Herbert Marcuse. One-Dimensional Man
The commitment of analytic philosophy to the mutilated reality of thought and speech shows forth strikingly in its treatment of universals. The problem was mentioned before, as part of the inherent historical and at the same time transcendent, general character of philosophic concepts. It now requires a more detailed discussion. Far from being only an abstract question of epistemology, or a pseudo-concrete question of language and its use, the question of the status of universals is at the very center of philosophic thought. For the treatment of universals reveals the position of a philosophy in the intellectual culture-its historical function.
Contemporary analytic philosophy is out to exorcize such “myths” or metaphysical “ghosts” as Mind, Consciousness, Will, Soul, Self, by dissolving the intent of these concepts into statements on particular identifiable operations, performances, powers, dispositions, propensities, skills, etc. The result shows, in a strange way, the impotence of the destruction-the ghost continues to haunt. While every interpretation or translation may describe adequately a particular mental process, an act of imagining what I mean when I say “I,” or what the priest means when he says that Mary is a “good girl,” not a single one of these reformulations, nor their sum-total, seems to capture or even circumscribe the full meaning of such terms as Mind, Will, Self, Good. These universals continue to persist in common as well as “poetic” usage, and either usage distinguishes them from the various modes of behaviour or disposition that, according to the analytic philosopher, fulfill their meaning.
To be sure, such universals cannot be validated by the assertion that they denote a whole which is more and other than its parts. They apparently do, but this “whole” requires an analysis of the unmutilated experiential context.
If this: supra-linguistic analysis is rejected, if the ordinary language is taken at face value-that is, if a deceptive universe of general understanding among people is substituted for the prevailing universe of misunderstanding and administered communication – then the incriminated universals are indeed translatable, and their “mythological” substance can be dissolved into modes of behaviour and dispositions.
However, this dissolution itself must be questioned – not, only on behalf of the philosopher, but on behalf of the ordinary people in whose life and discourse such dissolution takes place. It is not their own doing and their own saying; it happens to them and it violates them as they are compelled, by the “circumstances,” to identify their mind with the, mental processes, their self with the roles and functions, which they have to perform in their society. If philosophy does not comprehend these processes of translation and identification as societal processes – i.e., as a mutilation of: the mind (and the body) inflicted upon the individuals by their society-philosophy struggles only with the ghost of the substance which it wishes to de-mystify. The mystifying character adheres, not to the concepts of “mind,” “self,” “consciousness,” etc. but rather to their behavioral translation. The translation is deceptive precisely because it translates the concept faithfully into modes of actual behaviour, propensities, and dispositions and, in so doing, it takes the mutilated and organized appearances (themselves real enough!) for the reality.
However, even in this battle of the ghosts, forces are called up which might bring the phony war to an end. One of the disturbing problems in analytic philosophy is that of statements on universals such as “nation,” “state,” “the British Constitution,” “the University of Oxford,” “England.”
No particular entities whatsoever correspond to these universals, and still it makes perfect sense, it is even unavoidable, to say that “the nation” is mobilized, that “England” declared war, that I studied at the “University of Oxford.” Any reductive translation of such statements seems to change their meaning. We can say that the University is no particular entity over and above its various colleges, libraries, etc., but is just the war in which the latter are organized, and we can apply the same explanation, modified, to the other statements. However, the war in which such things and people are organized, integrated, and administered operates as an entity different from its component parts-to such an extent that it can dispose of life and death, as in the case of the nation and the constitution. The persons who execute the verdict, if they are identifiable at all, do so not as these individuals but as “representatives” of the Nation, the Corporation, the University. The U.S. Congress, assembled in session, the Central Committee, the Party, the Board of Directors and Managers, the President, the Trustees, and the Faculty, meeting and deciding on policy are tangible and effective entities over and above the component individuals. They are tangible in the records, in the results of their laws, in the nuclear weapons they order and produce, in the appointments, salaries, and requirements they establish. Meeting in assembly, the individuals are the spokesmen (often unaware) of institutions, influences, interests embodied in organizations. In their decision (vote, pressure, propaganda) – itself the outcome of competing institutions and interests-the Nation, the Party, the Corporation, the University is set in motion, preserved, and reproduced-as a (relatively) ultimate, universal reality, overriding the particular institutions or peoples subjected to it.
