Might Marcuse remain a relevant source for social action and philosophical uplift?


From The Chronicle Review:

Bless the American university, that exemplar of pluralism. Was it a playful University of Pennsylvania scheduler who managed to assign to the same all-purpose Houston Hall over a few days in October both the annual good-vibes Penn Family Weekend and “Critical Refusals: The International Herbert Marcuse Society’s Fourth Biennial Conference“?

Not a few Penn dads and moms headed to the first event after parking their oversized SUV’s near hotel rooms going for sums that might reinvigorate Haiti. (Even the modestly accoutered Sheraton University City Hotel offered a “special rate” of only $309 a night.) On the Friday, options included the session “Caring From Afar: Helping Your Child Succeed at Penn,” or drop-in “Classes With Your Student.” Everyone from the LGBT Center to the Wharton School to the Leonard A. Lauder Career Center threw an Open House, and other offerings included facilities tours, a “Conversation With President Amy Gutmann,” comedy and musical performances, and opportunities to make family videos and learn the latest Google technology.

Then again, if there had been a mention in the Family Weekend material that Marcuse mania was taking place a few yards away, parents might have wandered toward Bodek Lounge: a capacious meeting space filled with adults their own age in flannel shirts and mussy gray hair rather than J. Crew and sharp haircuts, as well as an impressive group of young folks castable in next year’s sure-thing Hollywood film-ploitation of Occupy Wall Street (Michael Douglas as Mayor Bloomberg?). Bodek served as weekend home base for admirers, scholars, and ex-students of Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979), the Frankfurt School philosopher who, in the backhanded language of the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “endured a brief moment of notoriety in the 1960s, when his best-known book, One-Dimensional Man (1964), was taken up by the mass media as the bible of the student revolts which shook most Western countries in that decade.”

Had Penn parents popped in on the scores of Marcuse sessions—they included 1960s activist Angela Davis’s command performance in standing-room-only Irvine Auditorium—they’d have heard some contrapuntal, un-Whartonish intellectual music.

Such as leading Marcuse scholar Douglas Kellner of UCLA declaring that “we can use the word ‘revolution’ again for the first time in many years,” and that Ronald Reagan was himself “one-dimensional man.” They’d have heard indefatigable conference organizer Andrew Lamas, a lecturer in urban studies at Penn, welcome the passionately supportive crowd at Davis’s talk by announcing that he would not welcome them to “the University of Pennsylvania,” which was often “destructive toward workers,” but to “the People’s University that we need, and that we struggle to create.” They’d have witnessed Davis herself make clear that she still considered it a “privilege” to have been Marcuse’s student and that it is her obligation to champion “the 21st-century relevance of Herbert Marcuse’s work.”

What better place than a wealthy Ivy League university for the 1 percent and the 99 percent, or the 17 percent and the 83 percent—however you like to slice your fellow Americans—to face the big issue as Occupiers find their successes slipping away before mayoral eviction actions? Can the movement seize on a convincing philosophical rationale and political strategy, or is it fated to fade like the Summer of Love, whenever that was? The Marcuse conference, which drew hundreds of participants and listeners, echoed often with laments over the failure of 60s protest movements to achieve their goals. It also posed a timely possibility. Might Marcuse, whose calls for resistance to and overthrow of capitalism inspired Davis, German radical Rudi Dutschke, French 68ers, and many more, remain a relevant source for social action and philosophical uplift?

“Occupy This: Is It Comeback Time for Herbert Marcuse?”, Carlin Romano, The Chronicle Review