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Herbert Marcuse ( ) (July 19, 1898 – July 29, 1979) was a German-Jewish philosopher, political theorist and sociologist, and a member of the Frankfurt School. Celebrated as the "Father of the New Left,Douglas Kellner. />" his best known works are Eros and Civilization, One-Dimensional Man and The Aesthetic Dimension. Marcuse was a major intellectual influence on the New Left and student movements of the 1960s.

Marcuse: The beginning

Herbert Marcuse was born in Berlin to Carl Marcuse and Gertrud Kreslawsky and raised in a Jewish family. In 1916 he was drafted into the German Army, but only worked in horse stables in Berlin during World War I. He then became a member of a Soldiers' Council that participated in the aborted socialist Spartacist uprising. He completed his Ph.D. thesis at the University of Freiburg in 1922 on the German Künstlerroman after which he moved back to Berlin, where he worked in publishing. In 1924 he married Sophie Wertheim, a mathematician. He returned to Freiburgmarker in 1928 to study with Edmund Husserl and write a Habilitation with Martin Heidegger, which was published in 1932 as Hegel's Ontology and Theory of Historicity. This study was written in the context of the Hegel renaissance that was taking place in Europe with an emphasis on Hegel's ontology of life and history, idealist theory of spirit and dialectic. With his academic career blocked by the rise of the Third Reich, in 1933 Marcuse joined the Frankfurtmarker Institute for Social Research.

In 1933, Marcuse published his first major review, of Marx's Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. In this review, Marcuse revised the interpretation of Marxism, from the standpoint of the works of the early Marx. This review helped the world see that Marcuse was becoming one of the most promising theorists of his generation.

While a member of the Institute of Societal Research, Marcuse developed a model for critical social theory, created a theory of the new stage of state and monopoly capitalism, described the relationships between philosophy, social theory, and cultural criticism, and provided an analysis and critique of German fascism. Marcuse worked closely with critical theorists while at the Institute.

Marcuse and the United States

After emigrating from Germany in 1933, in 1934, Marcuse immigrated to the United States, where he became a citizen in 1940. Although he never returned to Germany to live, he remained one of the major theorists associated with the Frankfurt School, along with Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno (among others). In 1940 he published Reason and Revolution, a dialectical work studying Georg W. F. Hegel and Karl Marx.

During World War II Marcuse first worked for the U.S. Office of War Information (OWI) on anti-Nazi propaganda projects. In 1943 he transferred to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. His work for the OSS involved research on Nazi Germany and denazification. After the dissolution of the OSS in 1945, Marcuse was employed by the US Department of Statemarker as head of the Central European section, retiring after the death of his first wife in 1951.

In 1952 he began a teaching career as a political theorist, first at Columbia University, then at Harvard Universitymarker, then at Brandeis Universitymarker from 1958 to 1965, where he taught philosophy and politics, and finally (by then he was past the usual retirement age), at the University of California, San Diegomarker. He was a friend and collaborator of the political sociologist Barrington Moore, Jr. and of the political philosopher Robert Paul Wolff, and also a friend of the Columbia University sociology professor C. Wright Mills, one of the founders of the New Left movement.

Post War

In the post-war period, Marcuse was the most explicitly political and left-wing member of the Frankfurt School , continuing to identify himself as a Marxist, a socialist, and a Hegelian.

Marcuse's critiques of capitalist society (especially his 1955 synthesis of Marx and Freud, Eros and Civilization, and his 1964 book One-Dimensional Man) resonated with the concerns of the student movement in the 1960s. Because of his willingness to speak at student protests, Marcuse soon became known as "the father of the New Left in the United States", a term he strongly disliked and disavowed. His work heavily influenced intellectual discourse on popular culture and scholarly popular culture studies. He had many speaking engagements in the US and Europe in the late 1960s and 1970s. He became a close friend and inspirer of the French philosopher André Gorz.

Marcuse defended the arrested East German dissident Rudolf Bahro (author of Die Alternative: Zur Kritik des real existierenden Sozialismus [trans., The Alternative in Eastern Europe]), discussing in a 1979 essay Bahro's theories of "change from within" [1736].

