Philosophical Portrait of a Dying Civilization

by Ralph Dumain


This is a slightly altered version of a talk delivered on December 29, 1988 in Washington, DC, to a meeting of the Society of Philosophers at Work in the World at a conference of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association. As it was meant to be heard, not read, it was not cast in scholarly form with footnotes. I have here added a supplementary bibliography for those interested in the people and ideas discussed. I have added also a brief glossary of definitions of terms not defined in my talk. The discussion period following my talk not only inspired me to make these amendments, but to issue the following disclaimer.

The necessity of squeezing an enormous amount of information (of the kind that is rarely discussed publicly) into what was intended to be a brief lecture induced me to make my case with broad brushstrokes and sweeping generalizations about middle class feminist intellectuals, black nationalists, white workers, etc. I did not have time to hedge, to qualify, or to refine my statements to avoid tarnishing large groups of people based on the thoughts and actions of some.

I suspect that some readers may accuse me of one very thing I criticize in this paper: sociologism, i.e. the reduction of thought systems to the political, economic, and personal interests of their proponents. For the record, let me disabuse my readers of any such notion. The truth or falsity of thought systems must be judged in their own right, distinct from an analysis of their provenance. One does have the right, though, especially in the case of questionable ideas, to examine why people have the thoughts that they do. I am interested in the connections between philosophy and politics. Within the scope of this paper, I simply assume the ideas I criticize to be false and concentrate my analysis on their political correlations.


The title of this address was inspired by Christopher Caudwell, pseudonym of Christopher St. John Sprigg, a leftist literary and cultural critic who wrote a book called Studies in a Dying Culture, followed by Further Studies in a Dying Culture. Caudwell diagnosed the intellectual manifestations of a civilization in crisis, the breakdown of the capitalist system in the 1930s. Caudwell did not stop at criticism. He joined the International Brigades fighting Franco in Spain and was killed in combat against the fascists in 1937.

I cite Caudwell here, not only because he was a self-educated philosopher, a brilliant independent intellectual, a cultural critic, and a courageous anti-fascist, but because I am convinced that we are living in a similar age, a crisis of the world capitalist system, in which bourgeois democracy is similarly in danger of degeneration into fascism. The United States in the 1980s is not unlike the final years of the Weimar Republic, politically, culturally, and intellectually. We are living in a period of decadence and reaction, full of obscurantism, willful ignorance, and self-deception. I am here to diagnose ideological trends in both academia and public culture that reflect this decadence, and to argue that intellectuals with an ounce of honesty left in them had better think carefully about the kind of philosophy that is truly progressive and enlightening and that is required in the fight against fascism.

I am concerned especially with the crucial middle ground of information and world views available to the interested public. As a professional librarian and information specialist, and as a self-educating intellectual outside of the cushy confines of academia who deals almost exclusively with the person on the street and rarely with professional intellectuals, I am preoccupied with access to information - not just the theoretical availability of information in research libraries and professional journals, but the practical availability of information to the average person.

As a person from a provincial background myself, I am quite conscious of this problem because, in my own intellectual development, I myself was a victim of various bourgeois ideologies which stepped in to fill the void and provide a missing philosophical coherence to my understanding of the world. One learns little in elementary or high school to give one a coherent sense of the world. Young people seeking to supplement their pitiful education are likely to turn spontaneously to their local bookstores, to known intellectual figures, and to popular intellectual trends, to find those alternative world views to fill the void. I was snowed at various times by philosophies which seemed to explain things, based upon literature that was readily available to me: general semantics, the works of Aldous Huxley and Norman O. Brown, Eastern mysticism, even of black cultural nationalism. But it took a long time for me to get an adequate exposure to Marxism - something not available in the local bookstore, not publicized, promoted or understood, even by the counterculture, and not available in sufficient quantities even in the university. It took a long struggle for my mind to come to where it is today, with little help from anyone but two or three Marxist professors whose contracts were threatened, or who were denied tenure or otherwise thrown out of the university. I speak as a person who is partly university-educated, but who in the final analysis, can rightfully sing along with Ritchie Havens: I was educated by myself.

