The Prospects for Individuation Reconsidered
Marxism came of age in a philosophical atmosphere dominated by evolutionary positivism. To be sure, the prevalent strains within the Marxian philosophy were occasionally opposed by recourse to neo-Kantianism (Bernstein) and, after World War I, neo-Hegelianism (Lukács). More rarely, so-called "irrationalist" tendencies figured tangentially in Marxian discourse—for example, in Gramsci's appreciation of Bergson and Sorel. Yet neither a refurbished rationalism nor an historicized evolutionary positivism proved capable of unraveling the complex of theoretical problems surrounding the presentation of subjectivity, human practice, and historical necessity in Marxism . On the one hand, the orthodox Marxists contradicted Marx's own insistence on the centrality of class struggle, and his own comprehension of purposive labor, by reducing consciousness to a reflection of external conditions. On the other hand, an optimistic assessment of man's inherent responsiveness to enlightened interest no longer provided any convincing guarantee that historical truth might triumph, especially with the shadow of fascism falling across Europe. When they were discussed at all by Marxists, the issues of subjectivity and historical necessity too often remained confused, or the object of merely suggestive marginalia.
The philosophies of existence which had grown up in the meantime offered a different perspective on these issues, one rarely explored in prewar Marxist discussions. Contemporaneously with Marx, Kirkegaard had argued, against Hegel, for the insurmountability of the suffering human subject; when dialectical thought lost this anchor, it lost its authentic opening onto religion and ethics, areas which Hegel had treated from the lofty standpoint of Absolute
Knowledge. Later in the nineteenth century, Nietzsche had dissected human dependence, self-deception, and the solace of unfreedom, arguing against purely external, deterministic theories of bondage. Both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche interpreted human life as a perpetual process, falsified when conceptually hypostatized, whether through necessary categories of reason, or a positivist determinism, both mythical guarantors of a counterfeit certainty. At the turn of the century, Wilhelm Dilthey took a parallel route, arguing that the special character of cultural meaning, and its foundation in "the enigma of life," dictated an interpretive logic peculiar to the "human sciences," such as history and philosophy.
Contemporary social theorists shared a similar range of concerns. Democrats were alarmed at the emergence of the modern party as an hierarchical institution, confounding earlier hopes for enlightened emancipation through increased participation in politics; conservatives were similarly alarmed by the rise of the masses, and suggested that the rational pursuit of interest disappeared in an emotional contagion whenever groups of men acted in a revolutionary situation. Bureaucratic strangulation, passions unhinged from reason, blind submission to authority, the suffocation of creative innovation —such were some of the themes explored by thinkers like Max Weber, Robert Michels, Georg Simmel, Gustave LeBon, and Sigmund Freud. Although not all of them were equally concerned about the implications of their insights for Marxism , most of them had something to contribute to the debate over the role of human agency in history and the outlook for individuation. The implications were not reassuring.
The best of twentieth-century Marxist thought attempted to confront these implications. The ambiguous—and frequently barbaric—chronicle of socialism in this century in itself has warranted a radical rethinking of the entire Marxian project, while the challenge mounted by philosophers as diverse as Nietzsche, Husserl, and Heidegger sooner or later had to enter into the discussion, if only to be criticized rather than merely ignored.
Although several nineteenth-century thinkers had questioned the rationalism and idealism of the Enlightenment, none had quite the
impact of Friedrich Nietzsche. As Max Weber put it after World War I, "One can measure the honesty of a contemporary scholar, and above all, of a contemporary philosopher, in his posture toward Nietzsche and Marx."
In the present context, Nietzsche's thought assumes a special significance, since his starting point is the reflective individual. With Nietzsche, subjectivity claimed not just an epistemological priority—"the subject alone is demonstrable"—but also the dignity of a duty: "We, however, want to become those we are —human beings who are new, unique, incomparable, who give themselves laws, who create themselves." On the other hand, Nietzsche, like Marx, acknowledged individuation to be an historical result, calling the "sovereign individual" the "ripest fruit" of "this tremendous process." This meant, as Nietzsche admitted, that "the 'subject' is not something given, it is something added and invented."
