Marcuse, Herbert

views updated May 17 2018

MARCUSE, Herbert

(b. 19 July 1898 in Berlin, Germany; d. 29 July 1979 in Starnberg, Germany), philosopher, social theorist, educator, and author whose doctrines advanced the radical social theory of the 1960s, contributing to the revolutionary impetus for the cultural and political radicalism of the New Left and the anti-imperialistic revolts of the Third World.

Marcuse was born into an upper-class German-Jewish family. His father was Carl Marcuse, a businessman, and his mother was Gertrud Kreslawsky, a homemaker. Although alienation from one's authentic self represented the essence of Marcuse's philosophy, he described his childhood as free from alienation. Marcuse's radicalism appeared early in his life. During World War I, from 1916 to 1918, Marcuse served in the German army. Poor eyesight kept him in the homeland without seeing military action. He joined the Social Democratic Party in 1917 but resigned in 1918 following allegations that the German government, led by Social Democrats, was responsible for the murder of the Communist leaders Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebnecht.

The year 1918 had a major impact on both modern Germany and the young Marcuse. Social upheaval swept the country. Near year's end Marcuse joined a soldier's council, his initial encounter with political activism. While he was sympathetic to the council's intentions, Marcuse spoke of personal disillusionment because of the reticence of younger soldiers to assume leadership. Their passivity allowed the reelection of the old guard. Also in 1918 Marcuse began studying at the University of Berlin, later transferring to the University of Freiburg, where he received his Ph.D. in literature in 1922 and, continuing until 1928, in postgraduate studies in philosophy under Martin Heidegger. Marcuse's early ideas on politics, art, and philosophy developed into those valued by a 1960s counterculture, and he became a visionary for the New Left.

In 1932 Marcuse's first major book in German, Hegel's Ontology and Theory of Historicity, garnered respect from contemporary European philosophers. The following year he joined the Institute of Social Research in Frankfurt, founded in 1923 by his lifelong friends Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. Owing to Nazi repression, the institute closed that year, and Marcuse fled to Geneva. In 1934 Marcuse immigrated to the United States, reopened the institute at Columbia University in New York City, and lectured until 1940, the year in which he became a naturalized U.S. citizen. He published Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory in 1941, providing an explanation of the concepts of the idealist philosopher Georg Wilhelm Hegel for American students. Hegel's ideas emphasized reason, rather than romantic intuitionism.

From 1941 to 1944, during World War II, Marcuse worked in intelligence on the staff of the U.S. Department of State. From 1946 to 1950 he served as the chief of the Central European section for the Office of Intelligence Research. Marcuse viewed his efforts as retaliation against the repression generated by fascism. He resumed teaching after his civil service and was a respected and popular philosophy professor. He held posts at Columbia University (1951–1952); Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1952–1953); Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts (1954–1965); and the University of California, San Diego, at La Jolla (1965–1970), where he retired.

During the civil rights and antiwar movements against the Vietnam conflict in the 1960s, Marcuse's "power of negative thinking" became the standard for revolutionary speech in the movement he called the "Great Refusal." His devotees included the African-American radical Angela Davis, from Brandeis University. Countless students read his books. New Left marchers carried posters of his face, along with images of the Chinese communist leader Mao Tse Tung, the Argentinean guerrilla leader Che Guevara, and the Vietnamese president Ho Chi Minh. Marcuse shared a healthy criticism of the Nazi period with West German students.

Underground newspapers touted Marcuse. The Los Angeles Free Press described him as one of the most beautiful men in the world. In 1969 Frankfurt students cranked out leaflets advocating alternative courses on leftist radicalism. On Roman streets, one of Marcuse's devotees declared, "We see Marx as the prophet, Marcuse as his interpreter, and Mao as the sword." Later that year Marcuse insisted that the frenzy over his ideas was a misunderstanding of his philosophy and its application, saying, "I am deeply committed to the movement of 'angry students,' but I am certainly not their spokesman." Marcuse was enigmatic—a noncombative whose tenets advocated countercultural revolution. While he condoned student protests, he disapproved of particular demonstrations. He criticized the students' priorities during the 1968 rebellion at Columbia University, when students protested against certain university policies and plans by seizing five buildings and three hostages. Marcuse commented, "I don't think that university administrations should be the prime targets. I still consider the American university an oasis of free speech and real critical thinking in the society."

