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The Human Limits of Nature

Robert M. Young

I find it worrying that an Institute for Contemporary Arts is turning deferentially to science for social and cultural wisdom and guidance. Presumably the people to whom these essays are addressed believe that this is a project worth pursuing. It seems to me that the contributors and their audience are gathered in the name of science, but that we are at the same time gathered as symptoms of some sort of social, cultural, political and indeed ideological malaise. We seek a basis in science for our goals and for the ordering of society. Scientists and other related experts are becoming secular priests, who are supposed to help us order our conduct, our work and the world that we live in.

I would like to begin by discussing the phrase 'human nature' and to attempt a critical examination of the moral, political and ideological positions which are bound up with that concept. My first point is to suggest that we scrutinize the phrase. The juxtaposition of the term 'human' with that of 'nature' is part of common language. We all mean something by 'human nature'. We do not think it is silly, or deeply problematic, to combine the two words. But the commonsensical juxtaposition of humanity with nature, if we reflect on it, conceals very deep issues. Its usual meaning is in the area of 'What is man like? What is characteristic of man? What regularities of what people do, think and feel can we employ as guides in our relations with our fellow men?' That is all fairly clear, although imprecise. But the juxtaposition of humanity with nature is not really so straightforward. In many ways, we think of our humanity as something different from, as over against, the concept of nature. This 'over-against-ness' is one of the pervasive trends in the Western and other intellectual traditions. Humanity, we like to think, is not merely a natural phenomenon. Yet we believe deeply, if we take science seriously, that there is nothing about man which is not, at least in principle, explainable by the concepts and methods of the natural sciences.

This assumption that scientific naturalism applies to man and to all of his works is fundamental; it is the sine qua non of psychology and of the social - or some would say the 'behavioural', and others would say the 'human' - sciences. The assumption has become fundamental as a result of four interrelated phases in the history of thought, at least since the eighteenth century. The first phase was the attempt to take the corpuscular and mechanical physics of the Mechanical Philosophy, deriving from the Scientific Revolution, and apply it to the mind: the development of the so-called 'association psychology'.[1] Then this psychology interacted in complicated ways with the development of the modern theory of evolution.[2] Then associationism and evolutionism and related neurological conceptions combined with ideas from romantic philosophy to produce the psychoanalytic theory in the work of Sigmund Freud.[3] I think the vogue of psychoanalysis as a cultural philosophy is past, and we are now in a period in which many people are seeing these naturalistic assumptions in terms of the disciplines of ethology and genetics. These, of course, are related to other aspects of the social and human sciences, and indeed to demography, social statistics, and other disciplines. They are all founded on the further assumption that the aspects of man which are most significantly human, that is, his mental functions, are based ultimately on natural processes: to put it in its simplest form, that the brain, as a physiological system, is the organ of the mind.


I want to spend a bit of time considering the gap between this general principle of scientific naturalism as applied to man - i.e., scientific naturalism and determinism - on the one hand, and particular specifications of it on the other. One of the themes which I shall develop concerns the ways in which our acknowledgement of determinism as applied to man plays a socio-political role in inducing a kind of fatalism. That is to say, I intend to examine the project of searching for the limits of human nature, and to attempt to lay bare what seem to me to be some of its goals and some of its latent functions. In doing this I hope to bring moral and political criteria to bear on that project. In the end, I shall stand it on its head, or perhaps turn it inside out, and suggest that we might just as fruitfully search for the human limits of nature as for the limits of human nature. I am not just playing with words in suggesting that the project of searching for the limits of human nature is itself problematic. In conducting this critique, I shall touch briefly on ethology and talk quite a bit about biology and psychology and the sociology of knowledge from a Marxist perspective. My aims are to show that there is an implied fatalism in the project itself, that it plays a role in treating men like things (i.e., that it reifies men), and that it is an important aspect of our alienation from our own belief that we can shape the world - or at least that we can try to shape the world - as we wish.

Now to consider the project itself: the limits of human nature are presumed to be natural. That is, according to the theory of evolution, man's origins and his nature are the results of, and are controlled by, the uniform laws which govern all natural processes. To fly in the face of these laws in setting goals for ourselves and for society is at one level quixotic and at another strictly impossible. So, if we would know how men should live, it is certainly prudent to inquire about the constraints on how they can live. Since nothing transcends the laws of nature, the relevant scientific findings and generalizations will show us how men must live. The limits of human nature are, once again, presumed to be natural. The investigation of natural processes is the domain of science. Therefore science will, if anything can, teach us how men should, can, and must live. Science is done by scientists, men who are highly-trained experts. It is to them that we must turn for sciences of behaviour, of ethics, of society and of politics.

This may sound crude. I think it is. But I also think it conveys the assumptions underlying this series of essays. If we look at the Prospectus to the original ICA lecture series we are told that the series 'aims to ask what are the irreducible foundations of human nature on which culture builds, and whether there are limits within which human nature develops or evolves'. Four specifications of this project are spelled out: first, 'in what sense is it meaningful to talk of "constraints" or "limits" on human nature'; second, 'what limits have been defined in the past'; third, 'what such limits could be suggested in the light of modern science'; and fourth, 'what are the ideological implications of differing theories about human nature'. My contribution falls under the last heading, the ideological implications of differing theories about human nature, but I intend it to reflect back on the other specifications.

First, I want to notice two features of these formulations. Our attention is drawn to the ideological 'implications' of differing theories about human nature, and it is elsewhere said that 'Science is often pressed into service to justify models of political and economic behaviour'. It is often pointed out that power lies with the person who defines the situation or the question. These formulations, it seems to me, tacitly assume that science is one thing and its ideological implications quite another, and that the findings and theories of science are neutral. Particular interest groups then come along and use or abuse them - they 'press them into service' to justify models of political and economic behaviour. If we accept these formulations our task is very clear: be vigilant in preventing the employment of scientific ideas as justifications for models of political and economic behaviour. If we do this, the argument runs, science will have no ideological implications. The reason is that the same view which separates science from ideology, defines ideology as 'an inverted, truncated, distorted reflection of reality'.[4]

It seems worth while to spend a little time looking at the concept of ideology, and in doing so I shall be guided by Lefebvre's useful essay, 'Ideology and the Sociology of Knowledge'. 'Ideologies', by this account, 'come down to false representations of history or to abstractions from history. Every ideology, then, is a collection of errors, illusions, mystifications, which can be accounted for by reference to the historical reality it distorts and transposes.’[5] 'Ideologies operate by extrapolating the reality they interpret and transpose.’[6] This is not to say that ideologies reflect no reality, but that they attempt to represent all of reality in terms which reflect the interests of particular groups. Ideologies generalize 'special interests - class interests - by such means as abstraction, incomplete or distorted representations, appeals to fetishism'.[7] 'Once ideology is related to the real conditions that gave rise to it, it ceases to be completely illusory, entirely false.’[8]

The reality it conveys is real, but partial. 'Ideological representations invariably serve as instruments in the struggle between groups (peoples, nations) and classes (and fractions of classes). But their intervention in such struggles takes the form of masking the true interests and aspirations of the groups involved, universalizing the particular and mistaking the part for the whole.’[9] 'In setting out to answer all questions, all problems, they create a comprehensive view of the world. At the same time they reinforce specific ways of life, specific behaviour patterns, "values".[10] 'Thus every ideology represents a vision or conception of the world, a Weltanschauung based on extrapolations and interpretations.’[11] Ideologies 'refract (rather than reflect) reality via pre-existing representations, selected by dominant groups and acceptable to them ‘[12]

This analysis of ideology, and indeed the modern conception of the term, is derived from arguments which Marx and Engels developed in their work, The German Ideology. [13] The basic assumption is that 'Those who wield material (economic and political) power within the established social and juridical order also wield "spiritual" power. The representations, i.e., the consciousness of society, are elaborated into a systematic idealizing of existing conditions, those conditions which make possible the economic, social and political primacy of a given group or class.' Individual theorists and activists 'play an important part in forming the general consciousness and in excluding representations contrary to the interests of the ruling group. As a result, " their ideas are the dominant ideas of their epoch".[14] This is not to say that such people are self-consciously deceptive. On the contrary, the strength of ideological representations lies very much in the extent to which people reflect and propagate views which they may not themselves self-consciously or self-critically hold. The analogy to psychology is a good one. 'From everyday experience we know that ideas serve often enough to furnish our actions with justifying motives in place of the real ones. What is called rationalization at this level is called ideology at the level of collective action. In both cases the manifest content of statements is falsified by consciousness' unreflected tie to interests, despite its illusion of autonomy.’[15] Attempts to analyse ideologies seek to replace the alleged whole with a clear and demystified picture of the part of society whose interests are being served.

Now, let us recall how this discussion of the concept of ideology began - with the assertion that science can have no ideological implications. The relationship between science and ideology is said to be that between truth and error, or, more accurately, between partial truths and special pleading. We must simply unmask the attempts to press the findings and theories of science to the service of particular social and political theories.

Unfortunately, the situation is not so simple. The problems with which we are concerned exist in two sorts of conceptual space where the terrain and boundaries are very uncertain indeed. There are two extremely important gaps which reveal our problem. The first lies between the general principle of scientific naturalism - as specified in the theory of organic evolution - and particular findings which may or may not be relevant to man in complex societies. Thus, for example, in the nineteenth century when Herbert Spencer attempted to generalize the theory of evolution as a justification for his own laissez-faire economic theories, Thomas Henry Huxley was able to come along and say, 'That's all very nice, but the general theory of evolution does not imply that - or any other - specific interpretation.'[16] The second gap lies between our very limited knowledge of animal behaviour and the very complex issues which arise because of human communication by language and by other cultural artefacts. We know that man is an animal and that he has a great deal in common with other organisms, but we cannot with any confidence directly apply findings from apes or rhesus monkeys - much less from pigeons and rats - to human social situations. These are the reasons why one must treat the arguments of people like Desmond Morris and B. F. Skinner with extreme caution - not that they have no relevance, but that we are in no position to assess their relevance.

