute écriture politique ne peut que confirmer un univers policier, de męme toute écriture intellectuelle ne peut qu’instituer une para-littérature, qui n’ose plus dire son nom. ”

“In the present state of history, all political writing can only confirm a police-universe, just as all intellectual writing can only produce para-literature which does not dare any longer to tell its name.”

Roland Barthes

The Happy Consciousness – the belief that the real is rational and that the system delivers the goods – reflects the new conformism which is a facet of technological rationality translated into social behaviour. It is new because it is rational to an unprecedented degree. It sustains a society which has reduced – and in its most advanced areas eliminated – the more primitive irrationality of the preceding stages, which prolongs and improves life more regularly than before. The war of annihilation has not yet occurred; the Nazi extermination camps have been abolished. The Happy Consciousness repels the connection. Torture has been reintroduced as a normal affair, but in a colonial war which takes place at the margin of the civilized world. And there it is practiced with good conscience for war is war. And this war, too, is at the margin – it ravages only the “underdeveloped” countries. Otherwise, peace reigns.

The power over man which this society has acquired is daily absolved by its efficacy and productiveness. If it assimilates everything it touches, if it absorbs the opposition, if it plays with the contradiction, it demonstrates its cultural superiority. And in the same way the destruction of resources and the proliferation of waste demonstrate its opulence and the “high levels of well-being”; “the Community is too well off to care!” [67]

The Language of Total Administration

This sort of well-being, the productive superstructure over the unhappy base of society, permeates the “media” which mediate between the masters and their dependents. Its publicity agents shape the universe of communication in which the one-dimensional behaviour expresses itself. Its language testifies to identification and unification, to the systematic promotion of positive thinking and doing, to the concerted attack on transcendent, critical nations. In the prevailing modes of speech, the contrast appeals between two-dimensional, dialectical modes of thought and technological behaviour or social “habits of thought.”

In the expression of these habits of thought, the tension between appearance and reality, fact and factor, substance and attribute tend to disappear. The elements of autonomy, discovery, demonstration, and critique recede before designation, assertion, and imitation. Magical, authoritarian and ritual elements permeate speech and language. Discourse is deprived of the mediations which are the stages of the process of cognition and cognitive evaluation. The concepts which comprehend the facts and thereby transcend the facts are losing their authentic linguistic representation. Without these mediations, language tends to express and promote the immediate identification of reason and fact, truth and established truth, essence and existence, the thing and its function.

These identifications, which appeared as a feature of operationalism,[68] reappear as features of discourse in social behaviour. Here functionalization of language helps to repel non-conformist elements from the structure and movement of speech. Vocabulary and syntax are equally affected. Society expresses its requirements directly in the linguistic material but not without opposition; the popular language strikes with spiteful and defiant humor at the official and semi-official discourse Slang and colloquial speech have rarely been so creative. It is as if the common man (or his anonymous spokesman) would in his speech assert his humanity against the powers that be, as if the rejection and revolt, subdued in the political sphere, would burst out in the vocabulary that calls things by their names: “head-shrinker” and “egghead,” “boob tube,” “think tank,” “beat it” and “dig it,” and “gone, man, gone.”

However, the defense laboratories and the executive offices, the governments and the machines, the time-keepers and managers, the efficiency experts and the political beauty parlors (which provide the leaders with the appropriate make-up) speak a different language and, for the time being, they seem to have the last word. It is the word that orders and organizes, that induces people to do, to buy, and to accept. It is transmitted in a style which is a veritable linguistic creation; a syntax in which the structure of the sentence is abridged and condensed in such a war that no tension, no “space” is left between the parts of the sentence. This linguistic form militates against a development of meaning. I shall presently try to illustrate this style.

The feature of operationalism – to make the concept synonymous with the corresponding set of operations[69] – recurs in the linguistic tendency “to consider the names of things as being indicative at the same time of their manner of functioning, and the names of properties and processes as symbolical of the apparatus used to detect or produce them.”[70] This is technological reasoning, which tends “to identify things and their functions.”[71]

As a habit of thought outside the scientific and technical language, such reasoning shapes the expression of a specific social and political behaviorism. In this behavioral universe, words and concepts tend to coincide, or rather the concept tends to be absorbed by the word. The former has no other content than that designated by the word in the publicized and standardized usage, and the word is expected to have no other response than the publicized and standardized behaviour (reaction). The word becomes cliché and, as cliché, governs the speech or the writing; the communication thus precludes genuine development of meaning.

To be sure, any language contains innumerable terms which do not require development of their meaning, such as the terms designating the objects and implements of daily life, visible nature, vital needs and wants. These terms are generally understood so that their mere appearance produces a response (linguistic or operational) adequate to the pragmatic context in which they are spoken.

The situation is very different with respect to terms which denote things or occurrences beyond this non-controversial context. Here, the functionalization of language expresses an abridgement of meaning which has a political connotation. The names of things are not only “indicative of their manner of functioning,” but their (actual) manner of functioning also defines and “closes” the meaning of the thing, excluding other manners of functioning. The noun governs the sentence in an authoritarian and totalitarian fashion, and the sentence becomes a declaration to be accepted – it repels demonstration, qualification, negation of its codified and declared meaning.

At the nodal points of the universe of public discourse, self-validating, analytical propositions appear which function like magic-ritual formulas. Hammered and re-hammered into the recipient’s mind, they produce the effect of enclosing it within the circle of the conditions prescribed by the formula.

I have already referred to the self-validating hypothesis as propositional form in the universe of political discourse.[72] Such nouns as “freedom,” “equality,” “democracy,” and “peace” imply, analytically, a specific set of attributes which occur invariably when the noun is spoken or written. In the West, the analytic predication is in such terms as free enterprise, initiative, elections, individual; in the East in terms of workers and peasants, building communism or socialism, abolition of hostile classes. On either side, transgression of the discourse beyond the closed analytical structure is incorrect or propaganda, although the means of enforcing the truth and the degree of punishment are very different. In this universe of public discourse, speech moves in synonyms and tautologies; actually, it never moves toward the qualitative difference. The analytic structure insulates the governing noun from those of its contents which would invalidate or at least disturb the accepted use of the noun in statements of policy and public opinion. The ritualized concept is made immune against contradiction.

