A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book, edited by Paul Hansom (University of Southern California: The Gale Group, 2001), pp. 315-329.
article has three parts:
Theresa M. Mackey
by Harold Marcuse
of the Official Herbert Marcuse website,
and Critical Essay
(back to top)
Herbert Marcuse, noted member of the Frankfurt School and known as "the father of the New Left," contributed much to cultural criticism, Marxist aesthetics, political philosophy, and psychoanalytic theory. Together with Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, he was a major proponent of what became known as the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory. He was perhaps the most discussed philosopher of the 1960s and an essential impetus for the counterculture in the U.S. and France during the late 1960s. Although his influence waned in the 1990s, he nonetheless had a profound influence on the evolution of literary and cultural criticism, and much of his work continues to be relevant.
The eldest of three children, Marcuse was born into an upper-middle-class Jewish family in Berlin on 19 July 1898. His father, Carl Marcuse, was a successful businessman who began in the textile trade, then moved into real estate. His mother, Gertrud Kreslawsky, was the daughter of a well-off German factory owner. The family was close and supportive and valued education greatly, in part because Carl himself had only a Gymnasium (high school) education and intended that his son take his place in society. Marcuse attended an expensive private school, and the classical education he received there left him with both an enduring love for culture and a thorough grounding in the humanities. Like many of their class, the members of the Marcuse family were well assimilated into mainstream German society. Their first identification was with Germany, and their religious practice involved only the Jewish High Holidays, much to their grandparents' displeasure. Marcuse studied at the Mommsen Gymnasium in Berlin until the outbreak of World War I, when he was drafted in 1916 into the German army.
Army service opened another world, though for a soldier he led a relatively sheltered life. Poor eyesight prevented him from being sent out of the country, and he eventually secured permission to take courses at Berlin University. During his stay in Berlin, Marcuse saw food riots, strikes, profiteering, and general unrest. That the government under Kaiser Wilhelm II continued to hold power impressed him deeply. This experience helped to sow the seeds of a more informed social and political conscience. In 1917 Marcuse joined the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD; Social Democratic Party). There was considerable discussion at the time of exactly how Socialists ought to respond to events, and these discussions marked the start of his political education.
While in Berlin, Marcuse became disillusioned with the inability of the various Marxist political groups to adapt to changing circumstances. He initially became interested in the political activities of the Spartakusbund (Spartacus League), an extreme faction of the Socialist movement founded by Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht that became the Communist Party of Germany in December 1918. Finding the Spartakusbund to be too dogmatic and too far removed from existing social problems, he joined the more centrist Independent Social Democratic Party founded by Karl Kautsky. When Luxembourg and Liebknecht were kidnapped and murdered in 1919, Marcuse resigned all political membership. He returned to his studies, and his political activism took place only through his writings. He published his first essays in Die Gesellschaft, a journal of the SPD.
As a student at Humboldt University in Berlin, Marcuse studied German Romantic literature and political philosophy. There he met the future German literary critic and aesthetician Walter Benjamin and the future Hungarian Marxist philosopher and critic Georg Lukács. Marcuse left Berlin to complete his doctoral dissertation at the University of Freiburg. While in Freiburg he met Horkheimer, with whom he attended lectures given by the founder of the phenomenologist school of philosophy, Edmund Husserl. Marcuse received his doctoral degree from the University of Freiburg in 1922. His dissertation, Der deutsche Künstlerroman (The German Artist-Novel), prepared under the direction of Philipp Witkop, deals with a subject that appears in later works: the degree and quality of separation between a modern artist and society, and the effects on each of that separation. His brilliant defense of his dissertation impressed Husserl and other faculty members. (contents)
In Der deutsche Künstlerroman, published in volume one of his Schriften (1978), Marcuse argues that in premodern times, artist and society were allied, while in modern times the artist generally opposes and is opposed by his society. This situation, he claims, results in a dialectical relationship by means of which the artist and public redefine one other. Artists should, he argues, seek to re-ally themselves with their society. A genuine understanding of modern art, he argues, requires an understanding of the artwork as the result of the interaction between the fragmented external society and the artist's redefined identity. This work is noteworthy in its explorations of dialectical methods: in particular, its use of Hegelian idealist philosophy. This sociological analysis of literature, with its notions of artistic responsibility, adumbrates Marcuse's later methods of literary criticism.
After completing his dissertation at the University of Freiburg, Marcuse returned to Berlin and resumed his studies of Marxist philosophy. He worked as a bookseller and publisher from 1924 to 1929, working in a bookstore in which his father had helped him to buy a part interest. During this time he also collaborated with Walter Gutkelch on Das Dreieck: Monatzeitschrift für Philosophie, Dichtung, und Kritik (The Triangle: Monthly Journal for Philosophy, Poetry, and Reviews), a magazine that explored avant-garde literature and politics. Only seven issues were published: April 1924 through March 1925.