These gaps - between the general principles and particular findings and between other organisms and man - do not merely define our ignorance. They also indicate a wide area within which speculation and ideological extrapolations can and do operate. But the problem does not end here. It is relatively - I should say only relatively - simple to guard against extrapolations from science in the service of particular ideological positions. What is not so easy is the assessment of the role of ideology in the assumptions and substance of perfectly reputable and cautious findings and theories in science. If we take seriously the assertion that all thought is highly constrained by the social and political context in which it occurs and that it is, in fundamental ways, a mediation of that context, then why make an exception of scientific thought? If we dig our heels in and make relative exceptions of some aspects of science - for example physics and chemistry - we are still faced with a continuum of disciplines whose fundamental concepts are more or less impregnated with social and political assumptions. And if we are as cautious as we can be about reading in such assumptions, we will still have to grant that the concept of human nature - of all concepts - is a happy hunting ground for social and political preconceptions, especially in the hands of eminent biologists.

Thus, our problems lie in three domains: the relationship between particular findings and the general principle of scientific naturalism, the relationship between other organisms and man, and the foundations of particular scientific findings and theories about other organisms and man. The nearer we get to what really interests us as men in society, the more our debates - both as scientists and as laymen - reflect our social and political contexts and assumptions, whether or not we are aware of those influences. [17]

What I am saying is not only that science is pressed into service to justify models of political and economic behaviour, but that these models are constitutive of the project of inquiring into human nature and society. Furthermore, the models deeply influence the more basic biological sciences to which we turn for guidance. When the participants in social and political debates turn to ethology, to genetics or to psychology or evolutionary theory for guidance, what they hear is, to a considerable extent, the echoes of their own debate, mediated and mystified in the form of science.

As we attempt to find our way through this sparsely-charted territory, we are uncertain about the boundaries, the landmarks and the possibility of the mapmaker's being disinterested. This is not a fact about his intentions, but about the relationship between thought and society, the relationship between knowledge and interest. One of the most cautious and eminent of men who have reflected on biology, Professor René Dubos, says this about scientific objectivity:

Despite our pathetic attempt at objectivity, we as scientists are in fact highly subjective in the selection of our activities, and we have goals in mind when we plan our work. We make a priori decisions concerning the kinds of facts worth looking for; we arrange these facts according to certain patterns of thought which we find congenial; and we develop them in such a manner as to promote social purposes which we deem important. [18]

If this can be said of the goals and purposes of which scientists are aware, it is likely to be even more relevant to the ones which they hold without self-conscious awareness. 


I have deliberately dwelt at length on the general problems of science and human nature before turning to particular examples. I want now to consider some historical and current cases in the light of the approach which I have outlined, beginning with some examples from this series of essays. Alan Ryan said in his discussion 'The Nature of Human Nature in Hobbes and Rousseau', the concept of human nature sets 'a limit to political possibility' [19] The sort of approach which I am proposing would say that it is just as likely to be the case that political and ideological perspectives set definitions to the limits of human nature - definitions which then lead men to despair of certain political possibilities. In 'The Limits of Man and his Predicament', Arthur Koestler argued that the trouble with our species is not what the ethologists say - aggression or territoriality - but, rather, an excess of devotion to words, beliefs and groups. He also pointed out the bad effects of language on our social and political lives, and touched on the poverty of our perceptual apparatus and the split in evolution between the thinking and the feeling parts of the brain .[20] Once again, it is just as arguable that our problems are due in no small measure to an excess of deference to science in its extrapolated form of scientism, alienating us from the belief that we can achieve a just society. The alienation takes the form of saying that it's not on, because of our brain structure, because of our language, because of the poverty of our perceptual apparatus.

Turning now very briefly to ethology - which I will not discuss in detail, because I want to treat it by analogy to another argument I am mounting - Michael Chance discussed the concept of instinct, the role of fixed action patterns, patterns of social organization. He offered us an analysis which is presumed to be relevant to man, because it was included under the title 'The Dimensions of our Social Behaviour'. He discussed 'hedonic' versus 'agonistic' bases for group cohesion among primates. (Lest it be forgotten, we are primates.)[21] We have already got four terms, four conceptions, which set some kinds of limits on what seems possible in man. The first is the concept of instinct, the second that of aggression, which has wide currency in popular literature, the third that of territoriality, and finally there is that of the hierarchical organization of biological and bio-social systems. I want to address these putative limits of human nature by considering a related concept, the analysis of which will shed light on the others: that is, the psychoanalytic concept of the unconscious, which is based on a theory of human instincts. If there were space, I would like also to go deeper into the biological sciences and discuss some more fundamental ideas - the concept of function, the concept of adaptation, the concept of equilibrium - three conceptions which are alleged to be non-controversial, and which are seen as the coinage of discourse in the discipline. All of these conceptions fall under a certain approach to the study of human nature.

The limits of human nature are, once again, the limits of nature. But the way that we approach those limits is in terms of refractoriness - the refractoriness of nature, in spite of man's best efforts, compounded by the refractoriness of man's own nature. In the period which gave rise to the modern versions of the conceptions with which we are working and with which we have been conjuring in this series, there also arose a continuous tradition of using science as a rationalization of existing economic and social relations in society. This tradition extends from Adam Smith and Robert Malthus to the present, all in the name of the relations between nature and human nature. I will not have time to consider Adam Smith, but his own 'scientific' analysis of the economy was a justification of laissez-faire and of the hierarchical division of labour. [22] If we turn to Thomas Robert Malthus, and if we read a late edition of his work, as Darwin did, we find that the clear ideological assumptions behind his argument are overlaid by ever-growing masses of statistical data. (It is one of those books which accreted as it went through editions.) But if one looks at the first edition, one finds that it was a polemic, and avowedly so, against revolutionary utopian and anarchist views, addressed specifically to Rousseau, Condorcet and Godwin.

I want to quote a few passages towards the end of his argument, just to give some idea. Malthus's Essay on the Principle of Population is supposed to be the foundation of the modern mathematical treatment of man's relationship to nature. Malthus says that 'The savage would slumber for ever under his tree unless he were roused from his torpor by the cravings of hunger or the pinchings of cold, and the exertions that he makes to avoid these evils, by procuring food, and building himself a covering, are the exercises which form and keep in motion his faculties, which otherwise would sink into listless inactivity.' 'Necessity has with great truth been called the mother of invention'.[23] A little later, he says:

As the reasons, therefore, for the constancy of the laws of nature seem, even to our understandings, obvious and striking; if we return to the principle of population [the principle that population will grow geometrically while man's ability to feed himself can only grow arithmetically] and consider man as he really is, inert, sluggish, and averse from labour, unless compelled by necessity (and it is surely the height of folly to talk of man, according to our crude fancies of what he might be), we may pronounce with certainty that the world would not have been peopled, but for the superiority of the power of population to the means of subsistence. . . . Had population and food increased in the same ratio, it is probable that man might never have emerged from the savage state. [24]

He says on the next page that 'If no man could hope to rise or fear to fall, in society, if industry did not bring with it its own reward and idleness its punishment, the middle parts [i.e., the middle class] would not certainly be what they now are.’[25]

I have quoted Malthus at length, because I think that his argument is a watershed for conceptions of man in nature, and I think that we still live in that watershed. It is a century and three-quarters since Malthus penned those words about the middle class. I venture to suggest that many would still accept his assertions about the middle class, but with heavy irony. Malthus's analysis set in train a double history, a history of science inextricably bound up with ideology, which embraced man as a part of nature and subject to natural laws, at the same time that the findings and laws of the scientific study of man were interpreted in a reconciling and rationalizing way, bringing men to accept the existing order of society as part of the immutable order of nature.

There are two points to be made about this: a general one about the relations between scientific naturalism as applied to man in general and the uniformity of nature on the one hand, and particular laws about particular societies on the other; and a second, deeper point which raises the problem of how much the ideological perspective is determinate in the formation of particular reputable scientific laws. Since Malthus, it has been increasingly assumed that the hopes of man for a better society are faced with two insurmountable mundane obstacles: the limits of his own nature and the niggardliness of a hostile environment. He lacks resources sufficient to exploit nature to yield plenty, and his own sloth and his own cravings produce inevitable suffering. The Malthusian argument, I stated a moment ago, is a watershed. I mean this in a general sense - that, as someone said, it cast gloom over the whole nineteenth century,[26] and I think we can find that gloom still spread over our newspapers. But, more particularly, it was a direct and specific influence in the development of the theories of evolution, on which our own interest in the biological limits of human nature depends. Thus, for example, Darwin specifically and avowedly derived his own mechanism of natural selection from Malthus. Darwin was stuck for an answer and he picked up Malthus one day in 1838 and had a proper 'Eureka!' experience. [27] Having gained respectability in biology, the same theory, now in a scientific form, emerges again as a social theory in the ideas of Walter Bagehot and in the whole development of Social Darwinism - the theories of the group of writers discussed by Raymond Williams.[28] The general conception which was put forward was the promise of progress at the cost of struggle, a conception which Malthus was offering as a modification of the belief in inevitable and relatively painless progress towards utopia. His was a more painful process of progress through struggle.

In the course of the nineteenth century the concept of progress came to depend on the theory of organic evolution. Condorcet, Benjamin Franklin, William Godwin and others had written on progress as a theoretical possibility and placed their hopes for it in the future developments of science. But, as Dubos reminds us, it was the doctrine of organic evolution - the mechanism which Darwin developed on the basis of Malthus's theory - 'which eventually provided the theoretical basis for the concept of progressive historical change. The doctrine of evolution therefore provides one of the most striking examples of the influence of scientific knowledge on modern culture', an influence which is now almost universal.[29] Theoretical biology has introduced into human thought a new element - guaranteed progress - which pervades all aspects of traditional culture.[30] But - and this is one of the themes I wish to stress - at a price. It is a double-edged theory: progress through struggle. We must reconcile ourselves to the 'necessary' inequalities and suffering as the 'inevitable' price which we must pay for that progress. 


