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 on Herbert Marcuse

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 the Views 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).