Power, Capital & the Rise of the Mass Surveillance State: On the Absence of Democracy, Ethics, Disenchantment & Critical Theory By R.C. Smith

Introduction

mass surveillanceIn a previous paper on ‘why mass surveillance is a direct product of modern society’, I commented that Edward Snowden was absolutely correct to suggest that the biggest worry as a result of his leaks was that “nothing would change”.[1] In terms of public debate and political movement on a grassroots and policy level in the U.S. (as well as in a number of other countries throughout Europe and Latin America), there have been notable challenges about whether mass surveillance programmes are constitutional, about the systematic erosion of civil liberties, and about a range of other phenomena such as the U.S. drone programme[2], covert surveillance targeting Wikileaks, its supporters and even charitable and leftist organisations.[3] But to what extent popular debate challenges the fundamental social, political and economic system, which fostered the conditions in which mass surveillance programmes might exist in the first place – this is the question that we must ask ourselves.

One pressing issue, moreover, is that majority of the popular movements that have emerged in response to the Snowden leaks appear to be reformist in character. As a result, the discourse isn’t so much about fundamental system change; rather it becomes crafted into making mass surveillance less repulsive and more socially acceptable, even marketable. (Consider, for instance, the latest reforms proposed by President Barack Obama). For Adorno, this reformist inclination can be explained in part through an analysis of the logic of the system of capital. We read in Adorno how under modernity – i.e., capitalism – human beings are treated as commodities[4] and the political-economy, which is principled on concentrations of power (i.e., ‘contradictory recognition’[5]), goes over the head of the individual, particularly as ‘coercive society’ aims to ‘shape people’ on behalf of the economic, social and political status quo.[6] The system of capital, along with the instrumental use of Enlightenment ideals to promote a rational, efficient system[7] have laid a foundation for society wherein the political-economy influences individuals and manufactures consent.[8] Accordingly, people are seen as “substitutable entities valued merely for their instrumental uses or ability to command market resources,” and even where “commodification is resisted, the overriding pull of society is toward the status quo and those forms that are valued by society”. [9] As Kate Schick writes:

The mind thus shapes itself into socially acceptable, marketable forms and freedom becomes an illusion, made all the more dangerous and difficult to resist because of the appearance of freedom. This is not the fault of Enlightenment ideals as such, but the instrumental use of these ideals in the promotion of a rational, efficient system: ‘The network of the whole is drawn ever tighter, modelled after the act of exchange’ (Adorno 1981: 21).[10]

Present in the logic of the system of capital itself is not an ‘emancipatory reason’ that aims toward universal guiding principles of an actually egalitarian democracy – i.e., Equality, Egalitarianism, Justice, Rights, etc. Rather, in modern capitalism, with its instrumental reason and positivist logic, such concepts lose their meaning.[11] The social narrative no longer accommodates these fundamental principles or judges them to be delusions, because all concepts must be strictly functional in order to be considered “reasonable”.[12] In turn, the ideals of a ‘good’ society, for example ideals toward an actual egalitarian democracy, become dependent on the “interests” of the dominant and governing system, which produces and reproduces the epistemic context of its own validity.[13]

While post-structuralist accounts completely fail to penetrate the core of the matter, as they have a deep tendency to lose sight of the universal and therefore also a fundamental “theory of contemporary society as a whole” which aims toward understanding “the entirety of the social[-historical] process”,[14] the majority of social movements and protest groups that specifically focus on protesting against state sponsored mass surveillance programmes also seem to lack a sufficient theoretical framework and tend toward maintaining the status quo.

Consider Glenn Greenwald’s ‘The Intercept’ project for example: If Elias Groll [15]is right that ‘The Intercept’ is about ‘tipping the scales of power away from the intelligence community’, Jerome Roos is also right that it must consider broader social critique.[16] ‘The Intercept’, although criticised for its source of funding, has done some fantastic reporting on the NSA/GCHQ and issues revolving around the Snowden leaks. But Roos is entirely correct to suggest that it seems to lack sufficient awareness of a fundamental critique of political-economy.[17] As a result, while the reports published by ‘The Intercept’ reveal a lot about the mass surveillance state, the overall project tends to remain awfully isolated – almost compartmentalised – from a broader structural critique of modern society and therefore loses its revolutionary potential – or, in the very least, its potential to supplement grassroots efforts for social transformation.

Perhaps more so than ‘The intercept’ project, such popular movements as ‘The Day We Fight Back’ campaign seem content to issue demands for reform without explicitly linking the problem of the mass surveillance state to the crisis of capitalism. Rather than being a function of critical theory and challenging the very socio-historical context in which the existence of the security state is justified as a reasonable social phenomenon and in which mass surveillance programmes are employed, the reformist character of many popular movements ultimately end up reproducing those dominant forms of social activity. Remaining unaware of the ways in which the very problem of mass surveillance is bound together with fundamental social processes, these movements fail to see that they too are involved in social processes of production and reproduction insofar that they are fundamentally conformist, uncritically submitting to the dominant instrumental, quantitative, and capitalist values[18] of the modern social dynamic. They exist, in other words, as a function of “traditional theory”.[19] As such, these movements, while critical of the existence of state sponsored surveillance programmes, are extensions of the status quo insofar that their reformist project is designed not toward revolutionary social change and the fundamental transformation of coercive state practice, but to reduce such coercive activity so that it aligns with the value of productivity and functioning of the world as it presently exists.[20]

In his essay ‘Traditional and Critical Theory’ (1972), Max Horkheimer delineates the differences between traditional and critical theory, which I argue lays out the matter quite well when it comes to understanding the lack of critical and ethical categories in the present debate not only surrounding the NSA and GCHQ, but other pressing social issues as well. ‘Traditional theory’, while evidenced today in mainstream natural and social sciences for example, permeates throughout most social fields as a certain analytic structure (i.e., instrumental reason, positivism, objectivism). While for Horkheimer, “the scholar and his science are incorporated into the apparatus of society” and “his achievements are a factor in the conservation and continuous renewal of the existing state of affairs, no matter what fine names he gives to what he does”[21], we can say something similar about the liberal critics of the security state. Focusing on what is “better, useful, appropriate, productive, and valuable”,[22] liberal critics, while critical in a loose sense of the term, largely function within the present order. By undertaking the reformist position regarding the issue of mass surveillance, for example, one is accepting if not outright qualifying the existence of such phenomena altogether – although ensuring in the very least the maintenance of the rationalised ethical standards in which democratic capitalism permits. In this sense, the reformist position uncritically reproduces the existing (coercive) social reality it’s in struggle with. On the other hand, a movement principled on the ethical criteria of critical theory would articulate activity that strives to transform society so that the very concept of mass surveillance would be considered illegitimate and in line with a society that has lost all validity.[23]

The Mass Surveillance State and a Critical Theory of Society

While the question of the legitimacy of the security state and the existence of mass surveillance programmes is of paramount importance, what is perhaps a more fundamental line of questioning has to do with discerning the social and ethical criteria in which the existence of mass surveillance can be seen as directly set against genuinely emancipatory, egalitarian social-political ambitions.

Moreover, in the advance of social movements that challenge the rise of the mass surveillance state, it is not only crucial to be able to distinguish the fundamental ethical criteria or critical categories which may offer guidance in particular moments of search for a more wholesome critique of society, not for the benefit of the reproduction of the coordinates of present society, but to challenge and transform that social reality into a ‘correct version’.[24] In an age defined by the eclipse of reason[25], “to be able to distinguish genuinely emancipatory, egalitarian political movements from their mere semblance in order to offer these support”, this is, in general, crucial to recognising political movements, social phenomena, institutional and state forces “for what they are before – in the deep confusion of quickly-changing events – these manage to install themselves in positions of unassailable power.”[26]

In other words, for critical theory, it is essential to insist that, along with addressing a particular social issue, one needs to identify the greater socio-historical processes and developments which surround the development of that particular issue.[27] “Furthermore, to understand and explain social phenomena, one needs to contextualize one’s topic of inquiry within a comprehensive theoretical framework for social analysis and critique in order to avoid illegitimate abstraction which would, for instance, analyze political or cultural phenomena apart from its constitution in socio-economic processes”.[28] That is why in order to begin understanding the very existence of mass surveillance programmes initiated by the state, we must first consider how the dynamics of capital play such a constitutive role in social life[29] and then, from here, look into how these programmes, how such phenomena, are positioned within modern capitalism. To better explain this approach, let us considering the following.

