The rise of Herbert Marcuse from the relative obscurity of his first 65 years to a position as one of the media’s favorite seducers of the young has not been without its cost. Through what the French, in a delightful phrase, call “la drugstorisation de Marcuse,” he has himself become something of a commodity. No article on the New Left is complete without a ritual mention of his name; no discussion of the “counter culture” dares ignore his message of liberation. By and large ignored, however, are the roots of his arguments, which are too deeply embedded in a tradition alien to the thinking of most Americans to make painless comprehension likely. It is far easier, after all, to read the unfortunate essay on “Repressive Tolerance” than to wrestle with the conceptual subtleties and stylistic impenetrability of Reason and Revolution. As a result, Marcuse is still to a considerable extent Cet Inconnu, as the French journal La Nef subtitled its recent issue devoted to him.’ Although we cannot here undertake a complete exploration of the foundation of his thought, we can look into the one aspect of it that has recently come to the fore: its utopianism.
Marxist theory has steadfastly refused to offer a blueprint for post-capitalist society. The historicist strain in Marx’s own thinking was always in tension with his implicit philosophical anthropology. Occasional attempts by his succes...
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