Philosophically, Marcuse advocated social revolution and change in any existing system, wherever human societies suffer repression, regardless of its political form. His book Soviet Marxism: A Critical Analysis (1958) unleashed discussion criticizing Soviet Communism. Three of Marcuse's works proved most influential for the New Left: Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud (1955); One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society (1964); and an essay, "Repressive Tolerance," published in the book A Critique of Pure Tolerance (1965). In Eros and Civilization, Marcuse outlined his neo-Freudian ideology on repression and liberation, arguing that the more advanced the industrial society, the less willingly its political structure corrects problems. The book, an insightful theoretical study on Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx, proved marginally useful for dissident radicals, offering only a sketchy framework for change within the existing system. After One-Dimensional Man, Marcuse's books and articles furthered leftist politics. He argued for individual liberation through art, the direction in his final book, The Aesthetic Dimension: Toward a Critique of Marxist Aesthetics (1978).

One-Dimensional Man, held up against "the system" by protesters, proclaimed Marcuse's thesis that society is irrational. Technology within any advanced industrial society (whether capitalistic or communistic) denies liberation for its workers. No humane society can claim to be rational when the ultimate technological machines—nuclear weapons—exist for human destruction. Marcuse, a self-professed philosophical Marxist who was widely described as a neo-Marxist, argued for revitalization of Marxist theory actualized by "phenomenological," or concrete, experience. He said, "The best students are Socialist, but not Marxist. They don't want a Stalinist bureaucracy. They want a transvaluation of values."

In 1968 Marcuse received written threats from the John Birch Society and other right-wing groups, demanding that he desist from spreading his radical views. He also drew criticism from other conservative sources. The National Review described him as an "apostle of chaos," and Pravda, the official Communist newspaper of the Soviet Union, called Marcuse a "false prophet." The former Republican vice president Spiro T. Agnew, former Republican governor Ronald Reagan of California, and American Legion all verbally condemned him. Marcuse himself denounced the title "Father of the New Left," given to him by the press and by some political activists. Following a death threat, radical students and government guards monitored his home and office.

In October 1968 an agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation frisked an interviewer from the Saturday Evening Post before he entered the Marcuse home. Once the interviewer was inside, Marcuse discussed contemporary society. "Society is insane," he began. Marxists would shudder when organized labor supported the war in Vietnam, and big business wanted it to be over because "there are more profits in private enterprise than in war production." A family man, Marcuse chuckled when asked about free love. Although he said it might be fun, he noted that his friend Norman O. Brown (in Life Against Death and Love's Body) misconstrued Freud's discussion of "polymorphous perverse" sexuality when he endorsed unrepressed, unrestricted adult sex. An advocate for students, Marcuse said, "Repression of the students will get more serious if the war continues. But it won't stop them. They are deeply disappointed in the democratic process. They will keep up the struggle."

Marcuse was portrayed as the epitome of continental charm. He was affable, spoke with a thick German accent, and appeared nonplussed by his extensive media notoriety as the philosophical guru of the radicals. During the 1960s an interviewer described him as "a calm, amused, cigarsmoking, white-haired old German professor, a gentleman with an energetic, alert, powerful head and a delightful boyish laugh." Conversely, a critic in the National Review derided him as "stuffy, Germanic, ultra-academic, a herrdoktor-professor." More than appearance, it was Marcuse's ideas (particularly his idea about one-dimensional man, mesmerized by materialism, apathetic to underprivileged classes, and denying his own repressive state) that fueled student uprisings.

Marcuse was described as a kind husband and father in his three marriages. His first wife, Sophie, died in 1951; they had one son. On 19 February 1955 he married Inge Werner, whose two sons he helped to raise; she died in 1974. He married his third wife, Erica Sherover, on 21 June 1976. A music lover, Marcuse received an honorary degree from the New England Conservatory of Music. He enjoyed swimming, good food, and reading at home. Marcuse was quiet, relaxed in his private life, and deeply committed to his work—a model of propriety.

By the late 1970s, when Marcuse was no longer the beloved prophet and symbol of the 1960s, he appeared content to continue lecturing and writing. The Daily Telegraph claimed that he became disillusioned with the new era. Still, public approval or disapproval did not diminish his devotion to his work. Marshall Cohn, a philosopher at the City University of New York, described Marcuse's change from folk hero to someone now passé: "He became the public representative of a certain radicalism, and when that moment left, his celebrity left. He was a substantial figure in a school of philosophy that is not that potent in this country."

The political climate had altered by the 1970s. In 1979, facing conservatism at home and abroad, he retreated to the German countryside as the guest of the Max Planck Society. With a group of social researchers, the retired professor engaged in his favorite pastimes: political and social analysis. Marcuse died in Starnberg at age eighty-one, following a stroke. Marcuse once reflected on the 1960s, "You see the heroic period was that of the hippies and yippies. They did an indispensable job. There were heroes …but we have moved into a different period."

