Without Guilt & Justice – The Need for Alienation

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MORALITY WITHOUT GUILT does not mean morality without pain. Autonomy precludes guilt feelings, but it involves a sense of alienation.

“Alienation” is a word that has been used to designate so many different conditions that nobody could argue that we need them all. One might suppose that nobody could be against all of them either. Yet the seminal books about the subject have such a Manichaean flavor that it has become a commonplace that all forms of alienation are deplorable.

Unquestionably, some of the phenomena for which the term has been used are pathological, notably alienation in the psychiatric sense: a state of severe depression in which one finds no meaning in any activity and lacks the energy to relate to anybody or anything. That we do not need, and it is well to remember that “alienation” has long been a psychiatric term, and psychiatrists actually used to be called alienists. But my claim that we need alienation does not depend on a marginal use of the term. What I mean is the condition of feeling estranged – above all, from one’s fellow men, but also from the universe, and from oneself. I shall argue that alienation is the price of self-consciousness, autonomy, and integrity.

This thesis has the air of paradox because a false view of alienation has come to be widely accepted. As I defend my thesis, I shall attack three popular errors:

  1. That all alienation is bad.
  2. That alienation is a distinctively modern phenomenon.
  3. That alienation is a function of capitalism, or at least of advanced industrial society.

Occasionally it is admitted that some alienation can be found in the past, too; but then one usually adds that alienation today is far worse and almost “total.”

Many people who take for granted the first error, or the first two – possibly with the qualification just mentioned – would stop short of the third, but I shall attack all three.

How did these errors come to be accepted so widely? All three go back to the early manuscripts of Karl Marx, but won wide acceptance, along with the term itself, only during the cold war – and even then not in the Soviet Union or in China. In other words, what is widely accepted as dogma or common sense today was anything but a commonplace during the first half of the twentieth century.

There is no need here to trace at length the development from Marx to the present; but to place my critique in some historical perspective I shall at least distinguish three stages in the evolution of “alienation.” Although the term can be found in the works of a few earlier writers, its startling career begins with Hegel. A whole chapter, one hundred nineteen pages long, in his first book (1807) bore the title “Spirit alienated from itself: education.” But he did not commit the three errors, and Hegel scholars so consistently ignored his profuse employment of the term that it was not even listed in a four-volume Hegel-Lexikon, published in the 1930s.

The second stage is represented by Marx’s early “Philosophical Manuscripts” of 1844, in which “alienation” is crucial. Here we find the three errors, but these papers were published only in 1932, a year before Hitler came to power and put an end to the study of Marx in Germany.

The third stage was reached when a few refugees from Nazism, who sought a meeting ground for Marxism and existentialism, found it in the concept of alienation. Herbert Marcuse had dedicated his first book to Martin Heidegger, under whom he had studied; Hannah Arendt had studied with both of the leading German existentialists, Heidegger as well as Jaspers; Georg Lukacs had been influenced decisively by Kierkegaard; and in time all of them discovered that “Marx’s philosophy, like much of existentialist thinking, represents a protest against man’s alienation.” That is how Erich Fromm put the point in his introductory essay, when some of Marx’s early manuscripts were finally published in the United States in 1961 – under Fromm’s name! At that time an American publisher could still be persuaded that a new book by Fromm would have more appeal than the first publication in English of some of Marx’s most important writings. It was also in Marx’s Concept of Man that Fromm explained that “the concept of alienation is . . . the equivalent of what in theistic language would be called ‘sin.’ ” In other words, all alienation is bad. Along with a few other refugees from Nazism, the writers mentioned here propagated all three of the errors that I want to criticize.


A brief analysis of the concept should help to dispel some confusions. Although such phrases as “inalienable rights” and “alienation of affection” may remind us that one can alienate something or somebody, our primary association with “alienation” is a human state of being – the state of being alienated or estranged from somebody or something. It is in this sense that “alienation” has become a modish word, and it is only in this sense that it will be discussed here.

It follows that alienation always involves two terms, and it is always proper to ask who (A) is supposed to be alienated from what (B). Unless both terms can be specified, “alienation” has been misused. As a rule, A is specified; but a great deal of confusion results from the failure to specify B. It could be an individual, a group, other people in general, the society in which one lives, oneself or one’s “true” self, nature, or the universe. The young Marx stressed alienation from one’s work, from the product of one’s labor, and from man’s true nature or essence a concept that was central in his thought in 1844. He also applied the term to man’s loss of independence, his impoverishment, and his estrangement from his fellow men; but above all to man’s condemnation to labor that is devoid of all originality, spontaneity, and creativity. The last point was much the most important to his mind. Creativity was for him of the essence of man, and he considered man’s alienation from that the root evil from which all the other evils were derived. The original sin was the dehumanization of man.

I have no quarrel with Marx’s abhorrence of this dehumanization. If only he had stuck to that name – dehumanization – instead of paying homage to Hegel’s terminology and making so much of Entiiusserung and Entfremdung or, in one word, “alienation”! Actually, by 1848, in The Communist Manifesto, Marx himself denounced talk of “alienation” as “philosophical nonsense,” and after that he rarely used the term.

Marx had scathing words for those whose critique of capitalism was based on an appeal to distributive justice. Marx’s concern was, in effect, with the self-realization of man or, in a sense, with freedom and autonomy. He hated capitalism because it reduced the growing laboring class to a condition that made a mockery of self-realization, freedom, and autonomy. He was still sufficiently under the influence of the Old Testament and Rousseau, Kant, and Hegel to feel that man was somehow destined to be autonomous and free – that this was man’s true nature, and that the reduction of men to mindless instruments involved the alienation of man from his essence.

It is ironical that Marx’s early manuscripts should have been used to build a bridge between Marxism and existentialism, considering that Sartre defined existentialism in terms of its denial of the claim that man has an essence. Yet the young Marx and the young Sartre were not really diametrically opposed. The early Sartre insisted that man lacked the solidity of things and was condemned to be free. Sartre tried to show how men continually succumb to bad faith, hiding their frightening freedom from themselves and seeing themselves as if they were mere things – as if, for example, one were a waiter or a coward the way a ball is red or round, and there was nothing one could do about it. Sartre’s extravagant emphasis on man’s complete freedom was a bracing challenge to his early readers, but it was at odds not only with Marxism but also with the facts of life. His growing awareness of the hollowness of some of his rhetoric and of the ways in which the starving and oppressed are not completely free – his social conscience, in short – led him to reconsider; and we have seen how his guilt feelings led him to seek a rapprochement with Marxism. But even his early existentialism could have been formulated in terms of a concept of human nature. He might have said, and so might Marx: By nature, man is free; yet everywhere he is in chains.