Because I have lived in isolation from academia and professional intellectuals, struggling for the acquisition of culture and intellect, not to mention basic survival, I am interested in philosophies that help make the world comprehensible. I have little patience for self-indulgent middle class professional intellectuals who squander their talents and opportunities in the pursuit of cynical and pretentious intellectual con games.


In the past decade we have seen a tremendous ideological as well as political shift from social democracy to fascism. I claim that subjective idealism in its various incarnations is the ideology of liberal and social democracy, while objective idealism is the philosophy of fascism. As social democracy degenerates into fascism, so the ideologies of social democracy in their decadence pave the way for fascism. In fact, some social democratic ideologies are inherently conducive to a fascist world view and practice, and therefore I am inclined in their case to revive the discarded term "social fascism."

While fascism, usually called by the euphemism "conservativism," seems to be the dominant mode of the mass media, the universities lag behind, and social democratic ideologies still prevail, although they are now under attack by the right. Both social democratic and fascist ideologies are tools of the ruling class, but the ruliong class is now cynically decrying the very ideology it once supported. This transitional period is crucial, for the social democratic intellectuals, isolated from popular support, will have to decide how they will respond.


Unfortunately, I am going to have to give the topic of popular consciousness, the mass media, and everyday life short shrift here. Concerning everyday life, there is much I could say about the culture of dehumanization and triviality, the bureaucratization of the human personality, the contemporary human experience of youth as completely mediated and alienated, the mind-numbing reality of working class life, the mentality of careerists and managers, and the indentured servitude of poor people enlisted in the armed services.

Given time, I could also talk about the ideological shift in manipulative popular entertainment from the 1970s to the 1980s: eg., the ideologies of TV sitcoms and dramatic series, from Different Strokes, Trapper John, MD, or Roots, to The Cosby Show, Family Ties, and Amen; in movies, the shift from The China Syndrome and Reds to Rambo and Top Gun.

The rightward shift in the news media and popular culture in the past decade should be more than obvious. The talk shows, which might serve as a forum for the silent masses, have recently degenerated into tapping the apparently bottomless reservoir of chauvinism and bigotry in the American people. I have seen more Nazis on television in the past few months than I have in my entire life. When I watch the orchestrated hate show of Morton Downey, Jr., I can almost hear Franco crying out "death to intelligence!" from beyond the grave.

Among my friends and acquaintances in many countries, there is a general consensus, even among uneducated working class people, that the population is getting dumber, and that this stupidity is deliberately organized and fostered by the powers that be. Even the most unlettered citizens who still possess their humanity and common sense feel isolated and outnumbered.

A harbinger of the present era of bad faith was the cynical attitude of Alexander Haig toward truth and the public openly flaunted in the early 1980s - truth and justice be damned you had better choose sides and you had better choose our side. The mass media has succeeded in mastering the falsification of reality, not always by falsification of data, but more profoundly by falsification of interpretation. The Reagan era has succeeded in inducing schizophrenia in White America, successfully disconnecting the senses from the brain, so that while the worst filth and corruption become public knowledge, their implications do not register in the interpreting mind.

The popular consciousness seems to be at worst rotten and at best bewildered. The weakness of liberalism, the monopolization of public political commentary by reactionaries, the covert manipulation practiced by pseudo-moderators such as Ted Koppel - all these elements combined with the political and functional illiteracy and apathy of the masses have created a public conceptual space which would be a vacuum were it not filled with hot air. The most educated Reagan-Bush yuppies are mentally crippled - fooling themselves into thinking that we have peace and prosperity, that Reagan got rid of Marcos, that third world fascist puppets are democratizing themselves, and so on.

A few radical journalists are holding the torch of intelligence, though they are generally excluded from mass media venues. There is little popular access to real information.

The most visible alternative is the black media, especially some black-owned radio stations, where radical, third world, and anti-establishment news and viewpoints can be regularly heard. For example, Black commentators have stated, quite correctly, that the election of George Bush constitutes a declaration of war against black America. The hostility of black intelligentsia against the status quo is commendable, but I find that black ideologues, even those skeptical of contemporary capitalism and dissatisfied with mainstream social democracy, rarely go beyond the world view of bourgeois black nationalism and sometimes degenerate to mystical Afrocentric philosophizing which obscures the class basis of black oppression. In a capitalist society, in which the Caucasian proletariat has rarely lifted a finger to defend the black working class, it should be no surprise that Afro-American petit-bourgeois publicists will advocate economic, political, and religious ideas that primarily serve the interests of the black bourgeoisie and petit-bourgeoisie. Sadly, in so doing, they do a disservice to the black working class.

