What is alienation? The career of a concept - Lewis Feuer

Lewis Feuer writes on alienation in 1969.

Every age has its key ethical concept around which it can best formulate the cluster of its basic problems. "Duty" summated for Kant the meaning of life in the Prussian bureaucratic and pietistic society; "peace" was the basic longing of Hobbes living in England's time of civil war; "happiness" defined for Bentham the aims of a middle-class England which was challenging the rule of a landed aristocracy. Twenty-five years ago, the concept of "exploitation" was the focus of most socialist and liberal political philosophy. Today many thinkers would replace it with the concept of "alienation," which has indeed become the central one for the neo-revisionist school of Marxism. By "alienation," says Erich Fromm, "is meant a mode of experience in which the person experiences himself as an alien. He has become, one might say, estranged from himself." (l) Thus, neo-revisionism introduces an unusual emphasis into the history of socialist thought. The classical revisionism of Eduard Bernstein aimed to supplant the materialist negation of ethics with a "back to Kant" movement. Where Marx and Engels looked at ethical ideas as the epiphenomenal by-products of class struggle, Bernstein and Jaures sought a universalistic ethic with its formal expression in Kant's categorical imperative.

Neo-revisionism today returns not to Kant but to the youthful Marx who in manuscripts, sometimes unpublished, wrote down an ethical critique of capitalism. Marxism, aged, bureaucratized, and de-ethicized in the Soviet society, is being rejuvenated by young Marxists in Europe and America with the repressed and rejected ethical writings of the young Marx. In the past, the history of socialist thought has shown a certain oscillation between economics

and ethics. During times of economic depression and distress, the socialist argument has tended to consist primarily of a demonstration that the economic system was beset by contradictions, disequilibria between production and consumption, which were insoluble in a capitalist society. In times of prosperity and rising living standards, on the other hand, the socialist argument has become primarily an ethical one of the disvalues of human life in capitalist society. Classical revisionism thus reflected the betterment in the life of the Western European working class at the end of the last century. Neo-revisionism today is a critique of both communist and capitalist societies, in their age of coexistent affluence, from the standpoint of the ethical

aims of all human society.

In the Soviet Union itself, younger philosophers, evidently restive with the received bureaucratized version of Marxism are turning to the younger Marx, the philosopher of alienation, to express their own disaffection with the bureaucratized world. An act of publication of Marx's writings in the Soviet Union is a political decision. In this sense, the recent publication in Moscow of Russian editions and English translations of Marx's Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 and his and Engeis' The Holy Family betokens an interest in the underlying ethical source of Marxism, that ethic from which Marx and the Marxists became "alienated" in later years. The recovery of ethical consciousness in Marxist circles tends naturally, as long as Marxism itself is not rejected, to proceed by way of recovery of the forgotten, repressed ethical writings of Marx. It is a devious, tradition-bound avenue to the recovery of ethical consciousness, especially since the socialist ethic emerges with greater purity in the writings of such men as William Morris. Neo-Marxism throughout the world is clearly, however, finding a temporary conceptual halfway house in "alienation."

To evaluate the significance of the revival of "alienation," let us ask the following questions:

(1) What was the meaning and use of "alienation" in Marx's thought?

(2) What accounts for the appeal of the concept "alienation" among American intellectuals?

(3) What does "alienation" signify today? Is it a useful concept for understanding societies?

The concept "alienation" has a lineage one can trace right back to Calvin who saw man alienated through all time from God by his original sin.2 Calvin wrote with eloquence that "spiritual death is nothing else than the alienation of the soul from God, we are all born as dead men, and we live as dead men, until we are made partakers of the life of Christ." (3) Hegel imbibed the concept of alienation from pessimist Protestant theology, and the early Marx in turn, like his fellow Hegelians, regarded man's history as one of alienation. His youthful Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts depicted alienation as the essence of the capitalist order: "Private property is therefore the product, the necessary result of alienated labor, of the external relation of the worker to nature and to himself." Alienated man experienced himself not as an agent but as patient, not as creator but creature, not as self-determined but other-determined. The products of man's labor were transformed "into an objective power above us, growing out of our control, thwarting our expectations, bringing to naught our calculations...." Because he was alienated from the product of his labor, man also became alienated from other men.(4) This estrangement from the human

essence leads, in Fromm's words, to an "existential egotism," or as Marx stated it, man becomes alienated from "his own body, external nature, his mental life, and his human life."

Now the evidence is strong that during the latter 1840s,Marx and Engels came to reject emphatically the use of the concept "alienation" as the foundation for their socialism. Their Communist Manifesto ridiculed in scathing terms the German True Socialists who refurbished the economic sense of the French socialists with their metaphysical nonsense of "alienation": "They wrote their philosophical nonsense beneath the French original. For instance, beneath the French criticism of the economic functions of money they wrote Alienation of Humanity...."(5) For the fact of the matter is that "alienation" as first used by Marx, Engels, and their fellow young Hegelians and Feuerbachians was a romantic concept, with a preponderantly sexual connotation. It was the language of a group that made a protest of romantic individualism against the new capitalist civilization, but that soon went on to its post-adolescent peace with bourgeois society. Marx and Engels discarded a concept that became alien to their own aims.

To have developed the concept "alienation" would have meant for Marx and Engels to have taken a direction Freud later took; they would have had to study the forms of alienation, that is, neuroses, of bourgeois society, and, if "alienation" proved to be a universal concept, the modes of alienation common to all societies. "Alienation," however, was too much the catchword of the romantic intellectuals with their personal drama of temporary estrangement in an industrial civilization. Alienation moved a handful of poets and professors, who achieved their therapy with a few poems and treatises. The masses of men, on the other hand, were moved to action by exploitation.