For Marcuse's papers see Douglas Kellner, ed., Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse (1998–). Alasdair Macintyre, Herbert Marcuse: An Exposition and a Polemic (1970), offers a critical interpretation of Marcuse's work. Douglas Kellner, Herbert Marcuse and the Crisis of Marxism (1984), provides a rationale for Marcuse's rejection of Marxist orthodoxy, an explanation for his radicalism, and an extensive and detailed bibliography. Among the best magazine and newspaper articles covering Marcuse and his work are "The Metaphysics of Rebellion," Ramparts (29 June 1968); "Mao, Marx, et Marcuse!" Saturday Evening Post (19 Oct. 1968); "Marcuse Defines His New Left Line," New York Times Magazine (27 Oct. 1968); "Marcuse: The Prophet of the New Left, Our Era's Prime Advocate of Violence, Is Here Assassinated," Horizon (summer 1969); "Correspondence on the Student Revolutionaries," New Left Review (spring 1979); "Marcuse, Hero of the Left," Daily Telegraph (31 July 1979); "The Revolution Never Came," Time (13 Aug. 1979); "On The Aesthetic Dimension: A Conversation with Marcuse, Hero of the Left," C ontemporary Literature (fall 1981); and "One-Dimensional Man," New Republic (1 Feb. 1999). An obituary is in the New York Times (31 July 1979).

Sandra Redmond Peters

Herbert Marcuse

views updated May 17 2018

Herbert Marcuse

Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979) was a leading 20th-century New Left philosopher in the United States and a follower of Karl Marx. Marcuse's writing reflected a discontent with modern society and technology and their "destructive" influences, as well as the necessity of revolution. His application of the theories of Sigmund Freud to the character of contemporary society and politics was the subject of much research, scholarly and otherwise. He was considered by some to be a philosopher of the sexual revolution.

Herbert Marcuse was born in Berlin on July 19, 1898. In 1922 he received his doctorate of philosophy from the universities of Berlin and Freiburg. Marcuse's distinctive intellectual heritage was based on the democratic and socialist philosophy originated by G. W. F. Hegel and developed by Karl Marx—combined with the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud. On this basis he took a stand against fascism, as it appeared in Europe from the 1920s until the end of World War II and as it appeared later in the allegedly fascist elements of advanced industrial society.

In 1934 Marcuse emigrated to the United States and joined the Institute of Social Research in New York City. In 1941 he became a U.S. citizen. Also in 1941 Marcuse published Reason and Revolution, a study of Hegel and the rise of social theory. Marcuse's intention was to draw a distinction between Hegel and the contemporary fascist interpretations of Hegel's theories.

Worked for U.S. Government

During World War II Marcuse served in the OSS (Office of Strategic Services, which later became the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA]). He worked for the U.S. Department of State until 1950. For several years thereafter he was a member of the Russian Institutes of Columbia University and Harvard University. From 1954 to 1965 he was a professor at Brandeis University. He married Inge S. Werner in 1955.

Advocated Sexual Openness

Marcuse's Eros and Civilization (1955) presents a Neo-Freudian view of man. It argues for a greater tolerance of eroticism than that permitted by the status quo. The book argues that a tolerant attitude toward sexuality would lead to a more satisfactory life in a society devoid of aggression. Because of this book Marcuse is considered one of the philosophers of the "sexual revolution."

Attacked Industrial Advancement

Marcuse criticized the advanced industrial societies of the United States and the Soviet Union for constructing a civilization that requires ceaseless production and consumption of unnecessary goods and for perpetuating themselves at the expense not only of other nations but also of their own populations. In Soviet Marxism (1958) Marcuse views the Soviet Union as actually worse but potentially better than the United States.

One-Dimensional Man (1964) continues Marcuse's attack on advanced industrial society—especially that found in the United States. He writes that America's affluence is facilitated by self-serving technology—such as military defense—in which the only reason products are consumed is that they are available. As a result, humanity's authenticity is undermined, and its potential for aggression is elevated to the point at which nuclear holocaust is probable. One-Dimensional Manis a pessimistic work in which the United States emerges as the most dangerous nation on Earth. It was, however, an important work during the following decade of radical political change.

