AS REVOLUTIONARY OSTRICH
by Herbert Marcuse
". . . The Greening of America is the Establishment version of the great rebellion."
If you read a critical essay in The New Yorker, you can be reasonably sure of at least three things: 1) It is beautifully written; 2) it comes very close to the truth; 3) you are satisfied: no reason to get frightened, everything will be all right—or beyond your (and anybody else's) power.
Take as example the by now classical piece on "Hiroshima”: there is to my knowledge no better, no more moving description on what happened, and all this appears like a natural catastrophe, an earthquake, the last day of Pompeii—there is no evidence, no possibility of crime, of guilt, of resistance and refusal.
The most recent example is Charles A. Reich's long piece, The Greening of America, a condensation of the book with the same title. We should admire the sensitivity and good instincts of the editors: they must have realized immediately the vital importance of the piece. The opening sentences read as follows:
"There is a revolution under way. It is not like the revolutions of the past. It has originated with the individual and with culture, and if it succeeds, it will change the political structure only as its final act. It will not require violence to succeed, and it cannot be successfully resisted by violence."
HERBERT MARCUSE wrote Eros and Civilization and One Dimensional Man.
16 The Con III Controversy
So we are advised that we are in the middle of a revolution which is "spreading with amazing rapidity," and at the same time assured that there will be no violence.
If true, this revolution would indeed be very much unlike the revolutions of the past. All that has to happen (and it is already happening, according to Reich) is that more and more people develop a new consciousness (Consciousness III as contrasted with Consciousness I, corresponding to the early American tradition, and Consciousness II, corresponding to the "Corporate State"), with new values, new goals, a new sensitivity which reject the values and goals of the Corporate State—and the latter will collapse. There will be, there can be no resistance, for the people will just stop working, buying, selling, and they will have won. For the State is nothing but a machine, controlled by nobody, and if the machine is no longer tended to, it will stop.
Consciousness III is of course that of the young generation in rebellion against the Establishment. What are the new revolutionary values of the rebels? The author formulates them in three "commandments"; the first: "thou shall not do violence to thyself"; the second: "no one judges anyone else"; the third: "be wholly honest with others, use no other person as a means." The astonished reader might ask: What is revolutionary about these commandments which from the Bible to Kant and beyond have graced the sermons of the moralists?
In a sense, they are indeed present in "Consciousness III" but in a sense essentially different from the tradition which has professed and "sublimated" them so that they get along well with repression, misery, frustration. For the militant young, they are desublimated so that they are no longer compatible with repression, misery and frustration. They are a little less nonviolent: they presuppose the abolition of the established system of institutions, a new society, a new way of life.
For Reich, this is not really a serious problem. One day in the foreseeable future, men and women, boys and girls from all walks of life will have enough of the old, will
Short Takes 17
quit. And since there is "nobody in control," this will be it. Nobody in control of the armed forces, the police, the National Guard? Nobody in control of the outer space program, of the budget, the Congressional committees? There is only the machine being tended to? But the machine not only must be tended to, it must be designed, constructed, programed, directed. And there are very definite, identifiable persons, groups, classes, interests which do this controlling job, which direct the technical, economic, political machine for the society as a whole. They, not their machine, decided on life and death, war and peace—they set the priorities. They have all the power to defend it and it is not the power of the machine but over the machine: human power, political power.
Even granted that the dream comes true—is it conceivable that this will come about, all over the nation, spontaneously and at the same time? Without any form of preparation, organization, mobilization?
Violence is ingrained in this society: in its institutions, its language, its experience, its fun—violence of defense and violence of aggression. Nobody in his right mind would "advocate" violence: it is there. The task is to reduce it as much as is humanly and socially possible. But this goal cannot be attained by an ostrich policy.
Reich recognizes that the revolutionary changes to come will have a pattern very different from the preceding historical revolutions, that their scope and depth will be greater, that the traditional concepts do not suffice to understand the emerging radical forces. His analysis of the hippie subculture is sensitivealthough again much too sensitive—sentimental sublimation.
The best part is perhaps his picture of the Corporate State—not its evaluation. But all this is distorted by the false perspective, which transfigures social and political radicalism into moral rearmament. Notwithstanding its insights and critiques, The Greening of America is the Establishment version of the great rebellion.
SOURCE: Marcuse, Herbert. "Charles Reich as Revolutionary Ostrich," in The Con III Controversy: The Critics Look at The Greening of America, edited by Philip Nobile (New York: Pocket Books, 1971), pp. 15-17.
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