Democracy, Social Change, and One-Dimensionality: Reviving Marcuse

Arnold L. Farr

Books discussed in this article:

Herbert Marcuse, Technology, War and Fascism, xvi + 278 pages.  $ 90.00

Herbert Marcuse, Towards a Critical Theory of Society, x + 242 pages. $ 90.00

Herbert Marcuse, The New Left and the 1960s, xiv + 209 pages. $ 80.00

Edited by Douglas Kellner.  Volumes One and Two include a Foreword by Peter Marcuse.  Volume Three includes a Preface by Angela Davis.

In the fall of 2001 I had the opportunity to teach a senior philosophy seminar on critical theory.  I took advantage of this opportunity to immerse myself in the works of one of my favorite members of the Frankfurt School for Social Research, Herbert Marcuse.  Although I had read some Marcuse before, this more recent study really had an impact on me.  My students also became fascinated by the profound and relevant insights developed in One-Dimensional Man and Eros and Civilization.  The other critical theorists, everyone from Horkheimer to Adorno to Habermas did not seem to affect my students in the way that Marcuse did.  During this semester I discovered a series by Rowman and Littlefield entitled The New Critical Theory.  The New Critical Theory was a call for a return to the unfinished project of the early Frankfurt School.  The first volume of this series New Critical Theory: Essays on Liberation is very Marcusean in spirit.

This Marcusean epiphany gave birth to a conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of Eros and Civilization at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia in November 2005.  During this very successful conference the participants established an International Marcuse Society.  A couple of weeks after the conference I had a conversation with Peter Marcuse.  Peter reminded me that the main theme of Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man is that our society is basically irrational.  Peter wondered why there was this renewed interest in his father’s work since it does seem to be the case that our society has become one-dimensional and irrational.  My response was that in a time like this, a time wherein it seems that his father’s work is irrelevant, it is most relevant.  That is, Marcuse’s work is still relevant because it describes in great detail the very social mechanisms that have prevented positive social change in our society.  Marcuse explained the ways in which irrationality has come to replace rationality.  However, his critique of the erasure of rationality and the containment of non-repressive possibilities also embodies the possibility for liberation and a more rational or reasonable society.  I will elaborate on this further latter in this essay. 

While my students and I had a Marcusean epiphany in the fall of 2001, I discovered that we were not the only ones.  As I continued to do more research on Marcuse I discovered that there was already a revival of Marcuse’s work taking place.  It was obvious to me that Marcuse was not finished speaking to us literally and figuratively.  While Marcuse still speaks to us through the relevance of his classic works, he also continues to speak through new works.  I was delighted to discover that six volumes of Marcuse’s essays and letters (most of which were never published) were scheduled to be published in English.  In this essay I want to examine the relevance of Marcuse’s voice in the 21th century by examining the issues raised in the three recently published volumes of Marcuse’s unpublished works.  

Although there are many issues addressed in these three volumes, this essay will focus on three themes that seem to stand out or at least provide us with a particular orientation.  These issues are social change, democracy, and one-dimensionality.  I will begin with the problem of social change which will be examined in two parts.  As a dialectical thinker Marcuse was always sensitive to the possibilities for social change while at the same time he was very aware of the impediments to social change.  This has made reading Marcuse difficult for some who would like to make a decisive claim about the direction in which our society is headed.  Marcuse’s analysis of social change does not make it possible for one to make a decisive claim about the direction in which society is headed but it does make one aware of the potential for change and the potential for further repression.  With this awareness one is in a better position to develop a strategy for social change.  Hence, Marcuse never gives in to the paralysis of pessimism or the opiate effect of blind optimism. 

During the 1940s Marcuse and his Frankfurt School colleague Franz Neumann were working together on a theory of social change.  Several of their essays have been published in Volume One of Marcuse’s unpublished works entitled Technology, War and Fascism.  Before addressing the problem of social change it is necessary that we first understand what social change is according to Marcuse and Neumann.  In the essay “Theories of Social Change” Marcuse and Neumann argue that up to the 18th century the theory of social change has always been a philosophical theory.   Marcuse and Neumann briefly outline the history of theories on social change that was to be examined in greater detail in a future work.  Of importance to us here is the transition of theories of social change from static to dialectical. 

