Saturday, August 14, 2010

Repressive Tolerance at UCSD? Undergraduate speaker controversy occasioned a neglected Los Angeles Times piece by Marcuse

A strange episode at UCSD in 1970 resulted in an interesting set of articles published in the Los Angeles Times, including one by Herbert Marcuse that we do not find on his official bibliography or on the website In it, Marcuse defends his doctrine of repressive tolerance in the context of a controversy about teaching at UCSD.

The essay "Repressive Tolerance", originally written in 1965 and found in its entirety as printed in the book A Critique of Pure Tolerance in 1969, advocates intolerance toward groups that are generally harmful, or, themselves intolerant. For Marcuse, the liberal ideal of "tolerance" should not be extended to groups like the Right Wing who are themselves intolerant of other groups. He states, "Given this situation, I suggested in 'Repressive Tolerance' the practice of discriminating tolerance in an inverse direction, as a means of shifting the balance between Right and Left by restraining the liberty of the Right, thus counteracting the pervasive inequality of freedom (unequal opportunity of access to the means of democratic persuasion) and strengthening the oppressed against the oppressed". An episode at UCSD shows Marcuse practicing the doctrine, by using a Right Wing speaker's lack of credentials to cast into doubt his right to address a group of college students earning credit for a course.

The issue began when Marcuse protested the coming appearance of Dr. Fred Schwarz, the president of the Christian Anti-Communist Crusade. Schwarz was invited by UCSD (tracking down exactly who) to give the lead off lecture for a course entitled "Conservative and Traditional Views of Contemporary Issues". In a letter to Dr. Martin Chamberlain, director of UCSD extension (a letter which we are trying to locate) Marcuse stated that Schwarz' visit was, "an insult to the intelligence of any serious audience, a mockery of conservative thought". Marcuse said Schwarz was described in a book (the title of which we hope is in his letter to Chamberlain) as "a hate-monger and rabble-rouser". These events are described in an article entitled "Marcuse Protests Anti-Red Lectures at UC San Diego" written by a staff writer at the LAT (published on March 27, 1970).

In response, Dr. William Banowsky, who at the time was the Chancellor of the new campus of Pepperdine College, wrote an article entitled "An Unwitting Score for Tolerance", published in the LAT April 5, 1970. The article was meant to be a direct blow to Marcuse's doctrine of repressive tolerance. Banowsky says that Marcuse's objection "misses the point" and that he (Marcuse) "may have unintentionally scored a point for the other side". Banowsky essentially calls Marcuse a hypocrite for denying his opponent the right to speak yet affirming his own; Banowsky asserts that repressive tolerance essentially means 'tolerate my view, and not yours'.

Marcuse responded in the LAT on April 12, 1970, an article entitled "The True Nature of Tolerance". The article begins: "Regrettably, Dr. Banowsky shares in the customary misrepresentation of my opinions. I did not deny Dr. Fred Schwarz right to be heard on campus; I denied his qualification to appear as a lecturer in a accredited course". He goes on to say, " I did not invoke my "political philosophy" in protest to Schwarz because it does not apply: I do not consider him dangerous - just not qualified". Marcuse then goes on to further explicate and defend the notion of repressive tolerance. Marcuse states, "Nowhere have I argued for intolerance of all views opposed to mine, nowhere have I implied that I am in possession of 'absolute truth'. I have suggested withdrawal of tolerance from demonstrably aggressive and destructive movements on the Right." But the real point of the article is in making the distinction of WHY exactly Marcuse protested Schwarz' appearance in the first place. It wasn't that Marcuse disagreed with Schwarz and therefore didn't want an opposing view to be heard on campus; his protest was instead directed toward Schwarz' credibility.

Works Cited

Anonymous. "Marcuse Protests Anti-Red Lectures at UC San Diego", LAT March 27, 1970, p. 3.

Banowsky, W. "An Unwitting Score for Tolerance", LAT April 5, 1970, p. E7.

Marcuse, H. "Repressive Tolerance" 1965, in Robert Paul Wolff, Barrington Moore, jr., and Herbert Marcuse, A Critique of Pure Tolerance (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969), pp.95-137. Available online at:, includes Herbert's 1968 'Postscript'.

Marcuse, H. "The True Nature of Tolerace", LAT April 12, 1970, p. D7.

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