The young Marx and the early Sartre: two variations on Rousseau? Sartre much less so than Marx. For the early Sartre did not blame society, as Rousseau and the young Marx did; he blamed man himself, whose nature it is not only to be free but also to conceal his freedom from himself and to lapse into bad faith.

The main difference between the young Marx and the early Sartre is that Sartre concentrated on the psychological processes that lead men to see themselves as objects, as things, as unfree, while Marx decided to study the economic processes that lead to the same result. Marx saw the unfree as victims, while the early Sartre insisted that we are our own victims.

This difference runs deep. While the rhetoric of Sartre’s early existentialism was too optimistic insofar as it exaggerated man’s freedom, the underlying view of man was more tragic. No revolution or reform could make men free; men dread freedom and try to hide their freedom from themselves. Unfortunately, Sartre inherited from the two famous German philosophers who had been his mentors, Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, a bias against psychology, and he felt free to pursue psychology only under the guise of ontology – the pseudoscience of being. Marx, a century earlier, did not do psychology at all and, like Kant and Hegel, worked with unexamined assumptions about human nature. Partly as a result of this dual heritage from Marxism and existentialism, much of the literature on alienation has an oddly unscientific and unempirical quality. But Marx’s peculiar use of the word “alienation” has had two more specific consequences that are most unfortunate.

First, in the seminal books by the authors mentioned above, alienation from oneself, which is an intricate and difficult subject, is constantly confounded with other forms of alienation, and as a result, neither alienation from oneself nor alienation from others is understood very well. I have chosen a different path and have discussed man’s dread of freedom separately, analyzing ten strategies of decidophobia, and now I shall consider phenomena that are more properly called forms of alienation.

The second point is no less important. An apologist for Marx might say: In societies past and present people have been led to believe that they were puppets at the mercy of mysterious forces, and Marx aimed to show that we are not puppets and that these forces are actually produced by man. Obviously, my quarrel is not with this idea. I applaud Marx’s central concern with human autonomy. What I attack is his fateful misuse of the concept of “alienation.” By using “alienation” to designate the condition in which man is deprived of autonomy, Marx kept himself (as well as those who followed his lead) from seeing how alienation from others is the price of autonomy. But it is high time to show that it really is.


We must ask not only from whom or what someone is supposed to be alienated but also what would constitute the absence of this alienation. What would a nonalienated person be like? If he found no group of people, nothing about the society in which he lived or about the universe, at all strange, one could scarcely call him a person. Or if one did, one would have to add that his state was pathological and bordered on idiocy.

Self-consciousness involves a sense of what is alien. Yet people do not speak of alienation when a child begins to ask questions, for it is clearly the child who does not ask questions that one has to worry about. As long as it is assumed that all alienation is bad, one naturally would not think of applying the term to the pleasing curiosity of a child. But adolescence is our second childhood, and when students start asking questions about the societies in which they live or about the world, it is often said that they are alienated. A healthy child ought not to be satisfied with the reply that this is simply the way things are. Why should a healthy adolescent be satisfied with such an answer? Again, it is those who are easily satisfied that we should worry about, and it is grounds for melancholy that most people cease so soon to find the world strange and questionable.

There are two reasons for calling the adolescent who finds things exceedingly strange, alienated – but not the child. First, one welcomes the questions of the three-year old because he is easier to handle, and one reserves a term that carries overtones of regret and disapproval for adolescents because one does not know what to do with their questions and their often caustic retorts. But then there is also another difference; in purely descriptive terms, the adolescent experience involves a deep and disturbing sense of estrangement, while the child’s usually does not.

We can now round out our analysis of alienation by specifying the relationship between A and B. I have given some reasons for rejecting the use of “alienation” as an antonym of “autonomy” or “self-realization.” We should use “alienation” and “estrangement” as antonyms of “feeling at home” in or with B. The emotions accompanying this experience can vary greatly; sometimes resentment will predominate, sometimes despair, a sense of isolation, pain, defiance, calm curiosity, or a sense of comedy.

Alienation in the sense considered here is part of growing up. Self-consciousness cannot develop without it. Not only is the world “other” (to that extent, alienation is entailed logically by the development of self-consciousness), but the world is also extremely strange and cruel. Hence, as perception increases, any sensitive person will feel a deep sense of estrangement. Seeing how society is riddled with dishonesty, stupidity, and brutality, he wil1 feel estranged from society, and seeing how most of one’s fellow men are not deeply troubled by all this, he will feel estranged from them. Nor are these the only reasons for estrangement from one’s fellow men. After all, most of them are a rather sorry lot, and if we find ourselves unsatisfactory as well, that – given some humbition – wil1 not reconcile us to our fellow men but add a sense of alienation from ourselves to our plight.

The notion that those who are liberated from self-alienation in the Marxian sense will no longer suffer from any alienation is false. On the contrary, those whose self-consciousness and sensitivity are most fully developed are bound to be most deeply troubled by the world, society, their fellow men, and their own shortcomings. Where those who shut their eyes and lull their minds to sleep, as well as those reduced to brutishness in one way or another, find it possible to feel at home, the autonomous spirit who insists on keeping his eyes open to examine critically his own position and alternatives finds it impossible to feel at home.


If my conception of alienation is accepted, the three theses I have criticized are obviously wrong. Hence it may seem that I must have missed what all the talk about alienation is really about. It would be distracting to survey the vast literature on the subject, but in a book that makes so much of the importance of examining alternatives it would be odd if this discussion of alienation ignored the writings of the young Marx altogether. I shall therefore consider briefly two particularly influential passages from his writings before The Communist Manifesto. Neither of these passages was published by Marx himself, and the point is not to score against him but rather to understand why some people have been led to believe in the third error. In a study of Marx one might go on to explore how in his later work he varied some of his early themes without speaking of “alienation.” In the present context, however, Marx concerns us only insofar as his ideas have colored contemporary notions about alienation.

Consider Marx’s famous dream in The German Ideology:

As soon as the division of labor sets in, everybody has a determinate and exclusive sphere of activity that is imposed on him and from which he cannot escape. He is hunter, fisherman, or shepherd, or critical critic, and must remain that if he does not want to lose his livelihood – while in Communist society. . . society regulates general production and thus makes it possible for me to do this today and that tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, to fish in the afternoon, to rear cattle in the evening, and to criticize after dinner, as I please, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd, or critic. This fixation of social activity, this consolidation of our own product into an objective power over us that outgrows our control, crosses our expectations, and nullifies our calculations, is one of the main features in the development of history so far . . .