Marcuse and Neumann write:

The dialectical conception of change was first elaborated in Hegel’s philosophy.  It reversed the traditional logical setting of the problem by taking change as the very form of existence, and by taking existence as a totality of objective contradictions.  Every particular form of existence contradicts its content, which can develop only through breaking this form and creating a new one in which the content appears in a liberated and more adequate form.[1]

They continue:

Social change was no longer an event occurring in or to a more or less static system, but the very modus existentiae of the system, and the question was not how and why changes took place but how and why an at least provisional stability and order was accomplished.[2]

The above passages contain a type of inquiry that is central to all of Marcuse’s work.  Every text by Marcuse is an exercise in the above type of dialectic. 

Static theories of social change see society as basically stable or static.  Social change occurs as a rupture or a sudden alteration of the previously stable society.  On the dialectical view society is always undergoing alteration.  Although change is a part of the very structure of society, there are moments of stability and order.  It is also possible for a society to undergo change and maintain a certain order or stability at the same time.  For example, one may consider the ways in which advanced industrial societies have changed while maintaining their capitalist form of production. 

Marcuse’s concern is with the way in which societies are able to prohibit social change, that is, the way in which a certain social structure achieves stability.  More specifically, the question is how do oppressive, repressive, dehumanizing, social structures maintain themselves against the possible resistance by those who suffer from these structures?  The achievement of stability by oppressive societies is a central theme in volumes one and two of Marcuse’s unpublished works as well as his focus in One-Dimensional Man

Much of Marcuse’s work involves an attempt to rescue individuality as a source for resistance.  The erasure of individuality is the path toward one-dimensionality.  In his essay “Some Social Implications of Modern Technology” Marcuse examines the ways in which technology affects individuality in advanced industrial societies.  Marcuse makes an important distinction between technics and technology.  He begins the essay, “In this article, technology is taken as a social process in which technics proper (that is, the technical apparatus of industry, transportation, communication) is but a partial factor.”  Technics is not necessarily oppressive nor is it necessarily liberating, but rather, it has the potential for either.  Marcuse uses the term technology to refer to social forces and structures that determine the use of technics.  He writes:

Technology, as a mode of production, as the totality of instruments, devices and contrivances which characterize the machine age is thus at the same time a mode of organizing and perpetuating (or changing) social relationships, a manifestation of prevalent thought and behavior patterns, an instrument for control and domination.[3]        

What Marcuse refers to as technology is an oppressive and repressive use of technics.  This theme also occurs in Marcuse’s more well-known writings such as Eros and Civilization and One-Dimensional Man.  Technology does not refer to the instruments used for production in advanced industrial societies but rather to a kind of social logic or rationality that determines the use of these instruments.

In the above mentioned article Marcuse examines the way in which critical rationality and individuality has been replaced by technological rationality.  His position is similar to that developed by Adorno and Horkheimer in Dialectic of Enlightenment and his own position in his more well-known works.  Technological rationality is similar to what Horkheimer called instrumental reason.  The technological society is the same as what the Frankfurt School called the administered society.  Even in these early essays Marcuse is laying the foundation for the long-term preoccupation of Frankfurt School critical theory. 

In “Some Social Implications of Modern Technology” Marcuse argues:

In the course of the technological process a new rationality and new standards on individuality have spread over society, different from and even opposed to those which initiated the march of technology.[4] 

The march of technology has its origins in the desire for greater human autonomy and more control by the human being over the circumstances of his or her life.  However, instead of increasing autonomy technological progress has actually reduced human autonomy.  Technological progress has led to the development of a value system wherein the individual human person is not given the highest value but instead the technological apparatus has been given the highest value.  The individual must conform to the demands of technological rationality.  This conformity to the demands of technological rationality adumbrates what Marcuse calls in Eros and Civilization the performance principle.  That is, in our society real needs go unmet while new needs are created.  Everyone thinks that he or she must have the latest thing.  We are even told what to desire.  We should all have a certain type of body, a cell phone, an ipod, etc… 