This reality has assumed a superimposed, independent existence; therefore statements concerning it mean a real universal and cannot be adequately translated into statements concerning particular entities. And yet, the urge to try such translation, the protest against its impossibility indicates that there is something wrong here. To make good sense, “the nation,” or “the Party,” ought to be translatable into its constituents and components. The fact that it is not, is a historical fact which gets in the way of linguistic and logical analysis.
The disharmony between the individual and the social needs, and the lack of representative institutions in which the individuals work for themselves and speak for themselves, lead to the reality of such universals as the Nation, the Party, the Constitution, the Corporation, the Church – a reality which is not identical with any particular identifiable entity (individual, group, or institution). Such universals express various degrees and modes of reification. Their independence, although real, is a spurious one inasmuch as it is that of particular powers which have organized the whole of society. A retranslation which would dissolve the spurious substance of the universal is still a desideratum – but it is a political desideratum.
“On croit mourir pour la Classe, on meurt pour les gens du Parti. On croit mourir pour la Patrie, on meurt pour les Industriels. On croit mourir pour la Liberté des Personnes, on meurt pour la Liberté des dividendes. On croit mourir pour le Prolétariat, on meurt pour sa Bureaucratie. On croit mourir sur l’ordre d’un Etat, on meurt pour l’Argent qui le tient. On croit mourir pour une nation, on meurt pour les bandits qui la bà¢illonnent. On croit-mais pourquoi croirait-on dans une ombre si épaisse? Croire, mourir? ... quand il s’agit d’apprendre a vivre?”
This is a genuine “translation” of hypostatized universals into concreteness, and yet it acknowledges the reality of the universal while calling it by its true Dame. The hypostatized whole resists analytic dissolution, not because it is a mythical entity behind the particular entities and performances but because it is the concrete, objective ground of their functioning in the given social and historical context. As such, it is a real force, felt and exercised by the individuals in their actions, circumstances, and relationships. They share in it (in a very unequal way); it decides on their existence and their possibilities. The real ghost is of a very forcible reality – that of the separate and independent power of the whole over the individuals. And this whole is not merely a perceived Gestalt (as in psychology), nor a metaphysical absolute (as in Hegel), nor a totalitarian state (as in poor political science) – it is the established state of affairs which determines the life of the individuals.
However, even if we grant such a reality to these political universals, do not all the other universals have a very different status? They do, but their analysis is all too easily kept within the limits of academic philosophy. The following discussion does not claim to enter into the “problem of universals,” it only tries to elucidate the (artificially) limited scope of philosophic analysis and to indicate the need for going beyond these limits. The discussion will again be focused on substantive as distinguished from logico-mathematical universals (set, number, class, etc.), and, among the former, on the more abstract and controversial concepts which present the real challenge to philosophic thought.
The substantive universal not only abstracts from concrete entity, it also denotes a different entity. The mind is more and other than conscious acts and behaviour. Its reality might tentatively be described as the manner or mode in which these particular acts are synthesized, integrated by an individual. One might be tempted to say a priori synthesized by a “transcendental apperception,” in the sense that the integrating synthesis which fenders the particular processes and acts possible precedes them, shapes them, distinguishes them from other minds.” Still, this formulation would do violence to Kant’s concept, for the priority of such consciousness is an empirical one, which includes the supra-individual experience, ideas, aspirations, of particular social groups.