You can buy a book called Marx and Engels on Malthus. That is, Marx and Engels spent so much time fulminating against Malthus that somebody thought that it was worth the trouble to collect it all together in one book.[31] And the reason they did so was that the Malthusian conception - and the other ideas of classical economics which were intimately related to it - took existing social and political relations and called them natural relations. Existing social relations were rooted in the conventions of the existing power-structure, but they came to be seen as manifestations of unalterable laws of nature. Marx and Engels were utterly opposed to the claim that it is unnatural that other kinds of society might come to be. This was not only the nineteenth-century critique of Marx and Engels: if you are following the current debate, you will find that it is the same critique mounted by Georg Lukács in History and Class Consciousness. The same critique was mounted by Lucien Goldmann, by István Mészáros, by Wilhelm Reich, by Herbert Marcuse and by Jürgen Habermas.[32] But it is neither a new debate nor one confined to Marxist circles. In the nineteenth century, the argument took place within the biological and critical literature. For example, the co-discoverer of the theory of organic evolution was Alfred Russel Wallace. Just six years after he had discovered the theory independently from Darwin, he came to consider its relationship to his own socialist beliefs. In that tussle the Malthusian aspect of evolution lost, and Wallace's socialism won out. Similarly, Henry George juxtaposed the conceptions of Progress and Poverty, and produced for the nineteenth century the alarming thesis that progress produced poverty.[33] And finally, as Raymond Williams has mentioned, Prince Kropotkin tried to say, 'Yes, of course we must base our social theory on biological theory, but let us look again at biological theory.' He found that mutual aid and co-operation were extremely important factors in evolution, balancing the role of struggle for existence.[34]

All of these views in the biological and social sphere were explicitly anti-Malthusian. One of the things I am trying to support is the claim that we are still living according to a conception of human nature which is fundamentally Malthusian. This conception lies at the bottom of our interest in ethology and psychology and genetics as potential keys to the limits of human nature. But instead of turning directly to these disciplines, I want to conduct my argument as a critique of some aspects of psychoanalysis, a discipline which depends on the same assumptions about the limits of human nature. Before doing that, however, lest you think that I am creating straw men, I should like to refer you to the arguments of Professor C. D. Darlington, which have recently been erected on the basis of genetics: that the existing order of society is as it is and as it must be because genetics says so. I have discussed this elsewhere and do not want to go into it here.[35] But I have found a new piece of evidence which I should like to share with you. This is a recent Friday Evening Discourse at the Royal Institution in London by Sir Hans Krebs, Nobel Prize Winner in Physiology and Medicine, and Professor of Biochemistry at Oxford: 'Some Facts of Life - Biology and Politics’ [36] It begins by suggesting that we take a biological approach to social problems:

My approach is based on my training as a physician and a biologist, and the thesis which I shall put forward argues that one of the roots of many troubles is an inadequate appreciation of basic biological principles - of the facts of life - which govern the conduct and wellbeing of homo sapiens.[37]

Fact No. 1: unless life is constantly renewed by hard effort, it runs down. The individual must eat and drink, and through clothing and shelter he must protect himself against the inclement environment. In a highly developed society he has to earn so that he can buy food and shelter; and to earn means that he must render some service for which somebody is willing to pay. He who does not render such service to society fails to contribute to life and has to be carried by others.[38]

Fact No. 2: is the fact that the lives of societies, such as nations, are, in principle, subject to the same laws as the lives of individuals. A nation, like an individual, has to earn its living in the face of tough competition. [39]

Fact No. 3: is the fact that homo sapiens, like all other species, does not by nature work unless he has an incentive. Effective incentives are the need for food and shelter, and a desire for pleasure. In the last resort these are all to be had for money, and for the great majority of homo sapiens (there are of course exceptions) money is the greatest single incentive for overcoming natural laziness.... If productive work is one of the bases on which the well-being and strength of society rests, the laws of social organization should do everything to encourage work .[40]

Successive governments, by their tax laws, have deterred people from making the optimal contribution to the welfare of the country and, indeed, unions have done the same thing by their restrictive practices. 'Let me emphasize that this is a mistake of successive governments irrespective of party. I am not concerned with party politics but with biology; the need for incentives is a biological phenomenon.’ [41]

... a continued decrease in working hours is an unrealistic and utopian dream. The survival of nations, alas, is a matter of ruthless competition with other nations. An ineffectual or lazy nation is weak in competing in world trade because the goods that it produces are liable to be expensive. It's also slow in making weapons to defend itself against harder working nations. It may thus be starved out or destroyed by them.[42]

A strong society, then, is one where constructive work - and this of course includes the unpaid labour of the housewife and voluntary social work and creative hobbies - is planned to be healthy and efficient .[43]

(I am sure that, having read this argument, the supporters of Women's Liberation will cease forthwith to fly in the face of these 'facts of life'.)

Sir Hans Krebs goes on to talk about 'the beast in man', the genetic basis of criminality, and the failure of the law to protect society. In short, he assumes that inequality, private property and deviant behaviour are the result of unalterable laws of nature.

He also thinks that it is extremely important that society - for biological reasons, of course - should not change too rapidly because man cannot adapt to the welfare state, trade union protection, the restraining influences of competition, or changes in customs such as the new permissiveness. It is 'the responsibility of society to keep a constant watch on the consequences of any change which it introduces...’.[44] We must keep society in 'equilibrium' - one of the concepts which I said I wished there was space to discuss.[45] His account is also said to explain 'anti-foreigner and the anti-racial feeling and the religious strife which we at present witness in Northern Ireland'. All these attitudes have a deep biological root.[46] Krebs says we must 'face the facts' and orient our lives accordingly. All this follows 'logically', he claims, from what he has stated before, such as the biological basis of the evil-doer. [47] What we need, he concludes, is a 'spiritual revival', new 'inspiring leadership' and close attention to the 'facts of life.’ [48]

Now, of course, I have chosen this because it is an easy target. But I have also chosen it because of the position which Sir Hans Krebs occupies as a professor, as a Nobel Laureate (every medical student - I had to do it when I was a medical student - has to learn the Krebs Sugar Cycle). It is the relationship between that eminence and these arguments to which I wish to draw attention. The eminence provides a licence to mount these arguments. When Richard Nixon elicits deference by extolling the 'work ethic' or national security, we are at least clear that he is talking politics; when eminent biologists do so we are increasingly finding ourselves deferring on the basis of respect for science. I take it that this is why the series of talks on 'The Limits of Human Nature' was organized, and why the latter may sell a lot of paperbacks. But I also chose to discuss Krebs's arguments, because they so neatly echo the passages from Malthus which I was quoting earlier. Malthus, Krebs and Nixon have a considerable amount in common, aside from being winners in the struggle for existence. Have we no alternative but to defer to them? 


I think we do have an alternative and I now want to spell it out by considering a version of neo-Malthusianism. The current analogy to the dismal science of classical economics - i.e., to the arguments of Adam Smith, Malthus and Ricardo - is, I think it fair to say, the psychoanalytic view of man, one which is slowly being reinforced by and integrated with ethology. The arguments which I shall review are, in principle, based on the same sort of approach. A critique of some of the assumptions of psychoanalysis can thus lead to a general critique of science and scientism. You will recall that Freud strove mightily to formulate his theory in terms of the physico-chemical sciences. Indeed, in 1895 he engaged on a project which he wrote out and later ordered to be torn up (it wasn't), in which he tried to express his new and odd findings in strictly neurophysiological terms .[49] He later moved on to a metaphorical representation of the same conception, so that we have in the psychoanalytic theory 'mental forces', mental energies', 'mental structures' - that is, terms borrowed from the physical and chemical sciences and expressed metaphorically. We also have the biological conception of 'instinct'.[50] The theory of instincts provides the basic structure of psychoanalytic theory.[51]

Freud developed his views of man in society in an essay, 'Civilization and its Discontents',[52] and it is these views, as explicitly expressed there and as contained throughout his mature writings, which I wish to review through the perspectives of two theorists, Wilhelm Reich and Herbert Marcuse. I am using this approach as an analytic tool to give us some conception of what it is like to get underneath the 'givenness' of these theories of instincts, of territory, of hierarchy, or of any other theory which claims man must be like this or that and there is nothing we can do about it. As Reich points out,

Freud's cultural and philosophical standpoint was always that culture owes its existence to instinctual repression and renunciation. The basic idea is that cultural achievements are the result of sublimated sexual energy; from this it follows logically that sexual suppression and repression are an indispensable factor in the cultural process.

This is the 'reality principle' on which civilization depends.[53] Reich argues that 'What is correct in this theory is only that sexual suppression forms the mass psychological basis for a certain culture, namely, the patriarchal authoritarian one in all its forms. What is incorrect', he says, 'is the formulation that sexual suppression is the basis of culture in general.' [54]

It is a basic error of official psychoanalysis to think of the impulses as absolute biologically given facts; true, this is not inherent in psychoanalysis but in the mechanistic thinking of the analysts which, as is always the case with mechanistic thinking, is supplemented with metaphysical theses. Impulses also develop, change and subside.[55]

Reich also argues that anti-social impulses 'result from social repression of normal sexuality', and that 'they have to be repressed because society - rightly - does not allow them to be satisfied'.

... these impulses are considered biological facts by psychoanalysts. ...This naďve mechanistic biologism is so difficult to unmask because it serves a definite function in our society: that of shifting the problem from the sociological to the biological realm where nothing can be done about it.[56]

Reich argues, on the other hand, that 'There is such a thing as the sociology of the unconscious and of antisocial sexuality, that is, a social history of the unconscious impulses with regard to their intensity as well as their contents. Not only is repression a sociological phenomenon, but also that which causes the repression.’ [57]

The fact that this reality principle is itself relative, that it is determined by an authoritarian society and serves its purposes, this decisive fact goes carefully unmentioned; to mention this, they say, is 'politics' and science has nothing to do with politics. They refuse to see the fact that not to mention it is also politics.[58]

When psychoanalysis does not dare to accept the consequences of its findings, it points to the allegedly non-political (unpragmatic) character of the science, while, in fact, every step of the psychoanalytic theory and of the practice deals with political (pragmatic) issues. [59]

The compulsive moral point of view of the political reaction is that of an absolute antithesis between biological impulse and social interest. Based on this antithesis, the reaction points to the necessity of moral regulation; for, they say, were one to 'eliminate morals', the 'animal instincts' would gain the upper hand and this would 'lead to chaos'. It is evident that the formula of the threatening social chaos is nothing but the fear of human instincts.[60]

'What is meant by social order', he argues, is the particular, and in his view 'the reactionary social order, and by personality development is meant the development of a personality which is capable of adjusting to that order’.[61] He talks in particular about the role of the family. One of the conceptions which lies at the root of psychoanalytic assumptions is that the psychoanalytic drama is worked out within the family. In a similar way the studies in ethology, e.g., the studies of rearing of monkeys, take particular sorts of family relationship as basic. Reich wants to offer a critique of the family, a critique of the concept of work, and of all the things which are taken as fixed and unalterable in the project of research on the limits of human nature. He points out that the role of the family has changed in the development of modern society from a primarily economic to a political function.

