2. Leitmotiv

Fredy Perlman

“A «social scientist» is someone who is paid to defend this society’s myths. His defense mechanism, in its simplest formulation, runs approximately as follows. He begins by assuming that the society of his time and place is the only possible form of society; he then concludes that some other form of society is impossible. Unfortunately, the «social scientist» rarely admits his assumptions; he usually claims that he doesn’t make any assumptions. And it can’t be said that he’s lying outright: he usually takes his assumptions so much for granted that he doesn’t even know he’s making them.” (Perlman, Fredy (1992 [1968]), “Anything Can Happen”, in ______. Anything Can Happen. London: Phoenix Press, p. 10)

Herbert Marcuse

“(…) 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 towns 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. For the factors in the facts are not immediate data of observation, measurement, and interrogation. They become data only in an analysis which is capable of identifying the structure that holds together the parts and processes of society and that determines their interrelation.

To say that this meta-context is the Society (with a capital “S”) is to hypostatize the whole over and above the parts. But this hypostatization takes place in reality, is the reality, and the analysis can overcome it only by recognizing it and by comprehending its scope and its causes. 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. Abstraction from it falsifies the measurements, interrogations, and calculations—but falsifies them in a dimension which does not appear in the measurements, interrogations, and calculations, and which therefore does not conflict with them and does not disturb them. They retain their exactness, and are mystifying in their very exactness.” (Marcuse, Herbert (2007 [1964]), One-Dimensional Man. London and New York: Routledge, p. 195)

Max Horkheimer

“The hostility to theory as such which prevails in contemporary public life is really directed against the transformative activity associated with critical thinking. Opposition starts as soon as theorists fail to limit themselves to verification and classification by means of categories which are as neutral as possible, that is, categories which are indispensable to inherited ways of life. Among the vast majority of the ruled there is the unconscious fear that theoretical thinking might show their painfully won adaptation to reality to be perverse and unnecessary. Those who profit from the status quo entertain a general suspicion of any intellectual independence. The tendency to conceive theory as the opposite of a positive outlook is so strong that even the inoffensive traditional type of theory suffers from it at times. Since the most advanced form of thought at present is the critical theory of society and every consistent intellectual movement that cares about man converges upon it by its own inner logic, theory in general falls into disrepute. Every other kind of scientific statement which does not offer a deposit of facts in the most familiar categories and, if possible, in the most neutral form, the mathematical, is already accused of being theoretical.” (Horkheimer, Max (2002 [1937]), “Traditional and Critical Theory”, in ______. Critical Theory – Selected Essays. New York: Continuum, p. 232)

“ (…) in the transition from the present form of society to a future one mankind will for the first time be a conscious subject and actively determine its own way of life. (…) Indiscriminate hostility to theory, therefore, is a hindrance today. Unless there is continued theoretical effort, in the interest of a rationally organized future society, to shed critical light on present-day society and to interpret it in the light of traditional theories elaborated in the special sciences, the ground is taken from under the hope of radically improving human existence. The demand therefore for a positive outlook and for acceptance of a subordinate position threatens, even in progressive sectors of society, to overwhelm any openness to theory. The issue, however, is not simply the theory of emancipation; it is the practice of it as well.” (ibidem, p.233)

“(…) there is a human activity which has society itself for its object. The aim of this activity is not simply to eliminate one or other abuse, for it regards such abuses as necessarily connected with the way in which the social structure is organized. Although it itself emerges from the social structure, its purpose is not, either in its conscious intention or in its objective significance, the better functioning of any element in the structure. On the contrary, it is suspicious of the very categories of better, useful, appropriate, productive, and valuable, as these are understood in the present order, and refuses to take them as nonscientific presuppositions about which one can do nothing. The individual as a rule must simply accept the basic conditions of his existence as given and strive to fulfill them; he finds his satisfaction and praise in accomplishing as well as he can the tasks connected with his place in society and in courageously doing his duty despite all the sharp criticism he may choose to exercise in particular matters. But the critical attitude of which we are speaking is wholly distrustful of the rules of conduct with which society as presently constituted provides each of its members. The separation between individual and society in virtue of which the individual accepts as natural the limits prescribed for his activity is relativized in critical theory. The latter considers the overall framework which is conditioned by the blind interaction of individual activities (…) to be a function which originates in human action and therefore is a possible object of planful decision and rational determination of goals.” (ibidem, p. 206-207)