Advocated Revolution

In 1965 Marcuse joined the faculty of the University of California in San Diego. That year his controversial essay "Repressive Tolerance" appeared. It states that the United States is repressive, since dissent goes unheard and no alternative to the view of the Establishment is considered. Accordingly, in defense of tolerance it is correct to disrupt and obstruct Establishment spokesmen. At this time Marcuse collaborated on A Critique of Pure Tolerance (1965).

College campus uprisings, culminating in the revolt of French students in May 1968, rendered Marcuse open to attack. In July 1968 he disappeared from his home in California after reportedly receiving a threatening letter from the Ku Klux Klan. In October 1968 a campaign was launched to dislodge him from his teaching position. And in 1969 Pope Paul criticized his views on sex.

An Essay on Liberation (1969), written before the French student rebellion, is dedicated to the student militants. Clearly, Marcuse hoped that they might effect the revolution he deemed justifiable against the oppressiveness and aggressiveness of contemporary industrial society. He published Five Lectures: Psychoanalysis, Politics, and Utopia in 1970.

In 1972 Marcuse published Studies in Critical Philosophy, a study of authority; From Luther to Popper; and Counterrevolution and Revolt. Then, in 1978, he focused again on Marx in The Aesthetic Dimension: Toward a Critique of Marxist Aesthetics.

Other articles and essays Marcuse wrote include: "Remarks on a Redefinition of Culture" Daedalus: Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1965); Negations: Essays in Critical Theory" (1968); "Art and Revolution," Partisan Review (1972); "Marxism and Feminism," Women's Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal (1974); "The Obsolescence of the Freudian Concept of Man" (published 1989); and "Philosophy and Critical Theory," Critical Theory and Society: A Reader (1989).

Shortly before his death in 1979, Marcuse reflected upon the inseparability of human beings and nature in "Ecology and the Critique of Modern Society," in which he stated that the natural environment must be shielded from capitalist—and Communist—destruction.

Further Reading

Sound recordings based on Marcuse's writings include: "Art as a Revolutionary Weapon," "The New Sensibility," "One Dimensional Man," and "Reason and Revolution Today" (all published by Pacifica Tape Library).

Marcuse is discussed in: Kurt H. Wolff and Barrington Moore, Jr., eds., The Critical Spirit: Essays in Honor of Herbert Marcuse (Beacon Press, 1967); Paul A. Robinson, The Freudian Left (Harper & Row, 1969); Paul Breines, ed., Critical Interruptions: New Left Perspectives on Herbert Marcuse (Herder and Herder, 1970); Alasdair MacIntyre, Herbert Marcuse: An Exposition and a Polemic (Viking Press, 1970); Robert W. Marks, The Meaning of Marcuse (Ballantine Books, 1970); Maurice Cranston, ed., The New Left: Six Critical Essays (Library Press, 1970); Michael A. Weinstein, compiler, Identity, Power, and Change: Selected Readings in Political Theory (Scott, Foresman, 1971); Eliseo Vivas, Contra Marcuse (Arlington House, 1971); Maurice Cranston, Prophetic Politics: Critical Interpretations of the Revolutionary Impulse: Che Guevara, Jean-Paul Sartre, Herbert Marcuse, Frantz Fanon, Black Power, R.D. Lang (Simon and Schuster, 1972); Jack Woddis, New Theories of Revolution: A Commentary on theViews of Frantz Fanon, Regis Debray and Herbert Marcuse (International Publishers, 1972); Paul Mattick, Critique of Marcuse (Herder and Herder, 1972); John Fry, Marcuse, Dilemma and Liberation: A Critical Analysis (Harvester Press, 1974); Sidney Lipshires, Herbert Marcuse: From Marx to Freud and Beyond (Schenkman Publishing Co., 1974); Gad Horowitz, Repression: Basic and Surplus Repression in Psychoanalytic Theory: Freud, Reich, and Marcuse (University of Toronto Press, 1977); Harold Bleich, The Philosophy of Herbert Marcuse (University Press of America, 1977); Gertrude A. Steuernagel, Political Philosophyas Therapy: Marcuse Recommended (Greenwood Press, 1979); Morton Schoolman, The Imaginary Witness: The Critical Theory of Herbert Marcuse (Collier MacMillan, 1980); Richard A. Brosio, The Frankfurt School: An Analysis of the Contradictions and Crises of Liberal Capitalist Societies (Ball State University, 1980); Raya Dunayevskaya, Marxism and Freedom from 1776 Until Today (Harvester Press, 1982); Barry Katz, Herbert Marcuse and the Art of Liberation (Schocken Books, 1982); Peter Lind, Marcuse and Freedom: the Genesis and Development of a Theory of Human Liberation (Croom Helm, 1984); Douglas Kellner, Herbert Marcuse and the Crisis of Marxism (University of California Press, 1984); Richard Kearney, Dialogues with Contemporary Thinkers: the Phenomenological Heritage: Paul Ricoeur, Emmanuel Levinas, Herbert Marcuse, Stanislas Breton, Jacques Derrida (Manchester University Press, 1986); Fred C. Alford, Science and the Revenge of Nature (University Presses of Florida, 1985); Timothy J. Lukes, The Flight Into Inwardness: An Exposition and Critique of Herbert Marcuse's Theory of Liberative Aesthetics (Associated University Presses, 1985); Mark Thomas, Ethics and Technoculture (University Press of America, 1987); Robert B. Pippin, Marcuse: Critical Theory & the Promise of Utopia (Bergin & Garvey, 1988); Ben Agger, The Discourse of Domination: From the Frankfurt School to Post-Modernism (Northwestern University Press, 1992); John Bokina and Timothy J. Lukes, eds., Marcuse: From the New Left to the Next Left (University Press of Kansas, 1994); Marsha Hewitt, Critical Theory of Religion: A Feminist Analysis (Fortress Press, 1995); and Joan Alwy, Critical Theory and Political Possibilities: Conceptions of Emancipatory Politics in the Works of Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, and Habermas (Greenwood Press, 1995). □