In the second volume of these unpublished works, Towards a Critical Theory of Society, Marcuse continues to examine the ways in which technologically advanced societies prohibit the autonomy of the individual and resist social change.  In an essay entitled “The Problem of Social Change in the Technological Society” he writes:

One of the accomplishments of advanced industrial civilization is the non-terroristic, democratic decline of freedom -- the efficient, smooth, reasonable unfreedom which seems to have its roots in technological progress itself.[5]

According to Marcuse, our technological society is still an oppressive one.  For example, we need only think about social status of women, racial minorities, and the poor.  Further, there is still the class based dichotomy between the “haves” and the “have nots”.  Marcuse claims that although technological society is still oppressive, it nevertheless, contains the seeds of liberation.  Indeed, in the technological society that seems to be the dialectical relationship between oppression and liberation.

In this essay, Marcuse examines the way in which the technological society can oppress without employing the obvious tools of oppression, i.e., sheer physical domination.  It is this ability to oppress surreptitiously that Marcuse calls the non-terroristic or democratic decline of freedom.  For example, through political rhetoric people can be duped into making decisions that are to their disadvantage.  One only needs to think about how the use of fear of an external threat can persuade people to vote for a political candidate who cares nothing about the interest of the people.  We have also seen political figures play on people’s fear of sexual difference.  Also, with respect to technology, many people are given just enough of the benefits of the technological society that they are afraid of rebelling for fear that they may lose what they have.  Even the poorest homes have a TV set.  There are two issues that must be raised here.  First, Marcuse’s analyzes the way in which technological society oppress and repel movements of social change.  Secondly, Marcuse’s view of technology is not totally pessimistic.  He actually saw in technology the potential for liberation and the fulfillment of human life.  Kellner writes in a footnote:

Marcuse’s contribution, published here, analyzes social change in technological society, anticipating his theses of One-Dimensional Man that technological development was a threat to freedom, individualism, democracy and other positive values—but also created the pre-conditions for greater freedom, equality, justice, and so on that the organization of contemporary industrial societies were blocking.[6]

The issue then is not merely technology but the social organization of the technological society.  Technology itself has the potential to free human beings from perpetual toil and the threat of scarcity.  However, this liberating potential of technology can be actualized only under certain social conditions or organization.  Oppression in a technological society reflects the social organization of that society. 

Although the present social organization of American society leads to the oppressive use of technology, alternative uses are present in our society in the form of liberal, democratic values.  However, these values are not “facts” and in a fact orientated society normative values are rarely taken seriously.  Marcuse writes:

Prior to their realization, historical alternatives appear and disappear as “values”, professed as preferential by certain groups or individuals.  In social theory as well as in any other field, values are not facts; facts, as facts, are not values and are opposed to values.[7]

This is a very important passage and it reflects Marcuse’s emphasis on dialectic.  The point is that present social reality has not actualized its potential.  Even the principle of freedom on which American society is based has not been fully actualized.  Society as it now stands contains within itself its own contradictions and its liberating alternatives.  However, this contradiction between facts and values must be mediated by historical, political practice.  The values must become facts through social change. 

Social change occurs when the “facts” (society as it is) are transcended.  Society already contains the seeds for its own transcendence.  However, social change is prohibited when the “facts” are taken out of their historical context.  Marcuse writes:

These facts are substantially incomplete, ambivalent: they are elements in a larger context of historical space and time.  Insulation against this context falsifies the facts and their function in the society because it insulates the facts against their negation, i.e., against the forces which make for their transcendence toward modes of existence rendered possible and at the same time precluded by their given society.[8]

When the “facts” are viewed in their historical context they disclose their contingency.  They also reveal their negation, i.e., other possible modes of existence for that society.  These other modes of existence are important to the extent that they help society achieve its “optimal development.” 

