(1898-1979) German-American Hegelian-Freudian-Marxist philosopher and "Father of the New Left." Marcuse argued that Marxian thought had degenerated into rigid orthodoxy and called for a Marxism in step in the times -- that is, one suited to modern world, not 19th century capitalism. He also was concerned with the neglect given to the individual in Marxian thought, and so was concerned with individual as well as societal liberation throughout his life.

Marcuse denounced the "happy consciousness" -- a false consciousness -- that crass consumerism engendered, and thought modern industrial society "bought off" the potential opposition through this gratification of "false needs", rendering revolutionary change nigh impossible.

It was also Marcuse's 1958 work, Soviet Marxism, that broke many taboos against speaking critically of the USSR. He pointed to potential "liberalizing trends" in the USSR which, as we know, manifested as reforms in the Gorbachev era.

Because of Marcuse's opposition to both the Soviet and Western systems and his criticism of consumerism, he was embraced by the New Left.

Major Works:
Eros and Civilization, 1955
One-Dimensional Man, 1964
Counterrevolution and Revolt, 1972
Studies in Critical Philosophy, 1972

Marcuse, Herbert (1898-1979)

German-American philosopher who developed his own version of “critical Marxism” in an attempt to update Marxian theory in response to changing historical conditions from the 1920’s through the 1970’s. Marcuse gained notoriety in the 1960’s when he was perceived as both an influence on and defender of the so-called “New Left” in the United States and Europe. Marcuse’s first published article appeared in Weimar, Germany in 1928 and attempted a synthesis of phenomenology, existentialism, and Marxism of a kind, which was to be carried out again decades later by various “existential” and “phenomenological” Marxists. In 1933, he published the first major review of Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 and anticipated the tendency to revise interpretations of Marxism from the standpoint of the works of the early Marx. Marcuse’s study of Georg Hegel’s Ontology and Theory of Historicity (1932) contributed to the Hegel renaissance that was taking place in Europe.

In 1934, Marcuse fled from Nazism and emigrated to the United States where he lived for the rest of his life. His first major work in English, Reason and Revolution (1941), traced the genesis of the ideas of Hegel, Marx, and modern social theory. After service for the U.S government from 1941 to 1950, which Marcuse claimed was motivated by a desire to struggle against fascism, he returned to intellectual work and published an Eros and Civilization (1955), which attempted an audacious synthesis of Marx and Freud and sketched the outlines of non-repressive society.

In 1958 Marcuse published Soviet Marxism, a critical study of the Soviet Union, and in 1964 One-Dimensional Man, a wide-ranging critique of both advanced capitalist and communist societies. This book theorized the decline of revolutionary potential in capitalist societies and the development of new forms of social control. The book was severely criticized by orthodox Marxists and theorists of various political and theoretical commitments. Despite its pessimism, it influenced many in the New Left as it articulated their growing dissatisfaction with both capitalist societies and Soviet communist societies. One-Dimensional Man was followed by a series of books and articles with articulated New Left politics and critiques of capitalist societies in Repressive Tolerance (19650, An Essay on Liberation (1969), and Counterrevolution and Revolt (1972).

Marcuse also dedicated much of his work to aesthetics and his final book, The Aesthetic Dimension (1979), briefly summarizes his defence of the emancipatory potential of aesthetic form in so-called “high culture.” His work in philosophy and social theory generated fierce controversy and polemics, and most studies of his work are highly tendentious and frequently sectarian. Although much of the contemporary capitalist societies and defence of radical social change, in retrospect, Marcuse left behind a complex and many-sided body of work comparable to the legacies of Ernst Bolch, Georg Lukacs, Theodor Adorno, and Walter Benjamin.

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