While he promulgated an important series of affirmative doctrines, such as the will to power and eternal recurrence, his decisive significance for social theory derives not so much from his positive ontology, which valued whatever enhances life, as from his negative teaching, and, above all, his insight into the modern epoch. Nietzsche's basic assessment of his age is clear enough: "Disintegration characterizes this time, and thus uncertainty: nothing stands firmly on its feet or on a hard faith in itself. . . . Everything on our way is slippery and dangerous, and the ice that still supports us has become thin: all of us feel the warm, uncanny breath of the thawing wind; where we still walk, soon no one will be able to walk." The image of foreboding is indicative: modern men confronted a chaos of "very diverse value judgements," none of them compelling or essential any longer as "the basis, 'the condition of existence.'" Recognition of this situation engendered what Nietzsche called a "radical nihilism."
Previously, societies, through their conventions, traditions, and religions, had provided an objective pattern which the individual could follow. But just as Nietzsche believed that the chaos of the modern era betrayed the arbitrary and insubstantial artifice of all normative order, so he believed that the contemporary epoch, by throwing the individual back on his own resources, revealed the fragility and insubstantial artifice of all psychic order. In the past, "to be alone, to experience things by oneself, neither to obey nor to rule, to be an individual—that was not a pleasure but a punishment; one was sentenced 'to individuality.'" Even in the modern era, individu-
ation proved a fate most men would prefer escaping. The realization, through the dissolution of all objective norms, of a limitless individual freedom seemed more frightening than liberating—in direct contradiction to the expectations of the Enlightenment. Why this fear? Primarily because the solitary ego, despite the assurances of modern philosophy, afforded no more substantial foundation than objective norms for the orientation of life. According to Nietzsche, the individual intrinsically embodied little more than a number of ceaselessly demanding drives and impulses. The challenge was to govern this unruly subjective commonwealth and to forge a unique psychic order without resorting to the discredited customary fictions.
But most people declined the challenge to become truly unique individuals; the way was difficult, the rewards uncertain. Instead, they devised strategies for escaping the "prison" of individuality. One could blindly reaffirm old faiths, for example, and Nietzsche charged that most modern world views simply resurrected the "Christian moral hypothesis" of man's dignity and perfectibility in various new disguises. Nietzsche himself, by contrast, welcomed the chaotic conflict of contemporary life, even if he doubted the capacity of most men to withstand the ambiguity and tension such ethical pluralism entailed. The collapse of traditional moral codes, and above all the decline of Judeo-Christian monotheism—the "death of God"—created a situation of unprecedented possibilities which he described in such hopeful imagery as a "new dawn," an "open sea" permitting "all the daring of the lover of knowledge."
In the prologue to Thus Spoke Zarathustra , Nietzsche expressed the central tension in his thought between hopes for a rebirth of creative vitality and fears of a totally pacified existence:
And thus spoke Zarathustra to the people: "The time has come for man to set himself a goal. The time has come for man to plant the seed of his highest hope. His soil is still rich enough. But one day this soil will be poor and domesticated. . . .
"I say unto you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. I say unto you: you still have chaos in yourselves.
"Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer give birth to a star. Alas, the time of the most despicable man is coming, he that is no longer able to despise himself. Behold, I show you the last man. . . .
"The earth has become small, on it hops the last man, who makes everything small. His race is as ineradicable as the flea-beetle; the last man lives longest. . . . "
Nietzsche's social thought reflected his fears. While he formulated the ideal of an individuated existence, he restricted its enjoyment to those few noble souls able to form and follow their own laws. Most of the "rabble," on the other hand, remained servants of circumstance, bound to routine and unquestioned conventions. At best, he hoped for a "new nobility," appreciative of each other's creative exploits, able to promulgate new values and new polytheistic myths, perhaps even capable of rescuing modern life from the aimless drift that might otherwise result from democratic mediocrity.