Thus, the fact that the prevailing mode of freedom is servitude, and that the prevailing mode of equality is superimposed inequality is barred from expression by the closed definition of these concepts in terms of the powers which shape the respective universe of discourse. The result is the familiar Orwellian language (“peace is war” and “war is peace,” etc.), which is by no means that of terroristic totalitarianism only. Nor is it any less Orwellian if the contradiction is not made explicit in the sentence but is enclosed in the noun. That a political party which works for the defense and growth of capitalism is called “Socialist, “ and a despotic government “democratic,” and a rigged election “free” are familiar linguistic – and political – features which long pre-date Orwell.

Relatively new is the general acceptance of these lies by public and private opinion, the suppression of their monstrous content. The spread and the effectiveness of this language testify to the triumph of society over the contradictions which it contains; they are reproduced without exploding the social system. And it is the outspoken, blatant contradiction which is made into a device of speech and publicity. The syntax of abridgment proclaims the reconciliation of opposites by welding them together in a firm and familiar structure. I shall attempt to show that the “clean bomb” and the “harmless fall-out” are only the extreme creations of a normal style. Once considered the principal offence against logic, the contradiction now appeals as a principle of the logic of manipulation – realistic caricature of dialectics. It is the logic of a society which can afford to dispense with logic and play with destruction, a society with technological mastery of mind and matter.

The universe of discourse in which the opposites are reconciled has a firm basis for such unifiation – its beneficial destructiveness. Total commercialization joins formerly antagonistic spheres of life, and this union expresses itself in the smooth linguistic conjunction of conflicting parts of speech. To a mind not yet sufficiently conditioned, much of the public speaking and printing appeals utterly surrealistic.

Captions such as “Labor is Seeking Missile Harmony,”[73] and advertisements such as a “Luxury Fall-Out Shelter”[74] may still evoke the naive reaction that “Labor,” “Missile,” and “Harmony” are irreconcilable contradictions, and that no logic and no language should be capable of correctly joining luxury and fall-out. However, the logic and the language become perfectly rational when we learn that a “nuclear-powered, ballistic-missile-firing submarine” “carries a price tag of $120,000,000” and that “carpeting, scrabble and TV” are provided in the $1,000 model of the shelter. The validation is not primarily in the fact that this language sells (it seems that the fall-out business was not so good) but rather that it promotes the immediate identification of the particular with the general interest, Business with National Power, prosperity with the annihilation potential. It is only a slip of the truth if a theatre announces as a “Special Election Eve Perf., Strindberg’s Dance of Death.”[75] The announcement reveals the connection in a less ideological form than is normally admitted.

The unification of opposites which characterizes the commercial and political style is one of the many ways in which discourse and communication make themselves immune against the expression of protest and refusal. How can such protest and refusal find the right word when the organs of the established order admit and advertise that peace is really the brink of war, that the ultimate weapons carry their profitable price tags, and that the bomb shelter may spell coziness? In exhibiting its contradictions as the token of its truth, this universe of discourse closes itself against any other discourse which is not on its own terms. And, by its capacity to assimilate an other’s terms to its own, it offers the prospect of combining the greatest possible tolerance with the greatest possible unity. Nevertheless its language testifies to the repressive character of this unity. This language speaks in constructions which impose upon the recipient the slanted and abridged meaning, the blocked development of content, the acceptance of that which is offered in the form in which it is offered.

The analytic predication is such a repressive construction. The fact that a specific noun is almost always coupled with the same “explicatory” adjectives and attributes makes the sentence into a hypnotic formula which, endlessly repeated, fixes the meaning in the recipient’s mind. He does not think of essentially different (and possibly true) explications of the noun. Later we shall examine other constructions in which the authoritarian character of this language reveals itself. They have in common a telescoping and abridgment of syntax which cuts off development of meaning by creating fixed images which impose themselves with an overwhelming and petrified concreteness. It is the well-known technique of the advertisement industry, where it is methodically used for “establishing an image” which sticks to the mind and to the product, and helps to sell the men and the goods. Speech and writing are grouped around “impact lines” and “audience rousers” which convey the image. This image may be “freedom” or “peace,” or the “nice guy” or the “communist” or “Miss Rheingold.” The reader or listener is expected to associate (and does associate) with them a fixated structure of institutions, attitudes, aspirations, and he is expected to react in a fixated, specific manner.

Beyond the relatively harmless sphere of merchandising, the consequences are rather serious, for such language is at one and the same time “intimidation and glorification.[76] Propositions assume the form of suggestive commands – they are evocative rather than demonstrative. Predication becomes prescription; the whole communication has a hypnotic character. At the same time it is tinged with a false familiarity – the result of constant repetition, and of the skillfully managed popular directness of the communication. This relates itself to the recipient immediately – without distance of status, education, and office – and hits him or her in the informal atmosphere of the living room, kitchen, and bedroom.

The same familiarity is established through personalized language, which plays a considerable role in advanced communication.[77] It is “your” congressman, “your” highway, “your” favorite drugstore, “your” newspaper; it is brought “to you,” it invites “you,” etc. In this manner, superimposed, standardized, and general things and functions are presented as “especially for you,” It makes little difference whether or not the individuals thus addressed believe it. Its success indicates that it promotes the self-identification of the individuals with the functions which they and the others perform.

In the most advanced sectors of functional and manipulated communication, language imposes in truly striking constructions the authoritarian identification of person and function. Time magazine may serve as an extreme example of this trend. Its use of the inflectional genitive makes individuals appeal to be mere appendices or properties of their place, their job, their employer, or enterprise. They are introduced as Virginia’s Byrd, U. S. Steel’s Blough, Egypt’s Nasser. A hyphenated attributive construction creates a fixed syndrome:

“Georgia’s high-handed, low-browed governor had the stage all set for one of his wild political rallies last week.”