The concept "alienation" expressed the striving of the romantic movement, the recovery of spontaneous emotional life. There was a revulsion against sexual asceticism, a rediscovery among the German intellectuals of physical pleasure. German philosophy, the product of theological seminaries, had negated the human body; the new philosophers, disciples of Ludwig Feuerbach, affirmed it. The root meaning of "alienation" for Feuerbach was, it must be emphasized, sexual; the alienated man was one who had acquired a horror of his sexual life, and whose whole way of thinking was determined by this repression of sexuality. The critique of religion was so important for Feuerbach precisely because religious dogma was the manifestation of this sexual alienation. We might cite a few passagesin which Feuerbach states the primary, sexual meaning of


"The more man alienates himself from Nature ... the greater the horror he has of Nature, or at least of those natural objects and processes which displease his imagination, which affect him disagreeably.... That which does not please him, which offends his transcendental, supranatural, or antinatural feelings ought not to be.... Thus the idea of the pure, holy Virgin pleases him; still he is also pleased with the idea of the Mother.... Virginity in itself is to him the highest moral idea, the cornucopiae, of his supranaturalistic feelings and ideas, his personified sense of honour and of shame before common nature....Even the arid Protestant orthodoxy, so arbitrary in its criticism, regarded the conception of the God-producing Virgin as a great, adorable, amazing holy mystery of faith, transcending reason.... Now if abstinence from the satisfaction of the sensual impulse, the negation of difference of sex and consequently of sexual love,--for what is this without the other?--is the principle of the Christian heaven and salvation; then necessarily the satisfaction of the sexual impulse, sexual love, on which marriage is founded, is the source of sin and evil.... The mystery of original sin is the mystery of sexual desire." (6)

Alienation in a philosophic sense, that is, the denial of the reality of the material world, was the consequence of the religious alienation from sexuality. As Feuerbach stated it: "Separation from the world, from matter, from the life of the species, is therefore the essential aim of Christianity." Sexual asceticism was the source of the idealist metaphysics: "Pleasure, joy, expands man; trouble, suffering, contracts and concentrates him; in suffering man denies the reality of the world...."

To overcome alienation signified for Feuerbach the overcoming of the Christian heritage of masochism and the emotions and thought-ways of clerical celibacy. To Marx, writing in 1844 as a Feuerbachian, the sexual meaning of "alienation" was still central. The ultimate human relationship that provided the criterion for the evaluation of societies was for the young Marx the sexual:

"The direct, natural, and necessary relation of person to person is the relation of man to woman. ... In this relationship, therefore, is sensuously manifested, reduced to an observable fact, the extent to which the human essence has become nature to man. From this relationship one can therefore judge man's whole level of development . . . ; the relation of man to woman is the most natural relation of human being to human being. (8)

The alienation of man from himself signified that his natural human emotions had been distorted. Alienation signified a mode of life in which man was being compelled by social circumstances to act self-destructively, to cooperate in his own self-mutilation, his castration, that is, the destruction of his own manhood. The economy that men had created presumably to satisfy their needs was finally warping their deepest instincts. Repeatedly the young Marx and Engels characterized the bourgeois society in metaphors and actualities of sexual alienation. Economic exploitation eventuated in the mutilations of sexual alienation. Thus Engels wrote in his The Condition of the Working-Class in England how bourgeois society "unsexes" the human being:

And yet this condition which unsexes the man and takes from the woman all womanliness, this condition, which degrades, in the most shameful way, both sexes, and through them, Humanity, is the last result of our much-praised civilization ... ;we must admit that so total a reversal of the position of the sexes can have come to pass only because the sexes have been placed in a false position from the beginning. (9)

In these early writings, Marx and Engels, as Freudian forerunners, regarded love, not work, as the source of man's sense of reality. They wrote in The Holy Family against the idealistic subjectivists who could not recognize "love, which first really teaches man to believe in the objective world outside himself, which not only makes man an object, but the object a man!"' (10)

The German idealistic intellectuals, whom Marx called the "Critical Critics," were estranged from reality, precisely because they repressed the natural sexual senses of love and tried with all sorts of metaphysical devices to spiritualize its reality: "Critical criticism must first seek to dispose of love. Love is a passion, and nothing is more dangerous for the calm of knowledge than passion." The alienated intellectuals use linguistic tricks to transform love into "a theological thing":

by making "love" a being apart, separate from man and as such endowed with independent being. By this simple process, by changing the predicate into the subject, all the attributes and manifestations of human nature can be Critically transformed into their opposite and estrangements. (11)

Underlying the philosophers' misuse of language, according to Marx and Engels, were psychological motivations to repress the world of flesh and material reality. Socio-psychological analysis, in psychoanalytical fashion, established when a linguistic estrangement from reality was taking place. Critical Criticism eventuated in alienation because its masochistic motivation sundered man from himself and the external world: Critical Criticism was thus "a Moloch, the worship of which consists in the self-immolation and suicide of man, and in particular of his ability to think." "But love is an un-Critical, un-christian materialist," continued Marx and Engels. Sexual repression led to the impairment of the sense of reality, and consequently to ideological devices that substituted abstractions for things; the liberation of love led to a renewed sense of citizenship in the universe.

With heavy-handed humor, Marx and Engels satirized the critical ideologists who substituted the idealistic category of Dancing for the frank sensuality of the cancan:

The reverend parson [Szeliga] speaks here neither of the cancan nor of the polka, but of dancing in general, of the category Dancing, which is not performed anywhere except in his Critical cranium. If he saw a single dance at the Chaumbre in Paris his Christian-German soul would be outraged by the boldness, the frankness, the graceful petulance and the music of that most sensual movement.

The dancers "give the spectator the inspiring impression of frank human sensuality"; they "can and must necessarily be frankly sensual human beings!" The anti-sensual Critic substitutes an essence for existence: "The Critic introduces us to the ball for the sake of the essence of dancing." (12) Marx's tribute to the cancan would have outraged Khrushchev who with Bolshevik virtue railed at Hollywood for the cancan's immorality.