Marcuse, Herbert

views updated May 29 2018

Marcuse, Herbert 1898-1979


Herbert Marcuse was a German American social theorist and activist who gained prominence in the 1960s as the father of the New Left. Born in Berlin to a prosperous Jewish family, Marcuse served in the German army during World War I and then studied in Berlin and Freiburg from 1919 to 1922. After working as a bookseller in Berlin, Marcuse returned to Freiburg in 1929 to study philosophy with Martin Heidegger. Although he was enthralled with Heideggers thought, he was deeply dismayed by his teachers political affiliation with the Nazis. Though his habilitation, Hegels Ontology and the Theory of Historicity (1932), was not accepted because of the rising influence of nazism, Marcuse joined the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research in 1933 and became associated with the neo-Marxist Frankfurt school of critical social theory. In 1934 Marcuse fled Nazi Germany and relocated to Columbia University in New York, receiving U.S. citizenship in 1940. He published Reason and Revolution (1941), which established him as an insightful interpreter of the Hegelian-Marxian tradition of dialectical thinking.

Wanting to aid the war effort against the Nazis, Marcuse joined the Office of Strategic Services as an intelligence analyst in 1943. After the war he worked for the State Department until he returned to academia in 1952 and eventually landed a position at Brandeis, where he taught from 1954 to 1965. In 1955 he published Eros and Civilization, which argues, contrary to Freud, that civilization is not inevitably repressive, but that the unconscious harbors an instinctual drive toward happiness and freedom that is evident in works of art and other creative cultural products. While a basic repression of drives is necessary for civilization, Marcuse criticizes contemporary societys surplus repression, especially its exploitive economic organization and unnecessary restriction of sexuality. He outlines an alternative form of social organization in which labor is non-alienated and sexuality is free and open.

In 1964 Marcuse published his most influential work, One-Dimensional Man, which argues that the technology and consumerism of advanced industrial society enables it to eliminate social critique and conflict by assimilating traditional voices of dissent, for example, the voice of the working class. The result is one-dimensional man, who cannot think critically about society because it integrates him by continually creating and satisfying false needs. Genuine social critique must therefore come from nonintegrated, socially marginalized voices. Marcuses supplemental essay, Repressive Tolerance (1965), argues that the liberal conception of tolerance blunts social critique by demanding tolerance for oppressive speech. He insists upon a discriminating tolerance that prevents certain forms of intolerance from being voiced. Although criticized by Marxists, One-Dimensional Man was a seminal work of 1960s radical thought, and Marcuse began publishing articles, giving lectures, and advising student protest groups all over the world. He influenced such activists as Abbie Hoffman and Angela Davis, who was his student at Brandeis.

Marcuse died on a lecture tour in Starnberg, West Germany. Although his work has been criticized for its lack of empirical analysis, his provocative blend of Marxism and libertarian socialism has inspired much political activism and social critique.

SEE ALSO Davis, Angela; Frankfurt School; Repressive Tolerance


Bokina, John, and Timothy J. Lukes, eds. 1994. Marcuse: From the New Left to the Next Left. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press.