We can summarise very generally that the vicissitudes of development in terms of the rise of the mass surveillance state are directly enmeshed or caught up in the forces of modernity. As I commented previously in a discussion on the NSA: from an Adornian perspective we can say that “there is a ‘grain of insanity’ in the very existence of such social phenomena [i.e., mass surveillance technology and programmes], and this ‘grain of insanity’ resides not only in the very nature and impetus of the (ideological) systems and organisations that support the NSA and its operation, but also in the very historical process of their justification.”[30] The basic thesis here is simple (and not at all an uncommon one): that the ethical predicament posed by the revelation of the existence of mass surveillance is not in and of itself solely a matter of the absence or crisis of democracy, which is symptomatic but which ‘liberal’ commentators tend limit themselves to. Indeed, the problem of the mass surveillance state is related to the fact “that democracy today, as a concept and as a thing, has less to do with the actual content of “democracy” as an egalitarian system of political-economic values than it does with the neglect of this content for its (mere) form” and how the concept of democracy today is therefore “the mere distillate remaining after the actual content (Equality, Egalitarianism, Justice, Rights, etc.) has been boiled away”[31]. But the ethical predicament we face also has to do with the greater (historical) disenchantment of society, of the distillation of ethical concepts, overlapped and converged with the domination of instrumental reason (i.e., positivism, scienticism, technicism) and the intensification of bureaucratic rationality in the context of the historic genesis of the institutional structures of capitalism.[32]

In late-capitalist society, with its intense economic (capital) expansion, these aspects of modernity converge and form the definitions of reason and rationality[33] – i.e., what is qualified on behalf of the ideology of a “rationally administered world”[34] – and the result is the disenchantment of the world which drains from human experience sources of meaning and significance that anchor ethical practice.[35] To put it differently, Elliot Sperber has a nice way of describing how “society (especially one holding itself out as a just society) has an actual duty of care to supply [conditions necessary for human flourishing] directly. If one accepts the argument that a society has such a duty of care, a society’s failure to supply such conditions amounts to a breach of this duty, and to a forfeiture of its legitimacy”.[36] We have to see the problem of the NSA and the rise of the mass surveillance state as a systemic problem, one which coincides and indeed exists directly in relation with the list of injustices that already define the scope of a society that has failed to satisfy its duty of care.

Upon the advent of the industrial revolution and the dawn of modern technology, we have not so much witnessed the use of technology in support of an emancipatory politics but as an enabler for capital to pervade even deeper into all facets of human life. In other words, we have seen technology become an instrument of ‘coercive society’. Technical rationalism – or, rather, technical domination – has ensured that though basic inventions such as “electric lights [which] allow people to see at night, they also enabled the world of work to colonize what once was outside its domain. Though computers may drastically increase productivity, this increase is not accompanied by any corresponding diminution in work. The demands only increase.”[37] This describes the practical, empirical basis for Horkheimer’s observation when he comments that the advance of technical facilities is accompanied by a process of dehumanisation: “thus progress threatens to nullify its very goal”.[38] Rather than the advance of communicative technologies being a source for the greater democratic empowerment of people, they are seen as threat by the state, a way for people to mobilise, and are therefore exploited for the benefit of greater social control and maintenance of the status quo. Indeed, while it seems that technological advancements in general have, to some capacity, ‘expanded the horizon of human thought and activity, of individual autonomy, and the human ability to resist the growing apparatus of mass manipulation, the human power of imagination, of independent judgement appears to be reduced’.[39]

In this context, we can say that the NSA as a product or instrument of the social totality – or what Adorno would describe as “administered society”, which, in different terms, we might consider as reference to the systemic structure of society primarily defined by the Marxian critique of political economy[40] – fits perfectly as a link between the increasing power of capital over all aspects of social life and the development of new forms of social control.[41] Indeed, it is not surprising to read that the NSA has been accused of spying on governments and parties involved in key international economic agreements[42], on protest movements and leaders, charities and non-profit organisations.

But the real worry is how these phenomena are slowly becoming legitimatised. Similar to Horkheimer’s analysis of Nazi power in Germany, all dominant social systems – irrespective of their particularity and also what they share in common in terms of the historical conditions or processes behind the vicissitudes of their development[43] – the agenda, the ideology, is made to appear “reasonable”.[44] As Horkheimer writes: “the idea that an aim can be reasonable for its own sake – on the basis of virtues that insight reveals it to have in itself – without reference to some kind of subjective gain or advantage” becomes alien to an instrumental conception of rationality.[45] The very notion of ‘reasonableness’ under its modern instrumental conception implies subservience. If it is true that human beings should be considered as the best judges of their own interests, today it is important to consider that the interests of humankind are largely framed within the coercive context by markets and the absence of democracy.[46] If emancipatory reasoning about the direction of society is discarded, not for the betterment of humanity but for the benefit of maintaining the status quo, not only can such egalitarian concepts as ‘social-historical progress’ become justifiers for the advancement of “inverted” society[47] on behalf of a positivist notion of “progress”[48], but democracy, too, as we witness today, can be justified only by the fact that it exists (as a mere distillate).[49] And by this standard tyranny can be justified just as readily.[50]

Instead of the function of ‘emancipatory reason’ which identifies universal guiding principles of an actually egalitarian democracy – i.e., Equality, Egalitarianism, Justice, Rights, etc. – in modern capitalism, with its instrumental reason and positivist logic, such concepts lose their meaning.[51] The social narrative no longer accommodates these fundamental principles or judges them to be delusions, because all concepts must be strictly functional in order to be considered “reasonable”.[52] In turn, the ideals of a ‘good’ society, for example ideals toward an actual egalitarian democracy, become dependent on the “interests” of the dominant and governing system, which produces and reproduces the epistemic context of its own validity.[53] Therefore we frequently hear justifications for the use of mass surveillance technology on behalf of the ambiguous notion of ‘national security’ or for the benefit of economic gain, all the while witnessing the actual corrosion of civil rights and liberties.

On my reading of Horkheimer’s ‘Eclipse of Reason’ (2013), the transformation of reason into an instrument of power calls for attempts to resurrect a form of reason capable of judging the ethical criteria and categories of modern society. Against the poststructural inclination to acquiesce in the loss of critical or emanicpatory reasoning about the fundamental guiding principles of an actual egalitarian democracy, Horkheimer laments its demise and argues on the importance of critical theory to address the emasculated, neutralized, impotent reason that rules society and is unable to confront power. (Power, in this sense, is not only institutional or rooted in the system of capital and the function of coercive state forces, but it also exists today throughout much of the contemporary political spectrum and a function of bourgeois subjectivity[54]).

The fact that the mass surveillance state could emerge in the 21st Century as an accepted condition of modern society – in the midst of all the frequently championed measures of ‘rational discourse’ and the deep scientific traditions celebrated in contemporary culture – suggests that the dialectic of enlightenment has come front and centre: reason has become irrational.[55] There is a failure of culture[56] but also a general presence of “untruth” in the field of cultural experience, where positivism now reigns, demonstrating, above all, the lack of autonomy of reason, wherein “facts” are reduced unequivocally to rationalisations and self-legitimisations of the present social order that, in terms of the field of sociology, defines the very basis of all factual content. In politics, the rationalisation of the irrational deploys only the material aspects present within the horizon of contemporary society, so that the system of capital can be evaluated within the strict rigidity of the dominant mode of capital relations. All suffering at the hands of the system takes on the measure of reform, which is now seen as a valid democratic response to urgent ethical matters. Separated and isolated from the despair and burning agony of actual needless suffering, capitalism has turned the notion of democracy into a symbol of ideology – as opposed to an egalitarian and emancipatory political orientation – which in practice continues to manifest the barbarism that many self-titled modern democrats claim to implore.

