Marcuse, Herbert

Marcuse, Herbert
   The “guru” of the New Left in Europe in the 1960s, Marcuse was one of the most significant of Marxist thinkers in the 20th century. His writings inspired much of the student protest movement of the 1960s and he developed Marxism in new ways, incorporating other theories such as Freudianism. Born in Berlin Marcuse served in a reserve unit of the German army in World War I. He went to university first in Berlin and then in Freiberg where he obtained a doctorate studying literature, philosophy and political economy. For a while he worked as an assistant to the philosopher Martin Heidigger before he became a member of the Institute for Social Research (Frankfurt School). In 1934 he emigrated to the United States in response to the Nazis coming to power in Germany. He continued his association with the Institute for Social Research in New York, and then worked for the United States government between 1942 and 1950, first for the Office of Strategic Services and then for the State Department. Research fellowships and professorships followed at Brandeis, Columbia, Harvard, Yale and San Diego universities in the United States, and the École Practique des Hautes Études and University of Berlin in Europe.
   Marcuse’s most notable works are Reason and Revolution (1949), Eros and Civilization (1955), Soviet Marxism (1958), and, perhaps most influential of all, One-Dimensional Man (1964). In these works Marcuse pursued typical Frankfurt School themes such as a critique of science and technology from a humanist perspective, and he drew on the ideas of a range of non-Marxist thinkers, notably Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Sigmund Freud, in developing his own critical social theory. His use of Freud to develop a “metapsychology” linking the individual and society is one of Marcuse’s most distinctive contributions. Specifically, Marcuse took from Freud the idea that human history is the history of human repression, with human instincts repressed in the course of the development of civilization. Unlike Freud, though, Marcuse saw the repression of the instinctive “pleasure principle” as characteristic of a society where there was scarcity, rather than an inevitable and universal occurrence. In other words, for Marcuse repression of essential human features was historically or culturally specific, restricted to those societies based on scarcity. In Eros and Civilization Marcuse argued that with technological advance came the possibility of overcoming scarcity, and with the overcoming of scarcity would come an end to repression and the freeing of “Eros” or the “pleasure principle” to use Freud’s terminology. In his later work One-Dimensional Man Marcuse elaborated his critique of technology arguing that it provided the basis for “pleasant” forms of social control that would draw the sting from revolutionary movements and attempts to liberate society. By helping to create affluence and meeting many material desires, technology pacifies the masses leading them to acquiesce to social control by the existing ruling class and to become integrated into the capitalist system. Consumerism shapes our ideas and personalities, creating a false consciousness and a system of false needs that we pursue at the expense of liberation. Furthermore, a mindset dominated by the rationality of science and technology denies or fails to see the importance or value of the intangible; all that matters is what can be observed, measured and manipulated, and human beings themselves become but “things” to be observed, measured and manipulated in accordance with creating the most “efficient” and “rational” society. In his Soviet Marxism Marcuse noted that repression and a lack of freedom characterized the bureaucratic Soviet system as much as it did capitalism.
   Marcuse arguably both invigorated and undermined Marxism. He, like other members of the Frankfurt School, tended toward a pessimistic view of the prospects for revolution and doubted the revolutionary potential of the proletariat. But he also introduced new elements to Marxist theory (e.g., Freudianism), and opened up the atrophying orthodox Marxism to critical examination and reconstruction in the light of the new conditions of capitalism in the mid- 20th century. He also helped to draw attention to the importance of Marx’s early works and the influence of Hegel on Marx’s thought.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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  • MARCUSE, HERBERT — (1898–1979), philosopher and social theorist. Born in Berlin, Marcuse studied in Berlin and Freiburg, where he was influenced by Heidegger. In World War I he served in the German army and, as a delegate from his unit, participated in the abortive …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Marcuse, Herbert — born July 19, 1898, Berlin died July 29, 1979, Starnberg, Ger. German U.S. political philosopher. A member of the Frankfurt school, he fled Germany after the Nazi seizure of power in 1933. After working in U.S. intelligence in World War II, he… …   Universalium

  • Marcuse, Herbert — (1898–1979) Political and social theorist. Marcuse was born in Berlin, and became associated with the Frankfurt school . His early work was a synthesis of Marxism, phenomenology, and existentialism . In 1934 he fled Nazi Germany to America and… …   Philosophy dictionary

  • Marcuse, Herbert — ► (1898 1979) Filósofo alemán. Su filosofía se basa en el marxismo y en Freud. Obras: Razón y revolución y Psicoanálisis y política, entre otras. * * * (19 jul. 1898, Berlín–29 jul. 1979, Starnberg, Alemania). Filósofo político alemán radicado en …   Enciclopedia Universal

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  • Marcuse,Herbert — Mar·cu·se (mär ko͞oʹzə), Herbert. 1898 1979. German born American political philosopher whose works of social criticism include Eros and Civilization (1955) and One Dimensional Man (1964). * * * …   Universalium

  • Marcuse, Herbert — (1898 1979)    German philospher. Born in Berlin, he studied in Berlin and Freiburg. He initially worked at the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research, but from the early 1940s he was an intelligence analyst in various US agencies. He was a… …   Dictionary of Jewish Biography

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