Last updated: 23 December 1998
The elimination of transitive meaning has remained a feature of empirical
Where these reduced (operational - E.W.) concepts govern the analysis
of the human reality, individual or social, mental or material, they arrive
at a false concreteness - a concreteness isolated from the conditions which
constitute its reality. In this context, the operational treatment of the
concept assumes a political function. The individual and his behavior are
analyzed in a therapeutic sense - adjustment to his society. Thought and
expression, theory and practice are to be brought in line with the facts
of his existence without leaving room for the conceptual critique of these
The society which projects and undertakes the technological transformation
of nature alters the base of domination by gradually replacing personal
dependence (of the slave on the master, the serf on the lord of the manor,
the lord on the donor of the fief, etc.) with dependence on the "objective
order of things" (on economic laws, the market, etc.).
Nature, scientifically comprehended and mastered, reappears in the technical
apparatus of production and destruction which sustains and improves the
life of the individuals while subordinating them to the masters of the
Observation and experiment, the methodical organization and coordination
of data, propositions, and conclusions never proceed in an unstructured,
neutral, theoretical space. The project of cognition involves operations
on objects, or abstractions from objects which occur in a given universe
of discourse and action. Science observes, calculates, and theorizes from
a position in this universe.
... all cognitive concepts have a transitive meaning: they go beyond
descriptive reference to particular facts.
If the linguistic behavior blocks conceptual development, if it militates
against abstraction and mediation, if it surrenders to the immediate facts,
it repels recognition of the factors behind the facts, and thus repels
recognition of the facts, and of their historical content. In and for the
society, this organization of functional discourse is of vital importance;
it serves as a vehicle of coordination and subordination. The unified,
functional language is an irreconcilably anti-critical and anti-dialectical
language. In it, operational and behavioral rationality absorbs the transcendent,
negative, oppositional elements of Reason.
The abbreviations (e.g. NATO, UN, USSR - E.W.) denote that and only
that which is institutionalized in such a way that the transcending connotation
is cut off. The meaning is fixed, doctored, loaded. Once it has become
an official vocable, constantly repeated in general usage, "sanctioned"
by the intellectuals, it has lost all cognitive value and serves merely
for recognition of an unquestionable fact.
The functional language is a radically anti-historical language: operational
rationality has little room and little use for historical reason.
"Concept" is taken to designate the mental representation
of something that is understood, comprehended, known as the result of a
process of reflection.
This (functional - E.W.) language controls by reducing the linguistic
forms and symbols of reflection, abstraction, development, contradiction;
by substituting images for concepts. It denies or absorbs the transcendent
vocabulary; it does not search for but establishes and imposes truth and
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, behavior, 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 behavior, his understanding, the formation
and range of his concepts.
The disharmony between the individual and 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).
Critical thought strives to define the irrational character of the established
rationality (which becomes increasingly obvious) and to define the tendencies
which cause this rationality to generate its own transformation.
At its most advanced stage, domination functions as administration,
and in the overdeveloped areas of mass consumption, the administered life
becomes the good life of the whole, in the defense of which the opposites
If the completion of the technological project involves a break with
the prevailing technological rationality, the break in turn depends on
the continued existence of the technical base itself. For it is this base
which has rendered possible the satisfaction of needs and the reduction
of toil - it remains the very base of all forms of human freedom. The qualitative
change rather lies in the reconstruction of this base - that is, in its
development with a view of different ends.
Multi-dimensional language is made into one-dimensional language, in
which different and conflicting meanings no longer interpenetrate but are
kept apart; the explosive historical dimension of meaning is silenced.
The social position of the individual and his relation to others appear
to be determined by objective qualities and laws, but these qualities and
laws seem to lose their mysterious and uncontrollable character; they appear
as calculable manifestations of (scientific) rationality. The world tends
to become the stuff of total administration, which absorbs even the administrators.
The rational society subverts the idea of Reason.
Under the repressive conditions in which men think and live, thought
- any mode of thinking which is not confined to pragmatic orientation within
the status quo - can recognize the facts and respond to the facts only
by "going behind" them. Experience takes place before a curtain
which conceals and, if the world is the appearance of something behind
the curtain of immediate experience, then, in Hegel's terms, it is we ourselves
who are behind the curtain. We ourselves not as the subjects of common
sense, as in linguistic analysis, nor as the "purified" subjects
of scientific measurement, but as the subjects and objects of the historical
struggle of man with nature and with society. Facts are what they are as
occurrences in this struggle. Their factuality is historical, even where
it is still that of brute, unconquered nature.
Society is indeed the whole which exercises its independent power over
the individuals, and this Society is no unidentifiable "ghost".
It has its empirical hard core in the system of institutions, which are
the established and frozen relationships among men.
The trouble is that the statistics, measurements, and field studies
of empirical sociology and political science are not rational enough. They
become mystifying to the extent to which they are isolated from the truly
concrete context which makes the facts and determines their function. This
context is larger and other than that of the plants and shops investigated,
of the town and cities studied, of the areas and groups whose public opinion
is polled or whose chance of survival is calculated. And it is also more
real in the sense that it creates and determines the facts investigated,
polled, and calculated. This real context in which the particular subjects
obtain their real significance is definable only within a theory of society.