Alternative Ethical Foundations: Toward an Actual Egalitarian Democracy

From an Adornian perspective, a dialectical approach that works toward a sufficient, holistic and stable representation of truth, allows for us to discern what objective social conditions have brought about a conception of the mass surveillance state aimed at maintaining the status quo. While in Adorno’s original analysis he explores several conditions that might have facilitated the rise of fascist Germany, I argue that basic themes he outlines seem to repeat themselves throughout the larger history of ‘coercive society’.[57] Adorno argues, moreover, that economic insecurity, combined with a need to conform to the status quo to preserve what little security individuals had, served to prevent citizens from becoming autonomous, politically mature agents who sought to hold their leaders accountable.[58] In terms of late-capitalist society, the notion of insecurity is entirely applicable. In fact, one might say that this is what makes capitalism so powerful: it creates conditions which unceasingly threaten the individual with the possibility of economic scarcity, creating a pressurised and instrumental dynamic of experience, a rigidity in action, as one better toe-the-line or else risk suffering at the hands of an indifferent economic system. This insecurity, combined with the all-pervasive, all-encompassing culture industry, means that autonomous thought – let alone the notion of the liberated subject – often buckle under the weight of intense coercion. In this sense, while modern democracy “promised freedom and happiness in the place of unfreedom,” this has been proven untrue, particularly as the ideals behind the contemporary notion of democracy “do not match concrete reality”.[59] And yet the necessity to adapt to unjust political-economy remains, as Adorno writes:

The necessity of such adaption [to the given circumstances], to the point of identifying with the status quo, with the given, with power as such, creates the potential for totalitarianism, and is reinforced by the dissatisfaction and rage which that forced adaption itself produces and reproduces. Because reality doesn’t provide the autonomy or, finally, the possible happiness that the concept of democracy actually promises, people are indifferent to democracy, where they don’t secretly hate it.[60]

In the presence of such conformity “to the point of identifying with the status quo”, with the modern system of power and domination, with a political-economic vision principled on injustice and the manufacturing of systemic levels of inequality, imperialism and endless war, the absence of a critical ethical criteria becomes all the more pressing. Following a similar line of thought, Adorno argued after the Second World War toward a normative ethics on the basis of a critical and revolutionary rationale that emphasised the need for a “new categorical imperative”, which demands of us to arrange our “thoughts and actions so that Auschwitz will not repeat itself.”[61] Against rationalisation and denial – i.e., the coldness of bourgeois subjectivity – Adorno pushes, as Schick notes, “for remembrance and reflection,  arguing  that  what  is  repressed  or  unconscious  will  do  much more damage than that which is made conscious.”[62] He argues that “effective remembrance is extraordinarily difficult; it does not begin and end with reproach, but requires one to ‘[endure] the horror through a certain strength that comprehends even the incomprehensible’.”[63] This “new categorical imperative” coincides with the need to continue to reach towards a conception of the ‘whole truth’ by attending not only to particular suffering but also to the historical and social antecedents of suffering.[64] “Such an attempt is not a hubris-filled attempt to ‘solve’ the world’s ills, but an always incomplete and imperfect reaching towards a world in which Auschwitz might not happen again. It is a form of working through that will never be complete but that always holds before it the hope that moral learning, however fragile, might take place.”[65]

While for Adorno the need for a “new categorical imperative” arose directly as a result of the indescribable suffering of Auschwitz and the question of the continuing relevance of metaphysics, I argue that we can nevertheless take from Adorno’s fundamental thesis a point that remains highly applicable with regards to most ethical (social) dilemmas “after Auschwitz”[66], including issues surrounding the mass surveillance state.

At the moment of writing, the people of Western democratic society face serious problems that not only have to do with undemocratic nature of mass surveillance programmes and the systematic erosion of civil liberties and all of that which is implied by their consequence. Serious issues of climate change, which should be considered both a crime against humanity and the natural world[67], along with growing inequality, deepening forms of needless social suffering and continuation of violent state conflicts, the commodification of education and the intensification of capital, are but a few dimensions of the crisis of the 21st Century. In the face of these pressing issues there is little doubt around the urgency of the need for the public to work out the principles of humanity, of ethical norms, not in line with the shallow liberal ethics of democratic-capitalism, of social naturalism, of Hobbes’ naturalistic ends, or of abstract and instrumental guides of moral authority[68], but ethical criteria that exist as the very material of the experience of suffering, where “there is neither a moral outside, a super-categorical “ought”, nor a functional demand and natural outside that might be, so to speak, satisfied by our matter of fact adopting ethical practices” which could easily resort to justifying the lie of ethical life for the sake of safeguarding its (empty) appearance.[69] In an age where there is a universal feeling of fear and disillusionment[70], the idea of a normative ethical criterion rooted in a phenomenological (‘lived’) ethics that is informed by negative dialectics emerged from out of the experience of suffering[71], from out the “categorical imperative”, demands of an approach that “works from the inside-out”[72] and the formulation of a range of categories that challenge the validity of the present social order.

From an Adornian perspective, in terms of the far-reaching barbarism and needless social suffering that defines the historical and social unfolding of the history of human society, this “new categorical imperative” implies a break from the social and historical antecedents of that suffering – a break in the (trans)historic pattern or trend or systemic paradigm of dominant, coercive society. Not only is the “new categorical imperative” directed at ensuring that the atrocities of Auschwitz – i.e., the climax of modernity – never happen again, but it also underpins an alternative vision of how we might move forward and navigate society toward a ‘better’ path or an actual egalitarian democracy.

Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics

While it is widely believed that Adorno’s project “is to displace [enlightenment] reason with aesthetic praxis and judgement”, J.M. Bernstein makes the point that this is a “massive misunderstanding and distortion of his thought”.[73] On Bernstein’s reading, which I agree with, Adorno does not believe that we can displace the claims of enlightenment reason “through the suppression of reason in the name of sentiment or emotion or desire or will or faith or some nostalgic community.”[74] Rather, he unswervingly affirms “the values of the Enlightenment, and believed that modernity suffered from a deficit rather than a surplus of reason and rationality …/ Adorno believes that scientific and bureaucratic rationalism are, in their claim to totality, irrational in themselves, and hence that the meaning deficit caused by the disenchantment of the world is equally a rationality deficit. Only an expanded conception of reason which derives from a reinscription of conceptuality can lead to a restoration of ethical meaning”.[75] In other words, Adorno sought to work through the dialectic of enlightenment and in doing so work through the failings of enlightenment reason for the benefit of a theory of emancipatory reason, one which was not only negative dialectical in character and rooted simultaneously in a philosophy of the subject for the sake of doing justice to the object[76], but which also worked toward the notion of “experiential coherence”[77] and promoted an alternative cognitive paradigm[78] (or what I sometimes describe as an alternative epistemology, anthropology and cosmology). This is why Bernstein is right to summarise that “for Adorno to expand reason is to expand the scope and character of cognitive life, of knowing”[79] which currently functions within an instrumental, coercive epistemological context[80] “toward a more capacious sense of cognition and thus reason”[81].