A more direct assault on the value of universal enlightenment can scarcely be imagined. Not only was the "truth" to be conveyed called into question; the human subject of enlightenment, deprived of any necessary interest in rationality and freedom, and described as the locus of conflicting drives and appetites, also became a questionable medium for coming to understand any truths whatsoever. Moreover, if all the conceptual paraphernalia of our thinking, be it scientific, religious, or moral, was purely conventional, did not the quest for truth lead not necessarily to liberation but perhaps also to a destructive skepticism, a paralyzing doubt?
Nietzsche's challenge to Marxism grew out of this ambivalent outlook on enlightenment. Marx, as we have seen, relied on an understanding of history and human agency that linked the pursuit of material interest with the ideal of individual emancipation. Nietzsche, by contrast, portrayed human beings as creatures driven, for the most part, by fear: fear of reasoning, of freedom, of truth, of novelty, of individuation, of the tensions created by a multifaceted personality. Interest, one of the key faculties Marx believed operative in social action, Nietzsche dismissed as relatively unimportant: "Man is an indifferent egoist: even the cleverest thinks his habits more important than his advantage." Most individuals, left to their own devices, craved security, order, certainty, the familiar, tried-and-true routine that seemed to provide a steady foundation for life. Nor did discomfort and material distress necessarily dissolve such patterns of behavior: "In an age of disintegration . . . happiness appears . . . in agreement with a tranquilizing . . . medicine and way of thought, pre-eminently as the happiness of resting, of not being disturbed."
Nietzsche also viewed with suspicion any theory of history as a purposeful progression, in large part because he suspected these theories of mollifying the fears of the craven. A philosophy of history
like Marx's appeared primarily as one more ideological avenue for escaping the perils and promise of the current era: "One wants to get around the will, the willing of a goal, the risk of positing a goal for oneself; one wants to rid oneself of the responsibility (one would accept fatalism)." Moreover, because he feared that a pacified existence was what most men wanted, Nietzsche was doubly disturbed by the "economic optimism" animating the democratic credo of the socialists: "Once we possess that common economic management of the earth that will soon be inevitable," wrote Nietzsche in a note dating from 1887, "mankind will be able to find its best meaning as a machine in the service of this economy—as a tremendous clock-work, composed of ever smaller, ever more subtly 'adapted' gears; as an ever-growing superfluity of all dominating and commanding elements; as a whole of tremendous force; whose individual factors represent minimal forces, minimal values ." Along this path lay not Marx's social individual but Nietzsche's last man, as ineradicable as a flea-beetle.
Phenomenology and the Question of Individuality
The reconsideration of subjectivity and the fate of the individual took several divergent and even contradictory forms in twentieth-century European philosophy. One of the most influential approaches was phenomenology, the philosophical discipline founded by Edmund Husserl. Where Nietzsche had given a stormy diagnosis of the modern world and its ills, Husserl, who was primarily interested in logic and epistemology, soberly inventoried the ego's constitutive capacity, its ability to invest a world with significance.
In his Logical Investigations of 1900, he had attempted to establish the objectivity of logical categories through an analysis of the invariant aspects of subjective experience. Despite its demonstration of an objective logic, the phenomenological method of "direct intuition" and insight into "essential structures" led naturally over the following decades to a broader exploration of the "stream of consciousness," and, in Husserl's case, to a form of transcendental idealism; by the time of the Cartesian Meditations of 1930, he was claim-
ing that "all that exists for the pure ego becomes constituted in it itself." Nevertheless, through the key concept of intentionality, Husserl's phenomenology pointed beyond the strict subject/object dualism characteristic of Cartesian rationalism. By "intentionality," Husserl meant to specify consciousness as an inherent relation to an object: consciousness was always consciousness of something, and that in a specific manner. For example, one might doubt, surmise, hope or fear, judge, approve, or merely be presented with, an object. The notion of intentionality suggested that consciousness gained its element of intelligibility through a double relation, to the world of objects, which could appear under a variety of different aspects, and to the world of subjective acts, which could apprehend the world of objects in a number of different ways, and with different aims in mind. Husserl thus described a more or less stable structure of objectivity, grasped through the fluctuating relations of a dynamic subjectivity.