In 1924 he married Sophie Wertheim, a mathematician and former fellow student at the University of Freiburg. Marcuse and Sophie lived at the center of the radical artistic and political events taking place in Berlin. Few accounts exist of the quality of life he and his wife shared; apparently they were a happy enough couple despite dissimilarities.
In 1925 Marcuse published an annotated bibliography on Schiller, Schiller-Bibliographie: Unter Benutzung der Trömelschen Schiller-Bibliothek (Schiller Bibliography: Under Use of the Troemel Schiller Library), the first complete annotated edition of Schiller ever published. He also wrote a journal article on historical materialism, though he spent more time studying than writing. He was tempted back to academia by the publication of Martin Heidegger's Sein und Zeit (1927; translated as Being and Time, 1962), a work that dealt with questions that had fascinated Marcuse during his own studies and which he felt compelled to explore.
In 1929 Marcuse returned to Freiburg to study philosophy under Heidegger and Husserl. During the course of this postdoctoral work, it became clear that Marcuse and Heidegger differed on the notion of individualism, particularly on the degree to which the individual can be separated from society. Marcuse's growing interest in the ways in which society constitutes individual identity drew him to Marx's Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. His "Beiträge zu einer Phänomenologie des historischen Materialismus" (1928; translated as "Contributions to a Phenomenology of Historical Materialism," 1969) and "Über konkrete Philosophie" (On Concrete Philosophy, 1929) merged Heideggerian and Marxist philosophies, a distinctive blend of the existential, the phenomenological, and the political. (contents)
While at Freiburg, Marcuse completed an extended piece on Hegel's ontology, Hegels Ontologie und die Grundlegung einer Theorie der Geschichtlichkeit (1932; translated as Hegel's Ontology and the Theory of Historicity, 1987). This work was intended to be his Habilitationsschrift--an inaugural dissertation required for qualification as a professor--and it shows the strong influence of Heidegger. This postdoctoral thesis was never realized, however, primarily because of the rise of Nazism in Germany, which rendered the lives of Jewish intellectuals increasingly uncomfortable. More and more Jewish faculty were dismissed, and more and more hitherto loyal acquaintances were won over to Nazism.
Marcuse's connection with his mentor became increasingly tenuous after Heidegger joined the National Socialist Party as the rector of Freiburg University in 1933. It is unknown whether Heidegger read the text Marcuse intended to be his postdoctoral dissertation. Loyal to his mentor then and for years thereafter, Marcuse blamed Adolf Hitler rather than Heidegger for his interrupted studies, and he never sought another thesis adviser. Nonetheless, his rift with Heidegger remained a painful memory, and he continued to hope for signs that Heidegger had not fully embraced Nazism, or at least regretted his Nazi allegiances. As late as 1947, Marcuse sought reconciliation with Heidegger, as seen in a letter published in Technology, War and Fascism (1998), the first volume of Collected Papers of Herbert Marcuse:
In response Heidegger sent Marcuse a letter in which he argued that the Allies had been as brutal as the Nazis. Marcuse expressed shock and disbelief at that concept, though he later made a somewhat similar argument in Counterrevolution and Revolt (1972).
Today, Marcuse's text on Hegel is considered highly problematic, but at the time it contributed to the resurgence of interest in Hegelian philosophy. The book argues for the continuing importance and relevance of Hegel's dialectics and philosophy of history. Nonetheless, it so impressed members of the Institut für Sozialforschung (Institute of Social Research) that in 1933 Leo Lowenthal was sent to ask Marcuse to join its Geneva office.
The Institut für Sozialforschung was founded in 1923 by Carl Grünberg. Initially affiliated with the University of Frankfurt, it was the first Marxist research institute in Europe. Led by Horkheimer, it studied the effects of authoritarianism and advanced capitalist society. Later known as the Frankfurt School, its members included, in addition to Marcuse, Horkheimer, and Adorno, Erich Fromm, Lowenthal, Franz Neumann, Karl Wittfogel, Frederick Pollock, and Henryk Grossman. Benjamin is often considered a member, though he was based in Paris and never officially joined. Jürgen Habermas, a later addition, is the most influential living member of the Frankfurt School. In Geneva, Marcuse's work consisted primarily in writing book reviews, particularly on philosophy, for the Institute's journal, Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung (Studies in the Social Sciences).