What is here said vividly and memorably has influenced many subsequent discussions of alienation, although the term itself does not occur in this passage. Where alienation is understood as the antonym of self-realization, it is assumed that what Marx describes here is the alienation of modern man – his loss of spontaneity and his reduction to a mere instrument – and that what he envisages is man’s ultimate triumph over alienation “in Communist society.” My main objection to all this is that it is an illicit and misleading use of “alienation.” But what about Marx’s dream?

This dream has not come true in any Communist society, while it has been realized to a significant extent in the United States, where it is not at all unusual for one person to have a great many different jobs before he is thirty. Millions of students support themselves in a variety of ways during the academic year and then, during the summer, work in factories and freight yards, on construction jobs and in offices, having one job one summer and another the next. Moreover, it is not at all uncommon for people with all kinds of jobs to find the time to hunt or fish, and criticism is one of the most popular American sports, undoubtedly indulged in with greater frequency and less inhibition than in any Communist country. While it is doubtful whether many people manage “to rear cattle in the evening,” this part of Marx’s vision only shows how some city-dwellers imagine bucolic bliss. It might even be considered evidence of Marx’s alienation from nature.

Of course, this criticism will not faze anyone for whom the manuscripts of Marx are holy writ. After all, it is the first axiom of exegetical thinking (discussed in chapter 1, section 6) that if an authoritative text seems to be wrong, the exegesis must be inadequate, never the text. If the apologist is also a Manichaean, he will discredit uncomfortable arguments as coming from the forces of evil (see section 7) and say that I am waving the American flag.

To be sure, Marx’s central concern was not with hunting or fishing; it was with the dehumanizing effects of the division of labor in advanced industrial society, and the restoration of spontaneity in Communist society. In the former, man is trapped in, and reduced to, one sole function; in the latter, man enjoys autonomy. This is Marx’s version of the third great error.

If one wants to know whether this is really an error or whether Marx was right, one must look at the facts and see whether conditions in the United States, for example, bear him out.

As it happens, American society has many grievous faults, but the point at issue is one of its strengths. One of the most extreme examples of a society in which people are trapped in a job that is imposed upon them from outside is the preindustrial caste system of India. To a far lesser extent, Frenchmen in small towns and villages were at one time under enormous pressure to follow in their fathers’ footsteps. Advanced industrial society has brought some loosening of old structures. In the United States in particular, both lateral and vertical social mobility are relatively great, although I wish they were still greater.

In his Being and Nothingness, Sartre described a waiter who played at being a waiter in order to become wholly a waiter. Sartre claimed that society takes offense when “a grocer is not wholly a grocer. Politeness demands that he limit himself to his function . . .” That would be much less true in the United States than in France. An American waiter is much less likely to feel that his role defines or freezes him, or that it determines his relations with his fellow men. Nor do Americans demand that he limit himself to his function. He may well be a student, and if he is too old for that, there is no presumption even so that he was a waiter a year ago, or that he will be one next year. Those on whom he waits are apt to have waited on table themselves, or to have children who at this very moment have a similar job.

If we amalgamate the bad effects of the division of labor with altogether different experiences and call the lot “alienation,” we are hardly prepared to ask the questions that need to be asked. Problems must be sorted out before one can hope to solve them. Decidophobia, for example, has to be moved clearly into focus before one can examine its major strategies. And in the present context, the practical questions that need to be faced are these.

First, can we eliminate boring jobs? The solution does not seem to depend on who owns the means of production. It depends on technical developments that require a high degree of specialization; particularly, on the future of automation.

Second, can we drastically reduce the number of hours per week that anyone has to spend on a boring job? Here some of the capitalistic countries have made great progress.

Third, can we shift people around so that nobody has to do the same boring job during all of his working hours? If one had to fish eight hours every day, one might well find that very trying. Could rotation reduce boredom? I expect that the resistance to any such change would come mainly from the unions and from those who might benefit from it. Those who hate routine are few. Most men desire amazingly little variety; witness what they do with their spare time. Any notion that most men, if only they had the time, would use it to reread Aeschylus’ tragedies every year, in the original Greek, as Marx did, is wildly romantic.

Fourth, can we change that by improving our educational system?


Marx’s claim that in capitalistic society alienation must inevitably become worse and worse depends not only on a far-fetched use of the term but also on the influence of Hegel and Ludwig Feuerbach, in whose writings he had immersed himself before writing his “Philosophical Manuscripts.”

Hegel had used “necessary” again and again as a synonym of “natural” and an antonym of “arbitrary” or “utterly capricious.” Among German writers this confusion is common, and Marx’s thought suffers severely from it.

Feuerbach had shown how man projects his best qualities into the deity until God becomes the quintessence of perfection and man a hopelessly imperfect sinner. Man strips himself of all that is good or strong in him to clothe God in goodness and strength, and the greater he makes God, the smaller he makes himself.

Marx gave this idea a surprising application in his early manuscript on “Alienated Labor”:

The alienation of the worker in his object finds expression as follows. . . : The more the worker produces, the less is there for him to consume; the more values he creates, the more he loses value and dignity; the more his product is shaped, the more misshapen the worker; the more civilized his object, the more barbarous the worker; the more powerful the work is, the more powerless becomes the worker; the more spirit there is in the work, the more devoid of spirit and a slave of nature the worker.

It is worth noting that the final clause is ungrammatical in the original German, and that the whole paragraph is placed in parentheses, for it is often forgotten that these early manuscripts are rough and unrevised drafts. Yet these ideas merit critical attention, for they are expressed again and again in the same fragment and in the other early manuscripts; and this is the birthplace of Marx’s idea that the condition of the workers is bound to become more and more inhuman and intolerable until they revolt and, as Marx puts it in the climactic passage of Das Kapital, “the expropriators are expropriated.” Moreover, this passage on “alienated labor” has had a profound influence on the literature on alienation.

The passage is a fine example of Marx’s early style, but the antitheses in which he liked to wallow are a kind of rhetoric and do not approximate a demonstration. What Marx here describes as an inevitable development is not what has actually happened in advanced industrial societies. Marx’s view depends on the assumption that the worker is divested of the qualities that appear in his product so that its beauty, subtlety, and power leave him ugly, coarse, and weak. But if we forget about Hegel and Feuerbach, no reasons remain for considering this necessary.

