Herbert Marcuse

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Herbert Marcuse
Western Philosophy
20th century philosophy
Full name Herbert Marcuse
Born July 19, 1898
Berlin, Germany
Died July 29, 1979 (aged 81)
Starnberg, Germany
School/tradition Frankfurt School, critical theory
Main interests social theory, Marxism

Herbert Marcuse (July 19,1898 – July 29,1979) was a German philosopher and sociologist, and a member of the Frankfurt School. His best known works are Eros and Civilization, One-Dimensional Man and The Aesthetic Dimension.


[edit] Life and work

Herbert Marcuse was born in Berlin to Carl Marcuse and Gertrud Kreslawsky and raised in a Jewish family and served in the German Army, caring for horses in Berlin during the First World War. He then became a member of a Soldiers' Council that participated in the aborted socialist Spartacist uprising. After completing his Ph.D. thesis at the University of Freiburg in 1922 on the German Künstlerroman, he moved back to Berlin, where he worked in publishing. He returned to Freiburg in 1929 to write a Habilitation with Martin Heidegger, which was published in 1932 as Hegel's Ontology and Theory of Historicity in spite of Heidegger's rejection. With his academic career blocked by the rise of the Third Reich, in 1933 Marcuse joined the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research, emigrating from Germany that same year, going first to Switzerland, then the United States, where he became a naturalized 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 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 State 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 and Harvard University, then at Brandeis University 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 Diego. 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.

In the post-war period, Marcuse was the most explicitly political and left-wing member of the Frankfurt School[citation needed], 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" [1].

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. [2] 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 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 second-generation Frankfurt School theorist Jürgen Habermas had invited him to the Max-Planck-Institute for the Study of the Scientific-Technical World in Starnberg.

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NAME Marcuse, Herbert
SHORT DESCRIPTION philosopher and sociologist
DATE OF BIRTH July 19, 1898(1898-07-19)
PLACE OF BIRTH Berlin, Germany
DATE OF DEATH July 29, 1979
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