In 1934 Marcuse immigrated to the United States, where he immediately took steps to become a naturalized citizen. The Institut für Sozialforschung was also relocated there, under the auspices of Columbia University in New York. The general focus of the Institute was Critical Theory, so termed by Horkheimer in a 1937 essay ( "Traditional and Critical Theory," collected in Critical Sociology, 1976). Though "Critical Theory" has come to embrace an umbrella of interdisciplinary social critiques by or influenced by the Frankfurt School, when the term was introduced in 1937 it referred to a particular variety of neo-Hegelian Marxism applied to a social critique of society, a recognition and analysis of the dialectic of society and history. The definition was revised through the years, but it always involved neo-Marxism and a multidisciplinary social criticism with a practical bent, one informed by critical thinking and aimed at positive social change.
Earlier notions of critical theory, Marcuse alleged, were tempered by a fear that the nonscientific character of utopian speculation rendered it less valuable, whereas the courage of utopian vision was precisely what was needed. Differences among these three most influential critical theorists primarily concerned the focus and balance of subjects covered. Though all might be considered analysts of social and political culture, Marcuse's critiques gave particular attention to psychoanalysis and philosophy, and he was the member most concerned about directly affecting political and social events. (contents)
Marcuse's "Der Kampf gegen den Liberalismus in der totalitären Staatsauffassung" (1934; translated as "Struggle against Liberalism in the Totalitarian Theory of the State," 1968) is one of many attempts to explain how easily totalitarian political systems spread. In this work, he explores how reason might be directed negatively. Whereas "rational utilization" of the technical and technological could bring an end to want, the rational could also be directed to continual repression. (contents)
With the Institute, Marcuse continued to write and publish political philosophy and cultural criticism and to lecture at Columbia. His essays of this period, many of which were later collected in Negations: Essays in Critical Theory (1968), argue in favor of rationalism and Marxist dialectical materialism. They were, in many ways, a response to the political events. Marcuse remarked in the foreword to Negations that he made no revisions to the essays because it was impossible to "bridge the chasm that separates the period in which they were written from the present one." Although he and Horkheimer had already seen the ways in which modern reason had been perverted, and both understood that both capitalism and liberalism were devolving, they could not have anticipated the degree or speed of those negative transformations--or that socialism would also devolve. Neither could they have anticipated the horrors of Auschwitz or the failure of what Marcuse and most other progressive intellectuals of the time saw as the last European stand for freedom in which some optimism remained: the Spanish Civil War.
Marcuse continued to hold that the aim of philosophy and social theory ought to be to free humanity from false consciousness by criticizing the world as it is and offering a means by which to transcend negative modern realities, not simply observing or even theorizing about what the world might be. Because bourgeois capitalism opposes liberation both by devalorizing happiness-producing leisure and by limiting freedom (through workplace demands and a work ethos), it must be opposed.
Marcuse's early recognition of the dangers of totalitarianism, the increasing encroachments by government into individual lives, and the new diminutions of individual consciousness were important to the development of political philosophy and cultural criticism. He understood, perhaps better than other philosophers of that time, the many dimensions and causes of alienation, though these ideas would not be fully developed for several decades. His interest in psychology, particularly psychoanalytic theory, began in the late 1930s, though his most significant psychoanalytic texts did not appear until the 1950s. (contents)
|Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory (1941) was his first major text published in English and his first major philosophical work completed in the United States. In this work Marcuse applies Hegelian philosophy to later historical developments, showing Hegel's "keen insight into the locale of progressive ideas and movements" as well as into movements of his own time. Hegel's belief that reason and freedom were linked made sense insofar as the state is rational--something that the advent of totalitarian governments made clear could not be assumed. Marcuse argues that totalitarianism implies "the abolition of the rational standard and the individual freedom on which Hegel's glorification of the state depended." He claims that Germany under Hitler is anti-Hegelian in that the social philosophy on which that state depends is "related to Hegelianism in a completely negative way." The title of the conclusion, "The End of Hegelianism," implies an end which comes with Hitler's ascent to power. In the work Marcuse also attacks positivism, the dominant philosophical belief in the United States and the United Kingdom, and he charges that the positivists misunderstand Hegelian philosophy as well as Marxist philosophy. (contents)|
Marcuse's keen ability to foresee and interpret the development of technological rationality is evident in his 1941 essay "Some Social Implications of Modern Technology," collected in Technology, War and Fascism. He differentiates technology (mode of production) from technics (instruments of production) to clarify that the danger lies in the system, not the technology itself. In 1941 Marcuse moved to California, following Horkheimer. He returned that fall to New York, however, to teach at Columbia University, in part because he saw that Adorno, not he, was Horkheimer's preferred collaborator, and Institute funding was sufficiently low that he had to seek other options. The Institute and Columbia had a somewhat uneasy relationship, largely because under Horkheimer it retained a heavily German character and emphasized European concerns and methodologies.