The governor,[78] his function, his physical features, and his political practices are fused together into one indivisible and immutable structure which, in its natural innocence and immediacy, overwhelms the reader’s mind. The structure leaves no space for distinction, development, differentiation of meaning: it moves and lives only as a whole. Dominated by such personalized and hypnotic images, the article can then proceed to give even essential information. The narrative remains safely within the well-edited framework of a more or less human interest story as defined by the publisher’s policy.

Use of the hyphenized abridgment is widespread. For example, “brush-browed” Teller, the “father of the H-bomb,” “bull-shouldered missileman von Braun,” “science-military dinner” [79] and the “nuclear-powered, ballistic-missile-firing” submarine. Such constructions are, perhaps not accidentally, particularly frequent in phrases joining technology, politics, and the military. Terms designating quite different spheres or qualities are forced together into a solid, overpowering whole.

The effect is again a magical and hypnotic one – the projection of images which convey irresistible unity, harmony of contradictions. Thus the loved and feared Father, the spender of life, generates the H-bomb for the annihilation of life; “science-military” joins the efforts to reduce anxiety and suffering with the job of creating anxiety and suffering. Or, without the hyphen, the Freedom Academy of cold war specialists,[80] and the “clean bomb” – attributing to destruction moral and physical integrity. People who speak and accept such language seem to be immune to everything – and susceptible to everything. Hyphenation (explicit or not) does not always reconcile the irreconcilable; frequently, the combine is quite gentle – as in the case of the “bull-shouldered missileman” – or it conveys a threat, or an inspiring dynamic. But the effect is similar. The imposing structure unites the actors and actions of violence, power, protection, and propaganda in one lightning flash. We see the man or the thing in operation and only in operation – it cannot be otherwise.

Note on abridgment. NATO, SEATO, UN, AFL-CIO, AEC, but also USSR, DDR, etc. Most of these abbreviations are perfectly reasonable and justified by the length of the unabbreviated designata. However, one might venture to see in some of them a “cunning of Reason” – the abbreviation may help to repress undesired questions. NATO does not suggest what North Atlantic Treaty Organization says, namely, a treaty among the nations on the North-Atlantic – in which case one might ask questions about the membership of Greece and Turkey. USSR abbreviates Socialism and Soviet; DDR: democratic. UN dispenses with undue emphasis on “united;” SEATO with those Southeast-Asian countries which do not belong to it. AFL-CIO entombs the radical political differences which once separated the two organizations, and AEC is just one administrative agency among many others. The abbreviations denote that and only that which is institutionalized in such a war that the transcending connotation is cut off. The meaning is fixed, doctored, loaded. Once it has become an official vocable, constantly repeated in general usage, “sanctioned” by the intellectuals, it has lost all cognitive value and serves merely for recognition of an unquestionable fact.

This style is of an overwhelming concreteness. The “thing identified with its function” is more real than the thing distinguished from its function, and the linguistic expression of this identification (in the functional noun, and in the many forms of syntactical abridgment) creates a basic vocabulary and syntax which stand in the way of differentiation, separation, and distinction. This language, which constantly imposes images, militates against the development and expression of concepts. In its immediacy and directness, it impedes conceptual thinking; thus, it impedes thinking. For the concept does not identify the thing and its function. Such identification may well be the legitimate and perhaps even the only meaning of the operational and technological concept, but operational and technological definitions are specific usages of concepts for specific purposes. Moreover, they dissolve concepts in operations and exclude the conceptual intent which is opposed to such dissolution. Prior to its operational usage, the concept denies the identification of the thing with its function; it distinguishes that which the thing is from the contingent functions of the thing in the established reality.

The prevalent tendencies of speech, which repulse these distinctions, are expressive of the changes in the modes of thought discussed in the earlier chapters – the functionalized, abridged and unified language is the language of one-dimensional thought. In order to illustrate its novelty, I shall contrast it briefly with a classical philosophy of grammar which transcends the behavioral universe and relates linguistic to ontological categories.

According to this philosophy, the grammatical subject of a sentence is first a “substance” and remains such in the various states, functions, and qualities which the sentence predicates of the subject. It is actively or passively related to its predicates but remains different from them. If it is not a proper noun, the subject is more than a noun: it names the concept of a thing, a universal which the sentence defines as in a particular state or function. The grammatical subject thus carries a meaning in excess of that expressed in the sentence.

In the words of Wilhelm von Humboldt: the noun as grammatical subject denotes something that “can enter into certain relationships,”[81] but is not identical with these relationships. Moreover, it remains what it is in and “against” these relationships; it is their “universal” and substantive core. The propositional synthesis links the action (or state) with the subject in such a manner that the subject is designated as the actor (or bearer) and thus is distinguished from the state or function in which it happens to be. In saying: “lightning strikes,” one “thinks not merely of the striking lightning, but of the lightning itself which strikes,” of a subject which “passed into action.” And if a sentence gives a definition of its subject, it does not dissolve the subject in its states and functions, but defines it as being in this state, or exercising this function. Neither disappearing in its predicates not existing as an entity before and outside its predicates, the subject constitutes itself in its predicates – the result of a process of mediation which is expressed in the sentence.[82]

I have alluded to the philosophy of grammar in order to illuminate the extent to which the linguistic abridgments indicate an abridgment of thought which they in turn fortify and promote. Insistence on the philosophical elements in grammar, on the link between the grammatical, logical, and ontological “subject,” points up the contents which are suppressed in the functional language, barred from expression and communication. Abridgment of the concept in fixed images; arrested development in self-validating, hypnotic formulas; immunity against contradiction; identification of the thing (and of the person) with its function – these tendencies reveal the one-dimensional mind in the language it speaks.

If the linguistic behaviour blocks conceptual development, if it militates against abstraction and mediation, if it surrenders to the immediate facts, it repels recognition of the factors behind the facts, and thus repels recognition of the facts, and of their historical content. In and for the society, this organization of functional discourse is of vital importance; it serves as a vehicle of coordination and subordination. The unified, functional language is an irreconcilably anti-critical and anti-dialectical language. In it, operational and behavioral rationality absorbs the transcendent, negative, oppositional elements of Reason.