One of the most interesting and challenging essays in volume 2 is “The Individual and the Great Society” which is a critique of President Lyndon Johnson’s program of a “Great Society”.  This essay discloses the way in which social change is paralyzed by a refusal to critique the very social framework wherein change must occur.  Those of us who have taught Business Ethics are all too familiar with this problem.  That is, certain ethical problems cannot be reduced to the choices of individuals working within the capitalist framework, but rather, there are ethical problems that require a critique of the capitalist system.  Marcuse agrees with Johnson’s utopian vision but Johnson attempts to remain within the capitalist framework.  The question for Marcuse is whether the present society is amenable to the “Great Society” or must the present society be transformed. 

Marcuse contrasts the Great Society with the Capitalist Enterprise and takes issue with the first feature of Johnson’s Great Society.  That is, a society of “unbridled growth,” creates a spirit of competition which undermines the Great Society.  Further, Johnson stated that in the Great Society “the meaning of our lives matches the marvelous products of our labor.”[9]   Marcuse wonders: “Shouldn’t it be the other way around?  In a free society, the meaning of life is determined by the free individuals, who determine the products of their labor accordingly.”[10]   With respect to “unbridled growth” Marcuse says:

The dynamic of endlessly propelled productivity is not that of a peaceful human society in which the individuals have come into their own and developed their humanity, the challenge they meet may be precisely that of protecting and preserving a “safe harbor,” a “resting place” where life is no longer spent in the struggle for existence.  And such a society may well reject the notion (and practice) of “unbridled growth”; it may well restrict its technical capabilities where they threaten to increase the dependence of man on his instruments and products.[11]

Marcuse’s point is that Johnson’s model of the Great Society is based on capitalist interests.  The interests of capitalism is not necessarily amenable to the humanity and happiness of individuals.  On Johnson’s model, production and economic growth are primary.  The meaning of human life is determined by the product of labor.  This view is ultimately destructive of the individual.  The individual is used in the service of production and not for the individual.

Marcuse’s concern here is first, our society is rapidly becoming one-dimensional.  Secondly, what possibility is there for the development of autonomy and creativity for the individual in a one-dimensional society?  Finally, how can a one-dimensional society become a Great Society?  Marcuse argues that as advanced industrial society becomes one-dimensional the individual wanes in significance.  With respect to the situation of the individuals who are suppose to build the Great Society Marcuse writes:

They live in a society where they are (for good or bad) subjected to an apparatus which, comprising production, distribution, and consumption, material and intellectual work and leisure, politics and fun, determines their daily existence, their needs and aspirations.  And this life, private, social, and rational, is enclosed in a very specific historical universe.  The individuals who make up the bulk of the population in the “affluent societies” live in a universe of permanent defense and aggression.[12]

It is in this critique of Johnson’s speech that we encounter the significance and ongoing relevance of Marcuse’s form of critical theory.  First, Johnson’s call for the development of the Great Society requires some degree of social change.  However, it is not clear what type of change.  In fact, as Johnson goes on to describe this Great Society we see that he is locked into a framework that is resistant to social change if change means liberation.  Johnson invokes the abstract economic vocabulary of production and economic growth.  No attention is paid to the quality of life of the individuals living in such a society.  In this respect, Johnson simply reinvents the wheel.  Therefore, real emancipatory social change is contained. 

Changes in our society do not necessarily reflect progress.  The careful observer may see in social transformation a perpetual re-birth of the old.  Change is not equivalent to emancipation.  Hence, cultural revolution is not necessarily political revolution.  Political revolution is often absorbed by cultural revolution (rebellion).  Marcuse argues that the cultural revolution has emancipatory potential but must extend itself to the political.  The cultural revolution is not yet political because it is the reaction of a particular, marginalized, social group.  Here we must see what is emancipatory and yet problematic in this movement.  Marcuse writes:

