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Radicalization of Eros


Marx, like Fourier before him, denounced bourgeois marriage as a form of prostitution.  With financial considerations uppermost in their minds, middleclass men degraded affairs of sentiment by mixing them with motives of economic gain.  Bourgeois writers, for their part, considered Marx and Engels, along with other contemporary communists, as wild men who wanted to abolish the family and substitute for it perversions and promiscuity. 


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The bourgeois family becomes the most important ideological workshop of capitalism through the sexual repression it carries out.

TWENTIETH-CENTURY Marxists who sought to develop a critical concept of the family could find little help from the founders of socialism.  Marx himself wrote almost nothing on the family.  In the 1844 Manuscripts, and again a few years later in the Communist Manifesto, Marx, like Fourier before him, denounced bourgeois marriage as a form of prostitution.  With financial considerations uppermost in their minds, middleclass men degraded affairs of sentiment by mixing them with motives of economic gain.  Bourgeois writers, for their part, considered Marx and Engels, along with other contemporary communists, as wild men who wanted to abolish the family and substitute for it perversions and promiscuity.  In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels answered their critics:

Abolition of the family!  Even the most radical flare up at this infamous proposal of the Communists.  On what foundation is the present family, the bourgeois family, based?  On capital, on private gain.  In its completely developed form this family exists only among the bourgeoisie.  But this state of things finds its complement in the practical absence of the family among the proletarians, and in public prostitution.  The bourgeois family will vanish as a matter of course when its complement vanishes, and both will vanish with the vanishing of capital.[1]

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The important conclusion reached by Marx and Engels in this passage was that the family is epiphenomenal compared to the mode of production.  In general their writings relegated the family to the backwaters of the superstructure.[2]

Engels took off from this preconception and wrote in 1884 his well-known Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.  Based on Lewis Henry Morgan's evolutionary anthropology, Johann Bachofen's interpretation of matriarchy through myths, and Engels' own speculations, The Origin of the Family tied family history to economic history in a linear, causal relation.  Since Engels' book serves as the primer for Marxists on family theory we must explore its positions.

Bachofen's study of mythology, along with the work of Morgan on American Indians and the writings of other anthropologists, led Engels to conclude that the current form of the family was not, as most social commentators presumed, eternal and natural.  Instead, Engels contended, the family had a long and important history which had to be studied, a history which proved that patriarchy and monogamy were limited, relative social forms connected with fateful developments in the mode of production.  At stake in this history, according to Engels, was the subjugation of women at a specific stage in the evolutionary process and the connection of patriarchy with the origins of private property.  Whatever the defects of The Origin of the Family, Engels' application of the method of historical materialism to the family resulted in one of the earliest attempts to comprehend the family historically, removing the moral and ideological shrouds in which it had been hidden from serious investigation.

The important stages in family history took place, Engels wrote, well before the keeping of written records.  In the age of "savagery" group marriage predominated; then during " barbarism" a form of pairing became common.  The pivotal change occurred with the onset of "civilization": changes in property relations led to modern monogamy or "individual sex-love, which Engels, in agreement with liberal attitudes, viewed as the "greatest moral advance." Presupposing the primacy of the mode of production, Engels  argued that at  one point in the long  evolution of material progress women began to feel

44 Critical Theory of the Family

uncomfortable with group marriage, desiring monogamy for the same moral motives that obtained among Victorian bourgeois women.  This original "longing for chastity," a longing for which there is no evidence, led to women's one great historical act: a movement toward monogamy.

The reason Engels proposed why women and not men initiated the change to monogamy was simple: men, always more lustful than women to the Victorian Marxist, would never, even if their economic interests dictated it, give up group marriage.  In Engels' words, the "advance" to monogamy "could not in any case have originated with the men, if only because it has never occurred to them, even to this day, to renounce the pleasures of actual group marriage.  Only when the women had brought about the transition to pairing marriage were the men able to introduce strict monogamy though indeed only for women."[3]  Just as in Victorian ideology, women appear, in Engels' discourse, dominated and suppressed but acting toward the moral uplift of civilization, while the aggressive sexuality of the male appears as a constant in history.

In Engels' speculations "pairing" turned out to be a two-edged sword: in one direction, it cut toward moral advance; in the other, however, it opened the way for men to pursue their nefarious property interests and subjugate women even more deeply.  Up to this point, society, Engels' implausibly asserts, was matriarchal.  The turn to patriarchy began when men, now paired with women, decided to protect their property by insuring the line of inheritance.  Thus men overthrew matriarchy for economic reasons to achieve undisputed paternity.  Consequently Engels reduces the most profound change in family structure to the mode of production.

