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Marcuse, Herbert


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]

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