The Legacy of Herbert Marcuse

The Legacy of Herbert Marcuse

Throughout his life, Herbert Marcuse endeavored to develop a theoretical analysis of the dynamics of contemporary capitalist society that would have practical relevance as well as explanatory value. Indeed, he was not entirely unsuccessful in this regard. The mutual attraction, in the 1960s, between politically active radicals searching for the means to comprehend their society and Marcuse’s penetrating analyses of the structure,ideology, and dangers of late capitalism created a powerful synthesis that gave the New Left many of its distinguishing characteristics. Now that Marcuse has died, it is well worth the effort to take another look at what he wrote, and to ask: in what way does Marcuse’s mode of theorizing remain pertinent to the analysis of American society by a left that intends to be both democratic and socialist?

The theory of one-dimensional society is the core of Marcuse’s work. But Marcuse’s peculiar combination of a Marxist orthodoxy with an unfortunate reading of Weber’s concept of rationalization produces a version of neo-Marxism that, although initially attractive, is no longer fruitful. The theory of one-dimensional society postulates the emergence of an authoritarian technological rationality that has freed itself from the particular interests of capital and has become a political force capable of suppressing social contradictions,

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