Herbert Marcuse
Herbert Marcuse
Scholars and activists

Norman Birnbaum Bio


Birnbaum, Norman (b. 1926), Norman BirnbaumEmeritus Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University Law Center, member of the editorial board of The Nation.

  • Georgetown faculty biography; Wikipedia page
  • Contribution to Doug Ireland's July 2005 blog entry:
    "Here are some brief recollections of Herbert. There is little new to say about his intellectual and political influence. I have always thought of Eros And Civilization as a major work, combining historical insight and human imagination. Compared with the others of the Frankfurt School of his generation, Herbert was far more cosmopolitan, more committed, more courageous (I think of the disgraceful episode in which Horkheimer attempted to have the young Juergen Habermas dismissed from the Institut fuer Sozialforschung because of his political views.) What I now think of, however, are Herbert's great human qualities: forthrightness, an enormous capacity for enjoyment, and a splendid sense of humor.
    "I recollect his marvelous talk on Max Weber at the 1964 German Sociological Association Weber centenary meeting. [published in New Left Review, March/April 1965, pp. 3-17] Raymond Aron, Pietro Rossi, Talcott Parsons had given reasonable academic evaluations of Weber (Parsons, to be sure, had somehow situated him 'beyond ideology,' a location which would have rendered Weber himself uncomfortable.) Herbert (seconded by Habermas) delivered a large critique of Weber's Dec[is]ionism, connecting him to Carl Schmitt, and raised the question of how value-free the advocate of a value-free social science actually was. He invited the public to ask if Weber did not bear some responsibility for the intellectual onslaught on the Weimar Republic which prepared the way for Nazism---which was, in 1964, a breach of German academic decorum.
    "I also remember the way he began the talk, by citing the inscription over the doorway of the university building, in Heidelberg, in which the meeting was held: "Dem Lebendigen Geist" (roughly, 'To The Living Spirit') 'Es gibt Dinge, die man nicht uebersetzten kann.' 'There are phrases which are untranslatable.' I believe that the visit occasioned some melancholic self-reflection on whether he should have taken a full-time academic post in post-war Germany. In the end, of course, Herbert could hardly complain of a lack of influence in Germany and there is hardly a member of the present government who will not have read his writings. That he would greet with all of his irony---and so prepare the way for the next try.
    "We were having a drink in the Heidelberger Hof and the singular conventionality of some of the other guests caught his attention. 'Norman, reality is its own caricature.'
    I also recall a visit to Herbert and Inge, winter of 1969. ... It was snowing in New England, and I had to cope with ice and fog on Highway 91 as I drove from Amherst to Hartford airport. The next morning, Herbert and I walked to the La Jolla campus, with its palm trees, attractive women in Californian splendor, and tie-less nearness to sensuality. 'Herbert, what a contrast with New England!' 'Norman, I have always told you, winter is a bourgeois ideology' ... May his memory be blessed."
Index entries: Birnbaum, Norman