Although Husserl's focus on logic largely removed history from his purview, the rise of fascism led him to a reconsideration of the foundations of philosophy. The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology , published posthumously, but written between 1934 and 1937, raised the question of a crisis as to the meaning of man. At a time when political philosophers were advocating a return to natural law (legal positivism seemed the unwitting ally of fascism), Husserl resurrected the Kantian notion of a teleological Idea of humanity. Humanity, according to Husserl, had forgotten its proper goal, the attainment of rationality and freedom, and had thus betrayed the essence of the meaning of man.
The crisis in science alluded to in Husserl's title concerned not the methodology of the objective sciences, such as physics, but rather the illicit importation of natural scientific method into the sphere of human life itself. In lieu of a reasoned reflection on man's meaning, science provided a ready-made human self-understanding. But this objectivistic self-understanding created a crisis in human existence, for "men treated as facts become facts," and a fact could hardly be expected to comprehend its own transcendental essence. Under the sway of universal objectivism, the tasks of rationality and freedom had thus been displaced by mathematical-physical knowledge, a critical human accomplishment to be sure, but one that increasingly had forgotten its human origins. Phenomenology's role in this situa-
tion became the restoration of the teleology immanent in subjectivity to its proper place. By demonstrating the grounding of any human logos, including the mathesis universalis of physics, in transcendental subjectivity, phenomenology uncovered the teleological Idea of man as an historical goal still outstanding.
Rationality in the Crisis thus became a task to be accomplished, rather than an innate endowment of the transcendental ego. Moreover, Husserl insisted that rationality, properly understood, transcended the narrow ratio of mathematical-physical objectivism, encompassing as well man's autonomous freedom to shape himself and his environment. Only philosophy—only phenomenology—provided an adequate ratio for the self-reflection of mankind. Through a "bracketing" of the account of the world given by natural science, phenomenology reached the "life-world," that mundane environment of human existence, where Husserl already discovered the ongoing teleological accomplishments of subjectivity, filling the world with meaning, prior to objective understanding. Whether this life-world, precisely distinguished by him as the pregiven foundation of all higher theory, could be reconciled with his previous idealistic theory, which insisted on the transcendental constitution of the world by the ego, remained unresolved at his death. What Husserl himself desired is less debatable: "I want to establish, against mysticism and irrationalism, a kind of super-rationalism [Überrationalismus ] which transcends the old rationalism as inadequate and yet vindicates its inmost objectives."
Husserl left a varied legacy to future philosophers; realists and existentialists as well as idealists could find support in some stage of his elaboration of the phenomenological method. But the relevance of phenomenology for social theory first became clear not through his own work, but through that of Max Scheler, and particularly through Martin Heidegger's Being and Time , published in 1927 in Husserl's Jahrbuch fur Phänomenologie und phänomenologische Forschung .
Being and Time had an immediate impact. On a purely philosophical level, the book criticized traditional metaphysics from Aristotle to Hegel in the name of a truly "fundamental ontology" that overcame the traditional equation of being with substance. Confronting such forebears as Kant and Descartes, Heidegger set out to destroy previous ontologies, in preparation for posing anew the
question fundamental to his own thought: "What is the meaning of Being?" Yet Being and Time also contained a detailed analysis of human being: by proposing a novel interpretation of what being human meant, he linked the ontological dispute over substance to an indictment of everyday life in the modern world. The potential for human excellence was being diminished while life was leveled down to dull uniformity: this was one message dearly transmitted through an elaborately technical philosophical prose.
