Dilemmas of Radicalism

Dilemmas of Radicalism

The posthumous collection of Franz Neumann’s essays (The Democratic and Authoritarian State, The Free Press, 1957) underlines the tragedy of his death. Some of the essays are diffuse and obscure, others unfinished; and the collection as a whole does not form a coherent unit, despite its somewhat misleading title, and it abounds in repetitions. More extensive editing and introductions to the essays relating them to the development of Neumann’s thought would have added clarity to both style and content. After all, they were written for a great variety of purposes over a period of seventeen years. Yet I can understand Herbert Marcuse’s decision to let Neumann’s work speak for itself because that work is of great significance. Amid the welter of erudition, repetition, and occasional obscurity there emerges a picture of a brilliant mind working its way through the decisive problems of our time. If reading these essays requires patience and effort, the labor is well rewarded; if this is not a very good book, it is a most important one—particularly for those who, in some sense, regard themselves as radicals.

As political theorist, Neumann attempted “to pierce the layers of symbols, statements, ideologies, and thus to come to the core of truth … The truth of political theory is political freedom. From this follows one basic postulate: Since no political system can realize political freedom fully, political theory must by necessity be critical…. A conformist political theory is not theory.” The political theorist seeks to understand and evaluate concrete historical situations so as to uncover the potentialities for human freedom and he must study doctrines to discover what help they can be. “The truth of a doctrine will depend upon … its ability to provide for the fullest development of all human potentialities. It is thus in the historical development and the concrete setting of the … doctrines that their truth must be determined.”