The idealistic metaphysicians, according to the young Marx and Engels, aim to deprive love of its bodily reality:

As soon as there is no more nervous current and the blood in the veins is no longer hot, the sinful body, the seat of sensual lust becomes a corpse and the souls can converse unhindered about "general reason," "true love," and "pure morals." The parson debases sensuality to such an extent that he abolishes the very elements which inspire sensual love--the rush of the blood, which proves that man does not love only by insensitive phlegm; the nervous current which connects the organ that is the main seat of sensuality with the brain. He reduces true sensual love to the mechanical secrefio seminis and lisps with an ill-renowned German theologian: "Not for the sake of sensual love, not for the lust of the flesh, but because the Lord said, increase and multiply." (13)

Eugene Sue, the author of Les Mystéres de Paris, had similarly mystified over the sexual attraction of one of his characters, Cecily, a slave. Marx and Engels saw no point in mystifying about this attraction: "The mystery of Cecily is that she is a half-breed. The mystery of her sensuality is the heat of the tropics."(l4) Behind every religious and philosophical mystery was an alienation of man's sexual nature from himself. Thus Marx and Engels rail against the "puritan sermon" which spins its unreal web of "the mystery of the mystery, the essence of the essence" of love. (l5)

At this time Marx and Engels did not regard class struggle as humanity's lever for the achievement of communism. Their definition of communism omitted any reference to class struggle. Communism they defined as "complete return of man to himself as social (i.e, human being - a return becomes conscious . . . . it is the genuine resolution of the conflict between man and nature and between man and man-the true resolution of the strife between existence and essence, between objectification and self-confirmation, between freedom and necessity, between the individual and the species." (l6)

Communism for Marx and Engels constituted at this time the overcoming of all alienation. The sexual overtones of "alienation" persisted as they tended to generalize the concept to signify the subjective state that accompanies any situation of emotional frustration that is the outcome of man's own misconceived social behavior and social arrangements. They expressed the hatred of commercialism common to the romantic school, which regarded bourgeois society as having alienated man from his sexuality; money, in Shakespeare's words, was the "common whore of mankind." "Money is the alienated ability of mankind," and it enables the ugly man, contrary to nature, to secure the loveliest woman: "I am ugly, but I can buy for myself the most beautiful of women. Therefore I am not ugly, for the effect of ugliness-its deterrent power--is nullified

by money." (l7) Money is an "overturning power," a destroyer of "individualities." Money makes man's love impotent: "Assume man to be man and his relationship to the world to be a human one: then you can exchange love only for love, trust for trust, etc." But, "if you love without evoking love in return ... then your love is impotent-a misfortune." (l8) In short, when love is transformed into a self-destructive experience which gives masochist traits to the character, man has been alienated, self-estranged from his essence, by the rule of money. For in bourgeois society, "you must make everything that is yours saleable"; the tyranny of the competitive market crushes "all sympathy, all trust." Political economy wars with human nature, "the ontological essence of human passion." Political economy castrates both capitalists and workingmen. The workingmen are asked by bourgeois economy to give up sexuality altogether. The Malthusian ideologists with their anti-sexual motivation propose that the workingmen "prove themselves continent in their sexual relations. ...Is not this the ethics, the teaching of asceticism?"' (19) Bourgeois political economy and a humanist ethics are at loggerheads. Political economy becomes the anti-human ideology of asceticism:

The science of marvelous industry is simultaneously the science of asceticism. ... Self-denial, the denial of life and of all human needs, is its cardinal doctrine. The less you eat, drink and read books; the less you go to the theatre, the dance hall, the public-house; the less you think, love, theorize, sing, paint, fence, etc., the more you save--the greater becomes your treasure, which neither moths nor dust will devour-your capital. The less you are, the more you have; the less you express your own life, the greater is your alienated life-the greater is the store of your estranged being. (20)

Alienated from his own activity, the worker's life is "activity as suffering, strength as weakness, begetting as emasculating,..." (21) The worker is transformed, as one would say, into a masochist.

As Marx and Engels drew closer to the realities of working-class life and social struggle, they became disenchanted with the friends of their first circle, the Young Hegelians and the Feuerbachians. Their erstwhile philosophical associates seemed to them to make their preoccupation with "alienation" the basis for ridiculous gestures against society--an adolescent sowing of philosophical wild oats. The revolutionary activity of the Young Hegelians

in the Society of the Free consisted of buffoonery, wild processions in the streets, "scandalous scenes in brothels and taverns," the taunting of a clergyman at a wedding. (22) They tended to be indifferent in 1844 to the revolt of the Silesian weavers; not so Marx, who was stirred by their song of protest, and saw the emergence of the proletariat to the dignity of a self-conscious class. Amold Ruge, spokesman of the Young Hegelians, mocked at the "meagre handful of artisans" in the workingmen's club, the League of the Just, and was appalled by their communist ideas, but this group moved Karl Marx into an intensity of thought and action he had never experienced in the literary-philosophical circle. The workingmen's leaders impressed Marx and Engels as "three real men," and Marx pondered their ideas deeply.

There are scholars who maintain that Marx and Engels came to their socialist standpoint and materialist conception of history through a study of Hegelian and Feuerbachian texts. The truth is rather that they imbibed a certain terminology from the philosophers, but the impelling force was their own sensitivity to social movements and their own deep sympathies for the workingmen. Engels did not learn the significance of economic reality from an internal criticism of Hegelian texts. Rather, he tells us, "while living at Manchester, I was made painfully aware that economic factors, hitherto assigned an insignificant role or no role at all by historians, were, at least under modern conditions, a decisive power in the world." (23)

And Marx was led to considering communist ideas by his experiences as editor of the Rheinische Zeitung. He had to write editorials in 1842 on the encroachments of rich landowners against the peasants' common lands and the peasants' recourse to wood theft from the landowners' forests. In this pre-industrial situation, Marx undertook to plead the cause of "the unpropertied masses without political and social rights," the dispossessed peasants and pre-proletarians. In the course of this controversy, he announced that he planned to study the communist ideas of Leroux, Considérant, and Proudhon. "There was no provision in Hegel's ideological system," said Marx, for dealing with such socio-economic problems.(24) This was a journey the Young Hegelians did not make; Bruno Bauer, their leader, ridiculed the masses as in everlasting opposition to intellect, that is, the intellectuals. Logic follows on emotion, and where the social emotion was absent, the Young Hegelians wallowed in the masochistic joy of their "alienation." Marx and Engels finally discarded the vocabulary of the school, and spoke in the direct language of social realities which needed no romantic metaphor.