More pressingly, one of the merits of Adorno’s ethical project resides in the acknowledgement of disenchantment – of disenchanted society wherein the question of ethics and norms reflects a world that by humane standards is barbaric[82] – and the primary task of critical vigilance.[83] As Adorno writes in Minima Moralia: “It is the sufferings of men that should be shared: the smallest step toward their pleasures is one towards the hardening of their pains”.[84] In such a state of disenchantment – in world wrought by (needless) human suffering – it is the suffering of human beings that forms the index of all truth – that forms the very basis of criticism, of critical theory, and of the ethical criteria in which we can determine and elaborate both the failure of modern society and a radical alternative horizon. By understanding precisely the depth of antagonism, of the political-economic antecedents of suffering, of the structural injustices and systemic level of coercion, might we formulate, however precariously, small steps in the transition toward a just, egalitarian social world. In terms of ethical discourse today – if I may be so broad in my account of the complete and utter failure of ethical discourse today – the basic problem is one of ideology. The problem is of ideology precisely in the sense that: “We shudder at the brutalisation of life, but lacking any objectively binding morality we are forced at every step into actions and words, into calculations that are by humane standards barbaric, and even by the dubious values of a good society, tactless”.[85] For Adorno, there is no binding morality because “the wrong life cannot be lived rightly”[86], and while many people may put forth their best efforts, from choosing within the present system to ‘only purchase ethical goods’ or to create alternative social, educational and creative spaces as ways to support or encourage a ‘better world’, the overwhelmingly unjust nature of contemporary social life often reduces whatever fraction of hope we might have to isolated transcendental values of ethical norms that make a mockery of the systemic basis of real human suffering. Alas, such abstract ethical norms do more to maintain the status quo than actually challenge it.

In passing it is said that the basic problem with Adorno’s account in this regard is that the whole is seen as false.[87] As such, Lambert Zuidervaart points out in his book ‘Social Philosophy after Adorno’ (2007) that in Negative Dialectics, Adorno leaves us to face a most troubling reality: it is either “all or nothing”.[88] It appears that for Zuidervarrt, Adorno’s criticism of society is not radical enough[89] – a sentiment I also share to a certain point. For this reason, Zuidervaart claims “solidarity with Adorno’s negative dialectic in the moment of its collapse”[90] in the same way that Adorno once claimed solidarity with metaphysics in the moment of its collapse.[91] But I also think that many reviewers (including Zuidervaart) of Adorno’s Negative Dialectics miss the point: that the whole can be seen as false and that “there is no good life in a bad society” without us necessarily being left, as Hauke Brunkhorst writes, with “nothing to do to change the world because everything less than all is wrong”.[92] Present throughout Adorno’s entire philosophical project is a sense of hope born out of the negative – an unwaveringly ethical and critical study that points to what a fundamentally alternative social horizon might look like, even if he was cautious not to admit as much. While there is some truth to the observation that “Adorno’s apparently most radical construction of the modern world as a totally closed universe of negativity is deeply inconsistent”[93], ultimately, today, when retrieving and advancing his philosophical project, the question of how we frame Adorno’s critique is of the utmost importance. I argue, moreover, that we must see Adorno’s claims of the “whole is the false” and that “there is no good life in a bad society” as earnest observations of the systemic basis of ‘coercive society’. We can recognise that the whole is false and, in the sum of its parts, that a good (i.e., ethical) life cannot be wholly possible in a fundamentally bad social circumstance, while also leaving enough space to recognise all of the ‘good’ acts that take place every day. It is not, then, that “even a first step to get all (or at least a bit of all) is impossible because in a negative universe all steps are, a priori, steps in the wrong direction” and therefore “we can hope to be saved at once, and to get it all, only if this is granted by the grace of a power higher than us” which leaves us in need of “a light on the fallen world that derives not from human enlightenment but from the messianic point of redemption”. [94]

On my reading it is wrong to suggest that for Adorno the only “praxis that is not a reproduction and prolongation of the bad society is thinking”.[95] As evidenced in his dialogue with Ernest Bloch[96], what Adorno is arguing toward is a more concrete theory of praxis, which, on my reading, is foundational and prefigurative. We can say that one of the basic outcomes of Adorno’s Negative Dialectics is, as Deborah Cook rightly suggests, the formulation of an alternative cognitive paradigm. In turn, it is not far-fetched considering Adorno’s entire project that this formulating of an alternative cognitive paradigm aligns with his advocating of a ‘return to the subject’, a theory of the “mediating” efficacious agent, and even his overall political philosophy.[97] Consider, for instance, Adorno’s rejection of the 1960s student revolutionary movement because of its lack of concrete praxis, which I have written about in a number of places.[98] For me, what Adorno suggests is that revolutionary social movements must prefigure a fundamentally different social world; but, in large, the struggle is that the overwhelmingly ‘bad’ nature of modern society, “the objective tendency”, blocks praxis.

In his closing remarks to his book ‘Sartre and Adorno: Dialectics of Subjectivity’ David Sherman captures this point wonderfully: As the work of Adorno testifies, it is not that there is no such thing as the “mediating subject” under the present state of affairs as the very ideal of the liberated subject, which continues to inspire innumerable acts of resistance, testifies to its existence.[99]; but it’s that the political-economy largely works against this notion of the liberated subject. In this light, Adorno’s idea of “all or nothing” need not be read as ultimately leading to nothing, and becoming, “contrary to Adorno’s intention, an ideological affirmation of the already existing world, or as Adorno usually says, the existing (das Bestehende)”.[100] In particular, Occupy-style politics and events[101] – include Spain’s X-Party (based on the idea of a ‘non-party party’) – are a concrete example of contemporary social movements that more or less align, I suggest, with aspects of Adorno’s critical theory. They not only aim to imagine a fundamentally different social world from the beginning, as lived and prefigured amongst the people in the camps, but they convey an understanding of the importance of concrete praxis: that emancipation must continue as it means to go on, particularly on the basis of a holistic, integrative and many-sided transformation.[102]

Bracketing further discussion of this point, which I have addressed and elaborated in a number of past studies, I agree with Zuidervaart’s when he writes: “what Adorno articulates more eloquently than his successors is that ‘the whole is the false’. In the long run, we cannot resist the repression of desire and the destruction of nature unless we dismantle economic exploitation. What he needed to say more vigorously, however, and with greater nuance, is that the whole is not wholly false. This is the valid point to Habermas’s otherwise overwrought critique.”[103] In his own deliberations of what a social philosophy after Adorno might look like, Zuidervaart champions the idea of radical democracy and introduces the notion of democratic truth, which, I suggest, aligns with the ethical implications of modern critical theory and is a concept particularly evidenced in many Occupy-style camps. Zuidervaart argues, moreover, that the “authentication of truth” must be “public”[104] and in doing so he lays out a vision of the public character of the authentication of truth, which, in every sense, appears to be fundamentally lacking in the present popular debate about the rise of the mass surveillance state. Zuidervaart writes:

Truth as such may not be democratic, but its invitational enactment must be public. A public invitation will be open to free recognition and acceptance or refusal on the part of those invited. To that extent, and to the extent that public freedom, recognition, and participation are the hallmarks of democracy, the authenticitation of truth must be not only public but democratic. Truth calls for public authenticitation. It calls for democratic truth telling … that does not avoid public presentation and response.[105]

In a recent study concerning a critique of Zizek and the formulation of an alternative theory of the subject, I argued toward a similar democratic theory of knowledge – against identitarian thinking and its absolute truth concept[106] – on behalf of the concept of ‘experiential coherence’: i.e., an alternative cognitive paradigm principled on an alternative anthropology, epistemology and cosmology. Within this study, based around a phenomenological account of the “mediating subject”, I referred to the important “linkage” between the authentication of truth and emancipatory or radical praxis as an extension of a ‘lived ethics’.[107] In return to Bernstein: “the margin of hope and hence justification”[108] not only for critical theory and the ethical vision from which it is driven, but for revolutionary grassroots politics, is principled on the possibility of mutual recognition, wherein a lived ethics is experientially motivated. Considering this thesis, the implications when it comes to challenging popular movements against the surveillance state are vast and shows just how superficial they are in their resistance.

An Alternative Vision of Life & Critical Theory in the 21st Century

In this context – or within the context of this discussion – the rise of the mass surveillance state must be questioned precisely according to the vision of what kind of society we want in the first place.  Secondly, if the above analysis is accurate we can see that if it is determined that the existence of state sanctioned mass surveillance programmes – the very concept of the security state – does not align with the vision of an actual egalitarian democracy[109], then not only is the abolishment of such programmes necessary but so too must we challenge the social and historical antecedents – i.e., the fundamental, systemic conditions – that fostered the very rise of the mass surveillance state in the first place. Policy and reform does not suffice here. The narrative of resistance against mass surveillance must be rooted in a greater narrative of resistance against the ‘false whole’ of society and its fundamental transformation.