Its cardinal function, that for which it is mostly supported and defended by conservative science and law, is that of serving as a factory for authoritarian ideologies and conservative structures. It forms the educational apparatus through which practically every individual of our society, from the moment of drawing his first breath, has to pass. It influences the child in the sense of a reactionary ideology not only as an authoritarian institution, but also on the strength of its own structure; it is the conveyor belt between the economic structure of conservative society and its ideological superstructure; its reactionary atmosphere must needs become inextricably implanted in every one of its members. Through its own form, and through direct influencing, it conveys not only conservative ideologies and conservative attitudes towards the existing social order; in addition, on the basis of the sexual structure to which it owes its existence and which it procreates, it exerts an immediate influence on the sexual structure of the children in the conservative sense .[62]

The basis of the middle class family is the relationship of the patriarchal father to wife and children. He is as it were the exponent and representative of the authority of the state in the family. Because of the contradiction between his position in the production process (subordinate) and his family function (boss) he is a top-sergeant type; he kowtows to those above, absorbs the prevailing attitudes (hence his tendency to imitation) and dominates those below; he transmits the government and social concepts and enforces them.[63]

'The anchoring of sexual morality and the changes it brings about in the organism, create specific psychic structures which form', Reich argues, 'the mass psychological basis for an authoritarian social order.' He concludes that 'the evaluation of the family thus becomes the keystone for the evaluation of the general nature of different kinds of social order'.[64]

I am not asking you to agree with this point of view, but only to notice that he has adopted a critical attitude to what is taken as biologically fixed in the orthodoxy of psychoanalysis, of ethological studies, and, a fortiori, to the belief that you can mount very general social and political arguments on the basis of genetics or any branch of the biological sciences. Let me take an example which makes criticisms of Reich's work based on ethology. In his disappointing book on Reich, Charles Rycroft argues: 'His whole political, social and sexual stance can indeed be interpreted as a massive rejection or dismissal of the problem of dominance in human relationships. It was, he believed, possible to conceive of a world in which nobody dominated anybody in any way whatsoever.' I said that I was going to attempt to illuminate assertions about ethology by discussing psychoanalysis. Rycroft goes on: 'One again wonders what he would have made of the recent ethological work which suggests that the establishment of hierarchies, in which each member of a group has and knows his place, is one of the basic biological mechanisms for maintaining peace and cohesion within groups.’ [65] Thus, Reich's arguments are decisively refuted by the pecking-order in any farmer's henyard.

This cryptic dismissal of Reich's views on dominance and hierarchies should not be taken lightly. There is a developing alliance between orthodox psychoanalysis and the rapidly-growing field of speculation based on the study of animal behaviour, ethology. For our purposes, this marriage of ideological convenience begins with certain speculations (On Aggression) which Konrad Lorenz, the father of much of both scientific and ‘pop' ethology, developed while working with American psychoanalysts.[66] On the particular question of dominance, my own fleeting reference to the pecking-order in a farmer's henyard refers to the beginnings of the modern ethological investigation of one organism's keeping another in check by threatening behaviour. This competitiveness had been justified on economic and then biological grounds throughout the nineteenth century.[67] But since the observations of domestic fowls by the Norwegian zoologist Thorlief Schjelderup-Ebbe in 1913, the alleged biological basis for the hierarchical division of labour has received renewed support from the study of animal behaviour.[68] The generalizations and extrapolations which have been based on this and on other studies are now much disputed. For example, one recent critical reviewer of the shortcomings of social dominance theory remarks:

There remains the problem of why social dominance came to be accepted as the normal structuring mechanism of primate societies. There is a great deal of evidence indicating that the early studies which contributed so much towards the establishment of the concept as a normal structuring mechanism, were in fact studies of populations under severe social stress .[69]

But the caution with which these concepts are treated in the professional literature has not inhibited popularizers of ethology from making the sorts of remarks which give critics of the critics of orthodox psychoanalysis - e.g., Rycroft - a confident air. For example, in one of the most widely-read works in this genre, Desmond Morris says of us 'naked apes', 'As primates we were already loaded with the hierarchy system. This is the basic way of primate life.’[70] More recently, two South African authors have devoted an entire book to the issue: The Dominant Man: The Mystique of Personality and Prestige. Here are some representative passages from their chapters 'Animal Dominance' and 'The Submissive Personality': 'History and anthropology demonstrate that all human societies are organized around some kind of dominance hierarchy . . .'. But, they say, this must be seen in the light of 'the animal background against which human dominance must be viewed if we want to keep it in its proper biological perspective . . .'.[71]

In a matter of two or three decades, the ethologists have brought about a revolution in man's understanding of his social behaviour. . . . In particular, we now know that a type of dominance that can scarcely be distinguished from human dominance is characteristic of all socially organized birds and mammals .[72]

In fact, the dominance hierarchy, of which the chicken-yard pecking order is an elementary example, has since been shown to be the basic form of social organization in all vertebrate species. [73]

So, biology proves that society cannot be fundamentally changed, and human history reflects this 'basic form'.

Frequent reference to dominance and subordination in our day-to-day language, as well as man's long-standing dependence on the division of large communities into caste hierarchies, clearly shows the extent to which the dominance order system continues to play a central part in human affairs. In fact, the anthropologist Lionel Tiger has referred to the dominance order as the universal spinal cord of a human community. Throughout history, certain basic social patterns along pecking order lines have recurred time and again with little variation. Human communities have displayed an overwhelming tendency to stay in the well-worn grooves of dominance and submission. Political revolutions break out with brilliant new social ideas. One or two new ideas may stay, but for the most part the hierarchy system reasserts itself in a new disguise and the egalitarian movement disintegrates.[74]

Lionel Tiger and his collaborator, Robin Fox, have indeed combined anthropological, sociological and ethological arguments in support of this conclusion,[75] and it has been further supported by a recent historical and political analysis of ten modern revolutions, none of which resulted in the elimination of an hierarchical social order but which - whatever their other achievements - only produced 'the circulation of élites' in politics and society.[76] The author of Modern Revolutions would be the last to appeal to biology in support of his conclusions, but biologists and social scientists seem only too willing to lend a pessimistic basis to the dismal failure to transcend authoritarian structures which history does indeed indicate. We are assured in The Dominant Man that pre-history, history and genetics say that it must be so.

The result of many millions of years' development in a social direction is that every hierarchical animal now possesses the ability to abandon its competitive feelings in the presence of an acknowledged superior - a special arrangement of psychological equipment which allows a weaker animal to accept the domination of a worthy leader.[77]

The exact way in which a subordinate submits to authority will obviously vary from one species to another. The various psychological and physiological processes that contribute to the deferential behaviour of a human being will presumably be more amenable than most to cultural conditioning. Nevertheless, the presence of an underlying genetic foundation is beyond question.'[78]

Man, like every other successful vertebrate, has evidently inherited a well-developed capacity for deference which checks his dominance ambitions at appropriate moments.... Since everybody must settle for a unique interpersonal position relative to everybody else's, we are left with a society of unequals.'[79]

I have quoted this book at length as a parallel to my treatment of Sir Hans Krebs's 'Facts of Life' and for the same reasons. I have done so before concluding my remarks on Reich's critique of psychoanalysis, in order to help us to see what we are up against in attempting to take a critical approach to various forms of biologism. Reich was deeply critical of Freudian biologism, 'the tendency to treat as universal and biologically inevitable attitudes and impulses' which can be equally argued to be determined by cultural conditions. He rejected biologism and accepted Freud's early view 'that neurosis is basically the result of the conflict between instinctual needs and the reality which frustrates them', but he felt that the outcome of this conflict was not biologically predetermined. The problem was one of altering the social reality rather than of succumbing to Freud's pessimistic cultural philosophy, with its roots in biologistic fatalism. Rather than seeing society as the result of a biologically-based psychic structure, he saw character-structure as the result of a certain kind of society.[80] 'As soon as an ideology has taken root in the structure of people and has altered it, it has become a material social power.[81] His advocacy of psychoanalysis was combined with a critical approach to its implicit support for authoritarian society. He argued that bourgeois society produces the character structure it requires by means of the mediation of social institutions.

His criticisms of authoritarianism in the family, the school and in religion were based on an attempt to integrate his Marxism with his psychoanalytic work. Where Freud saw a contradiction between Marxism and psychoanalysis, Reich used aspects of each to provide illumination and evaluation of the other. He was as critical of official communist orthodoxy as he was of the orthodox Freudians, and was also an early explorer of the parallels between Hitler's fascism and Stalin's. All three orthodoxies reviled him: he was expelled from Freud's circle as well as from the Communist Party, he had to flee from Hitler's Germany, and his works were banned by the Gestapo.

