Marcuse & Administration
Herbert Marcuse was a German sociologist and philosopher. He is best known for his works, “Eros and Civilization” and “One-Dimensional Man”. One of the primary ideas Marcuse developed in his work was that of administration. This article outlines Marcuse's theory of administration in light of his two most famous works. Additionally, the article explains the concept of administration in light of other concepts that influenced Marcuse's work and shows how Marcuse's concept has influenced other theorists.
Keywords: Absorption; Administration; Consumer Capitalism; Cultural Industry; False Needs; Great Refusal; McDonaldization; New Left; One-dimensional Thinking; Technological Rationality
Herbert Marcuse (1898–1979) was a German sociologist and philosopher. His work is most closely is associated with the Frankfurt School, critical theory, and The New Left. He is best known for his works Eros and Civilization and One-Dimensional Man. One of the primary ideas Marcuse developed in his work was that of administration, which he identified with the rise of the technological and consumer society that employed unopposed advance forms of planning and management. These same systems allowed for the luxuries and leisure time that advanced capitalistic societies enjoy. Marcuse understood this, but worried that these systems also created false needs and separated the individual from the ability to refuse the narrative from these advanced forms of planning and management and, ultimately, become unable to create or participate in acts that could bring about social change (Kellner, 1991). This may sound pessimistic; however, those who knew Marcuse and his work claimed that the strength of his ideas on the administered society was the hopefulness and optimism that came with understanding how an administered society functioned and how we could change it for the better (Pippen, 1988).
The Administered Society
Marcuse's idea of administration had a number of influences. Like many social theorists of his time he worked in the shadows of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. He was also directly influenced by his Frankfurt School predecessors, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. This being the case, it should be no surprise that Marcuse developed a concept that included the intentional coercive actions found in Orwell's writings, the sedating pleasures outlined by Orwell, and the influence of a mass culture as imagined by Adorno and Horkheimer. Marcuse believed that the administered society both coerced and pleasured (although he would argue that the pleasure offered was less than authentic) as it separated individuals from their true needs.
The administered society has a number of key elements. First and foremost, administration requires an advanced capitalistic system. Advanced capitalistic systems have in place the forms of technology, planning, and management that make administration possible. This is true of other concepts that preceded Marcuse's including those from Marx, Orwell, and Huxley. The difference in Marcuse's idea was that administration included an expertise of consumer society that went beyond extracting work from a body, watching and directing the worker, or sedating the body. Administration also includes the mass gratification, market research, industrial psychology, polling, computer mathematics, and science of human relations that companies and governing institutions use to reach inside of the body and move the mind and soul (Bohm & Jones, 2009). In order to overcome the coercive nature of the administered society and still lay claim to its benefits, one must first understand how it functions.
The influence of George Orwell on Marcuse is evident is his use of the term "Orwellian language" in One-Dimensional Man (1990). Orwellian language is used by organizations, public and private, to define (or willfully mis-define) their activities and the nature of those activities. Marcuse also called this language one dimensional (as opposed to dialectical). By this he meant that language employed by dominant organizations was intended to go unchallenged and smooth over social contradictions and problems, and by doing so eliminate counter thoughts or actions (Kellner, 1990). A recent example of this type of language was used when a bill written to lessen the restrictions on industrial air pollution was called the Blue Sky Amendment. One dimensional language inverts meaning. The free is un-free, honorable is dishonorable, and the common is uncommon. At the core of Orwell's and Marcuse's theories are domination and the role that language plays in allowing it.
The difference between Orwell's "Big Brother" and Marcuse's administration ultimately is hope. Orwell fails to offer hope that the totalitarian state can be resisted and overthrown (Kellner, 1990). Marcuse believes the individual can refuse the dominant narrative of the consumer state, calling this the "Great Refusal." He believed that if people engage in dialectic with the past and with one another they can refuse the dominant or administered narrative and forge real social change. Marcuse saw this possibility of dialectic and refusal in art, philosophy, literature, student movements, and poor populations in third-world countries (Marcuse, 1991). This hope and belief in social change is what sets Marcuse apart from Orwell.
At the heart of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World is Henry Ford's famous saying that "history is bunk" (Firchow, 2002). Huxley's dystopian vision of mass contentment is only possible in Brave New World because of the absence of a rational dialectic with the past. The sense of false satisfaction that makes possible the dismissal of such a dialectical engagement is manufactured by overt government programs that provide the masses drugs (soma). In Marcuse's administered society the administering fiat is much less centralized. The forms of delivering sedation are as dispersed as the forces managing one dimension language. Marcuse focuses much of his attention on the process of fostering false need through advertising, packaging, and novelty. He writes about the manipulation required to create such needs and the abundance, waste, and planned obsolescence that keeps the cycle moving (Kateb, 1970). The administered society is every bit as sedated and cut off from history as Huxley's Brave New World. It is difficult to read Marcuse and not associate his idea of false needs back to Huxley's soma.
Marcuse's administered society is driven by the market forces within the consumer capitalism, which he refers to as technological rationality (Marcuse, 1991). Technological rationality is a form of instrumental rationality that is based on organizational goals. Technological rationality focuses on the "how" aspect of problem solving rather than addressing whether an action is right or just. Technological rationality does not need to be centrally managed. In fact what makes it so unnerving is that the same forces that brought an end to totalitarianism through the free market and technology can be every bit as authoritarian and, due to their dispersed nature, held less accountable. Where Huxley saw a centralized administration managing a mass of contented citizens, Marcuse saw market forces managing a mass of contented consumers.
Perhaps the greatest influence on Marcuse was from his Frankfurt School predecessors Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. Like Marcuse, Adorno and Horkheimer worried about how technology served the forces of domination. Unlike Marcuse, their focus was on totalitarian and fascist regimes. In their book, Dialectic of Enlightenment, Adorno and Horkheimer make the case that the rationality of the Enlightenment combined with nationalism will over time revert to a form of myth built on all sorts of superstition and popular misunderstandings. One of the dynamics that made the rise of this type of reasoning possible was the development of popular culture. Radio, "pulp" paperback novels, and popular music all feed the beast. These types of popular culture (referred to as the cultural industry) did more to close off the mind than open it. Additionally, radio and printed matter could be used by fascist regimes to manipulate the minds that were already open to these forms of popular culture (Adorno & Horkheimer, 1972). It was the idea that culture played a significant role in the manipulation of the masses that Marcuse adopted.
Once again, while his predecessors feared the centralized manipulation of the masses (this being reflective of totalitarian regimes of their era), Marcuse focused his critique on consumer capitalism. Leveraging the concept of the cultural industry, Marcuse developed an idea of administration that included a dispersed form of coercion that conveys one dimensional language to negate dialectical rationality and replaces the true needs for a more free society with false, manufactured needs. The dominating forces in society were as much cultural as they were market or government driven. Alongside laws were the pressures to live and look a certain way. The effect on the market place of goods was that individuals set aside the pursuit of true needs for a freer and better society in pursuit of the next model of a certain car or the latest fashion. The effect on the marketplace of ideas was that corporations and governing bodies learned to leverage the tools of the cultural industry to negate criticism and dialectic rationality. The result was mass contentment through one-dimensional rationality.
When writing about labor, Marcuse consistently utilized the language of dominance and oppression in his writings. This was not unusual among critical theorists who addressed social issues by leveraging the terms and concepts of Karl Marx. However, when Marcuse turned his focus to the greater society he employed the language of dominance and repression. These terms and concepts were derived from another influential psychological theorist, Sigmund Freud. In Eros and Civilization Marcuse looked to extend his concept of the administered society through the exploration of sex and the idea of freedom. Marcuse's basic...
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