With their abandonment of the concept of alienation,Marx and Engels made central in their political philosophy the concept of struggle. German ethical socialists, with their humanistic talk of love, seemed indeed to Marx and Engels akin to masochist ascetics with their lack of aggressive vitality and energy. Moses Hess, who, besides introducing Marx and Engels to communist ideas, was their precursor in using "alienation" as the ground for the criticism of capitalist civilization, was a saintly figure. To Marx and Engels, however, his compulsion to undo justice which led him to marry a prostitute, must have seemed guilt-tormented and self-immolating. (25) The workingmen of the League of the Just looked with suspicion upon the "humanism" of such intellectuals. (26)

What emerged in Marx was a socialism founded on aggression, not on love. It must not be forgotten that force, not love, was for Marx "the midwife of every old society which is pregnant with the new," and Engels wrote eloquently of the therapy of violence, which, in Germany, "would at least have the advantage of wiping out the servility which has permeated the national consciousness. . ." To reject violence, according to Engels, was the "parsons' mode of thought-lifeless, insipid, and impotent...." (27)

This insistence on the primacy of hatred, aggression, for the socialist movement was a reiterated theme in Engels' writing. To Lavrov, the Russian Populist sociologist, Engels wrote in 1875: "In our country it is hatred rather than love that is needed-at least in the immediate future-and more than anything else a shedding of the last remnants of German idealism...." (28) He and Marx feared that the entry of ethical intellectuals into the workers' movement would "castrate" the party. (29) One must avoid the mood, they said, that makes for "humble submission and confession that the punishment was deserved." (30) Not talk of "'true love of humanity' and empty phraseology about 'justice' " but class struggle was required. (31) There was a concern always for the maintenance of the masculinity of the movement, a fear that a dwelling on concepts such as "alienation" would indeed masochize the workers' movement as it had the intellectuals.

Engels in later years regarded the writings on alienation as philosophic juvenilia which scarcely warranted the interest of the developed socialist movement. When a young Russian socialist in 1893 asked about them, "Engels was embarrassed," he later recalled. (32) Both Marx and Engels still continued to entertain great hopes for a basic transformation of the character of work and the family; nevertheless, they did not make use of the concept of alienation to formulate these hopes. (33) The word "alienation" was absent from Marx's mature analysis.

Thus Marx and Engels veered to an opposite extreme as they extirpated "alienation" from their ideas and made "struggle" central. They left a tremendous gap in their theory of socialism by simply ruling out ethical ideas as "modern mythology." They made it all the easier for the Stalinist perversion of their philosophy to justify itself with appeals to technological necessity, the historical mission of hatred, and the meaninglessness of absolute justice. Whether the basis for a liberal ethic, however, can be provided by a return to the Calvinist-Hegelian concept of alienation seems doubtful. Its root-metaphor, as we shall see, is not a helpful one for the understanding of the

world's problems.

Engels' reluctance to publish Marx's and his early writings has called forth contrary explanations from various scholars. A few years ago, I called the attention of Daniel Bell to these passages, and he made extensive use of them in his well-known essay "Two Roads from Marx." Then Robert Tucker in his erudite study Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx tried to explain Engels' embarrassment at the mention of these early works. Marx and Engels, according to Tucker, always continued to hold to their youthful concept of alienation, but felt constrained to be "secretive" about their early writings because to publish such philosophical material "would confuse and disorient the always unsufficiently class-conscious workers." (34) Tucker's theory seems to me singularly unconvincing. For Marx and Engels never hesitated to follow what seemed to them the scientific course, and to publish the most technical and abstruse analyses. The proletariat had to struggle the best it could with the volumes of Capital and Anti-Duhring. No, "Engels was embarrassed," as the young Narodnik Voden put it, because he was being reminded as an old man of youthful writings which were filled with sexual and romantic language and yearnings. His paragraphs on cancan dancing, tropical love, sexual secretions, and his sexual invective against money were juvenilia which embarrassed him. Moreover, as he told his translator, Florence Kelley Wischnewetzky, in 1886, "the semi-Hegelian language of a good many passages of my old book is not only untranslatable but has lost the greater part of its meaning even in German." (35) To have put them forward seriously, and to have had them therefore taken by naïve disciples and hostile critics as the philosophical basis of the socialist movement probably seemed to him to run a needless risk of exposing Marx, himself, and the movement to considerable ridicule. So Engels classified these writings in the same category with the love lyrics Marx wrote as a student.

Let us turn now to the varieties of usage of "alienation" in contemporary social analysis.

The great problems of contemporary society have all been described as arising from different modes of alienation. We can distinguish six different principal modes in which, from the sociological standpoint, alienation is said to characterize the experience of modern people. These modes of alienation are:

(1) the alienation of class society

(2) the alienation of competitive society

(3) the alienation of industrial society

(4) the alienation of mass society

(5) the alienation of race

(6) the alienation of the generations

These modes of alienation are independent of each other. A class society need not be a competitive one; there have been competitive economies that were founded on handicrafts, and mass societies, such as the Indian and Chinese, that were pre-industrial. A strict class society, carried to caste extremes, brings with it relief from competitive tension, but it aggravates the frustrations of initiative and choice of one's own work; in addition, the man of the lower class must internalize feelings of inferiority, and cultivate a degree of self-hatred and contempt. In this sense, he is internalizing feelings and attitudes toward himself of self-destruction.

A competitive system makes for a mode of alienation distinct from that in which classes are more fixed. In the United States during World War II, the men in the Air Force were found to be more discontented with their rank than were the men in the Military Police. This, despite the fact that the Air Force was full of corporals and sergeants, whereas the Military Police were mostly privates.

Indeed, the very plentifulness of opportunity in the Air Force deepened the sense of disappointment, personal inadequacy, and resentment in the minds of those defeated in the competitive struggle for stripes. On the other hand, the M.P, felt less relatively deprived, since most of his friends shared his own lowly status.(36) Competition exacts this toll; from the standpoint of the deepest feelings, there is no "good loser."