From this legendary point in the past up to some future date when socialism would arrive, nothing much happened in Engels' account of family history.  The patriarchal family continued to suppress women for economic reasons, yielding men a secondary benefit through the double standard of sexual conduct.  History would stagnate forever 

45 The Radicalization of Eros

in this in this degrading morass except for the onset of industrialization.  In his haste to analyze modern capitalism, Engels failed to note the important role women played in the old regime.  He wrote, "Not until the coming of modern large-scale industry was the road to social production opened to her again--and then only to the proletarian wife."[4]  The full emancipation of women, Engels predicted, will be achieved with the construction of socialism because then women will be allowed to work.  "The first condition for the liberation of the wife is to bring the whole female sex back into industry, and . . . this in turn demands the abolition of the monogamous family as the economic unit of society."[5]  With women working, the evils of male supremacy--prostitution, the double standard, and so forth-will automatically disappear.  Under socialism what will emerge to replace the old exploitative relations will be nothing other than "mutual affection." Socialism will realize for the first time what the middle classes always wanted: monogamy without economic compulsion.

The Origin of the Family, although sensitive to the issue of male supremacy, applies Marx's model of base and superstructure in a crude and speculative manner.  Engels has not provided an adequate concept of family structure, nor anything like an accurate outline of the history of the family.  Changes in family pattern are encompassed totally within and explained by changes in the mode of production.  Anything that does not fit this pattern is overlooked and omitted.  We must grant, however, that Engels was working with an undeveloped science of anthropology and almost no historical research on family history.  Even so, he suppresses the major issues that might flow from an adequate theory of family structure and a developed family history.  For instance, we know now that a socialist revolution does not lead directly to the emancipation of women.  Hence changes in family structure are not always the direct result of changes in ownership of the means of production.  Research has also shown  that the middle-class  nuclear family arose before industrialization[6] and that the  early  stages of industrializa- 

46 Critical Theory of the Family

tion did not witness a nuclear family pattern among the proletariat.[7]  Engels' test of the materialist hypothesis of base and superstructure on the history of the family proves by its limitations that Marxists need to develop a critical theory of family structure to account for the disjuncture between family and economy.  Among European Marxists in the twentieth century interesting efforts in the direction of a theory of the family took the form of trying to synthesize the positions of Marx and Freud.[8]

Wilhelm Reich, at one time both a psychoanalyst and a communist was the first to attempt seriously a synthesis of Freud and Marx, and on this basis to sketch a new theory of the family.  Within the psychoanalytic movement, Reich's most important book, Character Analysis, reconceptualized the ego as a product of defenses or armoring against instinctual impulses.  The individual's character structure, his typical modes of emotional behavior, were not to be understood as the negative product of sexual repression.  Even the "normal" ego was to Reich a crippling and destructive agent of repression.  Neurotic symptoms were only an extreme form of a general incapacity for healthy sexuality.  "The character consists in a chronic alteration of the ego which one might describe as a rigidity. . ."[9]  According to Reich, character armor was determined by the family.  In a family typified by a negative sexual morality, the child handled sexual repression by erecting an ego or personality which was designed to prevent full gratification of the instincts.

As a Marxist, Reich sought to relate his theory of character structure and sexual economy to social conditions.  In Dialectical Materialism and Psychoanalysis (1929), the most important early effort to synthesize Marx and Freud,[10]  Reich argued that psychoanalysis, a fully "dialectical" science, could make important contributions to Marxism.  Freud's radical credentials were won for Reich by his critique of religion and morality, his destruction of the illusion of individual autonomy, his theory of the sexual instincts which supplemented Marx's theory of the nutritive instincts, and his ability to explain  regressive  ideology and politics.   In sum,  psychoanalytic   theory  was  able to 

47 The Radicalization of Eros

show concretely how ideas (the superstructure) were not the direct expression of material conditions but were transformed in and mediated by the family.[11]  In the 1930s Reich believed in the importance of politicizing sexual and family life.  He wanted to show how they are the indirect result of class society and how as structures they act in relative autonomy to bolster capitalism.  He did not believe that sexual liberation and the abolition of the nuclear family could precede the economic revolution.  By the 1940s, however, he had reversed himself and then maintained that in the timetable of revolution sexual liberation had to come before socialism or the consequence would be repressive, bureaucratic Bolshevism.