When it comes to contemporary debate about the NSA, it is this scope of ethical criteria – set against the backdrop of a critique of power, capital and domination – that is not only demanded of us but also vital to the hope of the possibility of radical (egalitarian) democracy in the future. As Arnold de Graaff reflects, what is demanded of us is “a radically alternative praxis” that “needs to be grounded in different, fundamentally alternative vision of life”. Moreover, de Graaff argues that a new direction for our actions requires a different view of human existence, of social interaction, of knowledge, of human history and of the earth”. In other words, a new direction for political and social action (and discourse) needs a new foundation. Undoubtedly contained in this argument is a critique of political-economy and the awareness for the need of a fundamental reconceptualisation of society, from politics and economics through to the state and most basic systems of social organisation. To assist in the formulation of a ‘new’ philosophy of life, which should underline all forms of contemporary protest, we should use the examples of ‘alternatives’ at our disposal. There are so many presently practicing examples ranging from alternative communities to alternative educational environments that do exhibit a much more integral, critical and experientially coherent vision of life and politics.

But as, Zuidervaart rightly argues, and to return my basic argument, there is a need to develop a social philosophy to normatively guide this vision. He considers very seriously the “new categorical imperative” that Adorno advocates in Negative Dialectics and the principle ethical criteria within which society should be founded in the 21st Century: that Auschwitz not be repeated in the future. Within this context, Zuidervaart introduces his own theory of social democracy, which draws heavily upon John Dewey’s three concepts of freedom, participation, and recognition, as well as Hauke Brunkhorst’s book Solidarity (2005), and the social vision of Rebecca Todd Peters, especially her In Search of the Good Life: The Ethics of Globalization (2004). It is here that Zuidervaart describes a series of fundamental societal principles – Freedom, Justice, Resourcefulness, Solidarity, and so on – as he aims to counter what he perceives as the increasingly antidemocratic turbocapitalist economy with “a fully fledged theory of social democracy.”[110] Throughout this section of text, Zuidervaart reflects on Peters’ project which advocates “democratized power sharing, caring for the planet, and the social well-being of all people, and as a normative framework for evaluating stances toward globalization.”[111] In turn, these principles convey the overall message of Zuidervaart’s thesis: i.e., the need for a social democratic politics of global transformation, which answers the question of the autonomous individual, critical art practice, grassroots democratic empowerment, and the concrete potential of a radical vision of change. However, as David Brian Howard points out:

… this is the crucial point where the threads of Zuidervaart’s argument begin to fray …/ Zuidervaart’s characteristics of autonomy, while acknowledging that it is difficult to imagine the elimination of social exclusion (and the suffering associated with it), antidemocratic tendencies, and the life-destroying effects of capitalism, demonstrate that Zuidervaart is distancing himself from Adorno’s advocacy of critical modernism and the autonomous individual in favor of an insistence on normative and socially democratic forms of collective action that he obviously feels are the basis for a more socially and politically effective and responsible ethic in the twenty-first century. While claiming not to ignore Adorno’s critical insights, Zuidervaart harshly critiques Adorno on questions of collectivity and normativity while castigating him for the complete absence of arguments that could seen to represent a social ethics.[112]

It is worth commenting that the basic problem of Zuidervaart’s project, particularly with regards to the latter stages of his book, is that he misses the point of Adorno’s emphasis on experience, on a return to the subject, which, in the end, is the only source of a potential (critical) ethics for a radical vision of social change (and radical social philosophy). As a result, no longer is transformation actually lived, no longer is it rooted in the necessarily prefigurative status of a radical (participatory) grassroots politics; rather the ethical principles in which Zuidervaart works from – the societal principles that tend to hang over the head of the subject – imply a mark of authority. The very possibility of radical social transformation in Adorno’s critique resides in his consistent focus on ‘the priority of the object’, which entails the validity of any moral norm, moral principle, or concept. By distancing himself from Adorno’s advocacy of critical modernism and the “mediating subject”, Zuidervaart, similar to the naturalistic thesis, ends up valorising an ethical project where a super-categorical “ought” hovers over all forms of human interaction. Basic societal principles – Freedom, Justice, Resourcefulness, Solidarity, and so on – that Zuidervaart seems to want to argue toward are betrayed – or at least their radical democratic potential is betrayed – because, by rejecting Adorno’s emphasis on the importance of the mediating subject and of dialectical engagement within grassroots sites of resistance, these moral norms revert to abstract theological concepts founded on the basis of some invisible authority.

One cannot, in this day and age, consider ethical criteria as that which must be implemented. Indeed, the aim of 21st Century critical theory must not only be to formulate fundamental critique of late-capitalist society, but also to theorise a fundamental reconceptualisation of the political-economic system – one that would foster the type of social relations that encourage Zuidervaart’s societal principles. But this cannot be done without normative awareness of the need for radical democratic alternatives that would help support and coincide with (prefiguratively speaking) the “free-flourishing subject”.[113] In discerning ethical criteria to assist in guiding this state of affairs, moral principles must in other words be an extension of the efficacious agent (i.e., the “mediating subject”[114]) in action, and, as a consequence, inclusive to a phenomenological (‘lived’) ethics. In themselves, then, societal principles – social ethics – are not explanations for or dictations of action, as this is a misguided framing of the study of ethics. The authority of norms, moreover, is situational and intersubjective – that is, mutually recognitive. As such, the grounds of action in the midst of an ethical predicament is predicated on negative dialectics (i.e., to give priority to the object or phenomenon) and ‘experiential coherence’[115].

In return to Adorno: as for the specific approach of working constantly toward the object of suffering so that we might direct a certain line of questioning toward the status of ethical concepts – and hence human conceptuality[116]  – this must be seen as being entangled with or enmeshed in the transformation from contradictory recognition to mutual recognition.[117] Through our normative awareness of needless social suffering, of its fundamental antecedents – i.e., Adorno’s “new categorical imperative” – “might we gain an insight into (acquire knowledge of) our ethical predicament that cannot be had in any other way”.[118] It is precisely within this critical theoretical framework – or within the critical theoretical scope of ethical criteria introduced in this paper – that we might begin to deal with such pressing ethical predicaments as mass surveillance, particularly by understanding the definition of “ethics” as a mode for expressing ethical concepts that adequately acknowledges them as principles of material inference.[119]

Moreover, regarding the rise of the mass surveillance state – let alone a fundamental critique of political-economy – one basic principle of critique must be acknowledged: the function of contradictory recognition.[120] If the “whole is the false” this is because the fundamental structure of society is based on the performance of contradictory recognition, which, in and of itself, has extreme implications for the nature of contemporary experience and the status of the subject.[121] From power and property to hierarchy, coercive state practices and corrupt institutions, the role of society today, on a systemic level, is not geared toward fostering mutually recognitive social relations – i.e., social conditions that would support a free-flourishing and liberated subject – but rather to strengthen coercive, dominant and authoritarian measures of economic, political and social control.[122]The modern political-economy is inherently coercive, dominant, and authoritarian and, as such, it produces a ‘repressed subject’. Fear of an indifferent economy, which is present in many of the reactionary liberal-ethical projects of the modern day (i.e., re-tailoring society to once again conform to a ‘bad’ political-economic circumstance, as demanded by ‘the Market’), represents one obvious basis for the production and reproduction of our fundamentally (bad) state of affairs in this regard. This is why Adorno, in part, emphasises the importance of understanding the entwinement of the historic unfolding of the institutional structures of capitalism and the ‘(de)formation of the subject’ and ‘colonisation of the ego’.[123] But as David Sherman wonderfully writes: ‘Under the right state of affairs there would be no such fear, and the individual would feel free to open himself up to the world. And, by opening him/herself up to the world …/ would mean that self-identity would become more fluid’. As a result, the notion of ‘healthy’ social-collective formation and practice, which Zuidervaart seems to want to secure as he harshly critiques Adorno on questions of collectivity and normativity, also begins to take hold.