Speaking of race, the most depressing reality of the 1980s is the intensification of racism and racial segregation, and nowhere more than in Washington, DC, is this reality painfully obvious, in the contrast between the ghettoes of despair ridden with drug wars and an outrageously accelerating homicide rate, in the midst of self-satisfied yuppie social climbers.

A philosopher could view this very racial segregation as a concrete manifestation of class segregation that reinforces the duality of thinking and being. To create a metaphorical contrast: on the one hand, there are the polyestered palefaces of artificial intelligence probing into the essence of language and cognition, plundering the human brain for the military-industrial complex; and on the other, there is an increasingly isolated ghetto culture subjected to economic genocide whose pop culture representatives in self-defense are pushing the aggressive posturing, hate, and ignorance of rap music devoid of spirituality and consciousness, and whose slang mutates at a blinding pace to outmaneuver white cooptation.


In terms of popular ideologies, I could cite countless examples of a popular subjective idealism characteristic of the everyman of the 1970s, which goes like this: everyone creates their own reality, reality is different for every individual, only a dictator would insist on an objective reality. I have seen the political and personal consequences of this type of thinking. This liberal ideology reflects the propaganda of the free market, in this case the free market of realities, and disguises the control and manipulation of that marketplace. In the 1980s we have grown accustomed to objective idealism pushed by fascists, most conspicuously by fundamentalist Christianity. Jerry Falwell says: I am a Christian because I believe in objective truth. The resurgence of Fundamentalist Islam and Orthodox Judaism, the latter in connection with fanatical Zionism, also represent the forces of fascism. Less prominent manifestations of objective idealism include the promotion of the myth-mongering of Joseph Campbell, Mortimer Adler's argument for the existence of God published in Time magazine, and Lyndon LaRouche's advocacy of Platonism. The right wing drive for the core curriculum and cultural literacy is extremely dangerous, and I will delve into that later on.

But now, on the subject of philosophies marketed to the lay intelligent public over the past 25 years: there are so many social democratic falsifications of reality, I scarcely have time to cover them all, so I will pick out some of the most important.

The sixties are far behind us, so we will skip over Marshall McLuhan, Theodore Roszak, The Greening of America, the Age of Aquarius, and move on to more lasting ideas.

One of the most popular trends from the late 1960s to the early 1980s is the mystification of modern physics, typically the wedding of eastern mysticism with quantum mechanics and sometimes general relativity - a subjective idealist philosophy popular among various middle class escapists - the counterculture, hippie computer scientists, Zen Buddhist physicists - you get the picture. This type of popular intellectual mystical drivel is not new, having been promulgated in the 1920s and 1930s by Arthur Eddington, Sir James Jeans, Wolfgang Pauli in conjunction with the Nazi-collaborator Carl Jung, among many others. The holistic philosophy that goes along with it was first popularized by Jan Christian Smuts, pre-apartheid Prime Minister of South Africa. The ideology of decadence of the 1920s and fascism of the 1930s was picked up by the white middle class counterculture, and continues today with Fritjof Capra, Douglas Hofstadter, and countless other intellectual mediocrities riding the publishing gravy train of mystical obscurantism. Paul Forman analyzed such philosophy of physics that existed in the Weimar republic in the 1920s as an adaptation of science to a hostile environment, and the same is true today.

We ought to look at this trend, in spite of or perhaps because of its link to the counter-culture, as a manifestation of fascism in the making. We should counterpose to it another trend of the interwar period: the social relations of science movement. At that time, militant anti-fascist scientists such as J.D. Bernal and J.B.S. Haldane did not shrink into a self-satisfied mysticism but militantly promoted science and reason in connection with the labor movement and the fight against fascism.

A more recent development is the mystification of mathematics. One of the first major successes of this trend was the book Godel Escher Bach by Douglas Hofstadter, 770 pages of Pulitzer-Prize-winning drivel attempting to demonstrate the equivalence of Zen Buddhism and Goedel's incompleteness theorem. And there is Raymond Smullyan, an intellectual mountebank who specializes in logical paradoxes - which is not surprising since the narcissistic obsession with self-reference is the last gasp of petit-bourgeois thought. And there are many other recent books dealing with mathematics and reality in a questionable manner.