Finally, if we call moronization “alienation,” instead of considering it as a phenomenon in its own right, we stand less chance of preventing it. Serious critics do not label everything they like “groovy” or “divine”; neither should serious writers be content to call most of the social phenomena they deplore “alienation.”


There is one other notion that has to be considered here lest it appear that I have missed the real import of the current vogue of “alienation.” The notion that things have never been worse than in our time looms large in the literature on alienation. Protracted polemics are apt to create the impression that they are prompted by some personal ill feeling. As an illustration I shall therefore choose Martin Buber’s I and Thou, a book I have translated myself because I felt close to the author.

The immense popularity of this book during the second half of the twentieth century is due in part to the fact that the second of its three parts deals at length with alienation and suggests that ours is a “sick” age. Less and less do men see one another – or a work of art or a tree – as another You; more and more do they see their fellow men and works of art and trees as so many objects of experience and use. Half a century after the book was written, young readers consider these pages prophetic because they describe so perfectly the world in which we live. It does not occur to most of them that the world in which it was written was like that, too – any more than it struck Buber himself that he implicitly glorified a past that had not been as different as he occasionally insinuated. He insisted that one cannot live entirely in I-You relationships, but he still wrote as if in the past there had been communities not tainted by “sickness.” Like others who speak in this vein, he failed to substantiate or even investigate this assumption.

Buber’s book has a poetic quality that discourages analysis and criticism. But the same methodological scandal taints much of the literature on alienation. What we are witnessing is an understandable reaction against the blithe faith in progress that was in fashion in the nineteenth century. But the new antifaith in the unique alienation of modern man is as unsound and simplistic as the old faith in progress. The notion that things were never so good and are constantly getting better and the notion that things were never so bad and are steadily getting worse are entirely worthy of each other.

The truth of the matter is that things are and always have been terrible. And alienation has always been the price of autonomy.

The transition from one simplistic proposition to its opposite illustrates Hegel’s dialectic. To rise above such unsophisticated claims, we must inquire how what has become worse is related to what has become better.

In brief, the sense of alienation has spread with the unprecedented expanse of education. To a large extent, this was inevitable. If the world and the societies we live in are, and always have been, abhorrent, brutal, and cruel, then it follows that the more one comes to know about them, the less can one feel at home in them. With an increase in self-consciousness and sensitivity, the sense of alienation deepens. If relatively few people had any profound sense of alienation in times past, while millions feel estranged today, this is not least because more people receive more education than formerly.

While even the best education must increase alienation, some aspects of the modern sense of alienation are due to the faults of modem education. Above all, education has bred utterly unrealistic expectations, and this is not necessary and could, and ought to, be changed. Not only have vast numbers of pupils been exposed after a fashion to great art, great novels, and to the achievements of great scientists, but pupils have also been encouraged to believe that they can paint and write as well as anyone, or make brilliant experiments and great discoveries. But men are not equal in talents, and this well-intentioned but misguided egalitarianism has resulted in the vast growth of a sense of disappointment. Naturally, one rarely questions the sacred dogma of egalitarianism, and instead of blaming oneself for one’s failures, one blames society or “the establishment,” and feels alienated.

Modern education is also at fault in another way. Not only is it false that everyone has the gifts to become a competent composer, painter, novelist, or physicist, but the creative life is hard, and to find satisfaction in it requires an immense amount of self-discipline. But self-discipline has been neglected in modern education. The point is not that schools are not sufficiently disciplinarian. Most of them are too disciplinarian in unnecessary, petty ways and thus bring discipline into disrepute. What has not been stressed sufficiently is functional self-discipline: the need to master skills and subjects that one may not feel like learning but without which competence in one’s chosen field cannot be had; humbition, the habit of relentless self-criticism, and perseverance.

Some forms of alienation could be avoided or at least diminished greatly by providing much less education – a cure that would be worse than the disease. But other forms could be prevented or diminished by changing our educational philosophy: by not stimulating utterly unrealistic hopes; by teaching the self-discipline required for sustained creative work; and by preparing students for such jobs as actually are within their reach, while increasing their reach at the same time. Finally, education should prepare people for their rapidly increasing leisure time.


While this last point is of immense importance, one may wonder what it has to do with alienation. One connection is fairly obvious: those who find genuine satisfaction in their leisure time are much less apt to feel the disappointment and resentment that it has become the fashion to call “alienation.” Creative use of one’s leisure time, however, should not be considered a mere opiate. I shall discuss creativity at length in the last chapter. In connection with alienation it will be quite sufficient to consider for a moment the opposite of creative use of leisure hours: collapsing in front of a television set and watching – or not even watching – whatever fare is offered.

This is the ultimate in uncreative passivity. The viewer is offered mainly predigested pap, in a predetermined sequence, at a speed – or rather lack of speed – beyond his poor control, and his autonomy is reduced to switching channels.

Reading can be creative. I can reread a sentence or a passage; I can go back to look once more at what has gone before; I can make comparisons with other books, look up something, learn what I need, and then resume when I am ready. Interruptions of this sort are crucial elements in the rhythm that a scholar imposes on his reading. They are outward signs of discipline and creativity. When I read that way, I am autonomous.

The television watcher is at the mercy of his medium, and the frequent interruptions come at moments that are not of his own choosing. If he interrupts, or if he asserts himself by switching to find out what other channels have to offer him, he develops undisciplined habits that in many cases interfere eventually with other media. Thus people talk more than they used to during plays, movies, and lectures, or drop in on lectures and walk out on them – as if autonomy consisted of a lack of discipline. Meanwhile, the commercials on TV have done their share to shorten the span of attention; more and more people need an interruption every fifteen minutes, whatever the medium might be. If being “turned off” easily is taken for a sign of “alienation” (the television metaphor is interesting), I am far from claiming that we need that sort of “alienation.”

I have argued that many of the most popular uses of the term are unfortunate. This becomes apparent when we ask, who is more alienated: a writer in America who does not have a television set, or those who spend much of their leisure time in front of theirs? The nonconformist is alienated from society and cuts himself off from the world in which most of his fellow men are dwelling. But for those who operate with some conception of man’s “true” nature and assume that man is essentially creative, as the young Marx did, it should be clear that those who spend their spare time watching whatever fare is offered are “self-alienated.”

