Tuesday, February 16, 2021
In my early twenties, I read an expedition was being planned in search of the grave of Genghis Khan. Being young, game, and interested in writing on an adventure, I inquired about tagging along.
I found a professor at Harvard connected with the mission, whom I quizzed about its likelihood of success. The man laughed and eventually revealed the team had little idea where Khan was buried. Some colleagues merely dug up a few stories of Khan’s death that would be enough to take in a sponsor.
I was blown away. How, I asked, could the archaeologists justify that?
“Son,” he laughed. “They’re intellectuals. They can justify anything.”
People complain about QAnon, but truly lasting, impactful lunacy is always exclusive to intellectuals. Everyone else is constrained. You can’t fish on land for long. Same with using a chainsaw for headache relief. An intellectual may freely mistake bullshit for Lincoln logs and spend a lifetime building palaces. Which brings us to Herbert Marcuse.
Often called the “Father of the New Left,” and the inspiration for a generation of furious thought-policing nitwits of the Robin DiAngelo school, Marcuse was a great intellectual. Most Americans have never heard of him — he died in 1979 — but his ideas today are ubiquitous as Edison’s lightbulbs. He gave us everything from “Silence Equals Violence” to “Too Much Democracy” to the “Crisis of Misinformation” to In Defense of Lootingto the 1619 Project and Antiracist Baby, and from the grave has cheered countless recent news stories, from the firing of Mandalorian actress Gina Corano to the erasure of raw footage of the Capitol riot from YouTube to
Marcuse is so influential that subscribers thought it would be a good idea to review his books, rather than go one-by-one through the seemingly interminable list of homage texts dominating bestseller lists in recent years. When I told a friend, he warned with a chuckle about the author’s “spectacularly bad synthesis,” mimicking the old Reese’s Peanut Butter cup jingle: “You got your Marx in my Freud!” I read One-Dimensional Man, and a painful collection essays that included the famed Bible of post-liberal thinking, Repressive Tolerance. Conclusion number one: a person more hostile to the sensual possibilities of literature would be difficult to imagine. Reading Marcuse is like eating a bowl of thumbtacks. The style is nothing, however, next to the ideas. My God, the ideas!
MT will get a lot of hate for this. Just watch.