Like Husserl in the Crisis , Heidegger in Being and Time wished to retrieve the capacity for transcendence inherent in human existence from its fixation within a deceptively self-evident world of objective entities. To this end, he distinguished between "authentic" (eigentlich ) and "inauthentic" ways of being human. Where the inauthentic person assumed the world he inherited as a given, the authentic individual confronted this world as a set of possibilities grasped through his own decisions, acts, and commitments. To be sure, Heidegger, like Nietzsche, presumed that most people would forfeit the creative powers and freedom inherent in being human, preferring instead the anonymous security afforded by the conformity and stereotyped possibilities of "the crowd" (das Man ) To cast one's lot with the crowd was to abdicate individuation to interchangeability: "Everyone is other and no one is himself." Heidegger also drew a sharp distinction between the "concern" (Besorgen ) with which a person pursued his everyday life, and the "care" (Sorgen ) with which an authentic individual resolved on a unique (eigenst ) way of being. In his concern with daily affairs, a person could disburden and literally lose himself in mundane matters. By contrast, in caring about his world, the authentic individual realized and acted upon his inherent capacity to form his own (eigen ) life, by choosing among the factual possibilities disclosed by his thoughtful resolve.
But what led a person to care about his world? What aspects of human existence could potentially break the spell of everyday life and its seductive concerns? On Heidegger's account, the crucial moments came in fleeting moods, in nagging fears—in anxiety, in the sense of impending death, ultimately in the "call" of conscience. Where everyday life preoccupied, the thought of death disturbed: and in the experience of anxiety before death as a person's ultimate possibility. Heidegger detected the voice of conscience, calling the
individual to care about his world, and to accept responsibility for his own life. By setting a final limit to the possibilities of existence, the anticipation of death also revealed the finitude and temporal unity of a person's life span. The authentic individual faced the future knowing it was finite, and yet grasped the past as something to be assimilated in the present, through a free choice among possible ways of being.
While the anticipation of death thus individualized a person and disclosed authenticity as an essential possibility of being human, the authentic individual returned to a public world of shared endeavors, where he fashioned a unique historical "fate" for himself. Indeed, this unfolding of the individual's "finite freedom" finally overcame the powerlessness of an isolated witness before death only by submitting to the shared "destiny" of a people, a power liberated "in communicating and in struggling." Only with historical destiny on the horizon did the authentic individual become empowered with a firm resolve that confirmed his own commitments; only by "surrendering" his isolatated individuality could a person "win" himself as an "authentic self."
The implications of Being and Time were far-reaching. In addition to discarding the Cartesian dualism dividing mind and body, Heidegger was concerned to show the formative significance of states of mind, such as moods, emotions, fears; instead of assuming rational judgment as a distinctive and universal human attribute, he presented it as merely one mode of existence, one way of approaching the world. In opposition to any transcendental idea of Reason, Heidegger substituted an interpretation of human beings as the sole source of reasons: through their own transcending freedom, by the ways of being human they chose, it was men alone who brought reason to life.
Despite the conservative implications of his understanding of historical destiny, the importance of Heidegger's philosophy for radical theory was undeniable, although few Marxists of the period were prepared to acknowledge it; Lucien Goldmann has even argued that Being and Time contains a covert response to, and hidden affinity with, Lukács's History and Class Consciousness . By suggesting that a practical concern with worldly affairs only obstructed caring enough about the world to risk changing it or making it one's own, Heidegger implicitly called into question the convergence of inter-
est, labor, and insight Marx had assumed, as well as the individuating tendencies Marx had found at work in modern society. Moreover, by pointing out the consolations a person derived from forfeiting his distinctiveness, Heidegger challenged the Marxist understanding of alienation: what in Marx represented primarily dispossession, in Heidegger appeared as "tr anquilization" as well. To the extent that anonymity and unfreedom appeared comforting, while individuality and freedom appeared burdensome, the understanding of individual emancipation had to be revised.
Whatever difficulties fundamental ontology as a whole confronted, in all these particulars Heidegger helped redraw the boundaries for theoretical discussions within the human studies. He also transformed their style. If positivism had imported a dry factuality into Marxism , Heidegger's philosophy would impart a flavor of ontological salvation. The promise of authentic Being, wed to revolutionary Marxism , produced an aura of messianic hope that attracted neo-Marxist thinkers as diverse as Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Herbert Marcuse.