In closing, the problem of the mass surveillance state invariably raises the question of what kind of society we want, of what kind of social conditions we would like to create for ourselves and for others in the future. In turn, we’re forced to ask ourselves what role does mass surveillance technology really play in the scope of coercive and dominant society and in what way does it necessitate or require the pursuit of fundamental social transformation. Above all, an important ethical criteria or network of categories must be considered – a constellation of concepts that, when engaged with critically, illuminate the contradictory and antagonistic character of modern democratic-capitalist society and the type of social phenomena it manifests.

To be sure, one would imagine that an egalitarian society – a radical egalitarian democracy – would work toward banishing coercive, dominant and authoritarian principles of social organisation and state practice on behalf of the universal notion of mutual recognition.[124] In such a state of affairs, it is not too far-fetched to suggest that society would employ technology not for the benefit of the domination of some human beings over others (i.e., Adorno’s critique of three-tiers of domination), or for the intensifying of human labour, or as a means of empty satisfaction in terms of completing the cycle between the capitalist mode of labour and the commodification of leisure. Technologies would be employed in a manner that would create less work, less domination, less exploitation of the nature world, and less social control on behalf of increasing democratic empowerment in line with radically different political-economy.[125] They would be employed, in other words, as one means for constantly and normatively challenging the status quo.

Though, as Elliot Sperber suggests, a just society requires the presence of certain conditions – the conditions of Justice, Rights, Health, and Egalitarianism for example – “a just political-economy would create these conditions directly” and foster their continued expansion “as a social priority” and “not as a more or less incidental outcome of profiteering”.[126] In such a radical alternative political-economy – in such a radical alternative society – the voice of suffering would be the condition of all truth.[127] This society would be founded on the awareness, to play on the words of Adorno, of the normative advocating of the problem of needless suffering and its systematic elimination. The history of human society, drenched in needless suffering, is perhaps the only real category that might help us formulate a normative ethics, which, at once, “advocates the situating of bleak reality in historical and social context, not forgetting immediate pain but also looking beyond this to its complex and often hidden antecedents”.[128] That is to say that “alongside sensitivity to human suffering”, which urges humanity to forever stride toward a concrete utopian hope in the possibility of reconciliation, toward “a sense of future promise that keeps despair and resignation at bay”[129], it is in the creating of space for the communication of bodily and emotional pain[130] that, as Adorno writes, ‘tells our knowledge that suffering ought not to be, that things should be different’.[131]

Basic social-egalitarian principles as Justice and Health, as Sperber frequently examines, are concepts which, in a better society, would help define the horizon of social thought and action – they would contribution to the definition of the very cultural basis of experience and of social orientation, and would surely work toward the elimination of needless suffering. While today such concepts as Justice, Health, Freedom, Equality, and Resourcefulness are disfigured – with their status being almost entirely deformed in the name of capital, employed in a systemic pursuit that actually creates more suffering – it is through negative dialectics that we can work through these deformations for the benefit of the concepts themselves. In this approach, we can pursue the concept of freedom, of justice, of solidarity, in a repressive and oppressive society knowing that they have been transfigured and that they are now merely distortions, functions of contradictory recognition.

In the end, perhaps this is what still gives so many people hope – even in the face of the rise of the mass surveillance state – that when we think of such societal principles, when we think of freedom and democracy, hope springs forth in the idea of the distant possibility of an actual egalitarian society. On the other hand, such a concept of radical egalitarian democracy would require the presence of ethical experience, of the open and mediating subject, however fragile and precarious at first. Perhaps this is why Occupy-style politics are so significant: they re-inspire the truly revolutionary idea that social transformation – mutual recognition – must be lived and, as it is being lived, the horizon of radical ethical experience and criteria emerges. They prefigure a post-capitalist world, a dynamic steeped in mutual recognition, and give evidence to the very idea of liberty outside the horizon of social coercion, even in spite of how public and commons-based Occupy camps[132] are forced to exist within a largely alienated and dominant social context.  As evidenced by the very existence of Occupy-style events, when such societal principles are aligned with a constellation of critical ethical categories, when they are rooted in an alternative vision of life normatively positioned on the plane of ‘lived experience’, their mutually recognitive basis and egalitarian inclination returns to the level of a lived ethics, where real love, real caring, and real fun obtain[133]. It is here, where rallies against mass surveillance should simultaneously begin and aspire.

Notes and References


[1] R.C. Smith ‘Authoritarianism and the NSA: Why mass surveillance is a direct product of modern (ideological) society’, Heathwood Press (2013): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/authoritarianism-and-the-nsa-why-mass-surveillance-is-a-natural-product-of-modern-society/

[2] Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald ‘The NSA’s Secret Role in the U.S. Assassination Program’, The Intercept (2014): https://firstlook.org/theintercept/article/2014/02/10/the-nsas-secret-role/; Ryan Devereaux ‘New Details of Attack on Yemeni Wedding Prompt More Demands Obama Explain Drone Policy’, The Intercept (2014): https://firstlook.org/theintercept/article/2014/02/20/report-yemen-wedding-drone-strike-may-violated-laws-war/.

[3] Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Gallagher ‘Snowden Documents Reveal Covert Surveillance and Pressure Tactics Aimed at WikiLeaks and Its Supporters’, The Intercept (2014): https://firstlook.org/theintercept/article/2014/02/18/snowden-docs-reveal-covert-surveillance-and-pressure-tactics-aimed-at-wikileaks-and-its-supporters/; James Ball and Nick Hopkins ‘GCHQ and NSA targeted charities, Germans, Israeli PM and EU chief’, the Guardian (2013): http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/dec/20/gchq-targeted-aid-agencies-german-government-eu-commissioner

 

[4] Theodor W. Adorno ‘Prisms’, trans. S. Weber. Cambridge, MA (1981): The MIT Press.

[5] Richard Gunn and Adrian Wilding ‘Revolutionary or Less-Than-Revolutionary Recognition?’, Heathwood Press (2013): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/revolutionary-less-than-revolutionary-recognition/

[6] Theodor W. Adorno ‘Prisms’, trans. S. Weber. Cambridge, MA (1981): The MIT Press.

[7] Theodor W. Adorno & Max Horkheimer ‘Dialectic of Enlightenment’, Stanford (2002): Stanford University Press; Kate Schick ‘‘To lend a voice to suffering is a condition for all truth’: Adorno and International Political Thought’, Heathwood Press (2014): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/to-lend-a-voice-to-suffering-is-a-condition-for-all-truth-adorno-and-international-political-thought/; R.C. Smith ‘Ideology, existential anxiety and dominating social systems: Dialectic of Enlightenment revisited’, Heathwood Press (2013): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/ideology-existential-anxiety-dominating-social-systems-dialectic-enlightenment-revisited/

[8] Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman ‘Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media’, Pantheon Books (1988)

[9] Kate Schick ‘‘To lend a voice to suffering is a condition for all truth’: Adorno and International Political Thought’, Heathwood Press (2014): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/to-lend-a-voice-to-suffering-is-a-condition-for-all-truth-adorno-and-international-political-thought/

[10] Ibid.

[11] Max Horkheimer ‘Eclipse of Reason’, Connecticut: Martino Fine Books (2013)

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Douglas Kellner ‘Critical Theory and the Crisis of Social Theory’, Heathwood Press (2014): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/critical-theory-and-the-crisis-of-social-theory-douglas-kellner/

[15] Elias Groll ‘Omidyars New Site Hopes to Beat the Surveillance State Bloody’, ForeignPolicy.com (2014): http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2014/02/10/omidyars_new_site_hopes_to_beat_the_surveillance_state_bloody

[16] Jerome Roos ‘Greenwald and the limits of billionaire journalism’, Roar Magazine (2014): http://roarmag.org/2014/02/greenwald-intercept-nsa-leaks/

[17] Ibid.

