Herbert Marcuse

(1898—1979) German-born American philosopher

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German-born US philosopher, famous in the 1960s as the theorist of the new revolutionary left.

Born in Berlin, Marcuse was educated at the University of Freiburg, where he gained his doctorate in 1922; he then became an associate at the influential Institute of Social Research in Frankfurt. With the rise of Hitler, however, Marcuse left Europe for the USA, where he remained for the rest of his life. He taught at Columbia, Brandeis, and the University of California, La Jolla. During World War II Marcuse worked for military intelligence.

In 1964, with the publication of his One-Dimensional Man, the sixty-six-year-old Hegelian social philosopher became an international celebrity. Like other Frankfurt colleagues he argued that while the modern industrial society had satisfied the material needs of man it had done so only by ignoring his true needs and by restricting his liberty. The apparent freedom present in many industrial societies was discounted by Marcuse as ‘repressive tolerance’. There was, therefore, no way in which a ‘liberated’ man could ever come to terms with capitalism. In addition to the repressions of capitalism, Marcuse also identified, in his Eros and Civilization (1955), the repressions imposed on us by the unconscious mind. In this area he recognized fairly orthodox Freudian solutions. In the political domain, however, as he argued in his Soviet Marxism (1958), Marcuse rejected the approach of bureaucratic communism. Revolutionary change, it seemed, could therefore only come from an alienated elite, such as the students of Paris and Berkeley. Although such views seemed highly plausible at one time, they failed to survive the student movement of the 1960s.

Subjects: Philosophy.

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