One-Dimensional Man

From negative to positive thinking — Technological rationality and the logic of domination

“We live and die rationally and productively. We know that destruction is the price of progress as death is the price of life, that renunciation and toil are the prerequisites for gratification and joy, that business must go on, and that the alternatives are Utopian. This ideology belongs to the established societal apparatus; it is a requisite for its continuous functioning and part of its rationality.

However, the apparatus defeats its own purpose if its purpose is to create a humane existence on the basis of a humanized nature. And if this is not its purpose, its rationality is even more suspect. But it is also more logical for, from the beginning, the negative is in the positive, the inhuman in the humanization, enslavement in liberation. This dynamic is that of reality and not of the mind, but of a reality in which the scientific mind had a decisive part in joining theoretical and practical reason.

Society reproduced itself in a growing technical ensemble of things and relations which included the technical utilization of men—in other words, the struggle for existence and the exploitation of man and nature became ever more scientific and rational. The double meaning of “rationalization” is relevant in this context. Scientific management and scientific division of labor vastly increased the productivity of the economic, political, and cultural enterprise. Result: the higher standard of living. At the same time and on the same ground, this rational enterprise produced a pattern of mind and behavior which justified and absolved even the most destructive and oppressive features of the enterprise. Scientific-technical rationality and manipulation are welded together into new forms of social control. Can one rest content with the assumption that this unscientific outcome is the result of a specific societal application of science? I think that the general direction in which it came to be applied was inherent in pure science even where no practical purposes were intended, and that the point can be identified where theoretical Reason turns into social practice. In this attempt, I shall briefly recall the methodological origins of the new rationality, contrasting it with the features of the pre-technological model discussed in the previous chapter.

The quantification of nature, which led to its explication in terms of mathematical structures, separated reality from all inherent ends and, consequently, separated the true from the good, science from ethics. No matter how science may now define the objectivity of nature and the interrelations among its parts, it cannot scientifically conceive it in terms of “final causes.” And no matter how constitutive may be the role of the subject as point of observation, measurement, and calculation, this subject cannot play its scientific role as ethical or aesthetic or political agent. The tension between Reason on the one hand, and the needs and wants of the underlying population (which has been the object but rarely the subject of Reason) on the other, has been there from the beginning of philosophic and scientific thought. The “nature of things,” including that of society, was so defined as to justify repression and even suppression as perfectly rational. True knowledge and reason demand domination over—if not liberation from—the senses. The union of Logos and Eros led already in Plato to the supremacy of Logos; in Aristotle, the relation between the god and the world moved by him is “erotic” only in terms of analogy. Then the precarious ontological link between Logos and Eros is broken, and scientific rationality emerges as essentially neutral. What nature (including man) may be striving for is scientifically rational only in terms of the general laws of motion—physical, chemical, or biological.”

Herbert Marcuse