Now in its striving for totality, the cultural revolution is discovering (or rather recapturing) a neglected or suppressed basis of revolution, namely, its roots in the individual—more specifically, in the sensibility of man.  In truly dialectical fashion, it is in a new individual that a new totality of life is to emerge.  The new society is to originate in the individuals themselves: not as the result of a fictitious consent or contract, not as the marketplace of competing interests and votes, but as an extension, natural as well as rational, of the needs and faculties of free men.  This freedom begins with the emancipation of the human senses.[13]

Marcuse claims that the sensibility of man as the basis of social revolution goes back to Fourier and Marx.  He argues that many social revolutions fail because because they tend to replace one ruling class with another.  They fail to transform the sensibility of persons.  These movements are thus, immature.  While these movements are immature in terms of productive forces, material and intellectual, Marcuse claims:

But one aspect of this immaturity is precisely the suppression, and atrophy, of the roots of liberation in the instinctual structures of the individuals, and consequently, in their sensibility.[14]

Marcuse was always aware of our instinctual needs and the ways in which these needs are repressed and altered by the organization of society.  The failed revolutions discussed by Marcuse failed because they attempt change at a very superficial level.  They attempted to change society without recognizing the need to change our distorted sensibility.  In this respect, change often fails to break with the old society.  Marcuse is critical of a continuum from the old society to the new, but, negation requires a break with the old which perpetuates unfreedom.  

Marcuse warns us that as society changes the base for qualitative change itself changes.  This is why dialectical theory must be committed to history.  This is also why Marcuse always renewed his search for the revolutionary subject.  The vicissitudes of critical theory lies in its attempt to remain committed to history rather than ossified, ahistorical, apriori concepts.  Our “democracy” is based on a loose use of ossified, a priori, ahistorical concepts without a commitment to history and its vicissitudes.  The base of human society is always a human creation and is therefore malleable. 

Marcuse’s attitude toward social change and democracy is very complex.  There are several places in his work where he is very critical of democracy.  For example, in the third volume of his unpublished works in a conversation with    Hans Magnus Enzensberger Marcuse cites William Shirer who claimed that “American fascism will probably be the first which comes to power by democratic means and with democratic support.”[15]  In another essay entitled “The Historical Fate of Bourgeois Democracy” from volume 2 Marcuse is critical of democracy.  In this essay Marcuse grapples with the victory of Nixon in the 1972 elections and Nixon’s attitude toward Vietnam.  The main focus is not Nixon per se but the willingness of the American people to follow such a leader.  Marcuse claims that “this democracy has become the most powerful obstacle to change – except change for the worst.”[16]  He argues:

Bourgeois democracy is giving itself an enlarged popular base which supports the liquidation of remnants of the liberal period, the removal of government from popular control, and allows the pursuit of the imperialist policy.  The shibboleth of democracy: government of the people and by the people (self-government) now assumes the form of a large-scale identification of the people with rulers – caricature of popular sovereignty.[17]

He continues:

In new ways: because the interplay between production and destruction, liberty and repression, power and submission (i.e., the unity of opposites which permeates the entire capitalist society today) has, with the help of technological means not previously available, created, among the underlying populations, a mental structure which responds to, and reflects the requirements of the system.  In this mental structure are the deep individual, instinctual roots of the identification of the conformist majority with the institutionalized brutality and aggression.  An instinctual, nay, libidinal affinity binds, beneath all rational justification, the subjects to the rulers.[18] 

Marcuse shows here that in an oppressive, repressive society the mental structure of individuals is affected in such a way that protest is mitigated.  He argues:

In the American democracy today, the government is by definition (because it was elected by the people, and because it is the government) immune against subversion, and it is (by the same definition) safe from any other than verbal criticism and a congressional opposition which can easily be managed.[19]

Marcuse argues that the new left must defend democracy while attacking its capitalist foundations.  He calls for what seems to be a Nietzschean transvaluation of values.  Democracy requires a counter culture to the present system.  Here Marcuse finds hope in liberation movements such as the Women’s Liberation Movement.  However, before addressing Marcuse’s search for catalyst groups we must examine his criticism of American democracy a bit further. 