Dialectical Materialism and Psychoanalysis fostered the hope that Marxism would find in Freud's writings a valuable theory of sexual repression.  Freud's notion of the Oedipus complex, Reich contended, needed only to be "translated into the language of sociology" in order to become a critical theory of the family.  Freud had merely neglected to see that the parents who structured the child's experience were agents of society and were themselves determined by their social class.  Reich adjusted psychoanalysis to Marxism as follows:

For the child, the family---which is saturated with the ideologies of society, and which, indeed, is the ideological nucleus of society-is temporarily, before he becomes engaged in the production process, the representative of society as a whole.  The Oedipus relationship not only comprises instinctual attitudes: the manner in which a child experiences and overcomes his Oedipus complex is indirectly conditioned both by the general social ideology and by the parents' position in the production process; furthermore, the Oedipus complex itself, like everything else, depends ultimately on the economic structure of society.  More, the fact itself that an Oedipus complex occurs at all must be ascribed to the socially determined structure of the family.[12]
Freudo-Marxism thus began by historicizing the conceptual framework of psychoanalysis.

If, in Reich's reading, psychoanalysis benefited from Marxism, which specified the social context of psychic phenomena, so Marxism would benefit from the use of Freud. 

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For example, when working-class women, Reich conjectured, voted for fascists and could not be dissuaded by rational argument that their politics contradicted their economic interests, then there was a case for psychoanalytic interpretation, that of authoritarian ideology determined by psychic resistance.  The key to such "irrational" behavior lay in an unconscious fear of authority that was related to sexual repression during childhood.  The connection Reich drew between authority in the family, sexual repression and ideological conservatism was the most seminal fruit of his Freudo-Marxism.  Before we can see how this nexus of ideas was used by Reich and by the Frankfurt School in the analysis of fascism, we must turn to Reich's general theory of the family as elaborated in The Imposition of Sexual Morality (1932).

In this essay Reich formulated a psychoanalytic supplement to Engels' Origin of the Family by tracing the evolution of family structures in relation to changing economic systems.  According to Reich it was not enough to postulate that the family was determined by the economy; it was necessary also to account for sexual repression itself.  In addition to the anthropological theories of Morgan and Bachofen, Reich, writing in the 1930s, could avail himself of the writings of Bronislaw Malinowski, perhaps the leading ethnologist of his day.  The study of the Trobriand Islanders convinced Malinowski that a matriarchal, sexually unrestricted society had preceded patriarchal capitalism.  Like Engels, Reich located the key to human evolution in the change from matriarchal communism to patriarchal capitalism.  Malinowski's Trobrianders provided crucial evidence indicating that alterations in the circulation of the dowry by which the chief could accumulate vast amounts of property was the decisive step in the change to patriarchy.  Once dowries flowed to the chief it became of absolute significance to him to insure his line of inheritance.  Needing to be certain of his male heirs, the chief instituted a strict control of women and hence monogamous, patriarchal  marriage began.[13]  Reich's  evolutionary  theory was confirmed by fact that the Trobrianders only restricted 

49 The Radicalization of Eros

the Trobrianders only restricted the sexual life of those adolescents who were involved in the inheritance of the chief's property.  Other children remained in the matriarchal system of sexual affirmation and freedom.

With capitalism and sexual repression so neatly tied together, Reich was able to develop a Marxist family theory that was superior to that of Engels.  While Engels called for socialism to liberate monogamy from patriarchy, Reich saw monogamy itself as a source of sexual repression.  Instituted to insure the male's economic dominance, monogamy and the negative sexual morality connected with it were themselves agents of sexual repression.  Originally economic in its motive, monogamy developed, claimed Reich, into an independent source of repression.  Thus the Freudo-Marxist reading of history led to the call for the abolition of the monogamous family as the key to the liberation of women, children and sexuality in general.  Reich proclaimed: "It is only the private enterprise form of society which has an interest in sexual repression, and which requires it for the maintenance of two of its basic institutions, the permanent monogamous marriage and the patriarchal family."[14]

Reich was unclear about the precise mechanisms of family structure which generated sexual repression.  At times he put the fault with parental negative attitudes to sex;[15] at other times with the institutionof "marriage and the family."[16]  Such ambivalence on his part leads one to suspect that he had not adequately conceptualized family structure.  Additionally, he restricted the scope of the question far too much by limiting the discussion to sexual freedom.  For if sexual freedom denotes unrestricted instinctual expression, it is clear that such an ideal is impossible.  Every society shapes bodily energies from the start of life and hence "represses sexuality." Reich postulated a false naturalism of instincts, assuming that they were complete before social existence begins.  Instead of providing clear criteria to analyze the family structures of different classes at different times, Reich, like Engels, gave only a simplified sketch of the alteration from matriarchy  to patriarchy, a shift that is  much too broad to be of value.  The decisive


50 Critical Theory of the Family

change in his schema occurred in prehistory, was based on the scantiest evidence, and did not ask the important questions about family structure and patriarchy in modern times.  These weaknesses in Reich's arguments became manifest in his effort to explain fascism psychologically.