I shall discuss[83] these elements in terms of the tension between the “is” and the “ought,” between essence and appearance, potentiality and actuality – ingression of the negative in the positive determinations of logic. This sustained tension permeates the two-dimensional universe of discourse which is the universe of critical, abstract thought. The two dimensions are antagonistic to each other; the reality partakes of both of them, and the dialectical concepts develop the real contradictions. In its own development, dialectical thought came to comprehend the historical character of the contradictions and the process of their mediation as historical process. Thus the “other” dimension of thought appeared to be historical dimension – the potentiality as historical possibility, its realization as historical event.

The suppression of this dimension in the societal universe of operational rationality is a suppression of history, and this is not an academic but a political affair. It is suppression of the society’s own past – and of its future, inasmuch as this future invokes the qualitative change, the negation of the present. A universe of discourse in which the categories of freedom have become interchangeable and even identical with their opposites is not only practicing Orwellian or Aesopian language but is repulsing and forgetting the historical reality – the horror of fascism; the idea of socialism; the preconditions of democracy; the content of freedom. If a bureaucratic dictatorship rules and defines communist society, if fascist regimes are functioning as partners of the Free World, if the welfare program of enlightened capitalism is successfully defeated by labelling it “socialism,” if the foundations of democracy are harmoniously abrogated in democracy, then the old historical concepts are invalidated by up-to-date operational redefinitions. The re-definitions are falsifications which, imposed by the powers that be and the powers of fact, serve to transform falsehood into truth.

The functional language is a radically anti-historical language: operational rationality has little room and little use for historical reason.[84]

Is this fight against history part of the fight against a dimension of the mind in which centrifugal faculties and forces might develop – faculties and forces that might hinder the total coordination of the individual with the society? Remembrance of the Fast may give rise to dangerous insights, and the established society seems to be apprehensive of the subversive contents of memory. Remembrance is a mode of dissociation from the given facts, a mode of “mediation” which breaks, for short moments, the omnipresent power of the given facts. Memory recalls the terror and the hope that passed. Both come to life again, but whereas in reality, the former recurs in ever new forms, the latter remains hope. And in the personal events which reappear in the individual memory, the fears and aspirations of mankind assert themselves – the universal in the particular. It is history which memory preserves. It succumbs to the totalitarian power of the behavioral universe:

Das Schreckbild einer Menschheit ohne Erinnenmg ist kein blosses Verfallsprodukt. ... sondern es ist mit der Fortschritt lichkeit des bürgerlichen Prinzips notwendig verknüpft.” “Oekonomen und Soziologen wie Werner Sombart und Max Weber haben das Prinzip des Traditionalismus den feudalen Gesellschaftsformen zugeordnet und das der Rationalität den bürgerlichen. Das sagt aber nicht weniger, als dass Erinnerung, Zeit, Gedächtnis von der fortschreitenden bürgerlichen Gesellschaft selber als eine Art irrationaler Rest liquidiert wird ...[85]

If the progressing rationality of advanced industrial society tends to liquidate, as an “irrational rest,” the disturbing elements of Time and Memory, it also tends to liquidate the disturbing rationality contained in this irrational rest. Recognition and relation to the past as present counteracts the functionalization of thought by and in the established reality. It militates against the closing of the universe of discourse and behaviour it fenders possible the development of concepts which destabilize and transcend the closed universe by comprehending it as historical universe. Confronted with the given society as object of its reflection, critical thought becomes historical consciousness as such, it is essentially judgment.[86]

Far from necessitating an indifferent relativism, it searches in the real history of man for the criteria of truth and falsehood, progress and regression.[87] The mediation of the past with the present discovers the factors which made the facts, which determined the war of life, which established the masters and the servants; it projects the limits and the alternatives. When this critical consciousness speaks, it speaks “le langage de la connaissance” (Roland Barthes) which breaks open a closed universe of discourse and its petrified structure. The key terms of this language are not hypnotic nouns which evoke endlessly the same frozen predicates. They rather allow of an open development; they even unfold their content in contradictory predicates.

The Communist Manifesto provides a classical example. Here the two key terms, Bourgeoisie and Proletariat, each “govern” contrary predicates. The “bourgeoisie” is the subject of technical progress, liberation, conquest of nature, creation of social wealth, and of the perversion and destruction of these achievements. Similarly, the “proletariat” carries the attributes of total oppression and of the total defeat of oppression.

Such dialectical relation of opposites in and by the proposition is rendered possible by the recognition of the subject as an historical agent whose identity constitutes itself in and against its historical practice, in and against its social reality. The discourse develops and states the conflict between the thing and its function, and this conflict finds linguistic expression in sentences which join contradictory predicates in a logical unit – conceptual counterpart of the objective reality. In contrast to all Orwellian language, the contradiction is demonstrated, made explicit, explained, and denounced.

I have illustrated the contrast between the two languages by referring to the style of Marxian theory, but the critical, cognitive qualities are not the exclusive characteristics of the Marxian style. They can also be found (though in different modes) in the style of the great conservative and liberal critique of the unfolding bourgeois society. For example, the language of Burke and Tocqueville on the one side, of John Stuart Mill on the other is a highly demonstrative, conceptual, “open” language, which has not yet succumbed to the hypnotic-ritual formulas of present-day neo-conservatism and neo-liberalism.