Nearly four decades have elapsed since his early work, which is now being separated from the eccentricities of his later ideas, his bizarre theories and his tragic end in an American prison.[82] If we want to learn about the role of ideology in our definitions of 'the limits of human nature', a critical reading of Reich's work is of great potential benefit, especially The Mass Psychology of Fascism, The Sexual Revolution and his pamphlets 'What is Class Consciousness?' and 'Dialectical Materialism and Psychoanalysis. [83


Now I want to discuss Marcuse for a while. I am lumping Marcuse and Reich together, rather than splitting them, although there are important differences between them.[84] For example, Marcuse argued that Reich failed to make any essential distinction between repressive and non-repressive sublimation, and that Reich's sociological insights involve what Marcuse calls 'a sweeping primitivism'. He agreed with Reich's emphasis on instinctual repression as the root cause of authoritarianism and deference to it but disagreed with Reich's belief that it could be overcome by concentrating on sexual liberation.[85] Marcuse raises the same sorts of issues that I have been discussing but in a slightly more precise and systematic (and therefore less personally resonant) form. He grants that there is such a thing as the reality to which man must adapt, but he wants to distinguish the inescapable aspects of that reality from those aspects which are peculiar to the existing social order. That is, he wants to make a distinction between the Freudian reality principle and the extra requirements of existing societies which he calls the 'performance principle’ [86] Similarly, he wants to make a distinction between the legitimate domain of repression and that extra or 'surplus' repression which is attributable to specific social orders.[87] And finally, he wants to note that 'sublimation' is not easily put aside, in the sense that one can come along and say, 'Oh! we now have a permissive society'. Society can and does offer that kind of permissiveness in a repressive form which he calls 'repressive de-sublimation'.[88] He makes an analogous argument at the straightforward political level about the concept of tolerance - that you can let tolerance flower in a way which is objectively repressive, just as you can de-sublimate in a way which is objectively repressive.[89] Like Reich, Marcuse argues that psychoanalysis - which represents itself as based on biology - is fundamentally social and historical. He turns psychoanalysis against itself, and claims that the Freudian theory of instincts makes it possible to understand the hidden nature of certain decisive tendencies in current politics. He points out that the basic psychoanalytic concepts are social and political. They 'do not have to be "related" to social and political conditions - they are themselves social and political categories'. Thus, he argues that Freud 'discovered the mechanisms of social and political control in the depth dimension of instinctual drives and satisfactions'.[90] In the Freudian account of socialization, the superego absorbs the authoritarian models of 'the father and his representatives, and makes their commands and prohibitions its own laws, the individual's conscience'.[91] Thus, 'The individual reproduces on the deepest level, in his instinctual structure, the values and behaviour patterns that serve to maintain domination. . . .’[92] This occurs within the family, which reflects the dominant patterns in the society. He goes further and claims that society has proceeded to take some of these functions out of the hands of the family and place them in the schools, in the mass media, and in other public forms.[93]

Marcuse maintains that if we take seriously the possibilities of liberation, we must acknowledge that our struggles will fly in the face of conceptions of 'the biologically given', and transcend 'the laws of nature' as now conceived. His argument rests on two assertions. The first is that science has created the means to overcome the scarcities, the struggle for existence, on which the pessimistic and repressive social extrapolations from biology depend. This point is related to a deeper one - that all human needs have an historical character. They are not merely fixed by inheritance. They 'lie beyond the animal world. They are historically determined and historically mutable.’[94]

When Marcuse was asked point-blank if he meant quite literally that this would involve a 'qualitative transformation of the physiological structure of man' he said yes, but added that human nature is not merely physiological. It is historically determined and develops in history. Man does not thereby cease to have a natural history, but he can be freed from its character of struggle for existence, and authoritarianism and alienation, by our placing the techniques of advanced technology in the service of democracy rather than domination.[95] Elsewhere, in his Essay on Liberation, Marcuse equivocates on this point, and says that he does not use the terms 'biological' and 'biology' in the scientific sense.[96] But he turns around about ten pages later and writes about changing the instinctual nature of man.[97] I make this point about his equivocation, because I do not want it to be thought that the Right has a monopoly on biologization. Both Reich and Marcuse - and indeed Reich to an absurd extent in his later life - attempted to base their claims about the social changes they wanted, on exactly the kinds of biological assumptions which they are criticizing in the works of traditional theorists.[98]

What I want to emphasize about these arguments, however, is that they are deeply anti-Malthusian - or perhaps I should say post-Malthusian. That is, Malthus and Freud argued that 'Progress is only possible through the transformation of instinctual energy into the socially useful energy of labour, that is, progress is only possible as sublimation.[99] Culture, according to Freud, 'is sublimation: postponed, methodically controlled satisfaction which presupposes unhappiness. The "struggle for existence", "scarcity", and co-operation all compel renunciation and repression in the interests of security, order, and living together.[100] But the very achievements of Malthusian and Freudian sublimation have opened the way to its transcendence. The repressive reality principle becomes superfluous to the extent that civilization is no longer oppressed by the kinds of scarcity, the struggle for existence, which have led to our seeing them as absolute laws of nature. So the achievements of repressive progress can 'herald the abolition of the repressive principle of progress itself'.[101] 'What on more primitive cultural levels was - perhaps - not only a social but also a biological necessity for the further development of the species has become, at the height of civilization, a merely social, political "necessity" for maintaining the status quo." [102] We have here an analogy to Reich's views on the family. The reality principle has changed functions, from that of necessity in the biological sense to that of necessity in the political and ideological sense. Marcuse claims that '. . . at the present stage of civilization, much of the toil, renunciation, and regulation imposed upon men is no longer justified by scarcity, the struggle for existence, poverty, and weakness’.[103]

As I said, I have stressed the similarities between Reich and Marcuse, but there are important differences. Reich considered Freud's essay 'Civilization and its Discontents' an unmitigated disaster, and he rejected the Freudian antithesis between life and death instincts, between love and aggression, Eros and Thanatos. Marcuse accepted the distinction but wanted to modify it. But if we look at their respective later works, we find Reich moving (as he became more paranoid) towards an antithesis between basic energies - good and bad (there was the bad orgone for those who are connoisseurs of Reich) - while Marcuse (I think under a certain amount of pressure from the student movement) became more overtly libertarian. Marcuse advocated some forms of sublimation, but Reich went much further and stressed the genuinely liberating potential of unqualified desublimation. Thus we find them on some kind of continuum extending from Freud's conventional Malthusian pessimism, in which civilization depends on repression; to Marcuse's modified view, in which you divide between a natural and a conventional aspect (that is, between proper repression and surplus repression, between a reality-principle and a performance-principle) and in which the role of the second aspect of these was particular to existing societies as distinct from possible ones; and finally to Reich's nearly pure libertarianism, which led ultimately to arguments for sexual revolution which concentrated on what might be called 'the politics of intimacy' at the expense of more traditional radical strategies. Achieving orgiastic release was increasingly seen by Reich as prior to attempts to change social and political structures in the public world.

Marcuse and Reich have in common a critique of what Freud takes to be 'given' and 'natural', fixed and inevitable. They consider man's alleged instinctual limitations to be problematic and historical. They may be 'given' for the individual, but they are not assimilable to the immutable laws of nature. Rather, they are reflections of a particular historical conjuncture, and different men with a different consciousness, not fettered with Malthusian, Freudian, ethological, and/or genetic pessimism, might try to bring about a different world.

I hope that I have laid the groundwork for making comprehensible one of Marcuse's more abstract passages on the need to transcend present views of science, of nature and of human nature:

In Nature as well as in History, the struggle for existence is the token of scarcity, suffering and want. They are the qualities of blind matter, of the realm of immediacy in which life passively suffers its existence. This realm is gradually mediated in the course of the historical transformation of Nature; it becomes part of the human world, and to this extent, the qualities of Nature are historical qualities. In the process of civilization, Nature ceases to be mere Nature to the degree to which the struggle of blind forces is comprehended and mastered in the light of freedom.

And, to the degree to which Reason succeeds in subjecting matter to rational standards and aims, all sub-rational existence appears to be want and privation, and their reduction becomes the historical task. Suffering, violence, and destruction are categories of the natural as well as human reality, of a helpless and heartless universe. The terrible notion that the sub-rational life of nature is destined forever to remain such a universe, is neither a philosophic nor a scientific one. . . .[104]

Rather, its role is political in the widest sense: 'Glorification of the natural is part of the ideology which protects an unnatural society in its struggle against liberation.'[105


I want, finally, to consider some of the wider implications of this critique. Marcuse points out that if we are going to take a transcending view of human nature, then we must also take a transcending view of science. Once we have unmasked the political character of much which passes for the 'given' in nature and human nature, then we have to go on to see that there is an intimate relationship between our scientific views and our political views. Marcuse says: 'But this development confronts science with the unpleasant task of becoming political - of recognizing scientific consciousness as political consciousness, and the scientific enterprise as political enterprise.’[106]

Much depends on the way one asks the questions and what one is prepared to accept as answers. Of course one would find limits to an ideological approach to science and nature, as anybody who was wanting to have some wheat in the Soviet Union during the Lysenko period could tell you.[107] At the same time, to be naďve about the role of political assumptions in science is to acquiesce in a particular representation of man, one which is in the service of a particular social order.

We can generalize the discussion in the light of the views of Lukács, Marcuse and Habermas. One of Habermas's disciples, Trent Schroyer, argues that 'Contemporary science and technology serve as a new strategy for legitimating power and privilege.' 'Insofar as the practice of the scientific establishment is held to be neutral' and applicable to all aspects of society 'while actually justifying the extension of repressive control systems, we can assert that the contemporary self-image of science functions as an all-embracing 'technocratic ideology'.[108] The gap of which I spoke before, between the general principles of scientific naturalism and particular problems of man in society, has been filled by the scientistic self-image of science. Where knowledge is absent, extrapolation fills the domain of the moral and political debate about the conflicting goals and interests of men. "'Scientism" means science's belief in itself: that is, the conviction that we can no longer understand science as one form of possible knowledge, but rather must identify [all] knowledge with science."[109] Indeed, Schroyer claims that 'the scientistic image of science has become , a dominant legitimating system of advanced industrial society.’[110]

More and more spheres of decision-making are being seen in a technological and scientific way, requiring information and instrumental strategies formulated by experts, and are therefore removed from political and moral debate.' [111]

Now, I want to cast us back to Marx. He was able to formulate his critique against a particular set of economic doctrines - the classical economics of Smith, Malthus and Ricardo. We are forced to broaden ours in the face of this kind of generalization of science, to the whole 'scientistic' theory of science itself, an approach which Schroyer sees as 'the fundamental false consciousness of our epoch'.[112] If we are going to begin to free ourselves from this defeatist approach; it seems to me that we have to take a critical view of science, one which demystifies the treatment of men as things, completely assimilable to the laws of the natural sciences as now understood and as illegitimately generalized. This is the project which we are engaged upon when we criticize the belief that we can find the limits of human nature. And if we fail to seek the human limits of nature we will find ourselves in the position where the distinction between deliberate, reasoned, debated social action and adaptive, technological deferential action breaks down.' [113] That is, the distinction is becoming meaningless without the kinds of critical reflection in which I think Reich and Marcuse, for all their undoubted faults, have been engaged. If we do not take this kind of approach, we shall find ourselves in the curious position of freeing man from the tyranny of nature, of transcending the struggle for existence, but replacing that freedom with a perfectly assimilated social coercion, again in the name of nature and of science. Science therefore becomes the ideology of power, a totalized world view which produces a fatalism on the one hand, and amenability to technological manipulation on the other. The alternative is a critical and transcending view of science, one which looks hard at its reifications, its fetishisms, its role in alienation, and, indeed, at the whole scientistic programme.