Industrial society brings its characteristic mode of alienation to the man on the assembly line. Ely Chinoy found that nearly four-fifths of his sample of automobile workers cherished the dream of leaving the factory forever. Mostly they longed for the independence of small businessmen. As he approached middle age, the worker sadly renounced his dream, and resigned himself to the assembly line.(37) This alienation of man from the machine, which stands against him, imposing its rhythm on him so that he is a satellite to its motions, is something that is common to all industrial societies, whether they be capitalist or socialist. As automobile workers told Walker and Guest:

The work isn't hard, it's the never-ending pace.... The guys yell "hurrah" whenever the line breaks down.... You can hear it all over the plant. The job gets so sickening--day in and day out plugging in ignition wires. I get through with one motor, turn around, and there's another motor staring me in the face. It's sickening. (38)

The different segments of modern industry vary greatly in the extent to which their work processes give their respective workers a sense of alienation. Where the worker has a greater measure of control over the pace of his job, where he is relatively freer from the overseeing eye of a supervisor, where, above all, the character of the job makes possible the mutual aid, solidarity, and friendships of an on-the-job working group, to that extent job satisfaction rises. (39) Manual workers of all kinds, however, derive far less satisfaction from their work than men in the professions. Labor still remains for the bulk of mankind affected with the curse of alienation from nature that Adam and Eve sustained when they were ousted from the Garden of Eden: "Cursed is the ground for thy sake;... In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,..." No wonder that a neglected socialist classic is entitled The Right to Be Lazy.

The alienation of race is distinct and irreducible to the other modes. Negro writers have told of the Veil that exists between them and white men. "Within the Veil was he born, said I; and there within shall he live,-a Negro and a Negro's son," wrote W. E. B. Du Bois of his first-born.(40)This racial alienation could coexist with a planned socialized economy; it has found its place in socialist parties and labor movements. The alienation of generations appears especially in the gerontocratic societies of the Far East. The youth in the Japanese Zengakuren, for instance, find little to admire in the older generation; they must look for their inspiration to persons outside their national history or create their own ideas.

Is "alienation," however, a useful concept for the analysis of these modes of human unhappiness and frustration? Is it more than a dramatic metaphor that for reasons peculiar to intellectuals' experience has become their favorite root metaphor for perceiving the social universe? Is it less, however, a tool for understanding than a projection of the psychology of intellectuals disenchanted with themselves?

It would be a major blunder to regard alienation as characteristically a phenomenon of modern society. (41) For what stands out from a historical and comparative standpoint is the omnipresence of alienation; it takes different guises in all societies. There are modes of alienation in small, egalitarian, cooperative, and agricultural societies. The countries of New Zealand and Sweden have a high egalitarian standard of living, but qualified observers have complained of the drab and dull character of their lives. Margaret Cole, doing research on Democratic Sweden for the New Fabian Research Bureau, couldn't wait to leave the Scandinavian social democratic tedium, while Leslie Lipson found an oppressive "likemindedness" among the New Zealanders, a "cultural homogeneity," the offspring of equality and security, which led New Zealanders to be suspicious and intolerant of intellectuals, foreigners, and freethinkers, in short, a world "made safe for mediocrity" in a "small and culturally homogeneous milieu."(42)

The agricultural cooperative societies of Israel, the kibbutzim, inspire their own corresponding mode of alienation; a typical novel of kibbutz life depicts the "interminable vacuity" of its existence, and portrays characters who, becoming desperate in this collective microcosm for a sense of their own individualities, flee to their tents that shut out a world, "petty, noisy, full of shadow and darkness." He reacted to communality by going off by himself, by standing aloof.... Then people show up as petty, ludicrous, selfish, malicious, cruel: You fall into an attitude of general contempt; you hate and become still further alienated from your fellows. It is a closed circle, a squirrel cage from which there is no release. ... Pettiness and selfishness creep in, even into the midst of their community based on equality and fraternity." (43) Carol Kennicott in Sinclair Lewis' Main Street discovered the tyranny of the disanonymous small society, while in lonely hamlets in Vermont, farmers built their houses on hills to catch a glimpse of a neighbor; living in individualistic outposts, far from mass societies, they became ridden with incest and neurosis. (44) Those who think alienation was born with modern technology might ponder the picture of the peasant La Bruyère gave in the French traditional society of the seventeenth century:

Certain wild animals, male and female, are scattered over the country, dark, livid, and quite tanned to the sun, who are chained, as it were, to the land they are always digging and turning up and down with an unwearied stubbornness; their voice is somewhat articulate, and when they stand erect they discover a human face, and, indeed, are men. (45)

If alienation then is so multiform, can it be given a precise operational meaning that would be useful in social analysis?

Able social scientists have tried in recent years to define the dimensions of alienation, and to construct scales that would enable one to measure statistically a person's degree of alienation. Melvin Seeman, for example, has tried to distinguish between five variants in "alienation"-powerlessness, meaninglessness, normlessness, isolation, and self-estrangement. Seeman wishes to remove "the critical, polemic element in the idea of alienation," and to translate what it has to say into the language of the psychological theory of learning. But the will to criticize and polemicize is precisely the essential intent behind the idea of alienation, and a multitude of alienated persons would be dissatisfied equally with conditions of power-possession, meaningfulness, norm-orientedness, involvement, and self-acknowledgment.

Alienation has a way of eluding a fixed set of dimensions because it is as multi-potential as the varieties of human experience. Seeman, for instance, gives an operational definition of "meaninglessness"; it is a mode of alienation characterized by a low expectancy that satisfactory predictions about future outcomes of behavior can be made"; the person senses that his ability to predict behavioral outcomes is low.(46) But, contrary to Seeman's standpoint, a great deal of contemporary thought finds a state of alienation precisely in those ideologies that profess to predict with high confidence the outcome of people's behavior.

What is "historicism" in modern terms if not a theory that aims to foresee the broad social resultant of the sum of individual actions? Historicism is assailed by such thinkers as Karl Popper and Isaiah Berlin exactly because they find themselves alienated in a world of social determinism; they wish for a world in which the degree of social predictability would be low. In such a world, they would feel less alienated.

Again, the alienated man is a person, according to Seeman, who finds himself at odds with popular culture. He does not read Reader's Digest, and like many intellectuals, attaches a low value "to goals or beliefs that are typically highly valued in the given society." Yet the plaint is often precisely in the other direction. The artist, the writer, the poet, complain how quickly they become successful, how rapidly the public now accepts them. The avant-garde cannot now long enjoy the pleasures of the vanguardian: Holiday, Mademoiselle, and Esquire compete for the most experimental poems and stories. Peter Viereck has spoken eloquently of how the artist finds quickly the accolades of popular culture, and he has protested against the very loss of loneliness and pride in isolation which was once the artist's.

Today the forces of mere prestige--the Rotarianism of the highbrows-have a more effective method than the stake. They make him chic.