The New Left and Radical Politics

Many radical scholars and activists were influenced by Marcuse, such as Angela Davis, Abbie Hoffman, Rudi Dutschke, and Robert M. Young. (See the List of Scholars and Activists link, below.) Among those who critiqued him from the left were Marxist-humanist Raya Dunayevskaya, and fellow German emigre Paul Mattick, both of whom subjected One-Dimensional Man to a Marxist critique. Marcuse's 1965 essay "Repressive Tolerance", in which he claimed capitalist democracies can have totalitarian aspects, has been criticized by conservatives. [1737] Marcuse argues that genuine tolerance does not tolerate support for repression, since doing so ensures that marginalized voices will remain unheard. He characterizes tolerance of repressive speech as "inauthentic." Instead, he advocates a discriminatory form of tolerance that does not allow so-called "repressive" intolerance to be voiced. Marcuse later expressed his radical ideas through three pieces of writing. He wrote An essay on Liberation in 1969 celebrating liberation movements such as those in Viet Cong, which inspired many radicals. He also wrote Counterrevolution by Revolt in 1972 about that the hopes of the 60's were facing a counterrevolution.

After Brandeis denied the renewal of his teaching contract in 1965, Marcuse devoted the rest of his time publishing articles and giving lectures and advice to radicals worldwide. His efforts brought him attention from the media, shedding a light on his influential work and speeches. He continued to promote Marxian Theory and libertarian socialism as his students took after him, spreading his words. He published his final work The Aesthetic Dimension in 1979 on emancipation and the necessity of a cultural revolution.

Marriage and Death

Marcuse married three times. His first wife was mathematician Sophie Wertman (1901–1951), with whom he had a son, Peter (born 1928). Herbert's second marriage was to Inge Neumann (1913?–1972), the widow of his close friend Franz Neumann (1900-1954). His third wife was Erica Sherover (1938–1988), a former graduate student and forty years his junior, whom he married in 1976. His son Peter is currently professor emeritus of Urban Planning at Columbia University.

Ten days after his eighty-first birthday, Marcuse died on July 29, 1979, after having suffered a stroke during a visit to Germany. He had spoken at the Frankfurt Römerberggespräche, and was on his way to the Max-Planck-Institute for the Study of the Scientific-Technical World in Starnberg, on invitation from second-generation Frankfurt School theorist Jürgen Habermas. In 2003, after his ashes were rediscovered in the USA, he was buried in the Dorotheenstädtischer cemetery, Berlin.

Marcuse and Marx

Marcuse’s beliefs of capitalism can be rooted in one of Karl Marx’s main concepts: Objectification. Marx believed that capitalism was exploiting humans; that what the labor workers were doing ultimately dehumanized them as functional objects. Marcuse took this belief and expanded it. He believed that capitalism and industrialization pushed laborers so hard, that they began to see themselves as the objects they were producing. In One Dimensional Man he states, “The people recognize themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile,”Harold Marcuse /> meaning that capitalism degrades humans to the commodities that they create, giving the commodity more importance than the being itself.

Key Concepts & Contributions

  • Critical Theory
  • Philosophical perspectives on domination and liberation
  • Cultural Criticism
  • Radical theory
  • Relationship between technology, economy and culture
  • Philosophy's relation to social theory
  • Critique of capitalism
  • Critique of Soviet Marxism.

Notable Works (Brief Summaries)

  • Reason and Revolution (1941) Presents the Hegelian Perspective along with a critique of Marxism and poitivist philosophy."Marcuse, Herbert" A Dictionary of Sociology. John Scott and Jordan Marshall. Oxford University Press 2009. Oxford University Press. 6 October 2009 />
  • Eros and Civilization (1955) The use of Freud's ideas on life and death to critique how modern culture changes and isolates desire.
  • One-Dimensional Man (1964) Marcuse's concerns about modern capitalism restricting the possibility of opposition. He believed that the industrialization was creating a one-dimensional way of thought and behavior which decreased opposition towards capitalism.


See also

Further reading

  • Harold Bleich (1977) The Philosophy of Herbert Marcuse, Washington, D.C.: University Press of America.
  • Paul Breines (1970) Critical Interruptions: New Left Perpectives on Herbert Marcuse, New York: Herder and Herder.
  • Alfred C. Fred (1985) Science and Revenge of Nature: Marcuse and Habermas, Gainesville: University of Florida Press.
  • Christian Fuchs (2005). Emanzipation! Technik und Politik bei Herbert Marcuse. Aachen: Shaker. ISBN 3-8322-3999-5.
  • Christian Fuchs (2005). Herbert Marcuse interkulturell gelesen. Interkulturelle Bibliothek Vol. 15. Nordhausen: Bautz. ISBN 3-88309-175-8.
  • Douglas Kellner (1984). Herbert Marcuse and the Crisis of Marxism. London: Macmillan. ISBN 9780520052956.
  • Herbert Marcuse (1998) Technology, War and Fascism, London: Routeledge.
  • Alain Martineau (1986). Herbert Marcuse’s Utopia, Harvest House, Montreal. ISBN 0-88772-027-7.


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