I am not suggesting that science is merely ideology, but that it is ideology as well. This is especially true of debates about human nature. Our concepts of nature and human nature are to a considerable extent mediations of our social, economic, political and ideological preconceptions. When we turn to experts for knowledge of the limits of human nature we are engaged in more far-reaching and fundamental forms of deference than we realize. Marx taught us that exchange relationships, commodities, even the means of production, are only the social relations and the labour of men in an intransigent, fetishized, reified and alienated disguise. We should ask ourselves the extent to which our ideas of nature and human nature are exactly the same thing. Ideology is an all-pervasive material force, penetrating into our most intimate and subjective relationships as well as into our putatively disinterested inquiries in the biological and human sciences. We must recover our right to define our own nature through our struggles to overcome our limitations. One component of this is the need to demystify the limits of human nature. As Reich said, 'We must get into the habit of subjecting every fetishised matter to the glaring light of naďve questions, which are notoriously the most testing, the most promising and the most far-reaching.’ [114]

This is not, of course, an entirely new view of science. In earlier periods there were rich and deep criticisms of science which juxtaposed its presumption with human moral values. They are worth re-reading: Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Zamiatin's We. Then, perhaps, we can approach B. F. Skinner's Walden Two and Beyond Freedom and Dignity, and some other works which I have mentioned, with less deferential attitudes. We might even begin to see the need to move on from interpreting the world in various fatalistic ways, to changing it.


1 Robert M. Young, 'Association of Ideas', in Philip P. Wiener, ed., Dictionary of the History of Ideas (Scribner's, New York: in press).

2 R. M. Young, Mind, Brain and Adaptation in the Nineteenth Century (Oxford University Press, 1970); ‘The Role of Psychology in the Nineteenth-Century Evolutionary Debate', in Mary Henle et al., eds., Contribution to the History of Psychology (Springer, New York: in press).

3 Henri F. Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry (Allen Lane The Penguin Press, 1970, esp. Chs. 4, 5, 7).

4 Henri Lefebvre, The Sociology of Marx (1966); trans. Norbert Guterman (Allen Lane, 1968; also paperback), ch. 3, p. 64.

5 ibid.

6 ibid., p. 70.

7 ibid., pp. 65-6.

8 ibid., p. 65.

9 ibid., p. 71.

10 ibid., p. 70.

11 ibid., p. 80.

12 ibid., p. 69.

13 Kari Marx and Frederick Engels, The German Ideology (1845-7); trans. Clemens Dutt et al. (Progress, Moscow 1964); there are a number of paperback editions of selections, for example the one edited, with an Introduction, by C. J. Arthur (Lawrence & Wishart, 1970).

14 Lefebvre, op. cit., p. 68. The internal quotation is from the classical passage in The German Ideology (Progress edition), p. 61.

15 Jürgen Habermas, Knowledge and Human Interests (1968), Appendix: 'Knowledge and Human Interests: A General Perspective' (1965), trans. Jeremy J. Shapiro (Heinemann, 1972; also paperback), p.311.

16 For a representative selection of Herbert Spencer's views, see The Man versus the State, with Four Essays on Politics and Society, edited, with an Introduction, by Donald MacRae (Penguin Books, Harmondsworth 1969). For Huxley's criticisms, see Thomas H. Huxley, Evolution and Ethics and Other Essays (1886-94), Collected Essays, vol. 9 (Macmillan, 1894).

17 Liam Hudson has made a promising beginning to an analysis of the role of ideology in psychology in The Cult of the Fact (Cape, 1972), esp. ch. 11; cf. David Ingleby, 'Ideology and the Human Sciences: Some Comments on the Role of Reification in Psychology and Psychiatry', in Counter Course: A Handbook for Course Criticism, ed. Trevor Pateman (Penguin Books, Harmondsworth 1972), pp. 51-81.

18 René Dubos, 'Science and Man's Nature', in Science and Culture, ed. Gerald Holton (Beacon paperback, Boston 1967), pp. 251-72, esp. pp. 259-60.

19 See p. 13.

20 See p. 49 ff.

21 See p. 158 ff.

22 See Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). A convenient edition is the Everyman, 2 vols. (Dent, 1910, etc; and Dutton, New York). Cf. R. M. Young, 'Darwinism and the Division of Labour' (a sketch from Smith to the present), in Listener 88, No. 2264 (17 August 1972), pp. 202-5.

23 Thomas Robert Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society with Remarks on the Speculations of Mr. Godwin, M. Condorcet, and Other Writers (1798); a convenient reprint of the first edition, from which these passages are quoted, is edited, with an introduction, by Antony Flew (Penguin Books, Harmondsworth 1970), p. 203.

24 ibid., pp. 205-6.

25 ibid., p. 207.

26 Humphrey House, 'The Mood of Doubt', in Ideas and Beliefs of the Victorians (Dutton paperback, New York 1966), pp. 71-7.

27 R. M. Young, 'Malthus and the Evolutionists: The Common Context of Biological and Social Theory', Past and Present No. 43 (May 1969), pp. 109-45, esp. pp. 128-9.

28 See p. 115 ff.

29 Dubos, op. cit., pp. 253-4. Strictly speaking, the theory was jointly discovered by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, and its popularization as the basis for a theory of social progress owed more to Herbert Spencer than to Darwin and Wallace. However, it is 'Darwinism' which gave scientific respectability to the general conception. For a discussion of the public debate and its relations with the idea of progress, see R. M. Young, 'The Impact of Darwin on Conventional Thought', in The Victorian Crisis of Faith, ed. Anthony Symondson (S.P.C.K., 1970), pp. 13-35.

30 Dubos, op. cit.

31 Marx and Engels on Malthus, ed. Ronald L. Meek, trans. Dorothea L. and R. L. Meek (International, New York 1954; also paperback).

32 In a general essay of this kind it would be tedious and pointless to cite much of the relevant literature, so I shall only mention certain key works. I have attempted to provide a general overview of science and its history from a radical perspective - with particular reference to the nineteenthcentury debate - in 'The Historiographic and Ideological Contexts of the Nineteenth-Century Debate on Man's Place in Nature', Changing Perspectives in the History of Science, ed. Mikulás Teich and R. M. Young (Heinemann, 1973), pp. 344-438. These issues are related to the current debate in an earlier paper 'Evolutionary Biology and Ideology: Then and Now', in Science Studies 1 (1971), pp. 177-206. Both of these papers are extensively annotated. The present essay is in some ways an extension of those articles while at the same time it is intended to be both more accessible to the general reader and a more particular application of the issues raised therein, concentrating as it does on the relations between biology and psychology. See Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness (1923); new edn (1967) with Preface, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Merlin, 1971); Lucien Goldmann, The Human Sciences and Philosophy (1966), trans. Hadden V. White and R. Anchor (Cape, 1969; also paperback); István Mészáros, Marx's Theory of Alienation, 2nd edn (Merlin, 1970; also paperback); Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1933), 3rd edn, revised and enlarged, trans. Vincent R. Carfagno (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York 1969; also paperback); Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man: the Ideology of Industrial Society (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1964; also paperback); Jürgen Habermas, Toward a Rational Society: Student Protest, Science, and Politics (1968-9), trans. Jeremy J. Shapiro (Heinemann, 1971; also paperback), esp. ch. 6; see also above, note 15 and below notes 51, 53, 80-86, 88-90, 96, 98.

33 See R. M. Young, "'Non-Scientific" Factors in the Darwinian Debate', Actes du XIIe Congrčs International d'Histoire des Sciences (Blanchard, Paris 1971), vol. 8, pp. 221-6.

34 Peter Kropotkin, Mutual Aid.. a Factor of Evolution (1902; Allen Lane The Penguin Press, 1972); see also p. 125.

35 C. D. Darlington, The Evolution of Man and Society (Allen & Unwin, 1969); R. M. Young, 'Understanding It All', New Statesman 78 (26 September 1969), pp. 417-18; cf. 'Evolutionary Biology and Ideology: Then and Now', op. cit. (note 32), pp. 188, 205.

36 Proceedings of the Royal Institution of Great Britain 44 (1971), pp. 169-184; reprinted in Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 15 (1972), pp. 491-506.

37 ibid., pp. 170-1.

38 ibid., pp. 171-2.

39 ibid., p. 172.

40 Loc. cit.

41 ibid., p. 173.

42 ibid., pp. 173-4.

43 ibid., p. 174.

44 ibid., p. 179.

45 The ideological use of the concepts of adaptation and equilibrium have been touched upon in Cynthia E. Russett, The Concept of Equilibrium in American Social Thought (Yale, New Haven 1966), and Barbara Heyl, 'The Haryard "Pareto Circle"', J. Hist. Behav. Sci. 4 (1968), pp. 316-334.

46 Krebs, 'Some Facts of Life', op. cit. (note 36), p. 180.

47 ibid., p. 181.

48 ibid., pp. 180,181, 183.

49 Sigmund Freud, 'Project for a Scientific Psychology' (1895), in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (Hogarth, 1966), vol. 1, pp. 283-346; M. Peter Amacher, Freud's Neurological Education and its Influence on Psychoanalytic Theory (International Universities, New York 1965); Karl H. Pribram,'The Neuropsychology of Sigmund Freud', in Experimental Foundations of Clinical Psychology, ed. Arthur J. Bachrach (Basic Books, New York 1962), pp. 442-68; 'The Foundation of Psychoanalytic Theory: Freud's Neuropsychological Model', in Adaptation: Selected Readings, ed. K. H. Pribram (Penguin Books, Harmondsworth 1969), pp. 395-432.