Every new philosophical, literary, or religious insight (emphatically including the new conservatism) soon finds itself adopted, adulterated by the Overadjusted Man. ... Today the lonely crowd rushes to buy an abridged pocketbook of The Lonely Crowd or, easier still, to read the still more abridged abridgment that appeared in a popular weekly. (47)

The avant-garde is separated now only by a few issues of a little magazine from acceptance into the big. But the artist then voices an altered mode of alienation. He dislikes acceptance even on his own terms. In retrospect, he finds values in isolation that are lacking in acceptance and identification. Whichever direction one takes on the social compass, one finds alienation.

The alienation of self-estrangement is equated by Seeman with the notion of "other-directedness" made famous by David Riesman. Yet here, too, we find that directions go awry, and that inner-directed and other-directed both share the alienated status. The child, says Riesman, is conditioned to other-directedness when it learns that whatever it does must not be valued for itself, "but only for its effect on others," and this Seeman translates as making one's behavior dependent upon anticipated future rewards; the person becomes self-estranged because he enjoys nothing for its own sake. There is a sound insight in this formulation, but it has nothing to do with other- and inner-directedness. For a Calvinist, inner-directed person, who serves his conscience and not public opinion, can be every whit as alienated as the other-directed person.

When the young John Dewey found an "inward laceration," a sense of "divisions and separations," which were "a consequence of a heritage of New England culture, divisions by way of isolation of self from the world, of soul from body, of nature from God," he was defining exactly the inner-directed mode of character from which he sought liberation.(48) The person with a strong internalized superego can feel alienated from himself, and long, as a matter of fact, for more "other-directedness" as a way of overcoming his inner tension. Thus Dewey looked to "shared experience," to "social" experience as the highest, as an almost mystical deliverance from alienation.

Indeed, it soon becomes evident that the categories "inner-directed" and "other-directed" are limited in clarifying the modes of alienation. For what is omitted is the quality of the feeling experienced toward the self, others, family, God, nation, or tribe. To describe an emotional vector, the kind of feeling and its intensity are dimensions as well as its direction. A man who follows the golden rule is, from one standpoint, other-directed; if he does so from dictate of conscience, he is inner-directed; but if he acts from motives of calculation, probably it would be most accurate to call him narcissistic. For whatever warm feelings he has are directed toward his self.

Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People, which sold five million copies, proposed some excellent precepts: "Be a good listener. Talk in terms of the other man's interests. Make the other person feel important." If this "other-directedness" were the outcome of a genuine affection for others, it would not signify alienation. But where it is simulated behavior, where the underlying motive is hatred and aggression toward others, then this behavior, even when successful, gives rise to alienation. For the person is then repressing his deeper feelings, and acting in ways that run contrary to what he would express. The schematic terminology of means and ends fails to state clearly the crucial significance of the underlying emotion. What matters is not that you are using others as a means but rather that your basic emotion toward others is one wishing to debase them, to use them in order to degrade them. You may treat a person as an end because of your stern conscience; you will still remain alienated because the underlying emotion remains one of hostility toward him. In any case, Riesman's terms, with their directional emphasis, do not clarify the emotional source of alienation.

In another noteworthy effort to measure alienation, Dwight Dean has devised several scales to measure three components-powerlessness, normlessness, and social isolation.(49) Yet his attempt, too, fails as a measure of "alienation" precisely because that experience can be found in every direction of human experience-among the powerful as well as the powerless, the normful as well as the normless, the socially involved as well as the isolated. For instance, consider the item in the measurement of powerlessness:

"We are just so many cogs in the machinery of life."

The human switch or lever can, however, be as alienated as the human cog. A power-driven Stalin, aware of his own tyrannical power, but caught and haunted by never-ending anxieties, in a domain of paranoid self-aggrandizement, is an alienated man, estranged from the mankind around him and the socialist aspiration that once had partially moved him. The superpotent man is complementary in his alienation to the impotent.

Or consider again the items designed to help measure normlessness:

"The end often justifies the means."

"I often wonder what the meaning of life really is."

Leon Trotsky felt that the Bolsheviks gave meaning to heir lives because they pursued an end that at least partially justified their means. By the sociologist's standards, the Bolsheviks, however, were normless." Again, what of the philosophical individual who is agnostic as to norms and ultimates? Is he more an alienated man than the person who is indifferent to such questions? Many persons, however normless in an ultimate sense, find fulfillment in their human affections and their own chosen loyalty to a job. Life can provide the identification of provisional, pre-ultimate goals. "And pursue the unknown end," said Justice Holmes in his final aphorism of life, and one would hesitate to place him, therefore, among the alienated.Ignorance as to the meaning of life can be the basis for a cultivation of human experiences which become their own justification; indeed, the world of human facts may then be all the more closely sought. John Dewey, as he turned from religious metaphysics to agnosticism, found a more effective device against alienation ("dualism" and "separation" he called it) in political, social, and educational activities.

To measure the extent of social isolation, Dean proposes such items as:

"Sometimes I feel all alone in the world."

The image of "the lonely crowd" is most influential in social criticism today. The child deprived of affection or threatened with its loss finds an inner emptiness within himself, and sometimes, as he sees the world pervaded with hostility, wishes to have it all over with. At the same time, however, we have the revolt against the cult of "togetherness," against what Whyte calls the "social ethic." The right to privacy, as Brandeis named it, becomes rediscovered in a society that emphasizes collectives, committees, and cooperative achievements. If there is an alienation in loneliness or anomie, there is a corresponding alienation in togetherness and over-identification. The

Hegelian philosophers reduced the individual into an adjective of the Total; there was no loneliness here, only an oppressive perpetual absorption in which the individual longed to become an independent noun.

This recovery of the sense of one's individuality, as distinct from the roles party, class, organization, or group imposes, is what lies behind what is often called "the quest for identity." Alienation lies in every direction of human experience where basic emotional desire is frustrated, every direction in which the person may be compelled by social situations to do violence to his own nature. Alienation" is used to convey the emotional tone that accompanies any behavior in which the person is compelled to act self-destructively; that is the most general definition of alienation, and its dimensions will be as varied as human desire and need.