The Possibility of Critical Theory
The implications of the new philosophies of subjectivity and individuality were infrequently explored within most Marxist circles. Yet they played an important role in shaping contemporary social theory and psychology. Freud's psychoanalysis, for example, paralleled Nietzsche's philosophy in its exploration of the chaotic impulses animating the psyche and the ways in which the ego could harness the instincts; through his therapy, Freud tried to equip patients with a rationality flexible enough to withstand the tensions and anxieties endemic to the godless world Nietzsche had described.
Nietzsche's thought also had a crucial impact on the sociology elaborated by Max Weber, who felt that the value of modern progress had been decisively thrown into doubt. Scientific mastery entailed what Weber called "the disenchantment of the world," the obliteration of the last bases of transcendental belief alongside the rationalization of world views. At the "end of this tremendous development," Weber concluded, no one can know "whether entirely new prophets will arise, or there will be a great rebirth of old ideas
and ideals, or, if neither, mechanized petrification." Ironically, for Weber as for Neitzsche, the triumph of scientific rationality starkly illuminated the irrational aspects of human existence. Weber felt it illusory to interpret history using a purposeful model of agency: "The action of men is not interpretable in such purely rational terms," for "not only irrational 'prejudices,' errors in thinking and factual errors but also 'temperament,' 'moods' and affects disturb his freedom." Weber also cautioned against any one-sided recourse to the category of material interest: "Interests (material and ideal ones), not ideas, determine the actions of men directly. The Welt bilder that were created by 'ideas,' however, very often were the switchmen who determined the lines alongside which the dynamism of interests pushed human action onwards."
For both Weber and Freud, the new philosophies of subjectivity implied a new skepticism in theory, and stoicism in practice. Like Nietzsche, Weber saw contemporary society as a battleground for conflicting values, with no hope for a scientific mediation among them: "Fate, and certainly not 'science' holds sway over these gods and their struggle." "Chained to the course of progress," the social theorist in Weber's view could only catalog the forms of fate: "What is hard for modern man is to measure up to workaday existence"—a sentiment Freud shared. The difficulty, as Freud and Weber both well knew, was to accomplish this submission to fate without sacrificing all sense of personal worth and responsibility: the autonomous individual, where he survived at all, became for Freud and Weber the shrewd banker of an increasingly scarce resource—the rational understanding of reality.
As elucidated by psychoanalysis and interpretive sociology, the implications of the new philosophies of subjectivity scarcely seemed reassuring for Marxism . Yet Lukács, as we have seen, felt able to surmount Weber's stoicism from the practical standpoint of the proletariat, which dissolved skepticism by deciphering an immanent meaning of history. From this vantage point, Weber's former colleague explained the rationalization of life as a transient phenomenon engendered by the reification of commodity exchange under capitalism.
This resolution of the dilemma proved attractive for those few Marxist thinkers alive to the implications of the new philosophies. In the thirties, the most important such thinkers were the exponents of
"critical theory," Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, and Herbert Marcuse. Marcuse had studied under Heidegger, and briefly proposed a merger between Marxism and fundamental ontology, while Adorno devoted early studies to Kierkegaard and Husserl. Indeed, while Communists such as Lukács had their interest in the new philosophy censored by the orthodoxy imposed under Stalin, the critical theorists, as independent Marxists, were able to devote considerable attention to contemporary developments in philosophy and social theory; they were also forced to confront a rapidly deteriorating political situation in Europe that created further difficulties for a Marxist rationalism presumably rooted in the real tendencies of history.
In the new metaphysics, Horkheimer found first of all a response to the ethical pluralism depicted by Nietzsche and Weber: "Now that faith in the absolute validity of any developed system had disappeared, the whole series of cultural forms, their rhythm, independence and regularities, became the instrument of intellectual formation." With relativism an apparently accomplished fact, and the individual assumed as a primordial given, philosophers turned to such primitive general categories as life and existence to unify and evaluate the competing cultural forms. But Horkheimer, in a line of argument recalling Marx's critique of Max Stirner, assailed the preoccupation with existence for "belittling the importance of a theoretical comprehension of social processes" and for validating the narrow individualism generated within bourgeois society. In this respect, the new metaphysics served a social function: in his dreams of authenticity, "the isolated, insignificant individual can identify himself with superhuman forces, with omnipotent nature, with the stream of life or an inexhaustible world-ground"; the monadic individual could thus, in imagination, surmount the obstacles imposed by an uncongenial world. The "freedom of the personality" promised by the new metaphysics thus acted in private life "as an opiate; in society, as a fraud"—for a society of authentic ones would leave the objective forms of domination untouched. As Adorno put it, the obsession with authenticity was "nothing other than a defiant and obstinate insistence on the monadological form which social oppression imposes on man."