50 Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), in Standard Edition, vols. IV-V, esp. ch. vii; 'Instincts and their Vicissitudes' (1915) and 'The Unconscious' (1915), ibid., vol. XIV, pp. 109-40, 159-215; The Ego and the Id (1923), ibid., vol. XIX, pp. 3-66; New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-analysis (1933), lecture xxxi: 'The Dissection of the Psychical Personality', ibid., vol. XXII; Siegfried Bernfield, 'Freud's Earliest Theories and the School of Helmholtz'in Psychoanalytic Quarterly 13 (1944), pp. 341-62; 'Freud's Scientific Beginnings', Amer. Imago 6 (1949), pp. 3-36; 'Sigmund Freud, M.D., 1882-1885', International Journal of Psycho-analysis 32 (1951), pp. 204-17; David Rapaport and Merton M. Gill, 'The Points of View and Assumptions of Metapsychology', ibid., 40 (1959), pp. 153-62; David Rapaport, The Structure of Psychoanalytic Theory: A Systematizing Attempt (International Universities, New York 1960) - both of these are reprinted in The Collected Papers of David Rapaport, ed. M. M. Gill (Basic Books, New York 1967), along with other pertinent articles. The physical and physiological aspects of Freud's approach are also discussed at length in the first volume of Ernest Jones, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, 3 vols. (Basic Books, New York 1953-7).

51 Although many aspects of the psychoanalytic movement - and in particular the school known as 'ego psychology' - have played down the role of instinct, it would be difficult to convince a serious reader of Freud's own work that his views were not fundamentally based on a theory of instincts as the biological basis for the individual's personality and for social behaviour. Whatever reservations might be held about the relations between Freud's views and those of Wilhelm Reich, Reich's exposition of Freud's fundamental theories makes this point convincingly. See W. Reich, Dialectical Materialism and Psychoanalysis (1929), trans. anon. (Socialist Reproduction pamphlet, 1972), pp. 20 ff.

52 Sigmund Freud, 'Civilization and its Discontents' (1930), Standard Edition, vol. XXI, pp. 59-145; cf. The Future of An Illusion (1927), ibid., pp. 3-56 and Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), ibid., vol. XVIII, pp. 3-64. The following works provide useful short introductions to Freud's thought: Charles Brenner, An Elementary Textbook of Psychoanalysis (International Universities, New York 1955; also Anchor paperback); Richard Wollheim, Freud (Fontana paperback, 1971).

53 Wilhelm Reich, The Sexual Revolution: Toward a Self-Governing Character Structure (1930), trans. Theodore P. Wolfe, 4th edn (1949), revised (Vision, 1969; also paperback), p. 10.

54 ibid.

55 ibid., p. xxx.

56 ibid., p. 17.

57 ibid., p. 18.

58 ibid., p. 19.

59 ibid., p. 20.

60 ibid., p. 22.

61 ibid., pp. 40-1.

62 ibid., p. 72.

63 ibid., p. 73.

64 ibid., p. 79.

65 Charles Rycroft, Reich (Fontana paperback, 1971), p. 56.

66 Konrad Lorenz, On Aggression (1963), trans. Marjorie Latzke (Methuen, 1966; also paperback), pp. ix-xiii. When Lorenz spoke about his growing belief that the findings of ethology could be integrated with those of psychoanalysis, at a meeting of experimental ethologists in Cambridge in the early 1960s, he was met with a scepticism which was very prescient in the light of subsequent further popularizations and speculations. This scientific caution has since been united with a political critique of the ideological role of both psychoanalysis and 'pop' ethology. For an example of the liaison between ethology and psychoanalysis as seen from the psychoanalytic side, see Anthony Storr, Human Aggression (Allen Lane, 1968), dedicated to Lorenz, who on the dust-jacket praises the book as 'a real synthesis of psychoanalytical and ethological thought'.

67 See p. 265, note 22.

68 T. Schjelderup-Ebbe, 'Social Behavior of Birds' in Handbook of Social Psychology, ed. Carl Murchison (Clark, Worcester, Massachusetts 1935), pp. 947-72.

69 J. S. Gartlan, 'Structure and Function in Primate Society', in Folia Primat. 8 (1968), pp. 89-120, esp. p.115; cf. T. E. Rowell, 'Hierarchy in the Organization of a Captive Baboon Group', in Animal Behaviour 14 (1966), pp. 430-43; Irwin S. Bernstein, 'Primate Status Hierarchies', in Primate Behavior: Developments in Field Laboratory Research, ed. Leonard A. Rosenblum (Academic, New York 1970), pp. 71-109. For a balanced, liberal critique of social generalizations in popular works on ethology, written by a professional physical anthropologist, see Alexander Alland, Jr, The Human Imperative (Columbia paperback, New York 1972).

A professional ethologist, Dr Patrick Bateson (of the Sub-Department of Animal Behaviour, University of Cambridge), points out that proponents of the view that dominance is a fundamental feature of animal and human social organization could reply that animal data are all the more relevant to the study of man because most human populations are , ‘under severe social stress'. (See Desmond Morris, The Human Zoo [Cape, 1969; also Corgi paperback].) Therefore, the argument runs, hierarchies are inevitable (and even desirable) in this context, and to attempt to break them down would be to treat symptoms rather than causes. A radical critique of this defence has two components. First, one should emphasize that the 'severe social stress' of human societies (especially advanced technocratic ones) is a social and historical phenomenon, and therefore amenable to alteration if one ceases to see social conventions in biologically reductionist terms. Second, to attempt to break down hierarchies without attacking their structural basis in the anti-democratic order of such societies would indeed be to treat symptoms rather than causes. This is part of the essential point of overcoming biological fatalism: as a prerequisite to believing that fundamental structural change in the social order and the resulting social relations is possible.

Turning once again to the dominance concept in ethology, Bateson argues that its inadequacy is that it provides such a partial description of social organization and has very little explanatory power. If it is observed that one individual displaces another in a particular context, the chances of predicting which one will displace the other in a different context are pretty poor. Furthermore, while dominance hierarchies are found throughout the animal kingdom (including cockroaches!), the distribution is spotty, and the available evidence supports the hypothesis that what we call 'dominance' behaviour has evolved for all sorts of disparate reasons. These reasons make the extrapolation from animal data to the layman's conception of dominance in the human hierarchical division of labour far too facile. Sophisticated ethologists are currently very wary of genetic reductionist explanations and are increasingly employing richer interpretations of behaviour which is characteristic of a given species. They are also granting a very important role to historical factors in understanding the antecedents and characteristics of human behaviour.

70 Desmond Morris, The Naked Ape (Cape, 1967; also paperback). The quotation is taken from the 7th (!) Canadian printing of the Bantam Books paperback edition (New York 1969) of 'The Runaway Bestseller in England and America', p. 128.

71 Humphry Knipe and George Maclay, The Dominant Man: The Mystique of Personality and Prestige (Souvenir, 1972), p. 2.

72 ibid., pp. 2-3.

73 ibid., p. 5.

74 ibid., p. 13.

75 Lionel Tiger, Men in Groups (Nelson, 1969; also paperback); Lionel Tiger and Robin Fox, 'The Zoological Perspective in Social Science', Man n.s. 1 (1966), pp. 74-81; The Imperial Animal (Secker & Warburg, 1972).

76 John M. Dunn, Modern Revolutions: An Introduction to the Analysis of a Political Phenomenon (Cambridge University Press, 1972; also paperback).

77 Knipe and Maclay, The Dominant Man, p. 21 (see note 71).

78 ibid., p. 29.

79 ibid., p. 32.

80 Paul Edwards, 'Wilhelm Reich', in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. P. Edwards, (Macmillan & Free Press, New York 1967), vol. 7, pp. 104-15, esp. pp. 109-10. This article is a very clear short account of Reich's ideas. A longer, though less incisive, account is: Michel Catter, The Life and Work of Wilhelm Reich, trans. Ghislaine Boulanger (Horizon, New York 1971).

81 Reich, The Sexual Revolution, p. xxvi (see note 53).

82 For a sympathetic treatment of Reich's later life, see Ilse Ollendorff Reich, Wilhelm Reich: A Personal Biography (St. Martin's, New York 1969; also Avon paperback).

83 See above, notes 32, 51 and 53; Wilhelm Reich, 'What is Class Consciousness?' (1933), trans. anon. (Socialist Reproduction pamphlet, 1971). The only work of Reich's which remains acceptable in orthodox psychoanalytic circles is his Character Analysis (1933), 3rd edn, trans. Theodore P. Wolfe (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York 1949; also Noonday paperback). On Reich's relationship with Freud, see Reich Speaks of Freud, ed. Mary Higgins and C. M. Raphael (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York 1967; also Noonday paperback). Reich's essays, written in the period before he emigrated to the United States, are becoming more readily available. See 'The Sexual Struggle of Youth' (Socialist Reproduction pamphlet, 1972); Sex-Pol: Essays, 1929-1934, ed. Lee Baxandall, with an Introduction by Bertell Ollman (Random House, New York 1972; also Vintage paperback). For related views of psychoanalysis and Marxism, see Erich Fromm, 'The Method and Function of an Analytic Social Psychology: Notes on Psychoanalysis and Historical Materialism' (1932), in Fromm, The Crisis of Psychoanalysis: Essays on Freud, Marx and Social Psychology (Cape, 1971), pp. 135-62. Fromm later became a socialist humanist, but this early essay is very sharply argued, while chapters 1 and 2, on the current state of psychoanalytic orthodoxy and on a social view of Freud's model of man, are illuminating.

84 For useful expositions of the ideas of Reich and Marcuse, see Paul A. Robinson, The Freudian Left: Wilhelm Reich, Geza Roheim, Herbert Marcuse (Harper paperback, New York 1969), published in Britain as The Sexual Radicals (Temple Smith, 1970; also paperback). For a political analysis of the implications of Reich's work, see Maurice Brinton, 'The Irrational in Politics' (Solidarity pamphlet No. 33, 1970). One of the most widely-available short accounts of Marcuse's work is so bad-tempered and nit-picking as to be worse than useless: Alasdair MacIntyre, Marcuse (Fontana paperback, 1970).

85 Rycroft, Reich, p. 45; Herbert Marcuse, Counter-revolution and Revolt (Allen Lane The Penguin Press, 1972), p. 130.

86 Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilisation: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud (1955), with a Political Preface (1966) (Allen Lane, 1969; also Abacus paperback); Abacus edn, pp. 42, 47-52, 66-7, 158-9 and ch. 6.

87 ibid., pp. 31-4, 42.