Why, however, should the word "alienation" be used to describe the subjective tone of self-destructive experience? The metaphor of "alienation" overlays this experience with a quality peculiar to the drama of contemporary intellectuals in their most despondent mood. The contemporary intellectual's experience of alienation is concretely one of his withdrawal from political movements; he has disavowed identifications. The existentialist's insistence on a chosen individuality which will not partake of any class, group, or party identification involves necessarily a sense of alienation. Alienation is the dramatic metaphor of the intellectual who has left the Political Garden of Eden and projects his experience as the exemplar of all human frustrations. The frustrations are immense and universal, but are they not misdescribed in this projective metaphor of a very small section of humanity?

The fondness of the contemporary intellectual for the concept "alienation" has little to do with the modes of alienation associated with mass, class, competitive, and industrial societies. The intellectual's alienation was in part a self-alienation which arose as he discovered the character of his own underlying aims. Self-discovery brought the reproaches of conscience; there was also the realization that the movement, class, or party with which he had identified himself could become as evil-ridden as the society he had hoped to help redeem. The sustaining sense of the intellectual's mission all but vanished during the last two decades; the disruption of the labor-intellectual alliance has left the intellectual, at least for a time, without the sense of a supporting identification that gives meaning to his efforts. The words meaninglessness, powerlessness, normlessness, which are used to characterize the dimensions of alienation, have a special application to the experience of the contemporary intellectual; the meaninglessness of his life is its lack of a social goal; his powerlessness reflects the intellectual's self-description: "we have no social class with which to work"; his normlessness is the fact that his socialist ethic is gone, and the recognition that it's all careerism.

Every movement of social reform has been characterized by a "back to the people" ethos; correspondingly, the end of such a movement has always been accompanied by an "away from the people" mentality. During the thirties, the American intellectual experienced an identification with the working-class movement, and regarded himself as united with labor to achieve a more just and

civilized society. A few years after the Second World War, however, he was alienated from a working class which seemed to him devoid of a sense of historic mission; "we disaffiliate, we disinvolve, we disengage," said the intellectuals frankly. "We were right, but they [the masses] wouldn't listen," writes Dwight Macdonald. "Nothing is more frustrating for an intellectual than to work out a logical solution to a problem and then find that nobody is interested."(61) Another writer described this experience of alienation in the sexual idiom of contemporary fiction:

This gentleman, and others like him, decided they'd been stood up by history for the last time. They're through with her; she seemed attractive, but has proven to be a bitch. No respectable girl would turn down clean, handsome Marxists who love her for herself, then go to bed with triflers.... The logic of the clean, handsome Marxists of the 1930's demands that they renounce such a promiscuous slut, and search for a good virgin....(62)

Prosperity came to the generation of leftist intellectuals. Thirty years ago Walter Weyl spoke of his generation of "tired radicals." The alienated intellectuals, however, were not tired; they were filled with creative energy and helped to research and work by the unprecedented Research Revolution in the universities and the efforescence of magazines and television. The alienation was not weariness but a sense that they themselves were not as fine persons as once they had been, that love had left their hearts. There were those intellectuals who discovered that power, possessions and status were what they had wanted all along, but their newfound narcissism and reconciliation with their selves did not banish completely the self-reproach they call "alienation." And like a true metaphysician, the intellectual projects his "alienation" upon every facet of discontent in the social universe. A universal indictment, however, provides no lever for social action; it expresses the mood of disaffiliation. The most remarkable film of the fifties was thus a drama of high alienation, High Noon, in which the former leftist intellectual, speaking through the allegory of a Western story, expressed his disillusionment and ultimate rejection of every aspect of American society.

"Alienation" thus lends a distinctive emotive-dramatic metaphor to experiences of social frustration. It imposes on them the metaphor of the prophets who failed. It conveys a mood of pervasive tragedy rather than the possibility of effective action. The socialist movement proposed to eliminate economic exploitation and to abolish the class system. These were relatively definable goals. A movement cannot, however, very well propose to alienate the alienators as it did to expropriate the expropriators, for the alienated mood is so multiform in its expression, so unlocated in any specific social form, that it does not delineate the clear goals and foci for action that a political movement requires. The career of this concept, from Calvin's depiction of man, the original sinner, alienated from God for all time, to the modern notion of man alienated somehow in every form of social organization, indicates indeed that its dominant overtone is social defeat.

One sympathizes with the effort of such thinkers as Erich Fromm to restore the full ethical consciousness to the socialist philosophy. For Stalinist sadism found its theoretical apology precisely in the repression of ethics from the Marxist standpoint. The life history of the concept "alienation" suggests, however, that what it says can be better said without it; human self-destructive behavior is better dealt with without this metaphor. Some writers indeed seem to have a "will to alienation," and to revel in their perpetual alienation. An irreverent humorist indeed proposed some time ago the organization of "Alienated Anonymous."

From another standpoint, the emphasis on "alienation" is an indication of how the politics of the superstructure has in the last decade replaced the politics of the economic foundation. The advent of prosperity has meant the shelving of any mood for basic economic reconstruction. The concern shifts from the production and distribution of wealth to the question of the ends and goods to which wealth shall be devoted. Whether "alienation," however, provides an adequate basis for the definition of human good seems to me doubtful. "Alienation" remains too much a concept of political theology that bewilders rather than clarifies the direction for political action.


1. Erich Fromm, The Sane Society (New York, 1955), pp. 110, 120.

2. Erich Fromm in his stimulating Marx's Concept of Man (New

York, 1961) mistakenly says that "the thinker who coined the concept of alienation was Hegel." Cf. p. 47.

3. "John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians, trans. Rev. William Pringle (Grand Rapids,

1948), p. 219; Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles, trans. Rev.

John Owen (Grand Rapids, 1948), p. 162.

3. See the various passages from Marx cited in Erich Fromm,

Marx's Concept of Man, pp. 52-53.

5. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Basic Writings on Politics and

Philosophy, ed. Lewis S. Feuer (New York, 1959), p. 33.

6. Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity; trans. George

Eliot (reprinted, New York, 1957), pp. 136-38, 311. The Saint-Simonian school had previously made a central tenet of the "rehabilitation of the flesh."