Reich's analysis of fascism will have to demonstrate that there is an important difference between the working class and the bourgeoisie regarding sexual repression.  Only by doing so can the historian differentiate by social class the sources of support and opposition to fascism.  Working-class sexuality, according to Reich's theory, must be less repressive, since property is not at stake.  In order to examine degrees of repression, one must have a clear notion of family structure.  And here Reich's argument stops.  Although attractive at first reading, Reich's Mass Psychology of Fascism fails ultimately to explain why fascism should arise and become successful in one time and place and not another.

The problem begins with Reich's definition of fascism.  He related it to an authoritarian family structure, claiming that severe parental repression of infantile sexuality leads to a character armoring which in turn prepares the child for later appeals from authoritarian politicians.  The authoritarian father in the patriarchal family deforms the child's emotional needs in such a way that the person, once grown up, has deep feelings of helplessness which can be played upon by authoritarian propaganda.  Sexually repressed individuals believe in duty and obedience and are open to, for instance, Hitler's appeals.  In this way, Reich defines fascism as "the organized political expression of the structure of the average man's character?Fascist mentality is the mentality of the 'little man', who is enslaved and craves authority and is at the same time rebellious . . . "[17]

In the mid-1930S many Marxists were at pains to explain the rise of fascism.  Apparently capitalism was moving backwards, from the formal democracy of liberalism to the police states of Mussolini and Hitler.  Marx's formula for analyzing history implied  that Germany,  the most advanced  European  capitalist  society  with  the most 

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class-conscious and organized proletariat, should, with the onset of the depression in 1929, be ripe for socialist revolution.  Instead Germany was fleeing from freedom.  How could the dialectic fail to move forward?  Reich's analysis of voting patterns in the early 1930s indicated that some workers were open to the appeals of reaction.  Many Marxists evaded the question by blaming the leadership of German social democracy for the rise of Hitler.  Reich at least was more rigorous, calling for an explanation of how a revolutionary situation could result in the political success of a reactionary ideology.  Either Marx was wrong that the mode of production determined class relations or something had intervened between the depression and the rise of the proletariat.  The intervening variables to Reich were sexual repression and the authoritarian family.

Fascism was made possible, in Reich's perspective, by the lag of ideology behind the economic structure.  Ideology, in turn, was retarded by the persistence of old family patterns and therefore of old psychic structures.  Specifically, the middle-class patriarchal family had remained unaltered for "thousands of years." In this family structure, everyone worked in the retail store or on the farm.  The father therefore had an economic base and also the authority for subjecting his wife and children to extreme forms of repression.[18]  In addition, the precarious financial situation of the petite bourgeois family led it to differentiate itself from social inferiors precisely by its "sexual modes of life." The bourgeois wanted to appear "morally superior" to the worker.  This combination of sexual repression and authoritarianism produced among the children a subservient attitude to authority in general.  "The compulsion to control one's sexuality, to maintain sexual repression, leads to the development of pathologic, emotionally tinged notions of honor and duty, bravery and self-control."[19]  If all of this was true of the middle class, one would still have to explain how the working class was  different.  Were  not working-class fathers also  repressive  and authoritarian?  At this point Reich's 

52 Critical Theory of the Family

argument faltered.  He gave several explanations for an alleged difference in working-class family structure, none of which is convincing.  First, he claimed that workers identify with their skills, while middle-class men identify with their superiors.  Workers are thus less ready to respect authority.[20]  Next, he acknowledged that workers repress their children.  But unlike workers, the middle-class father, he wrote, "only represses sexuality," surely a fanciful claim.  At other points, however, Reich asserted the opposite position, that is, that workers in the twentieth century, with higher living standards, have adopted bourgeois views and hence have family structures similar to the bourgeoisie.[21]  But if the latter claim is correct, it is no longer possible to differentiate psychologically the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.  In sum, Reich was not able to explain class differences in psychological terms because he did not properly define the structural categories of the family.  His account of family history on the basis of sexual repression and patriarchal authority is not developed in enough detail.

Reich's proposed synthesis of Marx and Freud met with approval neither from orthodox Marxists nor orthodox Freudians.  The Freudians were disturbed by his explicit sexual radicalism; the Marxist parties had rejected Freud as an example of bourgeois degeneracy.[22]  The Marxists were perhaps bothered less by Reich's theory than by the Sexpol movement he established to promote the sexual and mental health of workers and young people.  For Reich took his Marxist psychology seriously and sought a solution in practice to the problem of the class consciousness of the proletariat.  "We persist in believing that the fundamental problem of a correct psychological doctrine is not why a hungry man steals but the exact opposite: Why doesn't he steal?"[23]  For an answer Reich brought the insights of Freud directly to the working class, hoping thereby to liberate their sexuality and hence to extricate them from subservient attitudes to authority.  Such a direct attack on family life was unacceptable to Social Democrats and Communists.  Tampering with "respectable" family life was henceforth banished from Marxist "revolutionary" movements. 