However, the authoritarian ritualization of discourse is more striking where it affects the dialectical language itself. The requirements of competitive industrialization, and the total subjection of man to the productive apparatus appears in the authoritarian transformation of the Marxist into the Stalinist and post-Stalinist language. These requirements, as interpreted by the leadership which controls the apparatus, define what is right and wrong, true and false. They leave no time and no space for a discussion which would project disruptive alternatives. This language no longer lends itself to “discourse” at all, it pronounces and, by virtue of the power of the apparatus, establishes facts – it is self-validating enunciation. Here,[88] it must suffice to quote and paraphrase the passage in which Roland Barthes describes its magic-authoritarian features: “il n’y a plus aucun sursis entre la dénomination et le jugement, et la clôture du langage est parfaite...”[89]

The closed language does not demonstrate and explain – it communicates decision, dictum, command, Where it defines, the definition becomes “separation of good from evil;” it establishes unquestionable rights and wrongs, and one value as justification of another value. It moves in tautologies, but the tautologies are terribly effective “sentences.” They pass judgment in a “prejudged form;” they pronounce condemnation. For example, the “objective content, that is, the definition of such terms as “deviationist,” “revisionist,” is that of the penal code, and this sort of validation promotes a consciousness for which the language of the powers that be is the language of truth.[90]

Unfortunately, this is not all. The productive growth of the established communist society also condemns the libertarian communist opposition; the language which tries to recall and preserve the original truth succumbs to its ritualization. The orientation of discourse (and action) on terms such as “the proletariat,” “workers’ councils,” the “dictatorship of the Stalinist apparatus,” becomes orientation on ritual formulas where the “proletariat” no longer or not yet exists, where direct control “from below” would interfere with the progress of mass production, and where the fight against the bureaucracy would weaken the efficacy of the only real force that can be mobilized against capitalism on an international scale. Here the past is rigidly retained but not mediated with the present. One opposes the concepts which comprehended a historical situation without developing them into the present situation – one blocks their dialectic.

The ritual-authoritarian language spreads over the contemporary world, through democratic and non-democratic, capitalist and non-capitalist countries.[91] According to Roland Barthes, it is the language “propre ā  tous les régimes d’autorité,” and is there today, in the orbit of advanced industrial civilization, a society which is not under an authoritarian regime? As the substance of the various regimes no longer appeals in alternative modes of life, it comes to rest in alternative techniques of manipulation and control. Language not only reflects these controls but becomes itself an instrument of control even where it does not transmit orders but information; where it demands, not obedience but choice, not submission but freedom.

This language controls by reducing the linguistic forms and symbols of reflection, abstraction, development, contradiction; by substituting images for concepts. It denies or absorbs the transcendent vocabulary; it does not search for but establishes and imposes truth and falsehood. But this kind of discourse is not terroristic. It seems unwarranted to assume that the recipients believe, or are made to believe, what they are being told. The new touch of the magic-ritual language rather is that people don’t believe it, or don’t care, and yet act accordingly. One does not “believe” the statement of an operational concept but it justifies itself in action – in getting the job done, in selling and buying, in refusal to listen to others, etc.

If the language of politics tends to become that of advertising, thereby bridging the gap between two formerly very different realms of society, then this tendency seems to express the degree to which domination and administration have ceased to be a separate and independent function in the technological society. This does not mean that the power of the professional politicians has decreased. The contrary is the case. The more global the challenge they build up in order to meet it, the more normal the vicinity of total destruction, the greater their freedom from effective popular sovereignty. But their domination has been incorporated into the daily performances and relaxation of the citizens, and the “symbols” of politics are also those of business, commerce, and fun.

The vicissitudes of the language have their parallel in the vicissitudes of political behaviour. In the sale of equipment for relaxing entertainment in bomb shelters, in the television show of competing candidates for national leadership, the juncture between politics, business, and fun is complete. But the juncture is fraudulent and fatally premature – business and fun are still the politics of domination. This is not the satire-play after the tragedy; it is not finis tragoediae – the tragedy may just begin. And again, it will not be the hero but the people who will be the ritual victims.

The Research of Total Administration Functional communication is only the outer layer of the one-dimensional universe in which man is trained to target – to translate the negative into the positive so that he can continue to function, reduced but fit and reasonably well. The institutions of free speech and freedom of thought do not hamper the mental coordination with the established reality. What is taking place is a sweeping redefinition of thought itself, of its function and content. The coordination of the individual with his society reaches into those layers of the mind where the very concepts are elaborated which are designed to comprehend the established reality. These concepts are taken from the intellectual tradition and translated into operational terms – a translation which has the effect of reducing the tension between thought and reality by weakening the negative power of thought.

This is a philosophical development, and in order to elucidate the extent to which it breaks with the tradition, the analysis will have to become increasingly abstract and ideological. It is the sphere farthest removed from the concreteness of society which may show most clearly the extent of the conquest of thought by society. Moreover, the analysis will have to go back into the history of the philosophic tradition and try to identify the tendencies which led to the break.

However, before entering into the philosophic analysis, and as a transition to the more abstract and theoretical realm, I shall discuss briefly two (representative in my view) examples in the intermediary field of empirical research, directly concerned with certain conditions characteristic of advanced industrial society. Questions of language or of thought, of words or of concepts; linguistic or epistemological analysis – the matter to be discussed militates against such clean academic distinctions. The separation of a purely linguistic from a conceptual analysis is itself an expression of the redirection of thought which the next chapters will try to explain. Inasmuch as the following critique of empirical research is undertaken in preparation for the subsequent philosophic analysis – and in the light of it – a preliminary statement on the use of the term “concept” which guides the critique may serve as an introduction.

“Concept” is taken to designate the mental representation of something that is understood, comprehended, known as the result of a process of reflection. This something may be an object of daily practice, or a situation, a society, a novel. In any case, if they are comprehended (begriffen; auf ihren Begriff gebracht), they have become objects of thought, and as such, their content and meaning are identical with and yet different from the real objects of immediate experience. “Identical” in as much as the concept denotes the same thing; “different” in as much as the concept is the result of a reflection which has understood the thing in the context (and in the light) of other things which did not appeal in the immediate experience and which “explain” the thing (mediation).

If the concept never denotes one particular concrete thing, if it is always abstract and general, it is so because the concept comprehends more and other than a particular thing – same universal condition or relation which is essential to the particular thing, which determines the form in which it appeals as a concrete object of experience. If the concept of anything concrete is the product of mental classification, organization, and abstraction, these mental processes lead to comprehension only inasmuch as they reconstitute the particular thing in its universal condition and relation, thus transcending its immediate appearance toward its reality.