Events in Europe during World War II made immersion in pure philosophy difficult, if not impossible, for the politically conscious, and Marcuse abandoned the publication of philosophical works for the duration of the war. Consistent with his belief in social action, he was not idle during the war. After sending to the chief of the Psychology Division of the Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.) manuscripts that included "Private Morale in Germany," "The New German Mentality," and "The Elimination of German Chauvinism," Marcuse was officially engaged in the war effort. He served as a senior intelligence analyst within the Office of War Information, then moved to research teams within the O.S.S.
The O.S.S., headed by William J. (Wild Bill) Donovan, had attracted many writers, including Robert Sherwood and Archibald MacLeish, and Marcuse went to Washington, D.C., to offer his services in 1942. His wife, Sophie, also helped the war effort, offering her services as a statistician to U.S. Naval Intelligence. Marcuse's duties included analyzing German newspapers, radio broadcasts, and political speeches, and providing an understanding of the Nazi psyche and worldview. Although Marcuse's politics differed markedly with those of Donovan, the two shared the common cause of eliminating totalitarianism. Marcuse's group evaluated a wide range of intelligence data about Nazi and resistance groups. It evaluated the quality of information, prepared recommendations on psychological warfare against Germany, and generally assessed German preparedness and morale.
The O.S.S. was formally disbanded in 1945, though Marcuse continued his intelligence work with the Department of State. Marcuse's team prepared a Denazification Guide, made recommendations about potential for help or damage from war survivors, and determined the focus and importance of those underground groups that survived the war. During this time he wrote "Some Remarks on Aragon: Art and Politics in the Totalitarian Era," a work not published until 1993. In 1946 Marcuse returned to Germany on a mission from the State Department to study the degree to which Nazism endured in postwar Germany. He also sought to meet with Heidegger, his former teacher. Although privately he still hoped for reconciliation, this visit made clear that none was forthcoming. After this visit, bitterness rather than wistfulness characterized his memories of Heidegger.
As the era of the Cold War began, Marcuse's focus as intelligence analyst moved to the Soviet Union. Considerations of the Stalinist Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) crystalized Marcuse's sense of how socialism had been devolving, though he retained faith in socialism itself. In 1949 he and his team published a lengthy analysis of that situation, "The Potentials of World Communism," a report that was declassified only in 1978. He was immediately appointed chief of the Central European Branch of the Division of Research for Europe. After the rise of McCarthyism, however, he began to feel increasingly alienated. After his wife succumbed to cancer in 1951, Marcuse left Washington.
Marcuse's work in U.S. intelligence led him to believe that governments were evolving in a way that put individual liberty, even individualism itself, in danger. His work for the Department of State influenced the development of his thinking in a way that brought together psychology, politics, sociology, and philosophy in a strikingly new way. In 1950 he was asked by the Washington School of Psychiatry to give a series of lectures on the work of Sigmund Freud. He returned to academia, where he continued to study and theorize about politics, sociopsychology, and philosophy. He received Rockefeller grants to study Soviet Marxism, both at Columbia (1952-1954) and Harvard (1954- 1955).
Marcuse believed that the sociohistorical as well as the biological must be considered in understanding the drives that underlie human behavior. Perhaps better than any other theorist, he showed how political and social revolution can be understood in psychoanalytic terms: as human drives often opposed by the drives of mass society in general, and government and industry in particular. He believed that through psychoanalytic models, the limits of revolution as well as the limits of humankind could be delineated.
In 1955 Marcuse married Inge Werner Neumann, the widow of his former colleague Franz Neumann. Inge was, in many ways, more of a helpmate than Sophie had been. Their backgrounds and interests were more similar. Like Marcuse, she was passionately interested in the arts, particularly literature, and she was almost equally fascinated by progressive politics. Both of her parents were culturally, politically, and socially conscious in a way Marcuse's parents had never been. She read and critiqued all of his works and became an important collaborator. She may also have been instrumental in finding audiences for Marcuse's work, as she understood the English language much better than did he; she had been a translator at the League of Nations and a teacher of literature and history. With her help, Marcuse's works became more readable for lay audiences.
While the Institute returned to Frankfurt in 1949, Marcuse remained in the United States, where he continued his academic career. He nonetheless remained associated with the Frankfurt School and collaborated with various of its members. From 1951 to 1954 he was a fellow both at Columbia University's Russian Institute and the Russian Research Center at Harvard University. In 1954 he was appointed professor of philosophy and political science at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, where he remained until 1965.
