Mihailo Markovic

Mihailo Marković (1927 - 2010)

In his brilliant paper “The Idea of Critique in Social Theory” (1983), Mihailo Marković scolds the Frankfurt School theorists for taking one aspect of the dialectic in Marx, the so-called superstructural in which consciousness is examined, to the exclusion of the socioeconomic conditions that create distorted power relationships in human society and in the so-called international comity of nations. Marković seeks transcendence in praxis where individuals make their own human condition by elaborating needs, talents, and aptitudes hitherto not revealed in the historical evolution of humankind. Marković succinctly says:

"Thus power [domination—author’s interpolation] gives rise to an emancipatory interest which guides critical social science. The concept of critique that derives from such a scheme is a very narrow concept. …The question arises, of course, how a social critique can be thoroughgoing and radical enough if it does not see the roots of distorted speech in those political and economic structures that support social relations of domination and exploitation."

Marković, in his writings, is deeply influenced by the early Marx of the Paris Manuscripts (1844) and critiques Habermas’s interests of technical, practical, and emancipatory. Habermas had it right in saying unless you can free men from their own worst instincts and bring them to the light of self-consciousness, there can be no moment of liberation. Liberation starts with self-critique. Habermas is now a good European; Marković, in his praxis of the 1990s shockingly, reverted to a Serbian nationalism. Habermas transcended himself; Marković in the end, aligned himself with his tribe. I too plead guilty as a Jewish nationalist who believes in being of the "chosen people" often to the derision of so-called Gentiles. Habermas is truly post-ideological, free of mythic allegiances that promote endless cycles of violence through the ages. Paradoxically, I still adhere to Enlightenment ideals, hoping the day will come when I will be emancipated from my Old Testament narcissism with its Talionic laws, based on the atavism of blood and soil.

Marković asks poignant questions.

"What limitations are we talking about here? These are first limitations in the description and explanation of reality, second, limitations in the interpretation of the meaning of that reality, third, limitations in reality itself."

The Enlightenment ideals preclude assumptions that make reality ultimately finite, somehow "in itself’"and eschatological. If that were the case, the human project would come to an end in terms of entertaining a principle of hope that a better world is in the making inherently in the natural and social selection processes. Descriptions of reality are always being changed and enhanced; interpretations of meaning always automatically entail further critiques in the ideal speech community with the unforced force of the better argument prevailing in an eschaton of truth telling that does exist in the praxis of the human condition. And last, limitations in reality are only momentary because if there is a dialectic in history reality always evolves with enhanced human communications. Communication itself is a form of praxis that incorporates the totalities in nature and human nature.

Marković partially contradicts himself later in the paper, as his attack on Habermas continues:

"first a social researcher cannot completely succeed in "putting himself into brackets" as a practical being, interested member of community; second, that various kinds of values orient our research all the time, and that critique is implicit in all phases of inquiry."

Value creations de novo define humans as existentially revolutionizing the world each day by transforming it, first in visions and then in monumental projects. I believe Habermas integrates the three spheres of life very well through his linguistic critique of the world of symbols that humans fashion as they work through the world in which they find themselves, always in sui generic historical circumstances. These projects either adapt or die, in a struggle to find their own truth, mediated by culture and society.

I agree with Marković in the following statement:

"There is an evolving human identity that remains continuous in all historical transformations. To preserve and further develop this identity, to create historical conditions for equally bringing to life this potential for praxis in all individuals—constitutes the highest good, and the basic ground for critical evaluation of social reality."

There is a point to be made at this juncture, Marković implies. To wit, individuals are always transforming themselves and realizing their human potential. The issues of praxis involve how you make it a mass movement. Too often, changes are initiated by the intellectual class who have no institutional or real-world connections with ordinary folk. That is why so often their writings appear so oddly elitist, when the authors certainly do not intend such disdain of the people. Who reads these works? They are other intellectual workers who have a dialogue among themselves, betraying the marginal interest groups they putatively claim to represent. The tool for a great change lies in the information revolution. A mechanism must be found to distribute human capital to all citizens, with the hardware made affordable or accessible. That is the main route to emancipation of human interests that I see as realistically in our hands to refashion.