[18] Douglas Kellner ‘Critical Theory and the Crisis of Social Theory’, Heathwood Press (2014): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/critical-theory-and-the-crisis-of-social-theory-douglas-kellner/

[19] Max Horkheimer ‘Critical Theory: Selected Essays’, New York: Herder and Herder (1972)

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Max Horkheimer ‘Eclipse of Reason’, Connecticut: Martino Fine Books (2013); J.M. Bernstein ‘Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics’, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2001)

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Elliot Sperber ‘Why Edward Snowden’s Leaks Have Empowered All of Us’, Heathwood Press (2014): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/why-edward-snowdens-leaks-have-empowered-all-of-us/

[27] Douglas Kellner ‘Critical Theory and the Crisis of Social Theory’, Heathwood Press (2014): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/critical-theory-and-the-crisis-of-social-theory-douglas-kellner/

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] R.C. Smith ‘Authoritarianism and the NSA: Why mass surveillance is a direct product of modern (ideological) society’, Heathwood Press (2013): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/authoritarianism-and-the-nsa-why-mass-surveillance-is-a-natural-product-of-modern-society/

[31] See R.C. Smith and Elliot Sperber ‘Democracy in Crisis: Toward a Foundational, Alternative Theory of Participatory Democracy’, Heathwood Press (Forthcoming; 2014).

[32] J.M. Bernstein ‘Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics’, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2001); R.C. Smith ‘Ideology, existential anxiety and dominating social systems: Dialectic of Enlightenment revisited’, Heathwood Press (2013): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/ideology-existential-anxiety-dominating-social-systems-dialectic-enlightenment-revisited/

[33] .M. Bernstein ‘Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics’, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2001)

[34] Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer ‘Dialectic of Enlightenment’, Stanford: Stanford University Press (2002); R.C. Smith ‘Ideology, existential anxiety and dominating social systems: Dialectic of Enlightenment revisited’, Heathwood Press (2013): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/ideology-existential-anxiety-dominating-social-systems-dialectic-enlightenment-revisited/

[35] J.M. Bernstein ‘Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics’, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2001)

[36] Elliot Sperber ‘On the Distributions of the Possible: Fukushima Economics’, Heathwood Press (2013): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/distributions-possible-fukushima-economics/

[37] Elliot Sperber ‘Toward a Salutary Political-Economy – Freedom from Jobs’, Heathwood Press (2013): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/salutary-political-economy-freedom-jobs/

[38] Max Horkheimer ‘Eclipse of Reason’, Connecticut: Martino Fine Books (2013); Michael Ott ‘Something’s Missing: A Study of the Dialectic of Utopia in the theories of Theodor W. Adorno and Ernst Bloch’, Heathwood Press (2013): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/somethings-missing-study-dialectic-utopia-theories-theodor-w-adorno-ernst-bloch/

[39] Ibid.

[40] Douglas Kellner ‘Critical Theory and the Crisis of Social Theory’, Heathwood Press (2014): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/critical-theory-and-the-crisis-of-social-theory-douglas-kellner/; Herbert Marcuse ‘One-Dimensional Man’, Boston: Beacon Press (1968); Theodor W. Adorno ‘Negative Dialectics’, New York: Seabury (1973)

[41] Douglas Kellner ‘Critical Theory and the Crisis of Social Theory’, Heathwood Press (2014): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/critical-theory-and-the-crisis-of-social-theory-douglas-kellner/

[42] In a recent interview on DemocracyNow! Jesselyn Radack, legal adviser to Snowden, discussed a new report based on leaks by Snowden that revealed how the National Security Agency played a role in the monitoring of a U.S. law firm that represented the Indonesian government during trade disputes with the United States.

[43] R.C. Smith ‘Revolution, History and Dominating Social Systems: Notes on a foundational approach to systemic change (Lecture notes, 2013-2014)’, Heathwood Press (2014): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/revolution-history-and-dominating-social-systems-notes-on-a-foundational-approach-to-systemic-change-lecture-notes-2013-2014/

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid.

[46] See R.C. Smith and Elliot Sperber ‘Democracy in Crisis: Toward a Foundational, Alternative Theory of Participatory Democracy’, Heathwood Press (Forthcoming; 2014).

[47] Walter Benjamin ‘Illuminations’, New York: Schocken Books (1968).

[48] Ibid.

[49] Max Horkheimer ‘Eclipse of Reason’, Connecticut: Martino Fine Books (2013)

[50] Ibid.

[51] Max Horkheimer ‘Eclipse of Reason’, Connecticut: Martino Fine Books (2013)

[52] Ibid.

[53] Ibid.

[54] R.C. Smith ‘Revolution, History and Dominating Social Systems: Notes on a foundational approach to systemic change (Lecture notes, 2013-2014)’, Heathwood Press (2014): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/revolution-history-and-dominating-social-systems-notes-on-a-foundational-approach-to-systemic-change-lecture-notes-2013-2014/; R.C. Smith ‘Totalitarianism and the ideological structure of contemporary politics: A critique of the modern political spectrum’, Heathwood Press (2013): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/politics-dead-hope-political-futures-a-critique-modern-political-spectrum-introducing-notion-alternative-politics/

[55] Theodor W. Adorno (and Max Horkheimer) ‘Dialectic of Enlightenment’, Stanford: Stanford University Press (2002)

[56] Ibid,

[57] R.C. Smith ‘Revolution, History and Dominating Social Systems: Notes on a foundational approach to systemic change (Lecture notes, 2013-2014)’, Heathwood Press (2014): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/revolution-history-and-dominating-social-systems-notes-on-a-foundational-approach-to-systemic-change-lecture-notes-2013-2014

[58] Kate Schick ‘‘To lend a voice to suffering is a condition for all truth’: Adorno and International Political Thought’, Heathwood Press (2014): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/to-lend-a-voice-to-suffering-is-a-condition-for-all-truth-adorno-and-international-political-thought/

[59] Ibid.

[60] Theodor W. Adorno ‘What Does Coming to Terms with the Past Mean?’, in G. Hartman (ed.), Bitburg: In Moral and Political Perspective, Bloomington: Indiana University Press (1986).

[61] Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialektik (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1966), p. 358/translated as Negative Dialectics by E.B. Ashton (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973), p. 365. Henceforth “ND.”

[62] Kate Schick ‘‘To lend a voice to suffering is a condition for all truth’: Adorno and International Political Thought’, Heathwood Press (2014): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/to-lend-a-voice-to-suffering-is-a-condition-for-all-truth-adorno-and-international-political-thought/

[63] Ibid.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Ibid.

[66] J.M. Bernstein ‘Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics’, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2001)

[67] Elliot Sperber ‘Beyond Fossil Fuel Boycotts: Climate Change as Crime Against Humanity’, Counterpunch.org (2014): http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/04/15/climate-change-as-crime-against-humanity/

[68] J.M. Bernstein ‘Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics’, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2001)

[69] Ibid.

[70] Max Horkheimer ‘Eclipse of Reason’, Connecticut: Martino Fine Books (2013)

[71] Theodor W. Adorno ‘Negative Dialectics’, New York: Continuum (1992)

[72] J.M. Bernstein ‘Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics’, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2001)

[73] J.M. Bernstein ‘Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics’, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2001)

[74] Ibid.

[75] Ibid.

[76] David Sherman ‘Sartre and Adorno: Dialectics of Subjectivity’, New York: SUNY Press (2007)

[77] David Sherman ‘Sartre and Adorno: Dialectics of Subjectivity’, New York: SUNY Press (2007); R.C. Smith ‘Consciousness and Revolt: An Exploration toward Reconciliation’, Heathwood Press (2011)

[78] Theodor W. Adorno ‘Negative Dialectics’, New York: Continuum (1992)

[79] J.M. Bernstein ‘Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics’, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2001)

[80] R.C. Smith ‘Revolution, History and Dominating Social Systems: Notes on a foundational approach to systemic change (Lecture notes, 2013-2014)’, Heathwood Press (2014): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/revolution-history-and-dominating-social-systems-notes-on-a-foundational-approach-to-systemic-change-lecture-notes-2013-2014/; R.C. Smith ‘Ideology, existential anxiety and dominating social systems: Dialectic of Enlightenment revisited’, Heathwood Press (2013): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/ideology-existential-anxiety-dominating-social-systems-dialectic-enlightenment-revisited/

[81] J.M. Bernstein ‘Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics’, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2001)

[82] Theodor W. Adorno ‘Minima Moralia’, London: Verso (1974)

[83] J.M. Bernstein ‘Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics’, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2001)

[84] Theodor W. Adorno ‘Minima Moralia’, London: Verso (1974)

[85] Ibid.