By the same token, all cognitive concepts have a transitive meaning: they go beyond descriptive reference to particular facts. And if the facts are those of society, the cognitive concepts also go beyond any particular context of facts – into the processes and conditions on which the respective society rests, and which enter into all particular facts, making, sustaining, and destroying the society. By virtue of their reference to this historical totality, cognitive concepts transcend an operational context, but their transcendence is empirical because it fenders the facts recognizable as that which they reality are.

The “excess” of meaning over and above the operational concept illuminates the limited and even deceptive form in which the facts are allowed to be experienced. Therefore the tension, the discrepancy, the conflict between the concept and the immediate fact – the thing concrete; between the word that refers to the concept and that which refers to the things. Therefore the nation of the “reality of the universal.” Therefore also the uncritical, accommodating character of those modes of thought which treat concepts as mental devices and translate universal concepts into terms with particular, objective referents.

Where these reduced concepts govern the analysis of the human reality, individual or social, mental or material, they arrive at a false concreteness – a concreteness isolated from the conditions which constitute its reality. In this context, the operational treatment of the concept assumes a political function. The individual and his behaviour are analyzed in a therapeutic sense – adjustment to his society. Thought and expression, theory and practice are to be brought in line with the facts of his existence without leaving room for the conceptual critique of these facts.

The therapeutic character of the operational concept shows forth most clearly where conceptual thought is methodically placed into the service of exploring and improving the existing social conditions, within the framework of the existing societal institutions – in industrial sociology, motivation research, marketing and public opinion studies.

If the given form of society is and remains the ultimate frame of reference for theory and practice, there is nothing wrong with this sort of sociology and psychology. It is more human and more productive to have good labor-management relations than bad ones, to have pleasant rather than unpleasant working conditions, to have harmony instead of conflict between the desires of the customers and the needs of business and politics.

But the rationality of this kind of social science appears in a different light if the given society, while remaining the frame of reference, becomes the object of a critical theory which aims at the very structure of this society, present in all particular facts and conditions and determining their place and their function. Then their ideological and political character becomes apparent, and the elaboration of adequately cognitive concepts demands going beyond the fallacious concreteness of positivist empiricism. The therapeutic and operational concept becomes false to the extent to which it insulates and atomizes the facts, stabilizes them within the repressive whole, and accepts the terms of this whole as the terms of the analysis. The methodological translation of the universal into the operational concept then becomes repressive reduction of thought.[92]

I shall take as an example a “classic” of industrial sociology: the study of labor relations in the Hawthorne Works of the Western Electric Company.[93] It is an old study, undertaken about a quarter of a century ago, and methods have since been much refined. But in my opinion, their substance and function have remained the same. Moreover, this mode of thought has since not only spread into other branches of social science and into philosophy, but it has also helped to shape the human subjects with whom it is concerned. The operational concepts terminate in methods of improved social control: they become part of the science of management, Department of Human Relations. In Labor Looks At Labor are these words of an automobile worker: The managements “couldn’t stop us on the picket line; they couldn’t stop us by straight-arm tactics, and so they have been studying ‘human relations’ in the economic, social, and political needs to find out how to stop unions.”

In investigating the workers’ complaints about working conditions and wages, the researchers hit upon the fact that most of these complaints were formulated in statements which contained “vague, indefinite terms,” lacked the “objective reference” to “standards which are generally accepted,” and bad characteristics “essentially different from the properties generally associated with common facts.[94] In other words, the complaints were formulated in such general statements as “the washrooms are unsanitary,” “the job is dangerous,” “rates are too low.”

Guided by the principle of operational thinking, the researchers set out to translate or reformulate these statements in such a manner that their vague generality could be reduced to particular referents, terms designating the particular situation in which the complaint originated and thus picturing “accurately the conditions in the company.” The general form was dissolved into statements identifying the particular operations and conditions from which the complaint was derived, and the complaint was taken care of by changing these particular operations and conditions.

For example, the statement “the washrooms are unsanitary” was translated into “on such and such occasion I went into this washroom, and the washbowl had some dirt in it.” Inquiries then ascertained that this was “largely due to the carelessness of same employees,” a campaign against throwing papers, spitting on the floor, and similar practices was instituted, and an attendant was assigned to constant duty in the washrooms. “It was in this war that many of the complaints were re-interpreted and used to effect improvements.” [95]

Another example: a worker B makes the general statement that the piece rates on his job are too low. The interview reveals that “his wife is in the hospital and that he is worried about the doctor’s bills he has incurred. In this case the latent content of the complaint consists of the fact that B’s present earnings, due to his wife’s illness, are insufficient to meet his current financial obligations.” [96]

Such translation changes significantly the meaning of the actual proposition. The untranslated statement formulates a general condition in its generality (“wages are too low”). It goes beyond the particular condition in the particular factory and beyond the worker’s particular situation. In this generality, and only in this generality, the statement expresses a sweeping indictment which takes the particular case as a manifestation of a universal state of affairs, and insinuates that the latter might not be changed by the improvement of the former.

Thus the untranslated statement established a concrete relation between the particular case and the whole of which it is a case – and this whole includes the conditions outside the respective job, outside the respective plant, outside the respective personal situation. This whole is eliminated in the translation, and it is this operation which makes the cure possible. The worker may not be aware of it, and for him his complaint may indeed have that particular and personal meaning which the translation brings out as its “latent content.” But then the language he uses asserts its objective validity against his consciousness – it expresses conditions that are, although they are not “for him.” The concreteness of the particular case which the translation achieves is the result of a series of abstractions from its real concreteness, which is in the universal character of the case.

The translation relates the general statement to the personal experience of the worker who makes it, but stops at the point where the individual worker would experience himself as “the worker,” and where his job would appeal as “the job” of the working class. Is it necessary to point out that, in his translations, the operational researcher merely follows the process of reality, and probably even the worker’s own translations? The arrested experience is not his doing, and his function is not to think in terms of a critical theory but to train supervisors – in more human and effective methods of dealing with their workers”[97] (only the term “human” seems non-operational and wanting of analysis).