Marcuse's understanding of the dynamics of modernity, sharpened by his analyses for the U.S. government, increased his interest in and understanding of what he termed the "outcasts and outsiders," "the exploited," and the "unemployed and the unemployable." He came to see these groupings as involving race, ethnicity, gender, and class. The old class divisions had been outdated, he realized, and new models were needed. (contents)
Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud (1955) reflects the beginning of a new period for Marcuse, one in which Freud rather than Heidegger was the major influence. Marcuse's interest in Freud can be attributed in part to Fromm, whose influence accounts for much of the emphasis on psychology in the Frankfurt School corpus of writing. In Eros and Civilization, he argues for a society free of repression in which sexual tolerance would help to diminish negativity and aggression. In this regard, his work recalls Freud's analysis of societal repression in Das Unbehagen in der Kultur (1930; translated as Civilization and Its Discontents, 1930). He argues that eros (life-force) and thanatos (death instinct) oppose each other within the life of each person, and that these drives are necessarily transformed by society into establishment-supporting forms. What Freud called the "pleasure principle" must bow to the "reality principle"--what Marcuse calls the "performance principle." Focusing on how drives have been redefined by modern industrial society, Marcuse argues that Freud failed to recognize the difference between the biological and the sociohistorical vicissitudes of the instincts.
Beginning with Freud's assertion that civilization and repression are necessarily linked, he claims that this repression has exceeded that which was required for the survival of society. Marcuse calls this excess "surplus repression," which centers on the social rather than the biological. The only complete freedom from these forms of repression is fantasy, which, as part of the subconscious, is subject neither to ordinary nor to surplus repression. From this perspective, fantasy becomes revolution: a refusal to accept repression. Citing André Breton's claim in his Les Manifestes du surréalisme (1955; translated as Manifestoes of Surrealism, 1969) that "Imagination is perhaps on the point of reasserting itself, of reclaiming its rights," he argues that art is the only sphere in which this freedom may be realized without coming into conflict with society.
Marcuse uses mythology to exemplify this principle, recalling the archetypal trickster-hero who rebelled against the gods to create culture and who inevitably paid for that rebellion. Beauty, happiness, and leisure, he showed, oppose civilization. He cites Orpheus and Narcissus as the representatives of what he terms the "Great Refusal": those who achieve order without repression, the "order of gratification" that Eros represents. He suggests the possibility of a nonrepressive society in which art might not need to be in opposition to society.
Eros and Civilization also offers a comprehensive critique of "revisionist" Freudian psychology. Marcuse suggests that psychologists face a difficult dilemma: whether to help patients realize their individual selves, thereby condemning them to battle with society, or to help patients conform to the demands of society, thereby sacrificing their individuality. Marcuse was particularly hard on his former colleague and friend Fromm, whom he dismisses as "a neo-Freudian or neo-Freudian revisionist."(contents)
In "The Obsolescence of the Freudian Concept of Man," collected in Five Lectures: Psychoanalysis, Politics, and Utopia (1970), Marcuse argues against the usefulness of individual psychoanalysis but in favor of the application of Freudian ideas to society as a whole. Following Horkheimer's arguments in Studien über Autoritat und Familie (Studies in Authority and the Family, 1936) Marcuse argues that the father is no longer the primary agent of socialization or the primary link with adult production and claims that modern children have a multiplicity of authority figures. Modernity involves a "vaterlose Gesellschaft," or fatherless society. The family structure is weakened, so the ego is weakened, enabling society to assign and enforce its roles with relatively little opposition. This notion has influenced sociological and post-Freudian psychoanalytic theories of literature according to which gender roles are determined by power structures and societal representations.
Marcuse's critique of psychoanalytic theory was radical and far-reaching. His reworking of Freudian psychoanalytic theory, together with the work of such other pioneers as Wilhelm Reich, Jacques Lacan, and Gilles Deleuze, helped bring about a resurgence of interest in Freudian thought. Thanks in part to Marcuse, not only psychoanalytic theory but psychoanalytic therapy came to be seen as relevant to all, not just the few who could afford expensive sessions. Psychoanalytic theory acquired a strongly political element during the 1960s, and its attraction survived the May 1968 student protests in France and the United States. (contents)
Like many socialists, Marcuse was deeply disappointed in the Soviet Union's evolution into a repressive state. In 1958 he published Soviet Marxism: A Critical Analysis, the first important socialist study of socialism gone awry. His position as critic of communist as well as capitalist societies was clear, though he maintained the superiority of Soviet society over that of the United States.