[86] Ibid.

[87] Theodor W. Adorno ‘Negative Dialectics’, New York: Continuum (1992)

[88] Lambert Zuidervarrt ‘Social Philosophy after Adorno’, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2007)

[89] Hauke Brunkhorst ‘Review of Lambert Zuidervaart’s Social Philosophy after Adorno’, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (2008): http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/23552-social-philosophy-after-adorno/

[90] Lambert Zuidervarrt ‘Social Philosophy after Adorno’, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2007)

[91] Theodor W. Adorno ‘Negative Dialectics’, New York: Continuum (1992)

[92] Hauke Brunkhorst ‘Review of Lambert Zuidervaart’s Social Philosophy after Adorno’, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (2008): http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/23552-social-philosophy-after-adorno/

[93] Ibid.

[94] Hauke Brunkhorst ‘Review of Lambert Zuidervaart’s Social Philosophy after Adorno’, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (2008): http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/23552-social-philosophy-after-adorno/

[95] Ibid.

[96] Michael Ott ‘Something’s Missing: A Study of the Dialectic of Utopia in the theories of Theodor W. Adorno and Ernst Bloch’, Heathwood Press (2013): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/somethings-missing-study-dialectic-utopia-theories-theodor-w-adorno-ernst-bloch/

[97] David Sherman ‘Sartre and Adorno: Dialectics of Subjectivity’, New York: SUNY Press (2007)

[98] R.C. Smith ‘Revolution, History and Dominating Social Systems: Notes on a foundational approach to systemic change (Lecture notes, 2013-2014)’, Heathwood Press (2014): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/revolution-history-and-dominating-social-systems-notes-on-a-foundational-approach-to-systemic-change-lecture-notes-2013-2014/; R.C. Smith ‘Totalitarianism and the ideological structure of contemporary politics: A critique of the modern political spectrum’, Heathwood Press (2013): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/politics-dead-hope-political-futures-a-critique-modern-political-spectrum-introducing-notion-alternative-politics/

[99] David Sherman ‘Sartre and Adorno: Dialectics of Subjectivity’, New York: SUNY Press (2007)

[100] Hauke Brunkhorst ‘Review of Lambert Zuidervaart’s Social Philosophy after Adorno’, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (2008): http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/23552-social-philosophy-after-adorno/

[101] Richard Gunn and Adrian Wilding ‘Occupy as Mutual Recognition’, Heathwood Press (2013): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/occupy-mutual-recognition/

[102] Richard Gunn, Robert Smith and Adrian Wilding ‘Heathwood: critical theory for revolutionary practice’, ROAR Magazine (2014): http://roarmag.org/2014/03/heathwood-occupy-critical-theory/

[103] Lambert Zuidervarrt ‘Social Philosophy after Adorno’, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2007)

[104] Ibid.

[105] Ibid.

[106] Theodor W. Adorno ‘Negative Dialectics’, New York: Continuum (1992)

[107] R.C. Smith ‘The Ticklish Subject? A critique of Zizek’s Lacanian theory of the subject, with emphasis on an alternative’, Heathwood Press (2013)

[108] J.M. Bernstein ‘Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics’, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2001)

[109] See R.C. Smith and Elliot Sperber ‘Democracy in Crisis: Toward a Foundational, Alternative Theory of Participatory Democracy’, Heathwood Press (Forthcoming; 2014).

[110] Lambert Zuidervarrt ‘Social Philosophy after Adorno’, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2007)

[111] Ibid.

[113] David Sherman ‘Sartre and Adorno: Dialectics of Subjectivity’, New York: SUNY Press (2007)

[114] Ibid.

[115] R.C. Smith ‘The Ticklish Subject? A critique of Zizek’s Lacanian theory of the subject, with emphasis on an alternative’, Heathwood Press (2013); R.C. Smith ‘Consciousness and Revolt: An Exploration toward Reconciliation’, Heathwood Press (2011); David Sherman ‘Sartre and Adorno: Dialectics of Subjectivity’, New York: SUNY Press (2007)

[116] Theodor W. Adorno ‘Negative Dialectics’, New York: Continuum (1992)

[117] For more on this, see previous discussion at Heathwood on ‘recognition’.

[118] J.M. Bernstein ‘Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics’, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2001)

[119] J.M. Bernstein ‘Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics’, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2001)

[120] Richard Gunn and Adrian Wilding ‘Revolutionary or Less-Than-Revolutionary Recognition?’, Heathwood Press (2013): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/revolutionary-less-than-revolutionary-recognition/

[121] Ibid; R.C. Smith ‘The Ticklish Subject? A critique of Zizek’s Lacanian theory of the subject, with emphasis on an alternative’, Heathwood Press (2013); R.C. Smith ‘Consciousness and Revolt: An Exploration toward Reconciliation’, Heathwood Press (2011); David Sherman ‘Sartre and Adorno: Dialectics of Subjectivity’, New York: SUNY Press (2007)

[122] While the present political-economy doesn’t foster such conditions, this does not mean that the ‘mediating or free-flourishing subject’ does not exist (however fragile) under the present state of affairs. The very notion of the ‘liberated subject’ is evidenced in countless acts, from protest movements to the development of systemic political-economic alternatives to the practice of radical, alternative education (that goes beyond the horizon that Robinson presents).

[123] Theodor W. Adorno ‘Negative Dialectics’, New York: Continuum (1992); Theodor W. Adorno ‘Minima Moralia’, London: Verso (1974); Theodor W. Adorno (and Max Horkheimer) ‘Dialectic of Enlightenment’, Stanford: Stanford University Press (2002); Theodor W. Adorno (et al.) ‘The Authoritarian Personality’, New York: W.W. Norton & Co. (1982); Theodor W. Adorno ‘On the Historical Adequacy of Consciousness’ (interview by Peter von Haselberg), Telos (Summer 1983); Theodor W. Adorno ‘Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda’ in ‘The Culture Industry’, London: Routledge (1991)

[124]R .C. Smith ‘Revolution, History and Dominating Social Systems: Notes on a foundational approach to systemic change (Lecture notes, 2013-2014)’, Heathwood Press (2014): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/revolution-history-and-dominating-social-systems-notes-on-a-foundational-approach-to-systemic-change-lecture-notes-2013-2014/

[125] Elliot Sperber ‘Toward a Salutary Political-Economy – Freedom from Jobs’, Heathwood Press (2013): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/salutary-political-economy-freedom-jobs/

[126] Ibid.

[127] Theodor W. Adorno ‘Negative Dialectics’, New York: Continuum (1992)

[128] Kate Schick ‘‘To lend a voice to suffering is a condition for all truth’: Adorno and International Political Thought’, Heathwood Press (2014): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/to-lend-a-voice-to-suffering-is-a-condition-for-all-truth-adorno-and-international-political-thought/

[129] Ibid.

[130] Ibid.

[131] Theodor W. Adorno ‘Negative Dialectics’, New York: Continuum (1992)

[132] Noam Chomsky ‘The U.S. behaves nothing like a democracy’, Alternet.org (2014): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/chomsky-the-u-s-behaves-nothing-like-a-democracy/

[133] Richard Gunn and Adrian Wilding ‘Occupy as Mutual Recognition’, Heathwood Press (2013): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/occupy-mutual-recognition/

[134] Kate Schick ‘‘To lend a voice to suffering is a condition for all truth’: Adorno and International Political Thought’, Heathwood Press (2014): http://www.heathwoodpress.com/to-lend-a-voice-to-suffering-is-a-condition-for-all-truth-adorno-and-international-political-thought/

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