53 The Radicalization of Eros

Three years after the appearance of Mass Psychology of Fascism, the Frankfurt School Marxists published Studien über Autorität und Familie (1936), a massive collective work which also sought to explain the rise of fascism.  In general the intellectual work of the Frankfurt School, stemming from the experience of European fascism, was devoted to the comprehension of contemporary culture.  Marxism as presented by the German Social Democrats and the Russian communists relied too heavily, they thought, on the concept of the mode of production.[24]  Twentieth-century capitalism required new conceptual tools, ones that could account for the failure of the Western European proletariat to revolt.  Marxists would have to show, they asserted, how ideological, cultural and psychological factors intervened to deflect workers' class consciousness from the goal of socialism.[25]

The rise of authoritarianism in Europe was best explained, the Frankfurt School thought, by turning to Freud's theory of psychoanalysis.  Studies on Authority and the Family relied throughout on Freudian concepts to account for the psychological needs which authoritarian politics apparently fulfilled for the masses.  Erich Fromm, a psychoanalyst and a member of the Frankfurt School in the late 1920s and the 1930s, directed the empirical research of the project and contributed a long theoretical section. which sought to synthesize Freud and Marx much in the manner of Wilhelm Reich.[26]  Although Fromm's contribution deserves attention since it was informed by a sophisticated use of Freudian theory, I will limit my analysis to Horkheimer's essay in Studies because it more clearly manifests the strengths and weaknesses of the Frankfurt School's concept, of the family. [27]

Max Horkheimer, the director of the Frankfurt School, explained how the concept of the family fit into Marx's theory of society.  To begin with, "cultural spheres could not be explained solely by economic events." [28] One must look instead to the family to understand why men behave as they do. The family for Horkheimer was the all-impor- 

54 Critical Theory of the Family

tant mediator between ,the individual and society.  This way of conceptualizing the family was, for the Frankfurt School, the key to unlock Marxism from the prison house of economic determinism.  As we shall see, such a solution of the theoretical difficulties of Marxism does not provide an adequate basis for a theory of the family.  In fact, Horkheimer's strategy resembles closely that of Talcott Parsons.  In Frankfurt School writings the family tends to appear as little more than a conservative socializing agency.  As Horkheimer contends, "The family has a very special place among the relationships which through conscious and unconscious mechanisms influence the psychic character of the vast majority of men . . . The family . . . sees to it that the kind of human character emerges which social life requires . . . "[29]

Unlike Parsons, Horkheimer and, the Frankfurt School were critical of the element of domination in the family.  As a theory of human emancipation, Frankfurt School Marxism sought to unearth the root of psychic oppression in the family.  In Horkheimer's lament, the despair of women and children, the deprivation of any happiness in life, the material and psychic exploitation consequent upon the economically based hegemony of the father have weighed mankind down no less in recent centuries than in antiquity . . . "[30]  The family for him was a center of domination which brutalized children in preparation for their submissive acceptance of class society.  "The child's self-will is to be broken, and the innate desire for free development of his drives and potentialities is to be replaced by an internalized compulsion toward the unconscious fulfillment of duty.  Submission to the categorical imperative of duty has been from the beginning a conscious goal of the bourgeois family."[31]  Horkheimer postulated a natural freedom which was then destroyed in the family.

The central mechanism in the family which crushes freedom is the authority of the father over his sons.  Of all family relationships, that of father to son is the only one taken seriously by Horkheimer and the Frankfurt School.  In this respect they perpetuate 

55 The Radicalization of Eros

a certain masculine blindness which was characteristic of Freud.[32]  Like Reich, Horkheimer adds an economic dimension to Freud's view of parent-child relations: "Sons and daughters of bourgeois families learned that the fulfillment of all wishes depends in reality on money and position."[33]  Horkheimer's general critique of patriarchal authority hardly accounts for the specific authority and psychic structure of the bourgeoisie.  Like Reich again, his attempt to correlate class structure and psychic structure was not successful.

In trying to account for the class nature of psychic structure Horkheimer only found the same repressive authority everywhere.  Working-class psychology was as authoritarian as that of the bourgeoisie.  Yet he insisted that authoritarianism stemmed exclusively from the bourgeois family: "The impulse to submission, however, is not a timeless drive, but a phenomenon emerging essentially from the limited bourgeois family."[34]  After showing how the bourgeois family in particular was so perfectly geared to the suppression of sexuality, he reported lamely that in times of prosperity the working class had simply adopted the bourgeois family model.  Even if this were so, it could not be maintained that working-class families, untainted by bourgeois models, were less rife with authoritarianism.  And surely aristocratic families were as patriarchal as any other. Horkheimer and the Marxists were right to turn to class in order to provide the social basis of Freudian theory, but it is necessary to specify the precise interactional structures and conditions which account for the psychic structure of each class.