In view of these characteristics, consciousness may well be called a disposition, propensity, or faculty. It is not one individual disposition or faculty among others, however, but in a strict sense a general disposition which is common, in various degrees, to the individual members of one group, class, society. On these grounds, the distinction between true and false consciousness becomes meaningful. The former would synthesize the data of experience in concepts which reflect, as fully and adequately as possible, the given society in the given facts. This “sociological” definition is suggested, not because of any prejudice in favor of sociology, but because of the factual ingression of society into the data of experience. Consequently, the repression of society in the formation of concepts is tantamount to an academic confinement of experience, a restriction of meaning.
Moreover, the normal restriction of experience produces a pervasive tension, even conflict, between “the mind” and the mental processes, between “consciousness” and conscious acts. If I speak of the mind of a person, I do not merely refer to his mental processes as they are revealed in his expression, speech, behaviour, etc., nor merely of his dispositions or faculties as experienced or inferred from experience. I also mean that which he does not express, for which he shows no disposition, but which is present nevertheless, and which determines, to a considerable extent, his behaviour, his understanding, the formation and range of his concepts.
Thus “negatively present” are the specific “environmental” forces which precondition his mind for the spontaneous repulsion of certain data, conditions, relations. They are present as repelled material. Their absence is a reality – a positive factor that explains his actual mental processes, the meaning of his words and behaviour. Meaning for whom? Not only for the professional philosopher, whose task it is to rectify the wrong that pervades the universe of ordinary discourse, but also for those who suffer this wrong although they may not be aware of it-for Joe Doe and Richard Roe. Contemporary linguistic analysis shirks this task by interpreting concepts in terms of an impoverished and preconditioned mind. What is at stake is the unabridged and unexpurgated intent of certain key concepts, their function in the unrepressed understanding of reality-in non-conformist, critical thought.
Are the remarks just submitted on the reality content of such universals as “mind” and “consciousness” applicable to other concepts, such as the abstract yet substantive universals, Beauty, Justice, Happiness, with their contraries? It seems that the persistence of these untranslatable universals as nodal points of thought reflects the unhappy consciousness of a divided world in which “that which is” falls short of, and even denies, “that which can be.” The irreducible difference between the universal and its particulars seems to be rooted in the primary experience of the inconquerable difference between potentiality and actuality-between two dimensions of the one experienced world. The universal comprehends in one idea the possibilities which are realized, and at the same time arrested, in reality.
Talking of a beautiful girl, a beautiful landscape, a beautiful picture, I certainly have very different things in mind. What is common to all of them – “beauty” – is neither a mysterious entity, not a mysterious word. On the contrary, nothing is perhaps more directly and clearly experienced than the appearance of “beauty” in various beautiful objects. The boyfriend and the philosopher, the artist and the mortician may “define” it in very different ways, but they all define the same specific state or condition – some quality or qualities which make the beautiful contrast with other objects. In this vagueness and directness, beauty is experienced in the beautiful – that is, it is seen, heard, smelled, touched, felt, comprehended. It is experienced almost as a shock, perhaps due to the contrast – character of beauty, which breaks the circle of everyday experience and opens (for a short moment) another reality (of which fright may be an integral element).
This description is of precisely that metaphysical character which positivistic analysis wishes to eliminate by translation, but the translation eliminates that which was to be defined. There are many more or less satisfactory “technical” definitions of beauty in aesthetics, but there seems to be only one which preserves the experiential content of beauty and which is therefore the least exact definition – beauty as a “promesse de bonheur.” It captures the reference to a condition of men and things, and to a relation between men and things which occur momentarily while vanishing, which appear in as many different forms as there are individuals and which, in vanishing, manifest what can be. The protest against the vague, obscure, metaphysical character of such universals, the insistence on familiar concreteness and protective security of common and scientific sense still reveal something of that primordial anxiety which guided the recorded origins of philosophic thought in its evolution from religion to mythology, and from mythology to logic; defense and security still are large items in the intellectual as well as national budget. The unpurged experience seems to be more familiar with the abstract and universal than is the analytic philosophy; it seems to be embedded in a metaphysical world.