Anyone who spent art equal amount of time seeing films of comparable quality, or listening to lectures of such quality, might be said to be equally “self-alienated.” But (1) few people, if any, spend as much time week after week seeing film after film, or hearing lecture upon lecture, as watch TV. (2) It is doubtful whether enough films of comparable quality are available to many people. (3) Going to a film or lecture requires at least some exertion and a longer span of attention, hence a little more discipline. (4) Lectures usually come in sequences and require some active and at least minimally creative attempt at integration of different lectures and of a fair amount of reading. In practice, therefore, TV is especially debilitating and a good example of what certain writers might call “alienation from oneself.”These writers also often claim, falsely, that “alienation from oneself’ is the most basic form of alienation from which all other forms are derived.

In fact, we have to choose between this kind of “alienation from oneself” and alienation from society. “Total alienation” is total nonsense. So is any dream of the total absence of “alienation.” The television addict and conformist are “self-alienated”; the writer without TV and the nonconformist are estranged from society and their fellow men. As the term is misused nowadays, our choice is not between being or not being alienated; it is rather between ways of life that involve different types of alienation.

In my terminology, “self-alienation” is the wrong label for the television addicts and conformists who feel at home with themselves. I have proposed a more restricted and discriminating use of “alienation.” When I say that alienation is the price of autonomy, I mean above all alienation from one’s fellow men and society, but also a sense of estrangement from the universe and a critical attitude toward oneself.


I have spoken of the methodological scandal that those who propagate the two great errors – that alienation is a distinctively modern phenomenon, and that it is a function of advanced industrial society – have failed to examine preindustrial societies to see whether their contentions are born out by the evidence. I have insisted that things are and always have been terrible, and that alienation has always been the price of autonomy.

While my arguments seem to me to establish my case, it might help if we paused to have a look at preindustrial society. Those who believe that in such societies men are harmonious, happier, more intimate with nature, and more humane, ought to come to grips with the abundant evidence to the contrary, ranging from the Mayas to the Aztecs to the Cretans in Nikos Kazantzakis’s Zorba the Greek and the Indian village in Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan.

In The Painted Bird, Jerzy Kosinski has not only given us a shattering picture of a peasant society but also one of the finest symbols of alienation to be found in world literature. He tells of a bird catcher who now and then amused himself by choosing the strongest bird from his cages, painting it in rainbow hues, squeezing it to make it twitter and attract a flock of its own species, and finally setting it free. One by one, the drab birds would attack the painted bird until it dropped to the ground, soaked in blood. The whole novel develops this theme.

It is a theme I have neglected so far. One important source of alienation from one’s fellow men is their reaction to the person who has more self-consciousness and greater sensitivity than they. He feels that he is unlike them, but they feel it, too, and it is often their resentment that first makes him. aware of the gulf. The Painted Bird is the story of a child. But the autonomous human being who chooses to make his own decisions instead of bowing to authority or going along with the crowd alienates his fellow men without ever having thought of doing that. In that way, too, alienation is the price of sensitivity, self-consciousness, and autonomy.

It would not be feasible in the present context to attempt studies of various preindustrial societies. That cannot be done in a few broad strokes. Instead I shall give a few striking individual examples of great men who lived in preindustrial societies. At this point I confront an embarrassment of riches. The following cases should not only illustrate my thesis but also help to show how wrong the three great errors are.


Plato is the first great philosopher known to us by complete works and not mere fragments. He is also widely considered the greatest philosopher of all time. His Republic leaves no doubt about his deep estrangement from Athenian society and from the politics and morals of his time. He considered it hopeless to try to reform “the system.” He argued that either the kings must become philosophers, or the philosophers kings. Meanwhile he described a city that “can be found nowhere on earth . . . . But it makes no difference whether it exists now or ever will come into being. Only the politics of this city” merits a philosopher’s attention. But for. good measure he nevertheless included. in The Republic a scathing attack on Athenian democracy.

More than once, Plato cited approvingly an ancient play on words, dear to the Orphic sect: the body (soma) is the soul’s tomb (sema). This means that the soul is buried in the body, that life is a long exile, and that being a self means being a stranger.

Further, Plato divided the soul into three parts and argued for their existence by calling attention to cases in which they are at odds with each other and pull us in different directions. He knew the experience of the divided self and felt at home neither in his body nor with his appetites.

Plato’s Republic offers a path to salvation. He describes a society in which the division of the self against itself could be overcome, but he also argues that in the societies actually to be found in the world such integration could scarcely be achieved. He considered it a sign of Socrates’ greatness that he had brought off this nearly impossible feat, but Plato also considered it typical that Athens had responded by putting Socrates to death.

It is widely believed that before our own accursed time men were closer to the earth, more intimate with nature, more at home in it. Socrates and Plato, however, were not. In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates says that he can be induced to leave the city and to walk out into the country only if you dangle a book in front of him! And Plato exhorted men to see their senses as deceivers and to regard nature as unreal. We must turn our backs on nature and devote ourselves to what the uninitiated take for abstractions: to mathematics and to dialectic. Nature is things; art, imitations; and salvation lies in thought. We must not try to feel at home in this world. We must become convinced of its unreality and place our trust in another world that lies beyond nature, beyond sense experience, beyond time and change.

In sum, Plato was an exceptionally alienated man, and I am far from claiming that anyone who wants to be autonomous has to be alienated in all of these ways. Still, Plato illustrates the falsehood of at least the second and the third great errors.

Heraclitus, the great pre-Socratic philosopher whose fragments bring him to life for us as a full-fledged individual, may serve as our second illustration. His alienation from his fellow citizens found superlative expression in an outburst that brings to mind the adage of the 1960s about not trusting anyone over thirty: “The Ephesians would do well to hang themselves, every adult man, and leave their city to adolescents, since they expelled Hermodorus, the worthiest man among them. . .” Nor has anyone ever found a better formulation for what really merits the name of self-alienation than did Heraclitus: “I sought myself.” That is surely the theme of all of Hermann Hesse’s major novels, which are so dear to those who feel that they are alienated.

Plato and Aristotle remarked that philosophy begins in wonder or perplexity. We could say just as well that it begins in alienation – namely, when our self, the world, and the society we live in become strange to our minds and set us thinking.

Where a philosopher goes from that starting point, differs from case to case. But one final example is particularly pertinent to the second and third errors: the Pythagoreans formed a sect and were, like many of our own contemporaries, alienated together. During the fifth century, when Athens became a great power and produced the Parthenon and the other buildings whose ruins we still see on the Acropolis – during the whole age of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides – the Pythagoreans lived, withdrawn, in a commune in southern Italy. Their admission of women to their society, their practice of holding all property in common, and their contempt for business influenced Plato and are bound to seem modern to many people today.