Horkheimer did not adequately conceptualize the conditions for the development of submissive personality types.  At one point he explained them through the dominance and repressiveness of the father; at another 'point he stated that the degree of permissiveness is not the real issue.  Instead what matters is the unconscious structure of the family: "The decisive thing here is not whether coercion or kindness marked the child's education, since the child's character is formed far more by the very structure of 

56 Critical Theory of the Family

the family than by the conscious intentions and methods of the father."[35]  Yet we had earlier quoted Horkheimer's claim, in the same essay, that bourgeois fathers were totally conscious of their tactic of repression.  In attempting to account for the precise family mechanism of personality formation, he ends up with a bundle of contradictory statements.  The father is conscious and unconscious, repressive and permissive; working-class families are like bourgeois families and they are different.

Horkheimer's difficulties in conceptualizing the family difficulties which characterize the Frankfurt School in general--derive in part from an improper concept of freedom or emancipation which is defined as the autonomy of the individual.  Because Horkheimer relied on a notion of individual autonomy, he could not define properly the nature of the social interactions in the family through which the psyche is formed, and he could not define clearly the nature of the authoritarianism that he wanted to criticize and overcome.

To begin with, Horkheimer assumed in 1936 that patriarchal authority could not be eliminated and that the problem centered on the degree to which the larger society reinforced that authority: "It makes a difference whether this coercion is the spontaneous reflection in the father-son relationship of the prevailing social contradictions or proves rather to be a provisional relationship which is eliminated as the individual grows and moves out into the larger society."[36]  At this point Horkheimer has given up an argument for the significance of the family in the problem of mass psychology.  In democratic society presumably the " bad" experience of authority in the family can be overcome during adulthood.  The hub of the seeming contradiction lies in Horkheimer's reliance on traditional rationalism.  In adulthood reason for him works against the submissive instincts formed in children, and the individual can assume full autonomy.  In the 1936 essay, Horkheimer's individualism appeared in his definition of authority.  He states: "Authority is the ground for a blind and slavish submission which originates subjective- 

57 The Radicalization of Eros

ly in psychic inertia and inability to make one's own decisions . . . "[37]  With this individualist-rationalist norm of autonomy, Frankfurt School theories of the family were unable to revise Freud's concept of the family in the direction of critical social theory.

By the 1950s Horkheimer's essays on the family revealed a limitation in Frankfurt School social theory.  In the later period the critique of culture became a tirade against mass society with strong elitist implications.  The paean of individual autonomy became more strident and the proletariat no longer appeared as the historical agent of emancipation. Looking back to classical capitalism of the nineteenth century, Horkheimer no longer saw the bourgeois family as the source of authoritarianism.  Quite the reverse: the bourgeois patriarchal father has now become the bastion of freedom and individual autonomy:

In that earlier day the father was in large measure a free man . . . He became for his child an example of autonomy, resoluteness, self-command, and breadth of mind.  For his own sake he required of his child truthfulness and diligence, reliability and intellectual alertness, love of freedom and discretion, until these attitudes having been internally assimilated by the child, became the normative voice of the latter's own conscience and eventually, in the conflicts of puberty, set him at odds with his father.  Today the child is much more directly thrown upon society . . . and the result is a human being cast in a different mold.  As interiority has withered away, the joy of making personal decisions, of cultural development and of the free exercise of imagination has gone with it.[38]
Paradoxically, Horkheimer had not changed that much: for the punitive super-ego he now substitutes the benevolent ego-ideal.  In both cases the fault with the analysis lies with the notion of individual autonomy.  In the 1930s this was threatened by fascism; in the 1960s the danger lay in "mass society." In fact, family structure was never really conceptualized at all: the family played a role for Horkheimer, shifting with the exigencies of his argument, in defending his perfectly un-Marxist and un-Freudian concept of individual autonomy.  In one place the father appeared as the source of authoritarianism, in   another as  the basis  of  freedom--in   either   case it  is  a question 

58 Critical Theory of the Family

of the father and that is the problem.

The other major figure in the Frankfurt School to develop a Freudo-Marxist concept of the family is Herbert Marcuse.  Marcuse's contribution to Studies on Authority and the Family was an intellectual history of the idea of authority.[39]  It was not until the mid-1950s, with Eros and Civilization, that Marcuse dealt systematically with the problem of Freud.  In this book, Marcuse was consistent with the earlier positions of Horkheimer and Fromm in Studies.