Universals are primary elements of experience – universals not as philosophic concepts but as the very qualities of the world with which one is daily confronted. What is experienced is, for example, snow or rain or heat; a street; an office or a boss; love or hatred. Particular things (entities) and events only appear in (and even as) a cluster and continuum of relationships, as incidents and parts in a general configuration from which they are inseparable; they cannot appear in any other way without losing their identity. They are particular things and events only against a general background which is more than background – it is the concrete ground on which they arise, exist, and pass. This ground is structured in such universals as color, shape, density, hardness or softness, light or darkness, motion or rest. In this sense, universals seem to designate the “stuff” of the world:
“We may perhaps define the ‘stuff’ of the world as what is designated by words which, when correctly used, occur as subjects of predicates or terms of relations. In that sense, I should say that the stuff of the world consists of things like whiteness, rather than of objects having the property of being white.” “Traditionally, qualities, such as white or hard or sweet, counted as universals, but if the above theory is valid, they are syntactically more akin to substances.”
The substantive character of “qualities” points to the experiential origin of substantive universals, to the manner in which concepts originate in immediate experience. Humboldt’s philosophy of language emphasizes the experiential character of the concept in its relation to the word; it leads him to assume an original kinship not only between concepts and words, but also between concepts and sounds (Laute). However, if the word, as the vehicle of concepts, is the real “element” of language, it does not communicate the concept ready-made, nor does it contain the concept already fixed and “closed.” The word merely suggests a concept, relates itself to a universal.
But precisely the relation of the word to a substantive universal (concept) makes it impossible, according to Humboldt, to imagine the origin of language as starting from the signification of objects by words and then proceeding to their combination (Zusammenfügung):
In reality, speech is not put together from preceding words, but quite the reverse: words emerge from the whole of speech (aus dem Ganzen der Rede).
The “whole” that here comes to view must be cleared from all misunderstanding in terms of an independent entity, of a “Gestalt,” and the like. The concept somehow expresses the difference and tension between potentiality and actuality – identity in this difference. It appears in the relation between the qualities (white, hard; but also beautiful, free, just) and the corresponding concepts (whiteness, hardness, beauty, freedom, justice). The abstract character of the latter seems to designate the more concrete qualities as part-realizations, aspects, manifestations of a more universal and more “excellent” quality, which is experienced in the concrete.
And by virtue of this relation, the concrete quality seems to represent a negation as well as realization of the universal. Snow is white but not “whiteness;” a girl may be beautiful, even a beauty, but not “beauty;” a country may be free (in comparison with others) because its people have certain liberties, but it is not the very embodiment of freedom. Moreover, the concepts are meaningful only in experienced contrast with their opposites: white with not white, beautiful with not beautiful. Negative statements can sometimes be translated into positive ones: “black” or “grey” for “not white,” “ugly” for “not beautiful.”
These formulations do not alter the relation between the abstract concept and its concrete realizations: the universal concept denotes that which the particular entity is, and is not. The translation can eliminate the hidden negation by reformulating the meaning in a non-contradictory proposition, but the untranslated statement suggests a real want. There is more in the abstract noun (beauty, freedom) than in the qualities (“beautiful,” “free”) attributed to the particular person, thing or condition. The substantive universal intends qualities which surpass all particular experience, but persist in the mind, not as a figment of imagination nor as more logical possibilities but as the “stuff” of which our world consists. No snow is pure white, nor is any cruel beast or man and the cruelty man knows – knows as an almost inexhaustible force in history and imagination.
Now there is a large class of concepts – we dare say, the philosophically relevant concepts – where the quantitative relation between the universal and the particular assumes a qualitative aspect, where the abstract universal seems to designate potentialities in a concrete, historical: sense. However “man,” “nature,” “justice,” “beauty” or “freedom” may be defined, they synthesize experiential contents into ideas which transcend their particular realizations as something that is to be surpassed, overcome. Thus the concept of beauty comprehends all the beauty not yet; realized; the concept of freedom all the liberty not yet attained.