Kellner, Douglas. 1984. Herbert Marcuse and the Crisis of Marxism. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Marcuse, Herbert. 1964. One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. Boston: Beacon, 1991.

Pippin, Robert, Andrew Feenberg, and Charles P. Webel, eds. 1988. Marcuse: Critical Theory & the Promise of Utopia. London: MacMillan Education.

William M. Curtis

Marcuse, Herbert

views updated May 29 2018


Herbert Marcuse (1898–1979) was born in Berlin on July 19. After earning a doctorate in literature in 1922, he studied philosophy with Martin Heidegger (1889–1976) in Freiburg from 1928 to 1933. Troubled by Heidegger's affiliation with the National Socialist party, Marcuse joined the philosophers Max Horkheimer (1895–1973) and Theodore Adorno (1903–1969) at the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt before fleeing to New York in 1934. Marcuse remained for the rest of his life in the United States, where he continued the institute's interdisciplinary work in critical social theory. He died on July 29 in Starnberg, after having suffered a stroke on a trip to Germany. Marcuse synthesized the works of Heidegger, Karl Marx (1818–1883), and Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) into a unique philosophical perspective from which he analyzed the nature of social control and the prospects for liberation in advanced industrial capitalist and communist societies.

Among Marcuse's contributions to critical social theory was his analysis of science and technology as instruments of social and political domination. Echoing Heidegger, Marcuse spoke of the "technological a priori" of scientific-technical rationality that projects nature as potential instrumentality. Technological rationality homogenizes people and nature into neutral objects of manipulation. That rationality is easily co-opted by economic and political power. However, science and technology merely function in the service of social control; they could be transformed to serve different ends, such as freedom, individuality, and creativity.

Marcuse's 1941 article "Some Social Implications of Modern Technology" argued that technological rationality undermines traditional "individual rationality" (autonomy) by employing efficiency as the single standard of judgment. Industrialized societies take advantage of the notion of efficiency to induce people to accept mass production, mechanization, standardization, and bureaucracy. Consequently, Marcuse argued, appeals to enlightened self-interest and autonomy appear progressively quaint and irrational in the face of a technological rationality that makes conformity seem reasonable and protest seem unreasonable.

In the mid-twentieth century political power—including state capitalism, fascism, and state socialism—developed seemingly rational, even pleasurable, means of social control that integrated individuals into a homogeneous society. The result was a "one-dimensional" society that eroded the capacity for individuality, critical thinking, and practical resistance. However, Marcuse maintained that the same impersonal rationality that made individualism unnecessary could be harnessed to realize rather than repress human capacities. Technological rationality could be used as an instrument to foster democracy, autonomy, and individuality. Marcuse was pessimistic about the prospects for that transformation because the technological apparatus tends to incorporate and subsume all opposition. However, despite Marcuse's pessimism regarding the achievement of such a transformation, he maintained that it was in principle possible.

In his most influential book, One-Dimensional Man (1964), Marcuse continued to argue that advanced industrialized societies employ science and technology to serve existing systems of production and consumption but claimed that technological rationality itself required transformation; it could not remain value-neutral if it were to lead to real human liberation. Marcuse also extended his analysis of the role of science and technology in manipulating human needs through advertising, marketing, and mass media. The scientific and technical aspects of a society are used to increase productivity and dominate humans and nature. The result is a carefully managed society that creates a one-dimensional person who willingly conforms to a society that limits freedom, imposes false needs, stifles creativity, and co-opts all resistance.

At the end of One-Dimensional Man Marcuse expresses the hope that humans one day will develop technologies for the "pacification of the struggle for existence" that will reduce misery and suffering and promote peace and happiness. Developing those technologies would require a political reversal, not simply more technological advances. A radical break from existing capitalist modes of production is needed to generate a new science and new technology. Science and technology then would become the instruments of liberation, not domination. New technologies would lead to new modes of cooperative production, energy sources, management, and communities; a new science of liberation would serve the interests of freedom and help satisfy genuine human needs. In his later work Marcuse considered the contributions that utopianism, student revolts, feminism, and aesthetic interests might make to the emergence of a new science and technology.

Marcuse was enormously popular in the 1960s and 1970s, and although his fame has been eclipsed since that time by that of Jürgen Habermas (b. 1929) and French postmodern thinkers, he left an enduring legacy in critical social theory. He created a widely influential framework for analyzing the connections among political economy, science, technology, mass media, and culture in a way that not only identifies social domination and oppression but also attempts to identify the potential for social transformation leading to human liberation.


SEE ALSO Critical Social Theory;Habermas, Jürgen.


