Marcuse Herbert

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Marcuse Herbert

(1898-1979) widely influential German philosopher and social theorist. Marcuse studied philosophy at the Universities of Berlin and Freiburg (at the latter with the leading German philosophers HUSSERL and HEIDEGGER). He became a member of the Institute of Social Research (later referred to as the FRANKFURT SCHOOL OF CRITICAL THEORY) in 1933 and emigrated, with other members, to the US following the Nazi rise to power. Marcuse continued his association with the institute which had moved to Columbia University. Between 1942 and 1950 he worked as a researcher for the US government. Subsequently he held posts at leading US Universities before becoming an honorary professor at the Free University of Berlin.

Marcuse's wide-ranging interests covered all the current debates of his time: art and revolution, PHENOMENOLOGY, EXISTENTIALISM and the legacy of classical German philosophy the nature of technological change, transformation in the capitalist mode of production, the rise of psychoanalysis, the nature of the individual and the problems of socialism, Marxism and the critical theory of society. Pippin et al. (eds.) (1988) have suggested that what gave unity to all these concerns was Marcuse's commitment to the task of developing critical theory in the light of the deficiencies of classical Marxism.

In his Soviet Marxism (1958) he argued that Marxism in the Soviet Union had lost its function as the ideology of revolution and instead had become the ideological prop of the status quo. In his diagnosis of capitalist societies, Marcuse thought that the pressures of consumerism had led to the total incorporation of the working class into the existing system. As a result, rather than looking to the workers as the revolutionary vanguard, Marcuse, in One-Dimensional Man (1964), put his faith in an alliance between radical intellectuals and ‘the outcasts and outsiders, the exploited and persecuted of other races and other colors, the unemployed and the unemployables’. In May 1968 his vision of a ‘non-repressive civilization’ and total human emancipation inspired student radicals of the international NEW LEFT movement. Other major works by Marcuse include Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory (1941); Eros and Civilization: a Philosophical Inquiry into Freud (1955), An Essay on Liberation (1969); Counterrevolution and Revolt (1972).

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000