Mystified popular science also frequents the pages of newspapers and magazines. I mention in passing Paul Davies' sensationalist nonsense about the self-organizating capability of matter as evidence of God, the cosmological anthropic principle, which Martin Gardner has rechristened the Cosmological Revised Anthropic Principle or CRAP for short, and Frederick Turner's design for a new academy to unify the fragmented disciplines based on a hierarchically structured ideological rather than material unity of the world, with theology at the top, naturally.


Anti-objective and anti-scientific ideologies have invaded and succeeded in dominating a number of academic specialties, such as literary theory, sociology of science, and the growing specialty of literature and science.

Let's start with feminist metaphysics. Lest my remarks be misunderstood as an attrack upon women's liberation per se, let me be absolutely clear that I am attacking specifically a group of female and male middle-class intellectuals who have used the feminist issue, along with other failings of so-called "western civilization," as a pretext for an attack on science, objectivity, rationality, and humanism. I claim that this is a ruse to hide the real dynamics of sex discrimination, which can be understood only in the context of social class. Feminist metaphysics does not serve the interests of the female working class but only an elitist group of business and professional people who wish to carve out their own territory within an otherwise intact status quo.

A prominent feminist philosopher of science went so far as to refer to Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica as "Newton's rape manual." In an era of massive ignorance, pseudoscience, antiscience, religious fundamentalism, creationism, Shirley MacLaine and occultism in general, anyone who would so disparage a monumental and theoretically profound achievement of the human intellect as Newton's is an enemy of the human race. Such a cynical slander on Isaac Newton serves the interests of fascism and is inimical to the working class.

Analogous to feminist obscurantism are various mystical-idealist bourgeois black nationalist world views. Negritude and Afrocentrism were long ago discredited in Africa, but persist in America for already stated reasons. The street-level version is of course the fascist racial ideology of the Black Muslims, which disguises the economic interests of the frustrated black petit bourgeoisie. In my view, Louis Farrakhan is essentially a schemer out to sell various products and whose aim is to carve out a business empire, for which he seeks to exterminate his Jewish competitors. His equivalents in the universities are carving out similar turf, and under the same segregationist pressures of the dominant society.

One prominent trend in the sociology of science is a dogmatic subjectivism masquerading as empirical science. Not only do such sociologists study the social and economic forces that shape science, they reduce all science to personal interest and deny all objectivity to science, which after all is an encounter with nature as well as with funding agencies. One prominent scholar calls himself a historical materialist while upbraiding Marx for defending science as objective knowledge of the world. Such a radical sociologism has nothing in common whatever with Marxism, which has never cynically reduced the objective value of intellectual or any other activity to selfish interests. Hitler promoted such a view, but not Marx.

One research program in the sociology of science is the rhetorical analysis of science, in which one prevalent trend is the deconstructive postmodernist program. Hating the purportedly authoritarian nature of committing oneself to any positive assertion about the objective world, this school touts reflexivity and pluralism, which means it tolerates any view of reality except philosophical materialism.

Having attended conferences in the sociology, history and philosophy of science, I have made some curious observations. Rhetoricians of science, while professing pluralism, have successfully limited the terms of debate. They have brainwashed and intimidated their graduate students, who, even when trying to resist their brainwashers, are limited to timid counterarguments based on the same paradigm and set of sources. Their citation behavior confirms the ingrown nature of the field. Graduate study under such conditions begins to resemble an esoteric initiation rite into an elite subjectivist priesthood. The camouflage of pluralism is a classic white liberal ploy that conceals the exercise of power. When it is difficult to tell where a person stands, that person can more easily take advantage of you.

At last we confront deconstructionism, the drooling diety of radical chic. Using preposterous stereotypes of western thought and western civilization, they like to think that they have unearthed western civilization's dirty little secret. But the real secret is that the very concept of western civilization is a pseudoconcept. The real dirty little secret is that deconstructionists are really obstructionists, double dealing white liberals skilled in the arts of confusion and manipulation; and their prominence in Ivy League schools such as Yale indicates their usefulness to the ruling class as tools to defuse, confuse, and co-opt potential dissidents.