88 Marcuse, One Dimensional Man, pp. 69-76. For a discussion of the history and political role of popular music which develops a critique of it in terms of repressive de-sublimation, see R. M. Young, 'A New Nation?', Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music, Programme June 1970, pp. 29-34. The festival was held in the heady atmosphere of libertarian hopes which were, however briefly, raised by the Woodstock Festival. The article was reprinted with reflections on the festival as 'The Functions of Rock', in New Edinburgh Review No. 10 (December 1970), pp. 4-14; cf. Herbert Marcuse, Negations: Essays in Critical Theory, trans. Jeremy J. Shapiro (Beacon, Boston 1968; also paperback), p. 239; Counter-revolution and Revolt, p. 115.

89 Herbert Marcuse, 'Repressive Tolerance', in Robert P. Wolff et al, A Critique of Pure Tolerance (Cape paperback, 1969), pp. 93-137.

90 Herbert Marcuse, Five Lectures: Psychoanalysis, Politics and Utopia, trans. Jeremy J. Shapiro and Shierry M. Weber (Allen Lane The Penguin Press, 1970), p. 44.

91 ibid., p. 2.

92 ibid., p. 3.

93 ibid., p. 47.

94 ibid., pp. 62, 63, 65.

95 ibid., pp. 71-2, 80-1.

96 Herbert Marcuse, An Essay on Liberation (Beacon paperback, Boston 1969), p. 10 n.

97 ibid., p. 21; cf pp. 16,17, 51, 63, 88,91. The chapter in which these issues are mainly discussed is entitled 'A Biological Basis for Socialism?' Marcuse has returned to this issue in his latest book. See the chapter on 'Nature and Revolution' in Counter-revolution and Revolt.

98 Reich's appeal to both the politically revolutionary and the mystical wings of the youth movement is based on the intimate mixture of political critique, half-developed philosophical criticisms of the conceptions of traditional mind-body dualism, and very complex speculations on a putative 'life energy', the orgone. On his relevance to psychosomatic medicine, see the Translator's Preface (1941) to Wilhelm Reich, The Function of the Orgasm (1927) 2nd edn, trans. Theodore P. Wolfe (Panther paperback 1968), pp. 15-24. On the orgone, see Ola Raknes, Wilhelm Reich and Orgonomy (St Martin's, 1970; also Penguin Books, Baltimore, Maryland).

99 Marcuse, Five Lectures, p. 36.

100 ibid., p. 5.

101 ibid., p. 39.

102 ibid., p. 18.

103 ibid., p. 4. Related arguments in favour of the revolutionary potential of modern technology are presented by Roger Garaudy, The Turning Point of Socialism (1969), trans. Peter and Betty Ross (Fontana paperback, 1910), esp. chapter I and pp. 237-8; see also Murray Bookchin, PostScarcity Anarchism (Ramparts paperback, Berkeley 1971). This point of view ignores the problems of imperialism and the third world.

104 Marcuse, One Dimensional Man, p. 186.

105 ibid., p. 187; see also Habermas, Knowledge and Human Interest, p. 312. It is at this point that non-Marxists tend to shrug and walk away, while orthodox Marxists tend to shout abuse about Hegelian revisionism and idealism. Both reactions could benefit from an extremely careful reading of Marx, which has been made accessible to the uninitiated: Bertell Ollman, Alienation: Marx's Conception of Man in Capitalist Society (Cambridge 1971). On the specific issue raised here, see pp. 273 n. 35 and 285 n. 16. On the same theme, Charles Taylor writes: 'One of the key theses of Marxism is that human nature changes over history, that human motivation is not perennially the same, but that with the growth of consciousness, men seek new ends; their grosser needs become refined'. 'Marxism and Empiricism' in British Analytical Philosophy, eds. Bernard Williams and Alan Monteflore (Routledge, 1966), pp. 227-46, esp. p. 235.

106 Marcuse, One Dimensional Man, p. 183.

107 I have discussed this episode in the ideological definition of nature in Young, 'Evolutionary Biology and Ideology: Then and Now', op. cit. (note 32), at pp. 186-8, where references to the relevant literature are given; a more considered discussion of Lysenkoism will appear in the chapter 'The Ideology of Nature' in my forthcoming book, Ideology and the Human Sciences (Allen Lane and Doubleday, New York). The point of the example is that the hegemony of Lysenko's absurd and highly ideologically determined biological theories in Soviet agriculture produced catastrophic crop-failures.

108 Trent Schroyer, 'The Critical Theory of Late Capitalism', in Fisher, The Revival of American Socialism: Selected Papers of the Socialist Scholars Conference, ed. George Fisher (Oxford University Press, New York 1971; also paperback), pp. 297-321, esp. p. 297.

109 Habermas, Knowledge and Human Interests, p. 4 (see note 15).

110 Schroyer, op. cit., p. 301 (see note 108).

111 ibid., p. 300.

112 ibid., p. 301.

113 ibid., pp. 307-8.

114 Reich, 'What is Class Consciousness?', p. 44 (see note 83).

It has been pointed out to me that - except for one parenthesis - I have not connected the argument of this talk with the Women's Liberation movement. The remark surprised me for two reasons: first, because I had the connection in mind throughout the composition of the talk and, second, because this awareness is not, in fact, manifested in the text. On reflection, I suppose that I did not make it explicit because it has become clear to me in various ways that at the present time - and for perfectly understandable reasons - most women's liberationists are struggling against, rather than in solidarity with, men. A contribution from a man on this theme would therefore be considered male chauvinist, presumptuous and unwelcome. A second issue is that until very recently the Women's Liberation movement has concentrated on consciousness - raising in small groups and has made this approach a priority over relating its struggles to theoretical critiques. Lately, however, efforts have been made to integrate these and other activities with a more general marxist critique, although I have also heard these writers referred to dismissively as 'the theoretical heavies'.

It seems to me that there is a very large gap between the writings of Marx and Engels on the one hand and the existing Women's Lib literature on the other. (An exception is Frederick Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State in the Light of the Researches of Lewis H. Morgan, written 1884; 4th edn, 1891, trans. anon., International, New York 1942; also paperback, especially ch. 2, sect. 3.) Similarly, biological arguments have played - and continue to play - an important part in reactionary responses to attempts on the part of women and men to transcend their mutual oppression. I believe that the demystification of the search for the limits of human nature can make a contribution to the demystification of male, female and familial roles and that the arguments of Reich and Marcuse go a long way towards filling the gap mentioned above.

On the relationship between the modern family and the rise of industrial capitalism, see Philippe Aričs, Centuries of Childhood.. A Social History of Family Life, trans. Robert Baldick (Cape, 1962; also Vintage paperback, New York). For a general discussion of the relationship between sexuality and Marxism, see Reimut Reiche, Sexuality and Class Struggle, trans. Susan Bennett and David Fernbach (New Left Books, 1970). Reiche's argument is based on a Marcusan interpretation of psychoanalysis and also draws on a number of Wilhelm Reich's conceptions. His discussions of current issues and practices of New Left libertarians and of 'late capitalist sexual practices' are excellent, particularly his critique of facile and mechanistic attempts to overcome repressive de-sublimation (chs. 5-7).

The literature which I have seen from the Women's Liberation movement does not seem to have drawn significantly on the writings of Reich and Marcuse. In her chapter 'Freudianism: the Misguided Feminism' in The Dialectic of Sex (Cape, 1971; also Paladin paperback), Shulamith Firestone praises Reich in passing and mentions Marcuse's concept of repressive de-sublimation but sees psychoanalysis as competing with and suppressing feminism. In her chapters 'The Ideology of the Family' and 'Psychoanalysis and the Family' in Woman's Estate (Pelican Books, Harmondsworth 1971), Juliet Mitchell mentions Marcuse and dismisses Reich in an aside which implies a valid criticism of his later writings but not those of the 1930s. She also argues that psychoanalysis - at least potentially - offers much to the cause of women's liberation. She puts the point of my argument very neatly: 'Reactionary ideology always returns us to our biological fate' (p. 171).

Kate Millett's Sexual Politics (Rupert Hart-Davis, 1971; also Abacus paperback) ofrers a well-argued critique of Freud's work and the reactionary role of orthodox psychoanalysis. She is especially incisive about the mixture of biological and social (i.e. conventional) categories under the guise of biology (Abacus edn, pp. 157-233, esp. pp. 180, 187, 190 fr.). However, her use of the ideas of Reich and Marcuse is limited. She draws on Reich primarily for insights into the role of sexual repression in supporting the authoritarianism of German fascism and also uses him as a stick with which to beat Norman Mailer. Marcuse is mentioned in passing as one who, like Reich and Horkheimer, stressed the links between patriarchialism and authoritarian governments.

The Women's Liberation literature on domination and deference fits perfectly with the arguments of Reich and Marcuse given above. Perhaps it is not too soon to suggest that women and men can begin to work together on both the theoretical front and that of praxis, although the rising movement of radical feminism indicates that this suggestion may still be premature. For an introduction to the Women's Liberation literature, see Sisterhood is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings from the Women's Liberation Movement, ed. Robin Morgan (Vintage paperback, New York 1970) - which concentrates on the American movement and includes a large bibliography; Michelene Wandor (compiler), The Body Politic: Writings from the Women's Liberation Movement in Britain, 1969-1972(Stagelpaperback, 1972). For a comprehensive bibliography on the relationship between feminism and revolutionary politics, see Sheila Rowbotham, 'Women's Liberation and Revolution: A Bibliography' (Falling Wall Press, 1972, 79 Richmond Rd, Montpelier, Bristol, B56 5EP).

Intellectual production and reproduction are social processes, although individual 'authorship' masks this. In very different ways - and in some cases very indirectly and even unwittingly - the following people contributed to the conception and production of this essay. I want to thank them and to implicate them in the result: Jonathan Treasure, John Fekete, Derek Newton, George Gross, Rudi Dutschke, Jeremy Mulford, Sheila Young, Margot Waddell, Anne Venge, Jonathan Rosenhead, Patrick Bateson, Maureen Fallside, Jeremy Lewis, Jonathan Benthall, Martin Richards, Stephen Guyon, Tamsin Braidwood, Diana Guyon, Heather Glen, Raymond Williams, Pat Reay, Rita van der Straeten.

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