The claim of Eros and Civilization is that Freud's theory already contains the elements for a Marxist theory of the psyche.  Marcuse argued that Freud's original instinct theory is genuinely materialist, while those who sociologize Freud, like Erikson and the ego psychologists, disavow the instinct theory and, intentionally or not, transform psychoanalysis into a conservative doctrine.[40]  To find a radical Freud one need only study dialectically the ways in which civilization comes into conflict with eros.  To Marcuse, Wilhelm Reich had not accomplished this task because he saw sexual liberation as a total cure for social ills and because he neglected the "historical dynamic of the sex instincts and of their fusion with the destructive impulses."[41]

Marcuse uncovered the radical core in Freud first by making some important distinctions.  He relativized Freud's reality principle, through which the ego finds limits in the world to which it must adjust both the demands of the id and the strictures of the super-ego, by specifying its current capitalist configuration as a "performance principle."[42]  The limits imposed on the ego by society now are defined by the Promethean imperative to achieve and produce.  The notion of the performance principle leads to a second distinction, one between the level of instinctual repression necessary to any-social system and the extra degree of repression required by authoritarian institutions.  Social relations characterized by domination, Marcuse contends, call forth a "surplus-repression," a degree of repression which is not determin- 

59 The Radicalization of Eros

ed by the requirements of psychic development itself.  Fromm argues [43] that Marcuse here confused social oppression with intrapsychic repression.  Yet surely there is some relation between, for example, the strictness of toilet training and the separate but related defenses in the child against instinctual enjoyment of the anus.  Social forms of repression may be distinct in kind from psychic repression, but the two are interrelated.  Freud agreed with Marcuse's position, since he attributed a "high water mark of repression" to the demands of contemporary civilization.

In the argument for instinctual liberation Marcuse went beyond Reich in specifying certain aspects of instinctual life as the source of revolt, of the negative dialectic.  Marcuse discovered the realm of fantasy, of childhood memories as expressions of the instincts that return inexorably to haunt the stability of adult psychic armoring.  In activities of playful fantasy, the individual regresses to early memories.  The importance of fantasy to Marcuse was that it alone is beyond the governance of the reality principle.  The problem is not simply as Reich thought that instincts were curbed and needed to be unshackled; this "naturalism" of the instincts does not reach Freud's critical insight.  Instead, for Marcuse, imagination and fantasy are restored by Freud to an independent status, one of eternal opposition to social repressions.  Regressive fantasies have, he asserted, a progressive side.  They enable the individual to imagine a utopia, a world beyond contemporary psychic discontents.  Marcuse writes, "Against a society which employs sexuality as means for a useful end, the perversions uphold sexuality as an end in itself; they thus place themselves outside the domination of the performance principle and challenge its very foundation."[44]  Paradoxically, the path to progressive liberation is strewn with oral and anal perversions.  In fantasy, the gates are unlocked that lead down and back toward the wonderful cellar, polymorphous perversion.  Marcuse's peculiar strategy is to find sources of revolution in the most unlikely places.  In Freudian terms, however, it is not true that the "perversions uphold sexuality as an end in itself." 

60 Critical Theory of the Family

Rather they are unconscious repetitions of component instincts and childhood traumas.  The way to affirmative sexuality, according to Freud, can only be through genital sexuality.

Marcuse's second path to freedom is by way of the death instinct.  While Reich denied the primacy of the death instinct, reducing it to a mere secondary phenomenon, unworthy of Freud's theory, Marcuse found in it a revolutionary potential.  The death instinct was not to be understood in its usual meaning as an urge to destruction or aggression which turned outward, against one's fellow man, preventing forever a rosy image of human association.  On the contrary, the death instinct was at bottom an urge to let things be a refusal to perform.  The secret of the death instinct according to Marcuse was located in narcissism, where eros and thanatos were combined in a pre-differentiated unity.  Freud chose the cultural image of Narcissus to denote a capacity for joyous, unhurried self-indulgence, and Marcuse found here a source for a new reality principle, for an instinctual need beyond the work ethic of capitalism.

The death instinct and polymorphous perversity were the two instinctual sources of social progress.  They suggested a new structure of consciousness, a new psyche that threatened the bourgeois, civilized image of Promethean man.  Hence Marcuse used Freud to demonstrate the force of what Freud himself did not think possible: a psychic structure beyond civilization.  The argument was won for Marcuse by references to the heroes of ancient mythology, Orpheus and Narcissus.  Here in fantasy were represented possibilities of human liberation.  As a Marxist, Marcuse recognized the need to demonstrate the social conditions under which these fantasies might become new reality principles.  The material conditions for Orphic self-indulgent joy were provided by the success of capitalism in overcoming scarcity: "Now it is precisely such a reactivation of polymorphous eroticism which appeared as the consequence of the conquest of scarcity and alienation.  The altered societal conditions would therefore create an instinctual bas- 

61 The Radicalization of Eros

is for the transformation of work into play."[45]  Given today's affluence, a "great refusal" becomes possible in which deep unconscious fantasies may arise again, auguring a new revolution in the form of an orgasmic return of the repressed.