Deconstructionism is now thankfully under attack, even in the popular press. Recent articles accuse Paul de Man of being a fascist, a Nazi collaborator who published anti-Semitic propaganda during the second world war. This revelation has led to a debate: is this the smoking gun that directly links deconstruction to fascism, or is this example merely accidental, conjunctural, such as would be, say, a report on a Marxist child molester. Naturally, I feel that deconstructionism is instrinsically fascistic.

All these philosophies, however seemingly hostile to the status quo, represent adaptations to the capitalist system, for under bourgeois democracy one can criticize and question anything save for one taboo - one cannot question the capitalist system or its metaphyiscial fundamentals. Concepts like western civilization, patriarchal society, the world Jewish conspiracy, or the blue-eyed devil are not valid theoretical concepts or adequate analytical tools - they are fetishized, reified, mythological concepts.

These oppositional philosophies are themselves hegemonic. But they are hegemonic in a novel way. Philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, and John Dewey were directly - directly! - politically linked with the ruling class. But for most of the intellectuals described above, academia is a depository of bourgeois alienation. These intellectuals don't seek to serve the ruling class. They seek only to serve themselves and in so doing create their own microhegemonies, following the political economy of the knowledge industry. But yet in a given historical period they are the intellectual representatives of social democracy or in more extreme cases social fascism. And now they are under attack by the intellectuals of the right, who directly and consciously serve the ruling class.

The common thread running through these examples is philosophical idealism, to which must be counterposed militant materialism. Marx wrote: the criticism of religion is the basis of all criticism. Only America's atheist organizations are consistently doing the job on the grass-roots level that its professors, philosophers, and elite intellectuals have abdicated: the militant defense of objective and rational thinking, accompanied by legal action to protect democratic institutions from theocratic fascism. American Atheists explicitly promotes philosophical materialism; you won't find any deconstructionism there. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is run by feminists who would never ever publish nonsense about "Newton's rape manual."


The right-wing assault on social democratic thought from a number of different sources has become particularly intense. Corporate America has moved in to control universities more completely and directly. The Orwellian Accuracy in Academia has engaged in a terroristic McCarthyite harassment of professors. Establishment journalists, such as the Washington Post's Jonathan Yardley, are denouncing the 1960s generation of liberal professors including the deconstructionists from a conservative standpoint. Recently, there took place a well-publicized right-wing sponsored conference attacking liberal academic thought. In popular publishing, there are Bloom and Hirsch, accompanied by Reagan's henchmen Lynne Cheney and William Bennett, purveying racist and fascist notions of a core curriculum, a common culture, and cultural literacy.

Then there is the right-wing push for "moral education" in the schools, which signifies the end of the age of the "end of ideology." No more value-free, empiricist, relativist, amoral liberalism. "Moral education" is a hypocritical, aggressive attempt at totalitarian indoctrination of the young, to enlist loyalty in a climate of economic deprivation and to disguise the boundless depravity of the ruling order.

The underlying essence of the core curriculum, common culture, and moral education is white supremacy, intimidation, the instilling of obedience and subservience. In a rigidified class structure, the core curriculum serves as a screening device for the promotion of an elite professional class, similar to the way in which knowledge of the classics was required by entrants into the feudal Chinese civil service.

The new fascists hypocritically attack the deconstructionists, feminists, thirdworlders, and other left-liberals, social democrats, and social fascists, falsely accusing them of comprising a left-wing elite that has taken over the universities. How will the deconstructionists defend themselves? The babbling rhetoric of the Derrideans is incomprehensible even to the educated public. Given time, you can teach working class people differential calculus or how monopoly capital expropriates surplus value, because formal mathematical and scientific concepts extend rather than violate the functionality of the human mind; but you cannot teach them deconstructionism, which is the cognitive equivalent of a prefrontal lobotomy.


Now that we have emptied the intellectual garbage bag of decaying capitalism for inspection, what is the alternative? On the intellectual and cultural plane in particular, how do we satisfy the craving for philosophical coherence, for wholeness; how do we do justice to lived experience? How to we provide popular symbols and metaphors without mystification?