During the 1960s Marcuse was the mentor of Angela Davis, the famous campus radical, whom he described as the best student he had ever taught. Through his support for radical student activists, Marcuse disagreed sharply with Horkheimer and Adorno, both of whom not only opposed the radical student movement but supported the U.S. War in Vietnam. Difference of opinion prompted Marcuse's break with the Institute. Marcuse's support of the students involved more than speeches. When Davis was arrested in 1969, he contributed substantively to her bail fund, visited her in jail, submitted legal affidavits for her, and protested her dismissal from U.C.L.A. (contents)
Perhaps Marcuse's most influential work, One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Society (1964) had considerable influence during the turbulent mid-1960s and 1970s. Anticipating much that was written later about mass culture, Marcuse argues in this work that what appears to be liberation is often its reverse. "Under the rule of a repressive whole," he states, "liberty can be made into a powerful instrument of domination." Conservative critics alleged that this was just sour grapes, that capitalism had been more successful than socialism in raising the standard of living; some further alleged that Marcuse and his colleagues were die-hard Marxists who were simply unable to see the improvements gained through capitalism. In this work he claims that individual consciousness in advanced technological capitalist society becomes "one-dimensional" and incapable of forming resistance.
In One-Dimensional Man Marcuse argues that the working classes had evolved to such an extent that the rise of the proletariat would not happen in and of itself. The result of the technological advances of society was that the working classes were being absorbed into the fabric of society rather than being pushed away from it. Marcuse argued that marginalized African Americans and student activists must aid in the revolution of the proletariat. This situation had occurred in the 1960s with anti-Vietnam and civil rights protests in the United States and in Paris when "the uncivil disobedience of the students of Paris which suddenly broke through the memory repression of organized labor and recalled, for a very short moment, the historical power of the general strike and the factory occupation."
One-Dimensional Man was also important in recognizing the negative influence of the mass media. In this respect, Marcuse anticipates the postmodern critique of French philosopher Jean Baudrilliard, whose works focus on the degree to which the real and the simulacrum have become confused. Marcuse further recognized the ultimate effects, perhaps less innocent than most assume, of oversimplifying complex issues, ignoring problems, and generally controlling information and manipulating beliefs. (contents)
In "Repressive Tolerance" (1965) Marcuse argues that genuine tolerance does not allow support for repression to be voiced, since by doing so one guarantees that marginalized voices will remain marginalized. He characterizes this form of tolerance as "inauthentic." Instead, he argues for a discriminating tolerance that does not allow forms of intolerance to be voiced.
In this essay Marcuse argues that when legal means of protest prove inadequate, then illegal means are justified. Because it made specific references to 1960s revolutionaries, this essay was cited by many activists as justification for illegal acts. Marcuse sympathized with the nonviolent protesters but condemned those who threw bombs; despite his criticisms, however, his name continued to be linked with those of more radical protesters. In 1965 the Brandeis administration decided not to renew his contract, although he soon gained an appointment at the University of California at San Diego, where he retired in the 1970s. Threats sent him into hiding for a brief period in 1968. The Ku Klux Klan threatened him, and in 1969 Pope Paul VI criticized him. Other vocal critics included Kremlin spokespersons, the Minutemen, the Weathermen, and the Progressive Labor Party.
Marcuse's fame continued to soar both in Europe and the United States. His works were important in the French student riots of May 1968, as well as to American university protests, and conservatives were vocally concerned about his influence. Always a charismatic teacher, he attracted many followers and was watched closely by the media. Though the complexity of his philosophy is such that relatively few students worked their way through his many positions, his central arguments were generally clear. Illustrating his growing popularity and influence, many of his earlier works were collected in new editions, such as Negations: Essays in Critical Theory, Five Lectures, and Studies in Critical Philosophy (1972). (contents)
In An Essay on Liberation (1969) Marcuse analyzes the specific forms of repression in advanced industrial society and argues that classical Marxist constructs are outdated. He argues that in its most subtle forms repression is a "voluntary servitude" in which society manipulates the "needs, satisfactions, and values" of humanity. Capitalism is particularly talented at this, he claims: "For it is precisely the objective, historical function of the democratic system of corporate capitalism to use the Law and Order of bourgeois liberalism as a counterrevolutionary force, thus imposing upon the radical opposition the necessity of direct action and civil disobedience, while confronting the opposition with its vastly superior strength." He argues that while democracy is preferable to dictatorship, genuine democracy does not exist: "the government is factually exercised by a network of pressure groups and 'machines,' vested interests represented by and working on and through the democratic institutions. These are not derived from a sovereign people."