The impact of progress turns Reason into submission to the facts of
life, and to the dynamic capability of producing more and bigger facts
of the same sort of life.
Indeed, in the most highly developed areas of contemporary society,
the transplantation of social into individual needs is so effective that
the difference between them seems to be purely theoretical.
Technological rationality reveals its political character as it becomes
the great vehicle of better domination, creating a truely totalitarian
universe in which society and nature, mind and body are kept in a state
of permanent mobilization for the defense of this universe.
Domination is transfigured into administration. The capitalist bosses
and owners are losing their identity as responsible agents; they are assuming
the function of bureaucrats in a corporate machine.
To the extent to which the machine becomes itself a system of mechanical
tools and relations and thus extends far beyond the individual work process,
it asserts its larger domination by reducing the "professional autonomy"
of the laborer and integrating him with other professions which suffer
and direct the technical ensemble.
Free election of masters does not abolish the masters or the slaves.
Technology serves to institute new, more effective, and more pleasant
forms of social control and social cohesion.
Contemporary society seems to be capable of containing social change
- qualitative change which would estalish essentially different institutions,
a new direction of the productive process, new modes of human existence.
Under the conditions of a rising standard of living, non-conformity
with the system itself appears to be socially useless, and the more so
when it entails tangible economic and political disadvantages and threatens
the smooth operation of the whole.
To impose Reason upon an entire society is a paradoxical and scandalous
The government of advanced and advancing industrial societies can maintain
and secure itself only when it succeeds in mobilizing, organizing, and
exploiting the technical, scientific, and mechanical productivity available
to industrial civilization. And this productivity mobilizes society as
a whole, above and beyond any particular individual or group interest.
This society turns everything it touches into a potential source of
progress and exploitation, of drudgery and satisfaction, of freedom and
Sex is integrated into work and public relations and is thus made more
susceptible to (controlled) satisfaction.
Just as this society tends to reduce and even absorb opposition (the
qualitative difference!) in the realm of politics and higher culture, so
it does in the instinctual sphere. The result is the atrophy of the mental
organs for grasping the contradictions and the alternatives and, in the
one remaining dimension of technological rationality, the Happy Consciousness
comes to prevail.
Propositions assume the form of suggestive commands - they are evocative
rathern than demonstrative. Predication becomes prescription; the whole
communication has a hypnotic character. At the same time it is tinged with
a false familiarity - the result of constant repetition, and of the skillfully
managed popular directness of the communication. This relates itself to
the recipient immediately - without distance of status, education, and
office - and hits him or her in the informal atmosphere of the living room,
kitchen, and bedroom.
The unification of opposites which characterizes the commercial and
political style is one of the many ways in which discourse and communication
make themselves immune against the expression of protest and refusal.
The organism is thus being preconditioned for the spontaneous acceptance
of what is offered. Inasmuch as the greater liberty involves a contraction
rather than extension and development of instinctual needs, it works for
rather than against the status quo of general repression - one might speak
of "institutionalized desublimation". The latter appears to be
a vital factor in the making of the authoritarian personality of our time.
The growing productivity of labor creates an increasing surplus-product
which, whether privately or centrally appropriated and distributed, allows
an increased consumption - notwithstanding the increased diversion of productivity.
As long as this constellation prevails, it reduces the use-value of freedom;
there is no reason to insist on self-determination if the administered
life is the comfortable and even the "good" life. This is the
rational and material ground for the unification of opposites, for one-dimensional
The prospect of containment of change, offered by the politics of technological
rationality, depend on the prospects of the Welfare State. Such a state
seems capable of raising the standard of administered living, a capability
inherent in all advanced industrial societies where the streamlined technical
apparatus - set up as a separate power over and above the individuals -
depends for its functioning on the intensified development and expansion
of productivity. Under such conditions, decline of freedom and opposition
is not a matter of moral or intellectual deterioration or corruption. It
is rather an objective societal process insofar as the production and distribution
of an increasing quantity of goods and services make compliance a rational
If mass communications blend together harmoniously, and often unnoticeably,
art, politics, religion, and philosophy with commercials, they bring these
realms of culture to their common denominator - the commodity form. The
music of the soul is also the music of salesmanship. Exchange value, not
truth value counts.
Artistic alienation is sublimation. It creates the images of conditions
which are irreconcilable with the established Reality Principle but which,
as cultural images, become tolerable, even edifying and useful. Now this
imagery is invalidated. Its incorporation into the kitchen, the office,
the shop; its commercial release for business and fun is, in a sense, desublimation
- replacing mediated by immediate gratification.
In the realm of culture, the new totalitarianism manifests itself precisely
in a harmonizing pluralism, where the most contradictory works and truths
peacefully coexist in indifference.
Copyright © by Eberhard Wenzel, 1997-2001