We need to promote a sensibility and a way of thinking both explicitly on a scientific plane and implicitly in literature and the arts. Abstract philosophical formulations are not sufficient. So that people can satisfy their intuitive cravings without turning to Zen Buddhism and the like, popularizations and concrete manifestations of ideas such as we find in the arts are required - presentations that affect the sensibility and the unconscious before the theoretical mind is capable of grasping them.

The ideology of postmodernism has co-opted the real genius of the 20th century. It is the culmination of a serious of false conceptualizations of the meaning of modern cultural and scientific achievements that have permeated intellectual works, popular symbolism, and literature throughout the century. I do not have time to go into the specifics of the positive alternative I propose. Let me just say that the great lesson of our age is that reality is neither atomistic nor holistic - it is dialectical. Our most urgent task is to develop and communicate dialectical thinking - in science, in the arts, in popular culture.

Finally, let me emphasize that I am not promoting a superficial moralistic approach to science and scholarship as do middle-class social democratic critics of science and society. That would be a capitulation to a narrow pragmatism and subjectivism. We don't need more subjectivism; we need the objective - the defense of the knowability of objective, material reality is the most politically progressive stance one can take in our time. Not all research and scholarship lends itself to popularization; not all topics are sexy and of interest to everyone. Modest, unassuming, honest empirical work that contributes to the machinery of our understanding of our world is valid even if it is not part of a social crusade. Whatever you do, and there is so much work to do, whether it be esoteric or in the heat of sociopolitical concern, I am simply asking that you be honest, and be responsible. I will do my part, though I can only do it as a hobby. But for some of you in the audience, intellectual work is your job, so I am asking: please be responsible, and do your job.


social democracy - the "welfare state," the "Great Society," a society characterized by social programs and benefits and institutions to protect the average citizen and the disadvantaged.

fascism - an organization of the capitalist state in which total control is exerted by the ruling class over all institutions of society, in such a way that the people have no effective way to defend themselves or challenge the system, economically, politically, legally, or ideologically. Fascism may take the extreme forms of arbitrary brutality and illegality, racism and genocide, rabid national chauvinism and mobilization for imperialist war, starvation, economic deprivation and pauperization of the populace aiming at the protection and maximization of profit, total indoctrination and mobilization of the population to enlist their compliance and participation in the above. Such are the characteristics of the classic jackboot police states of the 1930s. But fascism need not achieve this end form to be fascism. I take fascism to be a process rather than an end result. Fascism is a force, in process, which need not wipe out democratic institutions; it must merely occupy and control those institutions, and it has e.g. during the McCarthy era and in the Jim Crow system. In fact, contemporary fascism cannot persist without the creation of paper formal democratic institutions, such as phony "free" elections in third world puppet regimes.

social fascism - I define this (not necessarily in keeping with its historical definition) as the fascization of society through manipulation and disguised means in preference to the obvious and aboveboard device of physical violence. And/or: fascization under the aegis of social democratic loyalties, pretenses, devices, goals, and institutions. Examples might include: behavior modification and behaviorism as a philosophy (B.F. Skinner), authoritarian religious communes, African socialism.

petit-bourgeois - pertaining to (a) a class of the self-employed, shopkeepers, individual entrepreneurs, consultants, small businessmen, or (b) the mentality characteristic of this class which may characterize wage workers and members of the "middle class."

subjective idealism - the doctrine that external, material reality is a construction of the perceiving mind, usually the individual mind. Solipsism is the logical consequence of such thinking.

objective idealism - the notion that reality is independent of perceiving minds, but that it is non-physical, not testable by sense perception, and that it gives rise to materiality rather than merely constitutes a reified conceptual system. Objective idealism holds that reality exists in an independent realm of ideas, essences, or spirits, as in Platonism, or in the mind of God (and/or revealed through sacred texts), or in a mystified collectivity (such as the state, the Aryan race, western or eastern civilization, the universal mind, the community of scholars). An arbitrary ideality rather than materiality constitutes the unity of the world. Examples of objective idealism are Platonism, religions, holism, astrology, Confucianism, Mussolini's corporate state, the conservative conception of the American Constitution.

dialectics - there are numerous definitions, conceptions, interpretations, and aspects to dialectics. "Orthodox" Marxism divides dialectics into objective dialectics (concerning the nature of the external world) and subjective dialectics (concerning the process of cognition, including logic and theory-building). Regarding objective dialectics, I am here concerned with the different levels of the organization of matter, their emergence and interrelation, the material interconnections in the world, and the nonreducibility of higher to lower levels. Regarding subjective dialectics, let me cite a definition by Lenin: "the splitting of the whole in thought and the cognition of its contradictory parts." Unlike physicalism and positivism, dialectical materialism does not eliminate the perceiving, cognizing mind from the world-picture, nor does it equate essence with appearance, nor perception with matter.