An altogether different approach also suggests that the great philosophers were deeply alienated men. Who have been the greatest philosophers since the Middle Ages? There is a surprising consensus about the answer: Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz; Hobbes and Hume; Pascal and Rousseau; Kant and Hegel; Bentham, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche; and in our time, Russell and Sartre. One might add a few names to this list, but these fourteen philosophers are certainly among the most interesting and influential.

Descartes lost his mother when he was one year old; Spinoza was six when his mother died, and Leibniz six when his father died. Nothing seems to be known about Hobbes’s mother, but his father abandoned him when he was quite small, and he was brought up by an uncle. (He wrote his major works during a twelve-year exile from England.) Hume’s father died when he was three; Pascal’s mother when he was three. Rousseau’s mother died soon after his birth, and when he was ten his father left him. Kant and Hegel lost their mothers at thirteen; Bentham lost his at eleven. Schopenhauer was seventeen when his father committed suicide after having shown for some time “symptoms of mental alienation.’: Nietzsche was four when he lost his father. Russell’s mother died when he was two, his father two years later. And Sartre lost his father at two.

Rilke’s words, in his first Elegy, “we are not very reliably at home in the interpreted world,” have been taken for a formulation of a distinctively modern malaise. My data create a very strong presumption that this feeling was shared by the major philosophers, at least since Descartes. In most cases, their works show this at a glance; but Spinoza, Leibniz, and Hegel may look like exceptions. Closer study of Hegel, however, shows that what he sought, and eventually found, in philosophy was a triumph over an almost unbearable sense of alienation. Indeed, he bequeathed this term to us precisely in this context. I suspect that the cases of Leibniz and Spinoza may have been essentially similar.


Among the great writers and poets of the past, there were so many deeply alienated men that it would be easy to get sidetracked into a prolonged discussion of a large number of cases. I shall content myself with one ancient, one medieval, and one modern poet, all of them of the first rank, and two of them autonomous.

Goethe, already mentioned at the end of chapter 1 as a man who resisted the ten strategies of decidophobia, is a model of autonomy. It is often overlooked that he paid the price of alienation. As a young man, he expressed his alienation from society in his first novel, The Sufferings of the Young Werther. He had Werther commit suicide – and all over Europe large numbers of young people committed suicide with a copy of the book clutched in their hands or buried in a pocket. Goetz, the hero of Goethe’s storm-and-stress play, uttered the most celebrated obscenity in German literature, showing the poet’s contempt for convention. Both works became instant successes and made the young rebel the hero of the younger generation. At that point, a lesser author would have tended to imitate himself in an attempt to retain the favor of his public; but not Goethe.

His best work of this period he held back because it did not satisfy his own exacting standards. No other German had written anything of comparable quality; yet ‘the so-called Urfaust, the version of Faust written in the 1770s, was not published until 1887. But Goethe kept working at it, and in 1790, after he had published plays that gave German literature an altogether new .and different direction, he published Faust: A Fragment, including a revised version of parts of his earlier draft, along with a lot of new material. Then he proceeded to altogether new experiments. He kept trying new things, but almost everything he did was instantly acclaimed.

His deepest estrangement from his fellow men coincides with the period when he is now widely held to have been a pillar of the establishment. He had published Part One of Faust in 1808, with an utter disregard for the very possibility of a performance on the stage. While he was director of the theater at Weimar, a vast variety of plays and operas were performed, but never Faust. Sixty years after he had begun Faust, Goethe finished Part Two, a few months before he died, in his eighties. He tied up the manuscript, sealed it, and refused to divulge the conclusion even to old friends. He had no wish to see the play performed; he did not want to have it published until after he was dead; and he had no desire to share it with anyone. Surely, that is an example of extreme alienation from society and from one’s fellow men.

I can be much briefer about the other two poets. The Middle Ages are often viewed nostalgically as a time when all was harmony and integration. There is no need here to dwell on the superstition and the inhumanity of those centuries, as evidenced, for example, in the persecution of Jews and heretics. Suffice it that the greatest poet of the age was a paradigm of alienation.

Dante’s Vita Nuova is a case study of self-alienation in the proper sense of that term – of viewing oneself as a stranger. And his Divine Comedy is the work of an exile, consumed by bitterness. He creates a vast hell to people it with his fellow men, including members of the establishment.

If alienation should be associated more with being artistically out of touch with one’s time, and what is meant is inaccessibility, this description also fits the Divine Comedy – and Part Two of Faust – perfectly. Who among Dante’s or Goethe’s contemporaries could possibly have fathomed these works? And how many people since their time?

Finally, there is Euripides, another paradigm of autonomy – a man who spurned all ten strategies. In his case it is so palpable that his alienation from his fellow Athenians was directly related to the independence of his spirit that there is no need to labor the point. In the end, he went into voluntary exile, and it was only after his death that he became the most popular of the great tragic poets.


My last two illustrations come from literature. It might be argued that a single negative case would refute my claim that alienation is the price of autonomy; that Sophocles was autonomous (which I would gladly grant, though many critics would not, as they consider him more beholden to traditional religion than I do); and that Sophocles was not alienated. In effect, I have shown in another book, Tragedy and Philosophy, that he was alienated, but it would be quite impossible to recapitulate the evidence in a few pages. Something will be gained, however, by reflecting briefly on his most admired tragedy, his Oedipus Tyrannus.

Oedipus, as conceived by Sophocles, keeps haunting men’s minds. We feel that in some sense he represents us – but not necessarily in the way Freud suggested. I submit that Oedipus is alienation incarnate. His father was warned by the gods not to have children, and Oedipus came into the world unwanted. Hence he was cast out into hostile nature to perish. Saved by a shepherd, he was brought up in Corinth, a stranger without realizing it. To avoid defiling nature and violating the most sacred harmonies of the universe, he left Corinth to go into voluntary exile, but nevertheless committed what the Greeks – and not only the Greeks – considered the most unnatural acts, outraging nature and society.

In Thebes, of which he was a native, he assumed that he was an alien. When he discovered who he was, what he had done, and how he was not an alien at all, he asked to be thrown out of the city.

If one sought an epigraph for Sophocles’ tragedy, one could not do better than quote Heraclitus: “I sought myself.” Oedipus is a stranger to himself, and when he discovers who he is, he is filled with loathing, destroys his eyes, and cries out that he wishes that he could destroy his hearing, too, cutting the last bonds to the world and to his fellow men.

What explains the perennial fascination of this play? I do not think it would have haunted men so much if alienation were in fact only a modern phenomenon, restricted to advanced industrial societies.