It can be argued against Marcuse[46] that play, fantasy and imagination are not at all beyond the reality principle; that they too are subject to the fate of repression and represent not freedom but only another level of domination.  The game of the child who made his toy appear and disappear was to Freud a compulsive repeating in fantasy of his separation from his mother, not a "free" play in any sense.  It is debatable whether the instinctual manifestations of children at play are really examples of polymorphous perversity or rather imitations of adult repressed patterns.  It can also be argued against Marcuse that regression cannot be a source of progression that the component instincts of the oral and anal stages cannot provide a form of sexuality that is somehow more liberated than the genital sexuality described by Freud.  Finally, it can be shown that the reliance on instincts leads to a pre-social, individualist definition of human nature.  The child is in this view already a locus of energy "before" it enters into social relationships.  As a Marxist Marcuse should not want to be burdened by the individualism inherent in his reliance on instinct theory.  Whatever the force of these counter-arguments, the astonishing failure of Marcuse for us pertains to his lack of a concept of the family.

In attempting to avoid the conservative pitfalls of ego psychology, Marcuse erected an exceedingly weak link between psychic structure and social structure.  Instead of relating instinctual structures directly to social relations he introduced the cosmic cop-out of Narcissus and Orpheus.  The concrete totality is lost in a haze of fanciful images, and the reader is urged to move from the simple fact of affluence to mythic self-transformation.  The family, the crucial mediation between psyche and society, gets lost amid aesthetic fantasies of pure rapture.

Marcuse conceived  of the family in the manner of Horkheimer in Studies on Author- 

62 Critical Theory of the Family

ity and the Family.  Horkheimer's nostalgia for patriarchy was repeated by Marcuse in his argument that "organized capitalism" coordinates the psyche at a hitherto unreached depth.  Like Riesman in The Lonely Crowd, the Marxist points out that individuals are no longer socialized in the family, and the price that is paid is widespread conformity.  Marcuse writes: "With his consciousness coordinated, his privacy abolished, his emotions integrated into conformity, the individual has no longer enough 'mental space' for developing himself against his sense of guilt, for living with a conscience of his own."[47]  The society without the father means individuals without autonomy.  The reader is asked to believe that only in the patriarchal family could he become a real person.  In the fascinating passage below Marcuse outlined precisely why the patriarchal family was a humanizing agency:

The technological abolition of the individual is reflected in the decline of the social function of the family.  It was formerly the family which, for good or bad, reared and educated the individual, and the dominant rules and values were transmitted personally and transformed through personal fate . . . In the passing and inheritance of the Oedipus conflict they became individuals, and the conflict continued into an individual life history.  Through the struggle with father and mother as personal targets of love and aggression, the younger generation entered societal life with impulses, ideas, and needs which were largely their own.  Consequently, the formation of their super-egos . . . were very personal experiences . . . and life . . . still retained a sphere of private non-conformity.[48]
Like Horkheimer, Marcuse celebrated the very individual autonomy which he so sharply rejects elsewhere in the text as a liberal illusion bound to the performance principle.  The utopian Marxist who heralds the new age of Narcissus, who applauds the revolutionary needs represented by the youth culture, still finds it necessary to paint rosy pictures from the time of his own childhood in a patriarchal family.

The first generation of Frankfurt theorists set the stage for the inability of critical theory to conceptualize the family.   More recently books by Reimut Reiche and Michael 

63 The Radicalization of Eros

Schneider[49] continue in the footsteps of their intellectual fathers.  Schneider, for example, argues for a synthesis of Freud and Marx through a critique of work and consumption.  The family becomes even less significant than it was for the earlier theorists as Schneider finds contemporary psychic structure to be a product of secondary socialization outside family networks.  His interesting and important insights into the mental damage of work activity and consumption patterns still lack an adequate account of family structure not only regarding socialization, but also as a sphere of life itself.

In sum, the Marxists' concept of the family, relying generally on a theory of instinctual liberation, is most helpful in probing the interaction between the family and the economy.  They point to a problem that cannot be overlooked: the family must be studied in relation to the mode of production, and particularly one must be aware of class differences in family structure.  Furthermore, they remind us of the importance of the sex needs, which also must be conceptualized in relation to family structure, even though they base sexuality on a suspect notion of the instincts.  Beyond this, existing Marxist theory[50] on the family is surprisingly weak.  One of the major purposes of this study is to develop a critical theory of the family and thereby enrich the capacities of radical social theory to make intelligible important issues in the history of modern socie


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