Cheney, Lynne V. "Scholars and Society," speech reprinted in ACLS Newsletter [American Council of Learned Societies], vol. 1, no. 3 [2nd series], summer 1988, pp. 5-7.

Davies, Paul. "Does Matter Have a Mind of its Own?" Washington Post, June 12, 1988, p. C3.

"Modernizing the case for God," Time, April 7, 1980, pp. 65-8.

Raskin, Marcus G.; Bernstein, Herbert J. New Ways of Knowing: The Sciences, Society, and Reconstructive Knowledge. Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Littlefield, 1987.

Restivo, Sal. The Social Relations of Physics, Mysticism, and Mathematics. Dordrecht: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1983. (Episteme; v. 10.)

Tate, Greg. "Cult-nats meet Freaky-Deke [The return of the black aesthetic]," Voice Literary Supplement, December 1986, pp. 5-8.

Turner, Frederick. "Design for a New Academy: An End to the Division by Department," Harper's, September 1986, pp. 47-53.


Greenberg, Douglas, "Editorial" [on Paul de Man, Nazism, & deconstruction], ACLS Newsletter [American Coucil of Learned Societies], vol. 1, no. 4 [2nd series], autumn 1988, p. 3-4.

Oehler, Kay; Mullins, Nicholas C. "Mechanisms of Reflexivity in Science: A Look at Nontraditional Literary Forms." Paper presented at the annual conference of the Social for Social Studies of Science, 23-26 October 1986, Pittsburgh, PA.

Shaw, Peter. "The Politics of Deconstruction," Partisan Review, vol. 53, no. 2, 1986, 253-262.

Vobejda, Barbara. "'New Orthodoxy' on Campus Assailed: Conservative Academicians Fault Studies of Pop Culture," Washington Post, November 14, 1988, p. A3.


Caudwell, Christopher. Studies and Further Studies in a Dying Culture. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972.

Gross, Bertram. Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Power in America. Boston: South End Press, 1980.

Hountondji, Paulin J. African Philosophy: Myth and Reality. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983.

Jacoby, Russell. The Last Intellectuals. New York: Basic Books, 1987.

Margaronis, Maria. "Waiting for the Barbarians: The Ruling Class Defends the Citadel," Voice Literary Supplement, January/February 1989, Pp. 12-17.

Marx, Karl. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. New York: International Publishers, 1963. See Pp. 15-19.

Novack, George. Polemics in Marxist Philosophy. New York: Monad Press, 1978.

Timpanaro, Sebastiano. On Materialism, translated by Lawrence Garner. London: Verso, 1980.

West, Cornel. "The Crisis of Black Leadership," Zeta Magazine, vol. 1, no. 2, February 1988, pp. 22-25.


I am embarrassed by most of my writing prior to 1992, by which time my crash course in intellectual history and my burgeoning work on C.L.R. James contributed to rendering my thought and expression more concrete and supple. My earlier work suffers from the schematism I worked through in the 1980s, gaps in my knowledge, and political purple prose which can be excused by the psychological pressure of the political and social environment, national and local. So as not to tamper with the style and content of the original, whatever my gaffes, I have corrected only errors of form rather than of content. My philosophical portrait of American society in the 1980s otherwise stands as is. Defects and unsubtleties aside, my overall framework and angle of attack were largely valid.

Written 23-29 December 1988
Talk delivered 29 December 1988
Revised 23-25 January 1989
Edited & uploaded 10 July 2006
1988, 1989, 2006 Ralph Dumain

SOURCE: Dumain, Ralph. "Philosophical Portrait of a Dying Civilization," paper delivered at session of the Society of Philosophers at Work in the World at Eastern Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association, Washington, DC, December 29, 1988. See also abstract.

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