Marcuse looked at American democracy through dialectical lenses, as he did all things.  American democracy is at best an honorable experiment that is nowhere near completion.  As Marcuse says in a panel discussion entitled “Democracy Has/Hasn’t a Future… a Present” published in volume three “So I would say democracy certainly has a future.  But in my view it certainly does not have a present.”[20]   He goes on to say:

Within the established society we no longer have a majority constituted on the basis of the completely free development of opinion and consciousness.  We do not have a majority constituted on the basis of free and equal access to the facts and all the facts.  We do not have a majority constituted on the basis of equal education for all.

However, we do have a majority which is standardized and manipulated and even constituted by standardized and administered information, communication and education.  In other words, this majority is not free, but it belongs to the very essence of democracy that people who are sovereign are a free people.[21]

The above passage is an adequate description of our anti-democratic situation.  American democracy is characterized by what Marcuse calls in One-Dimensional Man “a comfortable, smooth, reasonable, democratic unfreedom.”[22]  It is ironic that in a country that has yet to actualize its democratic potential wars are waged for the purpose of making the world safe for democracy.  Americans have bought into a very truncated view of democracy.  That is, democratic freedom has been reduced to the power to vote for political leaders.  However, Marcuse reminds us in One-Dimensional Man that the ability to chose one master over another does not abolish slavery. 

In the forties, fifties, and sixties Marcuse was well aware of many of the problems with American democracy that recent theorists have disclosed.  Theorists from Iris Marion Young to Jane Mansbridge have pointed out the problems of aggregative democracy or democracy based solely on voting or the aggregation of opinions.  The deeper issue is the process of opinion-formation.  That is, we vote for candidates who seem best to reflect our own opinions.  There are several problems here.  Fisrt, we may be dupped by the candidate.  Secondly, once in office the candidate may reveal his/her true opinion which is contrary to our reason for voting for this candidate.  Third, we do not have adequate means for holding our candidates accountable for their decisions.  Finally, and more importantly, our own opinions may be repressive, oppressive and dehumanizing for those outside of our own social group. 

It is this last problem that I will focus on for the remainder of this essay.  This problem also seems to be at the heart of Marcuse’s works from beginning to end.  One of the main goals of the Frankfurt School of Social Research was to understand why people who would benefit most from social change are not only the least likely to advocate social change but may very well become the greatest obstacles to social change.  For this reason the Frankfurt School incorporated Freudian psychoanalysis as an essential part of their critical social theory.  Psychoanalysis would help them understand the way in which people became victims of false consciousness.  The synthesis of psychoanalysis with its focus on the development of the psyche of the individual and the problem of repressed desires with the Marxist analysis of oppressive social structures opens the door for a deeper understanding of the undemocratic, oppressive, and repressive process of opinion-formation.    

Simply put, the process of opinion-formation is a social process and is affected by the formation of values, world views, political rhetoric, fear, social structures etc…  It is very easy to manipulate the process of opinion-formation in individuals and groups by concealing certain facts while disclosing others.  For example, one can reveal to white working class males that some women and racial minorities have benefited from the practice of affirmative action.  However, what is concealed in the long history of oppression that put women and racial minorities at a great disadvantage.  Further, the fact that the greatest enemy of the white working class male is not women and racial minorities but rather wealthy white males who are willing to exploit anyone in their path for greater wealth.  Hence, those who are at the bottom of the socio/economic ladder are put at war against each other.  Those at the top of the socio/economic ladder have every thing to gain from the present order of things and much to lose from social change. 

We have seen this social and political manipulation on a large scale since 9/11.  The threat from an external force has allowed the present administration to make light of our civil liberties and our freedom of speech.  We are admonished to focus on the threat from outside while ignoring the threat from within.  Before 9/11 millions of Americans lived in poverty without adequate education, food, housing, jobs, and other necessities.  However, to be critical of a government that allows such poverty is to be “anti-American”.  To oppose the war with Iraq is taken as a lack of support for our troops.  The truth is that opposition to this war is perhaps the best way to support our troops who are viewed by our government as dispensable.  This should seem obvious since most of our troops are from poor families.  Those who are bold enough to wage war are rarely bold enough to send their own children to fight.  It is as if the poor are condemned to protect the interest of the rich.  The fact that our troops are predominately made up of poor working class people should be up for debate or questioning.  This would be a sign of a true democracy. 