Alford, C. Fred. (1985). Science and the Revenge of Nature: Marcuse and Habermas. Gainesville: University of Florida Press.

Held, David. (1980). Introduction to Critical Theory: Horkheimer to Habermas. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kellner, Douglas. (1984). Herbert Marcuse and the Crisis of Marxism. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Marcuse, Herbert. (1941). "Some Social Implications of Modern Technology." Studies in Philosophy and Social Science 9, no. 3 (1941): 414–439.

Marcuse, Herbert. (1964). One Dimensional Man. Boston: Beacon Press.

Marcuse, Herbert. (1969). An Essay on Liberation. Boston: Beacon Press.

Marcuse, Herbert. (1972). Counterrevolution and Revolt. Boston: Beacon Press.

Marcuse, Herbert. (1978). The Aesthetic Dimension. Boston: Beacon Press.

Pippen, Robert, and Andrew Feenberg, eds. (1988). Marcuse: Critical Theory and the Promise of Utopia. South Hadley, MA: Bergin and Garvey.

Marcuse, Herbert (1898-1979)

views updated May 29 2018

MARCUSE, HERBERT (1898-1979)

Herbert Marcuse, an American philosopher of German origin, was born in Berlin in 1898 into an assimilated Jewish family and died in 1979 in Starnberg, Germany, where he had returned after World War II. He studied philosophy in Berlin and Fribourg, and his doctoral dissertation, Hegel's Ontology and the Theory of Historicity (1987), was sponsored by Martin Heidegger. He militated against social democracy, defended a critical Marxism, and participated, along with Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, in the creation of the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt. When Hitler came to power in 1933, Marcuse left Germany for the United States and taught at different universities: New York, Columbia, Harvard, Brandeis, and the University of California at San Diego.

He had a Marxist training and in 1958 published Soviet Marxism: A Critical Analysis. He also harbored a passionate yet critical interest in psychoanalysis. These two facets of Marcuse contributed to his writing, where one can discern individual libidinal structures and economic, political, and social realities characterized by domination and alienation continuously coming into conflict. His best-known works were widely read by students in the United States and Europe in the 1960s. In Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud (1955) and One Dimensional Man (1964), he denounced "repressive sublimation" in consumer society, where society caters to the individual's drives only to better control the individual. Ever the rebel, Marcuse also published Reason and Revolution (1941), An Essay on Liberation (1968), and Counterrevolution and Revolt (1973).

Roger Dadoun

See also: France; Marxism and psychoanalysis; Philosophy and psychoanalysis; Politics and psychoanalysis; Sociology and psychoanalysis/sociopsychoanalysis.


Marcuse, Herbert. (1941). Reason and revolution: Hegel and the rise of social theory. New York: Oxford University Press.

. (1958). Soviet Marxism: A critical analysis. New York: Columbia University Press.

. (1955). Eros and civilization: A philosophical inquiry into Freud. Boston: Beacon.

. (1964). One dimensional man: Studies in the ideology of advanced industrial society. Boston: Beacon Press.

. (1968). An essay on liberation. Boston: Beacon Press.

. (1973). Counterrevolution and revolt. Boston: Beacon Press.

. (1987). Hegel's ontology and the theory of historicity (Seyla Benhabib, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Nicolas, André. (1969). Marcuse, ou la quête d'un univers trans-prométhéen. Paris: Seghers.

Palmier, Jean Michel. (1969). Sur Marcuse. Paris: Union générale d'éditions. (Also published under the title Présentation d'Herbert Marcuse.)

Marcuse, Herbert

views updated May 14 2018


MARCUSE, HERBERT (1898–1979), philosopher and social theorist. Born in Berlin, Marcuse studied in Berlin and Freiburg, where he was influenced by Heidegger. In World War i he served in the German army and, as a delegate from his unit, participated in the abortive German revolution of 1918–19. In his works, elements of Schillerian aesthetics, existentialist ontology, and utopian political thought are combined with a modified Marxist outlook and a modified Hegelian (dialectical) method to produce what Marcuse calls "Critical Theory": a critical, "negating" analysis of prevailing social, political, and cultural institutions and theories.