Or, to take another example, the philosophic concept “man” aims at the fully developed human faculties which are his distinguishing faculties, and which appeal as possibilities of the conditions in which men actually live. The concept articulates the qualities which are considered “typically human.” The vague phrase may serve to elucidate the ambiguity in such philosophic definitions – namely, they assemble the qualities which pertain to all men as contrasted with other living beings, and, at the same time, are claimed as the most adequate or highest realization of man.
Such universals thus appear as conceptual instruments for understanding the particular conditions of things in the light of their potentialities. They are historical and supra-historical; they conceptualize the stuff of which the experienced world consists, and they conceptualize it with a view of its possibilities, in the light of their actual limitation, suppression, and denial. Neither the experience nor the judgment is private. The philosophic concepts are formed and developed in the consciousness of a general condition in a historical continuum; they are elaborated from an individual position within a specific society. The stuff of thought is historical stuff – no matter how abstract, general, or pure it may become in philosophic or scientific theory. The abstract-universal and at the same time historical character of these “eternal objects” of thought is recognized and clearly stated in Whitehead’s Science and the Modern World:
“Eternal objects are ... in their nature, abstract. By ‘abstract’ I mean that what an eternal object is in itself – that is to say, its essence – is comprehensible without reference to same one particular experience. To be abstract is to transcend the particular occasion of actual happening. But to transcend an actual occasion does not mean being disconnected from it. On the contrary, I hold that each eternal object has its own proper connection with each such occasion, which I term its mode of ingression into that occasion.” “Thus the metaphysical status of an eternal object is that of a possibility for an actuality. Every actual occasion is defined as to its character by how these possibilities are actualized for that occasion.”
Elements of experience, projection and anticipation of real possibilities enter into the conceptual syntheses – in respectable form as hypotheses, in disreputable form as “metaphysics.” In various degrees, they are unrealistic because they transgress beyond the established universe of behaviour, and they may even be undesirable in the interest of neatness and exactness. Certainly, in philosophic analysis, “Little real advance ... is to be hoped for in expanding our universe to include so-called possible entities,” but it all depends on how Ockham’s Razor is applied, that is to say, which possibilities are to be cut off. The possibility of an entirely different societal organization of life has nothing in common with the “possibility” of a man with a green hat appearing in all doorways tomorrow, but treating them with the same logic may serve the defamation of undesirable possibilities. Criticizing the introduction of possible entities, Quine writes that such an “overpopulated universe is in many ways unlovely. It offends the aesthetic sense of us who have a taste for desert landscapes, but this is not the worst of it. [Such a] slum of possibles is a breeding ground for disorderly elements.”
Contemporary philosophy has rarely attained a more authentic formulation of the conflict between its intent and its function. The linguistic syndrome of “loveliness,” “aesthetic sense,” and “desert landscape” evokes the liberating air of Nietzsche’s thought, cutting into Law and Order, while the “breeding ground for disorderly elements” belongs to the language spoken by the authorities of Investigation and Information. What appeals unlovely and disorderly from the; logical point of view, may well comprise the lovely elements of a different order, and may thus be an essential part of the: material from which philosophic concepts are built. Neither the most refined aesthetic sense nor the most exact philosophic concept is immune against history. Disorderly elements enter into the purest objects of thought. They too are detached from a societal ground, and the contents from which they abstract guide the abstraction.
Thus the specter of “historicism” is raised. If thought proceeds from historical conditions which continue to operate in the abstraction, is there any objective basis on which distinction can be made between the various possibilities projected by thought-distinction between different and conflicting ways of conceptual transcendence? Moreover, the question cannot be discussed with reference to different philosophic projects only. To the degree to which the philosophical project is ideological, it is part of a historical project – that is, it pertains to a specific stage and level of the societal development, and the critical philosophic concepts refer (no matter how indirectly!) to alternative possibilities of this development.