Marcuse’s theory of social change entails a vision of a new society that would not merely benefit those at the top of the socio/economic ladder but all persons in that society.  All persons would have equal access to information for free opinion-formation.  All persons would play a larger role in the decision making process. 

It is to Marcuse’s credit that he not only saw the impediments to social change in every epoch but he also saw potential for liberation.  His engagement with and influence on the new left is important here.  It is to Marcuse’s credit that he remained flexible in his theorizing so as to avoid stale orthodoxy and to remain current.  In the sixties Marcuse was a fresh voice for socially conscious youth who had a broader range of concerns than the Old Left.  In the introduction to the third volume Kellner writes:

While the Old Left embraced Soviet Marxism and the Soviet Union, the New Left combined forms of critical Marxism with radical democracy and openness to a broad array of ideas and political alliances.  Whereas the Old Left was doctrinaire and puritanical, the New Left was pluralistic and engaged emergent cultural forms and social movements.  While the Old Left, with some exceptions, tended to impose doctrinal conformity and cut itself off from “liberal” groups, the New Left embraced a wide range of social movements around the issues of class, gender, race, sexuality, the environment, peace, and other issues.[23]      

Volume Three The New Left and the 1960s contains essays and interviews by Marcuse at the height of his popularity and influence.  The essays in this volume contain Marcuse’s praise for and criticisms of the New Left.  One of the most important aspects of Marcuse’s relation to the New Left is his continuous search for what Kellner calls the revolutionary subject.  The source of possible revolution was not only the working class but other groups as well. 

The latter Marcuse saw potential for revolution or social change in what he referred to as catalyst groups.  The social movements of the 60s were potential revolutionary moments wherein certain social groups had become very discontent with the present order of things.  The Civil Rights Movement, student rebellions, and feminism all were responses to our repressive society. 

Although there does not seem to be as much social unrest as there was in the 60s we still find ourselves in a similar situation.  Many social groups still struggle for equality, recognition, and full democratic participation.  While dejure racial segregation has been overcome we still suffer from defacto racial segregation.  Gays, Lesbians, and transgendered people have not yet been accepted as full citizens with the same rights and respect as their heterosexual counterparts.  The gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow at an alarming rate.  Women still struggle for first class citizenship, etc…  I have catalogued only a few problems that we face in our present society.  Marcuse’s form of critical theory is still a necessary tool for examining the possibility for social change as well as the impediments to social change.  Unfortunately, Marcuse has been put on the shelf too quickly.  Our time calls for a revival of Marcusean critical theory.  These new volumes make an important contribution to the revival of Marcuse’s theory.     



[1] “Theories of Social Change” In Technology, War and Fascism, page 130.

[2] Ibid, page 131.

[3] “Some Social Implications of Modern Technology” In Technology, War and Fascism, page 41.

[4] Ibid, page 42.

[5] Page. 37.

[6] Towards a Critical Theory of Society, page 36.

[7] “The Problem of Social Change in the Technological Society” In Towards a Critical Theory of

Society, page 38.

[8] Ibid, page, 39.

[9] Ibid, page 62.

[10] Ibid.,

[11] Ibid.,

[12] Ibid, page 65.

[13] “Cultural Revolution” In Towards a Critical Theory of Society, page 124.

[14] Ibid.,

[15] “USA: Question of  Organization and the Revolutionary Subject” In The New Left and the

1960s, page 138.

[16] Towards a Critical Theory of Society, page 165.

[17] Ibid., page 167.

[18] Ibid., page 170.

[19] Ibid., page 176.

[20] In The New Left and the 1960s, page 88.

[21] Ibid., page 97.

[22] Marcuse, Herbert One-Dimensional Man (Boston, Beacon Press, 1966) page 1.

[23] Page 2.