A member of the Frankfurt Institut fuer Sozialforschung, Marcuse left Germany in 1933, moving with the Institute to Geneva, then (1934) to New York. His first important work, "Neue Quellen zur Grundlegung des historischen Materialismus" (in Die Gesellschaft, vol. 9, 1932), an interpretation of the then newly discovered "Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts" of Karl Marx, established him as a pioneer in the exploration of "Marxist Humanism." He contributed to the Institute's Studien ueber Autoritaet und Familie (1936) and wrote a number of critical essays for its journal, notably "Der Kampf gegen den Liberalismus in der totalitaeren Staatsauffassung" (in Zeitschrift fuer Sozialforschung, vol. 3, 1934), in which Fascist-Nazi ideology is shown to be the ideology of capitalism in its monopolistic phase, and thus not so much antagonistic to, as an outgrowth of, liberalism – the ideology of capitalism in its (earlier) competitive phase.

After serving in the oss and the State Department (1941–50), Marcuse was a fellow, successively, of the Russian research centers at Columbia and at Harvard. His first full-fledged academic appointment was in 1954, as professor of politics and philosophy at Brandeis University. He left there in 1965 to become professor of philosophy at the University of California, San Diego.

In Reason and Revolution; Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory (1941, 19542), Marcuse contrasted the negative (critical) social theory stemming from Hegel with the positive (positivistic) social theory founded by Comte. Marcuse next undertook a number of critical studies: of Freud's pessimistic theory that civilized society is necessarily repressive (Eros and Civilization, 1955); of Russia's Stalinized Marxism (Soviet Marxism, 1958); and of the repressive nature of a successful capitalist society (One-Dimensional Man, 1964.) Such a society, Marcuse argues, can satisfy material wants and employ industrial skills while it suppresses genuinely human needs and faculties and reduces man to a single, conformist dimension in order to maintain the established order and to secure the production of a surplus for the benefit of the ruling elements.

In later years Marcuse became something of a hero and an authority to many members of the *New Left. His essay on "Repressive Tolerance" (in H. Marcuse et al., Critique of Pure Tolerance, 1965), in which he argues that only progressive (i.e., radical) values and movements ought to be tolerated, while toleration should be denied to repressive (i.e., rightist) values and movements, was influential among young radicals.

Marcuse's critique of a capitalist system which satisfies – and tolerates – only those needs that it itself generates (precisely because it can satisfy them to its profit) while it perpetuates domination and exploitation is resumed in An Essay on Liberation (1969). He also wrote Studies in Critical Philosophy (1973) and The Aesthetic Dimension (1978).


A. Macintyre, Herbert Marcuse: An Exposition and a Polemic (1971); G. Kateb, in: Community (Jan. 1970), 48–63. add. bibliography: R. Wolin, Heidegger's Children (2003); B. Katz, Herbert Marcuse and the Art of Liberation (1982); M. Schoolman, The Imaginary Witness (1980); P. Robinson, The Freudian Left (1969).

[Heinz Lubacz]

Marcuse, Herbert

views updated May 21 2018

Marcuse, Herbert (1898–1979) A German philosopher who was a member of the Frankfurt School in exile in the United States. Unlike others, he remained in America after the end of the war, and maintained a commitment to radical politics until the end of his life. He had a strong influence on the ideas of the student left in the 1960s.

His version of critical theory grew out of the mainstream of European philosophy: the work of Hegel, phenomenology and existentialism, and the meeting of these with some aspects of Marxism. His writings covered politics and aesthetics, as well as philosophical and cultural criticism, and were especially concerned with what he regarded as the totalitarian tendencies of modern societies. Capitalism had, as he saw it, transcended the economic condition that Marx analysed and the working-class had failed to develop as a revolutionary force. He hoped that those groups excluded from the system (for example Blacks, and for a limited period of their lives students), might provide a sense of opposition. His most important books were Reason and Revolution (1941), a presentation of a Hegelian, critical or ‘negative’ Marxism, and a vigorous critique of positivist philosophy; One Dimensional Man (1964), concerned with the ways in which modern capitalism restricts the possibility of opposition; and Eros and Civilization (1955), which appropriates some of the more metaphysical ideas of Freud, particularly his notions of the life and death instincts, into a critique of the way in which modern culture transforms and alienates desire. The best–though highly sceptical–examination of his thought is still Alasdair MacIntyre's Marcuse (1970).

Marcuse, Herbert

views updated May 23 2018

Marcuse, Herbert (1898–1979) US radical political philosopher, b. Germany. Marcuse is noted for his critical reinterpretations of Marxism, and for his Freudian analysis of 20th-century industrial society. In the 1920s, he was a founder member of the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research. Fleeing Nazi Germany in 1933, he settled in the USA and worked for the US government (1941–50). Marcuse's advocacy of civil resistance found favour with left-wing students of the 1960s. His works include Eros and Civilization (1955) and One-Dimensional Man (1964). See also alienation

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