If there is another play that has exerted an equal fascination, it is surely Hamlet. And if there is another hero who dominates a drama totally with his pervasive sense of alienation, it is Hamlet. He displays almost every conceivable form of alienation. He views himself, his fellow men, and the society in which he lives with loathing. And generations of readers have identified with him; above all, young people, writers, artists, and philosophers. For these groups have always experienced what is nowadays called alienation. Why? Because alienation is the price of sensitivity, self-consciousness, and freedom, and adolescence glories in these qualities, while among the older generation these qualities are cultivated preeminently by creative writers, artists, and philosophers. That these groups have no monopoly on admiration for Hamlet and self-identification with the hero – or on alienation – is grist for my mill. These historical and literary examples should finally dispatch the three great errors about alienation.

As a last resort, some people have claimed that what is distinctively modern is not so much the artist’s condition as it is the attitude of the modern public toward art. It is said that modern man no longer sees works of art as paintings or sculptures but rather as commodities, investments, or status symbols. This generalization is obviously false and irresponsible; it applies to a relatively small class. But were things better in the past? Did not the pharaohs of Egypt and the kings of Europe, the Renaissance patrons and popes, and the wealthy citizens of northern Europe look on paintings and sculptures as status symbols?

When we discover lamentable conditions in our own society, we have no right whatever to assume that in Communist countries, in the Third World, or in the past nothing equally deplorable could possibly be found; that our country is the worst, and our time the nadir of humanity. So foolish is this attitude that it is difficult to understand it until one realizes that it is a radical reaction to the no less foolish faith that our country is the best and our age the high point of humanity. To make informed comparisons requires some historical perspective.


I have said that alienation is the price of autonomy. It could be said as well that alienation can be fruitful. Some of my examples indicate as much. I noted earlier that, a generation before Marx committed the three errors, Hegel had entitled a long chapter “Spirit alienated from itself: education.” That was a way of suggesting that alienation is needful. But this idea was not original with Hegel.

In the Hebrew Bible, Moses challenged his people to become alienated. Judaism lifted man out of nature and stressed the discontinuity between man and nature, man and animal. Man was not to feel altogether at home in the world, and the Jews were not supposed to be “like all the nations.” In theory, their sense of community might have compensated them for their alienation from other nations. Reading the second part of Buber’s I and Thou, one might even be led to assume that this was what happened. But in the Bible we find no trace of that. What we do find is a succession of imposing figures who not only keep telling their people that they should be different, but who themselves are different – and thoroughly alienated from their own society. Moses, Elijah, Amos, Hosea, and Jeremiah are outstanding examples. What might they have replied, had anyone told them that they were enviable because their society was healthy and not sick, like ours?

Sigmund Freud spoke out of this Biblical tradition when he said at the outset of a brief autobiography:

The university, which I entered in 1873, brought me, to begin with, several palpable disappointments. Above all, I was struck by the presumption that I should feel inferior and not a member of the Yolk because I was a Jew. The former notion I rejected quite decisively. I have never comprehended why I should be ashamed of my descent or, as one was then beginning to say, my race. The membership in the V olk that was denied me I renounced without much regret. . . . But these first impressions of the university had one consequence that remained important later on: early in life I became familiar with the lot of standing alone among the opposition and being placed under a ban by the ‘compact majority.’ This laid the foundation for a certain independence of judgment.

This is a perfect example of fruitful alienation. Here involuntary alienation – being cast in the role of an alien – becomes a steppingstone toward autonomy. But some people react quite differently to the very same experience; for example, those to whom we owe the first great error, that all alienation is bad.

Rather oddly, all of these writers had the experience Freud describes. For those who seized on Hegel’s term “alienation” and made of it a cri de coeur and a word for all that was wrong with society were – virtually all of them – Jews. First, Marx; then, a century later, Georg Lukacs and Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm and Hannah Arendt, to mention only the most influential. All of them were cast in the role of aliens, and the alienation thrust on them became a source of suffering for them. But they did not react like Freud. Instead they came to feel that alienation – all alienation – was bad and perhaps nothing less than the root of all evil, and they began to dream of some community in which there would be no alienation.

Martin Buber’s Zionism was largely motivated by the same dream of community. The ultimate goal was to cease being a stranger, to overcome alienation.

It would not strengthen my analysis of alienation or my critique of Marx and his heirs to go more deeply into the relationship of these writers to Judaism and the question of whether being alienated is not in some sense a central part of the tradition that begins with Abraham and Moses. Yet it is so puzzling that Marx, taking the term from Hegel, should have gone on to claim that all alienation is bad that one is led to wonder how a brilliant man could have been so irrational.

My views on alienation do not depend in any way upon what follows, and the discovery I shall present now actually came to me long after I had formulated my differences with Marx. But it is interesting enough to be included here.


It is common knowledge that Marx himself did not publish his “Philosophical Manuscripts.” It is much less well known, and his admirers usually do not make a point of the fact, that just before he wrote these manuscripts he published a long review-article “On the Jewish Question” in which he made ample use of the concept of alienation. This article is the birthplace of the first error and of the current use of “alienation” for most of the ills that afflict modern society.

When Marx’s apologists mention this essay at all, they usually insist that it would be quite absurd to consider it antiSemitic. Fromm is representative when he finds here no more than “some critical remarks on the Jews, which were made polemically in a brilliant essay dealing with the problem of bourgeois emancipation.” But this characterization is easily as “absurd and false” as the claim that Fromm repudiates, “that Marx was the founder of Nazi and Soviet anti-Semitism.” Marx did not merely make some critical remarks about the Jews in the course of an essay on another subject; both of the essays that he was reviewing were about the Jews, and so was his article, and the second part, roughly eight pages in length, is one of the most astonishing documents in the history of Jewish self-hatred – and the place where Marx first made extensive use of “alienation.”

There would be less need here to quote anything from these unpleasant pages if one could simply refer to the two standard translations. But although both of them are thoroughly respectable, the original sometimes is not. Thus Schacher, a thoroughly derogatory word that is so frequently associated with Jews that good German-English dictionaries call attention to this fact, is turned into “bargaining” in one of the two English versions, while Eigennutz (selfishness) becomes “self-interest.” What the reader of the English is thus led to miss is the distressing fact that some of Marx’s paragraphs do bring to mind the Nazis’ leading antiSemitic journal, Der Stürmer. But it is not only the language that oozes hatred and contempt; Marx calls “Jewish” all that is most hateful to him in the modem world. (I have rendered Schacher by jewing, which the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary calls colloquial and links with sense 2 of Jew: “Applied to a grasping: or extortionate usurer, or a trader who drives a hard bargain or deals craftily.”)