The quest for criteria for judging between different philosophic projects thus leads to the quest for criteria for judging between different historical projects and alternatives, between different actual and possible ways of understanding and changing man and nature. I shall submit only a few propositions which suggest that the internal historical character of the philosophic concepts, far from precluding objective validity, defines the ground for their objective validity.
In speaking and thinking for himself, the philosopher speaks and thinks from a particular position in his society, and he does so with the material transmitted and utilized by this society. But in doing this, he speaks and thinks into a common universe of facts and possibilities. Through the various individual agents and layers of experience, through the different “projects” which guide the modes of thought from the business of everyday life to science and philosophy, the interaction between a collective subject and a common world persists and constitutes the objective validity of the Universals. It is objective:
The objects of thought and perception as they appear to the individuals prior to all “subjective” interpretation have in common certain primary qualities, pertaining to these., two layers of reality: (1) to the physical (natural) structure of matter, and (2) to the form which matter has acquired:; in the collective historical practice that has made it (matter) into objects for a subject. The two layers or aspects of objectivity (physical and historical) are interrelated in such a way that they cannot be insulated from each other the historical aspect can never be eliminated so radically that only the “absolute” physical layer remains.
For example, I have tried to show that, in the technological reality, the object world (including the subjects) is experienced as a world of instrumentalities. The technological context predefines the form in which the objects appear. They appeal to the scientist a priori as value-free elements or complexes of relations, susceptible to organization in an effective mathematico-logical system; and they appeal to common sense as the stuff of work or leisure, production or consumption. The object-world is thus the world of a specific historical project, and is never accessible outside the historical project which organizes matter, and the organization of matter is at one and the same time a theoretical and a practical enterprise.
I have used the term “project” so repeatedly because it seems to me to accentuate most clearly the specific character of historical practice. It results from a determinate choice, seizure of one among other ways of comprehending, organizing, and transforming reality. The initial choice defines the range of possibilities open on this way, and precludes alternative possibilities incompatible with it.
I shall now propose some criteria for the truth value of different historical projects. These criteria must refer to the manner in which a historical project realizes given possibilities – not formal possibilities but those involving the modes of human existence. Such realization is actually under way in any historical situation. Every established society is such a realization; moreover, it tends to prejudge the rationality of possible projects, to keep them within its framework. At the same time, every established society is confronted with the actuality or possibility of a qualitatively different historical practice which might destroy the existing institutional framework. The established society has already demonstrated its truth value as historical project. It has succeeded in organizing man’s struggle with man and with nature; it reproduces end protects (more or less adequately) the human existence (always with the exception of the existence of those who. are the declared outcasts, enemy-aliens, and other victims of the system). But against this project in full realization emerge other projects, and among them those which would change the established one in its totality. It is with reference to such a transcendent project that the criteria for objective historical truth can best be formulated as the criteria of its rationality:
Obviously, this notion of rationality contains, especially in the last statement, a value judgment, and I reiterate what I stated before: I believe that the very concept of Reason originates in this value judgment, and that the concept of truth cannot be divorced from the value of Reason.
“Pacification,” “free development of human needs and faculties” – these concepts can be empirically defined in terms of the available intellectual and material resources and capabilities and their systematic use for attenuating the struggle for existence. This is the objective ground of historical rationality.
If the historical continuum itself provides the objective ground for determining the truth of different historical projects, does it also determine their sequence and their limits? Historical truth is comparative; the rationality of the possible depends on that of the actual, the truth of the transcending project on that of the project in realization. Aristotelian science was falsified on the basis of its achievements; if capitalism were falsified by communism, it would be by virtue of its own achievements. Continuity is preserved through rupture: quantitative development becomes qualitative change if it attains the very structure of an established system; the established rationality becomes irrational, when, in the course of its internal development, the potentialities of the system have outgrown its institutions. Such internal refutation pertains to the historical character of reality, and the same character corners upon the concepts which comprehend this reality their critical intent. They recognize and anticipate the irrational in the established reality – they project the historical negation.