7.Ibid., pp. 161, 185. Feuerbach, the precursor of Freud in the

psychology of religion, probed into the origin of religious dogmas in

sexual asceticism. Cf. William B. Chamberlain, Heaven Wasn't his

Destination: The Philosophy of Ludwig Feuerbach (London, 1941),

pp. 6061. Engels, in his old age, wrote energetically against Feuerbach's philosophy of "sex-love." Cf. Basic Writings, pp. 216ff.

8. Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844,trans. Martin Milligan (Moscow, n.d.), p. 101.

9. Frederick Engels, The Condition of the Working-Class in England, trans. Florence Kelley Wischnewetzky, in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, On Britain (Moscow, 1953), p. 179.

10. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Holy Family, or Critique

of Critical Critique, trans. R. Dixon (Moscow, 1956), p. 32.

11. Ibid., pp. 31-32.

12. Ibid., pp. 91-92.

13. Ibid., pp. 88-89.

14. Ibid., p. 93.

15. Ibid., PP. 86-88.

16. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, p. 102.

17. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, pp. 136-38.

18. Ibid., pp. 138-41.

19. Ibid., p. 121.

20. Ibid., p. 119.

21. Ibid., p. 73.

22. Franz Mehring, Karl Marx, trans. Edward Fitzgerald (New York), 1935, p. 72. Several generations later, in the Greenwich Village of the twenties, Joseph Freeman observed, from a Marxist viewpoint, the philosophy of the Villager was that of Feuerbach, that "sex love was the highest activity of man, ... a philosophy of life." Alienation was conceived as having basically a sexual referent. Joseph Freeman, An American Testament (New York, 1936), p. 286.

23. "Frederick Engels, Germany: Revolution and Counter-Revolution

(New York, 1933), p. 126.

24. Otto Ruhle, Karl Marx: His Life and Work, trans. Eden and

Cedar Paul (New York, 1929), p. 40.

25. Isaiah Berlin, The Life and Opinions of Moses Hess (Cambridge, Mass., 1959), p. 10. Auguste Cornu, The Origins of Marxian Thought (Springfield, Ill., 1957), pp. 70-71. Edmund Silberner, "Moses Hess," Historia Judaica XIII (April 1951), 3-28.

26. Boris Nicolaievsky and Otto Maenchen-Helfen, Karl Marx:Man and Fighter (Philadelphia, 1936), p. 76.

27. Frederick Engels, Herr Eugen Duhring's Revolution in Science,trans. Emile Burns (New York, n.d.), pp. 209-10.

28. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence (Moscow, ed. 1953), pp. 367-68. Also, The German Ideology, ed. Roy, Pascal (New York, 1939), p. 69.

29. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence (Moscow, ed. 1953), p. 395.

30. Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, p. 392.

31. Ibid., p. 393.

32. Reminisceltces of Marx and Engels (Moscow, n.d.), p. 330.

33. Frederick Engels, Anti-Duhring, pp. 329, 346. Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I, Modern Library Edition, p. 534. The word "alienation" does occur in passing in Capital in a footnoted citation from Hegel, but very rarely in the text. Cf. pp. 187, 639, 827. The "estrangement" of the worker is described on pp. 471, 708. But "alienation" is hardly used as an analytical concept.

34. Robert Tucker, Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx (New York, 1961), p. 173.

35. Karl Marx, Letters to Americans: 1848-1895 (New York, 1953), p. 151.

36. Cf. Samuel A. Stouffer, "A Study of Attitudes," Scientific American, CLXXX (1949), 13. Samuel Stouffer, The American Soldier (Princeton, 1949), I, 251.

37. Cf. Ely Chinoy, Automobile Workers and the American Dream (Garden City, N.Y., 1955), pp. 82-96.

38. Charles R. Walker and Robert H. Guest, The Man on the Assembly Line (Cambridge, Mass., 1952), pp. 51~ 52, 55.

39. Robert Blauner, "Work Satisfaction and Industrial Trends in Modern Society, Institute of Industrial Relations, Reprint No. 151 (Berkeley, Calif., 1960), pp. 346-50.

40. W. E. Burghardt Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (reprinted,New York, 1953), p. 209.

41. Nathan Glazer once described "alienation" as "an omnibus of achieved psychological disturbances having a similar root cause-in this case, modern social organization." "The Alienation of Modern Man," Commentary, IV (1947), 380.

42. Margaret Cole, Growing Up into Revolution (London, 1949), pp. 177-78. Leslie Lipson, The Politics of Equality: New Zealand's Adventures in Democracy (Chicago, 1948), pp. 491-93.

43. Lewis S. Feuer, "Leadership and Democracy in the Collective Settlements of Israel," in Studies in Leadership, ed. Alvin W. Gouldner (New York, 1950), p. 375. David Maletz, Young Hearts, trans. Solomon N. Richards (New York, 1950), pp. 43, 46.

44. Harold Fisher Wilson, The Hill Country of Northern New England: Its Social and Economic History, 1790-I931) (New York, 1936), PP· 146-52.

45. The Characters of Jean de la Bruyére, trans. Henri van Laun (London, 1929), P· 318.

46. Melvin Seeman, "On the Meaning of Alienation," American Sociological Review, XXIV (1959), 786.

47. Peter Viereck, The Unadjusted Man: A New Hero for Americans (Boston, 1956), PP 16,52.

48. John Dewey, "From Absolutism to Experimentalism," in Contemporary American Philosophy, ed. G. P. Adams and W. P. Montague (New York, 1930), II, 13, 19.

49. Dwight G. Dean, "Meaning and Measurement of Alienation," American Sociological Review, 26 (1961), 753-58.

50. Leon Trotsky, "Their Morals and Ours," The New International, IV (1938), 164.

51. Dwight Macdonald, Memoirs of a Revolutionist (New York,

1957), p. 24.

52. Calder Willingham, "Politics and the Artist," New International, XIII (1947), 222. Irving Howe, "Intellectuals' Flight from Politics," Ibid., p. 241. By way of addendum, we might note that in 1899 the American philosopher Alfred H. Lloyd made the concept of "alienation" the basic one in his Philosophy of History. Lloyd was indeed the first American philosopher of man's alienation.

From Collective Action Notes. New Politics, Vol. I, No.3, Spring 1962. Reprinted in Marx and the Intellectuals, Lewis S. Feuer, 1969