Horkheimer and Adorno were nevertheless ambivalent in their assessment of existentialism and the philosophies of life. Adorno, for
example, praised Nietzsche as a philosopher "whose reflection penetrated even the concept of truth," while Horkheimer esteemed Husserl as the "last genuine theoretician of knowledge." "What is true in the concept of existence," wrote Adorno in Negative Dialectics , "is the protest against a condition of society and scientific thought that would expel unregimented experience—a condition that would virtually expel the subject as a moment of cognition." Moreover, Adorno vindicated some of Nietzsche's most troubling insights: "The individual's rational economic behavior undoubtedly derives from something more than economic calculation and the profit motive. . . . Fear constitues a more crucial subjective motive of rationality."
Perhaps because he dreaded the total eclipse of the autonomous subject, Adorno developed a particularly nuanced understanding of individuation and its problems. Within bourgeois society, individuation occurred as isolation from other human beings; "the capacity for seeing them as such and not as functions of one's own will withers, as does that, above all, of fruitful contrast, the possibility of going beyond oneself by assimilating the contradictory." But the cult of authenticity expressed in the philosophy of Heidegger ironically obscured this constriction of individuality, in part by ignoring the extent to which "the individual owes his crystallization to the forms of political economy." Thus the new philosophies of subjectivity did not always grasp the ambiguities of individuation: "Within repressive society, the individual's emancipation not only benefits but damages him. Freedom from society robs him of the strength for freedom." The individuals in contemporary society, reduced to "monadological individual interest and its precipitate, character," quickly capitulate to dictatorship, "the moment organization and terror overtake them." Adorno thus claimed to uncover a hidden link between a fearful individualism and fascism. The autonomous individual was nevertheless an important, if precarious, sanctuary for critical thought: what remained, for Adorno as for Marx, was to restore individuation to its proper social context, and thus to "make an end of the fatality which individualizes men, only to break them completely in their isolation."
The rise of fascism in the thirties forced the critical theorists to reassess the basis of their hopes for a more rational society. The credos of the Enlightenment had been called into question by the very
process of historical development: "As industrial society progresses and is supposed to have overcome its own law of impoverishment, the notion which justified the whole system, that of man as a person, a bearer of reason, is destroyed." But if "man as a bearer of reason" was destroyed, how could hopes for a communist society be sustained? In an early essay on "Philosophy and Critical Theory," Marcuse had called reason the "fundamental category of philosophical thought," and asserted that in critical theory "the philosophical construction of reason is replaced by the creation of a rational society. " But what if, Marcuse asked, "the development outlined by the theory does not occur?" What if the proletariat failed to fulfill Marx's expectations? Moreover, if "man as a bearer of reason" seemed an increasingly endangered species, what warrant was there for believing the "development outlined by the theory" ever would occur?
Horkheimer at first held fast to the theory of knowledge and history defended by Lukács in History and Class Consciousness: critical theory was inherently historical and derived the "idea of a reasonable organization of society" from an analysis of the "goals of human activity." The road leading to the future signified for Horkheimer as for Lukács a "concrete historical" as well as a "logical" process. Since the truth value of the theory hinged on its practical realization, the theorist of necessity addressed himself to "the development of the masses. . . . The theoretician and his specific object are seen as forming a dynamic unity with the oppressed class." Critical theory thus aimed at enlightening the "right interest" of the oppressed.
