Herbert Marcuse
Herbert Marcuse

Preface to Technology, War and Fascism

Collected Papers Vol I Book Cover

Preface to Herbert's unpublished papers, volume 1: Technology, War and Fascism,
edited by Douglas Kellner and Peter Marcuse
(Routledge, 1998)
note: this draft version differs slightly from published one
uploaded Sept. 2001, reformatted 5/26/05, reformatted 9-14-2019

I am very pleased that these papers from my father’s unpublished works are finally seeing the light of day, in a fashion accessible both to the general interested reader and to scholars. They are, I think, remarkably relevant today. Their historical interest is, I suppose, indisputable: both the contribution of the Frankfurt School in shaping critical social theory, and my father's role in the both the intellectual and the political (he always saw them together) history of the new left and the diverse movements of the 1960’s, are important in any attempt to assess the possibilities of progressive social change.

But the interest of the pieces collected in this volume goes beyond the historical. They speak to issues at the cutting edge of social debate today. One will find here:

  • striking examples of discourse analysis (in pieces dealing both with fascist propaganda and the means of combating it),
  • contributions to clarity in the "culture wars" (in pieces dealing with anti-Semitism, with the German personality, with the cultural conditions in the West that permitted the rise of fascism), and
  • notes on social change provocative in the context of the defeat of real existing socialism and the reexamination of social democracy.

And one will find a deeply troubling question raised: whether fascism is a foreign (in both senses of the word) excrescence grafted on the main body of Western liberal democracy, made possible only by the weakness of the Weimar Republic and the Great Depression, rejected and combated tooth and nail by the Western democracies, or whether it might be an outgrowth of tendencies internal to those democracies. There is even an undercurrent in the analysis which suggests fascism as the logical further development of democracies within the prevailing social and economic systems. Those hints of course arose with the context of the fall of Weimar, the strong fascist tendencies in Italy, France, Spain, even Britain, the ambiguities of the war and the incipient cold war, and McCarthyism in the United States, and my father always strongly rejected any suggestion that conditions in the United States, at their political worst, should be labeled "fascist" or compared to Nazism. Yet the question whether authoritarian (and, as in the sophisticated analysis of the German state in Neumann’s Behemoth, chaotic) tendencies are integrally linked to other aspects of existing Western-style democracies remains an open and troubling one today.

Personal history is interwoven with intellectual and political in these papers. We debated whether letters belonged here: whether some should be published at all. My father had a deep sense of personal privacy, both as a character trait and as a political expression of resistance to the commodification of the private. Yet the letters contain substantive discussions also. We could have edited out, expurgated some of the material. While not publishing every letter my father wrote (most, indeed, are no longer extant; he did not squirrel away no longer needed papers), our selection was based on interest, and every letter that is included is included in full. That decision was in part painful for me personally. The juxtaposition of the letters to Horkheimer and the exchange with Heidigger highlights the point.

I was only in my early teens when most of the correspondence here published was written, but I remember certain things very well. I remember that the personal relationships between several members of the Institute and its leadership were quite different from their intellectual relationship. Horkheimer lived in Scarsdale when the Institute was in New York City, and in Pacific Palisades when it was in Los Angeles, in high-class enclaves of the well-to-do. Their life style was formal; with servants, children visiting were expected to be (when they were brought along at all) quiet and inconspicuous. They "siezt" each other, addressed each other with the formal "you," although they had been working together (and through tremendous turmoil) for over ten years. The affairs of the Institute were not run democratically; Horkheimer, with Pollock’s advice, made all the administrative (including financial) decisions. Both my mother and the Neumanns were desperate (I do not think I exaggerate, although I was young and only occasionally privy to the discussions) to escape from the dependence on the Institute. Franz Neumann aggressively sought a position in Washington, not because the money for him at the Institute ran out, but because he wanted out. My mother wanted my father to do the same. I remember once I wrote a P.S. on a letter from my mother in Santa Monica to my father in Washington, after he had gone out there to look for a position, in which I said we all looked forward to going there too, and how pleased my mother was. I think they had arguments about it; between my mother’s (and the Neumanns’) pull, and Horkheimer and Pollock’s push, the decision was made.

Yet the letters from my father to Horkheimer show a deep ambivalence about the move, and reflect none of the personal tensions that I experienced on a family level. In the letters to Heidegger, my father speaks about the inseparability of the personal and the political, and in his relations with others he always put the criterion of decency ("Anständigkeit") first when making an assessment. Yet, in this one case, with the leadership of the Institute, it was different. Later on, after Horkheimer and Adorno had returned to Germany, and particularly when Adorno ended up supporting the U.S. position on Vietnam and proved entirely unsympathetic, indeed uncomprehending, about the student movement, there did indeed come a break. Whether that break was foreshadowed in the 40s in their respective intellectual directions I am not in a position to say; the material in this volume sheds some light on the question. In its complexity, and in what was not said as well as what was said, the letters here published were in part painful for me to read.

In any event: This is the first volume in a projected six-volume edition of the most interesting writing that were found in my father’s possession after his death. If we had published everything, it would have been some 16 volumes. What has been left out is of much less interest; repetitive drafts of papers, business correspondence, reading notes, etc. They will all be available to interested scholars at the Marcuse Archive and the Stadt-und-Universitäts-Bibliothek in Frankfurt. What is being published will be organized both by theme and by period; Doug Kellner’s Introduction sketches the plan. We expect they will appear at the rate of one a year until completed. We are grateful to Routledge for their willingness to undertake this large project and for the helpfulness in bringing it to fruition.

I am personally delighted that Doug Kellner was willing to undertake the task. Doug was [a student of my father’s at? Knew him from? Doug, fill in], and my father always spoke highly of him. He has studied and written on my father’s work before; his Herbert Marcuse and the Crisis of Marxism [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984] is a standard work, and he has recently written an Introduction to the new edition of One-Dimensional Man [Boston: Beacon Press, 1994?]. Beyond that, he has been actively in broadly the kind of campaigns, and devoted himself to the understanding of the kind of issues that my father also would have been concerned about today. He combines the personal and the philosophical in a way of which my father would have approved. So I am happy to express to him in this way my thanks for getting this job done, and doing it well, with understanding, scholarly care, and an eye on the meaning, both historical and current, of the material with which he is dealing.

Index entries: Marcuse, Peter Collected Papers