But as this managerial mode of thought and research spreads into other dimensions of the intellectual effort, the services which it fenders become increasingly inseparable from its scientific validity. In this context, functionalization has a truly therapeutic effect. Once the personal discontent is isolated from the general unhappiness, once the universal concepts which militate against functionalization are dissolved into particular referents, the case becomes a treatable and tractable incident.

To be sure, the case remains incident of a universal – no mode of thought can dispense with universals – but of a genus very different from that meant in the untranslated statement. The worker B, once his medical bills have been taken care of, will recognize that, generally speaking, wages are not too low, and that they were a hardship only in his individual situation (which may be similar to other individual situations). His case has been subsumed under another genus – that of personal hardship cases. He is no longer a “worker” or “employee” (member of a class), but the worker or employee B in the Hawthorne plant of the Western Electric Company.

The authors of Management and the Worker were well aware of this implication. They say that one of the fundamental functions to be performed in an industrial organization is “the specific function of personnel work,” and this function requires that, in dealing with employer-employee relations, one must be “thinking of what is on some particular employee’s mind in terms of a worker who has had a particular personal history,” or “in terms of an employee whose job is in some particular place in the factory which brings him into association with particular persons and groups of people. ...” In contrast, the authors reject, as incompatible with the “specific function of personnel work,” an attitude addressing itself to the “average” or “typical” employee or what is on the worker’s mind in general.” [98]

We may summarize these examples by contrasting the original statements with their translation into the functional form. We take the statements in both forms at their face value, leaving aside the problem of their verification.

“Wages are too low.” The subject of the proposition is “wages,” not the particular remuneration of a particular worker on a particular job. The man who makes the statement might only think of his individual experience but, in the form he gives his statement, he transcends this individual experience. The predicate “too low” is a relational adjective, requiring a referent which is not designated in the proposition – too low for whom or for what? This referent might again be the individual who makes the statement, or his co-workers on the job, but the general noun (wages) carries the entire movement of thought expressed by the proposition and makes the other propositional elements share the general character. The referent remains indeterminate – “too low, in general,” or “too low for everyone who is a wage-earner like the speaker.” The proposition is abstract. It refers to universal conditions for which no particular case can be substituted; its meaning is “transitive” as against any individual case. The proposition calls indeed for its “translation” into a more concrete context, but one in which the universal concepts cannot be defined by any particular set of operations (such as the personal history of the walker B, and his special function in the plant W). The concept “wages” refers to the group “wage-earners,” integrating all personal histories and special jobs into one concrete universal. B’s present earnings, due to his wife’s illness, are insufficient to meet his current obligations.” Note that in this translation of (1), the subject has been shifted. The universal concept “wages” is replaced by “B’s present earnings,” the meaning of which is fully defined by the particular set of operations B has to perform in order to buy for his family food, clothing, lodging, medicine etc. The “transitiveness” of meaning has been abolished; the grouping “wage-earners” has disappeared together with the subject “wages,” and what remains is a particular case which, stripped of its transitive meaning, becomes susceptible to the accepted standards of treatment by the company whose case it is.

What is wrong with it? Nothing. The translation of the concepts and of the proposition as a whole is validated by the society to which the researcher addresses himself. The therapy works because the plant or the government can afford to bear at least a considerable part of the costs, because they are willing to do so, and because the patient is willing to submit to a treatment which promises to be a success. The vague, indefinite, universal concepts which appeared in the untranslated complaint were indeed remnants of the past; their persistence in speech and thought were indeed a block (though a minor one) to understanding and collaboration. Insofar as operational sociology and psychology have contributed to alleviating subhuman conditions, they are parts of progress, intellectual and material.

But they also testify to the ambivalent rationality of progress, which is satisfying in its repressive power, and repressive in its satisfactions.

The elimination of transitive meaning has remained a feature of empirical sociology. It characterizes even a large number of studies which are not designed to fulfill a therapeutic function in some particular interest, Result: once the “unrealistic” excess of meaning is abolished, the investigation is locked within the vast confine in which the established society validates and invalidates propositions. By virtue of its methodology, this empiricism is ideological. In order to illustrate its ideological character, let us look at a study of political activity in the United States.

In their paper “Competitive Pressure and Democratic Consent,” Morris Janowitz and Dwaine Marvick want to “judge the extent to which an election is an effective expression of the democratic process,” Such judgment implies evaluation of the election process “in terms of the requirements for maintaining a democratic society,” and this in turn requires a definition of “democratic,” The authors offer the choice between two alternative definitions; the “mandate” and the “competitive” theories of democracy:

“The ‘mandate’ theories, which find their origin in the classical conceptions of democracy, postulate that the process of representation derives from a clear-cut set of directives which the electorate imposes on its representatives. An election is a procedure of convenience and a method for insuring that representatives comply with directives from constituents.” [99]

Now this “preconception” was “rejected in advance as unrealistic because it assumed a level of articulated opinion and ideology on the campaign issues not likely to be found in the United States.” This rather frank statement of fact is somehow alleviated by the comforting doubt whether such a level of articulated opinion has existed in any democratic electorate since the extension of the franchise in the nineteenth century. In any case, the authors accept instead of the rejected preconception the “competitive” theory of democracy, according to which a democratic election is a process of selecting and rejecting candidates” who are “in competition for public office.” This definition, in order to be really operational, requires criteria” by which the character of political competition is to be assessed. When does political competition produce a “process of consent,” and when does it produce a “process of manipulation"? A set of three criteria is offered:

A democratic election requires competition between opposing candidates which pervades the entire constituency. The electorate derives power from its ability to choose between at least two competitively oriented candidates, either of whom is believed to have a reasonable chance to win. A democratic election requires both parties to engage in a balance of efforts to maintain established voting blocs, to recruit independent voters, and to gain converts from the opposition parties. A democratic election requires both parties to be engaged vigorously in an effort to win the current election; but, win or lose, both parties must also be seeking to enhance their chances of success in the next and subsequent elections...[100]

I think these definitions describe pretty accurately the factual state of affairs in the American elections of 1952, which is the subject of the analysis. In other words, the criteria for judging a given state of affairs are those offered by (or, since they are those of a well-functioning and firmly established social system, imposed by) the given state of affairs. The analysis is “locked”; the range of judgment is confined within a context of facts which excludes judging the context in which the facts are made, man-made, and in which their meaning, function, and development are determined.