Theodor  W. Adorno 1

“The central issue is how to relate theory and practice in general. You said that the right theory wants what is right. We can go further than that. Firstly, we must say that thinking is a form of practice; when I think, I am doing something. Even the most rarefied form of mental activity contains an element of the practical. (…) Thinking is a form of behaviour that in a curious way has taken on the appearance of something in which human activity is not involved. (…) theory’s claim to be pure being, purified of action, has something of a delusion about it.” (Adorno, Theodor & Horkheimer, Max (2011 [1956]), Towards a New Manifesto. London: Verso, pp. 75-76)

“Practice is a rationally led activity; that leads ultimately back to theory. Practice is driven on to theory by its own laws. (…) That means that theory and practice cannot be separated. (…) For a form of behaviour to be practical I must reflect on something or other. If I have the concept of reflection, the concept of practice implicitly postulates that of theory. The two elements are truly separated from each other and inseparable at the same time. (…) What makes theory more than a mere instrument of practice is the fact that it reflects on itself, and in so doing it rescinds itself as mere theory.” (ibidem, pp. 94-95)

“Theory is already practice. And practice presupposes theory. Today, everything is supposed to be practice and at the same time, there is no concept of practice. We do not live in a revolutionary situation, and actually things are worse than ever.  The horror is that for the first time we live in a world in which we can no longer imagine a better one.” (ibidem, pp. 107-108)

“Precisely because of its exceptional status, theory is a kind of stand-in for happiness. The happiness that would be brought about by practice finds no correlative in today’s world apart from the behaviour of the man who sits in a chair and thinks. (…)  It is not true in so far as happiness is only thought and not real, but it is true in the sense that this exceptional status outside the realm of daily routine is a kind of substitute for happiness” (ibidem, pp. 79-80)

Theodor W. Adorno 2

“(…) there is no simple dichotomy between theory and practice. (…) It is quite certain that it would be a mistake to interpret the Feuerbach Theses as the expression of a purely practicistic view. What speaks against such a view is Marx’s criticism of the theory of absolute action, independent of theory, that he leveled at the various anarchist currents of his time, whose pure activism he equated with this lack of theory. (…) And when he says, ‘Hitherto the philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways’, what that ‘hitherto’ implies is not the renunciation of theory and the view that all we need to do is to wade in with our fists and there will be no more need for thought.” (Adorno, Theodor (2008 [1965/66]), Lectures on Negative Dialectics. Cambridge & Malden: Polity Press, p. 47)

“(…) there is a very great risk that the idea of practice will lead to a shackling of theory. By this I mean that ideas of all sorts are restricted by the insistence on the question ‘Yes, but what must I do in practice? What can I do with this idea?’ Or even, ‘If you think in this way, you will stand in the way of some possible practice or other.’ It is always happening that when you address the enormous barriers facing every conceivable political intervention stemming from the relations of production and the social institutions built around them (…), you instantly receive the reply ‘Yes, but…’, an objection that I regard as one of the greatest dangers in intellectual life. Indeed, how can we hope ever to get anywhere if we think in this way? We shall never be able to achieve anything since we shall be forced to sit around twiddling our thumbs!” (ibidem, p. 49)

“(…) interpretation is much the same as criticism; (…) there can really be no interpretation that is not critical interpretation – as opposed to affirmative interpretation. (…) without such an interpretation, that is, without a fully thought-out idea in control of itself, I believe that there can be no such thing as true practice.” (ibidem, p. 51)

“ (…) what I mean here by refusing to operate with the concept of practice, as many people do and as I am sure many of you do find tempting, is that I would not like to confuse practice with pseudo-activity. I would like to prevent you from becoming involved in this (…) in the hope that you will think these matters through yourselves; that you will not imagine that you are achieving anything essential if you become an ‘organizer’ – to use the term thought up in America to describe people who bring people together, organize them, agitate and do other things of this sort. In every activity, there has to be a relation to the relevance, the potential is contains. Nowadays especially, precisely because decisive activity is blocked and because (…) thinking itself has become paralyzed and impotent, chance practice has become a substitute for the things that do not happen. And the more people sense that this is not actually true practice, the more doggedly and passionately their minds become fixated on it. This explains why I wish to proclaim my reservations about those who are too quick to call for action, about the ‘passport inspectors’ who no longer ask every practice for its theoretical justification – which is certainly just as misguided – but, conversely, demand that every thought produces its visa: OK, but what can you do with it? My view is that such behavior impedes action instead of promoting it. And I would add that the possibility of a valid practice presupposes the full and undiminished awareness of the blockage of practice. If we measure thought immediately by its possible realization, the productive force of thinking will be shackled as a result. The only thought that can be made practical is the thought that it is not restricted in advance by the practice to which it is directly applied. So dialectical, in my view, is the relation between theory and practice.” (ibidem, pp. 53-54)


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