In this work Marcuse argues for a "permanent challenge" that will take revolution to its highest point: genuine liberation. He sees the student protests of the 1960s as ushering in the "new sensibility" needed to recognize and disempower repression. In these protests he observed the possibility of a "liberated work instinct" of cooperation, which would remove the repressive aspects of work and remove the "exploitative repression of the Pleasure Principle."
In An Essay on Liberation Marcuse also considers the importance of the arts in bringing about liberation. In a reference to Husserl's concept of the Lebenswelt or pre-scientific "life-world" he argues in this work that "The aesthetic universe is the Lebenswelt on which the needs and faculties of freedom depend for their liberation." He claims that this prescientific world is "a sort of gauge for a free society" insofar as it mirrors the worldview of any given society. In arguing for the separation of art from the real, he departs yet more radically from traditional Marxist aesthetics:
The distance between the universe of poetry and that of politics is so great, the mediations which validate the poetic truth and the rationality of imagination are so complex, that any shortcut between the two realities seem fatal to poetry. There is no way in which we can envisage a historical change in the relation between the cultural and the revolutionary movement which could bridge the gap between the everyday and the poetic language and abrogate the dominance of the former. The latter seems to draw all its power and all its truth from its otherness, its transcendence.
In this work Marcuse considers the possibilities and limitations of language, claiming that "Modernity" has rendered artistic resistance difficult because words such as freedom, order, peace, revolution, justice, and equality had been disempowered. He calls this disempowerment of language "Political linguistics: armor of the Establishment." When such words are commonly employed to describe new cars, personal hygiene products, and other such mundane items, they cease to have impact in other situations. Liberation must come in redefining or reappropriating common words such as trip, acid, soul, and in choosing words of which the Establishment disapproves. Obscenities, then, had a necessary place in revolution, and such words as "trip" involved much more than escapism. The drug culture, too, was a means of revolution, though it too easily became a means of nonrevolutionary escape. Marcuse argues that liberation entails the escape from existing rational structures and that sensibilities and imaginations must be freed.
The Holocaust continued to have considerable effect on the thinking of Frankfurt School members. The central question of how progress in many areas of life could be accompanied by such regress in ethical standards obsessed them, as did the necessary corollary: how could such regression be reversed? On this issue they differed. "To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric," Adorno posited in his Prismen: Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft (1955; translated as Prisms, 1967). Marcuse, on the other hand, believed the best resistance lay in the aesthetic dimension. In An Essay on Liberation he argued that Adorno's "question has been countered: when the horror of reality tends to become total and blocks political action, where else than in the radical imagination, as refusal of reality, can the rebellion, and its uncompromised goals, be remembered?" (contents)
In his 1972 book, Counterrevolution and Revolt, Marcuse speaks of the "fall of the capitalist superpower" but recommends reform from within. He claims that in advanced capitalist societies consumerism is manipulated in such a way that free time disappears, regardless of actual work hours, and argues against the commodification of culture. What he terms the "base of exploitation" has been vastly expanded in advanced capitalist societies, he argues, and much of the liberalism characteristic of the 1960s has been co-opted. He makes the claim that not only could the proletariat no longer rise up in revolution, but that it had been transformed to such a degree by capitalist society that it could no longer conceive of the need to rise.
In the 1970s Marcuse developed an interest in feminism. He felt that those qualities historically seen as antithetical to the masculine were essential to the realization of full personhood. In a lecture given at Stanford University on 7 March 1974, published as "Marxism and Feminism" (1974), he argues that feminism is one of the most important struggles against industrialized technological rationality and perverted liberalism. He claims that women are socialized to have an abundance of eros, or life instinct, and are therefore particularly well equipped to battle thanatos, the death instinct, by challenging the dominant consciousness. Such strengths as exhibited by women could empower all humanity, male and female alike. Advanced capitalism permitted the rise of an emancipatory feminism, one that could positively transform all of society. The Women's Liberation Movement exemplifies this possibility. Whereas the "male principle" had brought about domination, he argues, "a free society would be the 'definite negation' of this principle--it would be a female society."
An important influence on Marcuse in this work and until the end of his life was Erica Sherover, a graduate student who became his research assistant in 1965 and his wife in 1976, after the death of Inge in 1973. As had Inge, she critiqued his work and collaborated on his projects. Sherover offered the perspectives of a different, more progressive generation, and she helped develop the feminism that had been an undercurrent or subtheme in many of his works. Through her, as through Inge and through Davis, he better understood the ramifications of repression through a deepened understanding of how it specifically affected women, as a specific type of victim vulnerable to a particular range of abuses: abuses, he claimed, that were "constantly fortified by the social use of their biological constitution . . . within the framework of the monogamous patriarchal family." (contents)
Marcuse's final book was Die Permanenz der Kunst: Wider einer bestimmte marxistische Ästhetik (1977; translated as The Aesthetic Dimension: Toward a Critique of Marxist Aesthetics, 1978). The translation by Marcuse and Sherover offered a slight change in focus, as the original title is literally "The Permanence of Art." This work represented his most radical departure from classic Marxist aesthetic theory, though his intent as stated in the introduction was "to contribute to Marxist aesthetics through questioning its predominant orthodoxy."