Committed to this framework, the investigation becomes circular and self-validating. If “democratic” is defined in the limiting but realistic terms of the actual process of election, then this process is democratic prior to the results of the investigation. To be sure, the operational framework still allows (and even calls for) distinction between consent and manipulation; the election can be more or less democratic according to the ascertained degree of consent and manipulation. The authors arrive at the conclusion that the 1952 election “was characterized by a process of genuine consent to a greater extent than impressionistic estimates might have implied”[101] – although it would be a “grave error” to overlook the “barriers” to consent and to deny that “manipulative pressures were present.” [102] Beyond this hardly illuminating statement the operational analysis cannot go. In other words, it cannot raise the decisive question whether the consent itself was not the work of manipulation – a question for which the actual state of affairs provides ample justification. The analysis cannot raise it because it would transcend its terms toward transitive meaning – toward a concept of democracy which would reveal the democratic election as a rather limited democratic process.

Precisely such a non-operational concept is the one rejected by the authors as “unrealistic” because it defines democracy on too articulate a level as the clear-cut control of representation by the electorate – popular control as popular sovereignty. And this non-operational concept is by no means extraneous. It is by no means a figment of the imagination or speculation but rather defines the historical intent of democracy, the conditions for which the struggle for democracy was fought, and which are still to be fulfilled.

Moreover, this concept is impeccable in its semantic exactness because it means exactly what it says – namely, that it is really the electorate which imposes its directives on the representatives, and not the representatives who impose their directives on the electorate which then selects and re-elects the representatives. An autonomous electorate, free because it is free from indoctrination and manipulation, would indeed be on a “level of articulate opinion and ideology” which is not likely to be found. Therefore, the concept has to be rejected as “unrealistic” – has to be if one accepts the factually prevailing level of opinion and ideology as prescribing the valid criteria for sociological analysis. And – if indoctrination and manipulation have reached the stage where the prevailing level of opinion has become a level of falsehood, where the actual state of affairs is no longer recognized as that which it is, then an analysis which is methodologically committed to reject transitive concepts commits itself to a false consciousness. Its very empiricism is ideological.

The authors are well aware of the problem. “Ideological rigidity” presents a “serious implication” in assessing the degree of democratic consent. Indeed, consent to what? To the political candidates and their policy naturally. But this is not enough, because then consent to a fascist regime (and one may speak of genuine consent to such a regime) would be a democratic process. Thus, the consent itself has to be assessed – assessed in terms of its content, its objectives, its “values” – and this step seems to involve transitiveness of meaning. However, such an “unscientific” step can be avoided if the ideological orientation to be assessed is no other than that of the existing and “effectively” competing two parties, plus the “ambivalent-neutralized” orientation of the voters.[103]

The table giving the results of the polling of ideological orientation shows three degrees of adherence to the Republican and to the Democratic party ideologies and the “ambivalent and neutralized” opinions.[104] The established parties themselves, their policies, and their machinations are not questioned, nor is the actual difference between them questioned as far as the vital issues are concerned (those of atomic policy and total preparedness), questions which seem essential for the assessment of the democratic processes, unless the analysis operates with a concept of democracy which merely assembles the features of the established form of democracy. Such an operational concept is not altogether inadequate to the subject matter of the investigation. It points up clearly enough the qualities which, in the contemporary period, distinguish democratic and non-democratic systems (for example, effective competition between candidates representing different parties; freedom of the electorate to choose between these candidates), but this adequacy does not suffice if the task of theoretical analysis is more and other than a descriptive one – if the task is to comprehend, to recognize the facts for what they are, what they “mean” for those who have been given them as facts and who have to live with them. In social theory, recognition of facts is critique of facts.

But operational concepts do not even suffice for describing the facts. They only attain certain aspects and segments of facts which, if taken for the whole, deprive the description of its objective, empirical character. As an example let us look at the concept of “political activity” in Julian L. Woodward’s and Elmo Roper’s study of “Political Activity of American Citizens.”[105] The authors present an operational definition of the term ‘political activity’ – constituted by “five ways of behaving”: (1) voting at the polls; (2) supporting possible pressure groups. (3) Personally communicating directly with legislators (4) participating in political party activity. (5) Engaging in habitual dissemination of political opinions through word-of-mouth communication...

Certainly these are “channels of possible influence on legislators and government officials,” but can their measurement really provide “a method for separating the people who are relatively active in relation to national political issues from those who are relatively inactive?” Do they include such decisive activities “in relation to national issues” as the technical and economic contacts between corporate business and the government, and among the key corporations themselves? Do they include the formulation and dissemination of “unpolitical” opinion, information, entertainment by the big publicity media? Do they take account of the very different political weights of the various organizations that take a stand on public issues?

If the answer is negative (and I believe it is), then the facts of political activity are not adequately described and ascertained, Many, and I think the determining, constitutive facts remain outside the reach of the operational concept. And by virtue of this limitation – this methodological injunction against transitive concepts which might show the facts in their true light and call them by their true name – the descriptive analysis of the facts blocks the apprehension of facts and becomes an element of the ideology that sustains the facts. Proclaiming the existing social reality as its own norm, this sociology fortifies in the individuals the “faithless faith” in the reality whose victims they are: “Nothing remains of ideology but the recognition of that which is a model of a behaviour which submits to the overwhelming power of the established state of affairs.”[106]Against this ideological empiricism, the plain contradiction reasserts its right: “... that which is cannot be true.” [107]