Is this negation a “determinate” one – that is, is the internal succession of a historical project, once it has become a totality, necessarily pre-determined by the structure of this totality? If so, then the term “project” would be deceptive. That which is historical possibility would sooner or later be real; and the definition of liberty as comprehended necessity would have a repressive connotation which it does not have. All this may not matter much. What does matter is that such historical determination would (in spite of all subtle ethics and psychology) absolve the crimes against humanity which civilization continues to commit and thus facilitate this continuation.
I suggest the phrase “determinate choice” in order to emphasize the ingression of liberty into historical necessity; the phrase does no more than condense the proposition that men make their own history but make it under given conditions. Determined are (1) the specific contradictions which develop within a historical system as manifestations of the conflict between the potential and the actual; (2) the material and intellectual resources available to the respective system; (3) the extent of theoretical and practical freedom compatible with the system. These conditions leave open alternative possibilities of developing and utilizing the available resources, alternative possibilities of “making a living,” of organizing man’s struggle with nature.
Thus, within the framework of a given situation, industrialization can proceed in different ways, under collective or private control, and, even under private control, in different directions of progress and with different aims. The choice is primarily (but only primarily!) the privilege of those groups which have attained control over the productive process. Their control projects the war of life for the whole, and the ensuing and enslaving necessity is the result of their freedom. And the possible abolition of this necessity depends on a new ingression of freedom – not any freedom, but that of men who comprehend the given necessity as insufferable pain, and as unnecessary.
As historical process, the dialectical process involves consciousness: recognition and seizure of the liberating potentialities. Thus it involves freedom. To the degree to which consciousness is determined by the exigencies and interests of the established society, it is “unfree”; to the degree to which the established society is irrational, the consciousness becomes free for the higher historical rationality only in the struggle against the established society. The truth and the freedom of negative thinking have their ground and reason in this struggle. Thus, according to Marx, the proletariat is the liberating historical force only as revolutionary force; the determinate negation of capitalism occurs if and when the proletariat has become conscious of itself and of the conditions and processes which make up its society. This consciousness is prerequisite as well as an element of the negating practice. This “if” is essential to historical progress – it is the element of freedom (and chance!) which opens the possibilities of conquering the necessity of the given facts. Without it, history relapses into the darkness of unconquered nature.
We have encountered the “vicious circle” of freedom and liberation before; here it reappears as the dialectic of the determinate negation. Transcendence beyond the established conditions (of thought and action) presupposes transcendence within these conditions. This negative freedom – i.e., freedom from the oppressive and ideological power of given facts – is the a priori of the historical dialectic; it is the element of choice and decision in and against historical determination. None of the given alternatives is by itself determinate negation unless and until it is consciously seized in order to break the power of intolerable conditions and attain the more rational, more logical conditions rendered possible by the prevailing ones. In any case, the rationality and logic invoked in the movement of thought and action is that of the given conditions to be transcended The negation proceeds on empirical grounds; it is a historical project within and beyond an already going project, and its truth is a chance to be determined on these grounds.
However, the truth of a historical project is not validated ex post through success, that is to say, by the fact that it is accepted and realized by the society. Galilean science was true while it was still condemned; Marxian theory was already true at the time of the Communist Manifesto; fascism remains false even if it is in ascent on an international scale (“true” and “false” always in the sense of historical rationality as defined above). In the contemporary period, all historical projects tend to be polarized on the two conflicting totalities – capitalism and communism, and the outcome seems to depend on two antagonistic series of factors: (1) the greater force of destruction; (2) the greater productivity without destruction. In other words, the higher historical truth would pertain to the system which offers the greater chance of pacification.