The rationalist assumptions behind this model of interest and class consciousness, only implicit in Lukács and Marx, became explicit at several points in Horkheimer's essays from the thirties. Once dialectical thought has integrated the "empirical constituents" of a situation into a "structure of experience" which can inform "the historical interests with which dialectical thought is connected," Horkheimer seemed to feel confident that any man could become a "bearer of reason": "When an active individual of sound common sense perceives the sordid state of the world, desire to change it becomes the guiding principle by which he organizes given facts and shapes them into a theory. . . . This, in turn, discloses both his sound common sense and the character of the world. Right thinking
depends as much on right willing as right willing on right thinking." Despite his appreciation of the new situation in theory and practice, Horkheimer thus remained tied to the rationalist tradition he had inherited from Marx through Lukács: against the prevailing stu-pefaction of the spirit, he could only offer the hope of a subjectively inherent ratio . "The thrust towards a rational society, which admittedly seems to exist today only in the realm of fantasy, is really innate in every man."
Yet by linking the validity of critical theory to concrete historical factors, he left open the possibility that its hopes might prove groundless. And indeed, confronted with the events of World War II and its aftermath, Horkheimer became extremely pessimistic: "To protect, preserve, and where possible, extend the limited and ephemeral freedom of the individual in the face of the growing threat to it is far more urgent a task than to issue abstract denunciations of it or to endanger it by actions that have no hope of success." Faced with an apparently docile proletariat in the West and Stalinist regimes in the East, other critical theorists looked elsewhere for support. Herbert Marcuse, for one, elaborated a psychoanalytic variant on philosophical anthropology, focusing on man as a creature of repressed innate needs; on this "biological basis," Marcuse ultimately rested his hopes for a revolution driven by "the vital need to be freed from the administered comforts and the destructive productivity of the exploitative society."
Theodor Adorno, by contrast, forthrightly faced the implications of the practical impasse in critical theory: grounded as it was in history, the theory could claim no transcendental foundation. Rejecting the pursuit of First Philosophy, specifically in the Heideggerian form of fundamental ontology, Adorno in Negative Dialectics denounced the spell of identity theory on philosophy: "Dialectics is the consistent sense of nonidentity. It does not begin by taking a standpoint." Enduring the vertigo such a position implied, Adorno depicted the theory as a revolving series of critiques, based only on relative standpoints which reflected the disintegration of modern life; the possibility of transcendence was now locked in "the fragments which decay has chipped, and which bear the objective meanings." The concept of freedom, for example, "can be defined in negation only, corresponding to the concrete form of a specific un-freedom." As for historical materialism, and hopes for a communist
future, they are reduced to an imageless desire for "the resurrection of the flesh. . . . The perspective vanishing point of historic materialism would be its self-sublimation, the spirit's liberation from the primacy of material needs in their state of fulfillment." Adorno thus conceded Marx's practical concerns to the realm of utopian imagery: a critical philosophy—and in this respect. Adorno and Horkheimer agreed—lived on only in the immanent critique practiced by those thinking individuals still committed to reason.
The unflinching loyalty of the critical theorists to a Hegelio-Marxist form of rationalism helped keep a critical Marxist philosophy alive throughout the thirties and forties. At the same time, though, their allegiance, however qualified, to Hegelian modes of thought, as well as their apparent belief that Freud had essentially solved "the problem of the subject," helped limit their philosophical reconsideration of subjectivity.
Instead, the most sustained encounter between Marxism and the new philosophical understanding of subjectivity unfolded in the thought of Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurlce Merieau-Ponty, who were unaware of the critical theorists. Both Sartre and Merleau-Ponty had been educated in the phenomenological tradition of Heidegger and Husserl, influenced by the renaissance of French interest in Hegel in the thirties, and shaped by the experience of the French Resistance during the forties. Philosophically, they were committed to "existentialism," a term they used to define a historical movement (involving Kierkegaard and Heidegger, among others) and to describe their own efforts at illuminating the structure of human existence—a structure encompassing irrational inertia as well as the possibility of rational action. Politically, however, they maintained a lively interest in socialism, although both kept their distance from socialist politics, although both also preserved a distance from orthodox Marxism . Despite shortcomings and flaws, their social theories remain the most provocative examples of a Marxism built on new subjective foundations.