Similar to orthodox Marxists, Marcuse saw art as having considerable political potential; unlike orthodox Marxists he saw that political power is best realized in the aesthetic form rather than by ideologically inspired works of art. He agreed with Lukács's view of the unity of soul and form. The content must "become form"; they cannot be separated. According to Marcuse, form is either revolutionary, as in the works of Franz Kafka and Samuel Beckett, or simply an empty technical device that communicates nothing.
As he argued in An Essay on Liberation, "transforming the intent of art is self-defeating." Where message overshadows form and reality overtakes imagination, the art work is compromised, losing revolutionary potential as well as artistic merit: "The more immediately political the work of art, the more it reduces the power of estrangement and the radical, transcendent goals of change." He claims that there may be "more subversive potential" in the poetry of Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud than in the "didactic plays of Brecht." Marcuse argues in An Essay on Liberation that a preoccupation with beauty is not in itself bourgeois escapism, but, rather, it is a subversion of the dominant paradigm, a call for the return of the beautiful and the free. Concentrating art on the practical is itself a reification. Great art "subverts the dominant consciousness" by transcending, not by directly exploring, the immediate problems of the epoch. Whereas he had once seen art as a personal and essentially bourgeois escape in "Über den affirmativen Charakter der Kultur" (1937; translated as "The Affirmative Character of Culture," 1968), he now saw art as the last means of liberation in a society in which freedom has become repressed.
In An Essay on Liberation Marcuse held that Marxist aesthetics must explain how Greek tragedy, which reflects a slave society, and the medieval epic, which pertains to feudalism, are nonetheless experienced as great and authentic literature. Marxist criticism must comprehend the aesthetic dimension and avoid the danger of a reified aesthetics; it must accept that "the perfect literary form transcends correct political tendency" and that there is a "hidden categorical imperative" in art that "does not stand under the law of revolutionary strategy." (contents)
Marcuse remained committed and vital throughout his life. In 1979 he returned to Europe, where he continued to fight for his notions of freedom, which by then also embraced ecology. Upon the invitation of Habermas, his academic home became the Max Planck Institute in Starnberg. He worked for the release of Rudolf Bahro, the author of Die Alternative: Zur Kritik des real existierenden Sozialismus (1977; translated as The Alternative in Eastern Europe, 1977), for which the East German authorities had imprisoned him. Bahro's release was secured, though Marcuse did not live to see it. He died in Starnberg, West Germany, on 29 July 1979.
The radical departures from orthodox Marxism represented in Marcuse's texts provoked harsh criticism from both ends of the political spectrum. Many Soviet writers and political thinkers alleged that the Frankfurt School was comprised of bourgeois philosophers, opportunists, and pseudo-Marxists who fractionalized the anti-imperialist front. Their work was viewed as a "weapon of anti-Sovietism." Insofar as Sovietism was marked by Stalinism, that charge was true, though the critiques of capitalism were more harsh.
In the West, few were neutral on the issue of Marcuse's importance and relevance. Marcuse distinguished himself as an independent and radical thinker, sparking the criticism all such thinkers receive. Alasdair MacIntyre holds that "almost all of Marcuse's key positions are false" and that Marcuse "seldom if ever, gives us any reason to believe that what he is writing is true." In contrast, others called him "one of the most original and provocative non-Soviet Marxists of the century."
Marxist theory was dealt a blow by the collapse of world socialism, and postmodern theory opposed many if not most of Marxism's old constructs, but Marcuse's radical revisions of Marxist theory remain relevant to post-Marxist society. Though his political and aesthetic criticism has been displaced by post-structuralist and postmodernist theory, his usage of the dialectical method and his recognition of the encroachment of mass technological society upon individual liberty and consciousness continue to influence theorists and philosophers. Marcuse not only understood but anticipated the social and political dimensions of scientific and technological evolution as new forms of communication.
Papers: A large collection of Herbert Marcuse's manuscripts, working notes, and correspondence is held by the Herbert- Marcuse-Archiv, Stadt- und Universitätsbibliothek, Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt am Main. (contents)