Let us not seek for the secret of the Jew in his religion; let us rather seek for the secret of his religion in the actual Jew.

What is the secular foundation of Judaism? Practical urges, selfishness.

What is the Jew’s secular cult? Jewing. What is his secular god? Money.

Well then! Emancipation from jewing and from money would be the self-emancipation of our age.

An organization of society that would eliminate the presuppositions of jewing and thus the possibility of jewing, would have made the Jew impossible.

This, says Marx, would be a triumph over “the highest practical expression of human self-alienation.”

Nothing in his budding view of history compelled Marx to write like that. After all, this is a travesty of Judaism, and insofar as the Jews were pushed into certain ways of making a living, it was Christian society that had forbidden them to own land, bear arms, or study at the universities. But Marx was so determined at that point to blame all misfortunes on the Jews that he expatiated at some length on the theme that “The Jews have become emancipated insofar as the Christians have become Jews.” Insofar as Christians are venal, selfish, and money-hungry, they have become Jews! And “that the proclamation of the gospel itself, that the Christian ministry has become a commercial object” proves “the practical dominion of Judaism over the Christian world.”

Money is the jealous God of Israel before whom no other god is tolerated. Money degrades all the gods of man – and changes them into commodities . . . . Money is the essence of man’s labor and existence that has been alienated from man; and this alienated essence lords it over him, and he worships it.

The God of the Jews has secularized himself, has become worldly, has become the god of the world. The checkbook is the Jew’s actual God. His God is only an illusory checkbook . . . .

What is abstractly present in the Jewish religion – the contempt for theory, for art, for history, for man as an end in himself – that is the actual, conscious position, the virtue, of the money man.

Consider the last paragraph for a moment. One might have thought that the notion of man as an end in himself came from the Hebrew Bible. Where else do we encounter it earlier? As for history, Eduard Meyer, who was certainly not free from anti-Semitism, but whose multivolume History of Antiquity remains one of the monuments of German scholarship, said that historiography began in Israel more than five hundred years before Herodotus, who has been called the father of written history. All modem conceptions of history up to and including Marx’s, and all modem conceptions of man as an end in himself, are deeply indebted to Judaism.

Even if Marx’s slanders of the Jews had had a basis in fact, he might still have said: Look at what the world has done to the Jews, and think of what, given their past, they might become in a different environment! After all, humane people say something like that about the blacks. Let anyone who is not struck by the extreme irrationality and inhumanity of Marx’s diatribe transpose it into an attack “On the Negro Question”!


Intellectual fashions change almost as fast as fashion. By the late 1960s it seemed incredible that Marx’s early manuscripts should have first appeared in the United States, in part, in 1961 – as a new book by Erich Fromm, or that Fromm should have tried to make them palatable by comparing them to existentialism, or that “alienation” had been until then a mildly esoteric word. Now Marx’s writings – even those that he himself did not see fit to publish – have acquired something of the aura of holy writ (while the Bible is losing it). And the three errors about alienation have become dogmas of which millions assume that they are surely common sense, as if everybody had always known that all alienation is bad, that it is specifically modem, and that it is linked to advanced industrial society.

For those who are autonomous there is no holy writ and there are no dogmas. Every text and every claim are subject to criticism. If widely accepted notions are found to be wrong, the autonomous do not bow to them nevertheless, asking either how their exegesis is at fault or how one could avoid an open break by having recourse to a subtle reinterpretation. Instead, we should ask how what is wrong has come to be believed.

The historical part of the answer can generally be substantiated better than the psychological part, but some explanation is called for, even if the authoritarian is almost certain to retort, falsely, that this is a genetic fallacy, and that an attempt has been made to discredit ideas by tracing them to unedifying origins. In fact, the refutation of what is widely accepted should come first. Only then should one ask how anything that is so patently irrational ever came to be believed.

We have found, first, that the obviously quite untenable idea that all alienation is bad was originally presented by Karl Marx in an extremely irrational diatribe against the Jews. His subsequent writings on alienation he himself did not publish, and in The Communist Manifesto he actually denounced talk of “alienation. ”

Second, there really is a connection between Judaism and alienation. In the Bible, Abraham is called upon to leave his country and his kindred and become an alien. Moses grows up in Egypt as an alien, leads his people into the desert and tries to impress on them the importance of respect and even “love” for “the stranger in your midst” and of remembering that “you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Samuel feels outraged when his people want to be “like all the nations.” The towering figures of the Hebrew Bible are men who are alienated from their own society. In the Babylonian exile, faced with a condition in which other ancient peoples perished, the Jews refused assimilation, remained aliens, and survived. Over six hundred years later, after the second destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, they again refused integration into the communities into which they were dispersed; they made a virtue of their alienation – as Freud did in 1873. This alienation involved a great deal of suffering, and in various ways large numbers of Jews during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have revolted. against this heritage. Assimilation represented one way out; Zionism (at least some versions of it) another; and some of the literature on alienation, beginning with Marx’s essay “On the Jewish Question,” a third. Marx, of course, did not see things this way. The irrational tone of his article and the irrational suggestion that all alienation is bad presumably resulted from the fact that he did not fully understand the hidden springs of his own interest in the problem. On a different scale, this is also true of his successors.

Finally, the sweeping, indiscriminate attack on alienation is a corollary of a dream of community. In this community there is to be no alienation, nor any room for “the stranger in your midst.” Even the kibbutzim in Israel – one of the noblest social experiments of our century – have a strong xenophobic streak. The pressures toward conformity are overwhelming: those who do not fully belong are generally made to feel that fact deeply and painfully; and for a creative artist, life in a kibbutz is apt to prove impossible. The major countries that proclaim Marx as their prophet openly spurn nonconformity and have no room for autonomous individuals. It would be illicit to saddle Marx with Stalin’s terror, but the kind of community that seeks to eliminate alienation is incompatible with autonomy.

In the discussion of decidophobia, I showed how any confrontation with fateful alternatives engenders dread, and how the “craving for community of worship” is prompted by the craving to eliminate such confrontations. The stranger is an incarnate alternative. That goes not only for the Jew or heretic in a Christian society but also for the alienated individual in a community. Indeed, the herd man finds it easier to tolerate the nonconformists who are members of another, smaller herd than to suffer those who stand alone. The autonomous man is a living provocation. Usually he is forgiven only after he is dead.

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